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I am child number fifteen out of sixteen kids. My parents were Vietnam War refugees, and I was their first American-born child. From the get-go, my father taught us to hustle. Nobody was spared from contributing to the household, even if it meant collecting cans or sellings things on the street. My parents didn’t speak, read, or write English. From the age of seven, I had a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders; my older siblings had moved out and I was taking care of my parents. I filled out my school applications and helped my parents sell stuff through their store and community. I would do side hustles all the time to bring in more income. These experiences have stuck with me throughout my life.

Through a family illness, I experienced how difficult  it is to navigate the American healthcare system. I wanted to play a role in making it easier for others, which is why I ended up getting my bachelor’s degree in human development and psychology, and my master’s in healthcare administration. Getting my degree was not an easy journey either. I had two toddlers when I was in my master’s program and was told by many people to drop out of school. After I graduated, I heard that the chances of getting hired are low when the recruiters find out you are a mother, so I never mentioned my children in my interviews. Even when I started working, I never spoke about my children to my co-workers. I had separate Instagram profiles so that my professional contacts didn’t know I had kids.

Then, after a while, I got sick of it. Being a single mother actually empowered me to achieve my goals. I felt like I was in a place where my work spoke for itself, and the fact that I had kids didn’t matter anymore. I started being more open to my employers about being a mom. I made sure my hiring managers knew I would need to have a flexible schedule. Even with the flexibility, it can be hard to balance work and family life. I struggle with the fact that my kids are growing older. I have to make sacrifices and pick what I can’t miss out on professionally and what I can’t miss for my children. My daughter is starting middle school now and got her first text message from a boy. She’s in a place where she’s embarrassed by my hugs and kisses in front of her friends. I remember the time when I’d tuck my kids in bed and they would want one more kiss, and I’d get frustrated because I wanted to get back to work. Now they are less needy and more independent, and it makes me feel useless to them. I want to hold on to these moments because I feel like my kids are growing up so fast. It’s ingrained in mothers that once they have children they can’t do anything, but I want to show them that’s not true. Yes, it’s difficult to be a single mom and focus on your career, but it’s not impossible. I see kids as a part of my professional journey rather than a setback.