I’m turning 40 this month and still can’t believe I’ve been a business owner for 5 years!
As an immigrant, I couldn’t have imagined that this is my life right now. I’m so grateful.
I was raised by my grandparents in Malaysia while my mom worked in the United States to create a better life for us, which included applying for my green card to stay in the US as a resident. At 12 years old, I immigrated to the US.
Moving to the US was really hard for me because I didn’t want to leave my grandparents and my life behind. I struggled in school because I didn’t speak English and wasn’t used to the culture. I took ESL classes (English as a Second Language) until my first year of college.
Thanks to the support from my mom, I was able to flourish in school, make friends, and eventually get my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with a minor in Math from Montclair State University. I met my husband during my first year in college, we got married soon after I graduated and now we have two incredible daughters!
I told myself when I started college that I would work for someone for the rest of my life because I wanted security and a stable life. I’ve never been a risk taker, I never learned how to run a business, and have always been too afraid to fail.
I worked as a software test engineer in a gaming company, testing slot machine games and online gambling software for almost 11 years. That all changed about a year after I had my first child. The stress of traveling 3 hours roundtrip Monday thru Friday, breastfeeding, pumping, night feeding, and rushing back and forth to pick up my daughter from daycare took a toll on my mental health and my relationship with my family. I was burned out.
I quit my job in February of 2018 and started Charissa H. Yong Photography, LLC in March of 2018.
The first thing I did was invest in myself, taking online courses to learn about the business of photography and how to shoot in manual mode. I was also very lucky to meet my friend, Jane (a wedding photographer at Jane DiMaggio Photography). She has been a mentor to me with her generous business advice and even gave me tips on my editing, lighting, and more.
I started as a family photographer, but by my second year, I was looking for a way to market myself as an introvert without being too salesy. I stumbled onto the world of personal branding and loved the idea, but didn’t know anything about it and didn’t know anyone else doing this type of photography. So, I invested in a personal branding photography course and listened to a lot of personal branding & marketing podcasts.
As I built my own personal brand and invested in branding photography for myself, I started to see growth in my business because I was consistently attending networking events and working on my marketing.
Now, I’m proud to say that I LOVE being a business owner and a personal branding photographer! Was it easy? Not at all, but the rewards are worth the ups and downs.
Reflecting back on these 40 years, I want to share 6 things that I have learned and I hope you will find them helpful in your entrepreneurial journey or your personal life.
1. Being who you are is more important than pretending you are someone else just to fit in.
All my life I was trying to mimic others just to fit in. Since I embraced who I am, I’m happier, and friends and clients tell me that my personality and authenticity are what attracted them to me.
2. You are responsible for your happiness.
I have suffered from mild depression on and off since having my first child. I learned that taking care of myself first is not being selfish, it is being responsible for my own happiness to be a better wife, mom, and business owner. My self-care includes calling a friend, lunch with a friend/peer, monthly walks with my walking partner, watching my favorite show or stand-up comedy, journaling, and of course, enjoying a hot cup of coffee!
3. You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it so you don’t make the same mistakes.
I used to take everything personally or beat myself up if I made a mistake, replaying the mistake over and over again in my mind. Now, whenever I make a mistake, I take the time to reflect on what I learned and what I can do differently to avoid making the same mistake.
4. Saying no is not rude, it’s setting the boundaries necessary to protect your time and your mental health.
This was really hard for me to put into practice. I’ve been a “Yes” person for a long time, but I knew I needed to change. I was burned out saying yes to every opportunity and signed up for too many virtual networking events during COVID. I also learned that saying no saves the other person’s time too.
5. Say yes to the opportunity that scares you, it’ll help you grow.
I was once terrified of public speaking, but always enjoyed sharing tips and tricks that could help others. I began hosting a few webinars during COVID. The first one wasn’t good at all, but I continued hosting and sharing my knowledge. The more I did, the more comfortable I became and was able to focus on giving value to the attendees. I no longer focused on how I sounded or the mistakes I made, which honestly, no one noticed anyway.
6. People will judge or criticize, but you don’t have to listen to them.
I grew up always worrying about what others thought of me. When people judged or criticized me, I felt like a failure. Since we started dating, my husband would say “What do you care about what other people say? Focus on yourself and what you want to do.” It took me a long time to change that mindset and I’m so glad I did. Now I can focus on constructive criticism and ignore the rest.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for walking down memory lane with me. I hope these lessons learned are helpful to you.
If you want to learn more about how personal branding photography can help your business grow, schedule a no-obligation video call, and let’s chat! Click here.
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Charissa H. Yong is the owner of Charissa H. Yong Photography, LLC. She’s a personal branding and portrait photographer specializing in helping service-based business owners create custom branding photos that tell their brand stories so they can attract their ideal clients and grow their businesses.