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8 lessons on setbacks, entrepreneurship, and health from my Eurasian Society podcast interview

The Eurasian Society had me on their podcast in November to chat about lessons learned from being a disabled, Eurasian artist. I chatted with fellow Eurasian entrepreneur and guest host Michael Campion from the Playing the Inner Game podcast.


The episode runs for just over an hour, because I'm long-winded, so here's a quick version. Give the episode a listen to support the Eurasian Society and to get the full meat and potatoes, but here's an abbreviated rundown of our chat.



1. Why talking about disability helps dismantle stigma and self-judgement


I had chronic illnesses for 10 years before I felt able to call myself disabled. A part of me thought I wasn't sick enough to call myself that, but mainly, using that phrase felt like I was giving up on myself. Now I know that's an ableist perspective, but at the time, I felt like I had to hold myself accountable by not letting my illnesses affect me.


In the episode, I talk more about what had to happen for me to finally acknowledge my disabilities and get better. We also discussed the effects that acknowledging being sick has on other people.


Listen at 2 minutes 25 seconds.


2. How children end up internalising pressure to (over-)achieve, even when they don't have tiger parents


When we raise kids, especially in Hong Kong, it's almost as if every activity needs to contribute to capitalist success. This isn't a dig at parents. We all exist in an uncertain system where there is enormous pressure to succeed, or at least support oneself financially.


Children aren't dumb. They pick up on their environments. They pick up on the behaviour of peers who do have tiger parents. They are aware of how competitive school admissions and job markets are. You don't need a ferocious tiger parent to internalise pressure to become a "good return on investment".


The system is inherently broken and insidiously universal. At university, I channeled energy, money, and time into applying for a consulting job. When I finally got onto the grad scheme at a shiny Big 4 company, it dawned on me that I didn't even like the work.


I wanted to be a writer but had picked a corporate career, because it would be seen as a better return on investment and it felt more attainable. Yet here I was, realising that everyone was too busy to be impressed and that if I had spent the same amount of time, money, and energy on my writing, I would probably have become a writer anyway.


Listen at 11 minutes and 25 seconds.


3. How becoming an artist facilitated my recovery and vice versa


I didn't have an "aha!" moment where I realised that I could turn my life, career, and disability recovery around through art. Becoming an artist happened organically and gradually. Doodling from bed became doodling from the sofa. Tracing became drawing using grid squares. Making sketches for friends became doing commission for companies. Copying photos became teaching myself to draw through a new idea called The Hong Konger. Things start slowly without you realising sometimes.


In the episode, I talk about how my art fuelled my recovery and how my recovery helped my art. A virtuous cycle!


Listen at 17 minutes and 14 seconds.

4. Why it's important to hold one hobby sacred


What's the difference between attainment and attunement? Attainment is when we do something for the reward. Attunement is when we do something for the journey.


I feel that, especially when there is so much pressure to make every moment count, and when we live in a time where hobbies become "side hustles", it's so important to hold at least one hobby sacred. Children need this too. It becomes a safe haven.


In the episode, I talk about how I was a music scholar at school, practising and rehearsing for hours everyday, but how now, as a grown-up, how keeping music as a sacred hobby affects my work and well-being.


Listen at 25 minutes and 39 seconds.


5. How I toe the line between being a commercial "sell-out" and a "starving artist"


(For the record, we use the terms "sell-out" and "starving artist" tongue-in-cheek!)


When I was a kid, I thought that being an artist or writer would not be a financially rewarding career. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to start running a business as exactly that. To do that, however, I couldn't subscribe the "starving artist" trope. I leveraged my corporate background to make money out of my art.


In the episode, I go into how I've found a balance between reserving some parts of my art for just myself (such as The Hong Konger, which I would not take commissions for), and functioning as a vessel for others' visions through paid commissions.


Listen at 29 minutes and 34 seconds.


6. The liberating realisation that nobody is thinking of you


I used to be so concerned about what people thought of me. Before, I would tell myself not to worry about people's expectations. It didn't work. I still worried. Eventually, I realised that there hadn't been any actual expectations for me to do x, y, or z in the first place. In real life, people are too busy to scrutinise or judge you as intensely or harshly as I was scrutinising and judging myself.


In the episode, I talk about being a college senior slogging away to get a fancy job offer because I wanted people to think highly of me. Then, a month into my first job, I noticed that no one from uni even remembered or cared where I worked. I worked so hard for them to think highly of me, and they weren't even thinking of me at all! I could have spent all that time working to look good, working to feel good.


Listen at 49 minutes and 10 seconds.


7. Ask yourself: "When will it be enough?"

I have a great friend and mentor called Felicity McRobb who works as an executive coach. One time, when I was hyper-focused on leveraging press and making strategic moves, she asked me, "When will it be enough?"


Felicity was talking about success. When would I feel like I had achieved enough, done enough, become enough? In the episode, Mike and I talk about the problem with insatiable ambition and the effects of choosing to be enough.


Listen at 54 minutes and 38 seconds.


8. Everything you do will set you up for a future win... and if not, at least a good yarn


I referenced the movie Slumdog Millionaire. If you haven't seen it, the premise is that a chaiwala gets all the answers right in a gameshow purely because every question has come up from random events in his life. In short, everything you do in life may come in handy later. Nothing's a wasted experience.


Mike and I talked about examples of this and that even if something in your past hasn't paid off yet, at least it may make "a good yarn" (Mike's words).


Listen at 58 minutes and 52 seconds.

 

The Eurasian Society is a nascent but inspiring organisation in Hong Kong that seeks to promote and improve the lives of Eurasians through awareness, education, and opportunity, and to provide scholarships and funding to the most vulnerable members of our community. You can learn more about the Society here.


Mike Campion hosts his own podcast, Playing the Inner Game. He interviews world-class entrepreneurs, Olympic gold medalists, creative artists, and prominent chief executives. Check it out here or search Playing the Inner Game wherever you get your podcast fix.


11 February edit: Point 6 was updated for clarity.


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