How I Found One of My Callings

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A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find. It’s much more dynamic. Whatever you do—whether you’re a janitor or the CEO—you can continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values.
— Angela Lee Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

When I was in the third grade, my English teacher made us participate in a comparative study of the Cinderella story across multiple cultures. I was an introvert at the time and found an undying interest in reading novels well above my grade level. At the end of the quarter, my teacher had us auditioned and performed a version of a Cinderella play in front of the class. As a Leo, I knowingly auditioned for the lead role (Duh) but ended up getting selected to play the Fairy Godmother (aka the narrator) instead. I remembered being so disappointed with the outcome and telling my mom I wished things would turn out differently.

During one of our dress rehearsals, my teacher told us to stop running our lines and then she called out my name. "Uh-oh," I thought to myself. "Did I do something wrong?" 

She smiled and turned to my fellow peers and said, "Did you see how Khanh performed with so much conviction? Now THAT is how it should be done."

When I heard those words, I felt time stand still and my entire body — including the hair on my arms and the back of my neck — bristles as if called to attention. I felt liberated and alive. When you experience something similar to this in your own life, slow down and listen attentively to the universe. You're onto something and that something is called "your calling." I've only shared this story with a handful of people and my best friend Steven is one of them. So every time I'm in a crossroad in life, he always reminds me to think back at the very moment I feel the most alive. 

This "moment" stayed with me all through my teenage and college years. I did the morning announcements on the intercom at my high school, participated in class skit performances, was the lead speaker of all school assemblies, did a graduation speech in front of my school district, graduated from the top communication and journalism school in the nation, and now I have the opportunity to MC several weddings every month.

I'm listing these things out because they all have one thing in common: I am really good at telling stories. But here's the thing, we're all storytellers. Whether you're a musician or a UX designer, you have a narrative you want to convey and we're all artists in this world. 

When I made the decision to move from Los Angeles to pursue a career in technology, I was told not to make the leap and that I'll be joining a boy's club. I was also told to stick with what I was good at and that was to be "the pretty token Asian in my department." Well, knowing me, I did it anyway because I don't like being told what I can or cannot do. I went from telling real-life stories to helping thousands of business owners tell theirs. 

In my humble opinion, doing things you enjoy is a gift you give yourself that continues to echo through the course of your life. I hope you all find your calling, whatever it may be, and may you continue to share your gift with the world. 

 

 

What Happens After You Get Turned Down for a Raise

"Your power lies somewhere between immobilization or being a puppet pulled by someone else's strings to high proactivity, the power to act according to your own values instead of being acted upon by other people and circumstances."

'This is it,' I thought to myself. 'This is the moment I've been waiting for.'

After six months of slaving myself away in the office, I'm finally ready to have "The Talk" with my boss about my current role and ask him for a raise. Ever since my previous coworker got fired, it's been clear to me that nothing is ever guaranteed. Since Day 1, my role as Production Manager for a small start-up company has somehow expanded into a part-time secretary, part-time executive assistant, part-time digital media strategist. You name it, I was probably living it. I never once mentioned how all of these high-volume tasks has somehow made work more daunting for me because I am a girl boss and girl bosses never complain. They just go and get the job done. 

Well, I was wrong. It didn't occur to me how unsatisfied I was and while none of my emotions played a heavy impact on the quality of my work, I was very sure of one thing: I was underpaid and overqualified. 

When I walked in that Monday morning, you can imagine how empowered I felt, knowing I was going to talk to him, negotiate, and finally get to see that light at the end of the tunnel. Little did I realize at the time, I was about to walk into a 30-minute dead-end conversation.

I took a straightforward approach and dived into the conversation by discussing my level of performance and the kind of tasks that I've tackled, all of which requires a higher level competency. I told him that I've exceeded my 3 month probation period and that I was seeking a role that could potentially expand to more. I even requested to work more hours, if needed. But I walked out of that meeting feeling defeated.

For a brief moment, I assumed that decision to keep my pay as is was entirely an act of good faith on his end. Perhaps, it was just bad timing. Replaying the conversation over and over again helped me reassess the situation: 

1) Even if he didn't explicitly denied me and left an "open-ended" answer, my gut instinct told me that he will never give me the answer I'm looking for....no matter how diligent I was. 

2) Don't work for nothing. The cost of living in Southern California is extremely high and the painful reality is that I will never be able to reach a level of sustainability if I continue to settle for these low risk/low reward jobs

This led me to my final verdict: I've been taken advantage of. It was never a matter of negotiation, or communication, even if I had an axe to grind, if they wanted to give me that raise, they would have done so already. If you're currently in the same rut as I am, I would like you to ask yourself a couple of questions:

1) What is your intrinsic worth? 

2) Are you motivated to go to work every day?

3) In the worst case scenario, if you were to quit today, will you still be able to find a means to sustain yourself?

I have asked myself these questions before being reminded that I was more than anything that a boss or this company could have offered me. So take some time to determine other options before you start to immobilize yourself. These situations are sticky and often times, uncomfortable, but I guarantee you that there's always a way out. There is always something bigger and better waiting for you so long as you choose to pursue your goals relentlessly.

XO,

Khanh P. Duong

Equal Pay Day - My Battle With Gender Wage Gap

This day symbolizes a lot of things for me - how hard a woman has to work and what a woman must do in order to earn the same amount as a man. To give you a better picture, on average, a woman makes 81 cents for every dollar a man makes (this number is even less for women of color). Our antiquated system tells us, "You can be a wife, but you can't have a career. You can be a mom, but you won't be able to make money." It's always a dialogue of if this or that vs. why the heck can't we do both?

Today,  I'm going to share with you my own personal story in hopes of letting you know that you're not alone.

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Instance #1: 

A few years ago, I was working as - an executive assistant/digital brand strategist/every other role you can possibly imagine - for a married couple who was well established in the Youtube space. For the first couple of months, I was their only employee until they decided to scale the company and brought on two more team members (one guy and one girl). After taking on several responsibilities and roles, I figured it was time to ask for a pay raise. No one was more excited than me at the time for this opportunity. I prepared a deck, practiced my pitch and come time when I had to deliver it to my bosses, they told me, "No." I asked them, "Well, how come?" And the only thing they could say to me what that I needed to work harder and that I haven't quite earned it yet. For some time thereafter, they "rewarded" me with more projects, more responsibilities, they even had me download an app to track my productivity down to the tee every day. I shut my mouth, never once brought up the idea of vertical mobility again and like a lot of you, I decided to work in silence. 

Time passes and I later learned that not only did they give my male coworker a higher pay, they even asked him if he wanted a raise. As in they've reached out to him and asked him if he's okay with them paying him more. The irony was that he wasn't doing more of the work, his roles haven't changed much, we had the same work schedule and was asked to work on the same projects. 

DAFAK?  

Instance #2: 

I was offered a position to work for a great company and the recruiter couldn't have been any less welcoming; I was ecstatic, to say the least. Before I accepted the job, I learned that my colleague offered the same role (there were a few openings) but with a higher base salary. 

Reluctantly, I started to question myself. 'Did they not like me enough? Or did they see more value in him?' I couldn't quite wrap my head around it. On paper, names aside, our accomplishments were quite similar. We both graduated from prestigious universities, we both have the same years of experience, we were expected to complete the same daily functions, held to the same quota---the only noticeable difference was our paycheck. 

But this time, unlike the first incident, I called my recruiter back and laid everything on the top. I would only take the position if and only if I am able to receive the same equal salary as my counterpart. PS This is one of the most ballsy things I've done in awhile. I held me breathe while waiting for a response and fortunately enough, my recruiter said, "Let's do it."

As a millennial, I'm not asking people to go easy on me. I'm not asking for opportunities to be handed on a silver platter either. I'll work for it, every last bit of it. All I ask is for people to see and acknowledge that women clearly have the skills and competencies to succeed at any level. We'll earn the rights to lead, but we need to be treated on common benchmarks. Judge us by our work ethic, character, performance, and integrity. 

That's all I have for you today. Thank you for reading. Fight On!

When It's Time to Leave Your Job

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I'm Asian. I'm a woman. I'm young and have since shifted from pursuing a career in entertainment to working at major software companies. So, I felt like either a) I've always had everything to prove and b) I needed to work harder than everybody else.

I did recognize for a long time that there's always someone who can walk in the room with more experience than me, a skin color that someone might prefer more, a man someone might respect more. But if I continued to work diligently and proactively - no matter what the odds were - I will eventually come out on top. 

This time, last year, I felt complacent...like I wasn't doing enough. I had great co-workers and had finally built a solid pipeline of clients, but I felt stagnant as far as learning goes and that left me feeling mediocre. The whole idea of me wanting more than my 9 to 5 is not wanting more money but my insatiable appetite to be challenged. I thought to myself, "I'm making a decent living, I'm traveling, I'm treating my boyfriend out to lavish meals and I feel so good physically but what else?"

I felt stuck. Confused. Borderline frustrated.

And then I read somewhere on Forbes that if you feel stuck already, you need to start moving and if you needed a sign to move...this is it. Mentally, physically and for a lot of people, spiritually get moving. Trust and believe that the answer will not come to you magically in your stillness and complacency. While I'm extremely great at having a poker face on, the truth is I never know exactly what my next move is going to be and that scares the crap out of me. 

When I was in college, I zeroed in on getting the best internships in Hollywood and I did that. The issue had was that I haven't gotten the chance to narrow down my next goal. And then I asked myself a question and I'm going to ask you the same thing: In your perfect world, what do you love to do and what would you like to be a part of?

I contemplated thoughtfully for a long time on this question and wrote down 3 simple things. 

  • I like storytelling 
  • I love to listen 
  • I like to help people grow 

That same conversation I had with myself once before led me to start my wedding business. Now that I'm feeling stuck again, I had to go back and remind myself of the things that truly matter to me, which was relationship building, communicating and work with people who value my ideas and creativity. 

If your passion is in entrepreneurship and your cubicle no longer felt like the place to do it then start strategizing a new business venture and network. If the excitement in your role begins to fade, start creating a path where you no longer have to dread going to work. The beauty of living in a time like this and living in America is that you can always use the knowledge you've gained to explore other opportunities. 

I hope you're consumed by this new passion. I hope it brings a light back into your life. I hope that ceiling you once felt no longer exist because you get to call the shots now. I'm not telling you to quit your job and throw everything away since that's just not realistic but if you need to take some time off to reevaluate what you want to do and where you need to be...then do it.

I'll fill you in on the next part of my journey once I'm on the other side of this pothole. Talk to you soon. 

If you sit and do nothing, you will get nothing, you will see nothing and you will learn nothing.
— Grimes

 

 

 

 

3 Things to Know About a Career in Sales

Early in my career, as an intern for two major entertainment companies in Hollywood, I had a front-row seat watching and reporting on CMOs and television personalities as they build their brands and managed the companies' public characters. Image is everything. And it still is but it's not the only thing. 

A little over a year ago, I accepted an offer from a technology software company to join their elite sales department. Like before, I quickly learned how a company's financial success can be heavily affected by their public reputation, culture, and lack thereof. 

Here are a few things I've learned while being surrounded by extremely successful salespeople:

  1. You have to want to succeed. It does you and your company no good if you can’t picture yourself struggling through slow periods and withstanding hundreds of rejections.
  2. You need to have accountability. You are responsible for yourself and your income as well as treating your clients properly. It’s important to be transparent about your product and services and do NOT overpromise and underdeliver. It will come back to bite you.
  3. You genuinely enjoy helping people. This includes being engaged with your prospect, talking to them, listening to their needs, and more importantly, empathize with them. When starting a business relationship with any client, I listen first then devise a strategy uniquely for them. Every business owner is different. I treat them as such. 

Through those previous work/internship experiences, it became clear to me that when your company aligns with clients' businesses and values, the acquisition is more seamless. But it's not always about the client or the shareholders. It is equally important to think about how companies' decisions and its impact on all stakeholders - employees to community members alike.  

And of course, I'd be lying to you if I said sales is easy. It's not. Instead of being daunted by the rejections, I saw every pitch, every "Nos" as an opportunity for me to sharpen my skills and overtime, deliver a higher return.