How I found my Calling in games

This article is the text transcript of the episode#07 of Rise and Play podcast. You can listen to the episode here.

Today is a special episode as I decided to self-record a reflective episode about my Calling — My Why — behind Rise and Play. I wanted to mark the turn of my 36 years old to open another year of connection with likeminded people, and optimistic thinking.

When I started Rise and Play, many people asked me “How do you find the time for this?” or “What made you start this?”. I wanted to share the answer to these questions with you, as it is very relevant to the topics I advocated for at Rise and Play such as self awareness, resilience and integrity.

To me, understanding why I do things is a whole process of self reflection and introspection. I could say on the surface that I did Rise and Play to help the industry, but why? Why indeed do I choose to spend my time creating content on evenings or sometimes on the weekend, instead of just relaxing on the couch and watch Netflix?

As I’ve been going through this process of journaling and self-authoring, I wanted to share this whole process with you. I hope it will inspire you to take steps further to connect and understand your deeper self, find meaning in what you’re doing, and who knows… get new realisations about your calling.

So… tracking back to my Why, we actually need to go back to my childhood and as far as I can remember, because the answer is there.

I was born in France in 1985. My parents are Vietnamese and war refugees from the Vietnam War in the 70s. My mum was part of the boat people. They rarely talk about as it was a pretty traumatic event. However, there are enough historical materials out there which gave me a good sense of what they had to go through to make it to France.

My parents built their success from nothing, they just had one drive when they came to Brittany, in France: to survive and succeed building a new family. We are a family of 3 kids, one brother and one sister. I am the eldest. When we were kids, my parents opened a Vietnamese restaurant to make a living quickly while raising us at the same time. The restaurant was my home-place. I can definitely say thatI didn’t have a “conventional” childhood. I stood out in all possible ways:

  • The only Vietnamese/Asian girl at school
  • As the eldest, the one who sets the example for the siblings, acts as a role model
  • The only Vietnamese restaurant in the town

It would have been fine if there had been tolerance about my race and origins when I grew up, but that wasn’t the case. I suffered racism at school, and pretty mean jokes like “tching-tchong”, “you eat rice”… In school, I wasn’t the model of beauty either (blonde girls with blue eyes), so I was left out by boys and cool groups most of the time. It was a pretty tough childhood!

So I started my early life with my very first challenge: the sense of exclusion and not feeling that I belong.

And of course this feeling went one in my life as an adult…

  • The only woman in the room
  • The only female Lead in the group
  • The only single at a family reunion because I made different life choices
  • The only one with a dissident opinion in the group… so it became quickly a problem in a few workplaces. I was perceived as the “rebel” and “dissident”.

I have searched for a long time where I could belong… was it in France, in Vietnam, in Berlin, in Helsinki…? Until I found that my home is first with myself. Understanding, empathising with my self, my shadow parts and above all accepting and loving myself. Home is also where I found a strong community of people who I can relate to and who I can be myself with. I feel grateful for the love of family, close friends, my team and sisterhood I have found in places like Berlin and Helsinki. It’s only after I could build this inner security to stop being ashamed of being different but be proud and celebrate it, that things started to change…

I turned one of my biggest challenges into my biggest opportunity: make my difference an asset, and not a burden.

I know how it feels to feel different, unaccepted for who you are. But being on the side of the outsider, I see and recognise the beauty in differences and uniqueness. I can empathise and understand others really well, especially when they don’t fit in the box. Most of my friends are international, unconventional… and that’s what I love about them.

That’s what led me to build diverse creative teams because I know deeply the virtues of it. Not only professionally but also on a human and social level. It just makes us richer to learn and grow from people who are different from us. This formed later one of my core team values: Intellectual Humility. Embracing this difference, I built a unique studio with a unique mix of people, which allowed us to build a pretty unique product on the market (Plantopia).

Later on, this uniqueness led to Rise and Play to give voice to diverse talents who do amazing things to elevate a community of underrepresented voices. I wanted to create something different in the space with Rise and Play, and this same uniqueness is what I bring today with this special format episode.

Coming back to my childhood, there was another element which shaped the way I am and my drive for achievements, getting things done and one of my core values which is Growth mindset. To not dwell on the past or stay helpless… always go forward, accept the pain and act, or fix it.

People praised me for my strong resilience to pain and uncertainty. I didn’t choose to be this way. But I am grateful for the gift I inherited from my parents and from the hard life they had. As mentioned, my parents came with nothing to France. They worked really hard at the restaurant to give us the best education and life possible, working every day with little vacation. I can say that I didn’t grow up in a “classic” way when comparing my childhood with my classmates in high school. While my friends were living a carefree life (as they should), I was helping my parents at the restaurant when I was 14. I was also watching my brother and sister as my parents were working on the evenings. I wanted to help and relieve my parents from the stress of work. I didn’t know what it is to be worry-less as a teen. I was always worried for my parents or my siblings, that they are happy first, before I could take care of myself. It’s only later in life and after several rounds of therapy that I understood this sense of obligations and duty I had early in life.

It has a great part as it definitely drew me to a career path as a Leader. To take charge and responsibility, to care for others, protect and grow them.

But it is a path that felt quite lonely, with this pressure to always perform, where I can only rely on myself and not be able to depend on others (which we call interdependence). It definitely limited me in my leadership aura and personal relationships.

Therapy and coaching over the past year (among the few benefits of working in isolation) revealed these blind spots to me. Now that I’m more conscious about it, I try to move away from a sense of obligation to a sense of autonomy. Am I doing this because I want to? Or because I have to?

This is this second part which led me to start Rise and Play with the awakening as a Conscious Leader to go back to Why we do things. A lot of our behaviour is the product of years of culture, education and obligations. We self-identify to our constructed image because it gives a sense of security, or we are just in autopilot. But truly, are we authentic to ourselves when not examining what’s beneath?

It is when I started therapy a year ago that I understood how much of these patterns were keeping me prisoners of my own actions. It’s only when I started to recognise the patterns that I started to feel free and myself.

For a long time I believed as a Lead that my role was to help others find solutions, be there for them otherwise they couldn’t do it. That’s called co-dependence, it makes me look good, but it doesn’t help others grow autonomously. Besides (I wrote a whole article about it here), you think you should take care of others and later of yourself. The truth is, your best asset as a leader is your mind clarity and energy. You cannot fulfil your role as a Leader if you don’t focus on yourself first, so you can make space for others.

It’s only later that I understood that the best gift you can give to another when growing people, is to let them grow: give space, listen to them, mirror back the problem to them, let them find their solutions. This is what it is to be truly a selfless leader: your value is no longer defined by the solutions you bring to the group but by how much you enable this group to become autonomous.

The same realisation led me to create Rise and Play, to share my leadership tools with others, to be an Enabler, rather than a Fixer. This work gave me truly meaning and fulfilment. This time, I wasn’t doing things from a place of duty or obligation, but from a place of consciousness and love. That’s the whole difference when you want to create meaning in what you’re doing.

One of my last driver and probably the one that reflects the most in both my personal and professional life is my Playfulness about life. Life is like a playground to experiment and try things, and nothing (except disease, death and hurting others) is really serious with irreversible consequences. I praise myself for having always approached life in a lighthearted way: killing a game, starting over, funding and closing a startup, moving countries (3 times), separating from a serious relationship, maybe shutting down a studio… I always bounce back and will always bounce back. I trust the process of life that I will land again on my feet, no matter what.

I was wondering how I could be so distant to some of these somewhat serious events of life. The thing is: things that don’t hurt me or kill me, make me move forward. I was trying to look inward to understand what kind of event happened to me that I approach life this way…

I have to go back to my parents again, but this time not in my childhood but the story of my parents as war refugees. My mother survived by boat to flee Vietnam in the late 70s. Historical records mentioned 15% tragically died in the sea out of 1M Vietnamese refugees. At the age of 14, she. left behind her whole family in Vietnam and was among the few who made it to the shore. She is a survivor. My dad came to France when he was 24 with his whole family. He bad to drop his business school from Vietnam, his dreams of career and had to start over with no diploma in France. So there was a lot of guilt, regret and fear when they came to France to rebuild a new life. They sacrificed their dreams and aspirations to give us the chance to live our own dreams. They put aside their needs and wants and that’s how I evolved in life thinking I should also live a life of duty and social obligations. The best gift I could do for them was to live fully my life and not to replicate their life of sacrifice.

It’s only recently that they gave me the details on how they arrived to France that I started to make the whole connection of why I lived the first part of my life fulfilling my daughter obligations (studies, stable life, ensuring the family legacy…) and why later I changed the mindset to make the most of my life and enjoy every little happy moment each day: a good cup of coffee, the sun of my face in the morning, watering my plants, a laugh with my team and friends, a sweet message from a friend… because I know how life can just go away like this. It is not to be taken for granted. A year with the pandemic unfortunately reminded us of the fragile permanence of life.

When I find myself low energy, a bit in sorrow, maybe whining about my life (we all have these days), I remember how lucky I am to still breathe, be in good health. I can walk, I can talk, I can see. And I think of what I would like to achieve in this world if everything had to stop tomorrow. My biggest fear is to feel full of regrets on my deathbed. So I decide consciously each day to do the things I want to do, that I feel I could regret of not doing:

  • As an example, I left a stable and predictable life at 27 when living in Paris. I left close friends, a relationship and a long time job with an outlook for promotion to live the experience of working abroad, follow my passion and curiosity to work in an international environment.
  • I built a fashion startup to try it out, and a year after closed it. I wasn’t ready for it.
  • I moved to Finland to discover the Nordic life and what’s behind Angry Birds company.
  • I moved back to Berlin, to open a new studio from scratch.

Today, my conscious choice is to work with love and integrity. Life is too short to be just about business for me. I want to do things that matter for me, make something useful for this world: elevate an industry, support others to grow, inspire others to take the leap too. Which I managed to fulfil through my own studio and Rise and Play.

Until this day, I don’t regret any of my choices. Of course, I did many mistakes. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know back then. And each mistake was a step forward to make a better decision in life. I wouldn’t change anything because all these little steps led me to where I am today. And I am very happy of the outcome of my life so far.

As for the podcast… Deep inside, I wanted to do it. I was curious to learn how to produce a podcast. I was thrilled by the challenge. I also felt it was the best platform for me for self expression and connecting with others (rather than a book). I was afraid to do it and was asking myself questions like: is it interesting, will it be too much work? am I good to do this? There was some fear and doubts…

And a personal motto I have in life: if I am afraid to do it, then I should do it. Because I will grow from this and learn something new.

So I just did it. I found myself enjoying a lot the process of doing it independently of the result, like going for a number of downloads and followers. Of course I catch myself checking the metrics and wondering if it’s big enough… but then I remind myself why I did it in the first place: because it’s fun and I enjoy doing it. Because the content is relevant for an audience (whether big or small), and because I connect with awesome people. That’s what is truly meaningful to me.

Since then, I have approached life as a “game”: what can I learn or experiment from this, to get more light on my next step?

So to why I started Rise and Play or do what I do today. It’s a complex question and I don’t need to fully understand why it is. But having more awareness gave me more agency to pursue the directions that are the most meaningful for me. That is what it is to be a conscious and authentic Leader: know yourself to be in a place where you can elevate others.

What I shared today with you is something I haven’t shared anywhere publicly in any place, not even to some of my friends. I was ashamed of my background story for a long time and wanted to keep this image of « I got it altogether. I know what I am doing and I am in control of the result that happened to me so far», to fit the unauthentic success story of many public Leaders. The truth is, there is a lot I don’t control or understand. A big part of why I do what I do is still unconscious to me. But with more awareness I can control more how I perceive the external events and myself. I can incorporate fully my shadow parts hidden for so long and honour these parts as they are. To be more whole.

Being yourself is accepting your past and present. Embrace who you are, share it with the world, it is the best gift you can give to the world. Putting yourself out there. Take down this mask of showing strength only, this emotionless culture of Leaders, not caring for others or themselves. We hear more and more behind the curtains that tough Leaders are also not so happy , suffer burnouts, and so are their teams and people around them. You don’t have to pretend to be this person. There is a path to be this authentic Self and Leader.

It is work for sure… but it is the most meaningful work one can do in a lifetime. Do you want to stay in the passenger seat or be in the driver seat of your life?

I hope you enjoyed this special episode of Rise and Play.

Sophie

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