Artwork for podcast Asians Breaking Ceilings
S1:E2 Origin Story of a People-Pleaser Addict
Episode 227th August 2023 • Asians Breaking Ceilings • Jeanny Chai
00:00:00 00:35:16

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So many of us were told by our parents they wanted a boy. Could this be the reason many AAPI women suffer from imposter syndrome and low self-confidence? Is this why we end up being the hard-working, reliable, bad-ass, get sh*t done awesome women but also feel the need to keep proving ourselves?

Today Jeanny shares her story so we can look together at the childhood events and people who shaped our cultural norms. As we become self-aware of how we lost our confidence, we have a good chance of getting our power back. And ending the People Pleasing habit.

Jeanny Chai Bio here

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[00:00] Teaser

[00:45] Episode 1 Trailer

[02:05] The Origin of the People-Pleaser

[8:17] Coming to America

[10:54] Not belonging in American school

[12:50] Not belonging in Chinese school

[14:12] Stress from my family

[15:30] Origin of an Imposter

[18:23] I Got a B: my parents were upset.

[19:32] I Got into Stanford: parents were upset

BREAK

[23:23] New life in CA but same old problem

[23.30] Getting bad grades

[24:17] I didn't go to med school: my parents were upset

[25:50] Full blown imposter syndrome

[26:49] Proving myself at home, at work, everywhere

[32:14] Big wake-up call

[33:57] Episode 3 Preview

Theme Song: Imagine by Zoo

Mid-roll and Post-roll Song: Clarity by Zoo

Mentioned in this episode:

Outtro

Transcripts

Season 1 How Did We Get Here?

Episode 2: I Was Supposed to be a Boy

[:

I wore boy clothes. I had overalls. I even had a little pretend plastic rifle. This is in, Ames, Iowa in the 1970s. And then I went fishing a lot. I tried to be a boy so that my dad would not be so disappointed. I remember also at a certain age, trying to mow the lawn.

And I believe some of that was because I wanted to prove to myself that, Hey, I'm just as good as a boy.

is podcast is to ignite your [:

In episode two, I'll be introducing my story so that you and I can reminisce together on our childhoods and discover what trends and what events occurred that changed our confidence level to a place where we are now needing to prove ourselves. Because when we have self-awareness, when we understand what makes us tick and what happened, then we can undo norms that are no longer serving us and

uthentic success without the [:

One of the things that I've observed is for women of Asian heritage, no matter how old you are and how much you accomplish, there's this never ending feeling that we need to keep proving ourselves. And I want to explore today, how do we become this way? Because when we're freshly out of the womb, children, babies, infants do not have this need to prove themselves quite in the contrary.

finitely by college and into [:

And I want to address this today because I think it's a quite insidious thing. It might make us look like we're hardworking. I think it's probably why we have the model minority myth that all of us have an incredible work ethic. And we are the hardest workers, oftentimes doing the work of three people like we talked about in the previous episode.

And yet. It's also exhausting, isn't it? It's exhausting. It steals our joy and it doesn't make us feel good most of the time. So in each episode, I'm going to share with you a story.

And then discuss the possibilities of how we came to be like this. And the whole goal of this again is self awareness because with self awareness, we can begin to modify and change and we can become intentional.

And so here's [:

My personality was fiery and I bossed people around in this four story townhome that I lived with with my grandma, my grandpa, and their seven or eight children. You see, my mother was the first born and like many of us wasn't quite ready for children. And so she almost didn't want me and told my grandmother that. Luckily they saved me and decided they would raise me themselves.

Grandma and grandpa raised me themselves. While my parents came to the United States, in shifts. So my dad came to Iowa himself first, then my mother, and then finally I joined them three, four years later. So I didn't live with them in the beginning, but I remember my days in Taiwan being the happiest.

ove farmer's markets to this [:

I think I just spit in the street. Yeah. I was just, I would just chew and spit and chew and spit the whole time. And I had the time of my life and my grandmother would go and she'd buy the fresh fish from the day.

And my favorite memory was being able to stand in front of one of those little tofu carts, synonymous to what maybe an ice cream truck would be like in the United States.

[:

And to this day, when I go eat dim sum, I love getting do fa, this tofu dessert.

I remember one time there was a giant turtle. That they said was over a hundred years old and the fishermen had just caught it that morning and all the villagers were there looking at this amazing turtle and my grandma just let me stand there and enjoy and observe and life was fun.

As you're listening to me recall my memories, what was it like for you? Do you remember your youngest days? What the memories were, who you spent time with, what you enjoy doing? I remember before age four, there was a lot of good times.

happy, but I don't remember [:

I remember it would be 11 o'clock at night, something like that. And I was jumping from one twin bed to the other. I think I slept in my grandparents room and I jumped back and forth from bed to bed and I was a little monkey and I had tons of fun.

There was no stress. Life was good. Life was fun. And I felt loved. I felt like I belonged again.

My mom was the oldest of seven or eight children. And all her siblings were closer to me in age, actually. And so they treated me like the littlest sibling. I remember loving lychees. And my great grandmother would buy me a big bag of lychees. And since I wasn't very good at peeling them, she'd have my aunts and uncles peel them.

ry, I ate the very last one. [:

And those are the memories I had of growing up when I was still in Taiwan. Unfortunately, like many of you, things changed and life got a little bit tougher.

So the idea of mom and dad was really exciting. But when I met, when I finally got to the airport in, in Iowa, I remember running towards them because my grandparents were excited and when I saw my mom's face, I'm like, I don't know who you are. I don't recognize you and she had these big, what is it, owl kind of rimmed glasses that were huge and I was so scared.

I turned around cried and ran back to my grandma.

The other thing I remember is suddenly I wasn't the center of attention. Maybe I had too much attention before but I remember needing to fit into my mom and dad's world and very quickly.

was supposed to be a boy and [:

I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I felt like a huge disappointment.

Makes sense now, right? So my feeling was, well, mother and father, if I couldn't be a boy, maybe I should try to do some boy things to make up for your sadness. I remember having my hair cut really short, even though it was down to, my back when I first came to the States.

ow, Ames, Iowa in the, in the:

Uh, many of us here in California do not have lawns, but in the Midwest, there are big lawns. [00:10:00] And I wanted to take away some of the pressure and stress from my dad and just took out the lawnmower myself. I was probably, 10 years old, 11. I was a pretty tall child, so I was already full height at age 12, so I was pretty big.

And I took out the lawnmower, and I mowed the lawn for them, hoping that that would take away some of the stress, because that's what a boy would do, right? Take out the trash, mow the lawn. I also gardened with my dad. I loved gardening, and he taught me how to dig for fresh worms. And so I, even to this day, I'm the most...

boyish type of personality in my family. I'm the one that kills all the bugs that will catch lizards that will dig, you know, earthworms and touch them and go fishing. I'm the one that does that. I have no fear of that. And I believe some of that was because I wanted to prove to myself that, Hey, I'm just as good as a boy and I didn't play with dolls.

I didn't play with Barbies much.

just feel like a foreigner. [:

So that was already very unnerving. I remember going to preschool and not understanding a lot of what the teacher was saying. Even though I had learned some broken English, I still could not understand conversational English. And so my personality began to change. And I didn't speak as much as I used to.

There were a few incidents I remember that really took a lot of joy out of me. That shut me down. I still remember, and I'm 50 years old now. I still remember when I went to school, probably kindergarten, and the teacher was asking a question and said, who knows how to pronounce this? And I've been practicing reading on my own.

ke a cake? And I said floor. [:

and of embarrassment. And again, the kids weren't laughing at me. But as a young child, when people laugh at you, you feel like something's wrong with you, that you're doing something wrong. And I remember also having to color a self portrait and every other kid. Had brown eyes and brown hair and mine was black and I thought my eyes were black and so I had to raise my hand and said mine are black and everyone again laughed.

No harm intended probably but again I stuck out and so these experiences began to have an effect on me which was shut down my bright red dress wearing personality.

you know, if I could have a [:

But she was asking us questions that I thought I knew how to answer because I spoke Mandarin. And she said, Hey, class, what is the Chinese word for bird? And I would say Xiao Niao, which means little bird. And she'd say, Nope. And I was totally confused and someone else would go, meow, and I'd go, oh, okay. And then that didn't deter me.

So again, a few moments later, she said, what is the word for rabbit? And I would say xiao bai tu, because in my little books in Taiwan, uh, there was a lot of little white rabbits. And she said, nope. And there was this harshness about her that, no smile, no gentleness, no warmth. And I still remember that to this day.

point at Adjusting to a new [:

The greatest source of pain and stress in our environment doesn't come from the external world, but actually from our own families.

And a lot of what I'm going to say next, I couldn't share until I was in my twenties and I had my first two children. That's when I started to have a lot of mental health problems and, uh, difficulties with relationships. And I began to join a women's group where I, for the very first time in my life, talked about the difficulties my family went through.

And when I was sharing these things, I felt like a bad daughter. How many of you know what I'm talking about? We felt so guilty talking about things that were true. I felt like I was shaming my family, that I was breaking taboos, that I was airing out our dirty laundry. And all I was saying was that my mom and dad fought.

Right? Which now [:

It was also during this time that I started to hide who I really was. I wanted people to like me so much. When you get bullied, when you're the only Asian in the whole school, you really want to fit in. And so I would tease my hair in the 80s like everybody else. I had the bangs out to here and I started to wear makeup.

hat the pretty girls got the [:

So I was forced to quit that. I also made the volleyball team again. My mother said, no, we need to force you to stop because we need to study. And I also tried for cross country and track track was the only thing she let me do, because it was two weeks. It was two flipping weeks. And so that I was allowed to do, and I felt like a rock star when I did track.

This was in middle school. I was a good runner, mostly because I was 5'5 and I was already my full, my full height at age 12 and I didn't grow anymore. So that was fun.

I remember one very, very painful experience where we were at the eighth grade graduation dance, and there were more girls than there were boys.

ery last dance, the DJ said, [:

I made a story that said, it's because I'm unwanted. And this created a lot of difficult issues for me later on, trying to prove myself all the time, trying to overdo things, trying to make up for the fact that I wasn't good enough. And this is a theme you're going to hear throughout my life. It created a lot of stress.

It probably was subconscious, but it was what was motivating me. And so no matter how much I succeeded in school, no matter how much people said, Oh, Mrs. Yang your daughter's so amazing. I still felt like I was an imposter. I still felt like I had to find the next ceiling and achieve that. And I kept moving the bar.

[:

I remember getting one B in my sophomore year, uh, Mrs. Thornton.

Sophomore honors English. And because of that one B, my family made me quit choir for the next year. Why choir quiet? I love, love, love to sing, always saying in the basement of our home in Ames, Iowa, when I was a kid in Michigan, I love singing and choir wasn't even an afterschool activity. It was just something you would do in seventh period.

r of choir, when I came back [:

You basically got screwed, and you had no choice. And so you can see why a lot of us grow up being afraid that we're gonna disappoint someone and the Consequences are going to be really severe.

In the end, I was lucky enough I was able to get into Stanford University. But I got into Stanford University and my parents were not happy because what they wanted for me was to get into the University of Michigan's sixth year pre med program in which you would just go there and six years later you'd automatically be put into med school.

d when they asked me what my [:

Because we were so close to her dream of her daughter becoming a doctor. And we just missed it. And so during that time, I didn't know my mother was waiting by the mailbox and she was waiting for that acceptance package from university of Michigan and waiting and waiting, and I actually got accepted to Stanford, but she hid the package from me, hoping that university of Michigan would accept me and she would show me that.

er And so a few weeks passed [:

I Still remember this day.

I still remember that moment so clear in my mind. It was so confusing to me that my whole life I had been studying, memorizing multiplication tables since age three, that I'd worked so hard and yet she was not happy that I got into Stanford.

And she was saying, there you got in, but you did not get into University of Michigan. And so is it no wonder that I still have trouble today congratulating myself when I should be proud? There's this feeling of. Embarrassment, regret, shame, something where I don't celebrate myself fully and I think it harkens back to those days.

[:

I thought all my troubles were over that all the hard work and the pain was done now and I could be on my own.

ly know, when you try to move:

And it was wonderful. But I had a sense of resentment, [00:23:00] a sense of annoyance that I still had to study and it wasn't over yet. When was my life finally going to be my life?

I secretly took music classes. Sorry, mom and dad. I secretly took astronomy classes. I wanted to get into an a cappella group. Those are the things that mattered to me.

I started to get B's, even C's and D's. In my freshman biology classes, I simply could not read all the material they expected us to read, and I was way behind. And because I had never failed in my life or felt like anything was hard, it was really difficult for me to ask for help. How many of you know what I'm talking about?

l someone would say hey, you [:

So finally, junior year, unfortunately, had a very painful conversation with my mom and told her that there was no way I was going to get into med school, that there was no way I could stay up as late as the other kids were. There was no way that I could read fast enough and I'm not going to get in with the grades that I have.

old me that she was going to [:

Not only did she leave that one message, she kept calling back in the following weeks to leave angry messages. And she'd call me at 2 or 3 in the morning. I began to lose weight. And it was at this time I realized what depression was.

The hardest thing was I was still so ashamed that I didn't tell anybody. I didn't tell my counselors. I didn't tell my friends. I didn't tell anybody. I don't think I even told my boyfriend because it was just so shameful.

ere doing. Oh, one was Yelp, [:

I felt crummy. I felt like I was the only one who didn't make use of her education and I Beat myself over and over again.

I would find ways to expend my energy to try to find something I was good at.

In college, I had gotten into the habit of dropping classes, of only doing things that I knew I could do really well, and I was afraid to do anything that might be embarrassing, or I wasn't good at, or I wasn't absolutely overachieving.

work situation, I felt this [:

It wasn't like I was motivated by joy, necessarily, but it was a compulsion. Almost an addiction, where I couldn't be mediocre, and if I did, I didn't like myself, and I felt upset.

For instance, if I was cooking for my children, I had to have fresh vegetables that I cut up, sautéed with garlic, put in some water, and steamed.

And if I just served them something like steamed vegetables from the microwave, I didn't feel as good. And so all my meals took an hour to cook. I had all these bon appetit recipes. I guess the good thing is nowadays my kids eat things like eggs benedict and they eat every vegetable out there and they're not picky.

Because I gave them adult food. I felt embarrassed to cook anything that wasn't super gourmet. Even when I went on vacation for a week long trip, when other families We're cooking.

s there making tonkatsu from [:

I and because people knew me as being a good cook, I couldn't just serve something mediocre. It became a compulsion, an addiction where I wasn't having fun. But I didn't know how to stop. The need to people please had taken over and it felt like I wasn't even in control of myself.

I noticed these patterns when I was at school volunteering. If there was a need for 20 parent school volunteer hours, I might end up doing 105. You know, I would end up being the parent volunteer who coordinated all the other parent volunteer coordinators. Was it a paid job? No. Did I really enjoy it? Yes.

f hatred. There was a lot of [:

I Would run an entire silent auction for a school with one month planning make in twenty thirty thousand dollars for the school and the school Was happy, but I would put myself through so much Sleepless nights so much stress so much energy all for what? I had an amazing amount of talent, but The motivation behind it was from fear and compulsion and a should not a want to.

And of course this Destroyed me in the workplace There was one point when I was working at a job as a business development Rep and when they were interviewing me for the job, they asked so what else do you bring to our company?

so I said, "Hey, [:

I would go early to Las Vegas, set up the trade show booth, blow up 500 balloons. And then I would come back and make marketing videos on my free time in the hotel. And I didn't even know that this was not the path to success. I was excited contributing for other people's growth and development. I noticed the first in, the first time I realized something might be off was when my good friend who was a marketing VP said to me, I thought you were in the sales department.

.. That I was doing too much [:

And it began to dawn on me that over committing and over contributing did not lead to authentic success and necessarily to any kind of promotion or bonus or financial reward. It just gave you more work.

I took some time off to be a stay at home mom. When I returned to the workforce, now I felt that I had to prove myself even more because I had a five year gap.

When I returned to the workforce, I wanted to be the person who was at the unicorn startup. I wanted to be the next Elon Musk.

Because [:

In 2015 My life was really falling apart. Because I was so resentful and depressed. I was no fun to be around. My marriage was falling apart And my children were having a lot of anxiety from having a mean angry mother At this time, I was still trying to get an MBA because that's what we need, right?

and I was diagnosed at that [:

I had a five year old. And I thought to myself, I just want to see him grow up. This was my wake up call. My oncologist said, Hey, you have a lot of aunts, but none of them have cancer, a lot of diabetes, but no cancer. This is stress induced. What kind of stress do you have? And I said, I'm Asian. I've been stressed ever since I was three years old, trying to be enough.

And she said to me, you know, we have the best medicine, the best chemotherapy, and we're definitely going to heal you. But unless you learn to manage your stress and learn to be happy, your immune system is not going to recover and your cancer is going to come back. I was so scared and I went home that night being stressed out that I was stressed out.

the story. You've made it to [:

If it weren't for me getting sick. I probably would still be the people pleasing, angry, resentful, bitter person that I'd become always trying to find validation through external achievements in her life. But something changes when you have a wake up call like this. And so be sure to come back next week and listen to all the wonderful step by step changes that began to occur when I realized I didn't want to live like this anymore.