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FIELDTESTED | SO-YOUNG KANG, FOUNDER OF AWAKEN GROUP

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We had the chance to catch up with So-Young, founder of the Awaken group and a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, to understand her life transformation and motivation for change.

Tell us about a recent high point.

That will be being selected to be the Young Global Leader. It’s the biggest high point in the last ten years. It was unexpected because you can’t apply for it – it’s only through nomination. I only heard about it a year ago because someone wanted to nominate me for it. At that time, I didn’t know or think much about it.

I feel like it’s something I could never have imagined receiving before starting this whole journey because I was previously doing the typical corporate job. So this is like an affirmation of the stuff we are doing at Awaken, and acknowledgement that we are the right track. Someone actually sees value in the work that we are doing with transformation design. It feels like a celebration not just for me, but for the whole team - what we do matters and there are influential people in the world who thinks it matters.

Even though we are personally motivated, it helps to know that others think so too.

I’m really excited to attend the first meeting and learn from all these people who are doing amazing things. Right now, I’m in a different stage of life, towards expansion rather than creation. I used to like creating things myself, but now I’m thinking of how I can build on what other people are doing and how can we do it together. It’s more of leveraging collaborations to create something greater.

You have such a powerful energy. Where does your drive and motivation come from everyday?

I think when you know your calling in life - for me, it’s being able to help the world become more beautiful and joyful through people - it makes you joyful in the process of doing it. I do have days when I wake up feeling like crap, tired, lonely, jet-lagged and depressed. But when I see the joy of life in little things, that’s what keeps me going. To not only appreciate and see beauty, but also create beauty through people, situations and context, that’s what motivates me. 

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What is beauty to you?

Beauty can be something as simple as a little baby who smiles and laughs at you and his eyes sparkle when they see you smile. Or my mum smiling at the roses I gave her for her birthday. The rose itself is beautiful. There is beauty in the simplicity of the object.

Beauty is seeing my dad get up at 4 in the morning to take care of my mum in a difficult time.

I think beauty is everywhere around us, in people, in situations, in words. We just have to see it, recognize it and appreciate it. To leave the world a little bit nicer than when I found it, so that it’s a little more positive, beautiful and joyful is also what motivates me.

When do you feel most beautiful?

That’s a difficult one, let’s see… I think it’s when I’m with my loved ones and when I feel chosen. I feel beautiful when I am loved and cherished.

I think choice and intention is very empowering. That’s why in life, I choose everything, I am going to choose to do something more beautiful and positive in the world. I choose it instead of letting my circumstances or situation decide for me. Sometimes, it’s like choosing to be grateful when there’s no joy, choosing to see the good when it’s hard to find and choosing to forgive when you don’t want to forgive. But it’s choosing these things that make you content.

Your profession is transformation design, so you could say that change is your line of work. What is the one thing you would change in the world if you could?

I wish people could know their true identity, to know they were created with intention and purpose, with so much talent and beauty inside them. I think this would change everything.

I think most of the world walks around feeling worthless, valueless, and that’s why they’re looking for things to fill the void and gap in their life, whether it’s fashion, money or power, but these never answer the question. I think people walk around with the poverty mindset, that they lack something, trapped in the zero-sum game with no space to share. If they just walk their life with more identity and purpose, they would have a more abundant mindset.

I would like people to look in the mirror and be able to say, I know who I am. I am beautiful. I am loved, valued and cherished. I can do good things in the world. 

I think if people could do that, everything would change.

Tell me about the two objects you brought.

This journal charts my journey when I first started asking myself in November 2008 the questions ‘who am I’, ‘what is my purpose in life’, ‘why am I doing what I do’, and most importantly, the ‘so what?’ of what I do. The journal records my journey of self discovery and articulates my intentions of who I wanted to be in the world, my identity and my purpose. That’s when everything started to change. So this journal contains my transformations and transformed self.

It contains all the miracles and blessings and the fulfillment of processes I’ve been documenting.

It gives me hope and reassurance because when I look back on it, I see all my prayers and promises fulfilled. It’s a reminder that although life sucks right now I can see that over time all my promises and prayers have been answered so it really heartens and encourages me. It keeps me accountable to my intentions.

The music book is actually more than twenty years old. Learning the piano and violin, I’ve performed on stage since I was 5 but it was always about me, and that’s how my music showed up. But going into university, I realize being a musician takes an incredible amount of self-awareness, and a lot of it is about being vulnerable. There’s a huge difference between playing music and playing notes. The art is the rawest expression of yourself – you’re literally putting your heart on there. At that time I didn’t know myself well, so I was really scared. The feeling was so intense, I just wasn’t ready to get there. So I quit, using my major as an excuse. But now, after this journey of self-discovery, I know myself better. If I played music again, my technical skills would require some practice, but I’m certain I can play more beautiful music than I had ever done.

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Where are you still seeking to expand in your leadership style?

When you’re founder of your own company, like when in an orchestra, you’re the conductor. I’m trying to find more conductors, but it’s really difficult to do so. So I’ve been thinking about how I can be a conductor while raising up other conductors or principals in each section, by nurturing what they’re good at. I’m doing a mix of both selecting and leading them on proactively, and also raising them up intentionally. It’s really a balance of how much to do on your own versus teach, and it varies from person to person. So I really appreciate the very good feedback on how to be a better leader my team provides.

What is your conscious practice for growth?

Personal development has always been our priority in the company. We have 360 feedback formally twice a year, but we also constantly provide feedback for each other. I would frequently invite people to give me personal feedback. 

I also read a lot of books to keep myself constantly thinking. I have mentors who listen and provide advice to me.

I think development has to be intentional. You can do it the accidental experiential way, but that would take a long time as major incidences don’t always occur. By intentionally developing, the learning cycle is much faster. You can leverage on the momentum of the learning cycle and it would quickly accelerate. 

So-Young Kang is the founder of the Awaken Group. She has traveled around the world to observe, listen, experience, and be transformed so that she, in turn, can catalyze sustainable change. So-Young is a TED-ster and has been a TEDx speaker. She was recently selected to be a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

We are inspired by her take on beauty and her hope for transformation in the world, and are proud to have her as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring friends that regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and travels to help us improve durability and design. So Young is wearing The Sideswept Dhoti + Mobi Pomegranate, Size 1.

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