NAAAP National Leadership Spotlight: Panney Wei, Senior Advisory Council
As an award-winning writer, TV-radio host, hypnotherapist and motivational speaker, Panney Wei has inspired countless people to overcome obstacles and achieve dreams in their personal and professional lives. Wei is the CEO of See the Way Consulting and has been honored with numerous awards including the “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business” award, the “Top 40 Global Emerging Leaders” award and many more. She works with individuals as well as companies (such as McDonald’s and the Discovery Channel) to identify core issues and provide insight and inspiration.
Wei also devotes much time to activism and serves as State Secretary for the California Democratic Party Asian Pacific Islander Caucus as well as Senior Advisor for the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP). Listen to her weekly podcast, “See the Way with Panney Wei,” on her website panneywei.com or iTunes for positive messages, interviews with thought leaders and bestselling authors and more.
ALIST Magazine: How do you see your role in changing the world?
Panney Wei: I believe that everyone has a calling and a purpose that they must fulfill in this life. It may take some time to discover; it can be something powerful that will create a ripple effect in the world; it can be something big or small, but nevertheless it is for only you to fulfill. My calling is to help people transform their lives spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and achieve success and happiness in their personal and professional lives, and help those, whether it’s an organization or an individual person, achieve their greatest potential and overcome obstacles so they can create the life of their dreams. I was always taught that we should live a life of service or do something that will add value, inspiration, and meaning to the lives of others, something that will help your industry, community or the world at large.
Whether it’s through the media, my writing, podcast, See the Way with Panney Wei, doing sessions, speaking to people and running workshops, all of these outlets are ways where I can connect with my clients, listeners, and audience in a positive way where I can affect change in their lives and in the world. So I see my role in the world as a change agent, and it’s a role I take seriously in guiding people to take charge of their lives by living a life of self-awareness, break through obstacles and live a life of their dreams. Dreams take time and an incredible amount of patience, but you can make it happen. I love this quote by Harriet Tubman: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” It’s so true! Don’t give up and believe that you can be a person that will make a difference in the world!
AM: What is your passion?
PW: My passions are my family, shattering negative stereotypes of Asian Americans in our community through the media and other outlets, making a difference in the world and working with people, especially women, to live the life of their dreams. I survived a near-death experience when I was about 20 and learned that life is short, that you should take time to discover what your passions are, and the time you live on earth is precious and should be well-spent. Nothing is more important than living a life that has purpose and meaning to you.
Because I’ve faced some injustice as an Asian American and as a woman, it was important for me to do something about it and make a difference. That’s part of the reason I founded and launched (as the first Founding National Director) the women’s national leadership program, Women in NAAAP, which was recognized in Forbes Women. My intention and purpose was to support, educate and empower women in various stages of life and career so they can achieve true success in their personal and professional lives. This has been a lifelong passion of mine.
So even if you haven’t discovered your purpose or passion yet, take the time to reinvigorate or invite some passion into other areas of your life. It could be a hobby, a cause you believe in or experiencing some aspect of culture through art. Life should be full of passion, and my mother was a good example of someone who did that. She always inspired me to live artfully and fill one’s life with beauty, art, culture and passion.
AM: How have your parents influenced you?
PW: They were an example of real team and partnership, of sacrifice, vision and working to make their dreams happen together. My father couldn’t pursue his passion and dreams without the support of my mother. She sacrificed a lot and gave up her career as a fashion designer and business owner in order to raise our family while my father could pursue his dreams, as so many mothers have done previously in our parent’s generation. That was something done back then. But now, women can have many different choices, and you don’t have to give up your identity or a career you love in order to raise a family. Women have the opportunity to decide what’s best for them in tandem with their partner and family.
My parents’ presence in my life has influenced me to be a more compassionate person, more tolerant in my life towards difficulties and challenges, more patient when it comes to reaching my goals, and more resilient. I am most grateful for them for the opportunities they gave me, opportunities they did not have. They were tough and strict, and that toughness rubbed off on me in the best way. They taught me that life was tough, and that it wouldn’t be easy, and that goals in love, life, marriage, and personal dreams could take months and years to manifest. But they instilled in me the important values that I carry with me now as a parent, and values I now share as a leader: to always do the right thing, to have a good heart, integrity in all you do, to be a good person and example to others, to be respectful, kind in how you treat people, fair and firm if necessary, and if you need to part ways with people, always do it with class, and dignity and self-respect.
I want to share a quote from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Marie Curie that pretty much sums up their presence in my life and the essence of the lessons they shared with me: “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”
AM: Name three people you admire and why.
PW: The first person I admire the most would be my father, John Wei, M.D., who is one of the most reliable, kind and visionary men in my life. My father always had a dream in his heart to go to America and create a better life for us. He had a vision for our family and was brave enough to leave everything behind in order to take our young family from Taiwan to the U.S. in the late 1970s. Even after he completed his medical school and residency in Taiwan, he chose to redo his medical residency training in cardiology and internal medicine all over again to fit the requirements to practice medicine in the U.S.
Over the course of his professional life, he rose to become Chief Resident in the hospital where he worked, then later Chief of Staff, among other accolades he received and was awarded during his career. When I look back at his life and how he barely spoke English when he came to America to becoming Chief of Staff at his hospital and then starting his own successful medical practice, I am humbled and impressed by his accomplishments. It was definitely not an easy feat.
My father’s presence in my life has been an incredible example and influence on me of what it means to be a true success and a great leader: hard work, patience, resilience, strength to overcome obstacles like racism, injustice, humility, devotion to family, having the charisma and inspiration to elevate others and lead, and achieving the American Dream. So to me, my father is the person I most admire and honor.
The second person that I admire the most is my maternal grandfather, Senator Albert Liu, who served the Taiwanese government as a Senator for almost 30 years until his retirement. I’m so grateful I had the chance to have a relationship with him while he was living. He was a wonderful role model about living a life of service to his people, his community, and country. He was an eloquent, honorable and wise man, and could hit a tennis ball like no other. I thank him and honor him for the life he gave my mother. I have wonderful memories of playing tennis with him, listening to stories about all his travels, his politics and learning about the history of China and Taiwan through his experiences in the Taiwan Senate and hearing stories about my mother’s family. He also inspired me to live a life with a consciousness of improving humanity, exposing me to the values of loyalty to one’s country, to bettering the life of others in our community and the world, and living a life of service.
I will always remember him and share his legacy to future generations including my daughter. It’s about building a greater foundation for each generation. That’s our job as parents and leaders, to take the best attributes of every generation and continue sharing the stories of the past, and incorporate them into our lives so they provide a stronger foundation for future generations and our descendants. There is power and strength in knowing one’s family history. It connects you to the past, so that you have the support and wings to fly as you move into the future.
The third person that I most admire and very influenced by is my paternal great-great granduncle, General Tso Tsung-Tang, who lived during the Qing dynasty and was best known as General Tso in the West and immortalized in popular culture and American Chinese cuisine with the famous dish, General Tso’s chicken. He was a visionary Chinese statesman and military leader and well-known for his military conquests, ending the Taiping rebellion that threatened to break up China, putting down another uprising, the Nian Rebellion, and most prominently, conquering the entire Xinjiang province for China.
He was also a visionary leader and founded China’s first modern shipyard and naval academy in Fuzhou, which helped to increase trade and relations for China. I look at his legacy and see that he was peacemaker, and had a gift of communicating and leading people from all walks of life. He had an amazing way of connecting with anyone across his path, whether it was a person who lived in the villages and worked on the farms, to his soldiers who followed his lead, or communicating with the nobility in the Qing imperial court, all at the same time. He was really a leader of the people and that’s what I strive to be as well, to have that kind of connection where I can be of service to anyone I come across.
AM: How has diversity changed in the last 10 years?
PW: If you’re referencing our culture and society, I think we have become a more inclusive and diverse culture over time, especially in the last 10 years. These have been tremendous strides for our community, but there are some areas of life and American society which racism or discrimination still occurs, such as what’s happening in the entertainment industry regarding the issue of opportunity and fair representation in the media and behind the screen. I recently had the opportunity to speak with actor and activist George Takei in my home, and he mentioned that stereotypes, especially negative stereotypes of Asians, can be very dangerous. This is a serious issue that affects all of us in the Asian Pacific community whether we like it or not.
The reason why we must all support diversity in all industries, especially programming in TV and film, is because the media can be used as a powerful and influential tool for good or for evil. It can be used to perpetuate negative stereotypes into the collective unconscious and subconscious dialogue of society that will eventually affect the roles we play in our individual communities and industries we live and work in. It is one of the reasons why when I was a child, my family was placed in an apartment building full of other minorities because as Asians, we were not able or allowed to get housing with whites. This was in the 1970s, but there is still so much work to be done in other areas that discrimination or a lack of inclusion is still felt.
So because of my life experience, I am very passionate about breaking these negative stereotypes and very active in my community to change things and improve the lives of people in our community so we get a fair shot at the table. My husband and I are involved with fantastic groups like NAAAP, The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, APIA Vote, and other groups. Even the work we do as individuals is devoted to inspiring people and helping them change the way people perceive Asian Americans in society at large: my work as a hypnotherapist/motivational speaker/TV-radio host, and host of See the Way with Panney Wei and my husband, Christopher Chen’s work as a producer; many of his recent films, Year of the Yao, Linsanity, Sneakerheadz, and Looper help to defy negative stereotypes of Asian Americans and instead, elevate our community.
My message to our community is that people may underestimate you in your lifetime, but if you have a humble heart, work hard, speak up, stay strong, and you bide your time, the truth will always be revealed. We, as a community, will rise!