We recently chatted with our mom about her amazing yet untold personal story and unconventional non-linear path to success. Listen to the full conversation below:
The Early Days
Our mom, the youngest of 7 children, was born in a small village in southern China. During the civil war (after World War II) our mom’s family fled to Macau, which was then a sleepy Portuguese colony. Not long after, our mom’s father passed away, leaving her own mom—uneducated and penniless—alone to fend for her 7 children. Our grandmother was able to get our mom into a Catholic boarding school in Macau as a charity case. Only 7 years old and all alone, our mom quickly felt how differently (and unfairly) the nuns treated her, the charity case, compared to other students from more affluent families. This would shape her lifelong strong sense and passion to fight for social justice.
After graduating high school, our mom embarked on a 4 year transcontinental journey from Macau to Canberra, Australia to Mobile, Alabama to Boston and then to New York City, where she worked in the Empire State Building as a clerical worker to save up money to pay for the rest of college. Despite getting into Columbia University, she did not have enough savings to enroll as a full-time student. Instead she chose to attend the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Passion for Social Justice
While at Boston, our mom became active in the Boston Chinatown community, channeling her passion for social justice and underserved communities. Thinking about how she could amplify her efforts, she decided to apply for Ph.D programs so that she could eventually go to Washington DC and help craft social policies to fight for social justice on a national level. Despite getting into the University of Chicago, our mom decided to go to Brandeis University, which allowed her to stay close to the Boston Chinatown community.
Love & Family
Living on Claremont street in Boston, our mom met our father, Fred, who was then also pursuing his Ph.D but at MIT. After our dad completed his Ph.D in astrophysics, he got a postdoctoral position in radio astronomy at Caltech. So our mom and dad packed up everything to move to Los Angeles, CA, where both sons, Jan and Derek, were born. Like so many women then (and now), our mom sacrificed her own professional goals, specifically her goal to move to DC to shape national social policies, for her husband and family.
A Master at Reinvention
When our dad got a job at the University of Illinois, our mom and dad packed up everything to move to Champaign, Illinois. Faced with limited professional opportunities in a smaller college town, our mom realized she had to reinvent herself professionally. First she became the Director of the Frances Nelson Community Health Center, which served the underserved community. Then she became the director of Institutional Research at Parkland College where she worked with big data before data science became popularized.
When our dad became the Director of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taipei, Taiwan, our mom and dad packed up everything again to move to a land where she did not speak or read the local dialect. There she worked as a management consultant at TSMC, one of the top semiconductor companies in the world, to advise on how the company could better assess its teams.
When our dad became the Director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, our mom and dad packed up everything and moved* to Charlottesville, VA. After so many years of professional reinvention and with both sons finally out of the house, our mom finally felt like she could take a rest.
[*notice a pattern?]
Finally “retired,” our mom started to travel more with our dad, who continued having to fly all over the world for work. Because our dad insisted on only carrying on luggage—even on international trips throughout Europe and Asia—our mom had to figure out how to manage to pack everything with just a carry-on. Except she kept searching and searching for a lightweight (to deal with her back problems), functional (to keep her laptop and electronics organized), yet stylish travel bag.
And this search would ultimately lead to the birth of Lo & Sons and her last reinvention: from CEO to CGO (Chief Grandma Officer).