Crystal Lee had a master’s degree in public health and a good job with a provincial health authority, but she yearned to start her own business.
“I had studied in California and worked for a while in San Francisco and was really bitten by the entrepreneurial bug,” she said.
Lee decided to start her own leadership consultant business (including laughter yoga), but her parents weren’t very happy with her decision.
“I’m from an immigrant family, and I think a lot of immigrant parents, they worked very hard to offer opportunities to their children,” Lee said. “When I made a shift from a career with health care benefits, full-time hours, they were quite concerned about whether I’d be able to save up for retirement, put a down payment on a home; [they asked], what about health benefits and paying my bills?”
In hindsight, Lee thinks her parents’ skepticism and uncomfortable questions helped her build a better business.
“Over time I realized that it was actually a great opportunity to listen and appreciate their perspective and their story, and consider their questions, because a lot of times people who are skeptical, they’re our best allies: they can point out our blind spots and note important factors for us to consider,” she said.
Lee’s parents came to Canada from Hong Kong when she was four years old and ran a number of businesses in both countries. Lee, a self-described “science nerd” with no business training, realized there was a lot she could learn from her parents.
“I was so passionate about my work that I decided to quit my job cold turkey,” Lee said. “They provided a lot of perspective,” she said. Her parents cautioned her that it takes time to build a business, so she should make sure she could pay the bills in the meantime. The advice helped her come up with a viable plan.
Lee now specializes in working with other professionals who are also from immigrant families and may be confronting the same friction she encountered.
“They’re facing cultural norms and family expectations, especially when they’re thinking of life and career transitions like what I had gone through,” she said.
On embracing difficult conversations
“By having the dialogue [with my parents] it enabled me to speak up more. I developed a stronger drive to keep going with my business and I feel like I’ve been able to honour more traditional values of respect and harmony.”