Balancing your parents’ plans for your life with your own dreams can be hard—often something the children of immigrants know well.
Parents who move across the world want to give their children a more secure life than they had. Which is honorable—but doesn’t necessarily allow for the kind of risk that comes with bold goals.
Judy Joo started out following her parents’ plans—spending five stressful years working in finance—before changing course: Judy was the first female Iron Chef to appear on Iron Chef U.K., and has been a judge on various cooking shows, including Iron Chef America. She also hosted her own Food Network show, Korean Food Made Simple, has written two cookbooks, and has created several restaurants, including Seoul Bird in London.
Judy’s parents, who had immigrated from Korea, saw her decision to trade finance for food as risky. As much as Judy respected her parents, she knew she had to take control of her life.
“I didn’t want to live my parents’ dream for me: I wanted to live my dream for myself,” she says.
In this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Judy talks to SUCCESS’s Madison Pieper about the factors that push someone to follow their dreams, navigating male-dominated industries, and the importance of role models who look like you.
Following Your Dreams
Turning in your resignation to go out and live your dream is easier said than done. It’s normal to have lingering doubts, especially because you won’t be the only person in your life who has opinions about your decision. Here are two things you should know before you drop the bombshell on your boss—or your parents:
Accept that you can’t live your life for other people.
Maybe the reason you’ve been holding back from pursuing your dreams has less to do with your own fears and more to do with the opinions of the people you love.
It’s OK if you landed in your career because you followed someone else’s plans for you. Listening to your parents isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But you only get one life. If you feel like the path you’re on isn’t fulfilling you, you have to decide who you want to live for.
Do you want to stick with what you were raised to do, and never find out what your life could be like if you followed your dreams? Or are you OK with potentially disappointing certain people in your life by taking a new path?
Don’t let failure beat you.
If following your dream was easy, everyone would be doing it. The fact is, trying something new is risky, and you will stumble along the way—probably multiple times.
Judy says it took years for her to find a taker for her first show, Korean Food Made Simple. Food Network finally picked it up, but only for two seasons. There were times she felt like giving up, but she learned to see failure as an inevitable part of honoring her dream to be a chef.
Even as you’re emerging from the rubble of one disappointment, you have to keep looking for the next opportunity. It’s this resilience in the face of one “no” after the other that differentiates the people who make it from the ones who don’t.
“Everybody falls down, everyone fails,” Judy says. “It’s how you get up that’s going to distinguish you from everybody else.”
Being a Woman in a Male-Dominated Industry
Professional kitchens, like finance firms, are dominated by men. White men, in particular. In 2019, fewer than 25% of chefs and head cooks in the U.S. were women, and 43.7% were white compared to 16.5% who were Asian.
In finance and food, Judy has often had to deal with being the only woman—and the only woman of color—in the room. Here’s her advice:
Don’t let people push you around.
Even today, employers make demands of women that they don’t of men. As Judy puts it, “They’re testing the system with us all the time.” You learn to identify when someone is pushing you beyond what is reasonable, she says, and to push back when they do it.
Negotiate like a man.
Women tend to be more reluctant than men about pushing for the career rewards they deserve. They don’t want to be seen as demanding or difficult and believe they have to tick off certain standards before asking for more money or a promotion.
Men, however, are less likely to put their boss’s comfort over what they want. They typically worry less about proving themselves and more about what they think they deserve.
Judy wants to see more women take this approach. Don’t be shy about asking for what you want.
Be the role model you needed.
When Judy was a kid, there weren’t many Asian women on TV or in movies. She remembers the first time she saw comedian Margaret Cho on TV and chef Anita Lo on the cover of Food & Wine.
Judy was already thinking about leaving finance for cooking school when she saw that magazine cover in line at the grocery store. “I was like, ‘Wow, there’s an Asian female doing this, maybe I can do this,’” she says.
She believes that children need to see people who look like them, and who come from similar backgrounds, doing impressive things. It proves to them that they can do it, too. “There are so few Korean females and Asian females in the public eye,” she says, “so it’s an important place to be.”