One of my favourite days of the years is International Women’s Day on March 8, or Ngày Quốc Tế Phụ Nữ as we call it here in Vietnam. It’s an opportunity to celebrate women the world over and not least the most important ones in my life: my mother, my sister and all my female friends and colleagues at THP.
It is one such colleague, Thanh Vu who represents one of our core brands – Number 1 Energy Drink. As Vietnam’s first female ultra marathon runner and the first Vietnamese woman to win the Deca Ultra Triathalon, she embodies the “Number 1 spirit” that “Nothing is Impossible”.
But being Number 1 doesn’t just mean coming first. It’s also all about striving to be our best self, our Number 1 self.
I think this concept is one that many women are still grappling with because so many of us routinely put other people first whether as wives, mothers, or carers. We often put our own needs second.
This is especially true in Vietnam where the average marriage age is still very young by the standards of many developed countries. According to our 2019 Population and Housing Census, men marry at an average age of 27.2 and women at 23.1.
This is a decade younger than Western European countries like France and Germany where the respective ages are 35.9 and 32. Vietnamese women spend almost their entire adult lives married.
The marriage is going up. When the last census was conducted a decade earlier in 2009, the respective ages were 26.2 and 22.9. Rising living standards and urbanization have been prompting young people to marry latter.
So the figures show that Vietnam is changing, but at heart, we are still a Confucian society with a large rural hinterland. In rural areas, many young women get married soon after they leave school at 18.
Parental pressure to find a spouse can be intense: hence the saying: “cha mẹ đặt đâu con ngồi đấy”, which means: “children must sit wherever their parents want them to”.
But I think it is still possible to be our best self and be of service to others whether at home or at work. Psychology backs this up.
One important book on the subject is “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success” by University of Pennsylvania Professor Adam Grant. In it, he divides people into three basic groups: givers, takers and matchers.
What his research shows is that all three types show up as underperformers, middle rankers or outperformers in life and the workplace. But there is one group who disproportionally appear at both the bottom and the top of the list: givers.
His rationale is as follows: givers can be underperformers if they get exploited and burnt out. But smart givers end up on top, not because they are selfless but selfull. They take of themselves and then others.
A good analogy is to think of the way that airlines teach us to deal with an emergency when the oxygen masks fall down. If we put our own mask on first then we will be in a stronger position to help those sitting next to us.
I think it’s an important lesson that I try to take heed to myself. Forgetting about the self isn’t good for you or those around you. The Dalai Lama famously said as much when he said that: “caring for others based only on your sacrifice doesn’t last. Caring must also feed you.”
So on the day that we celebrate women’s achievements the world over, I urge all my sisters to become your Number 1 self. It will be good for all of us!