Last Friday, I was invited to speak on a panel at a Women's Leadership Summit just down the road from where I live in Korea at a university where I used to teach for a semester. Looking out on the audience from the panel, I was struck by what an incredibly diverse crowd it was: female foreign dignitaries, Korean women, Asian women, African women in brightly hued traditional dress, and a handful of men. The panel I was on consisted of a woman from Ghana, an Indian woman, a Korean-American woman and me. Throughout the Summit we talked about our own journeys and how we were able to get to where we were. One question from a male audience member struck me: "How do we work WITH women? I mean, I have not had any training on this or seen anything like this at my company..."
DON'T BE AN UNDERESTIMATE(HER)
A fellow panel speaker and woman I deeply admire in the community here talked about how she had gone from being in her words, "A lawyer on Capitol Hill in D.C. to Darren's wife and Natasha and Logan's mother here in Korea." She further went on to say that people underestimated her when she first started out as a lawyer because she was younger, a woman, and shorter. She didn't care, because she said she just worked extra hard to prove herself. It made me think of my time at Yonsei, writing a book, heck every time I go speak at a conference. Then I realized it was something that I actually did all the time. Not just to women, but to young people, old people, and yes even the woman who had organized the entire Summit and Gala where I was speaking. Holy cow.
BE AN ACCEPT(HER)
This has got to be one of the most challenging things for me to do WITH myself. Most recently, a great self-accepting exercise has been to record my audio book. Not only do I have to listen to myself, but I have to record my own voice reading my own thoughts. What I've realized though in all of this is the more self-acceptance I have, the greater my acceptance is of others, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion.
BE A MOTIVATE(HER)
I get this question a lot from people who come to my workshops: How do you stay motivated? Listening to countless women on panels overcome significant struggles not just in their home countries, but in different countries they had lived in, it struck me that they were all internally motivated and driven. That's what got them through. So perhaps motivation is more about looking WITHin as opposed to externally. And then when you share your story WITH others, it is all the more motivating.
BE AN INSPIRE(HER)
As with acceptance and motivation, I think inspiration comes from WITHin first. If you think about a time in your life when you wished you were where you are now, you will be inspired. I know. You may have to read that sentence again (!). Once you're solid WITHin then it radiates out to others. At the gala, several young Korean women came up to me and told me how inspired they were with what I had to say. What I wanted to tell them was it has taken me almost my whole life (and is still a work-in-progress) to stay true to myself, be myself, and be WITH myself.
BE A COMPLIMENT(HER)
From ball gowns to bad-assery, I complimented women I met that day at the summit and later at the gala. One woman had come in from Belgium and made home-cooked African food, another woman had designed and made the cake, women had gone from boardroom to gala chic within the blink of an eye, and what they had accomplished along their life journeys was astounding. Here's the one caveat to the complimenting: make sure they actually accept the compliment and therefore accept themselves and you in the process.
BE A SUPPORT(HER)
Sometimes all it takes is a hug, a pat on the back, a nod, a word of encouragement. During our panel, we talked about how sometimes women compete with each other because there are so few positions at the top. I found this early on in my career in my 20s, but speaking at global women's conferences, I have definitely not found this to be true anymore. I have had women support the heck out of me after just a 5-minute conversation, and I have tried to do the same for other women. A recent Forbes article proves that women who help other women are actually more successful. What?!
*Dedicated to + Inspired WITH all of the women at the Women's Leadership Summit + Gala. May you continue to create change WITH women + men*
IT ALL BEGINS WITH A CONVERSATION
Chatting WITH Sheri so easily first at my house and then in more of an "official" capacity on a FriYAYs WITH Kyla episode, I realized in my own life, I was not as progressive/open as my ego would like others to believe. I found myself stereotyping groups of people before even giving them the benefit of the doubt; in situations where I was outnumbered (by race, gender, etc), I would not voice my own opinion; I would be friendly to certain groups of people and not to others based solely on their outward appearance. And the list goes on.
Ok, so now what?
HOW CAN WE HAVE UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS?
This is the question I asked Sheri in our FriYAYs WITH Kyla session. She had started her own group addressing issues surrounding the global racism she had experience in her own life, and as an inter-racial couple (her husband is a white Dutch man). I expected she would give me some concrete steps I would have to follow, I was bracing myself to write them down in my journal. Instead she simply replied in her always down-to-earth way, "Just don't call them uncomfortable." Whoa. It was the labeling that made the conversations scary, intimidating, and want you to run screaming in the other direction.
Hanging out with women recently, I have noticed some subtle microaggressions here and there. Some of the women had talked about how they had done additional exercise over the weekend. I know we are all supportive of each other, and not ill-intentioned, but somehow there were several subtle microaggressive comments that came out in response: "Oh, that's really intimidating!" or "Oh that is really annoying!" It made me think about labeling, about how I can be microaggressive AT myself and AT others, but also how we can create change around it. Just as much as Sheri says we don't have to call conversations around more challenging topics "uncomfortable" we also can create positive change around every day conversations. I found myself saying in response to what the other women were saying, "That's so inspiring!"
Do you remember when you were in elementary school or heck even as an adult, and you said or did something so you could fit in more? Belong more? (I'll just speak for myself here!) When I left Hong Kong at the age of 14 and started boarding school in California, I lost my British accent quick because that was what differentiated me from everyone else. I didn't know at the time, and every other time I have done something like that to fit in, but it was because I wanted to belong. It struck me that when we say or do something to fit in, we are not only NOT fitting in WITH ourselves, but often making other people feel bad in the process. Listening to Brené Brown recently, it further dawned on me when she said, "You don't have to belong to a group. You can belong to yourself." Whoa.
After the session WITH Sheri, we talked for another hour on having uncomfortable -> inspirational conversations. In full vulnerability, I admitted to her all of the times I had stereotyped people, I had thrown microaggressions AT people, how I had even done this AT my own husband's family. She responded by saying reassuringly, "You didn't know at the time. Now you know. So now you can create change around it." I told her about how I had noticed I didn't smile at darker skinned men. So last week at two different restaurants, sitting at tables next to first an Indian gentleman and then two African gentlemen, I found myself smiling WITH them. Sharing the story WITH Sheri, I could see how excited she was that her own INSPIRING conversation she started WITH me had created change just like that.
P.S. For a podcast addressing uncomfortable conversations, check out my friend Sara's new podcast: Dear White Women
*Dedicated + Inspired to people like Sheri who are creating change WITH one conversation at a time*
Rolling around my hot pink suitcase all over COEX (conference center in Seoul) and clutching my human PPT in my other hand, I was seeking answers to whether my workshop for the Microsoft Ignite Tour was going to be held in the Vivace Room or Room 105. It seemed simple enough.
A FELLOW SPEAKER
After chatting with a volunteer and asking him where the speaker lounge was a fellow speaker walked by. The volunteer asked him if he could show me/escort me to the speaker lounge. Walking about halfway through COEX, we chatted about what we were speaking about respectively. He was going to speak about some Microsoft techy stuff, and I was going to speak about Happiness. He remarked, "Oh? I had no idea we were going to be having that kind of workshop here."
AT THE REGISTRATION BOOTH
Upon finding the registration booth, I was asked at the speaker booth, "Are you a speaker? Participant?" After I registered I asked them to help figure out which room I would be speaking in. As they were trying to text someone else, I wondered what about me was not speaker-like? Was it that I was a woman? Was it that I was Asian? Was it that I was rolling around a bright pink suitcase? Was it my brand new Marimekko outfit (cropped flowery flared pants with matching top)? Was it all of the above?
"Ohhhhhhhh, YOU'RE the speaker for this room?" One of the room aids asked rhetorically after I had been asking them if I was speaking in this room. They were super helpful and polite but I think they had assumed I wasn't the speaker, even though by that time, I had a speaker lanyard around my neck.
As part of the diversity and tech track at Microsoft Ignite I realized that I was part of this wave of creating change around what a speaker looked like. I found my ego wanted to be externally validated by the fellow speaker, the registration booth people, and finally the room aids. All to no avail. Then I happened to be on LinkedIn adding a contact and glanced at my profile. Nowhere in the description of myself was the word "speaker." I was actually doing what I talk about in my intro with the two cups: I was filling my external cup rather than my internal cup.
In order to really be that change, I had to create that change WITHin first. You'll be happy to hear that I have since changed my LinkedIn profile to read: Keynote Speaker.
*Dedicated + Inspired WITH all of those speakers out there who look different and therefore promote diversity not just in tech but in all aspects of life.*
It was my ego's nightmare: 10 minutes before the session was due to start, there were maybe 10 people scattered across the room-- a room that could hold probably 100 people. One guy was taking a full on nap in the front row: #NoShame. Another guy looked around nervously. Nobody wanted to be there, my ego included, and I could feel the tears starting to well up inside. My ego's voice was getting increasingly louder: "Nobody else is going to come. You will look like a fool. You don't deserve to be here. No one will get what you are doing. You are not a white guy. You don't belong. You shouldn't have come."
THE AJOSSHI (MIDDLE-AGED MEN IN KOREAN)
My ego had planted this particular type of human as my mortal enemy ever since one had outright criticized my creativity in a TESOL Workshop several years ago at the exact same venue. My ego had further stereotyped them as conservative, resistant to change, and stubborn. My ego had done to them what my ego perceived that they had done to me: pre-judged me. The Ajosshi in the front woke up just in time to watch my video on the screen. Another Ajosshi not too far away looked on with curiosity. As we stepped into vulnerability, in other words, as I revealed my true self more, I noticed a softening in my ego and perhaps theirs as well. One of them even volunteered to be part of my human PPT. His name was Mr. Lee and he became one of my strongest advocates, revealing his vulnerabilities to almost half of the participants there. He was unstoppable and proving my ego wrong every step of the way.
One of the younger women who had attended asked me a question at the end, "Can I truly be successful if I am vulnerable? I don't get it." She seemed very perplexed and I could feel her anxiety. I looked at her curiously, even though my ego wanted to judge her. I saw myself in her. Perhaps just a short decade ago, I would have asked the same question in the same way. Taking a deep breath, my true self answered without judgement, "The question to think about is not what you wrote in terms of your own vulnerabilities, but why you felt ashamed to share. What was coming up for you? Why do you think you felt judged? We all wrote stuff down, we all have stuff."
WILL YOU SIGN MY BUSINESS CARD?
After my ego wondered if I had done a good enough job, what with the simultaneous interpretation, which added a layer of AT, several Ajosshis showed up and asked, "Sign?" They were holding my business cards that I had handed out earlier and wanted me to sign them. I had never been asked to do that before. And then, just as things couldn't get any better, one of them asked to take a selfie WITH me. Whoa. Before my ego's head got bigger, I smiled at the men and WITH the men whom I had assumed were judging me, the men whom I swore were my arch enemy, realizing that in that very moment WITH me, they had proven my ego was wrong. Kamsahamnida, Ajoshhis.
I AM JEALOUS (<--EGO) AND (TRUE SELF -->) I DON'T WANT TO BE
One of the younger male participants who worked for an IT company came up to me and shared in a most earnest way how he would feel jealous when hanging out with his friends. He knew he didn't want to feel that way, and he knew it didn't feel good to him, but he couldn't help it. I assured him we all felt that way at some point or another; we are human, we aren't perfect. As he looked at me with wide eager eyes, we talked about how that's his ego talking, not his true self. We walked through AWARENESS -> ACCEPTANCE -> ACTION. For his action plan, he came up with a self-distancing exercise based on what we had talked about in the workshop. Wow, so impressed to see his true self show up.
I AM STILL WORKING WITH MY EGO
"Kyla, it was most likely because it was their first time opening up and being vulnerable," Hyejin reasoned WITH me in response to my ego being harsh on my true self. Gosh, I still have some work to do WITH my ego, I thought. For everything I came up with, it was almost as if Hyejin had a mirror to remind me of my true self. I admired her positivity and support of my work, and I thought back to chapter 12 in my book where I had gone to my first corporate workshop in Tokyo, and in fear, wished that nobody would come. I smiled as I remembered the universe puts things in front of you over again until you deal WITH them.
Thank you, universe and Hyejin.
*Dedicated to and inspired by all the Ajosshis out there who inspire me and my ego to see past our unconscious biases.*
SpeakHER. InsipireHER. TraveleHER.