I was recently honored to be a panelist as Lana Learn’s CEO on AmCham Vietnam’s multi-generational discussion on women in leadership in honor of UN International Women’s Day. Alongside Dam Bich Thuy, the President of Fulbright University, and Linh Thai, with Shark Tank Vietnam, we focused on developing and maintaining grit, determination, and optimism during this time of coronavirus.
After introductions kicked off, we all shared our backgrounds and how our upbringings shaped our attitudes. I am inspired by Dam Bich Thuy. She grew up in Hanoi during the Vietnam war and entered the field of finance during the Asian Financial Crises. Despite these hard times, she persevered and availed herself of any opportunities, meanwhile earning a reputation for being a hard worker and team player, a hallmark of a successful professional. Meanwhile, Shark Linh talked about her journey from Vietnam to the U.S. in the boy’s club of finance. When she was working on Wall Street, Linh tried not to think of herself as different from anyone else, even when she was outnumbered by men. She didn't let that fact hinder her, because she was focused on work and accomplishments.
I enjoy sharing my origin story – it always reminds me of my goals, and renews my drive to achieve them, even during these stressful times. When I was only a few weeks old, my parents and I fled war-torn Vietnam and walked across Khmer Rouge-controlled Cambodia to Thailand, where we remained for two years in a refugee camp. Eventually we were lucky enough to make it to the United States with $5 to our name.
Both of my parents have entrepreneurial spirits, and quickly went to work to grab hold of the American dream. Through grit, determination, and optimism, they raised me and my siblings with those same values and entrepreneurial drive. My mother’s motto has always been, “Find a way,” which I have taken to heart. No matter what life brings you, you find a way, just like she did back then and does now, as a business owner and grandmother. I like to think I take after her – I was the first member of my family to go to college, at the University of Tulsa, and I went on to obtain my Master degree at Yale and become a diplomat for the United States in Vietnam, Iraq, and Pakistan. Now, I am the Founder and CEO of Lana Learn, my third startup, and it is growing every day!
After sharing our stories, we fielded questions from over 50 virtual audience members, centered on career advancement and work-life balance. Dam Bich Thuy recommended young professionals stay the course, even when there are multitude of options that may sway you. She said that persistence pays off in the end, which Linh Thai agreed with. Linh Thai said that you have to "put your head down" and get the work done.
I said that optimism, even in hard times, is a choice. When we wake up every day, we have to make that choice. Linh Thai agreed, saying it was important to do so, "even if you don't feel like it." It is one way to bring about focus and reach your aim.
We also discussed how you can utilize the current economic disruption of COVID-19 to accelerate reforms and create a more positive future in your company. It can be as simple as rediscovering the benefits of reflective thought, nurturing relationships, or re-establishing priorities. How do you stay focused and optimistic during this pandemic?
I would like to offer my thanks to AmCham’s Women in Leadership Committee, moderator Irene Ohler, my fellow panelists, and all those who attended the discussion for this wonderful opportunity to meet other business leaders advancing our shared goals and work in Vietnam.