What Makes Yoky Yu Tick

In ‘What Makes You Tick’ I get the chance to pick the brains of some inspirational people from all walks of life, in the hope that by sharing ideas we can continue to progress, push our limits, and inspire each other.

Yoky Yu was born and raised in Xi’an, the capital city of Shaanxi province in central China. She is a Gallup certified Strengths Coach, a bilingual workshop facilitator with extensive experience in soft skills training, coaching, and content creation, and the founder of 2BHappy.

She spent 5 years in the United States, where she earned her degree in Marketing from James Madison University, before going on to serve for a Fortune 500 company- Xerox- in Washington D.C.. This, she says, was somewhat of a turning point.

“I didn’t like it so much, so I quit. I then went to LA to study acting and improv, and during that process I began to realise that my passion lies in coaching and training, and learning development; I feel like The States is already mature in that area, but Shanghai less so, so I moved back to Shanghai, and this is now where I consider home.”

Yoky was kind enough to take the time to share some of her insights and experiences.

Would you say you are more introverted, or extroverted? 

I wouldn’t define myself as either. As a strengths coach, we know it’s more complicated than that. For example, sometimes I need time and space alone to think but also I can be this outgoing person when needed, perhaps at a big party or event, but it also depends on the nature of the crowd.

So yeah, I could tell you in more details but, I’m a big fan of strength finder, that to me helps people to understand more about themselves, rather than whether you an extrovert or an introvert. I think it depends on the scenario and the situation, but in general I think everyone can exhibit both. Even an extremely quiet guy can talk a lot and be very outgoing if they are meeting with a similar type person, or find someone that they click with.

So I guess, I’m both and neither if that makes sense.

What are your hobbies/interests?

I used to do a lot of stand up comedy, I used to tell a lot of dirty jokes actually. Not as much now, but I’d like to get back into it. Another one is just to watch TV series, like US drama’s. I also like to read, and have done ever since I was a kid. Also, I really like basketball and I like to keep active.

Describe your typical morning routine.

I normally start by checking WeChat and email. I think that just instantly wakes me up, and then I usually spend some time thinking about what to eat for breakfast. Sometimes I will remind myself to create a great day, and rather than just letting it carry me away, I will try to be more conscious about how I live it.

I would just think and try to catch myself if I’m not being mindful; I will quickly set an alarm in myself, like OK, what’s in the big picture for today. I don’t really do meditation in the morning, and I still get carried away with all those to-do list’s, but that’s what gives me joy; if I feel like I’ve had a super productive morning, I feel happy.

Describe your perfect Sunday.

It’s definitely a day with a good salad, also a day with a workout class where I get to meet lots of amazing individuals; it’s not just a workout but also a space where I can interact with cool people. Also, I will have some time to think, and to unwind with a good book. And of course to have time to make some progress on the things that are on my mind, such as 2BHappy. Get in touch with my parents and ideally I would like to have a cat; I don’t have one now but I would like to wake up next to a cat. Also, do some cleaning. That’s ideal for me.

So yeah, you can see how the to do lists’s form pretty quickly.

I am happiest when…

I guess if I put it in a rational way, I am happiest when the challenge meets my strength, or when I lose track of time when immersed in something; when I do something that I know has made a good and positive influence on people; when I chose to challenge myself, as in the moment I made the decision, and commit to it.

I like to challenge myself in many ways, I guess emotionally and professionally.

Emotionally, well I grew up as a very sensitive kid. It was a very difficult childhood for me, it was rather difficult for me to make new friends back then, and to succeed academically and speak up in large groups; I wasn’t built to do that. But, when I do so now, I feel pretty proud.

Professionally, well to give a recent example, last year I had been working for Gallup. They have this very expensive coaching program. It’s quite new in China, and Gallup didn’t do much marketing to promote it. I took the course, and then they hired me to promote the course all over China, in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. We also have an office in Hong Kong, but the course was cancelled there because it hadn’t been well advertised.

The course was also subject to be cancelled across Mainland China, there just didn’t seem to be a market for it. I was the only person responsible for promoting it as my boss was based in Australia. I did a lot of cold calling and taking initiative to build relations with certain coaching federations in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and I asked advice from literally everybody in my circle, and also got myself a coach, who coached me out of good will as a friend. All of that help eventually turned into sales. We didn’t cancel any courses in the end, and we even ended up taking over the Hong Kong market also, and it was a success.

Do you have a guilty pleasure? 

I think watching TV for sure, each episode makes me feel incredibly guilty. It’s not just about indulging myself, but I really miss the US culture. It’s like reverse homesickness, I definitely do miss The States. It’s been two years since I left there; all the jokes and slang, the characters and the unique humour in the shows I watch, makes me really miss my time there. Maybe I’ll go back in the future, I’ll have to see who they choose as president next though!

What’s the best book you’ve read, and why?

It’s hard to pick the best one, but just when you asked me the question one book popped into my mind, which was Difficult Conversations, a book published by Harvard. The reason it impressed me is because I came across it at a class in my Sophomore year, an Interpersonal Skills class in Business School and the teacher of the course basically used it as one of the textbooks for the class. He is an awesome mentor, and I go to him still if I have some questions or even personal problems I need to discuss.

Also, that book was one of the first ones that kind of enlightened me to the fact that problems can be avoided if we talk in the right way, and if people are willing to fix the relationship. Because you know, my parents divorced when I was a kid, I guess I always tried to figure a way to fix the problem and try to make them happier; I know it’s not my fault or whatever, but I was still curious as to how people could do things differently. So that book left a deep impression on me.

What is your passion? 

Career wise, my passion lies in the learning and development field. In terms of my purpose, I think my passion is enabling people and empowering people to be more authentic and to live more consciously, to give themselves more choices other than what they were programmed to think that they have, as influenced by their upbrining, parents, culture, society, and whatnot.

If I strip all that away though, I think I’m passionate about life and about living. To fully expose yourself and your feeling to what’s natural for a human being to encounter, and to intentionally create feelings that you desire, that maybe most people wouldn’t experience, but you do because you choose to experience it.

So having the fullest human experience is something I’m passionate about.

How do you measure success?

I think to me success is a state of wellbeing. In a book on wellbeing published by Gallup, it is said that there are 5 areas that you can measure wellbeing; finance, career, community, physical and relationship. I think a successful life is one that you could say is a well balanced one, or better yet, a well examined one.

For example, some people think, OK I need to make some money. But according to the research, money is a very subjective thing. They did a study on two groups of people, and in one group they give two options; they were given the choice of making 1 million dollars a year, but their friends made half a million, or alternatively, making 5 million a year but their friends make 10 million. More often than not, people always chose the first option, so you could say that suffering in this sense comes from comparison.

And they did another study, where they would give a person 20 dollars to spend on anything. It was shown that the greatest feeling of satisfaction and happiness came from spending that money on others, rather than on yourself. So the traditional impression, which at least for me growing up, was to mind your own business and protect your own interests, doesn’t necessarily make you happy.

Positive psychology talks about this idea of sustainability of wellbeing, as in, are you constructing your life in such a way as to make your wellbeing renewable and lasting, or are you just consuming and exhausting your life. I think that’s something to think about also.

To me success also means to challenge traditional thoughts, as well as to attain happiness, whatever that means to you.

Who had the most influence on you at a young age, and why?

It’s hard not to say either my Mom or Dad. I would say my Mom, even though our relationship at the moment is quite tense, but she’s definitely someone who has influenced me hugely. Sometimes I can see how my behaviour and the way I talk is similar to her, so like, for example, she is entrepreneurial and she is very passionate about helping her friends; she is brave and she likes to take risks, and constantly learns new things.

All those qualities I think were instilled in me, but also, and I hope she doesn’t read this, she’s very controlling at the same time; she is very competitive and she is unique in her own way, which causes pain for herself and other people. I think one of my friends told me before, that once you know how to deal with your parents- in particular your mom- you can deal with anyone.

What was the most significant learning experience you can recall having?

I would say my time in college and my first job.

My time in college was spent transitioning from a naive 17-year-old girl with traditional Chinese values, to a more free, open-minded woman, who all of a sudden had the permission to show who she really was. It wasn’t like it turned me into different person, no, but it was like I had the permission to reveal a side of myself that already existed, but was perhaps hidden; I was allowed to express myself.

Also, it was where I had my first boyfriend, who dumped me after 2 months; it took me a long time to get over it, but it taught me so much about myself and about how my self-limiting beliefs were manipulated by Chinese society, which didn’t really apply to my own happiness; it was like a cold hard slap on the face, to make me see the reality of things. Regardless of the mistakes you make or the regrets you may have, the result of such experiences is that you grow and develop as a person.

My first job sponsored me and gave me a working visa, which was the first case in their company history, a sister company of Xerox. But I didn’t do well; I didn’t like the technology, I didn’t like the fact that you needed to be detail-oriented and the fact that everyone seemed to be an expert; I did lots of cold calling to new territories but I wasn’t successful at selling. I sold some, but didn’t meet the requirements. Later I quit, and I felt so guilty because they invested a lot in me.

That experience taught me that someones our confidence can become eroded by a job that doesn’t fit our talent. So that’s why in my work as a Strengths Coach, I’m incredibly passionate about helping people find their strengths, and what it is they are good at.

Even at school you can see the importance of it, where in China subjects are heavily focused on math, physics, and chemistry; back then we were all supposed to study hard, I did too, so I got in to one of the best high schools in Shanghai, but because it’s one of the best, it meant that it was incredibly strong in the sciences, so it was a miserable 3 years in high school for me. I wasn’t good at science and didn’t like it, and that hugely diminished my confidence as a kid, so I wish the strength culture can be cultivated more in China.

How do you deal with adversity or self-doubt?

I actually really like this question of dealing with adversity, it’s such an interesting area and I’ve been exploring it recently.

I think back in college I put something in my email signature, you know how people would say “Have a great day”, but I would say, “Create a great day”, because I guess I realised that we are in control of how we feel, and even when I am going through adversity I can still control how I feel. I can shift my perspective and say OK I’m learning from this or I am observing myself learning from this, and let’s just see how you behave in this moment. Things like that.

I would deliberately put myself out of my comfort zone, for example, I would sit in the front row at events and speak up just to practice speaking in public; I joined this All-American club at a stage where my English wasn’t that good, but I still joined anyway.

In Junior year we were looking for jobs, and I went to New York to take part in interviews. My school was in Virginia, so I lived in a friends place during the Thanksgiving break, and we did 6 interviews in 3 days. It was so cold. New York is so cold during Thanksgiving, it’s raining and horrible, and I was wearing suits and having to carry heavy bags and an umbrella around, my shoes were wet constantly, and it was just a miserable experience. Also, there are two broadways in New York, a really fancy one and also this little one in the ghetto. My interview was supposed to be in the fancier of the two, in the 5th floor of some high-rise building, but of course I ended up in the ghetto outside some worn down building, soaked to the skin and late for my interview.

Having those experiences definitely makes you stronger, and yeah, it’s just making a decision to accept these situations as they occur.

What are some moments to remember or defining moments from doing what you do? 

Almost 2 years ago I was back in Shanghai working for a sales company, and while doing that job I knew I wanted to get into coaching and training. That’s how I started 2BHappy; I started facilitating improv workshops, and I was borrowing the office of the company I was working for. I would invite my friends and facilitate, and ask for feedback. I did one workshop on how to be charismatic, and before that I had a serious case of imposter syndrome. I thought, Who am I to be giving a workshop on how to be charismatic? I went to a bar with a friend and had a whiskey, and the next day it went really well. Going through that fear and incredible self-doubt, and then seeing that it turned out well, that makes me feel good.

Also, in terms of coaching people, I constantly have moments of deep satisfaction. When I signed up for that expensive course with Gallup, I borrowed money from my mom, and I was asking for advice from people about whether or not to take the course. Some people advised against it, that it was so expensive, and said that maybe I’m not ready, but others were like, go for it!

I was hesitating, but in the end, I took it and it was a great decision. Sometimes I coach people much older than me, maybe in their 50’s, and it’s amazing to see how you can be a mirror to people like that, you don’t have to be of higher status or to have greater life experience to coach, on the contrary, if you have a clean slate it helps, because you don’t have assumptions or experiences to control where the conversation is going, so that’s important. I mean, I still make mistakes, but it’s something I am passionate about and love doing. That’s certainly a feeling that gets me up in the morning.

I also used to rely on peoples opinion for decision making, like my mentor or a coach, and I would ask for their opinion when I was feeling less confident or wasn’t sure about myself, but over time I learned to just trust my gut feeling. I would ask questions like, Do I like this or not? I use this hot air balloon model to describe it, you know when we take on a new project it’s like going on a hot air balloon ride, and the fuel that keeps the balloon floating is what motivates you. So even if everything else is right, but the fuel is running low, the balloon will drop anyway.

I start to listen to more of what I think will bring more fuel into my life- what motivates me- rather than try to figure out what it is I should do. I used to write pro and con lists, but I think those are quite useless; I think the fact that you do need to write the list in the first place, will tell you all you need to know.

What advice would you give to people who may find themselves at a crossroads in life, unsure of what path to pursue?

I think lots of confusion and frustration comes from taking ourselves too seriously, like putting ourselves in this spotlight as if the whole universe is looking at us, but it’s not, and when you find something that makes you forget about yourself, and immerse yourself in something that’s bigger than you, that’s where the passion lies.

It’s like, if I always question myself and think, OK am I qualified to teach, or to train, or to facilitate, or to start an entrepreneurial project, if I keep telling myself that, I will do nothing. But if I ask myself, Will the things I do benefit the universe; Will it be a better place after what I have done contributes positively, even in small way? If the answer is yes, then I would go for it.

So I think, remove yourself from your decision making process, and focus more on what you can do for others.

If you would like to find out more about Yoky’s amazing work, you can check out her website, and you can also follow 2BHappy on WeChat.