I will always remember the words of my first mentor, Vincent Benitez, who said “never forget where you came from.” Last week, these words rang very true for me.
Being an Asian-American professional, I have always been keenly aware of my differences. I can remember times in my career where I would not only be the only woman at a meeting, but also the only Asian. Being naturally shy, I still have to work hard to overcome my natural tendency to be quiet in meetings and blend into the background. Speaking up is very counter-cultural to the way I was raised.
I grew up in a predominantly African-American and Japanese-American neighborhood in south central Los Angeles. Today, this is still "home" to me and my 90-year old father still lives in the house where I spent most of my childhood. When I went away to college, it was the first time that I felt “different” and realized that this was just the beginning of my journey to appreciating my differences.
Attending the Ascend national convention last week was, in many ways, like coming home. Being in a room filled with over 1,000 Asians, I found it energizing and inspiring to hear from many successful leaders. I was also touched by young professionals who are facing many of the same challenges that I have had throughout my career. Interestingly, I experienced these same feelings of connection when I attended the NABA and ALPFA conferences earlier this summer. What I now realize is that while we may look different and perhaps believe that we see things differently, we actually have much more in common…as people.
At times, we all struggle with feelings of shyness and self-doubt and by sharing our feelings, we can open the conversation and begin to build a bond between us. Today, I feel very proud of my background and remembering where I came from is a tribute to my parents and mentors who have been part of my journey. In the end, I believe that by embracing our differences, they become our strengths.
By blogger Barbara Adachi, Deloitte LLP