Born as a Chinese in a multicultural country like Malaysia, I was the first girl in my family to receive higher education abroad in the UK, and made a brave and personal decision to move to Japan nine years ago to join my Taiwanese husband for greater growth opportunities. From ethnicity, to countries, to cultural exposures - as I look back and reflect where I came from and how I have a turned out, diversity (as in being different in front of many and being part of diverse groups) and inclusion (as in securing my seat ‘at the table’ so I was seen) was never a problem. It has been part of my identity since I was young. I realized spoken and written languages change, like switching TV channels depending on the needs in the moment. Delicious gourmet foods and drinks vary depending on the cultural festivals taking place at the time. By the time I settled down in the UK and then in Japan; looking, sounding, and thinking different in front of many was a norm. I have never felt uncomfortable simply because, I am from outside the box.
Instead, sense of belonging (as in being heard whilst ‘at the table’ with non-judgment, both positive and constructive contributions) was a strength within me that I have had to learn to gain over the years as I kept navigating my zig-zag paths forward in a foreign land as a minority, female, working mum, and a human being who loves to question status quo. From being told that I was ‘unlucky’ for missing a promotion, to being left to fail despite proactively asking for help in a critical milestone of a project. In addition to having to accept a transition opportunity with a pay cut, to hearing the whispers in the corridors knowing that the perception-driven comments were about me in discouraging ways. I have been there where struggles took place silently within me with inner debates as to whether I would let those experiences define the ending or I would choose to write the conclusion of these chapters of my life. With honesty, I have done both and with gratitude. But it hasn’t been easy.
I was raised in a family where only success is celebrated. Unhappiness and failures should never be mentioned. Struggles should be kept within us like deep secrets. And the main one I have tried the hardest to overturn since young - is that girls are less worthy than boys. Yes, this included the situation where I almost missed my opportunity to pursue university abroad because I am a girl. These chapters of my upbringing were unfortunately concluded with endings written by the set-ups in the family I was raised in. Until I became a mother myself to my second child, only did I realize how these endings have left me believing that I was not worthy and deserving, ultimately not feeling belonged despite I was qualified to be so. My voice was like whispers. Over time, my chances for presenting myself to seize equitable opportunities were limited as a result. The impact to my growth as an individual and a professional was felt and seen.
Fortunately, thanks to my six-month-old daughter about five-and-half-years ago, I received a call. It was a “wake-up call”. As much as I wanted to support my children to grow to be their true selves, I realized that I was not positioned to enable them to become who they truly are. I was stuck with the heavy baggage of my past. The way forward was a blur to me. I didn’t have the “recipe for success”. Thankfully, the “wake-up call” that came my way encouraged me to “let’s try to figure this out, starting with ME”.
From Carol Dweck, to Brené Brown, to Christian Busch, to Susan David, to Marc Brackett, to Marisa Peer, to Edith Eger and more - book after book, one inspiration after another, and a ton of stories from others equipped me with the much needed courage rewrite the journeys of ME. From then on, I seized the driver’s seat of my life. I equipped myself with capabilities to write and rewrite the conclusions of every chapter of my life.
Five-a-half-years in, whilst imposter moments no doubt still come by, they are now like ‘temporary visitors’. They no longer stay for long. I am grateful and proud of myself that I have progressed to be a girl who dares to dream whilst feeling belonged in everywhere she chooses to go to; who feels deserving and worthy to seize opportunities she eyes for by choosing to serve with significance for the benefit of many.
In this duration, I am incredibly grateful to have the platforms at MetLife like Women’s Business Network (WBN) as well as sponsors, mentors, and leaders across the organization who not only championed my evolutionary growth, but more importantly, offered me the space to discover my strengths so that I am positioned to contribute. With a couple of role change and nominations to grow through our talent programs such as EXCELERATE, ASPIRE, Global Connect , I have continued to be blessed with abundant resources to keep evolving my self-development as I choose the environments where my sense of belonging kept flourishing.
The further I go into the journey of gaining my sense of belonging, the more I realize that much of the needed progress starts with ME, more specifically my inner-self. Like a planted seed, true belonging grows once I learned to:
- Discover who I truly am and gain peace with myself.
- Identify and release myself from what’s holding me back (or what Edith Eger famously calls it as our “inner prison”).
- Proactively and consistently practicing positive self-talks, -love, -care, -beliefs, -awareness, -empathy, -compassion.
In my perspective, our sense of belonging grows when:
- We genuinely believe that we deserve. Yes, despite the noise out there, the conflicting voice within us - we are worthy. Repeatedly, I have witnessed females miss out on opportunities because they do not feel enough or worthy to be thought of. Thus, their hands were kept down. They wait and hope others will call them. They discount and discourage themselves to sign-up. In short, it is important that we invest efforts to nurture the firm beliefs that “I AM ENOUGH”. For me personally, my shift started with convincing myself that I am capable of change and the very change I desire can be manifested through my intentions, mindsets, and intentional actions. I also equipped myself with emotional agility, where both positive and negative emotions are my energy source to help me keep moving forward, one step at a time.
- We embrace the journey to discover and be with our true selves. This discovery journey will include setbacks, experiences, opportunities, and many experiments to help us figure out who we truly are and what are we set to bring to this world to serve. This roller coaster journey leads us to accomplish abundant self-consciousness. We will feel grounded with our integrity. The external environments don’t shake us up as much as the older times did. In my own journey, I have gained greater clarity, sharper focus, heightened self-esteem to show up as ME. I also became more humbled, collaborative, and opened to diverse perspectives. As a result, I am better equipped to innovate, speak up, share out of the box ideas, and lead others to rise further – where some impactful outcomes can be evident through the award-winning recognitions at MetLife that I am extremely proud of receiving.
- We have antidotes against the detractors of belonging. As an example, whenever I encounter moments of doubts about my sense of belonging, I always remind myself of one of Maya Angelou’s quotes: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…”.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully recognize that the broader systems are indeed in need of a radical change as we continue to encounter many parts are no longer relevant to support our desired growths today and tomorrow. Until we replace or remove these barriers, our desire to progress forward for greater belonging will continue to stall.
That said, instead of being held up by the slow progress in the bigger systems, why not be the change? What about we each start to focus on what we can control and grow through our own power?
In my own journey, by investing in ME, I am now able to support my children’s growths as their true selves. Through MetLife’s WBN, my progress has gained followers. I am very grateful that my voice, ideas, and stories are sparking inspirations for others. Our mutual connections have led to a stronger WE, where our continuous support for one another’s growths is equipping us for a more energized US. As a group, we become #AllTogetherPossible. As a team, we are out there creating waves of movements to help many more women gain their own sense of worth for opportunities and greater belonging.
Even for the longer-term, I will continue to look, sound, think different as a minority, female, working mum, and a human being who loves to question status quo in a foreign land. I will continue to come from outside the box. By using the approach, I now practice cultivating my sense of belonging, I consistently visualize myself paying it forward by connecting with many to feel belonged. If you are reading my story, I hope that my journey can help shine a light upon yours.
You are enough, and worthy. You belong wherever you are.