Build a Life, Don’t Just Live One

October 25, 2022

When I was eight years old, my father died of cancer. From that day, my world changed, and at a young age, I realized that the world wasn’t always so kind and predictable. When I glimpse back into my childhood, I am amazed how my mother, who was initially a stay-at-home mom, managed to start a home-based tutoring business and raise my two younger sisters and me alone. And somehow, she was able to send us to Hawaii’s best private schools. Today, as a parent, I honestly don’t know how she was able to provide for us and never leave us wanting more. She was a tiger who decided to build a life and not just live one.

Here, I share some of the lessons inspired by my mom that have defined my life and career path:


1. Believe that everything happens for a reason

Right or wrong, there are lessons in every situation we encounter. Four years before my father died, my mother was in a coma from a risky open heart surgery. She went into cardiac arrest six times and only by a miracle she recovered. She wondered why she survived when all medical evidence showed that she should have died. Little did she know that she would be the one to raise three young girls when my father died. Everything happens for a reason.

I believe that every person that we meet and every situation that we are in has a purpose. It is our duty and opportunity to discover what that purpose is. I remember going to college feeling lost and pressured to define my life by selecting a major. I had no clear path then.  Today, my career is a result of tightly connected opportunities that I believe all happened for a reason. Every milestone in my life led to the next discovery. I would choose to be a business major in the travel industry, and upon graduation, I secured a coveted management trainee position at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. That hotel would be a pivotal marker in my life where I would meet two key people: My husband Ted and my business partner Sarah.

Today, you will meet someone at work, at a networking event, or at the grocery store. There may be a reason for the interaction.  Not all connections will be life-changing, but to find the ones that are, you need to pay attention, be fully present with people, and look for the magic in the meeting.


2. Know your limits

When life throws us a curve ball or offers opportunities, there is a part of us that says…”Go for it. Take a risk.” At the same time, we need to be smart about our risks and know our limits. There is an exercise called “Worst-Case Scenario” that helps me to know my limits. Think of a risk that you want to take. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I took this chance?” Once you respond, take that response and ask the same question…”What is the worst thing that could happen if you did that.” Keep asking that what-if question until there is nothing more that could happen. You have hit rock bottom with the most unimaginable worst-case scenario. At that point, ask yourself, “If I knew that this would happen, would I take that risk?” The answer would be clearly NO! Then ask yourself, “At what point would I stop?” You might reply, “I would stop at the risk of losing my house or losing my family. “ Then ask yourself, “Who would you ask for help at that point?” This exercise has two benefits.  First, it helps you identify your limits of taking a risk and establish when you would stop and who you would resource for help.  Second, it frees you of the what-if scenarios and provides you some peace to make a decision.


3. Pay attention to what you are passionate about

“Do what you love, love what you do.” Work can be more fulfilling when you wrap it around something you are passionate about and believe in. Pay attention to what you are good at and what brings you joy. My mother found that her passion was helping people find their strengths and to help them get over the obstacles that held them back. Her first student in her tutoring business would return to her at different phases of his childhood, at six years old and at 13 years old. She would help him overcome emotional obstacles to help him cope and reach milestones at school. Today, he is a successful psychologist who refers to her as “Mom.”

Where ever you are at in your life or career, pay attention to what you are passionate about and what sparks a light in you. Try new things to discover what makes your work or life more fulfilling. Test the waters and then decide whether or not to take action. You will define success in new ways when you are doing what you love.


4. Know your values and stay true to them

One of the most important things to do for yourself is to know your values and navigate your life around those values. Stay true to your core values with your decisions especially the tough ones.

My mother knew that while raising young children, she wanted to be able to be home for us when we returned from school. She chose to setup a home-based business that would allow her to always be home with us. While she probably could have earned more money in a traditional 8-5 job, she kept focused on her values, and somehow her business always provided just enough for us to survive.

In the same spirit, I launched my business in 2000, wanting to do what I loved while preparing for the future. I wasn’t married yet, but I knew that one day if I had a family, I wanted to do work that I was passionate about while balancing the needs of family and having the power to do so as an entrepreneur.  TH!NK has provided me a life that supports what is important to me.


5. Be kind & generous

Lead with kindness and give people the benefit of the doubt. The world will return to you what you give to it. Give trust openly until you have a reason not to, and then manage it. Be generous and help others without conditions. In doing so, you will do your best work and gain the trust of others. Your work will reflect not only what you do, but who you are. People want to do business with honest, kind, and generous people.


6. Embrace imperfection

Ask for help. Admit when you are wrong. One of the best ways to build trust and strengthen relationships is to be vulnerable. Vulnerability requires people to avoid playing the perfect super-hero. It means that we need to say I’m sorry, I messed up, and I need your help. I know in my childhood, we would not have survived without the generosity of an army of aunties, uncles, and friends. They were selfless with their help, and my mother was smart to know that she couldn’t do life alone and not to be afraid to ask for help.


7. Work hard

No matter what career or life choices you make, success comes with working hard. Treat every day as if it is your first day on the job when you are putting forth your best. People recognize hard work and effort even when it is not perfect. At TH!NK, each milestone we reached in our business has been a result of working hard on something that preceded that milestone. Success is by no accident; it is endless hours of unglamorous work behind the scenes.


Nothing in life is perfect and what is most important is how we respond to what life serves up to us. As Ghandi says, “be the change you want to see.” So, remember that you are in control. Build your life and not just live one.

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