Category Archives: Leadership

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

Getting Published; A Forward for “Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will to Change” #diversity #inclusion

My colleague and friend, Jennifer Brown, asked me to write the Forward for her new book, “Inclusion:  Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will to Change.”  It has just been released and when I saw an advance copy of it in the bookstore at the 2016 Out & Equal Conference, it made me smile.  Hard copy books feel so official and important to me.  I love reading on my iPad or Kindle but the tactile feel of turning paper pages and even the scent of paper and printing ink add to my enjoyment when I read a hard copy book.  Seeing my name in print after something that I wrote was exciting.

I have to thank Noemie Iniguez, a young Black Belt from our brother dojo in South Carolina, for doing a quick edit to my draft before I sent it to the publisher. When I blog, I just write.  I don’t edit or even spellcheck.  But for this forward, I felt like I should send it over as close to final as I possibly could and a second pair of eyes reviewing a draft is always helpful.

So here is the Forward.  And if you’re interested in purchasing a book,

Get updates and download your free chapter here: http://jenniferbrownconsulting.com/inclusion-the-book

When Jennifer approached me with a request to contribute to the forward of
her book, I felt extremely honored. I consider Jennifer to be a trusted
thought leader and a dear friend. We easily move from holding deep,
strategic conversations about social justice and diversity to giggling over
silly events involving family and friends. But I felt pressure to write
comments on point with what is happening today in our country around
diversity and inclusion.  Honestly, my will to change has levelled up like
the obsessed Pokemon Go gamers wandering the streets across America. As our
country struggles with tension across groups, it feels like I have job
security because I get paid to create change. Our systems are broken, our
country is wounded and we must have the will to create change to heal.
By the time I received more details on Jennifer’s book, our country had
heard more reports of police officers shooting African Americans, woken up
to news of the Orlando nightclub attack, and just experienced the sniper’s
attack on police officers in Dallas. Putting this in context with the
concept of “Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change” made it easy
for me to craft my thoughts to this Forward. I am delighted and humbled to
be afforded this opportunity to put into writing my respect and admiration
for Jennifer and her work.
When I joined my company eighteen years ago to work in “Corporate
Diversity,” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My definition of
“diversity” was limited to race and gender. Like most people, my thoughts I
focused on protected classes; I saw this position as an opportunity to give
voice to the underdog. I joined Corporate America in the late 90’s and found
very few role models for me to emulate. Where would I find the Gen X,
Asian-Pacific American, LGBT Ally, single mother of a biracial child with
disabilities who were running companies and calling the shots? Diversity
became a concept I connected with immediately and revealed itself as one of
the only ways I felt that I could make an impact in my company and leave a
legacy, because of my will to create change.
The concept of “inclusion” hit me as very fresh and exciting, an opportunity
to bring straight white men over 40 into the work and really make the
culture change effort for everyone. After all, I quickly learned that
culture change is not about taking anything away from one group to give to
another, it isn’t a “fight the power” theory, it is about creating space for
all individuals to fully contribute and thrive. And corporate culture change
must be focused on the bottom line:  working towards keeping a competitive
advantage in these uncertain economic times, driven by a will to change.
Creating change is often a lonely place. Finding the will to change, and to
create real change requires passion and patience. One needs passion to
create change, passion for what is possible, and passion about seeing
results. If a person becomes involved with Diversity and Inclusion for
monetary rewards or recognition, it is doubtful that he or she will be
successful. This work is about service to the company and to others. The
ultimate goal is higher performance, which only comes about when people are
feeling valued, supported and respected for their individuality.
My mom once asked me to describe what I do for a living. I answered, “Well,
it feels like I bang my head against the wall of resistance to create
change. At times, the wall of resistance actually cracks, which gives me a
moment to rest and inspires me to continue.” The will to change requires a
lot of patience and a strong will to change. Patience is about realizing
that change happens when one convinces their constituents to slow down to
adjust behaviors so they can speed up the way they do business. Allow
yourself to see the signs of change, acknowledge the necessary work you put
in and celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

The will to change must come from deep inside the change agent. No one can
artificially manifest that sort of will.  Jennifer Brown has laid out real
time examples of how we must find our own voices to create change. Don’t be
your toughest critic and minimize your accomplishments, this work takes
time, this work takes dedication and this work takes patience. Keep that in
perspective when someone tells you that you haven’t been successful. It all
begins with understanding our own values and motivation to live life in
today’s turbulent and uncertain world.

Thumb-typed on my iPhone

“Moral Compass” #DojoOhana #LiveAloha

At the top of the meeting today, my boss introduced me to the entire group as a hard-working leader, dedicated LGBT Ally, and the “moral compass” of the department.  That struck me as a bit of a surprise. According to the dictionary, the phrase “moral compass” is used in reference to a person’s ability to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly.  

An image of Season 5 Glenn Rhee from “The Walking Dead” popped into my head.  His character always worked to find the win win solution or to avoid unnecessary violence on the show. Glenn put his family and loved ones first but never intentionally harmed another character. In the show, Glenn played the role of level-headed thinker and worked hard to keep peace for his group. (I really can’t help myself. I nerd out over “The Walking Dead”, “Star Wars”, and “Game of Thrones” while I’m at work.)

The interesting thing is, as I considered what “moral compass” meant, I remembered what happened when my Kumu gave our class Hawaiian names. Everyone had pretty names that started with the letter “K”. We had “Kaleikamaka” and “Kalani Ki’e Ki’e” and “Kapualani”, amongst other names. My given Hawaiian name was different from everyone else, “Pi’ilaniwahine”. When I asked what my name meant, Uncle Randy replied, “I see you as someone who works very hard, hula doesn’t necessarily come easy to you. You also always want to do the right thing and help others. So your name breaks down like this:  Pi’i = to ascend; Lani = heaven; wahine = woman.  Pi’ilani was the last king of Maui so ‘wahine’ is important to your name. You also always fight for equality for women.  So, your name means:  ‘The woman who ascends to heaven and achieves greatness.'” At the time, my name felt like big shoes to fill. It was a surprise to hear that he saw me as a person who always does the right thing. I fought for the underdog, I believed in equality and integrity. These days, I don’t even consider the deeper meaning of my name, I just love it because it is mine. 

As I reflect on the past eighteen months and all the change that our dojo has endured, being a moral compass becomes even more notable. We have experienced betrayal and uncovered dishonesty from people we once trusted. We have also seen loyalty dissipate in a flash. But instead of lashing out by taking an eye for an eye approach, I believe that living with respect and acting with integrity is the right approach. Team Togisala will rebuild by staying focused on our goals to teach karate, drill basics, and develop champions. 

To anyone who has knocked one of us down or stolen what isn’t yours, you cannot break us. When you point your finger at us in judgment and accuse us of doing something wrong, take a look at how many fingers are pointing at you. And as you try to keep someone from our dojo under your thumb, look around. You are no match for the multiple pair of hands around us that lift us up. The true meaning of Dojo Ohana is to give and love with no expectations of receiving anything in return. Our Dojo Ohana crosses multiple martial arts disciplines and even crosses state lines. As much as you try to take take take from those who you once called your friends, you will always wind up alone. Even Zazou in “Lion King” knows, “Cheetahs never prosper.”  


My boss may consider my role on the team as the “moral compass”  But I believe in Living Aloha. Do not harm but take no shit. Family first and family is not limited to blood relatives. My moral compass is grounded in the values I learned through my martial arts journey:  Respect, Discipline, Integrity, Perseverance, Humility. That’s what drives my moral compass. 

Brain Drain and Pain – Why Inclusion Matters

When a human being is born, their brain weighs one pound. If you are reading this blog, your brain probably weighs about three pounds. Through normal human development and physical growth starting as a swaddled infant to toddling around as a toddler to tip-toeing through life as a tween/teen and eventually, achieving adult status, your brain gained two more pounds. Every life experience, jump rope jumped, schoolbook read and to a lesser extent, television show watched, has contributed to your brain’s development and weight gain. Every human being is unique because no one has had exactly the same life experiences. Even identical twins bring diversity to a conversation because genetic make-up aside, they are not exactly the same person.

That was the gist of the first two minutes of a presentation I heard this week by a woman who is a UCLA professor in the Psychology Department and the Anderson School of Management. Because my career has been focused on creating work environments where people can bring their full selves to work and contribute freely in a safe environment, I became intrigued with every word Dr. Iris Firstenberg spoke. Diversity is so much more than race and gender, that I understood and tried to communicate in all of my presentations and interactions at work. But to learn about how neuroscience creates diversity in each and every human being was truly a “mind blown’ moment. And I do not find myself shocked or surprised by much at this stage of my career. Pi’ilani’s mind went kaboom.

Here is what I learned about the brain.

 

 

Near the center of the brain exists the Limbic System. According to Wikipedia: “The limbic system was originally defined by Paul Broca as a series of cortical structures surrounding the limit between the cerebral hemispheres and the brainstem: the border, or limbus, of the brain. These structures were known together as the limbic lobe. Further studies began to associate these areas with emotional and motivational processes and linked them to subcortical components that were grouped into the limbic system. The existence of such a system as an isolated entity responsible for the neurological regulation of emotion has gone into disuse and currently it is considered as one of the many parts of the brain that regulate visceral, autonomic processes.”

So, what does that actually mean? The limbic system is responsible for both emotions and memory. Consider an experience from your life that was highly emotional, maybe you were PISSED at your best friend for borrowing your favorite sweater or perhaps your favorite pet passed away unexpectedly and you cried for days, aren’t those memories burned into your mind? In your brain (and every other human being’s brain), the emotional center is right next to the memory center. That means that highly emotional experiences are highly memorable experiences. Much to my delight, I also learned that food and alcohol directly impact the limbic system. That satisfaction and gratification can elicit an emotional reaction and create lasting memories. For an Asian Pacific Islander like me, every social gathering must revolve around food and drink. For example, holiday get-togethers in my family consist of multiple rounds of food starting with loads of appetizers, followed by a hearty meal with both ethnic and American dishes , ending with delightful desserts and all accompanied by fine wine, hand-crafted cocktails or fancy sodas for the kids and/or teetotalers.

Another thing to consider is that people need to constantly stimulate their brains. Because your brain is constantly sculpting itself and growing and changing through experiences such as traveling, reading, dancing or playing music. This sort of on-going learning stimulates growth in your brain and can help stave off Alzheimer’s, even if you have a genetic disposition for the disease. So encourage your elderly family and friends to read, do crosswords, play cards, exercise and stay social to keep that brain sculpting going.

But what about when people are experiencing stress? They are being driven by their emotional brain – fear, danger, nerves, anxiety. When there are lots of connections going up to that area and not enough connections coming down to placate that brain, the emotional brain is overwhelmed.  Emotion trumps logic every time. Human beings absolutely need to calm that brain down to think logically. Think about when you’re arguing with your partner or sibling or child and you’re both so sure that your point of view is the right answer. As you build your argument and elevate your voices and blood pressure, it becomes harder and harder to truly hear the other person’s point of view. If you are trying to end the argument or calm the situation down, remember this little tip. Louder is not better. The limbic system hears in a nonverbal manner. So take a breath and sit next to the person, not across from one another, to make it easier to calm them down. Feel free to give them a drink or some food. Because a sense of touch is calming, it may be appropriate for you to gently touch the other person, place a hand softly on their shoulder, or hold their hand in yours. This can all help calm down the limbic system and allow the disagreement to begin to dissipate.

So how does this relate to one’s work environment? You risk charges of sexual harassment if you place your hand on a work colleague. And it is rare that a disagreement would escalate to a yelling match at the office. But what happens when you don’t include people at work. Maybe you walk around and look at your shoes or your phone because you’re a bit of an introvert like me. Or perhaps you really are so busy that you forget to say Hello to someone in the hall or people who sit near your desk. Exclusion, even when it is not done with any intention of hurting someone, can directly impact morale and productivity. In fact, neuroscience has proven that being excluded or rejected can be as painful as being socked in the stomach, people elicit the exact same brainwave patterns in each case. Whether it is a person who never gets invited to lunch or a person who just got dumped by the love of their life, it all hurts the same in their brainwaves.

Consider a time when you felt social rejection as a tween or teenager. We all have stories of being rejected or excluded and we probably all remember how much it hurt, despite our well-intended parents telling us that “you’ll get over it” or “this too shall pass”. These rejections stay with us as adults and definitely impact our decision making and socialization.

I grew up in a fantastic neighborhood where I could walk to my elementary school and all of our neighbors were very friendly. I was lucky to have kids across the street who were close to my age, who cares if they were mostly boys, I learned how to throw a tight spiral in 5th grade. Around the corner, my best friends lived and we roller skated and played together all the time. But one thing was missing, there were no other Filipino kids in my neighborhood. My besties were also children of Asian immigrant parents but none were Pinoy. At around 12 years of age, I wanted to learn more about Filipino culture and asked if my mom would take me someplace so I could learn Filipino folk dancing.

The national dance of the Philippines is called the Tinikling, which pays homage to the movements of a much-loved bird, and is a graceful and athletic challenge of dancing and jumping in between bamboo poles that are being struck together to keep rhythm. It looks similar to playing jump rope, except that the dancers perform the steps around and between the bamboo poles, and the dance becomes faster until someone makes a mistake and the next set of dancers takes a turn. It looked like fun and I really wanted to connect with my culture so my mother took me to the Filipino Community Club across town so I could join their youth group.

I walked in wearing my Izod polo shirt, jeans, and Birkenstocks. The other kids from this neighborhood were in baggies, MaryJanes and Chucks. All of girls wore lipstick and used hairspray and looked so much more feminine than me. They were polite to me when the supervisor walked me around to let them know I was going to join their dance classes. However, as soon as we were left alone, one of the girls stage whispered to her friend, “What IS she wearing? Hippie shoes, ugh, gross.” At that moment, I decided that I wouldn’t come back and I never told my mom why. It became really hard for me to make friends with other Pinay girls after that because I thought they would all reject me in that way. Thankfully I had awesome cousins who were like my best friends so I did get large doses of my culture that way. But unfortunately, I never learned about Filipino folk dancing until college.

Inclusion is fundamental to all human interaction. When you include people and treat them with respect, they feel engaged and trusted. People need to be welcoming and honest to build friendships. Leaders have to be vulnerable for employees feel trusted. When someone feels excluded, the brain reacts to it in the same way as when the body is kicked in the stomach. Do your best to behave inclusively in all of your relationships. And keep in mind that logic cannot be achieved if emotions are running high.

Letter of Resignation

Sorry to start off this way but I have to apologize. I have been neglecting this blog of late. Work and life have reached a frenetic pace, once again, and I can’t even carve out free time to play with my newly acquired MacBook Pro to learn how to produce a podcast. My body clock had been thrown out of whack so badly that my acupuncturist took one quick glance at me, and said, “I haven’t seen you for a while, you look really pretty, I like your haircut.” She then took a hard look into my eyes and at tongue (I still don’t get why Chinese doctors read patient’s tongues) and followed up with, “Oh, but you look completely worn out. In all these years of treating you, I have never seen you look this bad.” Thanks, Doc, as if I didn’t already feel like shit when I staggered through the door. I say all of that to explain why I have been absent from posting to this blog for almost two full months. I haven’t been writing much, aside from the numerous communications at work but no one wants to read that, right?

Very recently, I wrote a letter of resignation. I haven’t crafted one of these in almost 20 years. My career has taken me through many twists and turns but when it is all said and done, I have worked for different affiliates of my current company for almost 17 years. Prior to this, my employment was through an employment agency so no formal letter of resignation was required when I have moved on to permanent employment.

So as I sat at my keyboard with the intention of typing a brief letter to announce my resignation, I realized that I didn’t know where to start. To the Internet I raced. A quick google search brought me to websites with advice and coaching on how to write a cover letter and create a resume that will “pop” and catch a recruiter’s eye. Don’t believe what you read on the internet. If you are applying for a job via a website, use key words in your resume and cover letter that will be read when your materials are scanned by a computer. Rare is the case that a human being will read your cover letter and resume when it first arrives. You need to have the electronic scanner bot approve you before a live organism such as an HR recruiting team member touches your resume and cover letter.

The guidance on resignation letters felt impersonal and dry. Essentially, I gleaned that one should not burn bridges when leaving a place employment (#noduh) and showing gratitude for the knowledge and experience acquired at one’s soon to be past place of employment is important.

Just to be clear, I haven’t left my current employer. I have resigned from the Diversity Collegium. The website describes the organization as such: “The Diversity Collegium is a group of 25 professionals that has been meeting for more than two decades for the purpose of advancing the work that has come to be known as the field of Diversity and Inclusion. The Collegium members meet to discuss current issues in the field. In the process, they conduct research and prepare papers on current and cutting edge questions. Membership in the group is by invitation only and is managed so that a balance of diversity is created among its members including such dimensions as race/ethnicity, industry, gender, and how one practices in the field. The Diversity Collegium is a non-profit corporation registered in the State of Washington, USA.”

As I reflected on my time with the organization that I chose to resign from, I realized that the experience I gained has have impacted my professional life tremendously. My connection to men and women who founded the field and study of diversity and inclusion kicks ass on any PhD. We had dialogue and debate on issues that crossed race, gender, sexual orientation, global diversity, people with disabilities and when I joined, I wanted to explore generational diversity and personality style (introvert/extrovert) to the conversation.

My involvement with developing the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (as an expert panelist) is what I am most proud of in terms of a tangible deliverable from my time with the Diversity Collegium. The Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks: Standards for Organizations Around the World, was co-authored by Julie O’Mara and Alan Richter, Ph.D., along with 80 Expert Panelists. 



The Diversity Collegium does not charge a fee for anyone to download or use this tool. If you’re a practitioner with interest in this tool, go to their website to download The Global D&I Benchmarks tool.

One of the other highlights of my time with Diversity Collegium was having a quiet conversation about generational differences with the legendary R. Roosevelt Thomas over wine and a brownie. Moments like that are priceless. I wrote my letter of resignation with a smile because the friendships that I made through the Diversity Collegium have filled my life with luster and laughter. Hopefully, the next letter of resignation that I write will be completed with smiles and sweet memories like brownies and wine.

 

 

The Basics are Everything in #karate

The sun shone brightly on that clear Fall morning. Obviously, no one had informed the sun that it was October 26th, as the temperature had already reached the low 70s by 9:30am. I reached for my Maui Jim’s as I started the car and noticed my hand shook a bit. Nerves brought a chill to my bone, not autumn weather. The belt promotion test day had arrived and eight karatekas would face the physical and mental challenge of testing their abilities: perform kata – open hand and with weapons, spar against multiple opponents simultaneously and display working knowledge/practical application of martial arts techniques. This must occur after enduring an extremely physically challenging work-out. Each karateka must able to execute self-defense techniques, translate Japanese words and phrases and articulately respond to questions about training.

When I thought about the physical part of the test, I wasn’t worried. I had complete faith in my current fitness level. My training included cardio, hula, and karate. And the fundamental blocks, kicks and punches came back to me, just like riding a bike. Sensei Richard Rabago always said, “The basics are everything.” We would drill our blocks, kicks and punches for 30 to 45 minutes a night before the actual work out would begin.

The one thing that made me nervous was wondering if it would be hard for me to control my emotions. The last time I talked to Sensei Rabago about training, I had mentioned that I was ready to come back, as soon as my work life settled down. He responded, “Good. We are ready when you are. You should have been a black belt by now anyway.” That was about three years ago, when my manager at work became unexpectedly “separated” from the company and I suddenly found myself burdened with triple the workload and no additional resources at work or at home. Before I knew it, two years had passed and Sensei’s health had slowly begun to deteriorate. The dojo may always be ready for me but it never dawned on me that Sensei Rabago would not be there to guide my training.

Back in the day, I spent four days a week in the dojo. My week revolved around working out and sweating on the dojo floor. I would pack food to eat in the office at 5:00pm so that I would have enough energy to burn. My wardrobe consisted of long sleeved blouses and long skirts to hide the bruises from blocks and practicing techniques. I loved training so much, it was the best part of my day.

Those evenings would go a little something like this: A sempai (brown belt) or more junior black belt would lead warm up exercises. Military style jumping jacks “1-2-3-ONE! 2-2-3-TWO!” and so on, for at least three sets of ten. We would then stretch for 10 -15 minutes, and not some light head-shoulders-knees-and toes baloney, we would loosen up our quads, hamstrings, calves, knees, ankles, groin and move into splits before working on the appendages of our upper body. This would start the perspiration before any sort of kicking or punching was even mentioned.

Once we were sufficiently warmed up, if Sensei Rabago would walk out on to the floor we all kind of took a deep breath in and side eyed each other. We knew we were in for a work out. Two sets of ten punches each chudan zuki – middle punch; jodan zuki – upper punch; gedan zuki – low punch, with ten push-ups between each set. When you do the math, that adds up to a lot of push-ups. Follow that up with triple punch sets to work on speed with either squats or sit-ups in between each. Between karate, hula, tennis, volleyball and basketball, my knees have suffered abuse for my entire life. We followed the same routine for blocks: jodan uke – high block; soto uke – outside block; uchi uke – Inside block; and gedan barai – low block. Then we started kicks: Mawashi Geri, Yoko Geri, Mae Geri, etc. My favorite kick is the roundhouse, mawashi geri, because I feel like I can get so much power out of turning my hip over and adding the pivot. It always felt like a combination of throwing a baseball and doing a dance pivot, thrown with the intention of breaking an opponent’s femur. I also enjoyed the gedan barai – low block because the best way to block is to try to make yourself the smallest target possible and that means turning your shoulders and bending your knees. Something about that motion always felt like a dance move to me.

Training in the dojo taught me about much more than just self-defense. Sensei Rabago emphasized that women and girls learn to defend themselves against attacks. But when I think back to my training, I realized that my career success and life accomplishments can be attributed to the self-confidence and self-respect that Sensei instilled in all of his students. We represented more than just ourselves when we wore that gi or competed in tournaments. We were committed to training to improve ourselves. We were dedicated to perpetuating the tradition of Okinawan Shorin Ryu through our studies. We were warriors. I am a single mom of a biracial child with multiple learning disabilities and I hold down a demanding career, that makes me a working warrior.

Martial arts training teaches self-reliance and independence because you are the only person who can perform the kata or defend in kumite. However, Sensei Rabago nurtured his students in a way that can only be described as a family environment. The young students had to complete their homework before they could train. We weren’t allowed to walk outside with our gi on, and definitely restricted from wearing our belts outside. Sensei always said, “it doesn’t matter what color your belt is, all it does is hold your pants up.” This, from a 7th Dan Master. Humility and hard work, that was the biggest lesson I took away from Sensei Richard Rabago.  His philosophy on the dojo, “Money is important, but we don’t live our lives by it.  We want to keep the doors open, train dedicated students and make good people.”
On May 8, 2003, in Sensei Richard Rabago’s dojo, I broke a board for the first time with a reverse punch. He told me, “Good job, Girl. Pi’i, if you can break a board, you can break a bone”. I’ve kept it in my office to remind me that I can achieve anything if I’m willing to work hard (and I can break someone’s bone if they deserve it). Bam.

Today, I am lucky to study under Sensei Butch Togisala, Sensei Rabago’s number one black belt. Sensei Togisala has more trophies than one can count and has been a black belt as long as I have known him. I see the same family spirit in his new dojo. Even though he isn’t as hard on the kids as Sensei Rabago was, I love watching him teach. Sensei Togisala knows who to push hard, who to encourage and who to nurture. And I appreciate that he doesn’t train me “like a girl.” He trains me like a Warrior and I push myself to be a better karate-ka every day, in everything I do, starting with the basics: Punch-Kick-Block. The basics are everything.

May 25, 2012
Sensei Richard Rabago, 7th Dan
Sensei Richard Rabago was born August 14th, 1943 on the Island of O’ahu and raised on the garden isle of Kauai. As he was growing up on the Islands, Rabago Sensei had the opportunity to experience and study many different forms of martial arts. Rabago Sensei martial studies included: Judo, Aikido, Kempo and boxing. After completing high school Rabago Sensei moved to California in August of 1961. Then, he began his training in Shotokan Karate under the instruction of Tsutomu Oshima and Hidetaka Nishiyama.

Rabago Sensei trained and studied the principles of Shotokan until 1968. In
1969, he began his study of Shorin-Ryu Karate under Senseis’ George Terukina and Seikichi Iha. He progressed through the years and earned his title as “Sensei”. Rabago Sensei then opened his own dojo and for the past 30 plus years taught Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu and specialized techniques in use of force in Torrance, California.

Rabago Sensei has the experience, training credentials, and Budo skill to have earned the right to be called “Master” several times over. If you call him that, however, you’ll most likely get a roll of the eyes, a slightly embarrassed laugh, and the words, “just call me Sensei – that’s enough”. A throwback to the age of Budo and Honor, where a Karate-ka earned respect through skill and dedication, not by self-given titles, Rabago Sensei measures himself against a higher standard than is commonly used in martial arts today. Rabago Sensei has learned his most important lesson. “The basics are everything”.

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Sensei Richard Rabago, 7th Dan

 

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Me, 4th Kyu

Mentoring & Sponsorship @WMConferences

Last week, I spent time at Working Mother Media’s annual “Multicultural Women’s National Conference.” This event has provided me more personal development than any other conference that I have attended. I’ve even made a couple of new friends because of my participation and that is an extra special bonus. Imagine being in a room with 500 ambitious, driven, and successful women. The invitation to this conference is especially targeted towards women of color and Working Mother takes this opportunity to create a safe and honest dialogue about what is really going on with women in the workplace.

This year’s theme was powerful: “Vision and Impact: Charting What’s Next.” A brief website description read: “Together through collaborative conversation and vision planning we can launch real progress and ignite action in our careers and in our lives – thus positively impacting the future for the advancement of multicultural women in the workplace.

Our vision, values and goals shape the way we work, along with the expectations we have for our careers, and our lives. Knowing what we want – and being able to articulate that – is vital to live lives and build careers that have impact.”

Given the circumstances that my company has thrust upon the employees, it seems more than fitting. What is next in my career and my life? This conference presented me with time and space to evaluate my current professional career path. I set out very deliberate intentions to consider all the possibilities ahead of me, in the back of my mind. Externally, I agreed to play the role of a “Thought Leader” in the same race and cross race discussion groups.

Participants were asked to choose two topics related to a professional area that they needed to strengthen. My role became “facilitator” and I helped the guide a discussion to explore how the participants approach this area, how the power of their belief system shapes and influences that behavior, impacting career decisions and possibly impeding advancement.

We used a technique loosely based on Open Space Technology. No formal structured agenda existed in the beginning, each group had a topic area and began the conversation from there. The desired outcomes were simple: to raise issues that were most important to the participants in the group, engage everyone in the discussion, and share the findings in the cross-race discussions on the same topic. The six topics were based on six critical components for the career advancement of women:

EXECUTIVE PRESENCE
BRANDING
MENTORING
NEGOTIATIONS
WORK LIFE BALANCE
OFFICE POLITICS

What I want to share came out of my same race conversation circle on the topic of Mentoring and Sponsorship.

We were given a few questions to begin our discussion:
Do you have a personal board of directors? A mentor? If so, what is the value add? If not, what are the barriers to enablement? Do you believe someone in your organization is your sponsor—someone who is telling others about your value to the organization?

Questions:
Do you have a broad range and influential level of mentors and sponsors?
In what ways are you – or are you not – sponsorable?

Goal 1: Ensure race is part of the conversation—how does this group uniquely experience the topic at hand?

Goal 2: Encourage timely and actionable focus—is this something they’re dealing with right now and can impact in the near-term?

Goal 3: Avoid redundancy—seek to build on others’ thoughts, in the same conversation and from the session prior.

Goal 4: Go beneath the surface—use probing questions to uncover the “why”, “who” and “how” of the experience.

As always, I elected to start our dialogue with brief introductions: name, company and why they selected this topic. I find that this helps the participants hear their own voice in the room and therefore, “warm them up” to participate more fully. As an Introvert, I know this tiny step helps me. If I had more time, I would have asked each participant to share one thing they are excited about this summer. Having people talk about something they are excited about helps to elevate their levels of engagement. Adults really enjoy talking about themselves. Little touches like using an adult’s first name when addressing a question to them or following up a comment they made does wonders for an individual’s enthusiasm. This isn’t an ego thing, it is a human thing. Also, I’ve found that the higher one moves up in the organization, the less “human” their interactions become. People seem to lose their minds when speaking to high ranking executives and don’t give them honest and candid feedback for fear of harming one’s career progression. Also, people don’t treat high ranking executives the same way they would treat a person who doesn’t sit in the corner office. This is a ridiculous way to function in corporate America. The world is shrinking and communication needs to be transparent. We do not have time for politicking anymore. Work needs to get done through authentic and meaningful dialogue. Everyone adds value to the workplace -regardless of title, age, race, level of education, sexual orientation, gender and any other aspect of being a human being that people use to divide us into groups. Just keep it real and cut out the bullshit, people. We will all get a lot more accomplished.

Back to my Thought Leader same race discussion group…

We, as a group, decided to define “mentoring” and “sponsorship” before we went any further, I offered two very brief definitions: Mentoring is talking TO someone about career development and that someone is NOT in your direct reporting chain of command. Anyone can find a mentor or a mentor. Sponsorship is when someone is talking ABOUT you when you are not in the room. This usually happens during talent review or when leaders work to identify participants for stretch assignments. Sponsorship is usually earned through showing consistently strong performance and building a reputation for delivering solid business results. Interestingly enough, participants in both of my small groups said that they had never had a problem with finding mentors. However, only a handful of them knew whether they had a sponsor or not. In my mind, that is data worth exploring further. Why don’t Asian women know if they have sponsors? Or do they not have sponsors? Is there a cultural component to this? Is it because across corporate America, most of the key decision makers are still straight, white men? These are things to consider in the future.

The same race groups who were discussing Mentoring and Sponsorship had five key points to share with the cross race groups. This is what the Asian women wanted the other groups to realize about us, as a collective group. I own these findings, as an Asian American woman.

1. We are usually the only woman, the only Asian, and the youngest looking person in the room. Because we look younger, we need to build credibility early in the meeting to establish that we are NOT the junior person on the team. Many of the women reported wearing glasses or very professional attire to look older. And everyone said it was critical to note their tenure with their company so we aren’t ignored or overlooked in the workplace.

2. Being Asian may get in the way of our own self-promotion. Bragging or at least talking about our achievements is very counter cultural to Asians. However, this skill is a critical one when finding a sponsor.

3. As we move up in our careers, it becomes more difficult to find mentors and sponsors who are key decision makers. In numbers, most organizations have less women and less women of color and even less Asian women at the top.

4. In order to be promoted, we must build cross-functional skills. It seems that we Asians are very skilled at being individual contributors and are not usually tapped on the shoulder for key assignments in the sexy departments like marketing and sales. Most of us received messages from our well-intended parents that hard work pays off and the nail that stands up gets hammered down. Well, in corporate America, one needs to learn how to stretch outside one’s comfort zone, take risks and stand out. We must be intentional in asking for coaching and career development.

5. Different Asian cultures have varying levels of comfort with speaking out. We enjoyed a lively discussion about how Indian women seem to have a lot less challenges in asking for coaching and feedback. Many of the participants were not U.S.-born and that adds a layer of complexity to the discussion. The long and the short of it was, not all Asians are alike. One size does not fit all.

The discussions did not bring any new revelations to my mind about being Asian in corporate America and trying to find a mentor or sponsor. The value I gleaned from this conversation was just in being surrounded by people like me. We all shared very openly and freely, things that came easy to us in the workplace and a few things that are barriers to our success. I feel like my course is still uncharted in terms of what’s next but I do feel like I own my responsibility to continue to help other women be successful.