How I shifted my beliefs to become a fulfilled female leader

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How I shifted my beliefs to become a fulfilled female leader

Author: Sophia Trang Chu, Principal, Mekong Capital

March 25th, 2024

The stories of successful businesswomen who have strong support from their families to thrive at work often inspire me. However, as a typical Vietnamese woman, I had a notion that I couldn’t have both a happy family and a great career.

This is my story and how my beliefs have shifted in a direction I never thought possible.

Those who’ve known me for a long time might describe me as friendly, soft, and someone who tries to avoid conflict. That was me before joining Mekong Capital. But over the past three years at Mekong Capital, I’ve had numerous opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and lead an extraordinary life.

Sophia, Principal at Mekong

My beliefs:

I am the oldest child in my family. My parents raised me meticulously and strictly, instilling in me the importance of respectful communication, especially with my elders. Although I studied abroad in the US for 4 years, the sense of duty as the eldest child in a Vietnamese family has always stayed with me.

My first belief was formed when I was a little kid

Growing up, I was taught many rules and the belief that, as a Vietnamese girl, I needed to be polite and not speak too loudly. I was led to believe that a smart girl should not be too aggressive and should listen more than she talks.

One day, when I was a teenager, my father told me when we were alone: “You’re growing up now and I want you to remember one thing that will help you live a happy life: don’t always try to be right, especially in a conversation with a man. Even if you know you’re right, don’t argue. Let the man win.” I carried this advice with me for a long time, even into adulthood and marriage.

My second belief was formed when I was a young professional.

In most of the companies I’ve worked for throughout my career, the leaders have predominantly been men. Furthermore, when I encounter women in leadership positions, they often appear to struggle with balancing work and family life or they have to chose work over family time. Consequently, I have reservations about becoming a female leader myself. I strongly believed that it’s challenging to maintain both a successful career and a happy family; one often has to choose between the two.

I greatly value my job and strive for recognition as a high performer, but family remains my top priority. Luckily, I have a happy family, a husband who always supports me and a lovely daughter who always lifts my spirits and makes my heart melt after each long working day. This is why I hold my father’s teachings in high regard, and it has been my guiding principle until I joined Mekong and what recently happened at Mekong.

What happened at Mekong Capital

After working at Mekong Capital for more than 1.5 years and facing numerous challenges, I was promoted to Deal Leader. This position involves representing Mekong Capital and sitting on the Board of Directors at our investee companies. To be honest, I don’t aspire to be promoted too quickly as it comes with more responsibility and stress. I don’t want to bring that stress into my home life as a wife and mother, as it would weigh heavily on my heart and mind.


Despite the challenge, I accepted this opportunity to grow and test my abilities. Even though I’m confident in my capabilities, a small voice in my head kept questioning my lack of experience for the position and how can I ensure sufficient time with my family. My first time as a Deal Leader was a significant challenge. The Board that I represent Mekong Capital was considerably a large Board of Directors, that consists of eight members including Founder, Former CEOs and high-level Executives with extensive background and experience. Six of these members are men. I happened to be the youngest and a female member on the Board.

I tried to be nice and and speak sparingly. There are times when I want to express differing opinions, but I choose to remain silent. I felt a mix of unease and self-doubt, unsure of my place in these discussions. During this time, I also participated in a Leadership Development Program offered by Mekong Capital. This program lasts 6 months includes one-on-one conversations with a professional coach. I shared with my coach that I was concerned my lack of seniority might hinder my ability to be heard by other board members. These members were all seasoned professionals, and as a woman, I feared that appearing too assertive could backfire and lead them to dismiss my contributions.

My coach asked me, “What is your role as a representative of Mekong on the Board?”

“Of course, my biggest role is ensuring that the company is heading in the right direction toward achieving its vision.” I want to confidently share my perspective and make an impact on the company.

My coach continued asking me, “What is stopping you, Sophia? And what is the real challenge here?”

I believe my perspective, that women should not be overly aggressive, had led to people not respecting or listening to me. This was why I tend not to out-speak others, especially men. I was feeling stuck and I realized that I would not contribute to board discussions if I continued this way. I was not fulfilling my role as a Deal Leader and feared I may soon lose this position.

I continually questioned myself: why am I so uncomfortable sharing my opinion and confronting others? Why am I so fearful of what people think about me? Why?

In the next coaching session, I shared with my coach: “Of course, I want to succeed in my role, become a high-performing Deal Leader, and contribute more to the company. However, I don’t want to take the risk of being perceived as an overly assertive woman, being dominant both at work and at home, and risk losing my happy family. I felt I could not have both: a successful career and a happy family.

My coach looked at me with a big smile and asked, “Why not? Why can’t you have both?

I looked at him and was stunned for a moment. Oh yeah, why not?

In that moment, I felt an overwhelming mix of surprise, doubt, and a strange sense of liberation.

Clearly, if I think I can’t achieve both, I’ll gather as much information as possible to validate that belief. Consequently, I’ll become inactive and accomplish nothing. This situation reminds me of a framework I learned: “Our perception shapes our performance”. I’ve come to realize that this perception, which has been ingrained in me for a long time, is negatively affecting my performance in work and life.

Why can’t I have both? Let’s try it!

Then, my coach asked me, “Do you take risks to gain confidence, or do you wait until you’re confident enough to take risks?

Wow, this question certainly opened my eyes to a new perspective. If I continued to worry about being perceived as aggressive, I would have limited myself and missed many opportunities to contribute positively to the company. If I see something is missing and does not work for the company, and don’t voice it because of fear of confronting someone, the company will lose much more. Suddenly, my concerns about my self-esteem, safety, and faith in my intelligence seemed relatively insignificant.

Following my conversation with my coach, I began to contribute more actively in board meetings and voiced my opinions, even if they might not align with others’. Initially, this was uncomfortable. However, the more I shared, the more natural it became. To my surprise, the situation was not as negative as I had anticipated. Everyone maintained their professionalism, and while disagreements and arguments occurred, they were constructive and centered on the company’s interests, rather than being personal attacks on me as a woman.

Looking back over the past year, I’m amazed at my personal growth and effectiveness in my role as a Deal Leader. I am confident in my ability to actively listen to the CEOs and others I interact with. I consider the overarching goals of our investees and confidently share my opinions in every meeting I attend. I feel empowered and see growth in my job, which brings fulfillment to my personal life.

I want to share a message with all women out there, especially those who believe, as I did, that we cannot have both a successful career and a happy family. Throughout childhood, we form beliefs that shape us into the people we are today. These beliefs can be either positive or negative. However, we must not let these beliefs create invisible barriers that limit our potential, or our level of fulfillment and happiness in life as women.

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Mekong Capital makes investments in consumer-driven businesses and adds substantial value to those companies based on its proven framework called Vision Driven Investing. Our investee companies are typically among the fastest-growing companies in Vietnam’s consumer sectors.

In January 2022, Mekong Capital founder Chris Freund published Crab Hotpot, a story about a bunch of crabs who found themselves stuck in a boiling pot. The colorful cover of “Crab Hot Pot,” complete with expressive cartoon crustaceans, looks like a children’s tale at first glance. But as one continues reading, it becomes clear that the work has an important message about organizational transformation, leadership and focusing on a clear vision for the future.

The book is available on Tiki (Hard copy): (Vietnamese) and Amazon: (English)

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