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5 Things I Learned at AAJA’s iCON (and a Few Things I’m Still Considering)

A Report Back from a Clarifying Weekend


Up, up and away, over Miami, where iCON was held in November. (Jeroen Verbaas)

In November, I had the opportunity to attend the Asian American Journalists Association’s iCON event in Miami. The weekend of personal and career development came at a crucial time for me: I was looking for a moment of clarity about what to do next.

Having missed AAJA’s national convention for the first time in eight years this summer, iCON partially felt like a family reunion. But, since the event was open to non-AAJAers as well, I was thrilled to spend time with other journalism friends, the ones I usually see for a few minutes or an hour at conferences here and there, as well as meet some new folks.

The entire weekend ended up being the clarifying experience I needed. Here’s a few things I learned.

  1. Being part of a majority community for a few days a week each year is good for the soul. I’ve actually believed this for a long time—since I was eight and showed up for my first day of Korean culture camp—but having skipped AAJA this summer, going to iCON reinforced this belief. Diversity is important, and being around other journalists of color is an affirming experience.

  2. Growth != comfort. Growth is getting uncomfortable and doing the things you thought you couldn’t. The people who push you to experience new things in these uncomfortable places are invaluable.

  3. Allies are everything. Minority, by its very definition means “not enough” and “smaller by numbers.” It’s as important to do the outreach beyond our own community, widen the circle, and reframe the discussion about diversity in the media. It’s not enough for us to meet with the same faces year after year to rehash the same old talks. We need to bring new people in, help them see the value, and let them continue spreading the best practices.

  4. Leadership != management. This is another thing I’ve thought about for a long time, but iCON was the opportunity to deeply explore this idea. I found I’m not alone in this belief and I was excited to learn how others viewed the intersection of leadership and management. One speaker mistakenly summed us as being “all in leadership” so “not millennials.” I was so offended by this that I walked out of the talk. Clearly, many of us were millennials and acting as leaders to our newsrooms.

  5. Always be growing. The great thing about the community who gathered at iCON was the range of experience. I wasn’t the youngest, I wasn’t the oldest. I had age peers, stage-of-life peers, but I also had mentors and teachers. This, to me, says that it’s so key to always be examining your career and your role.

And here’s what I’m still thinking on, six weeks after the conference:

  1. What other career challenges do women in their 30s and 40s face that don’t relate to motherhood? I greatly valued the insights of the parents during our discussions, but there were times I wished we could explore more of what women in leadership face beyond juggling family, children, and motherhood.

  2. Who else should be here? The most valuable events that I have attended over the years have been the smaller ones, the ones that have been more curated (Spark Camp, SRCCON, etc). But, at the end, you can’t help but walk away thinking, “man, xyz people should have been here, they would have added so much value.” But if you’re thinking that, and everyone else is thinking that, and everyone returns to the table having added two or three names, will you retain the high level of value-added and the intimacy that came from a small group?

  3. How do I pay it forward? I received some amazing advice from people, some that I knew coming in and some that I had just met, during my time at iCON. I came in with a need and I left feeling fulfilled. If there’s any way I can offer even a sliver of what was given to me during this weekend at iCON, I want to do it.

  4. What’s the one lesson that I want to live each day? I spend a lot of my time trying to increase my skills to make me a better journalist. This was a chance to spend an intense but short burst of time trying to increase my skills to become a better colleague, a better mentor, a better citizen of the newsroom. So far I’ve tried to, and looking forward to continue to, come to work each day feeling excited about not just journalism, but my place in it.

Attending iCON helped me reframe the way I view myself and the value I can bring to a newsroom. As I met new people and saw their reactions to me explaining what I did, what I want to do, what I like to work on, I found myself somewhat surprised. It made me realize that I wasn’t thinking about myself and my career the same way that others were perceiving it.

2015 was supposed to be a year of “quietly getting stuff done,” for me. It turned out to be a year of “being promoted, changing jobs, moving to New York, and changing jobs some more.” iCON turned out to be exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. Here’s to taking these lessons into 2016.

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