Dr. Abby Hamilton isn’t your typical Filipino American woman. Initially, listening to her soft-spoken and nurturing tone, I wondered what her professional life was like as a doctor. But after our conversation, I have no reservations about her strength and leadership. She is bold, resilient, and knows how to stand up for what she believes. Her power isn’t loud, yet her presence is dynamic. Watch her TEDx Women’s talk, December 3, 2021, live in Tampa, FL.
Marla: Can you tell us a little about your TEDx Women’s talk?
Dr. Abby: Growing up as a Filipino American, we were taught not to attract attention, to stay humble, remain quiet, and keep our heads low. I realized that wasn’t for me. As a Filipino American, I had to learn how to crossover in a sense. As I worked on my dissertation for my doctorate, I realized that so many people, not just Filipino Americans but individuals from other diverse cultures, sometimes have a hard time advocating for themselves because they weren’t taught how. I am in my 11th year as a career counselor at a university. I have come across many individuals who have desired to achieve a particular goal but had no idea how to advocate for themselves to achieve that goal. They would confuse assertiveness with combativeness or confidence with conceitedness. I want to teach people that assertiveness doesn’t need to be ugly. So many times, I’ve shrunk myself or made myself tiny because I was afraid to upset others. Later, when I taught others about assertiveness, I realized I was teaching myself simultaneously. It was the journey for me for sure.
Marla: At what point did you realize you were shrinking yourself for others?
Dr. Abby: The shrinking and the smallness was good for me; at least that is what I told myself. I remember the exact moment that changed. It was about six years ago at my job; I had to do some adulting. I remember someone telling me how they thought I should handle a specific situation, and it was not right. I realized that I needed to stand up for myself, for my position at work, and for what was right. It was hard, but I had to do it. That moment catapulted me into a new way of thinking. My old way of thinking had kept me small. I was reading a book called Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling by Jane Hyun. The Bamboo ceiling in Asian Culture is Akin to the Glass ceiling the American Culture. In the Asian culture, success is achieved more as a collective. However, it seems like victory is won by a single individual, often an alpha type in America. This was where, as a Filipino American, I was stuck between the two cultures—trying to decide where I fit in or if I even wanted to fit in.
Marla: Is there a particular study or book that led you to this change in ideas?
Dr. Abby: Yes, and this is a big game-changer for me. The book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff... And It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson helped me put things into perspective where I didn’t have to think so much about what other people thought of me. I could err on the side of finding my own peace. This book helped me to see the power in my mild manner. I am a powerhouse, and I don’t need to be loud to prove that. I learned to stop listening to the voices of my past that told me what I felt or thought wasn’t important because it was. After overcoming the cultural and self inhibiting obstacles of meekness, I can now teach others to do the same with courage and confidence. We are only restricted by our own minds; it’s time that we set ourselves free.