This is ‘On Work, Identity and Liberation’

Jenny Choi
On Work, Identity and Liberation
4 min readSep 7, 2021

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Credit: koyu

Hi, folks.

I’ve often been told I needed to write more about my lived experiences at work because some of the zanier episodes strung together could be made into a Lifetime movie (although I’m not sure how I feel about that, since it always kind of made me feel like a cliché).

So why now? Well, the world really started burning under the context of a pandemic. The pandemic has for better and for worse started getting everyone thinking… a lot. Leadership all of a sudden came under an intense scrutiny, and young people (God bless them) began a civic rhetoric of not tolerating bullshit anymore — the killing of Black communities, climate change deniers, respectability politics. Then as the inevitable anti-Asian hate crimes began to proliferate as people grew more and more exhausted by the pandemic, I reflected on how much my experience and voice had changed as an Asian-American artist and activist over the last 25 years. And it’s Labor Day, so I thought this was a fine kick in the pants to start.

But what would be the point of putting any of that out into the world without offering a contextual lens of lessons learned? And for most of my career(s) and the identities I’ve had to navigate throughout work, I’ve not had enough time and experience to have any decent perspective.

And the purpose? To be truly liberated. I will never forget the moment a colleague had said to me one day, “Jenny, what would it take for you to feel completely free at work? Isn’t that the goal?” And since that day I gauge my happiness at work the same way — by how free I feel. And that analysis requires nuance and wisdom being who I am in my work context… things I didn’t necessarily have enough of earlier in my career, and it’s something I continue to work on.

I‘ve had a shit ton of jobs in a variety of sectors. I identify as an Asian-American, Korean, short-statured, honey badger, Generation X, native Chicagoan, cis woman. I also identify as a teacher, activist and musician. I identify with the ethos of punk rockdom. I do not like being told what to do or how to live my life. But I’ve always struggled on how to simply be… especially at work.

I will not pretend to speak to the experiences of anyone outside of my own lived experiences, but am hoping many of you might be able to relate and find these reflections valuable. Or perhaps for those of you who want to understand those who might relate to my experiences, these reflections can help you empathize a bit more. My experience has broadly been that of figuring out to how to survive, and then thrive, outside of others’ paradigms and expectations, despite how many times I’ve explicitly communicated who I am and what I stand for. And pointing out harm perpetrated by people and institutions much more powerful and privileged than me.

When I was a full-time musician I used to more actively journal about my experiences, until anonymous and not-so-anonymous online comments began to do its usual tearing apart. Ugh! I was young at the time and very insecure. Since then, writing has slowed for me, and I hope by practicing through this platform, I’ll find my voice again.

Until then, here is a preview of a few topics I’ll explore:

  • On being the only woman of color in the punk rock industry (and unlikely mentors in the business)
  • On who gets to shape whose narrative and who gets to be believed
  • On transitioning (not so gracefully) from punk rock culture as the lone woman of color to pretty much any other professional sector
  • On being a “not really” minority
  • On the at-times disappointment in working in the social justice sector
  • On surviving philanthropy culture
  • On navigating White fragility
  • On trauma
  • On screwing up and trying not to be paralyzed with embarrassment
  • On leadership and credibility when your team continues to change and evolve
  • On the dynamics that play themselves out at times between folks of color in the “DEI” game
  • On burning out on the “DEI” game
  • On ‘Me Too’ when you’re not a famous White person
  • On being told to wear a pantsuit to class for students to take you seriously as their teacher
  • On being a weirdo when you’re not Steve Jobs and still convince others you can lead

I know to make this better I need to add images, figure out how often I should post, etc. I’m still not sure how to present this content in a traction-worthy way, but I’ll try my best. I welcome and invite others’ perspectives and writers to post (just contact me!). But I figure if I have enough stories to share for a running start, I should just do it and get started.

With that said, thank you for sharing your time with me. I promise to be vulnerable and honest and as fair as I can be, warts and all, given that please remember this is just my perspective, and what do I frigging even know. Come along for the ride and please feel free to share with anyone else you think might benefit from these posts.

Cheers and onwards!

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Jenny Choi
On Work, Identity and Liberation

OG on diversity/equity/inclusion, philanthropy and journalism. Adept at seeing the magic in the tragically ignored. Retired punk rock musician.