Beyond Blending In (a book excerpt by Wendy Kim)

Recently, an influencer I follow was ranting about a conference where the panel consisted of mostly white men and one black man. She tagged a bunch of powerful women: Brene Brown, Marie Forleo, Elizabeth Gilbert, etc. While I’m all about supporting women, one thing I noticed was that all the women she tagged were white. This made me ask the question:

 “Where are all the powerful women of color?”

Of course we all know Oprah who has been such an inspiration, as a woman of color. There’s also Iyanla Zavant and a handful of others, but I can’t name a large amount of speakers, entrepreneurs and spiritual teachers who are women of color. This makes me wonder where are all the women of color who are making a difference in the world? There have to be more women of color who have something to say, something to contribute. Why are they not representing?

The term “women of color” is such a broad term. It covers Africans, African-Americans, Latinas, Asians, Native Americans and possibly others I’m not aware of. To try to generalize all of these cultures and their experiences would make no sense, but I can share my experience as woman who is half-Korean and half-German and see if any of my experiences resonate with other women of color.

I grew up being the only Asian person amongst white people and some African-American people. Of course I looked different than everybody around me. I didn’t experience a lot of overt racism, but I always knew I was different. When you’re a child and you’re different, what do you do? 

You do anything you can to conform and be like the mainstream, which in my case was white. 

That meant if I ever saw anything Asian on television it wasn’t as good or cool as anything white-American. It also meant, to me, that English was superior to any Asian language. I was proud of the fact that I didn’t speak any language except English. It also meant that when people told me I had big eyes “for an Asian,” I considered that a compliment. I proudly told people I was part German. So, what does this way of thinking do to a child? What does it do to an adult?

Every day, every meeting, every interaction with a co-worker was colored with this fear. What if people knew the real me?

When I was eleven, I moved to live with my mother in Hawaii. I was transported from a world where there were virtually no Asians to living in a place that was primarily Asian, Asian-American. I “looked Asian,” but I didn’t “act like an Asian.” I remember raising my hand in class every time when the teacher asked a question. I seemed to be the only one who would raise their hand. Then someone told me how everyone was saying I was a showoff. They all knew the answer too, but they didn’t raise their hand. It was from that point, I learned how I was “supposed” to be if I was to successfully navigate this Asian-American culture:

  • Don’t stand out.

  • Play it cool. Don’t be too enthusiastic.

  • Just do what everybody else is doing.

  • BLEND IN!!!!

Fast-forward fifteen years ahead, when I was manager in a corporate environment, working for a prestigious Fortune 500 company while in my twenties. I was responsible for a multi-million dollar project and was flying back and forth from California to Tokyo on International Business class. By all accounts, I looked successful. I had checked all the boxes to make my family happy, but inside I was unfulfilled and afraid. 

What if people knew the real me? How long can I keep this up before I’m found out as a fraud? What if I fail? What if I make a mistake? 

Every day, every meeting, every interaction with a co-worker was colored with this fear. I also continued my act of never seeming too enthusiastic, playing it cool and not taking risks, so that I could keep this all going. 

Over time, I realized I couldn’t keep this up. I wanted to make a difference in the world, I wanted to help people, I wanted to be authentic, but how? I didn’t want to disappoint my family. I feared the criticism of my colleagues. What if I failed? What would everyone think of me? I think everyone feels this way when they are embarking on something new, but I feel Asian-Americans and maybe other people of color might feel this in a more pronounced way. 

After all, my mother grew up very poor in Korea and sacrificed so much so I could be born in this country and be the first in my family to graduate from college…the hope for an entire family. Could I really take liberties about what I wanted to do with my life when so much, dare I say, the honor of the family was at stake? I think this is why you see few Asian-Americans in government, the arts and entrepreneurship. It’s easier to follow the path to become a doctor or lawyer, something safer and reputable…but at what cost? I wonder if other women of color, like myself have thought: I should just be happy. I should just be grateful. 

I remember when I told my mom I wanted to start a coaching business empowering people to fulfill their dreams. Well, actually, I didn’t tell her that in those words because I might as well be a rainbow unicorn galloping across a meadow speaking unicorn to her. I told her I’d be helping people with money. 

  • Mom: Like a financial planner?

  • Me: Sort of

  • Mom: But, you don’t have a degree in that.

  • Me: I’ve gone through a coaching program.

  • Mom: But, you have such a great job.

  • Me: But I’m not happy.

  • Mom: (Silence)

For my mom, so much of her life was about survival: having enough food on the table and hopefully a little to spare. For me, to leave the stability of a well-respected company, where I was paid a six-figure salary didn’t make a lot of sense. Terms like “happiness,” “self-fulfillment” and “making a difference” were like a foreign language to her. 

My mom didn’t get it…and neither did a lot of my friends. I remember sharing with one friend about my new business, who also happened to be a woman of color. She also looked at me like I was a two-headed unicorn. But, I knew in my soul I had to at least try or I’d always wonder what could be. One of the most gratifying moments for me was when several years later, that friend reached out to me for support to pursue her dream of starting her own business. Things had really come full circle. 

This book is meant to help all people who have felt or are feeling trapped by cultural expectations, especially for women of color. I will be sharing the tools and strategies that have helped me overcome my cultural bonds in the areas of: self-love, money, aliveness, spirituality, relationships, entrepreneurship, emotional health and physical health. I believe that if these things helped me, they can definitely empower you. In the near future, I look forward to seeing events with a roster of world-changers that represent all groups equitably. I also look forward to young girls of color being able to look up to women who look like them, with the belief they are capable of anything.

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Call to Action: In your notebook, make two-columns. On one-side, write a list of cultural beliefs you’ve grown up with that may no longer be serving you. On the other side, write new beliefs that will support you in your growth. For instance, “Do you think you’re better than us?” The new belief could be “No, but to support and elevate my community, I owe it to myself to expand and grow to a new level.” 

Cover illustration by Alex Kim

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About the Author

Wendy Kim is a #1 International Best-Selling Amazon Author of the book Beyond Blending In: An Immigrant Daughter's Guide to Overcoming Cultural Bonds For A Life of Authenticity and Abundance. She is also a speaker and coach to entrepreneurs and executives, helping to define what their next level personally and professionally is, and providing the tools and support to breakthrough limits to a greater level of success and fulfillment. 

As a woman of color, Wendy also has a passion for empowering Women of Color who want to be get their message heard, but are having difficulty getting past their limiting beliefs. Finally, Wendy is active in fighting against sex-trafficking and gives a portion of her business' profits to toward that cause. Wendy also loves hiking, reading and going to the beach with her wonderful husband and two beautiful children.