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An Interview With Sylvia Yu Friedman, Award-Winning Filmmaker, Author & Serial Entrepreneur!


Her Expat Life recently had the pleasure to speak with Sylvia Yu Friedman, Penguin Author of A Long Road to Justice, Global Top 50 Women In Sustainability, TV Host & Award-Winning Filmmaker to learn more about what life is like as a successful woman!


1: You have accomplished so much over your career as an award-winning filmmaker, Penguin

author, TV host, serial entrepreneur, and philanthropy consultant! What has been your most

rewarding role/project to date?


I always have this nagging feeling that I have so much further to go and more milestones to hit. I

never feel like I’ve made it and I would never want to “peak” which is why I try to go out of my

comfort zone every year and take on work that truly scares me (something totally new). The

most rewarding projects on the go are a book collaboration with a client – I can’t mention the

details yet but it’s with Penguin Random House – check back with me later this year. I’m

developing a TV series with a film production company and we’re working on the episode

summaries and it’s been a wonderful shift to focus on the creative side of things. I hope to

explore more creative projects this year through my (first) novel.


2: What would you say are the key factors that drive female success in business and the

workplace and what advice do you have for women living and working in multicultural work

environments who want to advance their careers?


Networking strategically and finding solid mentors have been a crucial part of my work success

especially as an expat – I highly recommend building up your network and identifying mentors. If

you can’t find a mentor, then hire a coach. Overseas in Asia, I don’t have the luxury of tapping

into deeply entrenched networks like the ones I have back in my hometown Vancouver where I

can call upon childhood friends and high school buddies. I have intentionally spent a lot of time

meeting new people in professional mixers or by joining clubs. Working in cross-cultural settings

is not easy and experiencing culture shock is a real thing. I can easily forget that I need to pull

back and be less direct with my Asian colleagues and that “saving face” is really important to

them. I rely on my mentors and friends outside of the office to help me process if I come up with

a challenge that’s due, let’s say, to cultural differences.


3: You have lived all over the world from Vancouver to Beijing and now Hong Kong. Tell us about

life as an expat!


I have been living abroad since 2004 and often forget that I’m living in a foreign city. Once in a

while, as I’m walking by an outdoor vegetable market with all the Chinese signs around me, I

have this seemingly dawning revelation, ‘Oh gosh, I live in Hong Kong!’ The one difference in

my life as an expat that stands out is that work projects are much more international in Hong

Kong and in the span of a day, I have met someone from Israel in the morning for networking,

then had a work meeting with someone from Singapore; and in the evening, I spoke with a local

Chinese from Hong Kong and corresponded with a South Asian in the city by email.

During the Pandemic, there was an exodus of expats including my original group of girlfriends

and I found myself starting all over again and expanding my friendship circle. Expat life has a

revolving door of people coming and going and yet this has given me more resilience in the area

of relationships – meeting new friends and maintaining friendships and my surrogate family –

and I’m much more intentional about building a support system around me than my friends in

Canada would be. I also stay in regular touch with my family and my longtime friends around the

world. It really is comforting to reach out to family and old friends whenever I need to speak to

someone who’s known me for a long time. One of the perks of living in this city that I’m looking

forward to doing more of is air travel to Thailand, Singapore, Korea and Japan etc. They are just a

few hours away.


4: What advice do you have for women who may be starting out in their entrepreneurial or expat

life?


Find your core group of friends and supporters early on – join clubs, professional or college

associations, church, Rotary etc. – they’ll be your lifeline as you navigate and get settled in your

new city or launch a new business. I recently interviewed Sandy Biback, a player in the

business conference planning world and she said something that stayed with me: “Know your

strengths and hire your weaknesses.” I would also suggest hiring a coach to help guide you in

the beginning stages – you will grow exponentially if you put in the work and have a seasoned

guide.


5: You are married to a very successful man, just like yourself. How do you find balance in your

marriage between work and all your commitments?



To be frank, we really don’t have work-life balance because of our busy schedules, but we are

disciplined in taking a rest all day on Saturdays. We’ll relax and go for a hike or do something

rejuvenating like going antiquing or going to a movie. This weekly break has saved us from

burnout. I highly recommend taking one day out of the week to focus on yourself and your

spouse/partner. I also feel grateful that I get to work on projects that help make this world a

better place and that helps give me a strong sense of purpose in all I do.


6: Tell us more about your digital TV show called & 'Inspiring YOU with Sylvia Yu'!


Back in 2004 when I first moved to Asia, several friends encouraged me to host my own talk

show. I must confess that it’s been a longtime dream of mine to be the 'Oprah of Asia' and to do

interviews that motivate others and bring hope. Last year, I launched an interview show on

LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/sylviayu/) to put a spotlight on inspiring people doing

extraordinary things. Through this show, I hope to connect people especially women who are

interested in making a difference in this world and to see a movement happening.


7: How did your career start? What kept you motivated throughout your career? What advice do

you have for other women who may be struggling in their career or looking for a change of

direction?


I’ve had a two track career from the start. From the beginning of my career, I was working two

full-time jobs – I was a journalist by day and an executive editor of a national magazine by night.


Then in Beijing, I worked as a journalist and as a philanthropy advisor for ultra-high net worth

family offices. Juggling two roles has sharpened my multi-tasking skills and ability to manage

my time. I now have a biography writing business and I take on clients in addition to my

entrepreneurial work in connecting investors and my interview show and film work and more.

Life is never boring because I have different projects to juggle. My advice for anyone looking to

change their job role is to research, research and research first before you make that leap and

plan your exit strategy. Don’t get stuck in a rut!


8. You are in the top 50 women for sustainability - Congratulations! What does sustainability

mean to you and how can we as women become more sustainable in our lives?


Women’s leadership and participation in civil societies worldwide will be the hinge of history –

they are key to economic growth and sustainable development; in delivering the SDGs. As we

have seen the meteoric rise of women in leadership as CSOs, they have enhanced and brought

increased innovations, investments in health, education policies, social protection, collaboration

and awareness of natural resources and of the rights of women and the marginalised. The

natural aptitude of women in influencing, demonstrating humility, inclusivity and translating

complex issues will indeed help bring a tipping point towards sustainability and circularity and a

just future. I believe we’re going to see the largest women’s movement rising up in our generation; it’s now time for women to break through barriers as leaders at local, national, regional and global levels in our post-Pandemic world. Women are often left out of the equation and yet have a completely unique perspective and means to bring transformative impact through their innate ability to influence, communicate and connect inspiringly, and their bold, inclusive, empathic and wise

decisions. Disproportionately, it is women who suffer the most from economic and social

consequences from any hardship arising from Inequality, Covid, Climate Change, Poverty and

Violent Conflict. Gender equality matters!


9. Despite your busy schedule, what do you like to do in your spare time?

How do you manage your time, projects, and productivity? What advice do you have for

busy entrepreneurial women?


There are some days where everything is running smoothly and days where I am not managing

my work and time very well. I certainly don’t believe in the superwoman concept where we can

have it all. Something has to give and that’s usually our social time or “me time” or health.

What’s helped me immensely in busy periods is fiercely guarding my regular exercise

commitment and sleep schedule, having a healthy diet (low carb diet) and investing in quality

time with supportive friends and maintaining my spiritual life (prayer, spiritual community, church

etc). I journal as much as I can to write out my thoughts and frustrations and lessons learned.


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