It’s time for a (personal) story and for some reflecting.
In my first Leadership & Team Building class, we talked about leadership being a journey – taking a look at a photo–a metaphor of a car on the road with a windshield view of clear, blue skies and green grass, a rearview mirror, and a dashboard. The rearview mirror represents our past: our values, our experiences and lessons, where we came from, our successes and failures…ultimately how we got to where we are today.
Young me was a quiet kid at school. My teachers would tell my parents, “Sylvia raises her hand when she has something important or necessary to say. She doesn’t just speak to hear the sound of her voice.” I got tomato red in the face and ears when I’d have to present in class and was extremely reserved in classroom surroundings. I was loud and confident with friends and family and loved to draw, paint, dance, roller skate, blab about my favorite movie to anyone who would listen. Starting at the age of three, I kept doodling a teacher standing in front of a classroom. At eight years old, I played “school” with my younger sister, where I’d teach her lessons and create homework assignments for her to complete. I was so sure I was going to become a teacher.
When college came around and I started anew at Syracuse University, I was excited. Here I was, an Asian American first generation college student more than five hours away from home, in a dorm with a bunch of people I haven’t met just yet, starting a whole new chapter. Contrary to stereotypes of Asian parents wanting their children to become either a lawyer or doctor, I never received this from my parents. I placed undue pressure on myself instead. What do I do for the rest of my life? I have to figure it out now?! (No, but that was the sentiment back then.) I felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough to give my parents, who were betrayed by family who never saw them as such, the life they so deserve. My parents sacrificed everything they had for my sister and me.
Hungry for experience, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone. I got a job at my university bookstore. It helped me to become a better communicator, to become less flustered while talking to others, and to be more customer-oriented. I broadened my network and attended more events. Because of certain people I met, I became involved in communities and organizations I probably otherwise would not have. I got involved in the campus community–Dean’s Team, Student Leadership Institute (SLI), and the South Campus Organization for Programming Excellence (S.C.O.P.E.). My involvement with posting inspirational content across Tumblr, mentor mentality, and experiences throughout my undergraduate career increased my affinity for storytelling and love for sharing my experiences, opinions and knowledge digitally.
I decided to create a blog in 2016.
“Time is the scarcest resource; if it is not managed, nothing else can be.” When we went over a list of leadership quotes during our first class, this resonated with me deeply. It made me think back to the moment I connected with Todd Cherches (one of the instructors for my Leadership course) on LinkedIn last month. Todd thanked me for linking in, went on to check out my profile and ended up reading a reflection post I had written about networking. It was a post I had written back in March 2018.
The blog I created since 2016 has been relatively inconsistent over the years because I wanted to make sure it was “perfect” before launching a new theme. I stressed over how niche the blog had to be and it resulted in me having seven month long hiatuses. Instead of writing, publishing, and tweaking things as I went along, I spent all the time feeling paralyzed by my need to craft the perfect message. Todd always say that “perfectionism and procrastination are a deadly combination” and my blog example is an illustration of that.
Perfectionism was masking the fact that I was afraid of the unknown. My inaction bred fear and doubt. Fear and doubt prevented me from following my heart. It turned blogging from something I was good at and loved doing (a sweet spot) into a self-defined failure zone because I’d dread posting for fear of not writing good enough content, and therefore believed myself to be bad at it due to the lack of posting and keeping to a schedule.
I could cry, play victim and blame every circumstance and person that led me to where I am today, but that isn’t me being responsible. The present is all we have. We can keep an open mind – see things from multiple perspectives and take small steps to better ourselves. Instead of dwelling on how much I slacked off on blogging over the years and being in a post-new year funk, I posted a blog post about that and decided that I would post at least four times a month. Like Peter Drucker once famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Are leaders born or made? In class, we discussed that it’s both. Growing up, I kept hearing “Sylvia, you’re so nice, thoughtful–you’re the sweetest!” As a child, I focused so much on being “liked” and was mortified if someone wasn’t a big fan of me. As I grew older, I realized how appearing “nice” actually worked against me in the workplace as an Asian-American woman. Asian-American women seem to be a forgotten minority in the glass ceiling conversation and face a behavioral double bind.
In corporate America, even though Asian American women are the demographic group most likely to have graduate degrees, they’re least likely to have supervisory responsibilities. On the one hand, Asian-American women are seen as intelligent and hardworking, but on the other, they’re seen as modest, deferential, and low in social skills. If we behave competently but are “quiet and nice”, we can appear like “Lotus Flowers” or “China Dolls”—exotic women who lack leadership ability. If we behave competently and speak up and strongly express ideas and opinions, we’re likely seen as “Dragon Ladies”—overbearing, aggressive, and unlikable.
What’s the solution here? I think it’s confidence.
Is it more important to be liked, admired, respected, or trusted? As humans, we all want to be liked, but liking someone doesn’t guarantee that they’re the best person to get a job done. Trust is the hardest to secure and maintain. We want to trust that someone will get something done and deliver on their word. People’s belief and confidence in us matter and it stems from us believing in ourselves and our abilities first.
I’ve learned a great deal from previous experiences and have come into my current job with a renewed sense of self and abilities. I will continue to keep my word and deliver on my promises with integrity. I’m eager to continue working on my confidence, being proactive in contributing my thoughts and opinions, participating in a more transparent performance review process at my current company, and taking on more responsibility and maximizing opportunities to grow.
Thinking back to the team puzzle competition during session three of Leadership & Team Building class, when both teams were given their puzzle pieces on separate tables, both teams dived into their own world, trying to piece them together as quickly as possible. I wanted to ask both teams initially what our puzzles were, but hesitated and let it go for two minutes. Our class instructors, Todd and Jeff told us that the first team to finish their puzzle would win. The catch is that no team wins if both puzzles are not completed under 10 minutes.
All of us realized shortly after that both teams had mixed pieces of both puzzles. I suggested the class to push our tables together and work as a collective. Todd and Jeff placed the puzzle box covers on the wall by the door (one that showed Shrek and the other of an upside down Spiderman). Not one of us noticed. Two lessons to take away here: 1) always believe in yourself, speak up and 2) always look for or ask for the puzzle covers/clarity/the overall goal/vision/purpose.
Who I am today is a combination of what I experienced, learned, and what I choose to apply and do. Confidence and leadership can both be built. I have tons of valuable insights from just four Leadership & Team Building class sessions so far and a whole lot of ways to apply them to life in general.
With all of this said, we’re still at the tip of the iceberg, because there are so many more books to read, steps to take, mistakes to be made, and lessons to be learned. I look forward to continuing this leadership journey and to be thought of as an empathetic, self-motivated leader who empowers others to speak up, feel supported, heard and positively challenged and one who is dedicated to mentoring and boosting the self-esteem of others.
Now it’s time to draft up a blog post or two to post before this month wraps up, because leaders are accountable, take ownership and follow through on what they say they will do.
When it comes to blogging and leadership, I strive so hard for “perfection”, but there is no perfect, there’s only progress.
More to come on this. Thanks for reading! Comments and thoughts are welcomed, as always.
Until next time,