7.23.2013

How to Work It

Guest Post by Lisa Lee



Hey, folks! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed blog break. Some batteries need recharging. But don't worry -- I've enlisted the generous help of some great guest bloggers to keep things fresh around here while I'm gone. Here's Lisa Lee on saying "yes," always asking, and doing what you love. And hustling. Always hustling.

Being asked to guest blog for this site is no joke. The invite was an honor, so I decided to procrastinate until the very last minute to see what I could possibly offer up in this space. Because you know, that's what feels truthful.

Jokes aside, I spent some time mulling over the words that you're about to read. I thought about doing a reflection on what Thick Dumpling Skin has taught me in the last two plus years, what it means to be an activist (if I can even call myself that) in corporate America, or the clich├ęd "Asian Americans past, present, and future!"

What I've decided, is to talk about the three rules that I've (tried) to live by these last few years. They may not be "Asian American" specific, so to say. However, I've found these golden nuggets to be exactly what I needed to help me curb what I think are learned behaviors, as an Asian woman, that have held me back from achieving my full potential.


Say Yes

Fresh out of college and away from my usual Asian American student organizations, I decided to volunteer with a magazine called Hyphen. I had just started to work at what I thought was a big corporate company called Facebook (little did I know what was in store for me), and I missed that political and creative aspect of my life.

Joining Hyphen was one of the best things that happened to me. I met a group of fantastic individuals who were all kinds of Asian American savvy, and I soaked it right up. I started getting my hands dirty by first doing what I knew best, outreach. Nine months in, I was asked to become the publisher of Hyphen.

At that time, I had no idea what a publisher did. In fact, up until that point I had never even heard of the role "publisher" because I was not familiar with the publishing world. I did not consider myself a writer or even a businesswoman. I was simply told that a publisher would act as the "glue" to the organization, and I thought to myself, "I can do that."

So, I said yes.

Thinking back, I was probably scared shitless. I was not quite used to being a "visible" leader back then. I remembered always opting for the "secretary" role rather than the "president" role in school. I did not know this fact back then, but studies have shown that women, especially women of color, tend to feel the need to know as much as possible before they speak and draw attention to themselves. Somehow, I decided that I was tired of always being behind the scenes and letting other people take credit for my work. I decided that it was time I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. So with one simple word, I became the publisher of Hyphen at the age of 24.

There have been many more examples like this since then where my world was changed thanks to this one little word. So I am passing it onto you. Use it accordingly.

Always Ask*

This one is particularly useful when it comes to fundraising or making difficult asks. For example, "That new manager role that just opened up on our team, what do you think of me as a potential candidate?"

When I was five, my older brother Brian and I paid a visit to my grandpa. To show off, My brother was encouraged to take off his shirt and climb up a 20-foot pole. Naturally, I wanted to do the same. So, I asked. Initially, I was told no, because I'm a girl. It was not "ladylike."



Well what do you know. I got what I wanted.

I even got to take off my shirt.

If you don't ask (and so many times we don't because we give up on ourselves too quickly), you have 0% chance of having your request fulfilled. If you ask, you have 50% chance of having your request fulfilled. 0% or 50%? If us Asian Americans are really good at math like we're supposed to be, then I think you know which answer is the right one. So when it doubt, always ask.

*Generally I err on the side of begging for forgiveness after rather than asking for permission before, so note that this one only applies when there's something to be asked.

Find a Way to Do What You Want To Do

Duh. But, let me explain.

Find a way to do what you want to do doesn't literally mean that you should get that dream job. In fact, I want you to throw your dream job out of the window. Not to be cynical, but the reality is that you're probably not that close to getting your dream job. At least, I wasn't. Again, let me clarify before you start a petition to ban me from guest blogging forever.

One of the statements that I once heard from a dear friend is that if you're truly passionate about something, it simply is then a part of you, even if it's not something that you're getting paid for. You do it because it is in your DNA.

When I graduated with my theatre and communications degrees, I didn't know that I wanted to run an Asian American magazine. I had no idea that one day, I would cofound a website that addresses body image issues and eating disorders within our community. Even more outrageous, never in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined myself running diversity programs at one of the best and most exciting companies in the world.

What I did know, however, was my love for the Asian American community and other underserved communities. I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to advancing social justice in one way, shape, or form. And it was with that love that I kept finding ways to do just that. In order to put a roof over my head and food in my stomach, I would get off of work from my nine to five at Facebook to go work on Hyphen three to four times out of the week. I would work on the weekends and I would frequently use my own vacation days to travel and speak about Hyphen, then later on, Thick Dumpling Skin. I did this for the last six years. Those years were hard, and they continue to be hard as I juggle between my day and night identities. However, all of those "dream-job-experiences-but-no-paycheck" moments ultimately led me to (one of my) callings in life, which is helping to solve the diversity challenge in tech.

So often, I get asked to talk about how to get paid while giving a damn, literally, as if the two are mutually exclusive. My answer is easy: they are not.

You. Have. Got. To. Find. A. Way. To. Do. What. You. Love.

Right here. Right now. No excuses.

This nugget doesn't just apply to Asian American issues (although it would be great if it did because this community needs you). This nugget applies to everything. If you want to be in marketing and you're not in marketing right now, figure out how to do marketing while you're working your boring finance job. If you want to be a news anchor (and Lord knows we need more decent ones after the KTVU incident) when you grow up, there's this new invention called YouTube. Not sure if you've heard of it. If you want the respect of your coworkers as a leader, be a leader.

To put it like Eddie Huang from BaoHaus, hustle.

That's easy, right? After all, that's what we're good at.

Lisa Lee was the former publisher of Hyphen magazine and the cofounder of Thick Dumpling Skin. During the day when she's not hustling, she is the diversity program manager at Facebook. Read more about her at www.misslisalee.com.

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