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March is a big month for women. Not only is it Women’s History Month, but it’s also International Women’s Day that focuses on equality, resilience and achievements of women.
This year, Women’s History Month is celebrating the role women have played in healing and caregiving throughout our history.
Chrys Nguyen at Providence shares her story of how her family shaped her perspective on balancing self-care and caregiving – and why it’s so important to her.
The history of Providence is rich with tales of women stepping up to care, support and nurture individuals in our communities. In fact, Providence was started by a small group of Sisters of Providence who landed on the shores of Eureka, California in 1912. These women came to provide education and healthcare and have since expanded their reach to serve Alaska, California, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
Chrysanthemum (Chrys) Nguyen, who serves as shared services, human resources business partner at Providence St. Joseph Health, sees parallels of her own journey, values and beliefs with those of the Sisters whose vision became Providence.
“My family and I immigrated from Vietnam shortly after the Vietnam War,” Chrys shares. “My father served with the United States military during the Vietnam War, and like millions of other individuals, my parents decided to escape Vietnam for safety and security in the United States.”
Chrys and her family fled Vietnam by boat when she was an infant. Her father helped captain the boat. They settled in Hong Kong for a year and then made their way to the United States. Eventually, their family settled in Northern California, where many of her relatives remain today.
While this is a remarkable story and one that shaped Chrys’ early years, it wasn’t the only formative experience that defined her life and values. Throughout her childhood, her parents taught her and her siblings the importance of serving the community while educating them about many different religions, backgrounds, and ways of thinking.
"My parents instilled the belief that we would be recognized as adults as we gained the skills to be independent and self-sufficient."
“In Vietnamese culture, the common belief is that you are recognized as an adult when you get married. But my parents instilled the belief that we would be recognized as adults as we gained the skills to be independent and self-sufficient,” she explains. “We were introduced to many different experiences and community activities. While our parents practiced Buddhism, we went to Catholic-Vietnamese classes and attended Bible studies with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My parents never expected us to follow in their footsteps. They allowed us to make individual choices.”
Chrys points to one common theme that threads through each of those different religions and credits it to how she lives her life.
“All these faiths emphasized the importance of being a good person and doing the right thing and that clearly shapes who I am today,” she states.
When it comes to caregiving, many of us put our own needs on the back burner, which can lead to feelings of resentment, loneliness, and even anxiety or depression. Chrys’s approach to caregiving stems from her background and the values she learned from her family. It is also fueled by staying grounded and taking care of herself.
She is the first to admit she doesn’t have a “secret sauce” or specific daily activities she does for self-care. Instead, she approaches self-care as a frame of mind.
"Self-care is not feeling guilty for putting your own emotional needs first and recognizing the security it provides you to care for others."
“Self-care is not feeling guilty for putting your own emotional needs first and recognizing the security it provides you to care for others. Self-care is an intentional and focused practice,”
She acknowledges. “I learned this practice early on and have applied it throughout my life.”
Here, Chrys shares that her mindset helps her overcome challenges and stay true to who she is.
Chrys may not carve time out for yoga or meditation every day, but she does credit one simple thing to keeping herself grounded.
“When something heavy hits my plate, I’ll allow myself time to cry or process, and then move on and focus on finding solutions,” she shares.
Chrys believes that it is this sacred time that allows her to honor and express her feelings, and that enables her to move forward.
"Taking time to process emotions helps me stay centered and focus on what I can do to help."
“By nature, I am a positive person,” she says. “It’s something people often tell me that I don’t always recognize in myself. I think it comes down to that frame of mind; of looking at the glass half full instead of half empty. And when we carry our emotions with us, they can really weigh us down. Taking time to process emotions helps me stay centered and focus on what I can do to help.”
Another way Chrys copes and re-centers is with music.
“Music has been a huge part of my life,” she says. “I played the violin for 18 years and now play the cello. I have a deep appreciation for it. When I’m losing focus or starting to spiral with negative thoughts and feelings, I play music.”
“Music is my north star,” she says.
Giving back to the community
Throughout her childhood, Chrys’ family taught her the importance of supporting and caring for others – whether it was family, friends or members of the community.
“My parents instilled in us social accountability as an obligation and purpose for being at a very young age and it’s something I continue to do with my own teenage son,” she says.
“My parents taught us to appreciate what we had and to extend care to others in whatever way we could."
“My parents taught us to appreciate what we had and to extend care to others in whatever way we could,” Chrys recalls. “In the Asian culture, your nuclear family includes uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents. It also extends to the entire community beyond our family,” she finishes.
It was Chrys’s sense of community that led to what some may think of as a unique approach to raising her son.
“My son’s father was diagnosed with leukemia about a year ago,” she explains. Though Chrys and her son’s father are separated, “Everyone – including myself, my extended family, his wife and his family – have rallied around him and the kids to support the family through this journey.”
“It was a no-brainer for me. My son’s emotional well-being and ability to spend time with his father was the driving force behind uprooting our established lives and relocating to be closer to him and his family to help them through this time,” Chrys says.
"What my life experiences and family have taught me is that you help others carry their burdens."
“When you have challenges that come your way – how do you show up for the ones you love? What my life experiences and family have taught me is that you help others carry their burdens. I wanted to be there for my son’s father and his family. It’s very important to me to demonstrate a healthy and respectful relationship with my son. Our partnership remains strong – not just between us but between our families.”
“I hope that this experience shows my son my level of integrity and commitment to treating others with respect and dignity. It starts with myself. To help others carry their burdens, I have to do it from a place of strength and care for myself,” Chrys says.
Listening with compassion
Another way Chrys balances caring for others and living her life with integrity is with compassionate listening. She was inspired by a book her mother gave her by Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.
One of Chrys’s favorite quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh is, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can relieve the suffering of others. You can also call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose of helping others empty their heart.”
"Compassionate listening isn’t about taking someone’s burden onto yourself. It’s truly just validating their experience."
“This book and his teachings definitely changed my perspective on things. I wasn’t always open to listening to friends or family share personal journeys because I perceived it as negative energy. But, what I learned is that compassionate listening isn’t about taking someone’s burden onto yourself. It’s truly just validating their experience, seeking to understand and acknowledging or appreciating them for trusting and coming to you.”
“I’ve used compassionate listening with my son’s father throughout his cancer journey. I wanted to reiterate hope and let him know we were going to get through this together. I wanted him to hold onto that hope,” Chrys states.
Being intentional, building resilience
Resilience is your body and mind’s ability to overcome challenges and adversity. It comes down to whether you throw in the towel after experiencing one too many obstacles or take a minute to gather your thoughts and find a way to overcome.
Many women throughout history have embodied this resiliency. The Sisters of Providence who arrived in California over 100 years ago had to seek out support, skills and resources to build a functioning hospital community members could count on.
For Chrys, resilience, determination and relentlessness are values she saw in her parents every day. “My parents never strayed from their core values after they left Vietnam. They had the confidence to take risks, make sacrifices, endure suffering, to reject stereotypes and create a strong foundation and future for our family.”
“My family’s experiences and my parents’ teachings remind me of the Sisters of Providence. Both had the courage to face the challenges put in front of them head on."
“My family’s experiences and my parents’ teachings remind me of the Sisters of Providence. Both had the courage to face the challenges put in front of them head on. They were pioneers, advocates, dreamers and teachers. While my family did not set out to change the world, both had a sense of mission and vision for the future. Their story inspires me to be bold and pursue authenticity with humility and simplicity.”
“I choose to manifest a life that brings me inner peace and connection to a larger purpose. I see parallels with Providence’s values and commitment to the community with my own, and this alignment gives me an opportunity to fulfill my purpose that was instilled by my parents. This is why I believe I was called to Providence,” Chrys finishes.
This Women’s History Month, challenge yourself to listen to your own inner voice and find the things that help you feel happy, relaxed and empowered to make a difference in your community.
A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
Providence SoCal Diversity & Inclusion Council (SoCal D&I) are leading some of our efforts to raise cultural awareness and promote diversity to help build appreciation for cultural traditions. We are also starting conversations to help educate people about different cultures as a way to create a more welcoming, equitable and inclusive environment. We support diversity education and awareness initiatives, thus deepening our ability to provide compassionate care and honor human dignity.
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