Whether it’s a pair of shoes or a piece of clothing, we hold on to it because it has a story attached to it.

All I wanted was a new pair of Barbie shoes because it made me feel strong, powerful, and unstoppable.

I didn’t know this desire for a new pair of shoes would be the igniter to breaking my culture’s expectations of a Hmong girl to create the life I wanted.

I grew up in a family of seven siblings and our working-class parents were paid minimum wage. My parents never gave me the sense that we were poor, but I understood that we only had enough money to get by.

I was six years old when I asked my mom to buy me a new pair of Barbie shoes because the one I currently had was worn out. She told me she couldn’t afford a new one and I had to take care of the one I had so I can wear it the following school year.

I remembered taking my Barbie shoes to the back porch with a bucket of warm soapy water and cleaning it. As I was scrubbing my shoes with the sun beaming on my back and my tears running down my face I declared whatever I wanted moving forward, I was going to get it, no one was going to hand it to me, yes, not even my mother.

So at 14 years old, I set out to find my first paid job. I opened the yellow phone book and called every single McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s that were in my hometown and in the cities that were within a 10 miles radius. A friend told me that the McDonald’s she worked at was hiring. I applied and got hired on the spot. 

When I received my first paycheck, I got a taste of independence and freedom. Now all I needed was to be of age to be relinquished from my parents’ involvement in my decision making.

Know who I am.

When I graduated high school, I knew to escape the expectations of my culture and find my own identity; I needed to move out of my parent’s house. One month after graduating from high school, I moved out. I was on a mission to find out who I was because my needs and desires did not match what I was told. I desired to live a happy, fulfilled, purposeful, and authentic life. Was that possible? Or will I have to succumb to the path that was already laid out for me? What I discovered is that I have the power over my life only if I choose to or someone will be the decision-maker for me. 

Trust my gut.

Each decision that I’ve made is based on my gut feeling. Whatever the outcome is, it has taught me two things: how to be more prepared and how to make better decisions. I don’t look at the choices I’ve made as bad or good; I call them “lessons.” Trusting my gut has led me closer to my life goals. How a decision is made varies from person to person. The key is to understand your decision process and the result it’s producing for your life.

Build my confidence.

Being confident is not a choice you make; instead, it’s a journey to find it. Everyone’s journey is not the same. My confidence has been built over time when I kept showing up despite my fears, other people’s judgments, and rejections. When I kept showing up no matter what was stacked up against me, the voices inside my head became fainter, and the criticism became motivators.

Educate myself.

Books have always been the guide to my life. When I feel stuck and need answers, I go searching for solutions or guidance in books. Why? Because I believe someone before me has already gone through something similar, I can’t be the first. I would read a book and always take a couple of strategies from it and practice it in my life. I have a choice: either say “I don’t know” and stay stagnant or find a possible solution so I can break through and get to where I need to be. I’ve always chosen the latter because I know I’m worth it.

Today, I’m on a mission to empower other minority female entrepreneurs and show them we can step out of our DNA blueprint and the life map that’s been created for us, that we can have it all and at the same time respect our cultures because we deserve it!