Introducing Greg Chang: The Plunge

Introducing Greg Chang: The Plunge

Friday, Aug. 10 is a date that I can’t wait for.  But it also scares the living you-know-what out of me.  Recently, I told my supervisors that I’ll be leaving my job as a health care administrator at one of the country’s top medical centers.  But I’m not leaving to take a promotion at a similar institution or a gig at a consultancy.  Instead, I’ll be working full-time with some amazing people in a pre-revenue, pre-funding technology startup that I co-founded called forMD. For those for whom the phrases “pre-revenue” and “pre-funding” don’t make it painfully obvious, my immediate future will be characterized by ramen, cold pizza, sleepless nights, and single-ply toilet paper.  To most it sounds like a foolishly self-inflicted plight, but to me, it sounds downright romantic.  And I’m going to have more fun that I’ve ever had doing it.

For some reason, I’ve been obsessed with solving a problem.  Like many entrepreneurs before me, the company I’ve started began with an attempt to solve a problem that my colleagues and I were experiencing in our everyday lives.  We observed a real problem without a meaningful solution.  And whether it is based on unique insight, naïveté, or some combination of both somehow the solution seems painfully obvious to us.  And because of that, recently every waking hour has been plagued by how to create a technology solution and build a business around that solution.  Ever since I realized that this could be a real business, I’ve been obsessed. At the gym.  In the shower.  At the bar. Even in my dreams I think about forMD.   Because of that, I’ve quit my job and I’m trading it all in for the opportunity to build something that history says has a very high probability of failing.

 

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be sharing my experiences as a burgeoning entrepreneur in a monthly column, called The Plunge.  But despite my enthusiasm for my professional pursuits, when I was asked to share my journey it gave me some pause.  All my life I’ve been an unwilling participant in Asian American issues, so how appropriate would it be for me to be a regular contributor to AList?

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see an Asian American.  I see a unique individual comprised of strengths, weaknesses, values, behaviors, physical attributes, and whatever else define a human being.  Raised in a small beach town in Connecticut, I graduated from boarding school, went to play tennis at a small Division I school in Philadelphia, and eventually made my way down to North Carolina after I figured out I would never be the second coming of Michael Chang.  Race and ethnicity aren’t dimensions that I personally feel defined by.  There is so much more to me, and to all of us, than what can be distilled into such labels.  I am defined by my actions.  And while my actions as products of my belief system are inextricably tied to my Chinese-American heritage and the impact that has had on my values, I view this part of me as more incidental than defining.

In many cases, the importance of race is almost existential, as it doesn’t have much meaning aside from that which we assign to it.   As I walk down the cheese aisle at Harris Teeter, I’m not a Chinese guy walking down the cheese aisle at Harris Teeter.  I’m just another customer. When I sit in my office in Durham, North Carolina, I feel much more defined by the fact that I’m a ‘suit’ than that I’m a 27-year old Chinese-American male from above the Mason-Dixon Line.   Unabashedly optimistic. Occasional glutton. Unapologetically ambitious. Uncle to Max. These descriptors are much richer than Chinese-American.

 

In the past two years, there’s been a lot of talk about what does and does not define contemporary Asian Americans.  Between Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Wesley Yang’s piece Paper Tigers, there has been much to discuss.  In particular, Yang’s article highlighted the issue of the bamboo ceiling, which created a great deal of discussion at least in my personal circles.  Why is there such a disconnect between Asian’s American’s academic achievement and career outcomes?

 

I never felt really plugged into this debate, or rather never inserted myself into it, because the framework within which it operated itself gave far too much credence to the notion of race as a defining characteristic.  Perhaps my optimism makes me incorrectly believe that we, for the most part, live in a post-racial society.  Granted, there are moments when I am violently reminded of the ignorance and intolerance of a small, unfortunate minority (see: Jeremy Lin “Chink in the Armor” fiasco).   But for the large part, I’ve never felt affected by a bamboo ceiling and any opportunity I wasn’t able to obtain I attributed to my own inadequacies or missteps.

More than anything else, I’ve tried to detach myself from this narrative because the more we focus on it the more powerful and crippling it becomes. Instead I’ve tried to transcend it so as to strip it of its power, by simply focusing on how to better myself.  But even in doing so, I’ve focused disproportionate effort on the traits typically cited as holding Asian Americans back from reaching executive positions such as leadership and communication skills.  Paradoxically, I continue to ignore the bamboo ceiling but also seemingly embrace its hypothesis by trying to prove it wrong.

Ultimately, I’m not sure how powerful this social trend is for our community and how it affects me if at all.  But what I’m sure of is that our community hasn’t had an effective vehicle to voice our opinions on these critical issues, let alone open them up for debate.   And it’s for this reason that I’m completely onboard to help with AList in whatever capacity they might ask of me.  Hopefully, you’ll enjoy what I have to contribute.

About Greg Chang

Greg Chang
Greg is a columnist for AList Magazine and CEO and Cofounder of forMD, a private physician network. Previously he was Associate Director at Duke Orthopaedic Surgery. When he isn't trying to disrupt the health care space, Greg enjoys eating copious amounts of food, traveling to new places, and rooting for the Tar Heels.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1165089974 Cyndy Yu-Robinson

    Risk-taking is an unappreciated trait. As a forty-something with a great family and roots in my town, I find myself with golden handcuffs on – wed to my job for fear of not having a routine and a paycheck.  I look forward to future posts in The Plunge and to the success of forMD. 

    • http://twitter.com/changg Greg Chang

      Thanks Cyndy for following and for the well wishes!  It’s interesting that the only people that give me funny looks or struggle to understand are those that are more my age.  Those that have the benefit of more life experience understand completely and are wholly supportive.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/troy.pung Troy Lu Pung

    Godspeed Greg! Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs I know what it takes to make a business successful. The first and most important thing that you need is passion and after reading your article you have plenty of that. I look forward to seeing where The Plunge and forMD takes you

    • http://twitter.com/changg Greg Chang

      Thanks Troy!  I’m hoping that both ventures take me to good places.  There’s definitely a lot of passion here.  But as someone told me today, you don’t regret what you do, but what you never did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001228274998 Uyenle Kry

    Thanks, Greg, for your very honest intro and for focusing on what I think is a very complex narrative in the Asian American experience. Really look forward to your column.

    • http://twitter.com/changg Greg Chang

      Thank Uyenie! Hope you continue to enjoy my columns. Look out for another one coming soon and follow me on twitter @changg :)

  • joonjune

    I can’t wait to read what you have to say next. Congratulations on forMD. Now, Mr. Chang, have you ever been confronted with racism? As I read your article, I find myself less and less not being able to relate. I see you have done a lot of work in your life time thus far, therefore your action defined who you are based on where you are now. When you walk down that cheese aisle, and you see yourself as just another customer… other people might see you as a Chinese customer.

    • http://twitter.com/changg Greg Chang

      Thanks for the kind words and please call me Greg! I’ve definitely been called racial slurs in the past. In fact, there are too many incidents to count. On many occasions I got into physical altercations because of it, but that was when I was much younger. These days, I just acknowledge that there are all types of people in the world. But just because there are ignorant, intolerant people out there doesn’t mean that I need to let that define who I am or how I look at life. There are definitely people who look at me as a Chinese customer. But I have made a conscious choice to not let that affect me and just be myself. Since the day I made that decision, I’ve felt much more at peace and liberated. Now, it wasn’t an easy thing to do – it’s a process. But it’s definitely attainable and you don’t need accomplishments/achievements to get there. Simply an acceptance that you’re a terrific person.. no matter what some random jerk says!

    • http://twitter.com/changg Greg Chang

      joonjune – i’ve been thinking a lot about this and would love to connect with you directly. maybe you can PM me on twitter or email me at gjchang1020@gmail.com