To feed her soul through service and impact Han Pham scaled down her corporate career and deprogrammed her view of success
When The Lola member, Han Pham accepted that “work” could include more than just the place that sends her a paycheck, she found a way to live into her values. After finishing a law degree and working in corporate America, Han realized success wasn’t about making money and it wasn’t about changing the world. It was about making an impact locally and helping her community. She mindfully scaled down her corporate career to make room in her life to serve organizations that speak to her heart. Through her volunteer work, she is fulfilling values her paid work doesn’t meet. For fun, she runs a micro/urban farm with her husband, Meet Han Pham.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Age: 41 years
I’m the Head of Operations and for my soul, I volunteer with four organizations that speak my areas of passion.
For work, I’m the Head of Operations at Hotshot, an e-learning startup for lawyers, that I helped launch with some former colleagues from my corporate life. I’ve basically done every job there is, which is kinda what you do at a startup. For fun, I run a micro/urban farm with my husband, we harvest tons of produce and honey and make fun crafts out of the beeswax we produce. For my soul, I volunteer with 4 organizations (including being on the board of The Lola) that speak my areas of passion.
I was lucky to be in an environment that valued creative thinking.
I went to law school and decided quickly that I didn’t want to practice law, but also didn’t want to waste my law degree. So I entered corporate life selling products to law firms. I was really good at that, and had a ton of ideas for how to do things better and shared these with anyone who would listen. Many of the ideas made their way up the corporate chain and I gained a reputation, which led to opportunities in innovation and corporate strategy. I was lucky to be in an environment that valued creative thinking (even if the corp couldn’t always execute on it) and had bosses who recruited me to positions that fit my skills well (sometimes to my own surprise).
One of my bosses said, “you could do anything, Han” and that gave me the confidence to take on challenging roles.
I knew I was on a successful path when I won an innovation competition and was given a budget and a team to make a proof of concept.
I won an innovation competition at my company that gave me a budget and a team to make a proof of concept. I was basically running a small startup within the company. It was exhilarating to be doing something wholly new, but also to be able to pull on all of my professional experience into one venture. It was as though all of the puzzle pieces to my life came together, and I could step back and see the whole picture. From that experience, I knew that when I wanted to, I could step out on my own. And that made me fearless, professionally. I think most of the American work culture is about being afraid of losing your job. When I dropped that fear, it was freeing, I moved with confidence, taking risks others might not. When I finally left the big corporation, within six months, five separate executives who I had worked with before contacted me to offer me jobs. After taking a bit more time home with my newborn, I chose the startup, so I could build something new.
Promotions, awards, titles, perks, used to be sought-after prizes, but once I got them, they didn’t give me the joy that I thought they would. They aren’t how I define success.
When I was in corporate America, it was hard for me to visualize how the work that I was doing was impacting the greater world. The path was opaque, I was working long hours, so I couldn’t do anything else that nourished my soul, and I just felt like there had to be more to life. Promotions, awards, titles, perks, used to be sought-after prizes, but once I got them, they didn’t give me the joy that I thought they would.
“I had to deprogram myself from thinking of success as what corporate culture had told me for years. ”
And I took some time to be in the moment and assess what really mattered to me. I realized that success wasn’t about making money, it was about making an impact; and it wasn’t about changing the world, it was about helping my community–the world around me, literally, within a 25-mile radius. Since I made that decision I’ve been immensely successful, serving in leadership roles for four organizations that speak to my heart. I’m still working all the time and it can be stressful (in addition to the volunteering, I still have my professional employment, family, and hobby farm), but the effort always feels worth it.
I’m multi-faceted and when I accepted that “work” could include more than just the place that sends me a paycheck, I found a way to live my values.
I understand that the work I do for money can’t align with all of my goals and values (though I continue to push the company towards it), and that is why I supplement with my volunteer work. I used to think that everything should all be in one, my work should align with all of my values, and I wasted time longing for a unicorn.
Give us a typical day in your life. How do you manage your time and energy throughout the day? How do you define a successful day?
My 5-yr-old son, who is an early riser is usually poking me around 7:30 am asking me whether I’ll wake up and play with him. I can usually get him to let me sleep for a while more (since I’m not an early riser), by snuggling him. Then we wake up my husband and my daughter and do the morning routine before school starts. I sneak some checks at my work Slack…
My team is international and work often is done while I’m sleeping (I’m giddy about that efficiency).
The kids have become adept at getting set up for virtual school, so after my coffee and breakfast, I’m able to sit at my computer and hammer out some tasks to move work along. If I’m lucky, I get a shower in, but usually hammering through tasks takes more time than I would like.
Between classes, my kids stop and ask me questions or need my help on things. So that means they also often pop into my zoom meetings (which is okay, everyone understands).
I always have to keep an ear open if they need something while they are in class, usually, it’s a snack or a piece of paper. To which I shout “you know where to get those yourself”.
Once a week, usually in the early afternoon I’ll have a major meeting for one of my volunteering positions, so I’ll take a couple of hours out for those meetings. Then I get back to work and wrap up around 5 to start making dinner.
I’m pretty good about finishing work around 5, mostly because stomachs are rumbling around the house, especially my dogs.
Once a week I have a 7 pm meeting for one of my other volunteer organizations. If not, I’ll cuddle on the sofa with the kids and we’ll all watch some fun show together or play a game. And around 8:30 I’ll put my son to bed while my husband puts my daughter to bed. I usually fall asleep during that process and wake again around 10:30, and clean up around the kitchen or make extra food for myself to eat (I’m always hungry at night). If my husband’s awake too we’ll chat and maybe watch a show. If he’s not awake, I’ll check my Slack again to see if I need to respond to anything for work.
And then it’s off to bed with the NY Times crossword app or a book, until my brain gets so tired that it shuts off.
I try not to multitask because I’ve found out the hard way that multitasking can breed mistakes.
When I’m doing something, it usually is wholly for that purpose, and I try not to multitask because I’ve found out the hard way that multitasking can breed mistakes. So on a micro-level, I’m hyper-focused on the task that I’m doing, on a macro-level it looks like I’m juggling a million things, but really it’s like a conveyor belt sorting the items of my life into different areas.
Compartmentalizing. I have different Chrome “people” for each aspect of my life, and separate email addresses and website bookmarks to keep things organized.
In terms of challenges, saying no is hard for me.
It might be a cultural thing (Asian sense of duty) but if someone asks something of me, I find it incredibly difficult not to help. So, I often take on more than I should.
Interestingly, the pandemic has made it so much easier to say no without guilt, that I’ve been able to really practice doing it and I hope to be able to do more of it when we’re all out of quarantine.
My love language is acts of service.
I get such immense pleasure from seeing that someone is just a little bit better off because of something that I did. Since reorienting my time to volunteering and community service, I’ve been able to see so much of the impact, and it fills me with such joy.
I grew up with a small family, but a large community.
I am the daughter of immigrants from the Vietnam war. My mother and father (separately, they didn’t meet until the US) ran when Saigon fell in 1974 with only what was in their hands. In my mother’s case, she fled with 1 brother, 2 sisters, and my grandmother, leaving behind an equal number of siblings and my grandfather. In my father’s case, he fled alone, leaving behind all 7 siblings and both parents. I am ever so thankful to the church that sponsored my parents’ passages to this country and everyone who has stayed in our lives to help us succeed.
Help me support Global Village Project, a school for refugee girls with interrupted education.
I’m vice-chair of the Global Village Project, which is a school for refugee girls with interrupted education. Girls like my mother. My service to GVP is to honor my mother who never had the opportunities that GVP is giving to these girls right here in Decatur.
The pandemic has made it especially difficult for non-profits, especially in Georgia, with so much money going to the elections in both the general and runoff. It’s been difficult to ask for donations in this atmosphere.
Sustaining donations help us have a consistent flow of funds that we can plan on. If members of the Lola community could commit to giving even $5/month to Global Village Project, it would be immensely helpful to our small organization.