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Mental Conflicts Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling

To honor both Mental Health and Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), I’ll be diving into how these topics go hand-in-hand with our lives. Asian Americans have come a long way up the workforce ladder moving into large corporations. According to Asia Society, their 2018 Corporate Survey Study shows 32% of participating companies having no presence of APA (Asian Pacific American) in the C-suite. In 2017, Scientific American reported 75% of the Fortune 500 companies are led by white men. Why is that?

2018 Asia Society Corporate Survey Executive Summary

When thinking about the characteristics of an executive leader, we think assertive, powerful, confident, and outspoken. These traits are all that society generalizes Asians as not. The reputation of a model minority has become a rising issue for Asian Americans as they face cultural conflicting values known as the double bind. How does one stay true to their heritage while breaking the bamboo ceiling?

Subconsciously, the low number of Asians in top positions send us the message that it will be a difficult climb- not an impossible climb, but one that will work out.

Jane Hyun

Jane Hyun’s book, Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, acknowledges various facets of Asians who share the same struggle in their professional careers. Asians are taught humility rather than tooting their horn. As a result, many of these individuals are passed over for promotions and recognition which is why it is important to verbalize their desire to move into a more senior role early on. Many Asian Americans also come from families with little education which makes it difficult to have any sort of role model or mentorship in obtaining a C-level position.

There are three degrees of filial piety. The highest is being a credit to our parents, the second is not disgracing them; the lowest is being able simply to support them. - Confucius quote

Another factor to consider is filial piety – aka Confucianism. Most Asians are rooted in this background of a collectivist society that values respect for elders. It is ingrained into them that manners such as questioning authority, eye contact, and showing assertiveness are perceived as disrespectful because it causes an imbalance on harmony. Asia Society defined assertiveness as, “the capacity to make requests, actively disagrees, express positive or negative personal rights and feelings, initiate, maintain or disengage from conversations, and stand up for oneself without attacking another.” Thus, AA’s are faced with the double bind of either maintaining one’s heritage or acculturate which puts their mental health at risk because of the inability to express their conflict to family and others as it would show shame, embarrassment, and loss of face.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue, it is in the best interest of companies to remain mindful and forthcoming of their workplace to rationalize AA talent. Although there is no quick fix to this issue, the stress can be minimized through communication, proper mentorship (they don’t have to be Asian), open-mindedness, and understanding towards the latter.  

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Practicing Gratitude

As I write this blog, I can feel the warmth of the sunlight peeking into my window which is something I haven’t felt since my run sometime last week, or longer. My weekend has been wonderful thanks to the simple pleasures of catching up with my friends, family, and making more healthy foods to nourish my body. About a month has passed since quarantine started and it has given me enough time to adjust to the rhythm of this new norm. The luxury of taking a stroll outdoors to breathe the fresh air feels liberating. Seeing people come together, helping one another, and even being mindful of their distance makes me feel good knowing that the world has finally put their differences on pause to unify.

Gratitude has always been a value I’ve ingrained in my life since the passing of a really good friend of mine on top of my beloved grandmother. However, I often forget to practice this when life gets rough. It’s one thing to acknowledge what you are grateful for, (i.e. having a roof over your head, food on the table, waived rent) but it’s another to practice and apply the gratitude through your emotions.

I’ve recently started to take meditation more seriously with even just 5 minutes of my time, just sitting on my bed or yoga ball in silence, to realign myself, my focus, and intention for the day. While this is all easy because I am away from the ruckus, I know it will be a challenge if I were to….. go back home to visit my parents or begin working again. However, learning to pivot and staying focused on my intention(s) to keep myself aligned will allow me to live through each day as ease.

There are times like these when I like to reflect back on my accomplishments to reinforce a great quote from our hero Kobe:

Although it has been about 4 months since unemployment, I continue to maximize my time through networking online, developing/building skill sets, and more. While no offers have been made, progress is still going! I am grateful for my environment, the community I’ve built ground up, the privilege to live financially stress-free temporarily, and the time I have been given to work on my passion projects.

Despite the noise from Covid-19, how has this gift of time helped you in any way, shape or form? If it hasn’t, what are some projects or skills that you’ve been putting off? Anyone you’ve been thinking about who you haven’t spoken to in a while? I just got reminded of someone.

Let’s finish these last 3 weeks strong and be prepared for the next pivot 🙂

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Permission to Start: Taking the First Step

Happy new month! I went on a run yesterday around Golden Gate Park to take advantage of the nice weather. I decided to listen to 4 podcasts to keep my mind going for fresh ideas, concepts, and paradigms. I discovered the podcast Tea Talk and enjoyed their engaging, deep conversations about the stigma between Asian Americans and mental health. I was reminded that mental health is not a big concern in foreign countries, especially Asian countries. The majority of these countries are built on Buddhism dating early back, where their way of living is through ephemeral suffering to reach enlightenment. 

Snippet of the beautiful day

While this may be frowned upon in American society, early generation individuals struggle with the diagnosis of mental health because they are conflicted about accepting it into their lives. At least with East Asian culture, we shine away from showing any signs of vulnerability to not “lose face.” Expressing thoughts attaching feelings to concerns show weakness. Their idea about anxiety, or any relative feeling is that there’s no solution to come of it other than finding it within ourselves to move on and perceive all opinions with neutrality. Not only that, but they are conflict adverse because of their historical collectivist society background that pushed for sustaining peace.

That is also why it is common to see backstabbing in Asian families because they cannot communicate their direct concerns with the other person. Confrontation is an enemy with older generations because their ego getting aside from Confucius’s filial piety (孝). The facade of being normal and avoiding the talks of personal issues encapsulates why some of us don’t have a strong relationship with our families. Communication becomes a bare minimum from our repressed feelings as we think, “It’s better if I don’t say much. After all, it’s nothing they can do to change.” 

The Buddhist teachings described the Eightfold Path people go through to understand the four truths. 

This framework has been passed down for centuries and has been ingrained into our lives regardless of our belief(s). Religion is what keeps people grounded, especially for those who made sacrifices coming to this country. It is the only part of them they feel that they can keep. I’ve learned that you cannot change your parents’ mindset, but at least open it enough so they can at least respect yours. I’ve also made the connection where do’ers like my mom is only trying to preserve the idea of being religious partaking in the directional activities from the Buddhist calendar rather than with the intention to reach enlightenment (happiness). We are all a victim of this too – living in autopilot. But through practice, communication and some form of meditation, I believe we can realign ourselves back to our center.

While this topic has many depths to uncover, I will keep this post to a minimum to relay it back to my point of taking the first step. Please visit my Youtube to hear more and talk with me there 🙂

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. The root of suffering is attachment”

The Buddha

In other words, build a bridge and get over it. Let’s take a look at the Five W’s: 

  • Who do I need involved? 
  • What resources do I need? 
  • Where will this take place? 
  • When will it be done? 
  • Why is this bothering me? 

This cycles back to yourself in finding your happy place. The only person you need permission to regain your inner peace is within yourself. In some sense, the Buddha is right. Suffering is obsolete. There are always moments in your life where you feel joy whether it’s laughing from a joke, or adoration seeing a dog across the street. 

“When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going”  

Billy Ocean

 As I further my journey in life, I’m seeing all the complexities that come with it and feel like I’m given the choice to either take action or avoid it to let it arise again later thinking it isn’t my problem. When in reality, it is because I let it be. I attach feelings to the situation. Taking the first step is always hard, but there is no progress without effort. 

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New Norm: Increased Awareness

Last Thursday I was listening to a podcast from Deep South Dharma by Christie Bates (This is What We’ve Practiced For) which ties into the pandemic and human life interconnections. As quoted in the description, “Christie offers some well-tested reflections that can help us develop the capacity to live at peace with increased awareness. 

Here is what stood out to me: 

  • Social distancing means physical distancing 
  • Why is livelihood up right now?
  • How we make a living vs How we spend our lives? 

Social distancing 🡆 physical distancing 

  • Social by definition is an informal gathering organized by members or an individual. Online communication is livelier than it has ever been! I’ve video chat with people more than I have in the last 3 years. By no means have we been cutting down our social life, but our physical. 

Why is livelihood up right now? 

  • We’ve always been living with the purpose of building a stable future for ourselves. But since the pandemic started, it has made everyone think twice about their living habits to abstain from the possibilities of getting infected by the virus or even become a victim of unemployment/furlough.
  • Covid has given us permission to start, or even pick up, on hobbies/skills in our lives that we weren’t able to before because of work getting in the way. We have the autonomy to live in the present and be with ourselves and loved ones. 
  • Our ability to be in various settings via the internet in matters of minutes increases our social lives tenfold. 

How we make a living vs How we spend our lives? 

  • Thanks to technology, there is no excuse to have a dull moment in your life. For those who are normally out and about, it’s a chance for to utilize the time for yourself. Reflect how time will be spent moving forward. Doing nothing is more agonizing than it has ever been. So why waste it on nothing

Although the changes from Covid is indefinite, I am grateful for the opportunity it has presented to people overall. The grass is always greener on the other side. We are expressing gratitude for being alive, having the time to do other activities, rekindle with loved ones, and so forth. 

A motto I love to follow is: 

“Money is something we can always make back, but time is priceless.”

The best thing about life is that you can always recreate yourself. Whether it’s the new month, week, or day.  I implore you all to perceive this situation in a brighter light. This is the new norm. Having a negative mindset will only increase your mortality rate and suppress the immune system.

While we can continue to stress about this adversity, the only solution at the moment is to be aware of our actions. We must keep our distance and hygiene in priority. When life gives you lemons, do you make lemonade (or something), or nothing at all?

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Personal x Professional

Over the last decades, we have seen the evolution to the meaning of work, and how much it has transcended. Its purpose means so much more than putting a roof over our heads, food on the table and safe from animal predators. The world has industrialized to where our physiological and safety needs have been met. It is now a matter of finding a home within our primary one that we seek, meaning, our workplace. This community is filled with people divided into departments some being on-site while others remotely. As the world inevitable advances and businesses finds ways to innovate, we are put this urgency to keep up because of competition (aka the new predator!) 

“One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king.”

Abraham Maslow

Especially with baby boomers finally retiring and us millennials/gen z’s becoming the new players onto pivotal roles, what does that mean? The competition just gets harder with how much more jobs, options, and people that are in the market now. Life as we know it has gotten more complex with all these tech innovations, a surplus in gig economies, outsourcing, you name it. 

How do we survive all of this? Darwinism.

“It is not the strongest species that survives, not most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Charles Darwin

Everything is obsolete and it is for us to learn and adapt to the change. Depending on the field you’re trying to get into, if we won’t understand the clout about AWS, or how to retain your best employees, lean, SEO optimization, etc., then what makes you think a company will hire you? 

Sure, you might have some more work experience than someone who just finished college. But are you aware of how much more current their knowledge is in comparison to your work experience of 2 years ago? Yes, I know most of what you’ve done can still apply to the next role. Have you taken the initiative to stay current and to keep reading up on your industry, the latest trends, news, buzzwords, hype? If so, then keep it up and you can stop reading here. 

Work means so much more now than your 8-hour shift and whatever the description is. To do well in your job and to stay competitive before a robot or someone offshore replaces you is to go above and beyond (duh). How do you stay competitive with others? That means taking on opportunities to work on projects with your senior, more experienced colleagues, maybe even other teams, or tackling a project on yourself. What can be improved, what needs help, or overall, what can I do to keep yourself invaluable to the company, or any company. 

It all starts with doing more. Job descriptions scratch the surface of what you should really be doing. To become successful and invaluable takes time and dedication. This means staying after hours, working weekends, or somewhere in between. And with the #covid19 pandemic, our personal lives are becoming even more intertwined with remote work being emphasized. How has this affected, or even changed your life? 

Employed or not, it is essential for us to keep up in order to stay relevant. However, please remind yourself to establish your work boundaries to prevent burnout. I will discuss that in my next talk, stay tuned!