I was born in Vietnam. A year and half later, I came to California. We moved to Houston for a lower cost of living a couple years later. When I came to Houston, I didn’t know any people. I went to an inner-city middle school, then relocated across town to a suburban high school. It was hard to call a place home. In my family, I am the middle of five siblings and I felt disconnected from my parents because of the generation gap, the culture gap, and the language barrier. I had an identity crisis. Am I a Californian, a Houstonian, or an immigrant? Am I American? Am I all of these at once? Am I in the wrong family? Am I wrong to be gay?
University of Houston helped me to feel like I belonged. Coming to UH, I saw people with all different backgrounds. I learned that there are others like me. People who look like me, who identify with me – in my passions, my struggles, my ambitions. It has really changed my life. UH became a home to me, so much that I would be here from 9am to 11pm. I connected with my fellow Cougars more than with my family.
My goal at the University of Houston has been to have a wholesome experience: to do my best both in Bauer and in UH, to challenge myself in growing as a leader, and to support others in being the best they can, all while understanding I can’t achieve what I want if I don’t fail a few times.
I’m passionate about elevating people and organizations. I get a charge out of seeing people get to the next level or to a better place. I want to listen to problems and solve them creatively, so I aspire to be a consultant. In freshman year, when I wanted to be a leader, I wore my heart on my sleeve, and I was a people-pleaser. That made me quite ineffective. I was always serving other people to gain their approval, but never accepting myself. I joined many organizations and didn’t add value since I was spreading myself too thin.
Now, I’ve developed as a leader and found my leadership style to be a mix of strategy and hard work. I’m more goal-oriented and have a healthy level of assertiveness. I prioritize productivity over pride and aim to leverage the strengths of those on my team.
I think finding my voice has been my biggest challenge. There are so many people here with their own unique background and successes. I look up to such people, but I also feel like I get lost in the crowd. I’m so grateful that we see this amount of representation on campus. I learned that everyone has a voice, and everyone has a story. I was intimidated by having so many new things to learn, and it was hard for me to figure out who I am in the process.
I learned to say that, “I KHAN do it” and to always “be KHAN-fident” in yourself. Be truly and unapologetically you. Because when you’re not afraid of showing your authentic self, that’s how you’re able to find your voice. I’ve been able to pass this along to my younger siblings, my mentees, and my teammates in student orgs.
The secret to living longer is surrounding yourself with people who make you better, and smiling more because it feels better. I’ve experienced this with my family, my friends, my churchmates, and my network of support. Even if you don’t have a lot of resources, like time, or money, or control, you still can adjust your attitude, and that can drive your performance. You only have one life. Make that one become one million stories.
Khan has been a friend for two years and it was an honor to interview him. I initially met him at a leadership retreat called LeaderShape and saw him grow during the year I spent with him in the Program for Excellence in Selling in 2016.
I aimed to capture his bubbly personality and positive outlook in the interview and the photos. It's always fun to talk to him - I hope you left this article with a smile on your face.
Find & connect with Khan Pham here.