"Follow your passion, whether it is raising a child, serving in the boardroom or starting a business. Never let others tell you what you can or cannot do in life." -- Yvonne Ho
by Yvonne Ho
I wasn't sure of my future when I emigrated from Hong Kong in 1972 to pursue higher education, but the idea of working for a nonprofit never entered my mind. I earned a B.A. in business administration and entered corporate America, beginning my career in business.
I worked for a few years after the birth of my son and then left to be home when he was 4 years old. My mother, an accomplished physician in Hong Kong who never followed gender roles, simply cried. No one wanted me to stay home.
But I wanted to nurture a well-rounded child, to explore my world through his eyes and to be there to share when he discovered Lego classes at the Science Museum, played piano at his recitals or learned to figure skate.
My life was joyous and fulfilling. So far, so good - and good in a precious way.
During this time, I also discovered that I had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started two home-based businesses - one in stylish comfort wear for boys, the other selling high-end jewelry.
When I decided to re-enter the traditional workforce in 1993, a friend told me to check out something called Meda. And that started my second career. I went to work for the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (Meda), a nonprofit formed to help entrepreneurs of color succeed.
I experienced culture shock when I went into the nonprofit sector. You don't even buy an extra pencil and you pick up a used desk for your office. There are no expense accounts.
As it turned out, those things have not been important. What has been most gratifying is knowing that the things that I do actually make a difference in a person's life and in the community. I have seen how people have come to us for assistance from tough places, filled with adversity.
With their entrepreneurial spirit and persistence, and with our help, they thrive. The next thing you know, they are hiring someone, and then 10 people and then 50 people. It is such a powerful thing, really.
So again, in a different way, my life is joyous and fulfilling. I earned my way to my current role as president and CEO of Meda by following my passion and standing in my values.
In American terms, I would say it has been a good ride. So far, so good - and good in a "doing good" way.
My words of wisdom to my colleagues, regardless of gender, would be to believe in yourself, work hard and be kind. Keep a positive attitude, be humble and be grateful for the good things you have in your life.
And follow your passion, whether it is raising a child, serving in the boardroom or starting a business. Never let others tell you what you can or cannot do in life. At each turn in life, you have choices, so make the ones that mean the most to you.