Tiffany Yu Talks Human About Living with Disability, Leading with Vulnerability, and Finding Validation & Respect

Be as true to ourselves as we can and be ruthlessly unapologetic for it.
— Tiffany Yu

Tiffany Yu sits down to talk human to me about how we are all going through somewhat similar experiences as human beings, her recent intentions with leading her life with more vulnerability, living through isolation and exclusion after a car accident, and finally reconnecting with herself, with other people, finding validation, and most importantly, respect. Because in the end, life can be as simple as being accepted, liked, and understood by other humans. Today, we have an amazing person driven to be self-reliant, but able to ask for help and not apologize for it. We have someone that’s coming to a deeper understanding and reflection of her relationship with her mother, her late-father, her siblings. We have someone that's finding comfort in their own skin.

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Our Conversation with Tiffany Yu

00:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay. We're gonna get started here. Tiffany, how are you?

00:04 Tiffany Yu: Hi. Doing well. How are you?

00:06 Jeffrey Shiau: I am doing awesome. I've been wanting to do this interview with you actually for a couple months now. Actually, ever since I met you.

00:15 Tiffany Yu: And I've been punting it off for a couple months now. [laughter] So it looks like here we are.

00:17 Jeffrey Shiau: Is it some sort of fear? Are you microphone shy?

00:22 Tiffany Yu: There's always fear. 


00:24 Tiffany Yu: Always fear.

00:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. Okay. Well, let's go ahead and get started here. I start every episode with the exact same question and that is, what about humans strikes you the most?

00:42 Tiffany Yu: What about humans strikes me the most? I think it is our shared humanity and how we are all going through somewhat similar experiences that if we really dig through the stories, we can find commonalities among all of us.

01:06 Jeffrey Shiau: Is this something that you personally came to and you kinda like, "Oh... " that you've been having a lot of shared experiences, or you've realized a lot of commonalities? Or was this something that you were raised with?

01:21 Tiffany Yu: I think that this is a more recent revelation, especially in the work that I've been doing. But more so around just human connection, and finding ways to connect with people. And even someone who has very different life experiences can probably relate to someone who has shared emotions. So it's finding those feelings or those experiences that can be shared. And I think this actually came out of, maybe a year ago, I started reading Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly," and the book in itself is about shame resilience, vulnerability, courage, and I started probably about a year ago after I had read this book, leading with vulnerability.

So what happens when the version of ourselves that we present to the world is who we think we really are? Or as close. Rather than this, I call it "the onion peeled" rather than the onion with all the layers on the outside that we use as a shield to protect ourselves from being hurt or getting too vulnerable or feeling really exposed.

02:42 Jeffrey Shiau: Right. So if this was, you said a very recent discovery and revelation, or maybe not a revelation but maybe kind of an embracing of it, especially after that book... I mean, let's zoom back 15, 18 years. What mindset did you have before that?  

03:04 Tiffany Yu: Wow. I mean, 15, 18 years ago, I was in a totally different place in my life. I was in high school, I guess. High school, middle school. And I just felt really angry. And you know this. So, 20 years ago, I got into this car accident.

03:26 Jeffrey Shiau: I don't know this, actually. Or I don't know...

03:27 Tiffany Yu: Oh! [laughter]

03:28 Jeffrey Shiau: I don't know the whole story.

03:30 Tiffany Yu: So 20 years ago, I got into an accident over Thanksgiving weekend. My dad was driving the car and he lost his life. And I was sitting in the backseat and sustained a couple of broken bones in my leg, but then also suffered a severe nerve injury in my right arm which is still an injury that's with me to this day. And so if I think about 15, 18 years ago like you said, I was in a very dark place. I have three older siblings and so if I think about... If I try to take a step back and I look at my life from my mom's perspective, she just lost her husband and now she has to raise four kids on her own. And if I learned anything from my mother, it was just to work really hard, which is what she did.

But as a nine-year-old child, for Tiffany, Tiffany really needed someone at home and didn't have that support. And then at school, I had to take this mandatory physical education class for pretty much the next 10-ish years where I would get dressed for a class every single day that no one wanted me to be at. Like, always the last kid picked for sports teams. And so my entire environment was, at home, super isolated and alone, and then at school, super excluded. Or feeling very excluded. And that was my reality. So if you're talking to me about 15, 18 years ago, I was in that. And I used to wear long sleeves all the time because I was trying as hard as I could to reject this part of my body, that was my new body. And any time anyone would actually ask me about my arm, I would just start crying.

So there was a lot that I was hiding from the world and it wasn't until, I wanna say maybe eight years ago, that I told this story about the car accident to more than just a close friend. I guess if you're thinking of Tiffany 15 years ago, everything was just like sitting under the dark cloud. And then not sharing my story with the world and then not being very resistant to healing, because I didn't want to acknowledge that this thing had had happened to my life. So I think that's a big difference from today. [chuckle] And talking about humans because in that experience, I could not have felt more isolated.

06:14 Jeffrey Shiau: I wanna talk about or ask about your father. So what was your father like? What was your relationship with him before the crash?

06:28 Tiffany Yu: This is something I struggle with a lot because I don't remember a lot about what nine-year-old or pre-nine-year-old Tiffany was like. And so I don't have a lot of memories of who he was, other than feeling like I was daddy's little girl. And then I wonder so... My dad was actually a pretty angry person, and he had a little bit of a temper. And sometimes that would manifest itself on his relationship with my mom or how he treated us as kids. And so I think a lot about family culture in the sense of I felt like there was a lot of fear. It's something... If we didn't eat all the rice in our bowl, was he gonna get really angry? And I look at... I have two older brothers. One of my brothers also has a little bit of a temper. And I feel like for the first couple of years post-accident, I was very, very angry. And I was like, "Am I feeling this way because I want to feel connected to this person who gave me life?"

And about a year ago, I actually wrote... So I don't talk about my dad a lot. If I think about this whole story, I call it... I don't know... A defining experience. There's the one side of my dad passing away and this change in my family structure, and then there's this other story of my new body and figuring out what my new identity looks like as a human or a person with a disability.

And so that kind of became the story. The dad part was like, "Oh, this happened." I never really... Was kind of like, "Okay, that happened but this arm is still with me, that I need to figure out." So a year ago, I actually was doing a writing workshop and they asked me to write a letter to my dad. And I remember just being so resistant to the idea of writing the letter. And ultimately, I wrote the letter and after we were going through a couple of drafts, and we'd read them in our writing workshop, I was like, "I don't wanna publish this." And then they were like, "Tiffany, it's so good. We can change all the names." And then I was like, "Okay, if we do publish it, we're gonna change all the names. We're gonna change all the details." And then I was like, "Why am I still ashamed about this aspect of my story?"

And the letter in itself was kinda talking about how I don't really know what my relationship with my dad is like or was like. And I feel like there's a lot of "should" embedded within parent-child relationships. And I just don't... I don't know. And I remember about a year ago, I was writing this letter and every time I think deeply enough about the car accident and this whole situation, I get very emotional. And I was telling my friend that I was writing this and he was like, "Tiffany, if your dad were still here, he would be so proud of what you've accomplished with your life and everything." And then when I saw that message, I was like, "But I don't know if I really care." I don't know if I really care whether or not he's proud of me or not, because maybe we didn't have enough of a substantive relationship for the nine years when he was around. That's my monologue about my dad. [chuckle]

10:00 Jeffrey Shiau: So you're definitely... You're saying you don't have that many memories of what your relationship was like. Do you have memories of just general feelings? What was your feeling... What was... 'Cause you're kind of alluding to... It felt almost... Was it violent?

10:24 Tiffany Yu: Could be, at times. But I think what's really interesting to me is I have a very different view of my world versus say my sisters, or any of my other siblings.

10:44 Jeffrey Shiau: How many siblings do you have?

10:44 Tiffany Yu: Three.

10:45 Jeffrey Shiau: So can you... Not say the names, what the order and age or...

10:50 Tiffany Yu: Oh, so it's a five-year difference. So the oldest brother is 34. And then there is sister who is 32. I didn’t know you were going to test me! [laughter] And then my brother is 30...

11:10 Jeffrey Shiau: That's fine.

11:11 Tiffany Yu: And then I'm 29. Anyway, it's just a five-year difference. We're all close in age. I went on a vacation with my sister and my mom and...

11:21 Jeffrey Shiau: Recently?

11:21 Tiffany Yu: Recently, maybe December of last year. And after too much wine, everyone started raising their voices and my sister started talking to my mom about how... My sister felt like my mom couldn't be who she was when my dad was alive. And then it was really after my dad had passed that my mom truly came into her own. And then my sister said to my mom, "You did a really great job of raising us." While my perspective was very different. I feel like my mom was very absent from my life. And so when you ask that first question of this whole idea of shared humanity, did that come from something you were raised by or something that came in more recently. I can't really attribute that much of my development to what happened in those years post accident, where I just felt like I was fending for myself on an island.

12:16 Jeffrey Shiau: Even isolated from your siblings?

12:19 Tiffany Yu: And again, I think what's so interesting is how we potentially might rewrite our history, right? So I feel like I was very angry in middle school and high school. And then I had my 10-year high school reunion last year but through this nostalgia or whatever, I started going through my yearbook and I was reading the messages that people had written to me and they were all like, "Tiffany, you were one of the happiest, most friendly people that I knew." And it was all these really positive, warm messages that are not who I saw myself as 10 years ago. So I forget what the question was. [laughter] 

13:01 Jeffrey Shiau: No, no. I'm really curious about your relationships in...

13:05 Tiffany Yu: Oh, yeah. So post-accident and I don't know if this is an Asian thing but my... I feel like...

13:13 Jeffrey Shiau: Are you Chinese-American?

13:14 Tiffany Yu: Taiwanese-American. 

13:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Taiwanese-American.

13:17 Tiffany Yu: And then we just never talked about the car accident after it happened, and I felt like I was living in a home with five people who were just living independently of each other.

13:35 Jeffrey Shiau: Did you feel... If you were to summarize the feeling before and the feeling after, was the feeling before like a lot of constant fear, and then the feeling after then that constant... Did you feel lonely in the isolation or did you just actually want that isolation?

14:00 Tiffany Yu: The fear wasn't overbearing. So there are a couple things that I remember about my dad, and every single time I go home my dad loved taking pictures. And one of the projects that I'd started when I have been going home these past couple of times is putting all of the photos into albums. And in a way that process to me, is me trying to reconnect with my dad and the experiences that he saw through this lens. And there was a lot that happened. I travelled a lot as a kid, which I don't remember. And so, I don't wanna shape my experience as feeling like I was suffocating in this negative emotion of feeling fear all the time, but it was more so the things that do stand out to me or either times when he would get really angry.

And then I have this other funny story where I remember when... Like the other one thing I remember him, which I think has actually played a role in how I live my life. But we... There was this discount store called Price Club, which I think a couple of years later got acquired by Costco, I'm not sure. But my dad and I... And actually all my siblings, we'd all go shop at Price Club a lot. And they have these sampling stations, so we'd always go and try out all the food at the sampling stations. And I remember Price Club was closing one day and so this woman, one of the... Someone who was at one of the selling stations was throwing away all her extra samples, and she ended up throwing away this unopened package of cookies. And which when my dad saw it and I was sitting in the shopping cart at the time, he grabbed it out of the trash can, opened it up and started giving us cookies. And all of these people are standing around us and staring like, "Oh my God. Why are you taking things out of the trash?" And my dad's like, "It's unopened." And it kind of taught me like, nothing ever goes to waste.

Well, it's kinda like two things. Number one is this confidence that he had to... I feel like even if I wanted the cookies, as like a 30 something year old now, or an almost 30 something year old, I'd be like, "I wonder how people are gonna look at me if I grab the cookies out of the trash can." But my dad was like, "No, this is perfectly good. I'm gonna grab it out with everyone standing around and everyone questioning, like why are you doing that?" Yeah, but that's just one of the other memories that I have. But, yeah I don't remember that much and I think part of it is... So, I didn't know if this came out of Daring Greatly but there is something that I read which is about how healing begins... Oh, actually this is through Daring Greatly. Healing begins...

16:47 Jeffrey Shiau: What is this? What are you saying?

16:50 Tiffany Yu: Oh, Daring Greatly is the book that I was referencing earlier. But she talks about how healing begins after you share vulnerability, either through writing or through talking with someone. And only after that point in time can you start to explore other parts of that story that you haven't uncovered yet. So, if I think about my story... I didn't share this surface or this first entry point into my story around the car accident for 12 years. And that's 12 years of carrying around this story without letting much else in. So, now that the story is out, now I'm starting to explore my relationship with my dad or what emotions I actually was feeling after the accident or during this period of time, or how so much of these behaviors that I rejected, maybe isolation, loneliness whatever, have actually manifested into my everyday life now.

For example, we talk a lot about loneliness. And for me, my experiences growing up just made me super self-reliant. And if you think about how I live my life now, I am hyper-independent. I'm like, "This is how I live my life." I'll go to the movies by myself. I don't really... Yeah, I just, I feel very, more recently I have felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin being by myself, when before I think I would surround myself by people all the time so that I wouldn't have to think about myself. 

18:27 Jeffrey Shiau: That's an interesting description, because in my head I think I was thinking, "Well, what is the opposite of this isolation?" Or how you feel now in terms of the vulnerability. Before that, was it out of suspicion and not trusting other people, but then you just said now, yes you were trying to surround yourself with other people so you didn't have to think about yourself. So then I was like, "Oh, wait, maybe she wasn't isolated." Maybe you were just isolating yourself from yourself.

19:01 Tiffany Yu: Maybe that's what I'm doing right now. Well, not the isolating myself from myself, but I choose choosing to be with yourself.

19:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you feel joy when you're with yourself and positivity, or is it more so from, "I just don't wanna be around other human beings right now."

19:25 Tiffany Yu: I have become more introverted over time. Again, I believe that community and belonging is everything, which kind of goes contrary to me spending time with myself. [chuckle] But I do think there is value in really being alone. And I think there's a difference... I went on a silent retreat a couple of months ago, and I think there's a difference between being silent and then being alone.

20:02 Jeffrey Shiau: Being silent and being alone?

20:05 Tiffany Yu: Correct. So I feel like there were a lot of times during the retreat where I was silent. You can be in silence with someone and still have a relationship through other ways of communicating, but I would find that I was always associating silence with being alone. So I wouldn't make eye contact with the people there. I noticed myself doing things that were silence alone, rather than silence in community. I feel like it went on a tangent so I could remember.

20:37 Jeffrey Shiau: No, no, I mean, human beings go on tangents all the time. I actually find that... This is a total side-bar. I think it's really funny when people say, "I just totally went off on a tangent or rant." That's kind of how our minds work, right? Everything is not connected lineally, there's always a network of things going on and depending on how you're feeling that day. For example, do you practice any sort of meditation or just kind of sitting by yourself and being with your thoughts?

21:12 Tiffany Yu: No, aspirationally yes. [chuckle]

21:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you like to reflect, or write, or cook, or maybe drink coffee by yourself?

21:23 Tiffany Yu: I think my version of that is walking.

21:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay, perfect. So I think a lot of times people, when they're in a moment where there is a lot of noise, and you're walking by yourself, you might be thinking about 20 things at once. But, if it happens to be a good day, or a calm day, do you feel, do you sometimes remember, "Oh while I'm walking, I'm actually just thinking about what's in front of me...?

21:54 Tiffany Yu: Yeah.

21:55 Jeffrey Shiau: I mean, this is how the mind works, right?  

21:56 Tiffany Yu: Yeah.

21:58 Jeffrey Shiau: But, what I want to go back to...

22:01 Tiffany Yu: Oh, you asked me about when I am by myself. Again, I share this story about the car accident a lot because it relates to the work that I'm doing, and a lot of times people use this word "overcoming" which I don't really agree with because life is never a steady state. We are always continuously a work-in-progress. And so some days I feel really great about who I am and what I've built and about what I've done in my life, and other days I feel very inadequate and imposter syndrome takes over and self doubt or negative self talk and that can become really dangerous too. And so, who knows, depending on the day, if my alone time is energizing or if it's destructive?

22:55 Jeffrey Shiau: You're talking about validation right now, right? Do you actively try to seek validation consciously or are you, because of all the experiences you went through, because of, not the isolation but maybe the memories of being kind of cast off as an outsider, but then you're saying, oh in your yearbook, what's written in there is the exact opposite of what you remember. Right?

23:20 Tiffany Yu: Mm-hmm.

23:24 Jeffrey Shiau: I just forgot what I was asking.

23:26 Tiffany Yu: But I understand, you asked about validation. And one of the things that I valued most, I had this aha moment... So, there is another company called Live in the Grey and they have this deck of cards that helps you determine what your values are. And so each card says something different like communication, family, religion, etcetera and you kind of rank them and then you have a discussion around it. And for me, my number one value when I had done this little game or exercise, was respect. And that to me... At least my "Aha!" moment in this exercise was the fact that, the things that I value the most in my life now are what I felt like I was lacking. Either in how I was raised or more recently in the workplace or whatever.

24:18 Jeffrey Shiau: Respect from other people to you, or respect for yourself?

24:22 Tiffany Yu: I think that can go both ways. I think a lot about my experiences and on a really fundamental level. All I really wanted and all I really want is to be liked and to be understood, and to be accepted.

24:44 Jeffrey Shiau: Now and before?

24:45 Tiffany Yu: Now and before. Which is actually just... I think... I don't think that we as humans, who need some kind of human-to-human connection, can go through okay with not being liked. That's just something that I think a lot of us will be seeking.

25:04 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you feel most of your life signals that you've perceived have been interpreted in your mind as not been liked, and not being accepted?


25:19 Tiffany Yu: Correct. [chuckle] I'm just thinking about a year ago, where I went to this other leadership conference called Hive. And Hive was actually the first time in a very, very, very long time where I felt like I could show up as I was and be accepted for who I am. And there was another... There's a women's group called Dreamers and Doers. And I remember, back when I was living in New York, at one of the Dreamers and Doers events I remember everyone stands up and they introduce themselves, and when I stood up I could hear people cheering for me, and then clapping or whatever. And that was the first time, I think maybe in adulthood that I really felt loved. And this was November of 2015-ish. And that feeling to me was so new.

26:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Compared to?

26:16 Tiffany Yu: Compared to how I felt like I was perceived by the world before, and how I perceive myself. November of 2015 was 18 years since the accident, and it was... I had launched Diversability that year, which is this social enterprise that I built. And I know we're not supposed to talk about work, but Diversability to me was me stepping onto the platform to say, "I have a voice, and I'm not gonna discount the validity of my story and I'm gonna share this and see if it resonates with other people." And then what I'm gonna do is because I felt so alone growing up, I'm gonna start to try and build communities everywhere that I go because I never want anyone to feel as alone as I did. And I don't want anyone to feel like they didn't matter which is how felt like... I felt. How I saw myself when I was growing up.

27:07 Jeffrey Shiau: What was that feeling like? Did you attend college?

27:09 Tiffany Yu: I did.

27:11 Jeffrey Shiau: Talk about... I wanna know what Tiffany was like in college.

27:17 Tiffany Yu: Ha! I think high school and college, Tiffany was very stressed out. And I put a lot of pressure on myself. 

27:32 Jeffrey Shiau: To do what?

27:33 Tiffany Yu: To achieve. Because one of the funny things, I don't think funny is the right word here, but I worked really hard in high school and did all the extra curriculars and started clubs because I wanted my mom to pay attention to me, but she didn't. And so that just became my norm, was to just work really hard. And there's this word, "overachiever" which actually I haven't heard that much but I was just really ambitious and I think I still am, but in a different way. Tiffany in college... Yeah, I just remember being really stressed... I studied finance at Georgetown, and so we're all trying to find internships. And I remember... One of the experiences I remember pretty vividly was I decided I was gonna study abroad in China. And that was the same semester that was very important to recruit for finance internships. And any time I tell someone, who was also pretty actively pursuing his internships that I was studying abroad in the spring they'd be, "What are you gonna do about your internship?" And it was so funny, this is the world that I was in where it was like, "I need to know what places you're applying to so I can size myself up to see how well I'm doing." And I think this is where this aloneness comes in maybe. I didn't want to deal with that external pressure. To like try to be something or try to prove that I was worth my spot here.

29:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Is it because you already had a lot of internal pressure on yourself?

29:18 Tiffany Yu: Yeah, internal pressure I think. But also, I always felt I was less than. Always. And that is something that I...

29:31 Jeffrey Shiau: Less than other people?

29:32 Tiffany Yu: Less than other people. I just felt like they had it so much easier. And I think about... I remember, so I ended up interning at Goldman and people were like, " How did that happen? You must have known someone." And I was... That doesn't make me feel good about myself. But I remember, near the tail end of my internship, you could go in and talk with the recruiters to get feedback on how you were doing. And I remember near the tail end, I went in and the recruiter that I was speaking with that time was my Georgetown recruiter So she had seen me through the whole process. And she was like, "Tiffany, you don't need to have a chip on your shoulder. You deserved your place here." And the fact that she said that, or that she could see that I didn't feel like I felt like I deserved my place there was like, "This is the energy that I'm putting out into the world." That I don't feel like I belong in the places that have chosen me to be there.

That was a really interesting turning point in that experience because I actually had a pretty tough summer experience. And then when I went back to school, I wasn't actually sure if I wanted to go back full time. But I thought about it and I was... Tiffany in college to me, was very soft, very overly emotional. Again, cared a lot about this wanting to be accepted and understood and liked. And so much of my reality was trying to just saying yes to everyone and not really being there for myself.

And I remember talking to an old mentor. So when I worked with at Goldman, he was like, "I would put my own kids... " Who at that time were like nine or in their early teens he's like, "When it's time, I would want them to go through this investment banking analyst program. Because I feel like you can learn so much about yourself, about who you are in the workplace. You're gonna work really hard. That's a great first job out of college." And because of that one conversation, and maybe this conversation with the recruiter, I was like, "You know what? I think I can learn a lot of soft skills out of this experience to make me harder, to make me more confident in who I am." And ultimately... I don't know. I wasn't driven by the money, although that was nice. I was driven because I felt like this was an experience that could change the trajectory of my life and how I saw myself.

32:13 Jeffrey Shiau: That chip on your shoulder that you described, and especially after... Was it a manager or a...

32:20 Tiffany Yu: Recruiter. 

32:20 Jeffrey Shiau: The recruiter who said, "You don't need to have that." How's that chip today?

32:27 Tiffany Yu: Again, work-in-progress. I really think starting Diversability has changed the course of my life. So I started in 2009. I started it in college. But I relaunched in 2015. And over the past two years, so many things have changed so drastically in terms of... Again, I feel like I had this habit of hiding. Hiding my story. Hiding behind my story. And now, for most people I meet, it's the first thing that you know. Like, "Oh, I'm running Diversability." What's the inspiration behind that? And then you're giving me an avenue, I felt like what I was lacking was, when I was growing up, was that no one was giving me the opportunity to share this story. And I'm a left handed handshaker since I can't use my right arm. And so even that in itself, would elicit stares. But the stares weren't enough to be like, "Oh. Let me tell you about... Let me let you into my life and what my reality was." But hey it doesn't hurt, and it's not that big of a deal. And I would love to be able to one day, which I am now, be able to say, "Hi I'm Tiffany, and I have a brachial plexus injury. And I can't use one of my arms."

And I think about when we launched this podcast and you were like, "Can you clap in front of the microphone?" The fact that I can go to you and I'm like, "Well actually, I can clap but it's not gonna be probably the level of noise that you want to." And then we come up with another solution. I used to have so much shame around just that act of asking for permission, which I still do sometimes as well. Again, never a steady state. Always work-in-progress. I think about how much I love traveling, but how much I dread having to ask someone to help me put my luggage in the overhead compartment. Because if you and I were traveling, of course you'd help me do it and people in my network would. But here I'm on an airplane where I don't know anyone. And so, is the person gonna feel... It's this whole idea of... So the chip on the shoulder to me, is really rooted in burden. And I have felt like a burden a lot.

34:41 Jeffrey Shiau: Because you've always want to be self reliant?

34:43 Tiffany Yu: Because, in a way I am self reliant. I live by myself but I need someone to help me assemble the shelves. Or if I get like a salsa jar, I'd probably need someone to help me open it. Because I live by myself, I can't really ask anyone unless I have someone over and then I'm like, "Okay. Here are all the things that I needed someone to help me with." But it's this always asking for permission. And I guess in 2015, not only did I start Diversability, but I started to live my life differently in the sense that all of the things that I used to count myself out before... So I went rock climbing for the first time, I rode a bike for the first time in like 20 years.

35:28 Jeffrey Shiau: Can you describe what those two experiences felt like?

35:32 Tiffany Yu: The rock climbing? I don't know. I was like a little monkey. And again, thinking back to Tiffany as a nine-year-old. And climbing I think is having like a huge resurgence among our generation. But I loved climbing as a kid. And I remember one of my last memories that I had when I was nine was going to my friend's birthday party at this rock climbing gym and just like being... Pretty much I spent the whole time near the ceiling 'cause I managed to get up there.

When I was living in New York, I came across this group called The Adaptive Climbing group, it's like part of the "philanthropic arm of Brooklyn boulders" which is super cool. So I saw this and I was like, "Oh, I kinda wanna go." And I remember someone in Diversability was like, "Oh, I'll go with you. I'll be your belay." Or like, "I'll go there." And I remember standing in front of the wall, so I got all harnessed up and everything, standing in front of the wall. And I actually said this out loud, I said, "How am I gonna do this?" And my friend who had come with me he was like, "You'll figure it out." So then I started climbing up and figuring it out. And there were a couple instances throughout that evening of climbing, where I would turn back and I would be like, "I can't, I can't. Let me down, let me down." Kinda like wailing and screaming.

36:54 Jeffrey Shiau: Fear or frustration?

36:56 Tiffany Yu: I think it was more so because I was so used to saying, "I can't." Both my external environment told me, "You can't." So I believed that I couldn't. I think more so out of frustration. Like, "I'm tired, I'm putting so much pressure on this one arm." And the funny thing is, if you really wanted to get down, there was some code word or something you would use which I didn't go to that extent. And the thing was, then I would just take a break and then I would continue again. And it was like, "Because even though I was telling you to let me down you didn't, I had to figure out some way to get it done." And that was such an empowering experience in itself. Then I think about relearning how to ride a bike again. And there's this phrase that we use it says, "Easy as riding a bike." And when I think about my life I'm like, "No, it actually is not as easy."

One of the other memories I do have about my dad is we all had bikes. We would go biking everywhere. That was our thing. I wonder if part of the fear or the "can't-ness" in all of this was me not wanting to feel nostalgic about this life that I once had. So in a way, my new reality Yu is that I do have a disability. And I think that all of the innovation and research and stuff being done in this phase for certain types of debilitating diagnosis is so needed. But a lot of times we're building this technology, especially if you acquire a disability later in life, to try and have your life return to what it was before. But the truth of the matter is; and this is why this November 2015, like 18 years post accident was so interesting to me, was it was like 18 years. So now my funny arm is an adult. And in a way I'm like, "Okay, I have a choice now to be like pity me and here's my story, the world is out to get me. This environment that I'm in is not conducive to me reaching my full potential." Or, to look at my story and say, "Okay now I'm an adult, now my arm's an adult, this disability, this car accident is an adult, it's time to grow up." And it's time to say, "Okay, what happened to me was super traumatic for sure, but I don't think that my life is better or worse. It's just different."

I think whenever we think about disability especially if it comes later in life, it's always this narrative of, "I'm so sorry, because now your life is less than." If we come back to that theme earlier. Anyway, so the riding of the bikes. I was in Amsterdam at the time, and everyone told me that I should get a bike. And I don't think the way... It's so funny because the way I interpreted it was, "Well, I can't." But I think they were all well-meaning of excitement for me to go and really integrate myself into this new city So in a way, I don't think they meant it. I don't think they said that trying to be not sensitive. And so then I went and I was like, "You know what? I think I'm gonna walk everywhere or Uber but I will get a bike just in case." So I'm like 5' tall and Dutch people are way taller, maybe mostly 6 plus. So I would walk into a bunch of these bike stores and they would just look at me and start laughing.

If you think about it, there are so many different aspects to my identity other than disability, but when I experienced the laughing, the first thing I thought of was, "Oh, here I am going through all these experiences again of feeling so different." When in reality, they didn't notice, they were just like, "Oh, she's short. We don't have a bike that's her size." And ultimately I found a bike. If I think about it, my relationship to bikes has really changed over the past year in the sense that riding that bike to me was so liberating, and again thinking about independence. And ultimately what I think the issue is with my story or similar stories was the disability to me felt like I lost a little bit of independence. And so any experience that I am able to have where I can reclaim that, makes me feel really empowered.

41:32 Jeffrey Shiau: So this recently, re-birthed Tiffany, how is her relationship now with her siblings and her mom?

41:53 Tiffany Yu: Relationship with my... So I've been really fascinated about adult-child parent, and then adult-sibling relationships. My sister is one of my biggest cheerleaders. Which feels very odd to me. Again, I think back to burden, or this feeling of, "Do you deserve this?" And because the narrative for me has always been, "No, you don't deserve it." It feels... And we think about these two examples that I mentioned earlier of just feeling so loved, and supported, and feeling like you can show up as you are; those are really new experiences for me that I don't know if I'm fully comfortable with those yet.

42:40 Jeffrey Shiau: Is it because you don't think you deserve it?

42:42 Tiffany Yu: Yes. And this is where the therapy and stuff comes into play. I still have a lot of this, 12 years, of having this story weigh me down and not physically getting out through voice or through writing. That I'm only now starting to explore that. So what does it feel like to feel like you really are supported by your adult siblings? Or to understand that your mom really wants the best for you and wants to be involved in your life now? And I remember I used to go back home over Thanksgiving, and after I started working at Goldman and was working for a couple more years... My mom's background is also in finance, and so she started to get more involved. And that felt really bizarre to me because she was so absent for so long, that when she started to get involved, I didn't want that anymore.

And I would go home and I'd be... There's this phrase "helicopter parent" where you kinda have a parent who is just hovering over everything that you're doing. And I'd go home and I'd be like, "Adam, Peter, Melissa, Mom is being a helicopter parent." And they were like, "I don't know what that means, and I don't see that." And so I've been really interested seeing how my relationship with my mom has changed, but also not changed at the same time. So there is a part of me who is now an adult, 20 years post accident, who is seeing my mom getting older and wanting to create as many memories as possible with her while she is still here, positive ones. And I think about, on another hand, trying to fight through these emotions of feeling so resentful that she was never around. And still I'm holding a grudge around that. And then the other part that I think is really interesting about my mom is... I feel, because of this again, desire to be liked and accepted and understood, I have really great relationships with the people that I meet in my life, or who come into my universe.

44:57 Jeffrey Shiau: After 2015?

45:01 Tiffany Yu: I think throughout this whole process. But now I feel I'm a more authentic version of myself. Before I was like, "Yes" to everyone, kind of getting taken advantage of in different ways, and now I'm holding my ground, but also finding that people can relate to that and are still attracted to that energy. But the way I treat my mom... She has a way of just being the worst type of trigger for anything. And one of the things I'm exploring in therapy now are "toward and away moves."

45:34 Jeffrey Shiau: Say that again.

45:35 Tiffany Yu: Toward and away moves. So what are you doing to... Say there's something you don't wanna do, what actions are you taking to not do that thing? Or what are things that give you energy in your life, and then what are you doing? Maybe having meaningful conversations, or being a foodie and going out, trying new places. And one of my away moves, is whenever I get really frustrated with something, I call my mom and I yell at her. And that is so weird to me. She doesn't... What is she gonna do? She has no context, I'm just calling her and saying, "This is all your fault." And what's interesting now is, my... Well, first of all, I don't know why I do that. But then I'm also noticing. In addition to these toward and away moves, I'm tasked through therapy, through Kip (AUTHOR’S NOTE: Erin Frey, Founder of Kip will be on the podcast!)  to notice when these things are happening. And for me, I'm just trying to figure out, maybe it's this bloodline, maybe it's having this shared experience together, which is the car accident, but being so separated afterward, and then trying to come together. That is creating this negative energy toward her.

I'm trying, I'm trying. We're gonna go on vacation again soon. And actually, so back to this December, my sister and her husband will always try to join for part of the trip, depending on where it is. And by the third day, or the fourth day, which would be my sister's last day of the seven day trip, my sister turned to me and she's like, "How can you be around this for the whole week?" So we all kind of get it. But then if I take a step back, and I'm like, "Here is this woman who raised four kids and gave us a life that we could only dream of." Super, super impressive. And when I studied abroad in China, I ended up meeting up with one of my mom's friends, Auntie, and my mom's friend was a little bit more religious so before the meal, she said a little prayer. And she said all of these things about my mom. Like how strong of a woman she was, how amazing it was that she was able to raise these seemingly normal kids.

And I started to get really emotional. Like, "Wow, I can't believe my mom did that. She is a superwoman." But then in the loving relationship that is, I don't see all of that. And so that I'm also, it's kind of like the resume looks super great and it's super awesome, but the behind the scenes is still work-in-progress. And then with my siblings, it would be nice if we were closer but we kind of just coexist. It has been really... So my birthday was in April and I always do a fundraiser. And as part of the fundraiser, I will write these shout-outs for people who have donated to my fundraiser and normally it's a memory and I'll try to find a picture of us, like a throwback picture. And my sister donated and so I was going back through all of our posts to see if I could find a picture that we haven't overly used. 

And it was really only in the process of doing that, that I could see all the time she posted about my jewelry business. Or when I was doing a fundraiser to encourage her friends to support. Or when a video came out for Diversability, she'd share it. Or when I wrote the letter to my dad, she shared that. And so what's funny is like, I forgot there's history... Thank you Facebook timeline... That is showing that through this whole period of time where I felt so isolated, she has been trying to be my cheerleader. And she has. And that feels really nice. But again this whole thing of deserving. So my sister and I, outside of these Facebook posts, we're not super close-ish. And then my brothers, I really only communicate with them, maybe like three or four times a year.

And I always wonder... Again, when I think about relationships I often put a little bit too much weight on the "should". "Here is how your relationship with your dad should be. How come you don't remember anything?" But it just is. And then when I think about my siblings, we are so close in age. Four kids in five years. Why aren't we closer? And which would you rather have? Four siblings who had very volatile relationships with each other because there's so much love involved whatever, or all four siblings who just coexist and see each other every once in awhile? Not to say that one is better or worse, and I don't know which one I'd have, but my reality is that we just are, as we are, and we'll see each other for the holidays and then my sister because we're more social media savvy, we'll see each other... We'll shout-out each other over social media.

51:03 Jeffrey Shiau: Thank you for going back to your practice of vulnerability lately. For really opening up about your family. And your relationship with each of them. I actually like to end every episode of Talk Human with also the same question. And that is ultimately what's the point of all of this?

51:42 Tiffany Yu: And by this, "this" is up to interpretation. I think the point is to do something that matters, and to be as true to ourselves as we can and be ruthlessly unapologetic for it.


Why Did I Start This Podcast?

Equipment & Software:

Yeti Microphone & Ice Microphone by Blue Microphones

Audacity for Mac

WD My Passport Ultra 1 TB

Macbook Pro Retina 15inch Late 2013


Smile by Daniel Alan Gautreau

Tiny Bits by Felipe Adorno Vassao

Time & Reflection by Bjorn Lynne

Retro Video Game Hotseat by Bjorn Lynne