A #hyphenatedAsians POV: Victor Ung — Dealing with emotions as an Asian-American man
Emotional Intelligence fitness coach, founder of the Emotion DOJO, and host of the "Human Up" podcast, Victor Ung is on a mission to create a safe space for self-identifying Asian men to talk freely about their emotions, develop their emotional intelligence (EQ), and break the model minority myth. We talk career change, his reason for it, and some of his plans for the future.
Ethnically Chinese, and the first in his family to be born in America, he knows what it is like to be caught up in the (model minority) myth, and understands the feelings of needing to pursue a route toward career stability.
“I went into technology consulting as my career, and hit a point of burnout towards the end of the career,” he says. “Not really feeling fulfilled with my trajectory, or the impact that I was making and being recognized for my value” are just some of the reasons that pushed Victor to leave consulting to become a life coach, specializing in EQ. The need to create what he dubs as the Emotion DOJO also stems from the rarity of safe spaces for self-identifying Asian men to develop emotional skills, which they can take into many aspects of life, be it the workplace or intimate relationships. But what exactly is EQ?
“It’s stability and the muscle to be able to identify our emotions to regulate and manage them so that they don’t consume us, then to express and communicate them assertively and vulnerably,” says Victor. He adds that it’s giving someone the ability to take action against uncomfortable or negative emotions so that, “we’re not debilitated by emotions, but can be guided by them in a way that allows us to be productive in our own way.”
As part of developing EQ, Victor created the DOJO, which is an acronym for Dreams, Opportunities, Joys, and Obstacles, to help his clients develop emotional fitness. Victor says: “We have so many physical gyms to work out our physical muscles, but we rarely have the space to develop our emotional muscles, emotional fitness, or emotional resilience.” The DOJO encourages clients to recognise their dreams, appreciate their joys, and use those as parameters to overcome obstacles they might face.
Victor has overcome obstacles of his own; namely the time his good friend pointed out his lack of assertiveness.
“They commented that I had no spine,” he says, which made him “realise that there was the people-pleasing tendency within me in just keeping my head down and acquiescing to others especially.”
Miscommunication at work led to conflicts, and a sense of not knowing how to deal with adversity, is also what led him to find his own way of developing an EQ and feeling a need to coach others like him to do the same.
It seems Victor is not the only one to feel a lack of preparedness when it comes to being assertive in the workplace, as several studies suggest that Asians fall into a stereotype of being highly competent, but lacking social skills. Did the stigma of Asian men to bottle their feelings, and succumb to the model minority myth become a driving factor for Victor to become an EQ coach?
“That’s almost exactly what I embarked on to this for,” he says. “Growing up, I very much absorbed [the model minority myth] and believed it, and my family believed it or even used it.” Adding that the pressure of the model minority created “judgement for myself that if I wasn’t being [a model minority]. I wasn’t being the epitome of this poster child that is supposed to do the right thing—listen to authority, keep my head down, [and] get the good grades.”
Coupling the model minority myth with the societal pressures of what it means to be “a man,” particularly an Asian American, is also something Victor draws on in his other ventures, such as his "Human Up" podcast and YouTube channel. His mantra is: “Let’s retire the need to ‘man up’. How about we HUMAN up instead? Both men and women alike.” It stems from “being told to man up all the time,” he says, and where he questioned what that notion really means. He decided to flip the notion and came up with “human up” instead: “We are all human beings at the end of the day, not to erase the culture or the different experiences or perspectives that we have, but that there is this common element between all of us.”
Humility, awareness, and communication have become central themes in Victor’s work and he has big dreams to take EQ coaching further. Helping many Asian American men online throughout the pandemic, Victor’s post-pandemic plan is to “[find] a physical space that I can host workshops and throw community events” in order to “[allow] others to feel safe to be themselves and grow in that social capacity.”
Aside from being able to see his clients face-to-face, one of his main dreams and goals he says is “to be a connecting force in a community, as I create a safe space for men, but also for many other humans.”