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On our way to one of our cousins’ wedding the other weekend, we tuned into a Disney channel. It was an over three-hour drive and we have a 4-year old.

One of many wonderful experiences I’ve had so far as a parent is watching all the Disney movies all over again. Watching those movies as an adult and a parent has been definitely a different experience than watching them as a kid. What we notice, what we think about, and what we reflect on are so different, of course. It’s been interesting, to put it mildly.

Disney movies tell amazing stories. It’s hard to argue, right? And awesome storytelling hooks people. It’s hard to argue that too. For me though, what I love about Disney movies more than anything is the music. I love the songs from the movies so much. They’ve always captivated me.

On this particular day, on our drive to a wedding, the song from Mulan, Reflection, grabbed my full attention. It transported me back to the 90’s, my teenage years.

Look at me

I will never pass for a perfect bride

Or a perfect daughter

Can it be

I'm not meant to play this part

Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself

I would break my family's heart

Who is that girl I see

Staring straight back at me

Why is my reflection someone I don't know

Somehow I cannot hide

Who I am, though I've tried

When will my reflection show who I am inside

When will my reflection show who I am inside

There is more than one reason when one decides to move to the opposite side of the planet. When I decided to move to New York City from my hometown, Seoul, there were a lot of factors I considered. There were numerous reasons why I wanted to move. One of them was the pain that Mulan describes in this song.

All the rules and norms I had to follow. The pressure to just follow them without questioning. How those who question, those who don’t conform are labeled as the “trouble maker”, the “outsider”. How one mistake can lead to being labeled as “the failure”. The pressure to be a good one, a successful one who follows the right path, does all the required things, and fits within the box to make my family proud…

I absolutely hated all these. I’m not one of those who can follow the norms without questioning. I’m just not built that way. I didn’t want to be one of many who blindly conforms. I wanted to challenge. I wanted to try different things. I wanted to be different. I wanted to find me, who I truly am. I wanted to be…free.

What I was most afraid of, more than anything, was shaming my family. Hurting my family. The “success” kids have build their parents’ reputation. The “mistakes” kids make hurts their parents’ reputation. My parents did so much, their absolute best, to give me every opportunity that they could . I knew that even at a very young age. I so badly wanted to make my own mistakes without the pressure and fear of breaking my family.

I had always felt that someone was watching every move I was making. When I moved to New York City, I finally felt that I was not under anyone’s watch anymore. It felt so good to have the freedom to be Mihae. Not someone’s daughter, someone’s granddaughter, someone’s sister, someone’s niece, etc.

There are always two sides of the coin though. I made many mistakes, small and big. Some of them are such stupid mistakes that make me frown every time I’m reminded of them. But I still don’t regret them because they have shaped who I am now. I could make those mistakes because I had freedom to make them. But the other side of the coin is that I could make those mistakes because I knew my family would be there for me when I need them. I knew they’d always have my back and I’d always have home to go back to.

As a parent, I think about the two sides of the coin. As a leader, I think about the two sides of the coin. How I can create a safe environment where people have enough freedom to try, make mistakes, achieve big and small, and discover who they are and what they are passionate about. I think about them quite often...


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