Full Conversation with Han Pham
by Julie Bennett
On Finding her Purpose
Han’s journey is a tale many may find relevant to the time of our lives as some of us are finding milestone birthdays creating moments to evaluate our purpose and potentially redefining ourselves.
Han grew up doing what she thought was expected. Living a life of “supposed purpose” led her to Wellesley, graduate school and a successful job in corporate America. However, she did not find it fulfilling and know that there “must be something more”. For Han that has not meant “bigger and better”, but finding her own purpose and not living someone else’s’ dream.
Han’s journey to find her purpose happened in phases.
Burned out from a corporate career
After 10 years with progressing responsibilities in the corporate world, Han found that the fear of being laid off in the annual rounds of layoff moved to hope to be laid off. Towards the end of her second maternity leave she had the opportunity to make a choice – her department was being eliminated. The choice – accept the new role or raise her hand for severance. Han chose to raise her hand.
For Han, she sees this as the first step that she didn’t have to do things the way “she was supposed to."
Practicing Letting it Go
Han remembers this time as freeing and scary and for the first time was lonely. She has to break the habit of frequently looking at the phone with anxiety about a work need or problem. There was also the fear that she was missing out on something. Han shares that she had to be thoughtful in the practice of “letting go of what you are not responsible for”. She took to the time initially to focus on her family and children. She recognizes her luck in being the privileged position to make the choice about her job, but the practice of letting go took work and thoughtful intention.
Finding Purpose Through Volunteering
Finding her purpose was an “entire excursion”. Its hard to find the right cause and there were starts and stops along the way. She looked at large organizations, but felt again like a cog and not making the impact she wanted to. So, she turned her focus to local organizations.
Through this exploration, Han found a number of organizations aligned with her values, making and demonstratable impact and roles where she could leverage her education and skillset. She found opportunities to contribute beyond being an extra pair of hands. For one organization, this was managing their social media efforts. She jumped in and thought – “I’m on Facebook a lot, I can do this”.
Passion and commitment have led to leadership roles that are now part of her purpose in the professional aspect.
- At the Global Village Project, which provides schooling for refugee girls. The organization’s purpose is meaningful to Han as her mother was a refugee girl whose education was interrupted, which is exactly the demographic served at GVP. Han has been involved for 5 years and the chair for one year. Harkening back to her advice that volunteer commitments do not have to be forever, Han considered stepping down at the end of her term but is taking the option to stay on longer. Her measure is “has she done what she wanted to do”.
- Han is also the Executive Director of Her Term, a Georgia-based initiative created to recruit women to run for public office at the state level. Her Term takes a data-driven approach to targeting seats that can be flipped by a progressive woman. To date Her Term has helped flip over 25 seats in the GA legislature, and thereby had a part in turning GA into a competitive state in politics. The organization is recruiting more women to run for office in the seats that can make the most impact
Han’s advice on volunteering is clear – “don’t be afraid to walk away if you are not feeling right”. A volunteer role does not have to be forever.
“Am I who I wanted to be at 40?”
Han’s 40th birthday kicked off her “year of being selfish”. She sought a rebalancing of home responsibilities and time for herself. When there was an opportunity or a choice to be made the deciding question was – “is this selfish”. If the answer was yes, she went for it. Many of the selfish decisions involved making the time to reengage with friends.
Nature has always been important for Han. The “Captain Planet” TV show figures prominently in childhood memories. At 14, she took part in the Projects Club with the Science Museum of Minnesota where she learned all aspects of running a museum, designed exhibits and learned about Wellesley.
Her affinity for nature led to her ambition for a sustainable life which has been empowered and realized by her husband’s expertise. Her home in Decatur is also an urban farm filled with fruits and vegetables, chickens, rabbits, and bees. She has a fond kinship with the chickens tying back to stories her mother told of the chickens she had growing up in Vietnam that followed her to and from school. Two goats will have joined the mix by the time of this newsletter.
Today, Han loudly and confidently says “I like myself”.
Photo Courtesy of Han Pham: