Think of traditional Chinese remedies and one often conjures up images of a superstitious world framed by mahogany walls and drawers filled with exotic animal bones. At its heart however, is something altogether different, a focus on the principles of balance and harmony and desire to succeed without sacrificing one’s health or happiness.
Growing up between London and HangZhou I spent much of my youth trying to understand and overcome what I perceived to be a barrier between East and West. On the one side the western role models that I still look up to espoused the values of fierce ambition and determination; ideals that I knew could help me achieve success. On the other hand my family and heritage have always taught me to focus on the pursuit of balance in all aspects of my life, sometimes sacrificing short-term success and growth for long term happiness.
It was only upon entering the world of business that I began to see that rather than being incompatible, these two schools of thought can be used in tandem to help you succeed both personally and professionally.
I am a great believer in the need to continually improve oneself, and as Yu Holdings continues to grow I endeavour to do this whenever I can. Business courses that I have attended such as the Impact Investing Program at Oxford Business School and the Emerging Leaders Development Program at Columbia are exceptionally taught and thought-provoking. Audiobooks are another key part of my life, especially when constantly travelling. A real favourite of mine is Jim Collins’ ‘From Good To Great’ it’s an in-depth look at the keys to business success and a fantastic motivational tool for anyone looking to start their own company. I also love the talks on the Business of Fashion’s podcast and of course Thrive Global.
All of these tools continue to help me expand and enrich my mind, however I am also a firm believer in the need to enrich my soul. I try to remember that at the heart of every business are people, who as well as being driven to perform, are also at their core human beings in need of care and rest.
In Chinese tradition all living things are connected by Chi, the indistinct energy similar to the idea of the soul. Chi is characterized by the need to cultivate and ultimate balance it in order to bring optimal happiness to a person, this art is known as qigong and the likes of Feng-shui, meditation and I-Ching are all associated with achieving this.
Meditation is one of the oldest methods of cultivating your Chi, I also found it one of the easiest practices to introduce into my routine, even when time is at a premium. Whether you decide to use apps like Headspace or go down the more spiritual route of engaging with a fortune master, as I do, meditation can be done almost anywhere. There is a common misconception that you need some sort of silent space away from the rest of the world, this isn’t the case.
I’ve learned that with a little practice I can meditate almost anywhere, even at the office, and I encourage my team to too. This isn’t about escaping from all of your stress and clearing your mind, it’s about focus. Whenever I have important decisions to make, especially for Yu Holdings, I will get advice from advisors and team but then I will always meditate. Even if only for 10 minutes, it lets me put a spotlight on one issue without the distractions of the rest of the world. It helps prevent me making rash decisions, and gives me and my team much needed breathing space.
Over the last few years I have seen mentoring become more and more fashionable in almost all industries, although I have my business specific mentors, I also consult four Chinese fortune masters to help me on a more spiritual level, including my meditation. The person that I consult with most frequently is a master of the art of I-Ching; the ancient Chinese philosophy of change, similar to western fortune telling. This has taught me to trust in my intuition and by pairing it with everything that I have learned within the business world I can do this without it blinding me.
My favourite traditional method to partner with meditation is the herbal tea. The four most common ingredients being white chrysanthemum, goji berry, sweet osmanthus and crataegus fruit. The flavour and scent of these teas have a uniquely calming effect, and combined with their exceptional nutritional value they can allow you 5 minutes to escape from the hectic day-to-day running of a company.
Chinese culture places great reverence around ancestors, emphasizing both the need to remember our history but also respect that the wisdom of China’s greatest philosophers is no less true now that it was when it was written. The teachings of Sun Tzu, Confucius and Lao Tzu resonate with me more each time I encounter them. Whilst Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ might have been written from a military standpoint, its teachings are no less true in business:
‘Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war and then seek to win.’ – Sun Tzu’s The Art of War
Sun Tzu’s tenants focus on the importance of preparation and strategy, identifying and honing your strengths before moving forward. Pairing this with the ideals of Confucianism and Taoism, I have learned that it is only through constant self-improvement in all aspects of our life that we can hope to accomplish great feats.
The fast-paced, non-stop lifestyle associated with running successful business can very easily require you to operate more like a machine than a person. However if I have learned one thing so far in my life it is that in order to truly succeed you must never neglect your humanity.