Sunday, November 27, 2022

Career Advice from Michelle Kwan

A few weeks late, I've been meaning to write about the time I got to meet Ambassador Michelle Kwan! I met her as part of an intimate send-off tea event hosted by Asian American Foreign Affairs Association (AAFAA), an employee resource group at the Department of State. We were sending her off prior to her departure to be the next Ambassador to Belize, and as soon as I heard the event was happening I RSVP'd. I mean, who doesn't want to meet Michelle Kwan?!

In case you live under a rock, Michelle Kwan is famous for being a world champion figure skater and Olympic gold medalist. Since retiring from her athletic career, she went back to school for a Master's degree from Tufts's renowned Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and has worked in international affairs for more than 10 years.

Despite her star status, she was incredibly down-to-Earth, kind, and warm. She gave some of the best career advice I've heard in a very long time, so I wanted to share just a few nuggets of her wisdom that stuck with me here:

  • Others will try and pigeonhole you, but don't give up. Her story about transitioning from her career as an athlete really struck me. She said especially in the beginning as she was getting started in international affairs people were condescending and said things like "okay, figure skater" and "we don't have a job for you here, but can we get an autograph?" She just kept knocking on doors until one finally opened.
  • No matter how high up you go, stay humble. I was impressed that Ambassador Kwan didn't just give us advice but asked us what we thought she should know as she prepared to depart for Belize.
  • Advocate for all people, inside and outside your own group. She asked how she could be an ally not just for Asian Americans but for others at State with issues like discrimination in language testing that disadvantages heritage speakers.
  • Think about what you want to pass on to the next generation. It doesn't have to be exactly the same as what was passed on to you.
  • There is power and healing in processing shared cultural experiences. Many Asian Americans in the room bonded over the experience of feeling like they could never make their parents proud no matter how hard they tried - even Michelle Kwan! I like how Ambassador Kwan looked forward to the future, though, and noted she thinks very consciously about how she wants to convey acceptance and love to her own young daughter now that she's a parent.

In just our short encounter, I learned so much from Ambassador Kwan, and I really look up to her. We're lucky to have her as a Chief of Mission, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

No comments:

Post a Comment