Tai Pham is the founder of Asian Boss Boy, a coaching program designed to help Asian-American men get lean and transform their lives.
The son of Vietnamese immigrants, Pham was raised in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, his life unencumbered by the financial distress his lineage experienced back in Asia.
“Unlike in Vietnam, over here my parents were able to accumulate wealth, to the point where my life was comfortable. I never really struggled,” Pham acknowledges.
But that socioeconomic privilege came at a cost.
For Pham, his father was constantly working in order to provide for the family.
This meant that Pham spent the majority of his time with his mother, who unintentionally inculcated many traditionally feminine traits in her son.
“My dad was busy supporting the family, so it never felt like I had a true father-figure presence,” Pham says.
“As a result, I was very sensitive, to the point where you could probably have termed me a crybaby, and that’s because I was raised by my mom. She instilled a lot of values and virtues in me, but by proxy a lot of those qualities were feminine.”
As a result, Pham’s EQ (emotional intelligence) trumped many of his peers, but as he got older, his maturation process was stifled, and he admits that there were times when he didn’t feel masculine.
Fortunately, when Pham was twelve years old, he met Mr. Le, an uncle-like figure who would completely revamp the way Pham saw himself.
“Mr. Le was very masculine and confident. I wanted that type of masculine energy, so we did a lot of training in tennis, martial arts, and Vietnamese, my native language,” Pham says.
Mr. Le’s strict regimen also included ensuring that Pham would run three miles every day after school.
“Working with Mr. Le, it was like a boot camp. No other kids were doing this,” Pham notes.
Of course, Pham didn’t like Mr. Le’s prescriptions, but the Bellevue native admits that these exercises gave him a tremendous confidence boost, even if nobody else noticed.
“At that time, I was still the stereotypical Asian guy,” remarks Pham, who shares that despite feeling powerful internally, externally his appearance suffered from a lackluster haircut, clunky braces, and a genuine indifference that unfortunately did not spur comparisons to the late James Dean.
Pham’s social apathy followed him to college, where as a freshman at Western Washington he began studying biology and anthropology in hopes of one day becoming a pharmacist.
“I was still very introverted when I went off to college, and that was magnified when I went through a breakup around 21 years old,” Pham says.
“But the breakup also highlighted my insecurities and the things that I needed to work on.”
Post-heartbreak, Pham recognized that he had to alter his behavior in order to achieve different results.
Despite his subconscious clamoring for him to accept mediocrity, Pham ignored those feelings and started dieting and working out, his goal being to shed some of the excess fat his body had accumulated during cuffing season.
He also vowed to stop being the stereotypical “nice guy” who prioritized everyone else’s wants and needs above his own.
By his senior year of college, Pham was no longer the introverted STEM major that his contemporaries had grown accustomed to seeing on campus.
He had lost weight and begun attending parties, and even though he struggled in new social settings, immersing himself in extracurriculars proved he could evolve.
“I didn’t necessarily like the new environments that I was part of, but I needed to experience that in order to grow,” Pham admits.
After earning his undergrad, Pham didn’t immediately pursue becoming a pharmacist.
Instead, he leveraged his fitness acumen and became a personal trainer, much to the chagrin of his parents, who like many parents, believed that their child should get a stable job, find a wife, have kids, and begin constructing a long-term foundation.
As a personal trainer, Pham excelled at interacting with clients and selling fitness programs, but he quickly understood that a career spent encouraging casual gymgoers to sign up for a comprehensive training plan was not for him.
“I made a lot of sales that summer, but it wasn’t my passion, and I was making less money than a lot of my peers who were servers or bartenders,” Pham reveals.
With pressure mounting to secure gainful employment, Pham later came across an ad for a course on Facebook that suggested he could make up to $10,000 per month as a coach/mentor.
Like many users who see ads pop up on their social media timelines, Pham was skeptical about the legitimacy of this ad, but the more he thought about ways he could help others, the more convinced he became that he could establish a personal brand that would attract clients.
Pham then bought the course marketed on the ad to learn how to build a coaching business, a decision that surprised even himself.
“That was a paradigm shift,” Pham explains.
“In the past, I never could have envisioned recording a video and posting an ad for my services. I couldn’t have even imagined getting on a sales call.”
Soon after, Pham launched his course, but unlike the hundreds of other courses in the marketplace, Pham didn’t try to appeal to everyone with a credit card.
Rather, Pham specifically targeted Asian-American men because he believed that his content and message could best resonate with that demographic.
After his course launched, Pham was inundated with hate comments from detractors, but he also received dozens of messages from other Asian-American men who had similar life experiences.
“For context, almost everything that has happened to me has happened to other Asian-American guys,” Pham says.
“That’s because here in America a lot of Asians grew up with immigrant parents, and have gone through the struggles and felt the pressures of trying to forge a career path and make a lot of money.”
Some may argue that every demographic experiences this level of top-down scrutiny from loved ones, but Pham says that for Asian-Americans, men in particular, there is added pressure to become exceptional, and that expectation can start to feel more like a duty than a choice.
“As Asian men, we never get a chance to sit down with ourselves and become self-aware,” Pham says.
“We are always thinking about the path that our parents give us.”
According to Pham, these familial influences, while at times overbearing, ultimately can be overcome if an individual is willing to prioritize the construction of their own narrative.
That being said, Pham can in no way promise that taking the road less traveled will be seamless.
Today, Pham has organized a collection of Asian-American clients who network and achieve success together, but not too long ago, Pham’s coaching business was floundering.
For context, before Asian Boss Boy, Pham experimented with a couple different entrepreneurial enterprises (both of which failed), and consequently he was $20,000 in debt.
At that point, he started giving serious consideration to heeding his parent’s advice and getting a “real” job, but something kept drawing him back.
It wasn’t the potential to one day own a Lamborghini or have the financial freedom to jet off to the Maldives on a random Wednesday.
No, this was much more personal, something that was arguably ingrained in his identity.
“I didn’t want to be like my dad,” Pham cites as the reason for why he was unwilling to give up, his face expressionless as he utters these words.
“I despised the notion of working a 9 to 5 and never coming home and enjoying time with my family. I wanted to live a life that I thought was worth living, and to do that on my own terms.”
With those early business struggles behind him, Pham now is focused on building Asian Boss Boy into a nationally recognized community of Asian-American men, and in doing that, he also hopes to reverse some of the perceptions surrounding Asian men.
“I want to change the stereotypes of Asian men,” Pham says.
“I want the guys in my community to have that f***boy look, but when you sit down and speak with them, they are genuine and respectful, and on their purpose.”
Pham’s aspirations are lofty, but to him, a dream that isn’t grandiose is, in his words, “not a big enough dream.”
Daring to be ambitious is one reason why Pham is in his current position, and it’s also why he would encourage anyone else with a longing for something more to never stop working toward their end goal.
“Imagine who you want to be and then write that down. Paint that picture in your head,” Pham advises.
“And then find somebody who can help you. It doesn’t have to be me, but you have to surround yourself with people who are on a similar trajectory, and if you do that, and you put in the work, you very likely will become the man that you initially envisioned.” QS
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