How I untangled a personal relationship for high performance
Author: Nguyen Thi Anh Xuan – Customer Experience Manager, Mekong Capital
Feb 07, 2023
I had always believed that life and work were two very separate things. To achieve high performance, one should stay laser-focus on his/her accountabilities and sweep aside personal issues.
That seemed to be my success formula. Of course, I sometimes experienced a hollow feeling of demotivation and exhaustion, especially when work got hectic.
If this is something you relate to, then the story below is an unusual one. This is the story of how I untangled a knot in my personal relationship – that ultimately led to my discovery of the connection between breakthroughs in my personal life and high performance, engagement, and motivation in the workplace.
Focusing on direct communication is paramount at Mekong Capital: We organize around having conversations with our investee companies, causing them to see new possibilities and swiftly addressing off-tracks.
Sounds simple enough.
Yet I had been finding myself quietly resisting. I felt like taking away precious time from our investees when I constantly asked to meet. So I would carefully plan high-impact events or find elaborated frameworks to share with them.
But despite my efforts, progress was slow, and I felt very little impact I was creating. I was frustrated, exhausted, and desperate at the same time. I was even more convinced that I need to look harder to find other ways to create value. Very quickly I fell into the trap of contributing and ‘doing’. Yet, I was still nowhere near the target I set out for.
That was until I joined the 3-day personal development program – Landmark Forum in November 2022.
It started when our Founder and Partner, Chris Freund, invited me to the program. One key condition was that I had to have something big at stake. But Chris did not seem to be concerned about my struggle at work, he said simply: “I often find the biggest breakthrough is in personal life”. With his encouragement, I dug deep into where in my personal life I saw incompletion and chose “Free to express myself and to communicate openly with my parents without worrying about hurting them.”
Growing up I had kept many things unsaid and they had gradually piled up, to the point, I no longer shared them with my parents. We spoke rarely, and any confrontational topics would be quickly swept under the rug – out of fear it would upset either party. Maybe, through this program, I could put a new bow on my parents-daughter relationship and look anew at it. “I would quietly resolve this myself like I always do.” – I thought to myself.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Only halfway through the first day of the program, I realized how much power my unsaid took hold of my life, and my fear of upsetting my parents stopped me from freedom to be and to act. I knew the only way to be at ease with the relationship that mattered most to me was to speak out to my parents and to let them into my world, but I was so scared… Honestly, why stir things up unnecessarily?
I reached out to Dieu Le, a Partner and mentor at Mekong Capital who accompanied us along this Landmark Forum adventure, to share with her my story and to ask for her perspective as a mother. After our emotional sharing… Finally, I burst into tears as a realization hit me: “My parents are very old now, and I don’t want them to die without us having the chance to be connected.”
I was nervous but excited when I called my mom as soon as I finished the first day. I explained to her that I was in this transformation program and I realized I wanted to share things that happened in the past with my parents: Things that somehow still controlled my life and prevented me from being fully open and connected to them. Slapped to my face was my mom’s refusal to listen because of “some stupid assignment”.
Through tears, I tried to tell my parents I loved and appreciated them and wanted to create together the possibility of connectedness. For the first time, I stayed with a confrontational topic, but no matter how much I insisted, it still turned out horribly wrong.
It was not a happy ending story as I stood on the street sobbing while my mom let out her disappointment that her “perfect daughter” did not conform to social norms, and the embarrassment and the constant worry that I caused. I did not know what to say. My mind went blank, my heart was empty.
Rejection was so painful, especially when you took all your courage and hope to a conversation. The next day, listening to my colleagues’ triumphant calls to their parents, my head and heart hung heavy: “I was not destined for this breakthrough.”
I was buried in tears when Chris came by, I had wanted to quit the program so badly. “Xuan, when you stepped into the program, what is the possibility you create for yourself?” “Connectedness, love, and bravery.” – Yes, bravery… As the word came out of my mouth, I knew this journey could not stop there. It hurt but I wiped my tears and went back in.
The second day started with people sharing their success. I felt even more of a failure. Until someone shared a story of rejection, and the Forum Leader asked: “Did you try to explain to them about Landmark?” “Did you start with the explanation instead of the possibility?” “That would not work!”
Realizing that was exactly what went wrong in our conversation, I called my parents again during the next break. “Don’t you dare treat people like small people” – I reminded myself of the words of the Forum Leader. I treated my parents like small people when I tried to explain and prepare them for a conversation that I assumed they could not handle – without actually having that conversation. That was me operating from a place of fear rather than a place of possibility.
“I’m not perfect, mom. I didn’t want to say this last night because I didn’t want to break your ‘perfect daughter’ bubble. I’m so far from perfect, but I am very happy and healthy now. You don’t have to worry about me not knowing how to care for myself. You have done a great job as parents.”
There was a long pause. Finally, my mom said “Let’s arrange a time to sit together. Your dad and I would want to know more about your life.”
And that was it. I opened a brand-new dialogue that, previously, even in my wildest dream, I would not think would happen. The two conversations with my parents sent me through a hundred-mile-an-hour hurricane to an absolute state of calmness.
I closed my eyes to let the moment sink in. The heaviness in my chest was gone. I was free and at peace. I opened my eyes again and saw everything around me soaked in the morning sunlight, more beautiful than I had ever seen.
That was how I walked out into a new world.
The next thing I knew, I completed other personal conversations that I had been avoiding with ease.
The first thing I did after our 3-day Landmark Forum was to call up investee companies I previously had difficulties with. I realized the answer to my struggle was so simple: “direct communication”. Instead of sugarcoating off-tracks, or falling into the solution trap, I dived into conversations and resiliently completed them from the space of possibility and shared commitment to our investees’ success.
Although not all conversations succeed the first time – just like the first and hardest conversation that I had to face with my mother, I was no longer sweeping unsaid things under the rug. Amazingly, it did not upset anyone, rather, our relationship got stronger when conversations were direct and complete. And this was how I learned through a personal transformation to have a breakthrough in performance.
About the author: Nguyen Thi Anh Xuan is a Customer Experience Manager from Mekong Capital. Xuan is responsible for coaching portfolio companies to create WOW customer experience. She has led and co-led several customer experience workshops and provided agile coaching sessions to portfolio companies. Her purpose in life is to bring world-class service to more and more customers of Vietnam.
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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.