Category Archives: culture

What’s Your Ikigai (Reason for Being)?

Wikipedia lends the following definition:

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” It is similar to the French phrase Raison d’être. Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.[1] Examples include work, hobbies and raising children.[2]

The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (wikt:生き?) meaning “life; alive” and kai (甲斐) “(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail” (sequentially voiced as gai) “a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something that] makes life worth living; a raison d’etre”.[3]

In the culture of Okinawaikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. In a TED TalkDan Buettner suggested ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.[4]

The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to one’s economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.

In the article named Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei (“Ikigai: the process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”) Kobayashi Tsukasa says that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”[1][5]

My Ikigai is to stay active and perpetuate the rich API culture through my hobbies – dancing hula, paddling outriggers, and teaching karate.  Working out in the dojo taught me more about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar or MBA could have.  Recently, I opened a karate dojo as my passion project.  We focus on the values of Respect, Discipline, and Self-Confidence to help our students find their Ikigai.

Ikigai JaeRequiro

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#TeamTogisala #togisalashorinryu #fitlife #GirlPower #respect #discipline #focus #selfconfidence #selfdefense #dojoOhana #ikigai

Back on Track #trainmean Discipline, Respect and Humility

So far, 2017 has rolled over me.  We have lost family members and friends in our personal lives.  That means memorial services, funerals and lots and lots of tears.  At times, I’ve had to be strong enough to hold my loved ones up.  Other times, I’ve cried into my pillow or sobbed in the parking lot at work to let it out.  We hosted family from out of state after being away for a week for SuperGrands and sandwiched in between the sorrow, I’ve had to travel for business so I can network for my future career.  2017 has been whirlwind of frenetic activity.
My intention was to start training for my next race back in November 2016.  I wanted to train for 12 weeks to work on my race pace.  My goal was achievable but challenging.  In my first half marathon back in 2012, I ran a 13 minute mile and finished the race in 3 hours.  Somehow that race wound up being 13.98 miles instead of 13.1 but whatever.  A 13 minute mile for a half marathon is my race pace when I don’t prepare and the weather conditions are mild, not too hot or cold.


My best time has been a 13.64 mile race at 12:21 miles/minute and a time of 2 hours 48 minutes.  That race was the 2015 Avengers Half Marathon, which I did in conjunction with the Captain America 10K.  The two races together were marketed by RunDisney as the “Infinity Gauntlet Challenge – a 10K early Saturday morning and a half marathon the next morning on Sunday.  I took that training really seriously because I was concerned about whether my body could handle that many miles over one weekend because #ihaterunning.  That training paid off:  my body was in very good shape, my stamina was excellent, and my confidence was very high.  The root of those positive results:  fit body, better stamina and higher self-confidence, are founded in core values for the dojo, two that we carry-over from Rabago Shorin Ryu:  Discipline and Respect.  I would like to add a third core value that I want to include for Togisala Shorin Ryu Dojo:  Humility.

This word “Discipline” is defined by Webster as:  “1.  Punishment 2. obsolete Instruction 3. A field of study 4. Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”  In their Children’s Dictionary, “Discipline” is defined as “Strict training that corrects or strengthens mental ability or moral character.”  That defines what we want to teach in the dojo.  My training for half marathons fulfills the role of reinforcing the importance of my own discipline in training and conditioning my body.  Last year, I focused 50% of my energy on my day job, raising Kanoe, and being a good girlfriend; 35% of my energy on opening up the new studio; and 15% of my energy on my own training.  I would never approve of one our students only putting in 15% of their energy towards training and I had been very down on myself for that.  But life was filled with many barriers taking up my time after November.  December’s calendar listed business trips, a halau Christmas concert performance, the dojo Christmas party, and SuperGrands.  Honest reasons but not good excuses for being less than  disciplined on my training.

I already mentioned what January felt like for us.  And it all led to depression and health issues for us.  We are focusing on  getting his blood pressure under control and managing his blood sugars to get off of medication.  That takes discipline on both of our parts.  I need to ensure that we have healthy meals to eat and lots of opportunities for exercise and healthy distractions.  He must resist the temptation of sugary foods and drinks and the habit of mindless, late night snacking.  This discipline is critical to his health. Our lives are so intertwined because we live together and we share the responsibilities of running the dojo.  His health impacts my health and vice versa.

Our second core value for Togisala Shorin Ryu, “Respect” may sound simple.  The word is used every day in formal and casual conversations. However, the dictionary defines this word as a noun that means, “A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” In addition, as a verb, the definitions reads as, “Admire (someone or something) deeply, as  result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”  What would that look like when one enters the dojo?  Students must bow before they walk onto the mat to train.  In addition, we bow to a photo of the late Sensei Rabago, who taught both Sensei Butch and me, of Rabago Shorin Ryu.  Before we start class to stretch and warm-up, we show respect by bowing to our Sensei and Sempai.  In addition, students must bow to one another while doing partner drills together.  If they are sparring, tapping gloves shows respect that each student will show good sportsmanship.  Winning is always celebrated with Respect.  Show-boating when winning is frowned upon.  Crying when losing is also not allowed.  We want to teach our students to Respect the lesson in each match or each drill.  Showing courtesy by using the words, “thank you” and “please” also builds Respect. Having such Respect starts with Discipline.  Many children start martial arts at such a young age that they don’t consciously understand these concepts but I trust that consistency and setting a good example will allow them to internalize these lessons.


But a more difficult value to teach and learn is the word, “Humility.”  I am going to spend more time processing this definition and tying it to our teaching at Togisala Shorin Ryu.  Look for a new blog post building on this one soon.  I need to go tend to our new puppy.  I want to name her “Kihon” (look up this Japanese word, if you don’t know what it means).


 

 

 

 

Cancer sucks, Life is short, and we must Live Aloha all in, every day.

September 22, 2016

By the time I staggered out of bed this morning, my daughter was already wide awake, dressed for school and eating breakfast.  She was rocking her white Chucks and her million dollar smile bright and early at 7:00a.m. today.  And my boyfriend had been out of the house for at least an hour, maybe two.  I remember feeling his butterfly kisses  across my cheeks and nose early this morning, and heard his sweet whisper, “Ok Lovely, have  good day.  I love you.  See you soon.”  After hitting the snooze button twice, I dragged myself to the bathroom to shower and get ready for a long day.

As I stood in front of my closet, draped in my pastel pink leopard printed robe, I contemplated what to wear.  How do I make a fashion decision on what to wear when my day would consist of the following:  work, conference call, funeral at St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach, a career counseling phone call with a colleague/friend, my annual visit to the gynecologist, and back to work at the Toyota Automotive Museum for an event to launch the 2016 Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks with 75 D&I practitioners from across Los Angeles.  What shoes does one wear for such a busy, action-packed day?  I opted for a chic but comfortable color-blocked tan, cream, and black sheath with a tan blazer on top.  It felt fashionable and conservative without being too churchy and boring.   During the day I wore my sensible wedges with my sexy color blocked heels safely tucked away in my car for tonight.  There is something about an evening event that just requires sexy heels.

The environment at work has been one of turmoil and change.  One of my dearest mentors and former bosses is retiring in about a week.  I’ve asked colleague to send cards, photos and notes of gratitude to me so I can paste them into a scrapbook of Memories for Midge.  I don’t know how to scrapbook but I’ve got scissors, non-acid glue, colored paper, and an album.  Hope it all turns out ok.

Thinking about her retirement and my eventual separation from my place of employment has me feeling sentimental.  My buddies at work have already relocated to North Texas so my days at work are much more subdued and quiet.  I feel like my friends are gone and that makes for a lot less fun during the workday.

Yesterday, I opened my email and read that one of my colleagues and friends who worked on a huge diversity project with me over the past ten years passed away and her funeral would happen this morning.  She will be laid to rest on Friday.  I know she has been fighting cancer for years and had spent months at a stretch on medical leave, undergoing various treatments and somehow defying her doctors’ expectations and recovering each time.   But I haven’t worked with her for several months and literally just discovered that she had passed away one week ago today.

Death is a part of life, right?  We are put on this earth to contribute somehow by living a full and productive life.  Some of us teach, some of us work, and others of us take care of the planet and the planet inhabitants unselfishly and freely.  But cancer.  Why do some people have to fight against a disease like cancer to have the strength to teach, to work, and to give freely?  It doesn’t seem fair that the people who seem the most generous and selfless have to fight against cancer.  Why don’t more assholes and racists and bigots and misogynists and murderers and pedophiles get cancer?  Why do the nicest people get hit with one of the cruelest diseases?

Cancer make no sense to me.  Wikipedia says that Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Not all tumors are cancerous; benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.  Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they may have other causes.  Over 100 cancers affect humans. I think about all of the loved ones my family has lost to cancer.  I think about my dear friends who are fighting against cancer right now, as I typed these words across my Kensington keyboard.  The article goes on to say that 15% of deaths are caused by cancer.  Cancer also increased the risk of anxiety and depression in patients who already have a propensity for it.  I hate cancer.

The funeral was filled with choir songs, as my friend was an extremely talented singer who loved all kinds of music.  The young priest talked about how even though we are mourning, today would be about the celebration of life and reconnecting with our faith, as my friend stood strong in her religious beliefs.  Even though funerals suck the energy out of me, I think it was good for me to attend Mass today.  I thanked God for my many blessings, I prayed for the health of my family and friends, and I sat still for over an hour.  A few minutes of meditation did me good today, as the world is in turmoil around us.  I sat still and remembered my friend and was reminded that cancer sucks, life is short, and we must Live Aloha all in, every day.

 

 

 

Sensei Richard Rabago #shorinryu #karate #martialarts #tradition #btilc

  
The door opened around 6:00pm today. I heard happy notes being sung as boxes rustled and keys clanked on the kitchen counter. It is comforting to hear such lovely sounds at the end of a long work day. I was making my bed on the other side of the house when he walked in, arms full of stuff. 

First, I spotted the grey gi, perfectly pressed without a single wrinkle. I remember that gi very well. The sound of the “snap” when Sensei Richard pulled a punch or perform a series of moves in a kata would echo off the walls of the dojo. 

  
Sensei Butch stacked up a mountain of movie costumes and trophies but I fixated on the grey gi. All those nights filled with physical training – running basic blocks, kicks, punches, stances over and over and over until the movement became automatic and natural.  Countless hours of challenging my shyness to feel ready to perform kata alone, in front of strangers and classmates. And numerous moments of laughter and smiles after class was pau, just talking story or ribbing students about nothing and everything, it all came back to me in a flash. I walked to the kitchen and found my Rabago Shorin Ryu patch from 15 years ago. We will sew it onto Sensei Richard’s gi before we hang it in the dojo. 

“…and this Hakama from one of his movies…and this ninja hood from the movie, ‘Pocket Ninjas’  and ‘Full Impact’ which he produced…” we went through each item and shared memories. Sensei Butch worked on a lot of these projects and had stories about Sensei Richard and other black belts. On some films, Sensei Richard choreographed stunts, in others he was an actor and at times, he produced the films. He also spent years playing “Tao” in the TV series, “V.R. Troopers.” 

Sensei Butch always talks about how lucky he was to have a father who supported his martial arts training and a Sensei who treated him like a son. They both pushed him to train hard and stay focused. Butch often states that karate pulled him out of the ghetto, that’s real. Because of his talent and hard work, Sensei Butch travelled across the country and around the world to compete in karate tournaments. 

None of these costumes would possibly fit Sensei Butch so I decided to try on a few items. 
  Do I look like a “Pocket Ninja” in my Hello Kitty kigarumi and ninja costume hood? 
   Costume from “Big Trouble in Little China.” 

This little walk down memory lane felt like a gentle reminder as to why I train. Karate gave me an anchor and home base after college. I had a new home and an expanded family as I grew into becoming an adult. I know that so much of my life success as a single mom with a demanding career can be attributed to what I learned on the dojo floor. My responsibility is to pass along what I can to help instill the values of discipline, respect, tradition, humility, integrity and Ohana to our students at Togisala Shorin Ryu. 

Belt Testing with Our Martial Arts Ohana

Pre-rank test photo on December 6, 2015

  
Togisala Shorin Ryu had an awesome day for our belt promotions on December 6, 2015. I’m so proud of Team Togisala! My fellow students all showed so much heart and dedication. Sensei Butch pushed everyone very hard during the rank test but I know we made him proud. Oss!
Personally, I wanted to send an extra big Mahalo Nui Loa/Domo Arigato to our esteemed black belt panel. There were a total of twelve black belts on the review panel. We had a wide variety of martial arts styles represented, world champions, esteemed expert teachers, and, to my delight, three women. When I starters training, there was only one Black Belt who was a woman that taught us on a consistent basis. To have three women sitting on the panel, made me feel honored and humbled that day. I wanted to kick ass on my test and earn my rank. 

But there were also Sensei on the panel who studied with Sensei Rabago. I felt a bit worried that my performance wouldn’t live up to Rabago Shorin Ryu standards. That was just my own insecurity and abnormally high performance standards. If one of them mentioned Sensei Rabago, I would have cried. At my core, I am a sentimental sap. 

Another lesson from my training is that as an individual, I have power and control over my life if I stay focused and disciplined. In 2003, Sensei Rabago brought in boards for some of the students. The physical part of breaking boards isn’t difficult, what usually holds students back is over thinking it. The idea of breaking a solid board seems intimidating and perhaps challenging. In fact, all one needs to do is focus the power of the strike past the board. 

  
When I asked why we didn’t break boards more often, Sensei Rabago said that boards don’t hit back. I giggled. 

All of these lessons stay with me. And even though I don’t train to spar anymore, I use the ideas and principles of being disciplined and focused to spar during my belt test.  Despite being physically tired, I knew that the fighting wouldn’t last multiple rounds like a UFC match. My experience has taught me that sparring during a belt test is more about heart than strength. I’m confident in my heart and passion for training.  What I didn’t expect was to fight a brown belt from another dojo. Check it out below:  

  

 I wound up with some gorgeous bruises. 

The best part of this test was having my little dojo brothers and sisters give me high fives after I sparred. 

How Brown Gets Down 2nd Kyu Karate

  
(I never know where my blog postings are going to go.  I wanted to write about my brown belt test and instead thoughts of my two divorces pounded out on my keyboard.  The idea of having two failed marriages sounds a bit humiliating but you know what, it is a part of my life story and I am ok sharing it.  I am definitely not the same person I was 20 years ago when I started karate, fourteen years ago when I got married the first time, or even two years ago when I went back to my martial arts training at Togisala Shorin Ryu.)

December 6, 2015

Today, I passed a test.  It wasn’t a test written on paper.  It wasn’t a compliance eLearning module from work.  And I certainly have no need to take a pregnancy test.  The test I passed consisted of challenging physical exercises, open hand kata, weapons kata, and sparring against two dudes at once.  At my vintage age of 45, I went through a grueling physical challenge to earn my 2nd kyu rank in Shorin Ryu karate, better known by lay people as a brown belt.

You might ask why an old lady like me would want to train in martial arts. My dojo classmates are between the ages of 6 and 35.  I am fairly certain I am the oldest colored belt ranked student on the dojo floor.  Even my Sensei is a year younger than me.  I started training in my 20s, I worked out diligently for a few years, four days a week.  But when birth control failed and I found myself pregnant, I had to stop training.   Unfortunately, even though I was about to test for my green belt, Sensei Rabago had me stop at purple because it would be a huge liability for him to test me while I was hapai (pregnant).  I still trained four days a week until my belly started to show at four months, just like I played softball with my co-ed work team until I hit five months preggo.  They all yelled at me every time I ran the bases because my favorite way to slide was face first.  “Run!  Don’t slide!  Don’t slide!  Don’t’ slide!!!” they yelled at me as I turned toward second base.  Ha.  I still slid feet first for a couple of games.

So why now?  Why am I back on the dojo floor after twenty years?  Simply put, I love karate.  Lessons from my Sensei, the late Richard Rabago, gave me more tips about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar, book, or MBA could have.  Unfortunately, despite trying to go back to Rabago Shorin Ryu intermittently, raising my daughter alone and having a demanding career trumped the hobbies in my life.  While my daughter was very young, dancing in halau gave both of us a sense of ohana.  As she got older and I earned a better salary, I could afford to pay for childcare while I went to outrigger practice.  Now, she is almost out of high school and becoming more independent.  We both dance hula and I feel comfortable and confident going to the dojo three times a week to train now, without feeling guilty about doing something without my daughter.  The best part is, she gets along with the students and parents at the dojo so sometimes she comes to hang out and talk story with everyone while I practice.

Today, I sit in a very different position in life and at work.  Personally, I haven’t had much success with personal relationships, as I’m twice divorced.  Both relationships were based on strong friendships but not much romance or heat.  The first marriage ended when he decided that drinking the boys was more fun than spending time with his wife and stepdaughter.  He wasn’t going to stop drinking and I wasn’t ‘going to let him hurt me or my daughter.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to let him abuse me in any way in front of my daughter.  But he left without ever looking back so we both knew the marriage wasn’t meant to be.

In my experience, it is pretty much impossible to have a serious relationship while holding down a demanding corporate job as a single mom.  I never had a problem being asked out on a date but having a significant long lasting relationship became an elusive thing for me.  Because of the nature of my work, I am on the road about 25% of my time.  Planning dates and building a foundation of a relationship takes quality time, face to face.  The whole “free time” thing has felt like a luxury to me for most of my life.  Dating without a lot of free time doesn’t work out very well.  And, most of all, being a mother surpasses anything else in my life.

My second marriage looked perfect on paper.   Once we walked down the aisle and signed the actual papers, it all fizzled into complacency and a wonderful roommate situation.  He was neat and kept to himself.  He even bought his own groceries and laundry detergent separately from us.  Has anyone heard of a marriage like that?  Sad.  We had shared friends, and grew up with a common culture.  It should have been an easy relationship to nurture.  But he kept himself separate in so many ways, it was easy to say goodbye.

Why do I bring those failed relationships up?  I learned after my recent divorce that I needed to focus on my own happiness as an individual.  Tying my happiness to someone else or something else wasn’t going to bring lasting contentment or love.  And karate is an individual sport.  Karate taught me discipline as well as self-defense.  In my opinion, karate fueled my independence and nurtured my self-confidence.

When I started training 20 years ago, I worked out four nights a week and would  often stay late with Sensei Travis when his friends would come in to spar or work grappling or just do my kata.  I am quite certain I was in the best physical condition of my life.   I felt great.  Karate became the perfect supplement to hula and the values I learned through both reinforced all the lessons I learned from my parents and grandparents.  Family first.  Be humble.  Work hard.   Help others.  Give back.  Your actions represent your family, your halau, your dojo so act accordingly and don’t be a douchebag (ok, maybe I adjusted that last one a bit).

Sharing personal values with the values that I learned on the dojo floor made it very easy for me to train.  And, the more I studied and developed as a martial artist, the more I felt an obligation to give back.  Quite often, I would train as the only woman on the floor.  It was a rare occasion when I saw a female black belt.  Today, things are different but 20 years ago, I did not see many as many women at tournaments or teaching.

My rank test for 2nd kyu symbolized much more than just improvement in my training and/or martial arts skills.  It brings a large obligation to my life as I learn to be an instructor.  Although Sensei Rabago always emphasized that the color of someone’s belt is less important than their integrity and commitment, the average person will make judgments on the basis of what color a karate-ka wears.  And, research shows that people base 90% of their judgments on others based on the 10% that they see.  So, to gain credibility from one glance, a black belt earns it more quickly than a colored belt.

The rank test I passed on December 6, 2015 symbolizes one tiny step in my training.  My physical condition is excellent because I had trained to run 19.3 miles over a weekend for the RunDisney Infinity Gauntlet Challenge.  My mental condition stays strong and focused.  Much of that must be related to the miles and miles of running that I invested to prepare for both the races and my belt test.  But the best part is, my spiritual condition feels grounded and secure.  And that means my body is healthy, my heart is at peace and the possibilities ahead of me are endless.

 

 

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 match.com 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 Match.com 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.