I spent most of my 20s pretending that I had no fears. Fears are messy. They mess up my optimism, my can-do spirit, they hold me back. I turned a blind eye to them so they wouldn’t slow me down. I realized that I had chosen a career, television news, that is relentlessly fast-paced and fiercely competitive especially in America’s top media town - New York. I was laser-focused on learning everything I could about the nature of the industry, the demands of my job, and the dynamics of my colleagues and supervisors. I tried to make friends with everyone, I did my best to deliver results as asked, and sometimes I even pushed myself to exceed expectations. I thought I had everything right and well and I would surely get that promotion I was eyeing next. I was dead wrong.
One day, I found myself lying on the floor, having collapsed from hyperventilating over the loss of the promotion to another colleague. I was a mess, crying uncontrollably over the blatant bias in favor of a co-worker whom I thought was lazy, manipulative and frequently flirtatious. “Where’s justice in the world!?” I still remember yelling out inside myself even as I was being wheeled out on a stretcher to the hospital emergency room. I couldn’t contain my emotional outburst. I had a nervous breakdown. I was 24.
That incident scared me about myself. I lost my nerves! Wow, I could handle breaking news stories from 4 alarm fire to bloody shooting in Chinatown, but I couldn’t handle my own emotion. It also taught me that I had been investing so much energy and even attachment to a promotion. I wanted to be recognized for my work, and I thought I deserved it. But when I was in the ER, a kind colleague came to visit me and reminded me that even if I was right and my boss was wrong, I was not in charge. This promotion isn’t about me, it’s about the boss and what he saw was the right fit not just for the job, but also for the workplace. It dawned on me then that I was probably working for the wrong person at the wrong place and the wrong time.
I share this story because among other things like office politics or implicit bias in the outside world, it exposes deep pride and fears in my inner world that I never quite explored until I had a breakdown.
In my interview with Alison Chen and Franklin Chen (no relation to Alison), they opened up their struggle in their journey to find a job after graduation and to find acceptance and recognition in American workplace. What struck me about our conversation, is their candor and acceptance about what scares them. As I listen and think back on what was lost on me in my 20s, I learn that fear will pass if we let it come to us, let it stay and show its nature, and also let it go away.
Listen to “One in a Billion” “Face Our Fears.”
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