The real life of one Asian woman

I’ve been private about my thoughts.

Before this post, I rarely posted publicly. My personal social media accounts are embarrassingly spare, especially for a doctor (a class of human known for talking too much about their academic feats) and an entrepreneur (a class of human known for talking too much in general).

The reason is fear. Things you post in public stay forever, and as an Asian woman, I don’t have the privilege of do-overs.

But the murders of Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue as well as the countless acts of hatred against people of Asian descent have helped me realize I can do one small thing.

I can write about the real life experience of one Asian woman. And maybe this can show how challenging it is to simply *be*, even when it looks like you’ve won at life in so many ways.

IG @chanel_miller

The child

I grew up with a single mother — a piano teacher. We were both immigrants from Taiwan to NY. We were supported by a mix of public assistance programs and my grandparents (who never took a single vacation before they died).

My tiny family struggled with death, severe illness — both mental and physical, and the basic yet incredible challenges of simply learning a new country’s culture, rules, and norms.

A glimpse into my life as an Asian American child: playing by myself under the table, surrounded by trash, eating in the car, going to my mother’s students’ beautiful homes, filling out my mother’s tax forms, eating grocery store fried chicken, balancing on a collapsing stool until 2AM doing homework, 5 tenants living upstairs, microwaving eggs for dinner, my pet turtle, dragging my baby brother to orchestra rehearsal because my mother was teaching, the stool finally collapsing.

“You Asians have such cute names.”

“Is your mom a Tiger mom?”

“Why is your house so messy?”

“Where’s your dad?”

The student

I loved my family, but the truth was I wanted badly to escape. I suffered from some of my worst episodes of depression and anxiety in my high school years because I wanted to get out, and the only way I knew how was to work hard at everything, all at once. I would bang my head against the wall until I made a doorway for myself.

At Stanford, I’d never been more academically challenged. It was a paradise compared to my childhood. Something bothered me though — my social circle started looking more and more Asian. Were people only comfortable being around others who looked like them?

A glimpse into my life as an Asian American college and medical student: learning to bike, taking too many classes, an emotionally manipulative relationship, board games, anxiety keeping me up for three nights in a row, my family telling me not to visit my dying grandfather, “You need to take your MCAT next week and he’s going to die anyways,” feeling lost, never having enough time, conferences, watching friends getting jobs, trying to publish, studying.

“Did your parents make you go into medicine?”

“Your neckline is too low.”

“We’ll be too old to have kids after residency.”

“Oh I’ve been to Thailand.”

The doctor

My love-hate relationship with my medical career plagued me for years. Security is nice, a glass ceiling and a traditional industry is not. I loved my patients, and still do. They are what ground me and expand my perspective when I am feeling lost. Yet I am horrified by some of the things we put up with as doctors — particularly as Asian, female doctors.

A glimpse into my life as an Asian American female doctor: 30-hour shifts, fax machines, sneaking a graham cracker meal on rounds, running to the ER, pagers beeping through the night, a proposal, writing notes, waking up before dawn, losing friends, moving every other year, settling down too early, falling asleep on an Uber driver post-call, crying every day for a month straight, starting companies part-time, publishing papers, moving across the country.

“You’re beautiful.”

“You look like my granddaughter.”

“How old are you?”

“Sure — I’ll let *you* examine me.”

“Are you my social worker?”

The entrepreneur

It took me seven years in medicine before I finally took the leap to become a physician entrepreneur. I work full-time on my startup with a part-time role at a telemedicine company now. No one really understands what I am doing (certainly not my family). But I finally stopped having existential crises.

A glimpse into my life as an Asian American female entrepreneur: searching for a co-founder, hack-a-thons, a marriage fallen apart, panels of white male investors and founders, new friends, a new city, commiserating with other founders, working on vacation, my cousin dying, an idea failing, picking myself back up, two last-minute trips to Taiwan, my grandmother dying, a pandemic, pitching investors, so many COVID patients, pivoting, my mother going blind in one eye, starting over.

“But will this make me money?”

“You’re too early for us.”

“I just can’t stop crying, Doctor.”

“You’re even better looking than your profile picture.”

“It must be easier to get investments as a woman.”

Me, now

The vast majority of my little startup team is Asian, with almost all of that group being Asian women. No, this was not at all intentional. Yes, people do feel safer around others who look like them.

A glimpse into my life as an Asian American woman today: hearing the news that my Asian American female sisters out there are being shot and killed. That our elders are getting beaten and spit upon. That there’s a third surge of COVID around the world.

Trying to convince my own mother that it is okay to go outside, that she should get vaccinated, that she won’t get shot, that she’ll be safe.


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