Thu Nguyen: Resourcefulness, Resilience, and the Art of Living
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Apr 22, 2017
Kozo: Today, I thought we could start off by asking her to kick off our circle and to give you some context. Preeta not only is the rock star volunteer for Awakin Calls, but she's also very similar to Thu. She's done some huge life changes, shifted careers, and you know pursued basically her heart and given up very prestigious positions. I was wondering Preeta, that did you find that same condition applied to you where the right people appeared when you were making these huge changes that you did a lot of people would think you were kind of crazy to make a change like that.
Preeta: Yeah, I think. Thanks Kozo for your great reflection, it started about how so much of resourcefulness, the resilience, can be a community. It's not just kind of a single individual kind of thing. I you know, it's funny, because for me and I think for a lot of people this is the first right person to appear is often yourself and I think giving oneself the space. The space between one's own story; the story in your head and the story in your heart and just living in that space for a while really allowed kind of alternative stories to start emerging. Then you know as you start shifting, and it's you know, it's a both an inner and outer thing. You start shifting inside, then your world outside starts shifting, and the people around you start shifting. And then you get reinforced in the ways that you know your heart is telling you want to go. So I think it's both an insight, it's in community, and it's within oneself. The two are very much hand-in-hand and I don't think, personally, I don't think you could do either one of those, solely alone or solely in community.
Kozo: I love that Preeta, I loved the way that the first person to show up was yourself. You know the common greeting in Hawaii is Aloha Kako. Kako meansit means you, everybody out here, and me; it includes the speaker like we don't say how are you, we say how are we. So I love how it's all you show and then those people show up, it's not either/or, it's an "and" thing.
Preeta: Great, that's beautiful thank you for sharing that now.
Kozo: So I will let you introduce our guest.
Preeta: I'm really excited to be in conversation this morning with two Thu Nguyen, who is a remarkable woman who in a relatively short life has pretty much experienced close to everything and has really shown a lot of joy and resilience. It's just the love that shines through in everything she does. Currently she is the CEO and co-founder of a startup called Flowzo which is dedicated to bringing high speed internet to smaller metropolitan cities. But that doesn't even begin to describe much of anything about Thu. Professionally at a pretty young life she has experienced so much. Professionally, she had jobs at Qualcomm, IBM, Marvel Semiconductor, focused on partnerships in Facebook, and connecting the world, and connecting Canada to the next generation network. She's a been a Foodie, a blogger, a traveler, and a published author. But more remarkably personally, she's been a refugee, an emigrant, a child of a single parent who's had to forge a relationship with a father she never knew. She's an abuse survivor, she has overcome diabetes, and pre-cancer diagnoses. She's been a gang member as a teen, she's dealt with issues of rape and gender, nationality, necessity, and family split-up, health issues, and East-West divides and just an amazing range of experiences in a young life. But I guess for me above all, what really shines through is that she has remained joyful, authentic, and wise through the kind of amazing branches of experiences. It has packed in several lifetimes of learning and has been open to those learning and open to both, receiving those learnings and sharing them with others. So really excited to be in conversation with you and to hear some of those learnings from you.
Thu: Wow. Thanks for that introduction Preeta. I am really grateful for this opportunity.
Preeta: Your stories are amazing, you survived cancer. I mean I've been looking up to you as someone that's kind of brought this career side of the personal side. I'm so interested with you. Yeah awesome. So maybe we should, there is so many places we could start, but why don't we just start in the present moment, how are you feeling at the moment.
Thu: Actually, pretty good. I mean loving it here.
Preeta: Well that's awesome though, so what's life for you this morning? Like what can we start with or we'll start shortly with a little bit of your life story - at this moment what's life for you?
Thu: I got the opportunity to this Awakin Call. So last night I was thinking about how to calm my nerves or how to even talk about this. I was looking at my blog and I found this quote. It said, "Grace means that all your mistakes now serve a purpose, instead of serving shame." I guess I was wise sometime ago. It really helped me today to realize that I haven't been talking about my life story maybe because it was more on the shame side. But after seeing all the other examples of people that share their story, I do think that maybe this is a good way to turn my mistakes into inspiration or some kind of purpose.
Preeta: Awesome. There is a lot of inspiration in your story. We don't we start from the beginning. Tell us a little about your life growing up. Your early circumstances and maybe the initial shift to this world of achievement, let's say, in terms of engineering.
Thu: OK. I was born in Vietnam. A few months before I was born, my father had already escaped the country with a few of my uncles in the same year. I was born in November 1981. My uncle came to Canada and was able to sponsor us over when I was about 4 years old. We were living in a Toronto ghetto neighborhood called Regent Park with a lot of co-op housing and a lot of immigrants. A pretty rough neighborhood. We were 13 of us in a 3 bedroom house. Everyone shared a room. I shared a room with my mom.
It was a pretty rough neighborhood. One story I remember is when I was in grade four. I was on the swings in the playground and an older girl and pushed me off the swing. I had a group of Vietnamese friends come up and scared her away. And after that low and behold, I was a member of a Vietnamese gang in grade 4. I think my family was pretty worried.
By the time I was in grade 6, we moved out of that area. All my uncles worked. I rarely saw any of them because they were taking different kinds of shift work. It was good. I moved to another Toronto suburb called Starburrow which is not the best neighborhood, but much better than the gang life.
When I was in the suburbs, I excelled at school. That part was never a problem. I guess that is the beginning.
Preeta: Awesome. It is interesting when you talk about the girls from the gang showing up and helping you when you were pushed off the swing. There was an example already of the right people showing up at the right time in your life.
Thu: The right and wrong people probably. [laughter] Yeah, in that period with that gang, we started going to the local dollar store and stealing toys and things like that. Both me and my brother, having this influence around, got us in trouble a lot. That is my humble beginnings.
Preeta: When your family came as refugees, what was it like as a child? Were you struggling to fit in to Canada and Canadian culture? What was your mindset? Were you hanging onto your family life?
Thu: Yeah, I think I wasn't very close to my family my whole childhood or maybe even adulthood. I found a lot of more companionship with friends around. I remember that first day in kindergarten. I still remember crying a lot because I didn't understand a word. I didn't know any English. I was put into ESL class. My family was pretty busy making ends meet. Mostly, I was more sad I wasn't able to participate in "pizza days" at school or skating. Anything that required any money, we just weren't able to afford. So the fitting in was more about the things we could do without money.
Preeta: So from this upbringing, how did it even come into your mind to go to college, to become an engineer, which is not necessarily the first thing on people's minds when you are trying to get by day to day. Tell us about that thought process.
Thu: So I was thinking I never really fit in. My parents and my extended family was all about how a woman should grow up and find a husband and serve them. That wasn't really the life I ever wanted. And then at school, there was this feeling of there must be something better. So I was really lucky. All the way through high school, I did well in school. So in grade 10 one of my computer science teachers in school was saying, "Hey, go to this company and help them pack CDs."
At that company, I basically did part time every summer there from CD packing--CDs that showed people university tours. This was before the internet. I got inspired to go from CD packer to software tester to web developer back in high school. Again, going back to that theme of people showing up. It was the boss there, Chris Wilkens, that really kind of pushed me to go to school and pushed me to apply to Waterloo when I thought it was too expensive and I couldn't afford it. I feel very lucky that I got the right push at the right time, even though at the time I didn't know how to get there or what I would do. There have been really amazing people that showed up. He is the one that got me to go to Waterloo.
Preeta: That is awesome. This might be a hard question to answer, but have you ever reflected about what qualities made you open to receiving the right people at the right time? What do think about you attracted mentors and made you open to them?
Thu: Actually, I think--someone else told me this a while ago--I'm just really curious all the time. On the negative side, it could be low self esteem. Where I'm like, "I don't know anything. I'm not the best at anything. And I don't know anything very well." So I'm always open, especially throughout life I've always had this mentality: "Hey, each of us can only live one life, but if you listen, you can actually experience thousands of other lives if you just listen to other people."
Preeta: Wow, that is beautiful. So you go off to college to the University of Waterloo which is a very prestigious engineering school in Canada. Tell us a little bit about your time in university and your transition to becoming a systems engineer at some of the world's largest and most prestigious corporations.
Thu: I had always wanted to leave Toronto and the family and be this rebel of going into computer engineering where there were no women. I was really excited. When I got there it was almost my first taste of freedom. Good or bad. Young and foolish. I lived it up. I lived every second of it. So all my work terms I tried to go away.
It was my first taste of freedom. Good or bad I mean - I was young and foolish. And I just lived it up. I lived every second of it. All my work terms I tried to go away. I did one work time in Vietnam two in San Diego. And then an exchange term in Singapore. University was actually probably the first time I had the means to explore the world, I think that’s when I started writing, blogging, taking picture. It was so new to me and I loved it. It was amazing, a lot of my close friends came from there. Again it seemed open. And it was a good reminder that being with all the best -- I’m just one person and there's so many other smart people there, so it kind of brought out competitiveness and kind of like the drive to learn and be better.
Preeta: Yeah - that’s great. You grew up with your uncle and your mother and you didn’t really know your father as a child because he left before you were born. How did they respond to your life as a college student traveling the world.
Thu Yeah my relationship with my family has always been a little tough, in that there was a mold for me to follow on every side.My family grew up Catholic and I really didn't believe in it at all. In university I think it was a stage where I was an atheist and hedonist. Needless to say I think the family was really worried
I was drinking, partying and eating lots and kind of just not having any ground. Yeah I think at that stage it was more about doing what’s the opposite of them and not so much like what’s growing up. So yeah I didn't really keep in touch with them while I was at school. And it's been kind of a relationship that I think innately during since I was a teenager and growing up, I always wanted to get away. And it was only until later it was only with cancer and diabetes I realized that there was abuse that happened in my childhood and I blocked it out for many many years and I didn't realize I just had this thing that I just wanted to get away from them but I never really knew what it was.
Preeta: Wow. So in college you made your first trip back to Vietnam. What was that like for you? Did you connect with family members and the culture?
Thu Yeah you mentioned my dad. He left before I was born. He came back a few times, made an appearance to say hi and kind of asked if I wanted to move to Australia or Vietnam. And I never did so when I was in college it was during the dot com bust, so it was actually pretty tough to get a job, around 2000-2001. So I reached out to him and said, “Hey can I do something for you - can I make your website?” So that was kind of the first time we got to live in the same country or city for four months. And it was definitely the first time I’d left the country. So when I was there, it was it was a lot, a lot for someone young, and he gave me my own place and I had like a driver and bodyguard. I had a security guard and someone pulled all my clothes and I was like a kid in a candy store. And it was amazing to be in the culture with amazing food and people. But it was also pretty much a shock for my dad and his family as well, like, “Wow, this person is not grounded.” So that was probably the first time I had a series of interactions with my dad, that I guess for better or worse saw the sides of each other that we never saw before. Looking back it was a good thing because I got to go to Vietnam and start that relationship. I got to meet his new wife and his daughter, my step-sister, so I’m glad that happened.
Preeta: But when you say you weren’t grounded, what do you mean by that?
Thu Growing up I was always running away from some things and being the opposite of my family. I think that took me off the ground. And then you know school and having money and flying places, I feel like for a long time I was off the ground. I try and look at that and where I am now I am a lot more on the ground. I have values, responsibilities and things like that. And when I was younger I didn’t have those things.
Preeta: So when did that start shifting for you ? When did you get that sense of values, purpose and grounded?
Thu I think university really launched me there. I had a job down here in California about 2006 and it even launched me further up, I was in lots of flights meeting all these deals around the world, doing really cool high tech stuff, chips for the iphone and Blackberry and Samsung and I got really sick. There were three incidents one year. I went snowboarding in Tokyo with some coworkers and my contact exploded in my eye and I couldn’t see for a month. So that was the first time in a series of three accidents, that kind of made me realize that I wasn’t invincible. When you take away something like your vision you realize how important your eyes are. The year after that I got into another snowboarding accident and broke my tailbone, so again -- I learned lots about my body by getting into those things and I realized I am not invincible and I am vulnerable. And I need to slow down. And then the third thing I was bleeding out of control and they said if I didn't get to a hospital on time -- and a friend of mine actually drove me there and it was just perfect timing, someone came in and brought me there before I would have died. So that was the biggest incident which was like, “Hey Thu you’re still human you’re fragile. Slow down.” So that was an eye opener in 2009 which forced me to the ground.
Preeta: That's a pretty dramatic incident where you said you were bleeding inside -- almost bled to death internally is that right?
Preeta: I mean unlike the snowboarding incident or the kind of contact in your eye it wasn’t just a sudden external thing that might have caused it -- it seemed like if you’re bleeding inside that’s something that might have been going on for awhile. Did you feel out of whack before you showed up at the hospital?
Thu: Yeah I would say I was out of whack. I was flying on private jets I was drinking a lot, I was eating in all these fancy restaurants. I was out and about so much that I never was home and never sleeping. I knew I felt terrible, but at the same time -- I don’t know -- I was living the dream or whatever dream that was. That felt a lot more important than taking care of myself. Definitely there was a lot of signs that could have been seen beforehand.
Preeta: So then what happened after that first big health scare? Did you make any shifts in your life?
Thu: Yeah -- from the medical side I had a hormone imbalance and I had type three diabetes so on one side I had an endocrinologist and they helped me focus on losing weight and eating better, and so at that time I didn't really know how to cook, because I ate out so much. And then I started cooking and my friend who now my co-founder Chris, he wanted to share his CSA -- vegetable delivery and I remember that first box of vegetables that came, I really didn't know what anything in it was, and I had to go and google and look at pictures to figure out, what are these things. And that was probably the first time I learned how to cook, and since I was traveling for work and stuff like that, I still ate out but I started asking the chefs at the restaurant, “Hey what do you do with this -- what would you do with kale or chard?” And then I started blogging about it and started sharing recipes, probably for myself so I would remember what to do! After that I ironically enjoyed the Bay Area a lot more than the three years before that. I started going hiking. We did Yosemite, went over to Machu Picchu - and I think I got more work life balance because I started prioritizing hiking and cooking as well as work where as before 100 % of my life was work. So six months after that I just couldn't do any more. The work side wasn’t just as important to me because you know if if I'm not going to live very long-- I think that was the first time I got to that reality - that I had to change or my life might be over. So I left California. And I went to Vancouver and started a cooking blog called. More of the same -- asking restaurants and chefs how to cook and then writing about it. So that was life after corporate life.
Preeta: It’s interesting to me that you have this health condition and are told you should cook your own food and you learn. But to get to the point where you are blogging about it, you are asking chefs for recipes, you go to Vancouver to learn full time how to cook -- there must have been some joy in this cooking that came about -- or was it just about being healthy? I wonder if you can describe how you felt when you first started learning how to cook.
Thu: Actually blogging about it was really nice. Friends I hadn't seen in awhile started participating and sending me recipes. It was a nice push for me. Then when I went to Vancouver, it was maybe random luck it happened to be around the Vancouver Olympics and while I was interviewing chefs I was like, “Hey maybe I should reach out to all the countries that will be here at that time.” Every country is represented and they all want to contribute food and culture. So somehow I became the Vancouver aficionado for the Olympics and I got invited to be a part of it and eat all the different countries’ food for free. So it was great to get away from the tech world for awhile. I remember our website would get tens of thousands of views. I just happened upon it and it was good for me to take that break from tech.
Preeta: How long was the cooking immersion?
Thu: It was my first start up and I thought the blog was going to lead to an app. I was like we can do what the iphone did to music. We can have people buy a recipe for $1 - I could go to chefs and try to create that kind of content. At that time I knew nothing. Corporate life and start up life is so different. And you really don’t know what the future is and it’s just one step at a time and kind of feeling all that uncertainty where in a corporate job you have goals and people meet those goals. It was my first really terrible attempt at turning free food into a sustainable life and it was for about two years.
I went to Vancouver, ran out of money. Went to Toronto and tried to do a little bit of consulting work and then got to the point where I said OK I think my break is over, I should just go get a job again. But I wanted to do one last Hurrah I guess. So I started a Kickstarter project and that was the first year Kickstarter was around. I was like OK, “What if what if people could sponsor me and I could go to Vietnam” Out of the Olympics experience I learn how to cook a lot of food but not Vietnamese food. So I thought of an idea where I would go through Vietnam to learn and write about it and this would be my last thing before going back to tech. So that's what I did. I put up the project I went through Vietnam and during the travel I wouldn't know if I'd get a funding to write the book and publish it. I timed it so that when I got to Ho Chi Minh city where my dad and my sister lived that that I would know if I got funding and then if I did then I would write the book and publish it.
Preeta: How was your health throughout this?
Thu: I think cooking personally is a lot of fun, and I mean even years later I tried to make a Vietnamese sandwich start up for for a blip of time -- a month. But in all of the experiences I realize when cooking for money or business or any of that I think it's the money part that kind of takes you off the ground, or takes me off the ground again. Cooking to make a living is not the same as cooking for your friend the kind of joy that that brings. I guess that’s the second time I got off the ground and again that rude awakening of realizing that hey Stay grounded -- cook for health but not for business,
Preeta: So you ran out of money and you go back to the tech world and so then what happened?
Thu: Yes I came back to Canada after the Vietnam experience I published my book there and used the wrong publisher so the book couldn’t leave Vietnam. That ended up being my first startup that made money because the book sold a few thousand copies throughout the country but when I left I was really sad because I couldn't export them. So I kind of left that startup failure number two. I came back and ended up working with a friend of mine in helping his start up. They were doing mobile apps for Canadian retailers and also he wanted me to come on and kind of help with WiFi and location based couponing and all similar things so it was totally up my alley and I did that for a bit Since it was still a start up world it was a lot of sacrifice and not making ends meet. So after a year of that I was still reeling from the (in quotes) “failure” of the book and the working with my friends. At this time I was off the ground again and this was around my 30th birthday. I was really really sick and now we are not talking about pre-diabetes and hormone imbalance...now we are talking about cancer...pre-cancer actually!
Preeta - So how did you manage that...how did you get that diagnosis?
Thu - So again the bleeding thing. I was having months of no period and then I would have from July September constantly where my period never stopped. I was really worried I didn't know what to do and then and then again the randomness of people appeared to my friends. One of them happened to just come back from Thailand in Pakistan and she happened be a natural path and and messaged me saying “hey I really enjoyed your book because I just went to Vietnam with my family and I used your book to go through the country” and I was like Oh! well okay let’s meetup! So when I met up with her, I told her what was going on with me and I asked if she can solve the bleeding problem of mine. And she is like Thu that's really serious. She actually helped me walk through the western medical system…all the tests like the sugar tests and then trying to get a gynecologist and stuff like that Just to get the real accurate description and diagnosis of what was going on. So the first thing we did was...the western medicine guys tried to get me to take a bunch of drugs to stop the bleeding and I actually went with her recommendation of some homeopathic medicine and tinctures to stop the bleeding. So within 2 weeks the bleeding stopped, so that we could do some of the tests like biopsies. So it was pretty major. I think I was going to bleed to death again and she helped me stop that. We did the test and that's when the diagnosis came up that this was called complex atypia hyperplasia and it's really the stage right before it spreads all over. That was a shock to me and around all of this I had just gotten a job in a big company again! So a lot of things were happening at once. It was good that my manager at this big company job who now is my cofounder Andrew, really gave me all the support I needed to take it easy and worry about my health first.
Preeta - Wow that’s amazing! Curious as to what drew you to the non-western modality for treating that? A lot of people might not know or they might be too scared by the kind of traditional model to go that route.
Thu - Yes, I think there was a lot of trust...my naturopath friend and I went to school at Waterloo and I she's an intelligent person that could have gone to become a Western medical doctor instead of the naturopath trail. I think what drew me to her was just her presence and her friendship of not just talking or believing things that we hear about the traditional things that there maybe no evidence of but what everything that we talked about everything that he showed me there was always some kind of proof and something that may have worked for someone before. really enjoyed the company and having someone who was grounded to guide me and talk about all the blood work all of those things and help me understand these are all my options. I liked it because I wasn’t in fear. And I think a lot of times -- when I look back - any time that you don’t know that you are vulnerable and you’re going to sick and you get this diagnosis from a doctor there is a lot of fear and PTSD and this thing, “I’m really scared.” And they usually say let’s schedule you for next week and cut out some body parts. That happened with my doctor who said I need a hysterectomy the next week. “If you don’t have anything there you can’t get cancer there,” that was her thing. But I never bought into that. If you don’t know the root cause -- It’s kind of like mold. You can get sick from mold and if you don’t get rid of where it’s coming from it’s going to come back. So I really just thought let me understand. This is not a new thing. I have been sick before. And this is going to come back if I don’t understand what was causing it and how I can fix it at a fundamental level. And also I thought hey it’s pre cancer not cancer. I’m young and maybe naive but let me try this. A year or two years of this what’s the harm? I have to cut it out anyways. So in me it felt like I had a little bit of time to just explore.
Preeta: Wow that’s very wise. In an abbreviated conversation like this it kind of sounds like, “Oh I did naturopathy and then I was cured.” But I’m sure it was a longer more involved process. I don’t want to diminish that journey so if you want to share anything about any of the struggles or doubts or fears along the way please do.
Thu: I think it goes back to my curiosity. I was just very curious because in my life -- my brother is a western doctor and so is his wife. I had gone through the medical system down here in California before and it was just very cut and dried. “This is what you have, and this is what you do.” But it is really you have to go see the specialist for this one body part and this one thing for the other part, and there was no like holistic one. And so I think meeting Lily the naturopath was just very interesting because when when we talked it wasn't just about one part and it wasn't just about the symptoms. It was actually about working through it for years it was actually about me going into the path and observing what’s going on, what is reality and what’s going on in all aspects of my life. Friendship and work and -- and I had never done that before. I’d seen the other side which is like treating symptoms and this is more of a life change.
Preeta: So what were some of the treatments and modalities that she and others introduced you to?
Thu: It was gradual -- the first one was to stop the bleeding, so it was a very focused thing and then when it came to a place of lifestyle -- one of the things she asked me early on was, “What do you think you need to change?” Which was new. I’d never been to a doctor who asked me if I knew the answer. So we wrote down some of those things. How do you get balance? How do you repair some of the relationships in your life. I mean there were so many but the biggest thing -- one of the most lasting advice she gave me was to go to the Vipassana 10-day silent retreat. I really trusted her recommendations because she experimented on herself. She went first. And then she came out and told me,”Hey this could be really good for you.” At that time I was like -- oh 10-days of silence! No thank you! How do you do that when you have two weeks of vacation? Are you going to spend your whole vacation sitting in silence? I wasn’t really into it for awhile and six months after it kept coming back so I was like okay, if this really helps then why not. 10 days to help a whole lifetime is not that long. So I think that was one thing that she introduced me to which has become a daily practice.
Preeta: So what was your experience of your first 10-day Vipassana?
Thu: I went to the one north of Toronto and it was kind of around the transition from winter to spring so when I went there it was snow covered everywhere and inside Vipassana you learn things like every moment will pass, this too will pass. And it was just really interesting because we could hear that, you could see it every day. You know the snow turned into rain into sun and back to rain. And it was just so different every single day. I mean it was really hard. I have never sat that long before. It was hard but it was really nice. I really enjoyed the little breaks. You get to walk around the trees and see your thoughts on the outside. But during that time I think the big realization I had because the one thing about blogging and telling your story is you kind of think of yourself as a victim and all these things keep happening to you. And I think I was kind of in that mentality,and so when I went there and it looked around, except for that last day when people start talking about all their life stories, I realize that so many other people are suffering as well and a lot of the stories are way worse than mine. And I look back and think I’m so lucky. So looking at that actually helped me get out of myself or get out of myself. Yes that happened to you but you’re still here, you’re healthy and have good friends, and abilities to do a lot of things so don’t keep feeling sorry for yourself. Everyone is suffering. So that very first retreat that’s the thing I came out with.That quote of everyone is living a hard life -- so treat everyone with kindness.
Preeta: That’s beautiful.
Kozo: Sounds like the birth of passion there too that's beautiful.
Thu: Thanks Kozo.
Preeta: So you’re going through these amazing changes in your life, relearning the art of living. You know doing some profound healing at a deep level. It started to have physical effects where you know your health has improved. What's going on professionally at this time? I want to kind of bring this back to your own mission of connecting the world and where that is in all this. How that inspired you.
Thu: I think this whole journey, is throughout - it was almost this global thing I went through. Multiple countries, multiple people, lots of different books and inspiration. One thread -- when I applied to Waterloo my application said I want to come here because I want to come to Silicon Valley and connect the world, I look back and I think the whole -- blogging as a healing mechanism, the Kickstarter, all these things that I have done, it’s not possible without resources like ServiceSpace, Awakin and being there you know being connected to all this content, and so I think that there's a lot of people including myself that really needed that connection and I couldn't find that connection just through my family and where I grew up, and I have found this kind of global connection. So throughout my career it has been this telecom, kind of connecting through communication and social and I started Flowzo really as this way that could bring this connection to more people, so that they can help themselves. So, I guess I’m not even American but when I saw the election results in November and CNN they had the map zoomed into all these small towns and it was almost the same map that we had in our company of all the cities that have only one choice of connectivity or none, and I thought, “Hey this is really underserved and maybe these people are struggling on the economic side, they can’t get jobs and they aren’t participating in this amazing online economy online -- learning and participating and being creative. And I was thinking hey Flowzo could do something good which is enable neighborhoods to help each other and get connected so they too can have start ups and they too can help themselves. So I see Flowzo and this whole experiment here, I’ve been so lucky to get all the opportunity I have. How do I take what I have learned both from the technical and life experience side and really help others and enable others to help themselves and each other?
So that’s where Flowzo comes from.
Preeta: It’s interesting when you go back to the theme of this call about the right people showing up. And your interest in connecting the world, it seems like in your life it’s been a combination of very deep ties and loose ties that have come to your aid. Or found you at the right time. Your friend that is the naturopath. That was a friendship in college, how did she connect after all those years. It was partly through your book I gather she said she knew that it was topical but how did she reach you? Did you stay in touch all those years? Or was that partly because of the beauty of social media and Internet she reconnected with?
Thu: It was media, the internet and my Facebook I think. And I think it comes back over and over again. I have been in different places and probably not reachable many times and I do feel that even today with the startup that I have it’s just full of old connections. Even my friend who I worked with at Marvel is my co-founder who helped me with learning the vegetables. Andrew, my manager of my old company and the support he gave me and now he's my my Operations guy and it was everything like being in Alchemist, the accelerator program and all the people I've met along the way an old friend Ming is now an a investor in our start up. I don't know somehow I think the stage right now there is a lot of people that are coming back into my life or maybe like there were these loose ties that now have become very close friends. So, yeah I think with none of this would be possible without the internet.
Kozo: Awesome, beautiful. Thu, I'm going to jump in front of the line and get a question here and obviously a lot of your story resonates with me and you said something that really piqued my interest. You said it wasn’t till you had a pre-cancer and diabetes diagnosis that you kind of uncovered that abuse that happened in the past and when we go into a healing crisis or healing journey, it's not just about healing the body but it's it's about healing past wounds, past traumas and ancestral trauma. I am wondering if you had that experience in that when you were all this - naturopath and healing work if you felt like you were also feeling that trauma in the past?
Thu: Yeah, I think during that process like-- it was actually an uncle of mine. I guess I blocked it out. He was probably my closest link to my family because he had gone to Waterloo as well when I’d moved back. And I had left for a long time so maybe I had stored it really deep. But as I was working through healing I was still in touch with him. He was actually visiting me in my condo and suddenly I saw these images and flashes of what he’d done to me as a child. And I just broke down and cried. I didn’t know if it was a dream or real? Maybe the universe doesn’t give you things until you can handle it. So until I could get rid of all the other things going on, with healing, stopping the bleeding and getting back into balance is when this showed up. And I think it happens in Vipassana as well. When you’re still enough and things arise those things that arise have this heavier degree -- things you have to work through. So with the abuse I wouldn’t say any specific things came up. But it did in a way that was really terrible. But yeah during the process of healing that I went through I got an alternative psychologist in doing EMDR something like they do for P.T.S.D. patients and kind of people that come back from war that people die or kill people but that was another life launch into this whole life, understanding what the brain is and how emotional type and events, like it and how do you still acknowledge that if that happens but that you're still able to live life. I don’t know if it answers your question but that was more detail on what happened there.
Kozo: Yeah and a quick follow up -- it really reminds me, when you say you broke down and you were crying and when you were in Vipassana really delving deep into that suffering it reminds you of something you wrote on your blog where you say “Joy and pain are like yin and yang and you cannot have one without the other and it is only through this deep suffering that you are able to experience deep joy” and I am wondering if you could kind of map that out for us for those of us who are still in the deep suffering?.
Thu: I want to say I actually like now that I've had a little bit of experience and kind of coming from the bottom to bouncing back and I mean during the moment it's like even now to say one part of my life is good in other parts are not as great and suffering I think now I think experience helps like when you get to that bottom and when you get that ground when you fail multiple times and you think eventually you get tired and eventually you are like, “I want to bounce back, I want to take a walk, I want to like myself but like maybe I don't need to think the top and you know when someone leaves or how they say in that moment it's terrible but at the same time you're still alive and you know when you can do anything you want”. So kind and if you remember maybe you could just trust me that one day things will get better and whatever's happening now will and and I mean even if I think I got into a lot.
But I think space and kind of stepping back are able to do things that and help people like hiking cooking or hanging out with friends, getting out of yourself are things that I feel like has helped me remember that like if you're suffering like the level of suffering will be matched with a multiple of joy eventually maybe not right now.
Kozo: Yeah, you know you said something in that really stood out to me. You said, “I like myself” and I see a lot of your journey as kind of like realizing that right when you like yourself enough to cook yourself good healthy food, you like yourself enough to get off the rat race just acquisition and. stress and I think that's such an important part that you know I like myself and I love that term.
So we have a question from online -- “Hi -- thanks for a wonderful interview! Could Thu tell us more about how she faced "not being invincible." More importantly, how she manages to maintain that insight (since it's so sneaky and reassert itself when we feel as if we have recovered, now strong, and invincible again). With love and admiration and gratitude, Jaune”
So yeah. I love this questions so how do make that insight of not being invincible?
Thu: Yeah, I think I was talking to another Alchemist cofounder one day and she said something that kind of stuck with me is that there is no such thing as perfect health care or perfect state of mind perfect. There's no I mean. I guess I think that there is this Norm and everyone thinks that there's a thing and everyone had it at some point and now we lost it and so then the loss of both is terrible but if you kind of just go from that basis you know there is no perfect state, there is no you just have you and your body's always fighting and your mind - there is nothing like it is one hundred percent happy state so it's not like you're losing anything any time. It's just that maybe very invigorating the suffering your -- what you're experiencing right now isn't as ideal and if you remember times of joy. But if you really go back to some of those times where your life was perfect there was always something that was not that perfect about it. So, yeah I mean that's what I would offer and it is trying to get back to the reality of their life, is kind of something that we go through and there's ups and downs and there's no such thing as normal.
Kozo: Yeah and also when you backtrack a little bit - you like yourself and be gentle and then be part of the journey right? We have another comment from David Doane and he is talking about right people, “The right people have appeared when I've been ready. They spoke to what I was ready to hear. They pushed my limits enough to stretch me and not so much as to lose contact with me. They spoke truth, or at least what rang true for me. They touched me intellectually and deeper, emotionally and even spiritually. They fostered my growth” This comes very similar to your experience too.
Thu: Beautiful David. I guess that I just start noticing that especially now that we have Facebook is that whatever you're ready for, whatever use you're attracted to kind of are the ones that you notice on your newsfeed. That's what I would say with people around you as well as need. There are even people around you and we have a lot more similarities than differences and you have to be open and and more clear about life. What is it that you're working on or are needed and those people do appear and I'm sure I'm not an isolated incident. I have been very lucky to kind of notice that.
Kozo: Good. David wrote on Facebook what I was ready to hear and also I think about how you said that when you are very serious and maybe that stand out as an insecurity of just wanting to make yourself better and stuff like that. If I look at your life there can be certain points where you're flying around in private jet, snowboarding in Japan so like there's this thing that that I've seen happen in my own life where maybe we restart off curious then we accomplish a lot and then we become cocky or egotistical and then we stop listening. My cousin told me at one point he says like one when someone tries to tell you something to help you, you never listen. Wondering how you just kept that humility, kept that capacity, kept that humbleness to allow you to hear even while you were highly successful or did or is it a different story? I'm not sure I'm very curious about that.
Thu: So, that’s a great question I had mean if you ask a lot of my friends and people who have tried to help me when I kind of looked like train wreck and I repeated it. There are a lot of advice and there was a lot of people, a lot of help I definitely didn't take and looking back I am trying to repair. And a lot of things I did while I was probably high on myself and had a huge ego and super cocky. So I wouldn't say I have been this angel but I think again it's about if I did something and I like it and you could see it -- oh that’s not the right thing to do. I think it’s just the practice and remembering and kind of getting back to the ground, being humble. This past week at Awakin there was a reading and I really enjoyed it because there was this part that said something like anything worth doing is worth doing badly. The things that are important and whatever it is that the point that you're not going to get right the first time even curiosity or even taking advice from other people. Really was like OK that makes a lot of sense, it's OK even connecting the world and connecting the people to the Internet. There's bad ways to do it which is like selling personal data by treating people like numbers and kind of being like the worst hated company in the US. There’s bad ways of doing it. But it's so worth doing but how do you do it less badly?
Kozo: Right and I know you you said at one point you just set out to fail. I am going to get up and do it again and that seems to be -- that resilience and humility is the hallmark of so many people who have accomplished so much in this age and world.
Thu: Yeah, I mean I think if you wake up and you're still here and you still have access to your arms, legs and mind, you still have a chance. I think I thought you know when that's over then you can try may be in other life, otherwise I think there's always something that that can go beyond, You might as well do it before you run out of chances.
Kozo: Yea, I still have a chance.
Preeta: I have just a quick follow up and I know there's a few other questions here in the queue but what you're doing -- the kind of daily meditation practice you've had experiences with pretty amazing healthcare's and you have a sense of your kind of internal being. Are you able to feel dramatically when even things get slightly out of balance in your life or is that something you're still struggling to get the tools to do up? I'm asking that on pure personal interest because I'm doing daily practice too. I'm just wondering how you know whether it's helped in that regard?
Thu: You know I think say that when I deal with it like the morning sittings or don't show up Wednesday Awakin Circles, I do feel it. Yeah, you can ask my co-founders, but I definitely do feel out of balance at those times, like I am quicker to confrontational or argumentative or pick at details, stuff like that. But I mean it works wonders if I can keep grounded, but yeah there's just not enough time in the day to do everything. I guess I know how I am when I'm not balanced. The other thing I actually started doing with the support of my teams inside of the work day like in our stand up meeting which is just like a morning kind of ten minute meeting check and we start that meeting with like a minute of silence so just so whatever happened before even if I meditated or not meditated or whatever I could at least that minute of silence. It's like seeing where out of balance there's and then and quit going like little baby steps that try to bring it back. But yeah I'm no expert yet.
Kozo: We have a comment that is kind of in line with that Cynthia Chang says, “Today's interview: Thanks so much for this wonderful interview and I enjoyed the comments about "We are never perfect in our physical condition and we never lose things” This is so inspiring and is turning negative to positive. I also want to thank three of you for being the persons delivering the messages to the audience. I learned so much from the conversation. I am looking forward to getting the recording so I can share with other friends who are in need of the journeys, experiences and advices shared during the interview.”
And I'm just wondering you know to take you back on that do you see yourself moving into this new role now like the wounded healer. You went through the wound and now do you feel yourself sharing the medicine or spreading the medicine.
Thu: Yeah, I think before I moved down here before this past year. I think what I was asking for I didn't know how to do is like how do I know. Now that I guess I've gone through a little right now one or two things like that who might need my help and so kind of coming down here and getting invited to Awakin Circles and then starting to open up a few stories, I guess I didn't realize that it was maybe still about feeling shameful rather than like it helped someone else. It was only recently that I feel like I am being guided, it feels like it is inspirational to someone else and that is new for me. In this new role, of wounded healer -- I’m more of a tech nerd that wants to connect the world. So yeah I guess I'm not sure if I am at the healer stage but I can share my story.
Preeta: You talk about the shame and I think regardless of all of our experience in life we all have certain shame about our path and but on the other hand you opened this blogger and you were you know putting out Instagram quotes about your healing journey so somewhere it feels like maybe you are a bit of a natural or intuitive storyteller and you have been sharing your story in a way that you know I have never done and it's interesting to me.
Thu: Yeah,but I don't think so nobody really reads my stories. think at least for the blog it is more for myself to remember and I just kind of not having to reach out to cry and was like oh I'm here. Because. I thought it. It is something unintended that I am doing to help other. Yeah.
Preeta: This is a really unfair question there's so many things but if you if you confronted with a younger version of Thu like maybe in her adolescence now, is there any words of wisdom you might want to impart to somebody that is going to go through a number of up and downs in life.
Thu: I do think is actually my relationship with my little step sister who is probably five years younger than me and I feel like after we became friends when I lived in Vietnam, I can I do feel like I gotta play the role of the big sister and I try to tell her hey like if you do you're going to suffer a lot. I think I've had a lot of practice but I realized it was love and I actually quite like you will go through the pain but it's OK I'm here for you here, no matter what. I think I have tried and tried very as we went into the others that are about what they fed me people are telling them not to do never works. But I think it just comes down to like I think I am saying - listen to yourself and cultivate that like internal G.P.S. or navigation and I think skillfully and that's probably the state I am in right now. If I met younger version of me I would say, “Go for it, do your thing and maybe step back and think about what reality is once in awhile.
Kozo: Beautiful. We are here for you right now and I have one final quite question and it's how can we as the larger service space community support your work or support your mission.
Thu: Yeah I think really being part of ServiceSpace and coming to Awakin circles that we can give in terms of a mission to Connect the World through Accelerated Program or demo day the end of next month and what what I'm looking for is more more people in cities that really hate their Internet service provider really see that this is the business they want to start in their community why the need to connect the world are connecting their neighborhood. We can work together and help each other.
Kozo: Beautiful. Yeah to thank you so much. What really resonates for me during this call is is that connectivity -- right people showing up at the right time and connecting the world, having the relationships that really support us and I am still so grateful to you to have a relationship with you and also to be able to share space with you at the Awakin Circles and at the event tomorrow in Berkeley. Thank you so much for just that resilience and that desire to connect the world, to connect individuals, to connect and like you said to just give. Beautiful call. Thank you so much.
Thu: Thank you for the beautiful call.
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