Life Lessons: Joseph Choi, ShelfGenie

A success-driven entrepreneur learns to park his ego

Joseph Choi, director of customer happiness and creator of happier spaces, ShelfGenie | Submitted

Joseph Choi thought he knew the value of hard work. At age 13, he started working at McDonald’s, and through high school and university he often juggled two jobs in addition to school work. 

He continued the habit throughout his 20s, taking intense jobs on Bay Street and in IT. 

“One day I literally woke up with half my face paralyzed, at [age] 25,” Choi said. “I had Bell’s palsy.”

It took Choi three months to recover from the condition, which he believes was triggered by stress. The health scare caused him to “take a step back.”

“I don’t want to be that 40-year-old guy who has a heart attack,” he said. 

During his recovery, Choi reflected on what he really wanted out of life.

“I read this book called Tuesdays with Morrie,and one of the things I got from that was he wrote that if you were on your deathbed, what would you think about in life? Would you think about your career? Would you think about all the projects you got or accolades? And the answer to me was no, a complete no,” Choi said.

Choi later moved to Vancouver to start up an investment firm with several friends. When Choi’s wife became pregnant, he took a job at a larger firm, seeking a position that would provide a better work-life balance. But within several months, and for the first time in his career, he was let go. 

That experience prompted another round of soul-searching. Choi credits his wife – who nixed his idea of launching a startup – and a 73-year-old yoga instructor in Port Moody for steering him towards his current career, as the owner of a ShelfGenie franchise. The company installs custom glide-out shelves designed to help people with mobility issues. 

“[At] one of my yoga sessions, my instructor told me, ‘I’m 73 years old and I’ll tell you what the key to happiness is: park your ego,’” Choi said, reflecting on how the advice changed his attitude about “always being right.”

Choi, now 40, said he’s finally found a purpose with his current career and a philosophy that makes work a joy. 

“It’s been such an amazing journey, looking back,” he said. 

On hiring a great staff | “We have such an amazing group of people doing this. … I attract people. I have a lot of people who want to work for me. I love building a brand [and] an attitude. For me it’s about finding people who believe in what we do. When people can articulate what I first believed in with ShelfGenie, chances are they’re going to be very successful at what they do.”

Has a work or life challenge taught you a key career lesson? Contact Jen St. Denis at