Origin Stories and the Aspen Trees

One of my favorite childhood memories was playing “Leaf Stem Fight” with my younger brother under the aspen trees. 

I grew up in a small city in the north part of China and in my neighborhood, aspen trees stand on both sides of the streets. On the way back home from school, my brother and I would search for leaves with the thickest and toughest stems. After we each selected the strongest we could find, we crossed our stems together and pulled as hard as we could. The one whose stem did not break won the game. Though the walk should have only taken us a quick 10 minutes, it always seemed to take 30 as we played “Leaf Stem Fight”, laughing along the way. 

That is part of the reason why I love aspen trees: they remind me of how much I love and care for my brother. The other reason I admire aspens is because they represent my family name.

My family name is Yang (杨), which literally means aspen. In China, aspen symbolizes justice, integrity, and an unshakable fighting spirit. I am very proud of the meaning of my family name, and it continues to inspire me to be a person who symbolizes the same.

In the English speaking world, the connection between my name and aspen, as well as the meaning behind it, is no longer obvious when the English alphabet replaces the Chinese characters. 

When I first moved away from my home in Northern China, I felt sad that people could not understand where I come from and what I stand for, though I was lucky enough to still enjoy the falling leaves of the aspens at my new home in Chicago.

Once I accepted a job at Habits at Work I began to realize that instead of complaining about how difficult it is for people to get to know me, I should present myself in the way I want to be seen. In other words, I am responsible for the wrapping of the gift that I am.

Although I am still crafting my skills on how to best introduce myself, I am sure of one thing: the use of stories is powerful! There is no other way to create such a memorable impression as stories do. 

Though it may be difficult moving to a new country with a language that doesn’t understand my family name, introducing myself in a way that tells my story and wraps the gift that I am is the best way for people to get to know me. 

Autumn is coming again and the leaves on the aspen trees are beginning to fall. Though I left my hometown years ago, I remain kind, brave and with an unshakable fighting spirit.

Sue Yang
Executive Assistant

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