Here at Better Business Babe, we celebrate WOMEN, the unique, the incredible, the complicated, the divine. For our first Featured Better Business Babe & my own debut as the new Content Curator & Editor for The Better Business Babe Blog, I wanted to showcase one of the most inspiring, fabulous women I’ve been lucky to come across. Jenny Oh is our current featured Better Business Babe.
Let me preface this blog post with a disclaimer: Jenny is one of those women that seemingly does it all. She’s brilliant, funny, warm, open, caring, compassionate, stylish, sexy, wise, and deeply spiritual. Jenny is a talented world class yoga instructor. She sings in the church every Sunday (the one and only La Jolla Presbyterian). She is happily married (which, any married woman reading this knows, is a massive accomplishment in and of itself), with two little, adorable, charming kiddos (I call them mini-Oh’s). She is a personal trainer. A Korean Christian Contemporary artist. AND she has a full time career at Elite Educational Institute, a college consulting company and SAT test prep business, that takes up 40+hours a week. Oh yeah, and in all her ‘spare’ time she squeezes in her own yoga practice (usually at home after kiddos have gone to sleep). Yep, she’s kinda awesome. But what struck me about Jenny Oh the first time I met her was this balance of energy, a continuity of yin/yang, she’s both playful and personable, peaceful and powerful.
Raised by immigrant parents in Michigan as the oldest of three siblings, Jenny took the brunt of her father’s strict parenting. Aware of his daughter’s intelligence and talent, he demanded excellence. Her father started a Korean immigrant church, where Jenny played the piano, sang in the choir, children’s services, led praise and worship. “He insisted I learn to play more than one instrument.” She studied Biology, pre-med at University of Michigan but deflected from medical school (fun side note: she attended U of M the same time as Tom Brady. Yes, the Tom Brady!) A lot was expected of her at home and disappointing her parents was not an option. “In the hopes of helping me find a path in music, my dad and I sought out a producer in Nashville.” However, she was abruptly shut down. “I was told by a professional in the business, ‘You’re never going to make it. You’re Asian.’ At the time the only diversity in Contemporary Christian music was Jaci Velasquez, a Latina right around the time J.Lo was making it big. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me.” Wanting to discover her heritage more deeply, she packed up her bags for Korea and left the country for five years on her own. Living in Seoul from 2000-2005, it was a time filled with success, discovery, excitement, and turmoil. She describes Seoul as a thriving city with a quickly adaptive modern culture, “I’d move there right now if my husband agreed to it, I love it there.” She became a music artist (Contemporary Christian pop! What?!? so cool!) She was a radio DJ and hosted two Christian radio shows. She became 100% fluent in Korean. But, like many adventures in life, there was also a lot of sadness. At one point, her relationship with a music producer became so toxic that she had to end it for her own safety (I use word ‘toxic’ in lieu of details, but let’s just say, that’s putting it mildly). She left Korea, abandoned her music/entertainment career, returned to Michigan and entirely stopped singing from vocal chord damage. Her angelic voice silenced, her identity lost, she truly believed she would never be able to—nor ever want to—sing again. It wasn’t until she returned from Korea when she finally broke free of her father’s firmly set ideals on how she should carry out her life, stood up to her loving, but dominant father, and, at 27 years old, began the next chapter of her life as an independent woman. That brave step led to healing, reconciliation, and growth. Now Jenny and her parents’ relationship is closer than ever.
I didn’t know any of this about my friend until I sat with her for this interview. I always knew her as a badass yogi with a rad sense of style and two adorable children. Needless to say, I spent most of the dinner with my jaw dropped, mouth slightly ajar, stunned at just how incredible her story is (and, to be perfectly frank, I’m really not doing the depth of her extraordinary life history proper justice with this bullet-point, condensed blog post).
As we sat at the bar having a cocktail (she doesn’t drink hardly at all), I was unsure the direction of where to take the convo. In that moment, I suddenly remembered something I was once told:
“Here’s some advice, when you’re in the presence of greatness, shut up, listen, and take notes.”
So I asked Jenny what advice she gives other women on marriage, taking care of yourself, on balance…and anything LIFE related that she wanted to dish out b/c I am definitely listening.
Yoga Changed her life.
Jenny is an athlete and has been active her whole life. Starting as a Pom Pon squad dancer (I laughed at that one), to soccer, to running, then, in 2005, her dedication to yoga began. “I was so in love with yoga. I felt God speak to me in yoga. Yoga brought me back to singing. I had lost my identity and felt broken. In the stillness of yoga, I felt closer to God and heard him speak to me…I completed teacher training simply to explore it more for myself, without having teaching in mind.” However, her athleticism and gift for empathy are what make her a world class instructor. “I’m a natural at sharing and teaching—previously I taught English, worked at an eating disorder clinic, where I cared so deeply I would come home crying for these sick women—and I grew up helping, giving, teaching people things. Yoga taught me so many things and gave me empowerment, naturally I couldn’t keep that to myself. So I became an instructor.” Why does she love it? “I feel like I give as much as I get, so when I’m teaching, I feel like I’m receiving from my students. I cannot keep the amazing wonder of yoga to myself, I just have to share that with others.” (I’ve taken a LOT of yoga, in at least 40 studios across the country, I know what I’m talking about. She’s that good. Even though she’ll never admit it).
On finding time for her own yoga practice.
“My body itches for yoga. Even if it’s only 20 minutes, I always find time to fit yoga or exercise into my day. I put my kids to bed late, so sometimes I have to practice yoga after everyone has long been asleep, even if that means I’m on my mat at midnight.”
Jenny knows a thing or two about the complicated inner-workings of marriage. She’s been with her husband for 12 years, and, like all couples, they’ve had their share of issues. They moved across the country to a city with no friends or family, had two children with no support, and competing careers to juggle. It’s actually comforting to know she’s normal on some level—her marriage has had it’s ups and downs, rough patches and dark times. She readily admits her communication style was passive and NOT effective—it was doing more harm than good. “I didn’t communicate well. I would drop suggestive hints and then get disappointed and very angry he wasn’t changing or providing. I found myself not saying anything, then getting upset that change didn’t happen. I would sugar coat because I didn’t want to tell him what to do. I thought it was just ‘understood’ what I needed and wanted. I knew who I married, yet I mistakenly thought the tides would shift one day and he would just all of a sudden change into this driven, uber-ambitious provider like I was.” Naturally, their marriage started to deeply suffer. “I am a bit of a workaholic. So I needed him to take a bigger workload and bring in more income. I was totally surprised that didn’t automatically happen. Then I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed financial “oompf” but he just thought I was so independent I didn’t really need him. I realized those expectations, not communicated properly, were all mine. We were on totally different levels of understanding.”
Then came the shift. “I had a total meltdown. Hit my breaking point. I was crying so hard I was hyperventilating on the bed. I was totally vulnerable, direct, honest. My husband saw my hysterical fit, and, for the first time, he really felt the full force, the intense reality that stress was killing me, destroying our marriage…and that was when my husband was finally able to understand how unhappy I had become and when I started to effectively communicate.” They began to TALK openly, to LISTEN to each other, without JUDGMENT, and with an attitude of cooperation, compromise, and cohesiveness. Since then, her marriage has flourished.
“We have had rough chapters, but we have never made each other feel bad about it. There have been times when we weren’t connected. Yet, there was no shaming, no guilt trips, no condemnation. So, when we finally got back to each other and did the work, we were able to revive and reconnect again without contempt destroying our relationship. But it’s constant work.”
[Timeout: This is some of the most powerful marriage advice I’ve heard in years. It’s so hard to have an empty love tank and NOT make your partner feel shame or guilt about it. But shame leads to contempt which destroys all relationships. When Jenny said this, I took a long, hard look at my own marriage and realized I often condemn my husband when he’s not providing me all that I need. It’s a dangerous trap and a destructive habit. It makes reconnecting so much more difficult.]
On turning 40.
“The beauty of being 40 years old now is letting go of preoccupation with other’s opinion of me. I work late, so I keep my kids up late simply so I can spend quality time with them. I take them to preschool later in the morning, in order to spend valuable, uninterrupted time in the morning. It’s my precious family time and I’m taking advantage of it while they’re still young. And, now that I’m 40, I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. I get the stink-eye from some teachers and parents for it…and I simply do NOT care. I know what is right for me and my kids and that’s all I am focused on now. Being 40 is liberating.”
“Stop making excuses that you have no time or are too tired. No one can say they’re more tired than I am. I know what being tired is. But I do what I am passionate about, so it’s also invigorating…. My biggest sacrifice right now is alone time with my husband, but luckily he works from home, so we work to spend mornings together as a family before I head out from 12pm-7:30pm. And I work every Saturday until 6pm, which means I’m not spending a lot of time with my friends or going out. And while I miss them, I’m OK with that for now, because I am focused on my family and my goals.
“I don’t have mom guilt. I am 100% present with my children. I have only a few precious hours with them and I’m not going to waste it by being distracted on my phone, so I leave it in my purse. I do my best to finish housework or grocery shopping, or whatever it is that needs to get done, with my kids. I incorporate them into my errands or I just don’t get around to it all the time, because I’d rather spend my limited, valuable time cuddling, talking, singing, connecting with my children. I am constantly thinking, ‘what ways can I make more time with Arro and Arya?’ So when I am with them, they get all of me.”
“My faith gives me confidence, emboldens my self-esteem, gives me the ability and empathy to overcome circumstances life throws at me. I know that no matter what happens to me in life, I am always fully loved, fully supported by God. That brings me peace.”
Lastly, I asked, what is your advice to other women? “You can’t hold on to what other people think you should do with your life. And, even more importantly, you can’t hold on to what YOU THINK other people should do with their lives.”
After our meeting, I went home to reflect on her words. I have been dreading turning 40, I admit it. But now, after listening to this beautiful yogi guru calmly talk about her life and see the glowing contentment on her ageless face and rockin’ body, I realized Jenny looks the same as she did 10 years ago, but is more beautiful than ever. Her faith, her dedicated hard work in her relationships, in her careers, and, most importantly, in her heart, have given her this joyful energy. She is transparent about her imperfections, yet exudes confidence. Jenny Oh is the perfect example of how we can be flawed, embrace our unique individual self, be open and honest, and, despite trauma, change, guilt, pain and all the crap life throws at us, we can repair relationships, and be both peaceful AND powerful.