ITASA Recap: Ho Chie Tsai on Defining Your Life with 3 P’s

“I know it’s a conference, but I want you guys to just forget me, it’s okay.” When Ho Chie Tsai, the creator of TaiwaneseAmerican.org and maker of the “Stinky Tofu Walks Alone” T-shirts said this at the start of his workshop at the ITASA 2010 East Coast Conference held at MIT, people laughed nervously, wondering what the catch was. It seemed a little self-defeating to tell people at a conference you wanted them to forget you.

What was his point then? “I’ve been at a lot of conferences, pretty much forgotten who spoke where. You remember the people you meet, your impression of the conference,” Tsai said. And the impression he wants us to have? “If you remember anything from this talk, at least remember the three P’s–passion, purpose and people.”

Passion is “the thing you can’t live without,” the thing that drives you. Remember Tyson Mao? As a contestant on The CW's reality show "Beauty and the Geek," Mao was introduced as the Rubik’s Cube master. As Tsai describes, “the moment he was walked in, you could see he was passionate about Rubik’s cubes” and about teaching it to these “beauties” who knew next to nothing about it.

Purpose involves the things that you do, the “actions that lead you in a meaningful direction.” Have a focused vision, like Justina Chen Headley, a leading Asian American author who collaborated with organizations to donate portions of her books sales to help teens. Without purpose, you’re just another person out there floating along not knowing what to make out of life.

And lastly, people. Anyone can think about passions and have a purpose, but without knowing the community you want to impact, you’re just another dreamer lost in a sea of grandiose ideas. It’s important to connect—to do something that others can relate to and understand. Otherwise, there’s no one around to receive your message.

It felt like a typical motivational speech, not too impressing at first. But then Tsai did an exercise. Everyone pulled out a piece of paper and wrote in three separate columns our 3 P’s—pretty standard stuff to get us thinking. But that wasn’t all. Then he asked a member of the audience to simply introduce herself. She said she was a sophomore at MIT, majoring in International Relations—a standard intro you'd expect from a college student. Then he took her paper and said, “Wouldn’t it sound better if I said 'Hi, my name is ___. My life mission is to assume leadership roles, pro-actively bringing people together to take action on anti-tobacco advocacy.' Doesn’t that give you a whole new impression of what kind of person I am?”

The difference was striking. You hear introductions all the time, but to hear it aloud so differently because of one simple change in focus, was amazing. As Tsai said, everyone has “personal passions to live for, and unique ways to achieve them.” We just have to change the labels we fit ourselves into, and instead, showcase our passions, our purpose in life, and the people we want to impact. Once we change how we define ourselves, others will start to see us in a new action-driven light. And that is the first step to empowerment.

Ho Chie Tsai will be speaking again at the ITASA West Coast Conference, which will be held at University of California, San Diego, from April 1-4, 2010. Check out ucsd.itasa.org for more info.

Photo of Ho Chie Tsai via ITASA.org