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Life and Work with Alissa Duong

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alissa Duong.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born and raised in Santa Ana, California – so much of what drives me stems from my roots. I never really saw anyone that looked like me in a position of success. I didn’t look like the Barbie dolls I played with or like the movie stars on screen. I was just a little weird brown girl amongst a bunch of other brown kids. It was from the women around me that I learned to love myself. Some of these women were kind and patient, others were not. Many of us have been picked on for one reason or another. I was the chubby dark-skinned brown girl, so that was what I got made fun of for. Those girls who made fun of me taught me the power of my individuality. There will always be people out there trying to dull your shine, but their negativity reflects more on them than it does on you. Those people probably have their own inner battles that they aren’t ready to face yet, which is why they’re trying to project those insecurities onto you. We should wish them well on their journey to inner peace. I always tell my students, especially the young, brown-skinned girls who look a lot like me and my friends when we were younger, “you may be the sweetest, biggest, juiciest peach in the world but there will still be people who don’t like peaches.” Today, the awkward little brown girl is still a part of me, but because of the women who have nurtured me to love myself and to believe in my own power, I’ve been able to grow into this badass woman who knows how to speak up for herself, who fights for the things she believes in, and who is on this lifelong quest to empower other women to do the same. It is certainly a work in progress, but I’d like to think the younger version of myself if pretty proud of how far we’ve come.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It definitely has not been a smooth road! Are you kidding me? Even moments throughout my day today felt like an utter mess! In my life, I’ve been bullied, I’ve bullied myself, experienced heartbreak lost friends, family, experienced massive failure at work, in school, in relationships, experienced intimate partner abuse, been stalked, harassed – gone through life, just like everyone else. Through it all, the biggest hurdle I am currently working through is trusting myself. To the women who are just starting their journey, there are so many people out there who want to take away your voice because your silence benefits them. Screw that. Speak your truth. It’s no one else’s to claim but yours. You can make it through anything as long as you take it to minute by minute. Worry only about the things you can control. My friend recently told me, “worrying is like praying for bad things to happen.” She heard it from her spin instructor. I can only imagine how transcendent the rest of that spin class was! I’m like a warrior worrier. I constantly stress about things that just aren’t worth my time. One thing that helps me is asking myself if this issue will matter in 5 days, 5 weeks, or 5 years? That helps me identify how intense and important the issue is. If it doesn’t matter at all, I try my best to forget it. We all have enough to worry about… how we look, how we talk, what we think, what people think of us, the work that we’re doing, what we’re eating next, not to mention all of the added things you need to think about if you’re responsible for other people. Worrying is a time sucker and a joy stealer. That’s another thing! Hold on to things that bring you joy. Make time for yourself. All of us are just human. Nothing is perfect, and neither are you. Embrace what makes you human. We can’t be everything to everyone. We also can’t be of any help if we aren’t functioning. So, don’t forget to be kind to yourself, take time to revel in your own wonder. In case someone hasn’t told you yet today… your power is immeasurable. Your strength is unmatched. You are pure magic. You will make it through. Last tip. Pass the message along!

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I have my hand in a few things. I am currently the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at the fastest growing speech and debate academy in Southern California. I absolutely love what I do. I especially love empowering people, specifically those who have been systematically silenced. It’s my life’s passion. I believe that so much of what we do boils down to effective communication skills and I love that I get to help so many people find their voices and learn to I have my hand in a few things. I am currently the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at the fastest growing speech and debate academy in Southern California. I absolutely love what I do. I especially love empowering people, specifically those who have been systematically silenced. It’s my life’s passion. I believe that so much of what we do boils down to effective communication skills and I love that I get to help so many people find their voices and learn to communicate with other people. I’m also a graduate student at CSULB (Go Beach!) where I conduct research in communication studies. In addition to this, I teach public speaking at the university and coach the university speech and debate team. You could say I’m obsessed with communication, public speaking, and learning! Yes, it is absolutely exhausting. Yes, it is 100% worth it. I have multiple national championships in competitive public speaking, and I’ve spoken in front of an eight-thousand-person crowd – my specialty is public speaking. I particularly specialize in curriculum development, instruction, and presentation consulting. As a provider, I’m most proud of my students, young and old. I love that moment when they finally accomplish what they’ve been working toward. Whether that’s nailing a new concept or understanding how powerful of a speaker they can be. As a brand, I’m just really happy that I’ve stayed true to myself. Sure, I’m always trying to be a better version of myself, but there is no one else that I would rather be. Sometimes, that is a revolution in itself. By trying to be my best self, I hope to encourage everyone else to step into their own shine. Our differences set us apart from one another and our ability to collaborate and communicate is what will make us all stronger. I think so much of what we’ve been taught is to be the best, the most competitive. We’re always on the lookout for “the one to beat.” Who is the strongest competition? The answer is all of us. Together, we are unstoppable. Community over competition.

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
That’s a tough question, the answer stems from centuries of socialization, inaccurate ideas of women that have been ingrained into us. How does that impact us today? People (men and women, alike) sometimes believe that women are not as smart or capable as their counterparts. A woman is always “bossy” but never “the boss.” She must be motherly and take on other people’s responsibilities, if not, she is seen as a whiner, or worse, a bitch. She takes care of business at work and then comes home, has to cook, clean, help with homework, feed the whole family, it never ends. Women are also often seen as potential mothers, and not as people. This affects their promotion opportunities and their ability to grow within the workplace. There are so many fascinating reasons as to why it has been so difficult for women to be accepted and respected as leaders. However, we are making great progress. Women are still marginalized, but we are beginning to shed light on gender inequality and as a society are working to combat it.

Image Credit:
Photos by Tina Guerra @bytinaguerra, assisted by Kai Vibar @comickairi

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