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Challenge: WHO Are You?

Marriage and Kids Helped Me Find Myself

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As an Asian immigrant who came to the states at the age of 6, English was not my first language. I remember sitting in ESL (English as a second language) class, thinking I was funny by writing my name in Korean characters to see if the teacher would know it was me. I was proud of my heritage and resisted switching to this new language called English.

My parents weren’t around when I grew up, so I missed out on family conversations in which I could learn new vocabulary, have English conversation, or learn about current events. The lack of family time limited me in learning the language at the pace I wanted.


Just a few years ago, I was in the redwood forest with my husband, and we were standing in front of a plaque for a colonel the tree was named after. To another couple, my husband said something about the colonel. I blushed, and as we walked away, I whispered, “David it’s Col-o-nel. Not “kernel.” He looked at me, blank-faced, not knowing how to break it to me that I didn’t know elementary school grammar.


Focus on your strengths is what we’re told time and time again. But I want to teach my kids we can improve on our weaknesses.

When I was little, I focused on my quantitative skills. I was good with numbers. Years later, after obtaining a summa cum laude business degree from a university, I worked as a public accountant and then in corporate finance restructuring for fortune 500 companies. I attended a top-ranked business school for my MBA, driven by the need to be financially successful. I was on a mission to rewrite my mom’s co-dependence story of being broken and unable to parent her three kids after her husband died.

Quickly I realized while on this career path: it was not the road I wanted.

I started a blog and began writing. Occasionally, I would write posts that revealed myself on a deeper level, which felt good. And it helped people. But a writer? “No, I’m not a writer,” I said.

When you don’t believe in yourself, you start to suffocate. How can I tell my kids, “You can be anything you set your mind to” if I can’t live by example?

But self-doubt can paralyze us.

“You write wonderful stories, Jen,” Friends would tell me.

And I would reply, “Thanks, but it doesn’t happen unless I’m feeling it.”

“Your piece on your work in Kenya was so moving.”

I would say, “That’s because it’s so easy to capture their raw circumstances.”

“The way you write about your childhood is inspiring.”

My self-doubting reply would be, “You’d be able to write about yours too if it had been as sad as mine!”


I was so conditioned to believing my writing skills weren’t good; I dismissed any identification with it. We do this when we feel inadequate. We try to deflect attention.

I have stories to tell. And my kids are the ones bringing them to the surface. Through them, I see myself, and I’ve realized I want to be seen.


I’ve been an abandoned young girl who grew up on my own with no parental supervision.

I’m a businesswoman, CPA, and an entrepreneur who set up and managed my husband’s surgery business.

I can analyze your cash flows and give you a turnaround business plan if your company is suffering.

And today,

I am a mother of 2 boys in the most confusing time of their lives – their early teens.

I am a wife to my soul mate and best friend.

I am an activist who believes that every child should be educated, have clean water and not go hungry.

I am a friend, daughter, and sister.

And I am a writer.


"Flavor Your Life with an Ounce of Salt." A lifestyle blog by Jen Oliak.

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