Growing up, my great-uncle told me stories of traveling through the Midwest during the 1940s as a chicken-sexer (someone who identifies the gender of hatchlings to determine whether they are able to lay eggs). He made it sound like a fun adventure. It wasn’t until my thirties that I learned why he did this. He was not allowed to work in California – at the time his choice was to work in the Midwest or go to a WWII internment camp. He later told me he really wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, so he offered to work as a draftsman for free. He did this until they discovered he was Japanese and asked him to leave.
Stories of internment camp and isolation were rarely spoken about in my family, but they were ever-present in our silences. I knew that my parents wanted more for me; the opportunity to find success and happiness on my own terms. I believed them, and struck out to make a difference in the world.
I worked hard to prove that I could do anything: I was elected president of an international non-profit at age 21, attended business school, and worked at several great companies. I kept moving forward, but my doubts lingered. I didn’t want to admit it mattered that I was Asian or an introvert. I wanted to believe I could do anything, like my parents said. Yet, the doubts remained. Shortly after having my first child, I almost gave into the doubts by deciding to take fewer risks, playing it safe, and shrinking a little.
Then I heard Gloria Steinem speak. She spoke of kindness. She talked of strength. The light bulb went on. If I didn’t fit the mold, maybe I could create my own.
And I decided to go for something big. Creating the educational experience for Lean In is my decision to stand out. We agreed to build our first online education curriculum and now we are sharing it with the world. During the creation process, I stopped worrying about criticism. Instead, I focused on the idea that we could offer just one light bulb to someone in need.
Now when I face a challenge, I try to stop myself from dwelling on criticism, limitations or fitting in. I think about being kind. About being generous. About creating a great story.