When our family moved to Chicago in the mid-80’s, our life was mostly wrapped around my husband’s schooling, our involvement in the school’s influential activities, and church life. With three little girls to raise, I had to dive into the corporate business world for full-time employment even though my husband juggled up to three part-time jobs, to make ends meet. Being that my background in the working world had mostly been on stage, in recording studios and other settings where my music took me, I did not have the skills nor the training to move into a significant position in a business office that most Asians in Chicago had.
Thus, I started out as a receptionist in a suburban chemical company where I learned to work office machines and basic secretarial duties, and applied my public speaking and voice-over abilities to warmly greet and serve customers who called or walked in. Even though I had been the managing editor of my high school newspaper, loved to write and edit others’ writing, and submitted a plethora of papers throughout college… I did not know how to touch type! I still don’t! Somehow I was able to produce typed paperwork in good time, every time. This was probably due to good spelling and grammatical skills (no spell-check, nor grammar-check back then).
The amazing development that happened when I had transitioned to working in the high-brow offices in downtown Chicago stupefied my new co-workers who had business school degrees, perfect business wardrobes and many years of corporate experience to qualify for their positions. Not only was I the only non-White woman in the role of executive assistant to a senior vice president/company division manager, but my previous experiences as a receptionist, a life insurance policy analyst and an administrative assistant to a department manager- all short stints – hardly qualified me in their eyes (or mine, for that matter). Yet, I became a favorite, not only of my boss, but also of his co-senior VP’s, his division’s department managers, even the president. [You can ask me later how I know this.]
Back in the 1980’s, Asian-Americans were stereotyped as being smart, well-educated and very hard-working. I suppose that stereotype worked in my favor to a certain degree. However, looking back over these many years, I believe that my forward and upward movement in that company and in subsequent work settings can be attributed to at least two factors (on the human level*) – first, what my father called “carriage,” and second, my keen cultural sensitivity and adaptability. [The latter abilities come from my life as a TCK!] As I have come to know and observe Asians and Asian-Americans through the years, seeing them strive to move forward and upward, it has pained me to see the talented ones struggle, some never feeling fully appreciated in the circles they rise up into. It’s my desire through this blog to share and coach, as well as learn more from you who read this!
* On the supernatural level, the two factors are prayer and God’s grace (unmerited favor).