THE ART OF TRYING: MAGGIE TRA ON BEING AN ASIAN WOC CREATIVE BOSS LADY
Growing up with Asian parents in Australia came with many difficulties. With the mix of growing up witnessing domestic abuse, along with fitting myself in different cultures both at home and at school, looking back in many ways I was preparing myself for a global take-over. I wouldn’t say that I was the kind of kid that saw herself running her own business one day, as I wasn’t competitive, I had no idea what an entrepreneur was (still don’t). I just feel like I just did what I needed to go to get through the day and finish my studies, I just tried my best. Luckily with Asian parents trying our best is trying pretty bloody hard. Usually with an Asian upbringing you are brought up to then look after your parents. I remember growing up with a single mother, when I had a high school job on the weekends she expected money from me, this was normal. I guess you can say I was paying for rent in high school! Okay, I may be exaggerating. But it wasn’t really something I could tell the white friends, but I had a small community of Asian friends that I could vent out my issues to. A lot of them had similar experiences, which made growing up in the western world that much easier. Still now, at 30-years-old I am at odds with my own identity, I just care less about what others think now.
ASIAN WOMAN OF COLOUR
I am not like most Asian women, I often get stared at a lot, most often than not people are just trying to place me and see where I am from. I am sure this happens a lot to Asian women who are of a different skin colour. Especially those who have migrated to a different country. You see in Asia, white is beautiful, whitening products are sold everywhere, actually even I used it at one stage because I wasn’t so comfortable with my brown skin. Mostly because other Asians’ of colour used to make fun of me for it. It was a strange complex to be idolised by the western community as having a ‘tan’ was beautiful, and then not being beautiful in the eyes of the Asian community because I was brown which was associated with farm workers and being poor. I’d say I struggled with this a lot when I was growing up, but it didn’t take me long to start self-love and self-care. I was who I was and there is no changing that.
TRAVELLING THE WORLD
I found that my acceptance of my skin colour and my behaviour as an outgoing, positive woman was better overseas. My first trip was in Asia when I was 19-years-old, this was just a real shock to me, I mean I grew up Asian but that was in the Western world. Now I was in the thick of it, people that are just like me, but I also wasn’t 100% part of their world either. Still, I enjoyed every moment of it, I treasured the memories and I let myself go. Little did I know this would cement the rest of my life travelling the world. Fast forward a few years, through university and then my first job as an Editorial Assistant, I found that the career goal I had for myself was making me miserable, that 9-5 life and office politics killed me. So I quit and moved to London, I had never been to London before, but I thought if I didn’t like it I’d just go home. Besides they speak English, I was willing to give it a try, and at that moment, that whole experience changed my life. I spent two years there, I learnt that as a woman I could overcome anything, survive on my own and learnt to live on a budget (this didn’t exist in Sydney). But just like everything all good things come to an end, my two year visa was up, I had to go home. It was there that I decided after applying for several media jobs that I didn’t want to work for a media company and that I was going to go at it alone.
RUNNING MY OWN BUSINESS
I had no idea what I was going to do, but I had majored in Public Relations at university so I was going to start a business with it. Luckily the government offers support for those starting a small business, it allowed me to get my small business certificate and they also paid me until I had received enough clients to support myself. I remember writing a business plan and talking to my mentor thinking am I really going to pull this off? I must be mad? But then that thought came, I was just going to try it out, and if it doesn’t work I’ll go back to the 9-5 life. Luckily I had the support of my friends and I could stay with my mother, I spent a solid year building my company. Throughout that time I moved out and still something was missing. I was working in the music industry, getting into gigs for free, working with wonderful musicians, living 5 minutes from the beach, but I noticed one thing. I never had any meetings, new clients came through to my inbox, technically and this was a big hunch, I didn’t need to be in Sydney to work. So I decided it was time to take it on the road, I took a road trip around Australia in a camper-van, meeting travellers along the way. This I learnt, was what truly made me happy, running my business and travelling. Sometimes it got a bit tough, because some parts of Australia had no internet, but I came prepared with an internet dongle. Fast forward to roughly 8 months, I hit Perth in Western Australia and it was here that I thought, I made it. I worked from every city in Australia, in a camper-van, in restaurants, all on my laptop. Now its time to go overseas. And I did just that, it took a while to convince my clients but my work was so great that they didn’t care where I was as long as I was contactable.
ASIAN OF COLOUR DIGITAL NOMAD
I have to admit I think I am the only Asian woman of colour that I’ve seen be a digital nomad, unless of course I am in Asia and I see them going through different Asian countries. But to see one that did it full-time like me, it was rare. You see these digital nomad communities are dominated by white people, I think it’s mostly because they have managed to take the leap and challenged the notions of a ‘traditional job’. I do even though have an Australian passport get asked by immigration where I am from, I guess they expect me to say Cambodia, well the thing is I was born and bred in Australia so I can’t exactly say that I am from Cambodia. It’s definitely a stereotype I fight with everyday, but it’s become so normal I don’t even notice as much anymore. It’s been 4 years now that I have been a full-time digital nomad, I started in Asia, now I am in Europe, last year alone I went to over 20 countries. This year I plan on going to Africa, which has been on my list for a long time.
BEING A CREATIVE ON THE ROAD
Along with my PR firm, I also DJ, run a weekly radio program on Kiss FM which airs in Melbourne, write for various publications including EARMILK, and just recently co-wrote an e-book called ‘My Music Is Dope, But Now What!?!’I feel like I’ve been blessed with this lifestyle, that I have learnt that the more creative I can be, the more mentally I am at ease. It can’t all be about business, we also have to keep our creative minds active too. I often throw events when I am traveling, I ran a women empowerment workshop in Hanoi, Vietnam which was so much fun. It was called ‘Boss Lady Bootcamp, Hanoi Take-Over,’ the idea was to teach Vietnamese woman that they too can run businesses, I plan on doing one in London on the 24th March and hopefully Brussels later in the year. Every time I do these events, I think do people even care, but then I am overwhelmed by the amount of support people throw my way and I just do it. I just get shit done.
BETTER TO TRY AND FAIL THAN TO NOT TRY AT ALL
I feel like the key to my success if that is what you want to call it, is that I just try. If I don’t ask then it most probably won’t ever happen. And once you try it, and get the feel of it, it becomes easier and it becomes less scary. I mean I remember googling ‘online jobs’ and look where I am now. It’s important to create your own lane, or work with others who share your vision and create something that is yours. It makes it worth it in the end, you push and make money as much as you want to. Not for someone else, and that truly makes a difference. Support your sisters, push other woman to grow, that is the only way we are going to succeed in this male-dominated world. We have to do it together.