My Mother’s First Gift of Life

My mother gave me my “First Gift of Life” when she birthed me in 1975 during a tumultuous time. The communist regime raided our house while she was in a vulnerable postpartum state in bed and took as many valuables from our home as they could. She was able to protect and keep me safe during that whole episode.

I can only imagine what that experience was like for her and how traumatizing it was for someone to come into your house and raid you of all your possessions because they thought you earned too much.

I give you this background as it lays the foundation of the type woman my mom was. She didn’t give into fear and we all had to learn to be as strong as her – in fear that we weren’t living up to her standards. Most families would have stopped having kids after that incident, but she wanted a little sister for me and went through the whole episode again in 1976. These incidences made her stronger to fight and work to WANT to change her family’s condition.

My Mother’s Second Gift of Life

It took my mother three long years to convince my dad to leave his homeland for an unknown life and future for a possible better tomorrow for her children but also with the possibility of being stranded or raided by pirates in the open sea. That possibility was all she needed to believe in to move her forward…

She severed ties with her mother and father who begged her not to leave. My grandfather wanted her to leave his two precious pieces of gold (my sister and I), whom he loved dearly, back with him in Vietnam.

In 1978, after working tirelessly selling rain jackets and other items, they were able to save up a bar of gold for every child as payment to escape on a boat to leave Vietnam.

This was the SECOND gift of life — a possible new life was something my mom GIFTED all us seven children.

I did not truly appreciate the extent of this gift until I came back to Vietnam in 2000 with a tech company and met my grandmother and extended family for the first time to see how they lived. The hardship and the uncertainty brought tears to my eyes.

She told us to have a college degree (she had the equivalent of a fifth-grade education), get a good job, make a good six-figure salary, marry a lawyer or a doctor and become a good wife.

But her true teachings were by her actions.

My mother and father had never owned a restaurant prior to coming to the United States but they studied, asked around, and were able to make their restaurant thrive, on very little cash and through trial and error (for more than a decade).

My Mother’s Third Gift of Life

The Third Gift of Life my mother gave me took more time to show itself.

At the age of seven, I stood on a stool at our restaurant as a cashier helping people pay for their meals on a manual register. I had no understanding of the extent of hard work and emotional ups and downs my parents had to go through to run their business daily and make a profit (with English as their second language) — and how they kept all that angst and anxiety from me. I didn’t realize this until I started my own business in 2013 and found it very difficult not to bring my “work” emotions home to my children as a single mom.

My THIRD life started when my mother gave me permission to divorce my husband in my early 30’s. In the Asian culture, you are not allowed to get divorced. It is a rarity to ever get the permission of your parents to be able to file for divorce. I had “shamed” the family by getting pregnant out of wedlock and to marry the first nonasian husband.

I didn’t take her advice to choose to not have the baby and not get married. 14 years later my ex-husband flew my mom in to try to “save” the marriage. After digging into my unhappy world, that I didn’t want to share with her, she realized I was limited in my ability to use my full potential, to grow and be happy due to my husbands’ desire to limit me as a high earning sales executive and continuing to have babies instead of joining a startup or starting my own business. I was conditioned over the years to be second to him, not as smart, and always “reporting to him.” He would joke with me that even if I owned my own business he would be my chairman of the board.

My mom was willing to be “shamed” again by “allowing” her daughter to divorce. She never went back to tell me “I told you so.” She might have been unhappy with many of my choices over the years, and I had her crying many nights worrying about me, but she unconditionally loved me; Once the decision was made, she was always there to support me. Going on my own allowed me to learn to be happy by myself, recalibrate my view on life, test the waters of what I wanted to do and eventually start my own business.

As I worked on my business, I started taking pieces I had learned from watching my parents run their own business to ensure it would become successful. I did a lot with very little. I used friends and family when I couldn’t afford to hire full-time employees. Hosted people at my house when restaurants were too expensive and gave out mom’s beef jerky instead of cool t-shirts and trinkets. My mother’s homemade food has opened more doors and made me more memorable over the years to people than any material purchased item ever would have.

Another beautiful characteristic of my mom was that she never stopped trying to learn new things. Whether it was learning new dishes or learning how to buy gold coins online at the age of 60… She was always curious to learn more. Age did not stop my mom from being a continual learner. This pushed me to finally apply for my scholarship at Harvard at the age of 42. I wasn’t sure I was worthy to apply or could win but continuing to learn something I knew was important from watching my mother, she also showed me nothing was impossible if you put your mind to it (applying to Harvard can’t be any scarier than leaving your hometown with no money in your pockets to an unknown destiny with seven young children).

The day I won the scholarship and admission to the Harvard executive CEO Business program, my mother called me on the phone to congratulate me and tell me she would fly every year to help watch my kids as long as she was healthy. Unfortunately, she was only able to be with my kids for the first year at school before she fell ill, and I regret she will not be able to see me graduate with my cohorts.

My mother is everything people should strive to be for their friends, family and children.

To those in America who say they can’t have and do it all, I hope they can learn from my mother and that you can do all these things over your lifetime. No war or language barriers can get in your way to achieve your dream of a better life.

I hope today you can celebrate her life with me.

Mom, thank you for the Three Gifts of Life you have given me. I am sad that you will not be able to join me to enjoy how the next decades unfold, but I know you will always be with me watching from above, and that is all the spirit I need to try to continue your legacy.

I will always love you mom, and I will never stop working for you to continue to be proud of me and my children and how I raise them.

Dao Jensen – The reason for our existence rests mostly on our mothers. They do the hardest work to bring each of us to life. For nine months they hold us in their womb with nausea, bloated bodies, sacrificing their own beauty and comfort daily to painfully bring us into this world. They then delicately nurture and protect us from harm’s way until we can eat, walk and talk on our own. And even then their job isn’t close to being done. Most can say that the gift of “a life” is more than enough for us to endear, love and cherish our mothers forever. My mother, Nhan To, gave me a life 3 times over: – The day I was born during the Vietnam War – The chance of a new life in America – Helping support my entrepreneurial journey I could never fully appreciate what it took for my mother, Nhan To, to bear seven children (two of us in the middle of the Vietnam war) while having her own business the entire time. With her passing, I took time to recount the three gifts of life she gave me. I hope you will read and take something away from it. Thank you.

3 MINUTES WITH DAO JENSEN (FOUNDER AND CEO)

Come Curious, Leave Inspired

Dao Jensen is a prominent woman in cloud – a hustler, community activist, mother of four, and soon-to-be Harvard graduate. She has been in the tech industry for over 20 years. In 2013, she founded Kaizen Technology Partners as the first 100% female minority-owned firm. Dao was one of the 2019 Enterprising Women of the Year award winners.

The 3 Minutes with Dao Jensen series features her most inspirational and hardest learned lessons in three byte-sized insights. 

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