When I considered the Asian and Middle Eastern Liaison job about four years ago, I was the Director of Communication and Public Affairs for the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking. I had a decent income, a team of staff, and a nice corner office near Union Station. So what made me want to take a job with no travel opportunities, no staff or administrative support, requiring significant time commitment on evenings and weekends, and on top of that, a double digit percentage pay cut? Indeed, some of my friends thought I was crazy.
The answer is passion. To me, being a community liaison is not just a job, but a way of life, with or without the title. Like a typical Asian in the capital region, I am an immigrant. I can relate to our communities’ struggles as newcomers trying to establish ourselves here; as parents facing the dual challenges of cultural and generational gaps, and as professionals taking too long to find our ways but then hitting the bamboo ceilings too soon. I wanted to act as a voice and a link for our growing, vibrant, but still disconnected communities. I wanted to see our communities more visible, engaged, and respected. And I wanted us to matter more.
It turned out to be one of the best jobs I have ever held as it was the closest to who I am at heart. I had the honor of representing the local government in the public and speaking for our communities inside the government. I had the gratification of involving our new communities in local affairs, while educating the established communities and institutions to be more culturally competent and adaptive to changes. And I had the privilege of recommending our community leaders and volunteers for jobs, boards, and awards, and connecting people with opportunities. What’s better than being paid to do what you love to do anyway?
As a generalist, I have probably asked myself this question more often than most people, “What should I do with my life?” Each job has taught me valuable lessons about life, tested my limits, and brought me closer to that answer.
First, I learned that a career path doesn’t have to be linear. If you are truly passionate about something, it is worth pursuing it during the best years of your life, not after you retire. Adapting to changes, identifying the needs and seeking to add my unique value in every situation has been my compass because our jobs are what we make out of them.
I have also learned never to let my pay grade stop me from doing what needs to be done. Instead, I took initiatives and built allies. For example, I engaged top management on the signing of the executive order on language access by the County Executive to raise the bar on how we serve people with limited English proficiency. I involved community media and organizations to support an economic development vision so they have a voice on a major local issue. I teamed up with both senior managers and community leaders to initiate the “Leading a Global Workforce” training series for managers and the “Global Montgomery” series for staff to learn about our changing communities and workforce.
Finally, I try not to lose sight of who I really am. With training and practice, we can develop competency in many areas, but we are only really great at a few things we are meant to do with our lives. I am old enough to know what I am really good at, though never wise enough to figure out what to do next. So life is still an open book and an adventure.
This past summer, I was appointed by County Executive Ike Leggett as Special Projects Manager overseeing such priority initiatives as strategic partnerships to grow our innovation economy and develop international relations. I am content that a group of highly capable people in our community have stepped up and applied to be the next Asian and Middle Eastern Liaison. I join our community in thanking all of you who applied for putting yourself out there to serve us all. As for me, I have found new ways to be a voice and a link for our community, and writing this column is part of that. May the New Year bring you new adventures. Happy Holidays!
This article was originally published in Asian Fortune December issue. Online version can be found at http://www.asianfortunenews.com/site/article_1211.php?article_id=30.