This year, the 5th annual Imagine Talks, held at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, hosted 16 speakers who lived unimaginably inspiring lives. The speakers ranged from Hollywood martial arts actor who has appeared in over 100 Hollywood films, some of which you have probably seen him in without knowing it (aka Inception, or Marvel's Luke Cage), the talented James Lew, to co-founder of ticket company Sparxo and the biggest boss babe of all time, Crystle Wong, to uber successful speaker, investor, and entrepreneur - listed on the top 10 Entrepreneurs to Follow in 2017 list by the Huffington Post, Rana Gujral, to many other exceptionally strong and successful individuals. It goes without saying that the speakers at this year’s Imagine Talks has left the community simultaneously speechless, inspired, and in my case - feeling like a rock compared to these people. All jokes aside, here are some of the biggest takeaways from Imagine Talks 2019.
1. BABY STEPS LEAD TO BIG DREAMS
“Write down small actionable items that will get you from today to tomorrow.”
- Crystle Wong
It goes without saying, but Crystle Wong is quite an inspiration, especially for young Asian women like myself. She has transcended all stereotypes as an Asian woman who is also the CEO and Co-Founder of a flourishing tech company, Sparxo. Along with this, she is very involved in her community, not only celebrating her heritage as a committee member on the San Francisco Asian Pacific American Heritage Foundation, but also supporting the homeless by serving on the board of Designing a Difference, an organization whose mission is to provide job training and placement for those who are homeless or are on the brink of homelessness. As if all of this wasn’t enough, Crystle is also a very active member at her church, serves in leadership positions in other organizations, and spends some free time traveling the world.
Her life is bound to leave people wondering: “how does she do it?” Thankfully, she gave us her secret during her talk - Life Planning.
One of the main ideas that she shared is that people need to take control of their lives. There will be times in life that are impossible to control, but what matters is what you can control -- your reaction during these moments. She gave us the statistic that 50% of the time, your life will turn out the way you want just by coasting, but what about the other 50% of the time? On a grander scale, curating a life such as the one that Wong has requires hard work, lots of planning, and dedication. On a smaller, everyday scale, Wong shared her secret: tangibly writing down actionable items to complete for the day. When this is done in repetition and consistently, only good things will come whether that be the actual goal you are working towards, or a completely different result that is even better than what you had intended.
2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOOD PEOPLE AND TREAT THEM WELL
“Happiness begins with being happy with who you are and how you treat those who are most important to you.” -Crystle Wong
Wong also stressed the importance of being aware of the people around you. A wise man by the name of Jim Rohn once said “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. She added onto this by emphasizing the importance of treating those that you chose to surround yourself with well. Who we choose to surround ourselves with is a decision and the way we treat these people will determine our joy within these relationships which will affect our overall happiness. Overall, Crystle Wong taught the Imagine Talks 2019 audience that we are a product of our decisions, and in order to live our dream lives, it is crucial to make good decisions, even if it is difficult, on an everyday, consistent basis.
3. PRIORITIZE SELF REFLECTION
“Every morning, I wake up and I have about 20 minutes or 15 minutes of self reflection.” - Rana Gujral
I learned recently that there is a difference between being an entrepreneur and having an entrepreneurial mindset. Rana Gujral is both so it was very fitting when he gave his talk about the “Entrepreneurial Mindset” at Imagine Talks 2019. Gujral is a celebrated entrepreneur, executive, investor, speaker, and writer. He is the founder of TiZE, a “cloud software for specialty chemicals”, a popular speaker who has given talks at some of the world’s leading summits, a writer for Forbes, TechCrunch and more, as well as the winner of many prestigious awards.
Even with his packed schedule, Gujral shared that he makes sure to save time for self reflection every morning. Part of his success is due to his ability to take care of his mental state by engaging in some authentic self care before he takes on the day. If you ask any successful person, it seems as though they have all incorporated some form of mindfulness or reflection into their daily lives. Reflection not only allows people to engage their fullest potential, but also, it gives people the opportunity to become more self aware. Maybe that is the secret!
4. FAILURE IS A MINDSET
“Everything you want is on the other side of failure.” - Rana Gujral
Never underestimate the power of your mindset. It is the lense through which we experience the world, therefore it holds power over our ability to experience joy. It has been drilled into our brains from a young age that failure is bad. For most people, their biggest fear is failure.
Gujral seems to have overcome this “failure mindset” and he has all of his success to show as proof. The failure mindset is just like any other type of mindset. For example, the victim mindset - if we think of ourselves as victims, then we will feel like victims. Same goes for the failure mindset - if we feel like we “failed” when didn’t receive the results that we wanted, then we will see this as a “failure”. Everything in this world exists simply as it is. It is the human brain that adds meaning to the world. Haven’t you ever “pretended” to be happy during a stressful situation, and actually ended up feeling happy? Our brains are insanely powerful and until we realize that and choose to take control over our mindsets, we will continue to live under the control of outside situations. Sometimes, things will happen that are outside of our control. During those moments, it is important for us to control what we can, our mindsets.
The failure mindset leads to a victim mindset. Instead of dwelling on past “failures” or worse, being afraid of doing something due to a fear of failure, embrace the failure and grow from it. Failure is a necessary part of the process.
5. IGNORE YOUR WEAKNESSES, FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS
“Every entrepreneur I know that is successful works on their skills. They don't care about their weakness, (in fact), they are proud of their weaknesses.” - Rana Gujral
This may be contrary to all that you have been taught but that is what it takes to be an entrepreneur - standing out. There is a reason that successful entrepreneurs make up such a small percentage of our population. It is because the decisions that they make in where to put their energy is different than everyone else. Putting time and energy into developing your strengths is a better investment of time than the alternative option because you already have a head start. Like Gujral said, most successful entrepreneurs recognize that they have flaws - in fact, they’re proud of their flaws! They do not spend their precious moments working on these weaknesses because that will only get them to be average at everything. Why be average at everything when you can be great at your strengths and proud of your weaknesses. Overall, most successful entrepreneurs have mastered the art of creating and providing value, and being exceptionally good at something provides just that.
6. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BALANCE, THERE ARE HOWEVER, SEASONS.
“This is the season for me to do ‘x’” - Rana Gujral
If you want to be truly great at something, you must commit to it. This requires time and energy, the same time and energy that will be taken away from other priorities in your life. There is no perfect balance because there simply is not enough time in a day.
Therefore, it is important to continually reflect on your goals and to create a list, ranking your priorities. For example, taking Gujral’s life for instance, one season of his life may be dedicated towards launching his business idea. This means spending 16 hours at the office everyday, hustling with his team, instead of spending time with his family. Let’s say that the business has been launched and is more stable now. This season of his life may include spending most of his time traveling with his family. That is how it goes for most entrepreneurs. Dedication means sacrifice.
7. PERFECTION IS AN EXCUSE
“Entrepreneurs move quick” - Rana Gujral
When it comes to entrepreneurship, no matter how contrary to logic it may seem, one of the most ineffective mindsets is perfection. Often times, people use the excuse of perfection to stall because they are afraid of failure. Unfortunately, our time on this Earth is finite so we do not have any time to waste. Perfection is for who have been taught to do so in working for a business but as Gujral said, entrepreneurs tend to move quickly and fail often. That is the name of the game.
8. EXPLORE EVERYTHING THAT INTERESTS YOU
“You don’t know what you like until you know what you don’t like” - Ashley Song
Ashley Song is a powerhouse. She told the story of her past which left the crowd feeling moved and inspired. She has overcome some of the worst things that could ever happen to a human being and she came out of it, stronger than the average person to say the least. She is a real estate specialist and is the Founder and CEO of Meaningful Beginnings Daycare in San Francisco, California.
Through her journey of conquering her past and developing herself as a person, she learned some very important lessons. One lesson that was exceptionally impactful to me, was the idea that we do not know what we want to do until we put ourselves out there and explore! This world has so much to offer and life is too short for you to not enjoy what you dedicate your time to, therefore, it is absolutely crucial for people, especially young people to get out there and explore anything that interests them. Who knows? You may discover your life’s passion, and if not, you may discover a new hobby! That’s better than the alternative of dedicating your life towards something you dislike, have mediocre feelings towards, or find no meaning in.
9. SEEK DISCOMFORT
“I didn’t want to say ‘I should've done it’. I'd rather be on my deathbed like ‘yeah it was hard and maybe I shouldn't have done it but at least I tried’” - James Lew.
James Lew, one of Hollywood’s best, a man increasing the representation of Asian Americans in the media, famous badass known for his killer martial arts moves, Emmy award winner, and most importantly, a humble and genuinely kind person who spends his time practicing what he preaches, spoke as a featured speaker at Imagine Talks 2019. I feel so honored to have had a conversation with him and was surprised to find how humble he was. He was great at making other people feel comfortable and you could tell that it was sincere. “I’m just a kid from South Central LA”, he would say.
Lew, who has accomplished more than what most people would even dream about, still chooses to spend his time growing himself as a person and giving back to the community. Simply being at Imagine Talks, sharing about his perspectives and life, was him stepping outside of his comfort zone. He was used to kicking butt on set so speaking at an event like this was completely outside of his element. Before stepping on stage, he told me “to me, you only fail when you don’t try. I am either going to love it or never want to do it again.” Fortunately, after his talk, he said that he actually really enjoyed the event and was happy that he came.
You never know what you will discover when you do something outside of your norm. There is nothing to lose as every new experience will only help you grow or learn, even if you learn that you do not like it, at least you tried and now you know. Like Lew stated and proved, at the end of the day, the biggest regret of all, is wishing that you did something that you were too afraid to do at the time.
10. KICK DOWN DOORS
“It is (not about) knocking on doors like a nice polite Asian, you need to kick down doors” - James Lew
In true James Lew fashion, he tells the Imagine Talks audience what it takes to be successful in overcoming and breaking down the Bamboo Ceiling. As the first Asian American to win an Emmy for stunt coordinating, he is truly paving the way for Asian Americans in Hollywood. It took him years to reach his success and it was this attitude of fighting for what he believes in, demanding things, and pushing boundaries that got him to where he is, as an Emmy award winning stunt actor and figurehead in the Asian American community.
Overall, this year’s Imagine Talks has left the community forever impacted. It is not very often that so many insanely accomplished, wise, and inspired people come together to share their insights. Imagine Talks provided the platform for these people to give back to their community and it provided the community a space to connect with each other, grow, and leave feeling a little more ready to take on the world.
11. JUST ASK (bonus one for those of you who read all the way here)
This one goes out to all of the young people out there. James Lew and many of the other speakers gained their success, in part due to the fact that they learned how to separate themselves from the crowd by taking small, calculated risks. Even on an everyday basis, it is extremely beneficial for you to think outside of the box a little. For example, you never know what you will get when you simply ask, especially when you are in a crowd of people who are too afraid to do so. Go to random networking events by yourself to force yourself to meet people, send an email to that person that you look up to, and simply ask for opportunities at every chance you have. As long as those opportunities line up with your agenda, then just ask! Ask for that internship or ask to be mentored by that person you look up to. You never know what you will get out of that. Little decisions like that will add up and eventually get you to somewhere better than where you were if you hadn’t asked in the first place.