Last year, I had a life crisis that threw me into a whirlwind of questions for me - and I have to say, subconsciously trying to live up to the model minority myth made the experience worse: What do I really want to do with my life? Am I really happy with sticking to this one path? Is the 9-5 city work lifestyle really for me? So, I sought out the advice of someone who I looked up to since I was a girl, my older cousin, Thanh Ho (she also goes by Jenny or Clementine). Her words actually changed my life since. In this week’s episode, you’ll have the opportunity to hear her story after her decision to quit Corporate America. This Podcast episode isn’t meant to criticize those who’ve chosen the traditional, stable 9 to 5 work life, but it’s more to critique our fears and our society and family’s perception of what success means. Screw the model minority. What other people think about you do not define you. Start living the life that YOU want.
Thanh is a 1st generation, 27-year-old Vietnamese American - born in Vietnam and grew up in the United States. She graduated from the University of Southern California, majoring in International relations. Currently, she's working as an artist in New Zealand. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, singing, acting, and dancing. Her life goal is to grow and give to the best of her ability.
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NGUYEN: Welcome to Project Voice. This is Jess (LAUGHS) and here I have my cousin, Thanh. Hey! So for this episode, we’re going to talk about a topic that a lot of people like to talk about or just listen to or just gravitate towards whenever they see this word and this word is success. And I always find it interesting, I mean, I just find it interesting ‘cause we talk about it all the time and you know, success means something different for everybody, especially within the Asian community, there is a... there’s a consensus over what the ideal of success should be and there are expectations set and there’s this ladder, that was set out by our family, our parents and society for us to pursue and, I don’t know, you have to think about oh this person’s rich or they have the power, they have the prestige, they have the money, that’s what success has been. The image of success has been conditioned into this and playing into that, there’s the whole model minority myth as well. Us being Asians, being expected to fall into this image, fall into this idea of what I’m used to achieve as the American Dream as a model minority and it has it’s fallbacks obviously, like people say that ‘ oh we’re Asians, we can do anything, (LAUGHS) we have superpowers’ when in reality, that’s not the case (LAUGHS) so Thanh, I am going to have you introduce yourself, like where are you now and before we drop into the whole conversation because it’s going to be, it’s going to be a long ride, I feel.
THANH HO, INTERVIEWEE: (LAUGHS) Okay, hey guys, My name is Clementine, born as Thanh and went most of my life as Jenny. I am now the most, you know, authentic free version of myself and those that know me, know me as Clementine so I am currently collaborating with an artist in the terramine rainforest in New Zealand, creating, deejaying, light projection, dancing. My partner actually is a DJ and will be providing some music for it, and we just performed for a huge New Year’s event at this rainforest called Cloud9 and it was a beautiful performance. I got to perform with Meg and other dancers who work with silks and it’s just been a great start to 2017 and that’s, that’s me currently.
NGUYEN: Cool. I love listening to all of your crazy life stories, like, you know, travels and all over the world, and it’s amazing to see how much you’ve been through and just seeing where you’re from, like after college and then, seeing where you are now, and I think that’s the reason why I wanted to invite you to this episode. Just to hear what your journey has been like, starting out. I guess, where do I even start? Again, like going back to success, I think that our mentality on this word can change over time, really, and it depends who you are, where you are, and what you’ve been through. And I’m curious to know, how was it like, first of all, like for you growing up as an Asian American woman and how has your background affect these life decisions that you’ve made and what were the struggles you’ve faced too, just adding on so you can go wherever with this but… (LAUGHS)
HO: Well, being a Vietnamese American is quite contentious, as you probably understand.
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah.
HO: To live in a nation that bombed your whole country and getting to have the opportunities to feel like one of the golden children who get a second chance at what costed your opportunities in your life and come up so it’s, it’s always been a very, I’ve always felt this, like I owe it to all the kids who never had a shot after the war, and I owed it to them to be successful so that pressure from just our, the legends of our ancestors and these tales that our parents talked about going through during and post war and struggles and not having food and eating tree roots and you know, having parents who needed you to translate everything for them and raising your sister at the age of 9 and growing up quite quickly because I had to when you immigrate to a new country, when you have to learn a second language and, and play that role. For any immigrants’ first generation child would understand, this would pertain to almost any of us, who had to teach our parents in English and really walk the tightrope of both cultures and I definitely had so much pressure and still have pressure, but I think my parents have come to understand that I am my own person and if they want me in their life, as a positive happy force, then they’re going to have to accept me for who I am because if they do force me to be something, and my mum was quite wise. It was, it was a beautiful moment of connection when my mum said, ‘we can tell that your partner really loves you’ and you, know, he happens to not be Asian and she was like ‘you know, we would never tell you that you can or can’t be with somebody because at the end of the day, it’s your life and if you’re happy or unhappy, it’s your choices. We can never look back at us and say it was because of you that I wasn’t able to do what I want and be happy.’ So on one hand, they still subscribe to the Asian notion of success as outward appearances, but on the other, I think they are seeing that I am becoming a more empathic, kind, skilled, worldly individual that they’ve before ensured myself. They’ve had a daughter who was sort of outwardly successful, but inwardly, not very happy but now they have a very happy, happy child and what else does a parent want? Who doesn’t necessarily project the most obvious like CEO, VP roles, but I think they can see that I’m fine. I’ve never come to them and asked them for money or help and I’ve always just been able to take care of myself so I think that the whole notion of - I know every Asian parents are very different and I’m sure we’ve all had different versions - but mine at least respected that I could take care of myself after raising a younger sister and I can help them with their issues and so therefore, they couldn’t control me because they know that I’m my own person and that I can take care of myself so I think I was lucky in that regard ‘cause my parents let me be mel whereas I do feel there are some counterparts in our culture and many other cultures for sure, have the repression of expectations from their parents and the obligations and the guilt, and I felt all of those things. I felt guilty for not having a traditional job that made a lot of money. I felt guilty for going to university and having that dream, and having it in my hands and saying I actually don’t think this makes me happy. You know, achieving the American dream of working in New York fashion and dating the finance boy and having the life. It was fast and it was slick, but it wasn’t me, so my parents could at least listen to me when I said I need a time to figure out what it is that’s important to me in this life and what I want to do with myself and my time and my energies and they at least could respect that and let me start traveling the world and you know, not be crazy controlling as safety is a huge concern for them and it’s, it’s been a huge journey for my family, but I think we’ve come out the other end. Me, now officially moving to New Zealand with a Kiwi partner, and them having come over and visited his family and it’s been, it’s been a crazy 2016. I can say that.
NGUYEN: Yes, it’s been a huge shift in paradigm like for one that’s so familiar to so many people and then paving your own path that no one has paved before, like you’re starting your own journey, your own path, your own new chapter without really an outline behind it. I think that’s, that’s cool, like it’s scary for someone to think, but at the same time, it’s like once you’re on that path, there’s no way you’re going back. (LAUGHS) So, what moments made you realize that no one or nothing can define you or tell you what to do?
HO: Well, I think life is a series of unmemorable moments and highlighted by a continued life and I’ve probably died four times now and one of those times, I rescued a man in the Amazon jungle with an anti-venom plant that I had just learned about a few days prior in the survival. of course, in the Amazon. Moments where you feel how powerful you are, like in saving somebody’s life and being able to use tools from nature, it was life changing and I think and not being so scared by the moments I’ve almost died, I always thought to myself like ‘wow. how did I get here,’ but without death in my life because, you know, if there wasn't an end, if there wasn’t an uncertainty, this wouldn’t all be as interesting and fun now, would it? So in any of those moments of death, I was just like ‘well, if i died right now, I wouldn’t actually change a thing’. I wouldn’t go back and change a single thing because I’ve had an amazing life with all of the adventures, the risks that people think you’re taking, but they’re calculated risks, and sometime you win, sometimes you lose. Hopefully, just scratches and bruises, but I think, the moments where I feel close, I’ve just realized like ‘no, I have no regrets, I wouldn’t change a thing; it’s been beautiful,’ Yeah, moments like that.
NGUYEN: Just several months ago, I came to you, seeking for advice because I wasn’t happy where I was, just not really sure whether this type of lifestyle really made sense for me, pursuiing a career or just staying in one place and dedicating my life to this one place for a couple of years and then finding a partner here and just you know, that traditional heteronormative lifestyle that we’re taught to see as the ideal of a happy life, well, that’s what a happy life looks like, you know and...
HO: What does it feel like though? Because my response to this normative that you’re talking about is anything can look happy, everything. My life seemed really happy on the outside in New York, LA, when I was living in Paris, but it was always a huge emptiness, a huge like, what am I actually spending my time every single day doing? What is this career, and it seems like a very simple question, but I don’t actually think a lot of people think about this, what is my career actually doing for myself as a human and for others? I just realized like all I’m doing in fashion is telling girls they’re not pretty enough unless they’re wearing the fashion that I’ve helped dictate defines self-worth and, and all that, like, and I was just like ‘wow, I really am against all those ideals’ so I can’t actually do this career and I’ve sort of started to actually realize like ‘wow, I’m not just a piece of paper called a CV or resume or whatever.’ And in fact, I’m not, I’m not actually, I’m just only scared because I’m not actually living up to my potential and so therefore, I feel really dis-empowered because I have no tangible skills because all my time is spent making money so - and spending said money so yeah, I think what looks happy and what feels happy, are two very not mutually exclusive things. I’m not saying you can’t look and feel happy, but I always just question like, how do you feel, you know? If you feel happy, you’re sweet, but if you know deep down inside, no matter what it looks like, it still doesn’t feel right, then, you know, you’re the only person that can lie but yourself, you know? Like you can’t lie to yourself. You can try, but eventually, you know?
NGUYEN: Yeah, I know. Yeah, it’s sad. That’s why, you know, some people have lied to themselves long enough that they hit a mid-life crisis. I think we’ve talked about that too before. And to me, I think where I’m at now, I’m happy but it’s interesting how my thinking has changed. The question I ask now is like oh, not just am I happy but am I growing from this experience? Because I think personal growth can be equated to happiness. It’s like if I’m growing in the way I want to grow in, I am happy and so I actually wanted to ask you to share what your advice would be to someone who doesn’t want to pursue that 9 to 5 work life, who sort of wants to take risks and get out. I mean, I know that’s like just do it, but I think there’s this whole mentality behind it too that you have to realize that you have to.
HO: It’s very, it’s actually really quite simple. (NGUYEN LAUGHS) My advice, my advice is to more leanly in that just have less, have less outgoing. It’s actually quite simple if you break it down mathematically, which you know, I am Asian so if you really are able to be flexible and simple. What do you need in life? Food and shelter right? That’s basically it. And couldn’t you, travel the world WWOOFing for food and shelter so you get to spend four hours of your morning helping somebody grow organic permaculture and then, in the afternoons, you know ride horses around the hills in Tuscany, in Italy. There are so many things you can do if you’re able to just live really humbly and not need to have a lot. And so those that are complaining about a 9 to 5 because life is so expensive. It doesn’t have to be. There’s so many ways you can live so that you have very little outgoing costs and you can trade in exchange a lot of skills in time and energy for the basics, food and shelter, right? And so I’m not saying everyone needs to go out into the world WWOOFing. I’m just giving one example. I’m just saying that there are lots of ways to get to where you want to go if you’re willing to look because with the Internet nowadays, we have this tool. For the first time ever, we have instant communication and the capacity to exchange information without ever having, in the past, how could you possibly access a website with two million users in real time? You had your local public library you could gather at, whatever, so the tools we have now are so incredible that the sharing community, or the sharing economy or whatever people want to call it, that’s coming through with all the apps that allow for us to share with each other and share skills and break down this traditional monetary society that actually doesn’t serve because it’s not, it’s not based, like all of the debt in the world who is it owed to? To who do we owe this debt? It’s like there’s more debt than money. That’s actually like mathematically impossible so the system’s broken. We know that. We’re paying into social security that we’re not going to get at like, when we’re that age because it’s not, you know, it’s like a broken system, and twenty-somethings get that so my advice is live simply. Right now, my partner and I are collaborating with various artists and so you know, we’re staying with Pete and working in his art studio with him and we have a converted camper van that we’ve made, that’s just awesome. It’s so cool. We housesit all over the country for people. I love dogs, like I have a dog. He has two dogs. He has a cat. We housesit for people who have pets that need looking after so it’s an exchange so they, yeah, go fishing for six weeks like one of our friends actually did, we watched his animals for six weeks and, you know, that takes care of the shelter aspect of food and shelter. I volunteer at the local community gardens and get fresh vegetables from there and there are so many ways that we can exchange and help one another and live in community. The moment of death, it’s very important to ask yourself ‘do I like who I am?’ and if you’re given the opportunity to continue living after this moment of near death, you just do everything in your power to become a person that you respect and that you like. Do you like who you are and it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. In the moment of death, you know, you enter the world alone and you leave it alone so you can sleep at night and you know you are living your truth and doing good, and that’s all, that’s all death really is. It’s not about just ‘oh, things I could have done’, which is true, like sure, you’d of course think about that. It’s also about like in this moment, do I like who I am?
NGUYEN: Yeah, and that was awesome. Your messages are always like WHOO, okay (LAUGHS). I want to hear more (LAUGHS). I don’t know, I feel like, you’ve covered a lot with the few questions I’ve asked really and it’s great because I think it is possible. It’s not much for people to realize it. It’s like it’s there. The answer is right in front of us. Sometimes we just have to see it as is. (LAUGHS)
HO: Every moment is not going to be amazing and beautiful. If you can have 75% of your life be pretty great and I’m talking about just being grateful for waking up everyday and having shelter and food and clothes on your body and should be warm or, you know, just to have the stuff going well, to have health; if most of your life could be pretty great, accept it. And just kind of be 25% of the time, your tire goes flat, your best friend does something really mean, you know, stuff happens to everybody to various degrees and just accepting that life isn’t going to be perfect. How are you going to react, you know? You can’t control anything but your reactions. How do you want to react to life’s challenges? And, and just build from wherever you’re at, like you can’t look at anybody else and be like ‘oh, I’ll never get there or there’ without - whatever, just how do you build from now? In small steps and anybody who's ever hiked anything can tell you small steps and pretty soon, you’ll look behind you and you’re like ‘wow that’s crazy. I can’t believe I’ve come all that way.’ But that’s my advice to people right now who are sort of simmering in possibly one of the most difficult positions to get out of, which is I’m not unhappy; life’s pretty good, but I’m not happy either. Definitely not happy. I’m definitely more than what I am on a daily basis. I’m definitely worth more than this, have more to give than this. If you’re simmering in that pot, which I definitely did through university and my career in New York and Paris and San Francisco, it’s worth it. No matter what, the freedom is worth it. The freedom to be, what it is, whatever it is you want to be. Whatever your skills are, if you could build those skills and… and be flexible enough to make it work insofar as food and shelter, that’s my advice. Everybody’s got different cards to play so figure out what yours are and play them and don’t be afraid to. Don’t feel guilty for being super smart or super musical or athletic or beautiful or funny. Use those skills and do some positive things with them, make people laugh, make people smile and make it work because there’s no other life worth living than one where you can be honest with yourself and say ‘I am both fulfilled and satisfied and I’m the best version of myself and I give back in any and every way to others all day, every day,’ you know? If that’s not what you’re living, then I’m not really sure what else would be worth it. I certainly wouldn’t go back to how I was living before, feeling stressed and pressured and all of these strings and false expectations that are set on you and you set on yourself. The false prisons that you create for yourself and others create for you. Just you are the master of your mind, you can break out of that prison if you want. Just seek, seek it. Those who seek eventually will find so yeah, just keep pushing. Push, push, push. But as well as relax, you know? (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: Yes, YES! Especially in this time and age, where like, we’re always constantly doing things and we’re always busy, quote unquote busy. There’s never enough time to do anything that we forget to slow down. We forget to just give some time to ourselves and dedicate to self-care and appreciate the little moments and there is time for everything you want to do as long as you actually make the time for it, I think. It’s all about re-prioritizing and asking yourself what do you really want in life and just taking that ego out, taking that word SHOULD, like feeling like you should do something out and ask yourself what you would do if it wasn’t for all the pressures that you’ve experience. Or just the pressures and expectations you feel like you have on you. Now, that’s something that’s an epiphany for me, like realizing that I don’t really have to do a lot of things if I don’t want to. (LAUGHS) It sounds ridiculous but everything’s like a social construct really and that’s the phrase that I use nowadays like everything’s a social construct and it’s just a comforting phrase to go to because it’s the truth and when I think about it, I realize that, I don’t know, there’s so much more to life than what people perceive it as, I would say, or perceive life as. And I guess I just want to end it here. I’m really happy to have you on this podcast to have you share your voice on this series and yeah, thank you so much Thanh about giving the takeaways that you want for our users, to gain from this episode and just hearing about your journey too. It’s been great and motivating to know like yes, the life that you want is possible as long as you do it so I’m going to leave it there but if anyone wants to get in touch with me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for feedback, questions, comments, whatever or you can also Tweet or Facebook message me so yes, I’m throwing out all your social media shoutouts for you so thank you so much Thanh! And I hope all of you have a wonderful day. Tune in next time for another episode of Project Voice. Bye! (LAUGHS)
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