Note: This is a transcript of a video I posted on 13 February 2020. It has been slightly edited for improved readability.
Reading autobiographies is great for personal development and one thing that today’s book really illustrates is the role of perseverance in goal achievement. So, what can we learn from this book? Stick around and find out.
Hi, I’m Leslie and I am a life coach based here in Brisbane Australia. I also do a lot of reading of personal development literature and biographies and autobiographies naturally fit into that category. Any time you’re talking about someone’s life and what they’ve overcome, that’s personal development. So, today’s book is this one:
If you’re not familiar with Ali Wong, she is a stand-up comic with two very successful Netflix specials: Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife. What really resonated with me about her standup specials was that she spoke very candidly about some very grim issues. Things like certain dodgy relationship struggles and miscarriages. And if you know anything about me, you know I’ve had a few of those. So, the fact that she could turn something like that into something humorous…there’s skill in that.
The book is written in the form of letters to her young daughters. She starts the book with a disclaimer that they are not allowed to read it until they are 21-years-old. It does not take very long to figure out why.
I saw this book at Big W when I went to buy gumboots for my 3-year-old and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know she had written a book. I’m totally reading this”. I didn’t pick it up expecting to have something to laugh at, even though standup is what she does. What I was interested in was finding out a little bit more about what has inspired some of the topics that she discusses in her work. That said, the way she tells her stories is quite amusing.
She writes about things like dodgy sexual experiences, struggles to start a family, relationships, her struggles around identity as an Asian American woman, and she really challenges a lot of the stereotypes that exist around race and identity.
She begins the book with a chapter about how she met her husband (or how she ‘trapped’ her daughters’ father) and then, in chapter 2, goes immediately into struggles around pregnancy and childbirth. The thing that really jumped out at me was her experience having a miscarriage before she had her first daughter. In this chapter there is a very important lesson that I think more people need to understand, and that is…what NOT to say to someone who has had a miscarriage. Watch my video about this topic!
On page 23 of the book, she writes about the night that she had a miscarriage and says:
“Now I know why you’re supposed to wait until after the first trimester to tell people that you are pregnant. It’s very rude to ask a woman if she is pregnant, or if she is trying, because you have no idea how long or how hard she’s tried or if it’s a conversation she’s even had with her partner.”
Yeah, think about that.
“If she is pregnant, that might not be information she’s ready to share. If you end up having a miscarriage, which is very common, you don’t want to then be forced to tell everyone the bad news.”
There are things that I agree with in this for sure, but one thing that I would challenge here is this idea that you should wait until after the first trimester to tell people that you’re pregnant. I understand why people do that, but using the threat of miscarriage as a reason to not talk to people until after your first trimester, I believe, fuels this stigma attached to it. Again, it’s a very complex issue with a lot of moving parts, and it’s a very personal decision whether or not to share the information with people at any point in your pregnancy.
She also includes some of the responses that she got when she told people about her miscarriage. I’m not going to read all of them, but the one that really stood out to me was this one:
“Was it because you were stressed out?”
That’s like saying “oh, just relax and it’ll happen” in response to someone who’s trying to get pregnant.
So, thank you Ali for addressing this issue in your book.
When she continues on to write about her subsequent successful pregnancy, she recalls having to have a c-section and, again, questions similar to the responses to her miscarriage; Things that suggested that somehow something that she had done may have contributed to why she needed to have a c-section.
Yeah, don’t do that, people, just don’t.
If I talk anymore about that particular chapter, I’m basically just gonna be telling a whole story about my experience with pregnancy and childbirth, which I’m going to save for another video. I’ll sum it up by saying that she’s presenting a very frank and unfiltered picture of some of the realities of pregnancy and childbirth that people don’t necessarily like to highlight. When someone does that, I always greatly appreciate it.
These are things that need to be spoken about more, and I will do so, as well, in future videos.
In later chapters of the book, she writes about the time she spent studying in Vietnam, and that got me so excited, because so many of the things that she wrote about were things that I experienced as well during my time living there. For example, the way she talks about the weight that she gained while she was there, I totally understand. The food is amazing. It’s cheap. Drinking is very easy to do. So, yeah, when I lived in Vietnam I definitely packed it on…quite joyfully. But it probably wasn’t doing very good things for my health at the time.
The clothing size issue Wong recounts was always an issue when I was there. This was back in 2007 through 2009, something like that. I would go into shoe shops or clothing stores and there were literally times where I would step one foot into the door, make eye contact with the sales lady and she’d just go “no”. I was like, ‘okay, off I go.” But that didn’t bother me too much, one reason being that it was very easy to acquire custom tailored clothing.
Wong’s Vietnam stories provide a very interesting backdrop for her insights around her own ethnic identity. Her mother is Vietnamese and going to Vietnam was, in part, an effort to connect with that side of her heritage. She writes about not speaking Vietnamese at home because her parents, even though they’re both Asian, were from different countries and the only common language they had was English. So their native languages weren’t widely spoken at home.
That hit me in a special way. My first language was Spanish because, as a small child, I traveled between the US and Peru with my Peruvian mother very often. My North American dad had to travel a lot for work back then and as we spent more time all together, my parents’ common language was English. My dad wasn’t really a Spanish speaker, so we spoke English at home after that. I have regained my Spanish to some degree but I feel similarly to Ali–that it would have been nice to have a much firmer grounding in my mother’s native language to feel more connected to that side of my heritage. If you are a multi-ethnic person, you will relate to a lot of what she says about that in this book.
One of the most inspirational aspects of this book is the way Wong writes about the things that she had to do to get herself a place in the stand-up comedy scene: just going to gig after gig after gig, working really late nights. Just perseverance. It did not come easy for her and it wasn’t just because she was an Asian American woman. However, she does point that out as one of the challenges.
In the chapter titled ‘my least favorite question’, she writes about experiences that she faced, and what she illustrates is something that is very common among people of color. Take African American history, for example. Yes there is a lot of African-American representation in Hollywood now, but go way back into history and it looks very different. It is very interesting reading about similar things from the perspective of an Asian woman in entertainment.
In my previous book review, I went into a lot of detail about some of the things that I liked and disliked about that book. But because this book is autobiographical, it’s not really my place to fault anyone for their story and the way they tell their story, but there is a part in here that gave me pause, only because of the impact it might have for some readers. And that is when she writes about how crucial it was for her to have a number of siblings when she had to face the death of her parents. The reason that part stood out to me was because I hear, very often, people using the eventual death of one’s parents as one of the primary reasons that a child needs a sibling or multiple siblings. I’m glad she had that support around her during that very troubling time, but I would caution anyone who is struggling with the idea of possibly having just one child, that it’s important to consider that that alone is not justification for why a child “needs” to have siblings. There are other avenues to get support in those circumstances: from your friend relationships, from any, you know, romantic relationships that you might have and, yes while it’s a different sort of connection, it is still very important to recognize those connections as valid sources of support.
I’m saying this as a proud one-and-done mother. My husband and I are not going to have any more children, and the thought of our daughter being left alone after we’re gone…it doesn’t worry us, because she will have other means of support around her. There are plenty of reasons why people choose the number of children that they do or whether or not to have children at all, but if you choose to have more children out of fear of leaving that child alone in the world after you pass, one thing to consider is that there are a lot of moving parts to sibling relationships. There is no guarantee that they’re going to get along. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to have a good relationship. So, yes, if you want more kids, by all means, have more kids. But you don’t have to have more than one.
One thing that I really felt like this book was missing is pictures. And, granted, you cannot just conjure up pictures where pictures don’t exist. But, oh my goodness, some of the things writes about, like the outfits and some of the people that she describes in this book…she creates such an interesting visual in words, but I would have loved to have seen just a couple of pictures of some of the more outlandish outfit choices that she describes: her costume for the Hedwig costume contest, for example. If those pictures don’t exist, fine, but even just a few shots of family members or something from her time studying abroad would have been fantastic. Like, I think that really would have made the story come alive a lot more.
There is an afterword in this book written by her husband, also in the form of a letter to their children. When I looked at other reviews for this book, there was a bit of criticism for this and the way it was written, like that it wasn’t funny enough. But I think it was a really good way to end this book. It filled in some of the gaps in the story that was told from Ali’s perspective. It provided a very lovely picture of the kind of support that her husband provided to his wife, who was the primary breadwinner of the family by a long shot and really helped to emphasize the connection between the two of them as well as the bond that they had. He also revealed how she was so inspirational to him, even throughout his own challenges with identity in the shadow of very famous and successful family members before him.
The most useful insight in this book, I believe, from a personal development perspective is, when talking about her pursuit of a stand-up career, her emphasis on the idea that if you are not bombing on stage at some point, then you’re not learning anything. You’re not trying hard enough. You need to if you want to accomplish a goal. You need to risk getting kicked over and over and over again, getting back up getting out there again saying f*** off to any obstacle that’s in your way. Just get things done. Don’t worry too much about rejection. Don’t worry too much about being perfect from the outset. That, I believe, is the main takeaway from this book. So, thank you, Ali Wong, for writing this book. I really enjoyed it.
Now, let me know what you think about her Ali Wong and her stand up. Does she push the envelope too much. Does she go too far at any points. I’m very curious to hear what you have to say, so leave me a comment, hit me up on my socials and if you want to talk about personal development and the things that might be standing in your way towards goal achievement, you can chat to me about that as well.
Go to my website, leslievcoaching.com, where you can book a free life coaching consultation with me and we can talk about how to get you to where you want to be so that you can live a more fulfilling life. Also don’t forget to give this video a big thumbs up, subscribe to my channel, and hit the bell icon so you know exactly when I’ve posted a new video.
All right, it is Wednesday, which means I am going to give the studio a nice big old cleaning. And it’s raining which I love so it’s also a really good day to just have a cup of tea and watch a movie. I think I’m going to re-watch Always Be My Maybe.
Alright, have an awesome week and I will see you next time!