by Ashley Cheung, Principal & Founder of Virtual Patent Gateway (VPG)
In 1985, my family took a chance by immigrating to the United States from Hong Kong. As a child, I was not happy with the decision to move halfway across the world. I didn’t want to leave my friends and was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with others. I thought of different ways to convince my family to stay in Hong Kong, but the decision was already made to make a new and better life in the U.S. I sadly accepted the fact that we were moving.
My maternal grandparents had established their home in the States at least twenty years prior to us joining them. I heard so many stories about how much work it was for Grandpa to work the relationship “guanxi” 关系 with his employer and the immigration lawyer. He worked day and night at a Chinese restaurant in exchange for his employer agreeing to be the “guarantor” 担保人 on the immigration application. The legal fees for applying for ten people, five from my family and five from my uncle’s family, were not small. In addition to the restaurant, he worked odd jobs to save enough money for those fees.
Grandma was illiterate and had mobility issues due to the pain in her feet from having them bound in her youth. Still, she helped by working at restaurants to make the Chinese pancakes that often go with Peking Duck. Visualizing grandma standing for hours on her misshapen feet to make pancakes and grandpa working such long hours all so we could have the chance to come to the U.S. and seek a better life is truly humbling. It’s amazing to think about all that they sacrificed for their family. This image has molded my path and given me a very strong work ethic.
For years, I lived to work, and I aimed to please. The audience could be family members, professors, friends, colleagues, or bosses. Being a good daughter and a good employee by putting my own needs last, earned me an outstanding reputation and accomplishments. I thought that was enough and I would have been happy to retire repeating the same practice. The truth was I was unhappy but did not realize it. I had a good income and worked at reputable companies. I traveled to amazing places. I was good at what I did and prized myself for juggling everyone’s expectations, but my self-esteem was tied to the opinions of others.
When my dad passed away a few years ago, I began to look at life from a different perspective. I was pleased that he was no longer suffering, and it provided psychological relief for me. For the first time, I could think about what I wanted. I had deferred so many dreams! For instance, I have always liked creative writing and dreamt of getting published. Writing was an outlet for my self-expression. I did not seek fame or money; I just wanted to pursue writing and learning. I loved the process of learning and have always been highly curious. The time had finally come; I was burned out with pleasing people and wanted to pursue something I desired. My father’s passing taught me that life is too short not to be happy and to live with regrets. I decided to change my course in life, practicing the motto: nothing ventured, nothing gained. I started making plans to live my best life.
The question ‘How did it all begin?’ has come up so many times since I started my company, but I don’t really have a clear ‘ah-ha’ moment. I can’t pinpoint the date when I decided to become an entrepreneur and the principal and founder of my start-up company. But what I do know is that I’m a highly competent and incredibly driven perfectionist with a thirst for knowledge and endless curiosity.
In 2019, three years after my dad passed and staring down at another birthday, I decided that it was now or never. I started a start-up virtual paralegal consultancy that supports patent practitioners. I originally just wanted to regain some work-life balance. Now, in just over four years, my start-up has gone through many transformations, and through this process, I was motivated to change my outlook toward life and redefine what it means to be successful. I have created my version of success, and more importantly, I have learned to understand that to be successful and fulfilled in life, it is important to serve and help others succeed. The journey is much more worthwhile than going alone!