Monthly Archives: July 2015

My Special Olympics World Games 2015 #worldgames #volunteer Experience

I feel very fortunate to live in Southern California. We have plenty of sunshine and warm weather. When I moved from the Central Coast to Los Angeles for college, I remember feeling like I would never need to buy another jacket or coat because the temperatures rarely dropped below 68.  Now that I’ve been here for 25 years (am I that old???) 68 degrees makes me run for my favorite fleece hoodie.

Another fabulous thing about Southern California is all the options we have for hobbies and work.  I have friends who work at large companies, small companies, in retail, as personal trainers, in “the business” above the line and below the line jobs or who are entrepreneurs.  We all zip around this city in our cars and meet at places like the beach for surfing or the LA Phil for classical music or an indie comic book shop for reading material or a taco truck for Ono grinds. The diversity of activities and people in So Cal keeps my easily distracted brain stimulated and prepped for new life experiences.

Today, I’m thumb typing this post from a large charter bus that is taking me to the Los Angeles Convention Center in Downtown.  The Special Olympics World Games kicked off on Saturday and my company is a major sponsor. We have been given the opportunity to volunteer for two and half days, with pay. I feel like this is truly a once in a lifetime experience and have been looking forward to it for months.   Ok, we just reached the venue and I am going to stash my phone in my very stylish fannt pack and just breathe in the experience.

My assignment?  Motor pool driver. (Insert joke about Asian driver here…) Unfortunately, driving in Los Angeles is not an easy task.  Thankfully, each vehicle would be equipped with a phone pre-programmed with GPS coordinates for each of our drop locations. In addition, the vehicles that have navigation system would have  that as a backup. We received strict instructions to not use our personal phones with GPS apps to avoid dropping off distinguished guests at the wrong side of the LA Coliseum, UCLA or USC campus, or the LA Convention Center. Another location on our lists were both LAX and Long Beach airports.  The way traffic runs in LA, these runs could take anywhere from 10 minutes to 120 minutes.

I spent several months of my life driving around Los Angeles when I worked as a production assistant on TV shows like “Vicki” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy”.  Keep in mind that my days as a PA occurred pre-GPS in cars and pre-smart phone. I had to use a Thomas Guide to get around Los Angeles County.  Because of that work experience, driving in LA is not my favorite pastime.  However, this assignment was not my choice and as a volunteer, I just wanted to be helpful and support the Special Olympics where they needed it.

Let me go back to the beginning of the day because the experience ended in an unexpected way for me. My morning began boarding the second chartered bus from work. I shared it with three other employees, one who I had known for over 10 years and the other two I just met that morning. Three of us wandered through the LA Convention Center together, checked in, bought coffee and looked for our assigned area, “Motorpool”.  We took escalators down in search of Kentia Hall. Although the walls and signs featured prominent labels pointed us toward Kentia Hall, it was not easy to find. We also picked up other stragglers who were searching for the hall, as well.

After several minutes, my new friend Daron found the correct door for us to exit.  We walked out to a huge garage area that had been used for one of the “Batman” franchise movies Batcave scenes.  There I saw a sea of shiny Camrys and Siennas.  Our next set of instructions were to sign our names on a sheet of paper and hurry up and wait.  I hung out with my new friend, a new employee who had been with the company for about six months. She introduced me to a colleague from her department, a young English guy who has been working at our company for about three years.  Color me a bit superficial but not only was he tall, intelligent and charming, but his accent was like chopped almonds and whipped cream on top of a caramel fudge vanilla bean ice cream sundae!  What is it about accents?  But I digress, this was a work event.

It always surprises me when I meet people who I have never interacted with at work.  We proceeded to spend the next four and half hours in lively conversation together. Topics ranged from work, the move, TV, movies, podcasts, on-line dating, worst dates of our lives, best restaurants for first dates, first date attire for men and women, on-line dating strategies for men and women, generational differences in on-line dating perspectives, books, gay marriage, running half marathons, and moving to another state for the company.   The conversation made me laugh and think and laugh some more.  My cheeks were in a perpetual smile.

Honestly, we talked for four hours and a half hours, which included a weak brown bag sandwich consisting of a Tarragon chicken sandwich and potato chips with all we could drink bottles of water, soda, orange juice and iced tea. I despise sandwiches and elected not to eat it. Luckily, the conversation sustained me through the morning.  None of us had been called to make a run with any distinguished guests at all.

So, we realized that we moved into hour five of talking and decided to go upstairs to watch some of the events.  A handball game between India and Egypt was on one court.  The English guy asked if I was familiar with the game and proceeded to announce that I may enjoy watching it because it is similar to basketball.  At some point in our four and a half hour long conversation, I must have mentioned playing basketball in high school.  We had covered so much ground I had forgotten that I had mentioned that!  Handball looked like a combination of soccer and basketball, the objective was to throw a rubber ball into a goal that was similar to one from soccer.  Rules appeared to be similar, each team member had to dribble and pass.  But I counted five players on the court and one goalie.  It was definitely heart-warming to see the game and to hear the fans cheering for each team.

We moved on to watch roller skating warm-ups.  These athletes wore in-line skates and were warming up in a circle.  I still don’t know what the competition actually would be, perhaps speed skating?  Badminton was happening when we first arrived at 9:00am, power weight lifting was in a hall that we couldn’t find.  The activities were happening everywhere and we had fun wandering around and cheering.

However, when we returned to the holding area for Motorpool, we saw no evidence that we would be called to transport any distinguished guests.  Instead, we realized that a shuttle would be returning volunteers to our place of employment in 30 minutes and elected to return home early.  We boarded together, English guy asked to sit next to me, even though the bus was only ¼ full.  He proceeded to talk about an interesting book he was reading, “The Third Chimpanzee” or something about a chimpanzee.  During the bus ride back, he also mentioned a bottomless mimosas brunch place that he had recommended during a funny story about the last time he went to work with a hangover and said, “Let’s pick a date and make that happen.”  When he had mentioned it six hours earlier, I didn’t think he meant he wanted to go with ME.  But I think somewhere between hour one and hour six, he did.  So although I didn’t have an opportunity to actually drive one of the distinguished guests anywhere, I did make a couple of new friends and will be enjoying bottomless mimosas with the English guy soon.

When did I Become a Mentor?

My summer has been full of travel and activities:  my first karate tournament in 18 years, outrigger races, hula shows, business travel, Las Vegas, family crises, podcasting, San Diego Comic Con, Walker Stalker Fan Fest, my day job, and most importantly, being a mom.  This blog has been extremely neglected but I have a lot of fodder to turn into postings, I promise.  I will work on talking about SDCC/Walker Stalker Fan Fest and my new lipstick addiction to Urban Decay’s Revolution line very soon.

One thing I didn’t expect to do much of this summer is coaching and mentoring.  But last week, I attended the Multicultural Women’s National Conference in New York City.  This year marked lucky number 13 for the event.  I have attended at least eight, maybe nine of these 13 years.  This conference is a special experience for me, especially as a woman of color in corporate America.  It is rare that I step into a room filled with leaders who are women, much less a hotel ballroom of 500 leaders who are mostly women of color.  I don’t need to play “CTA” (Count the Asians, a thing I do when I am in a public space that is not very ethnically diverse) at this event.

One new benefit for attendees that the organizers added came in the form of taking free, professional headshots of each of us.  Three artists from Bobbi Brown provided mini touch-ups to participants and professional photographers spent a few minutes with each of us before snapping a few different poses.  Some women had never had a professional photograph taken and were delighted with the prospect.  Others don’t use make-up and just wanted to have a professional give them a more polished look for the day.  And a few of the attendees wanted to use this headshot for their LinkedIn profile.  (I wondered if any would add it to their Tinder or profiles?)  Either way, my headshot showed me 1) I need a haircut and 2) Doing three panels outdoors at Walker Stalker Fan Fest in San Diego gave my face a much darker tan than I usually have.  Because of those two reasons, my new headshot will not be posted on LinkedIn and I do not have Tinder account.

This year’s theme for the conference was “Mindset Matters:  Igniting Potential.  Driving Excellence.”  The agenda read as fairly standard:  keynote speakers, small group workshops and lots of opportunities for networking.  As an introvert, I find early morning networking an exhausting prospect and a huge drain on my energy when I attend a typical business conference.  However, this gathering serves as one of the highlights for my professional year in terms of giving and receiving energy.  In fact, I have made friends at this conference from all over the country because it is a safe environment for women of color to talk about being women of color.  Also, my daughter has attended this event with me, sitting in on keynote addresses and small group discussions.  She has heard some of the struggles that women of color experience in the workplace, I only hope that my daughter realizes how that impacts her growth and development as she enters the workforce.

My role at the conference has expanded from passive attendee to serving as a small group facilitator for same race and cross race conversations.  This year, I was assigned one of these six provocative topics:  Empowerment – Exposure – Impact – Learning – Resilience – and Trust.  Randomly, I received Empowerment, a topic I wanted to really chew on before facilitating small group discussions.

In the same race group, we brought up how being Asian, particularly an Asian woman, impacts “Empowerment” in the workplace.  I felt frustrated to hear the same data from participants that I have heard for years:  “My manager thinks I am young and inexperienced, despite the fact that I have 15 years of tenure and an MBA.”  “My parents taught me to work harder than anyone else and keep my head down because hard work will be rewarded.”  “No one considers me for key positions in the Sales department.”  “I don’t have a mentor.”  “I am waiting for my promotion.”  “Taking an assignment in another department is a big risk, especially if I am already a subject matter expert in my current role.”  “I am the only Asian woman in management.”  How can all of that cultural mud serve our Empowerment as Asian women?  It seeps into our mindset and dries like a weight on our collective shoulders.  Some stereotypes and cultural qualities may serve us well in our careers, “We are always striving for perfection because getting an ‘A-‘ was never good enough for our parents.”  “Asians are thought of as quiet and disciplined.”  So many of us played the piano or violin as children and practiced for hours every day.  That is discipline and research shows that music helps children develop strong math skills, another stereotype about Asian.

But being a woman and Asian in corporate America can feel like starting out with two strikes against you when striving to be in the C-suite.  Fortune reported in February 2014 that just over 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs at that time were minorities, (African-Americans, Asians, and/or Latin-Americans. And there were 24 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 — representing 4.8 percent of companies — as of June 2014.

We then shifted the conversation to address how to empower ourselves and others.  Some women talked about “Dress older than you are.”  “Find a mentor.”  “Network more.”  “Take a job in another part of the business as a stretch assignment.”  “Ask for more pay.”  What I noticed very clearly was that most of these are strategies that white men do automatically.  They don’t feel stigma from tooting their own horn.  They don’t feel shame from asking for a promotion.  They also don’t feel like they are at all different from their CEO or COO so aspirations of sitting in the C-suite do feel unreasonable.

One of my participants asked, “Is Empowerment given or taken?”  That question drew out different responses based on the participants’ company, tenure and experience.  The more senior the attendee was, the highly the likelihood was that she would mention the importance of a mentor and/sponsor.  Being in power means having influence and no one walks in the door of a company with influence unless he or she has the ear of the C-suite.  I feel like we ended in a good place where participants shared their challenges as Asian women in the workplace and learned one or two tips on how to overcome those challenges to Empower themselves.  One to two tips in 90 minutes felt like a good use of our time, in my opinion.

When I got back to the office, I had received a few emails from participants.  A lot of feedback talked about my energy, which I gleaned from the willingness of the participants to contribute.  It felt like a symbiotic relationship to me.  “It was great meeting you at the conference!  I sincerely loved your energy during the breakout session and would like to get some of your thoughts on other things I am going through.”  This woman set up a lunch meeting for some one on one time.  We shall see if our chat leads to any huge professional breakthroughs for her, I think I offered some perspective as a mentor.  Wikipedia defines mentorship as “a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise.”

In a strange twist of events, one thing we did agree on was for me to help her create a profile.  She is also a single mom and wants to jump back into the dating world.  Although I have a lot of experience as a single working mom, I do not have a lot of successful experience with on-line dating.  I hope providing her a bit of empowerment in starting to date leads to some happiness in her personal life.  However, I do not plan to make it a habit or a goal to mentor women in how to date.

Grateful for great friends 

There have been many times in my life when I’ve truly marveled at my good fortune. Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced grief and sorrow that I would never wish on my worst enemy but over my lifetime, I’ve been truly blessed.  My travels bring so many diverse people into my life and force me out of my comfortable introvert bubble. I know that some of you who have met me find it difficult to believe that I’m an introvert but I am. My mom thinks of me as “lively” but I am a true INFJ. 

When I stand in front of large audiences or workshop groups, it sucks every ounce of energy out of my core. By the end of a presentation or session, I just want to be alone to recharge and reenergize. No phones, no people – just Pi’ilani all alone. 

Despite my quiet nature, I’ve made a deliberate choice to be open to meeting people and experiencing life to the fullest. My daughter, who is an extrovert with a capital “E” has set an excellent example for me to follow. She lights up a room with her smile and warmth. It is hard to not fall for her dynamic personality and charm. So when I’m in a new and unfamiliar situation, I choose to reach out to people and make connections.  This has led me to meet so many interesting people and has created a large support network for me.  It also makes life hella fun!

In June, work events kept me away from paddling, hula and karate. I’m grateful to be doing work that has an impact on so many lives but it has been extra demanding of my energy since April 2014, when the company I work for announced that they would be relocating all HQ offices to TX. Personally, I felt a lot of anxiety about it throughout 2014 and I was tapped to do North American Diversity Communications, on top of my day job, and that caused my workload to grow exponentially.  Now that I’ve made a conscious choice to focus on helping the company through this transition and not worry about whether or not I will be moving, my personal stress has been alleviated. However, I’m dealing with conflicting priorities, different laws and regulations, and a lot of unknown factors. Trying to provide clear, concise and constant communications through this time of unrest and turmoil presents quite a challenge. There are no rules because we are writing new ones.  There is not one work culture because we are combining four. Being comfortable with uncertainty is very difficult for most people. I’m just doing my best to stay flexible like bamboo, to bend but not break. 

And, I am now seeing friends leaving the company. That never used to happen. It feels like a little funeral when I see people pack up their desks and go. And every time it happens, I need some time to mourn the loss. 

So all this change and uncertainty seeps into my heart. When any other stressor is introduced, I find it really hard to keep smiling because my heart aches. Over the past few weeks, our country experienced mass shootings in African American churches and my mentor from work was arrested in Japan for mailing herself her own Rx painkillers. This happened while I was trying to nurse a horrible injury that completely disrupted my preparation for a karate tournament. Ugh. I just couldn’t deal with so much at once. 

Thanks to social media, my friend discovered that I was in AZ for work and sent me a two sentence text that cheered up my horrible day. “I was wondering why the sunrise was so beautiful. Now I know because you are close.”  How lucky am I to have such sweet and supportive friends in my life?  He and I met BF (Before Facebook) and have kept in touch, despite living in different states and timezones. Our daughters bonded as pre Tweens over french fries and ketchup/ranch dressing art. So J, and all of my friends who hold my heart so gently in your hands, especially T-rouble, I say Mahalo nui loa for reminding me that being lonely isn’t the same as being alone. I’m grateful and blessed.