When my parents were in high school, they went roller skating on their date nights. So when they had us kids, it was only natural for them to take us to the skate deck on the weekends. And, it quickly became one of my favorite childhood spots.
I became interested in figure skating after visiting the ice rink for the first time at a friend's birthday party. I had gotten there a bit early, but just in time to observe a private session, reserved for skaters who were in training and preparing to compete. I remembered being ecstatic to see all the young skaters gliding gracefully on the ice and performing all sorts of tricks. My sister, Jessica, and I would also frequently watched Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton, and many other skating legends on TV - and we would mimic their skating performances in our living room. I also loved how beautiful their skating outfits were. I don't know exactly how it happened, whether I had asked my parents first, or if they had caught a glimpse of the excitement in my eyes, but they ended up enrolling me and Jessica into a few beginner group classes. I remembered having a blast and learning new ice skating moves so quickly. By the end of the 4-week program, my parents wanted to know if this was something I would take seriously if I were to keep going. If I wanted to become an athlete, they would be willing to put me in private lessons with a coach, who would be dedicated to training me. This was a huge decision for an 8 year old, but I did not hesitate to say yes!
For 5 years from elementary school to middle school, my life revolved around figure skating - 7 days per week, 365 days per year. I lived and breathed at the ice rink. It was my 2nd home. I would wake up as early as 5:00 AM for 1-2 hour long skating practices right before school started. My early mornings begun by getting into my skating clothes, stretching exercises, consuming the veggie juice my mom made for me, while she would wake up my sisters to get them ready to come along. While I practiced, my mom and two younger sisters would nap in the van right in the parking lot. After practice, my mom would rush to take me and Jessica to school. It was almost an hour drive to and from the rink every day. In middle school. I was able to opt out of P.E. classes and receive credit since I was already active in a sport. That was really cool of my school to make that exception for me. Thank you to the Principal at Explorer Middle School! When I finished my day at school, I studied hard and completed my assignments, ate a few healthy servings of Khmer food, then slept early to be well rested for skating practice the following morning. This was my daily routine.
Figure skating is a highly exclusive and elite sport. Back then, it was nearly $500-$600 per month for private ice time, private skating lessons, new ice skates & its maintenance fees, clothing, accessories, competition fees, membership fees, and the list goes on! I would get a pair of new skates every time my feet grew bigger. It became extremely costly. My parents were supportive though and had sacrificed so much for me to be in this sport. But, my dad worked too hard to provide for the family, on top of this luxury to put me through skating. It was a constant struggle. So, it eventually got to a point where I wasn't able to keep going when my parents' mental health, relationship and financial issues had worsened. I loved ice skating but not enough for it to continue to negatively impact my family and their well-being. I felt awful but knew I had to make the tough decision to quit no matter how much I loved ice skating.
During those younger years, I felt like I had to mature quicker than most of my peers. While kids my age got to sleep in, play, and do whatever they wanted, I had the responsibility of making sure I was eating healthy, performing at my highest level, and being committed to a rigorous training schedule. I think my ma was also figuring things out along the way and trying her best to be a supportive skating mom. I loved being at the ice rink. Skates felt like my crutches. I enjoyed gliding across the ice so seamlessly, with ease and control in the purest, most elegant form. To be honest, I felt like I was more graceful on the ice than on the ground. I was always open to learning new jumps and spins and different combinations of footwork. Once I landed my first axel, I started learning the rest of the jumps without any issues, like the double salchow, double loop, and double toe loop. Spins were always easy for me. And, my favorite move was the spiral to show off my flexibility. Michelle Kwan was my idol, and I wanted to be just like her. I also skated to music that represented me, i.e. Disney's Mulan "Reflection". Figure skating is a sport that has always kept me challenged, engaged and aspiring for more. Though I wasn't able to continue pursuing competitive figure skating, it has taught me some of the most valuable life lessons and shaped me into the leader I am today. With that, I want to share 3 leadership skills that figure skating has taught me.
1) Being Productive & An Early Bird
Up to this day, I still wake up early even on the weekends. I love the feeling of getting things done and being able to have the rest of the afternoon / evening to finish up tasks and work on other projects. Because I love being productive, I naturally became a Project Manager in my current profession.
2) Practice Makes Perfect & Consistency
Every time I learned a new jump or spin, it was always rough in the beginning. As I kept practicing and got better, I learned that the more time and effort I put into something, the more I successful I will be. Consistency is key to anything you do in life. To get there, you must put in the work.
3) Having the Confidence to be in the Spotlight
Being on "stage" during an ice skating performance has taught me to overcome my nerves in front of a big crowd. This skill has come in handy many times when delivering business presentations and speeches, where I sometimes have to be in front of several hundred people. My early days of performing has definitely helped to prepare me for being in the Corporate setting.
“An athlete gains so much knowledge by just participating in a sport. Focus, discipline, hard work, goal setting and, of course, the thrill of finally achieving your goals. These are all lessons in life.” — Kristi Yamaguchi
As you can see, figure skating has truly been a life changing experience for me. I believe that every kid should have the opportunity to fall in love with a sport and be dedicated to a sport in order to learn self-discipline, dedication and other critical life skills. No matter your age, you are not too old to learn a new sport. Besides the competitive nature of sports, it's a great way to keep you in shape and build healthy habits. Now that I'm an adult, I still skate from time to time to brush up on my skills. Although I cannot skate as I well as I did back then, I still know all the basics. And, that's enough for me. Figure skating will always be a part of my life.
Thank you, Ma & Ba.
The first night kicked off with an evening of empowerment and inspiration. We had a panel of powerhouse women, who shared their career challenges and successes on their road to claiming their rightful seats at the STEM table. I felt empowered hearing these phenomenal voices of women!
My key takeaways of inspirational quotes:
Do you feel as empowered as I do? These strong and powerful women have incredible insights to share. Hope this helpful for you!
To your continued success,
Being that this conference would happen virtually due to the global pandemic, I mentally prepared myself by blocking out the 2.5 days on my calendar. This meant not scheduling any podcast interviews, taking a break from the passion project, ensuring that I was taking time off from work, and getting the things I needed to get done earlier in the week since I would have a much shorter weekend. One of the highlights of being a conference attendee is receiving wonderful perks like a customized box of healthy snacks that delivered straight to my doorstep. These snacks were catered by Snack Magic and helped to energize me throughout the conference. This was definitely a nice touch!
Prior to the conference, my employer had a virtual kickoff celebration with the Executive Leadership across the company to help promote women of color in leadership, especially in STEM fields. This entire conference took place in Eastern time, so I woke up extra early Friday & Saturday mornings at 5AM! Thank goodness for those energy drinks! I was ready to learn from women of different backgrounds and industries. Something that came to mind was how I was going to network with others through this virtual platform. In a face-to-face conference, it's way easier to talk to someone when you can physically see them and have more meaningful interactions. Despite this challenge, I made it a goal to meet a minimum of 2-3 individuals. I reviewed the agenda ahead of time and registered for the breakout sessions I was interested in.
Here was what the agenda looked like:
1st DAY (more of an evening)
As you can see, an incredibly busy weekend planned! I even had the time to attend a virtual EDI Fundraising Gala event Saturday night. If you can imagine, I was quite mentally exhausted after all the festivities.
I'm so grateful to be selected for an award and attend this conference. Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a short reflection and key takeaways of all the top sessions I attended. Since it costs $650-$1,000 per attendee, which is a barrier for many, I figured the best way to give back is to share what I've learned with all of you!
I am pleased to be accepting the Women of Color (WoC) Technology Rising Star Award by the WoC Magazine and would like to give thanks to my family, significant other, friends, colleagues, mentors, and bosses who have supported me throughout my leadership journey. I wouldn't be standing where I am today without their unwavering support. I am so honored to be adding more Khmer representation to the STEM fields. Representation truly matters especially for inspiring, diverse future leaders. I dedicate this award to everyone who has contributed to my path of success. I am truly grateful and hope that I can continue paving the way toward increasing Southeast Asian representation in the Corporate world.
Humbled and Honored,
November of 2019 was when I had officially made up my mind about starting my very own podcast. I had been toying with this idea for months but didn't have the courage to actually do it. For one, I didn't think I was the best public speaker. Secondly, it takes time for me to gather my thoughts. Also, I had never envisioned myself in this role before. However, I was inspired by up and coming popular Asian podcasters, like Asian Boss Girl and Rock the Boat, to finally step up my game and just go for it. These incredibly intelligent and intentionally thoughtful Asian women were the ones who empowered me to speak up and tap into my creative side. I had a hard time finding more Southeast Asian podcasters to listen to so this had also solidified my decision to start one up. This is why representation matters!
In 2018, I started listening to podcasts to break the boredom of solo business traveling. I would travel nearly every 2 months domestically or internationally and love filling my time with new learnings and expanding my knowledge base while waiting in line for security or at my gate at the airport or en route to my destination by air. My favorite podcast genres were all over the place. I would listen to murder mysteries, girl talks, business topics, conspiracy theories, and so many others that I found entertaining. Finally, I discovered that I really found a lot of value listening to "Life Journal" type genres, specifically Asian women and their life experiences. By the way, when I find a podcast that I really like, I will listen to all of the episodes in a marathon then would be hungry for more. The problem is that there are very limited podcasts with Asian representation, or maybe there are a lot out there but just hard to find? This sparked my interest to do more research and learn all of the best practices of starting my very own podcast. Google was my best friend, and I read up on various articles, watched YouTube videos, and read through Amazon reviews for the best, most affordable equipment. It was actually a big learning curve, but once I started learning the basics, it became much easier and more manageable.
Ok, so, why did my first podcast fail?! You probably didn't even know that I had a failed podcast prior to the 2 Khmerican Sisters. We all have to start from somewhere. For me, I have always learned things the hard way. The key takeaway from failure is to always learn from your experiences and do better the next time around. "Fail Fast to Learn Faster" is one of my life mottos.
3 Reasons Why My First Podcast Failed
1) Mixing Friends & Business and Not Being Fully Aligned
The major reason why my first podcast failed is that I mixed friends and business. I had asked 2 of my closest friends to co-host with me thinking that It wouldn’t be as scary if I had someone else to do this with, to build something great together if we were all dedicated and passionate about what we were doing. However, it doesn't matter how long you have known someone, you will ALWAYS learn something new about someone, because people will change throughout the course of their lives, or they might not have shared a certain part of themselves to you before. Everything went well for three months, and we were having a great time, until it came down to sharing our perspectives on the current environment of racial injustice and inequity issues. It had never crossed my mind that a topic like this would test the strength and validity of our friendship and podcast. For decades, we had always gotten along. I saw the BLM movement as a human rights issue, while they saw things in a different light. I understand that 2020 has been an unprecedented year and uncovered so many problematic issues within our system, e.g. racial injustices and inequities impacting our Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, xenophobia against Asians around the world due to COVID-19, inequities and under-resourcing within our healthcare and educational system, etc.
With everything that's been happening, I believe these current events are critical and have forced us to finally talk about these deep-rooted issues but is unfortunately dividing us further as a nation. And, in my case, even in friendships. The three of us have never been hardcore into politics, and this was the first time we had a huge disagreement and refused to hear each other out. This was the first time I had even learned about their political views. I wish we had better communication and empathy toward one another when faced with this difficult and controversial topic that impacts all of us. Right now, I feel that it is more important than ever to be listening and open to understanding one another. If you and your co-hosts are not willing to face discomfort and have open and frank conversations about important topics, then having a podcast together is a recipe for disaster. The biggest lesson learned from this experience is to avoid bringing friends into your passion project if you guys are not aligned on your mission, vision and purpose.
2) Doing Too Much All At Once
Overloading yourself at the beginning is also detrimental to the success of your podcast, especially if it is only a side hobby. We all know that work-life balance is important in our lives. As an overachiever, it is very easy to want to do it all at once and say yes to everything and everyone. So, it's important to set clear boundaries and expectations for yourself, your co-hosts and your guest speakers. Don't be afraid to create your own structure, rules and timeline - whether you want it to be consistent or ad-hoc. March to the beat of your own drums. You may get advice and recommendations coming at you in all sorts of directions; although, people mean well and want you to succeed, know that you don't always have to implement what they tell you to do.
What I have found helpful is to not follow a timeline that is too rigid to allow for changes to occur during the podcast season. Also, you don't need to create an account for all social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok. Start with one to give time for learning and juggling different tasks, and if you can manage it simultaneously with podcast planning and production, then go for it. Note that when you start a podcast, you are now filling up your spare time with outlining topics, recording and editing episodes, reaching out to potential guest speakers, writing up the episode descriptions, finding artwork for your episodes, coming up with promo content for your social media platform(s), and many others. There's a lot that happens behind-the-scenes that you may not be aware of until you are actually working through the process. Understand your new battle rhythm first before taking on more.
3) Podcasting Just to Podcast
When you podcast "just to podcast" to randomly talk about topics with no clear direction, purpose or intention behind your messaging, you may not get a high retention rate by . your listeners as you might have hoped for or expected, unless you are a popular influencer or celebrity and listeners know who you are and are genuinely interested in following you. When you start from the ground up and nobody knows who you are, you really need to dive deeper into a series of questions, like what will set your podcast apart from others? What will make your podcast unique? Is there a niche audience you could tap into? There are currently 850,000 podcasts in the world, so how will you get people to listen to yours?
With my first podcast, we had a wide range of different topics from serious to fun; but, because we had so many ideas, we were all over the place with what we wanted to do and would work in silos, not really knowing what we were individually doing and putting out there. It was like having three different podcasts and attempting to merge them all into one podcast, which can look a bit disorganized from an outside perspective. In the long-term, this would not have been a sustainable or successful business model, especially if we wanted to grow this podcast into potentially a side hustle or primary business. My recommendations for building a better strategic plan for your podcast are to define your purpose and objectives, tailor your episode topics to align to your mission and vision, and understand who your targeted "niche" audiences are in order to grow and scale.
Now that I've been producing podcasts for half a year, I'd say the most difficult part of podcasting is taking the time to edit episodes from beginning to end (often multiple times since I'm a perfectionist!) The longer the duration of your episodes, the more time it will take to edit since you will need to listen to and review every word spoken. My main goal is to produce high quality, thoughtful episodes so that I'm delivering the highest value to my listeners, who are giving up their spare time to listen to what I'm sharing with them. I definitely want to make sure that it will be well worth their time. Through my mistakes and failures from my first podcast, I have reflected on these lessons and have come up with ways to improve my second podcast. I needed a month break to detox from it all and then reconnected with my youngest sister, who had pre-recorded an episode on racial equity in education with me during my first podcast but unfortunately wasn't able to release. Now, it's live on the 2 Khmerican Sisters podcast with over 350 plays!
My sister and I agreed that we wanted to start from scratch and build our new listener base from zero. We felt it was the right direction to take so that it could be something we call our own and be proud of. It also felt right to partner with my sister since our mission, vision and purpose aligned, and all of our ideas for our passion project integrated so well together. It's a huge plus that she has similar work ethic and leadership style and is always willing to speak up, be honest and talk together whenever we have disagreements or are faced with a tough issue. I had no idea that she had wanted to create a website geared toward the BIPoC community for awhile now.
For years, we have always wanted to figure out a way to give back to our Khmer community and show our Khmerican pride but didn't know how to do so. Social distancing and being at home have given us more time back in our days to focus on doing something we're passionate about. In just a month, the 2 Khmerican Sisters podcast has received over 1,000 plays world-wide and a following of 500+ supporters on Instagram! We have also partnered with several influencers, podcasters and people of color small businesses. This experience has truly caused me to pivot for the better, and it has been nice to celebrate these small wins with my sister and our new platform. We both look forward to what the next few months will bring.
If you are interested in starting your own podcast, I'd like to invite you to attend an upcoming class that I will be volunteering to teach next month to support the Executive Development Institute (EDI) for Multicultural Leaders. It'll only be $25 for a 90-minute session, but I will teach you everything you need to know - the ins and outs of podcast planning, production and execution! 100% of the proceeds will go directly toward supporting this amazing leadership development program for Asians and Hispanics. Click here to find out more!
Thanks so much for reading this entire blog post. Let me know in the comments below on what you thought of this article!