Rose Castillo-Komoda
Stefania Curto

Inspired by the entrepreneurial and creative energy around her, Kim Yee explores opportunities that allow her to contribute to a greater whole.

Guided by a sense of knowing and curiosity, Kim Yee changes her course to creatively explore and build a life that is in alignment to what’s important to her. With an eagerness to grow, she lets go of control as she forays into opportunities that allow for exploration, discovering what emerges. Our conversation dives into the daily rituals that provide a framework for her days, how she inhabits the beginner's mindset, the people that inspire her, and how running has become a conduit for change—a way to contribute to and create community.
Rose: What exciting things are going on in your life right now?

Kim: The first thing that comes to mind is the new environment I’ve immersed myself in, learning the ropes of hospitality and the restaurant world at Potluck Club. Watching this amazing group of people - Ricky, Kimberly, Cory, Justin, Zhan - bring their vision to life first hand has been special. It’s a complete representation of all of them, not just as a team but what they each bring to the table as individuals. They are creative, driven, constantly bouncing ideas off one another and encouraging each other to action them. It’s so special and inspiring to be around them on a regular basis.  

In what ways has that atmosphere influenced you?

My partner, Ricky, is a true entrepreneur in how he thinks and generates ideas. There are definitely times when he struggles, but he is also really successful; working through the ups and downs brings him a sense of contentment and fulfillment. Being around him has inadvertently had a significant impact on me. I look at Ricky and the rest of the Potluck Club team and think ‘This is incredible, how can I do something like this for me?’ Last year, I mustered up the courage to take a leap of faith and quit my corporate job to figure out what I'd like to do next.

Did being around this entrepreneurship energy play a role in or add to that desire for change?

I think that was part of it. Being around my partner daily, in the same space during the pandemic and seeing all of that energy and flow of ideas, I was like ‘Wow’. It’s infectious, you want to be a part of that. You want to join in and put your own spin on things.

What led you to change the course you were on and lean into finding what’s next for you?

It’s tough to pinpoint an exact moment, it was more of a culmination of time invested in a job and slowly realizing that this investment wasn’t being reciprocated. Working on several projects simultaneously as a Product Manager in Technology for a talent agency required so much of me, yet it didn’t provide the challenges and growth I desired—I felt unfulfilled. Work began to take up most of the space in my life and the quality of my life started to deteriorate, my health took a hit, and so did my happiness. I held on for as long as I could until I realized that it wasn’t worth it anymore. Change was necessary.  

The pandemic also played a role, I feel like it changed everyone. It forced us into this mode of solitude and made people question the status quo especially in their own lives ‘Is this what I really want to do?’ It also gave us time back for ourselves, I now had time to care for myself in ways I didn’t before and it became extremely valuable. I started experimenting with ideas, getting reacquainted with activities that I used to enjoy, and picking up new hobbies.

After really reflecting on the last few years, I am certain that one of the catalysts in choosing happiness was when I started drawing again. It felt like brushing the dust off a shoe box full of old fond memories. I felt like a kid again—curious, explorative, limitless even. I am by no means a professional artist, but it’s been exciting to get reacquainted with the creative side of me I had forgotten.

How are you learning to listen to, and trust your intuition? What has this process been like?

It's been quite the roller coaster. What I realized is that I am the biggest blocker of my own self-advancement. Sometimes I feel like my self-confidence isn’t there. When you are on your own, the drive, motivation and recognition of your wins all come from you. When you’re part of a team, surrounded by people, you can lean on one another to say ‘You did a great job!’ It’s weird to give yourself recognition in the same way. I’m learning that if I'm going to be my harshest critic, then I also have to be my biggest fan, to be able to say ‘great job Kim—that’s been a struggle for sure. 

Trusting myself and my intuition is going to be a continuous uphill battle. My default is to second guess myself, but it’s funny because I was never more sure of anything in my life than when I decided to leave my traditional job. When I quit, I threw away that established roadmap and am now slowly taking steps to be comfortable and confident in my own decisions. I'm learning to rely on this inner voice and intuition more and more.

What are you focusing on now? 

Finding opportunities that bring me a sense of fulfillment, pushing past fears and hesitation. With that comes the struggle of figuring out if an opportunity that comes around is a full representation of me; does it benefit those around me and serve a greater purpose? Service is my love language—my north star. It has guided me in all the directions that I’ve taken so far, all the left and right turns, and the U-turns. It has led me to Potluck Club and opened the door to become a Nike Community run coach. It has all been scary but rewarding at the same time.

In what ways do you show up for yourself that keeps you aligned on what you are focusing on?

Throughout the day, I check in with myself to make sure that what I’m doing is really something I want to be doing. What I began to realize, and I think all of us start realizing this as we get older, is that our time here is finite. I want to spend less of my time on autopilot and more on things that I actually want to be doing, things that I can learn and grow from. This inner voice is also telling me to let go of regret—you shouldn’t regret putting yourself out there and try new things, everything is a learning experience. If you look at everything as an opportunity to learn, how can you regret anything?

Can you share with us parts of your upbringing and culture that have shaped who you are?

I was painfully shy growing up. I didn’t talk to anybody, I couldn’t look at anyone, it was really bad. When I was seven, my mom was like, ‘this is not going to happen, I'm not going to raise you to be in the background. I want you to be able to shine if and when you want to shine. I want you to have a presence.’ So instead of sending me to Chinese school, she enrolled me in gymnastics and I became a really active kid. I thank her for that because it definitely brought me out of my shell. 

I am a second generation Chinese American, my mom was born in the US and my dad moved here when he was really young. They both grew up in neighboring buildings in Chinatown / Lower East Side in NYC, and started dating when they were in junior high. They grew up with nothing, worked their way up, and went to college. Before my brother and I were born, they moved out of low income housing into a neighborhood in Queens. My parents have always been giving people and I felt this growing up. I had a very fortunate childhood, my parents gave my brother and I everything they could. This generous spirit is strongly ingrained in me because of them, and has shaped me into someone who wants to support and be there for others.

How does it feel to travel down a road where there’s no concrete plan, leaving behind the well-trodden path for one that is more mysterious, more explorative—one that gives you room to expand and grow?

It feels good. If I were a snake, and I am born in the year of the snake, it’s like I've just shed my previous skin and I feel very good. You and I were just talking about how 2022 was the best year of my life. I made that really scary decision to kick that year off without a job, a steady paycheck or the rhythms of a typical schedule, but the tradeoff was well worth it.

I’ve been able to travel to all of these wonderful places to celebrate friends getting married or to spontaneously join racing teams traveling across the country to run. It allowed me to be part of these incredible experiences, running through the desert as we made our way from Santa Monica to Las Vegas in one race, and joining another relay team on a whim to run from Mount Hood in Oregon all the way to the coast! 

Could all this have happened if I had a job? Maybe, but I wouldn’t have felt fulfilled in the same way that I did and it wouldn’t have been as spontaneous. I would have felt obligated in one way or another to have been “online''. All of this was meant to happen the way it did and I was able to fully immerse myself in these experiences.

What immediately came to my mind as you shared these incredible running excursions is that you were able to be present.

For sure, that’s 100 percent it. The richness of these experiences were all tied to me being present—I left each of them feeling whole and full. They made for such good stories to share with my friends and family. I was able to articulate what I got out of each experience with such clarity that it encouraged some people to run. I enjoyed all of these experiences, even if they were difficult; living in the moment and taking in everything I could from each.

Everything you’ve done in the last year has required a lot of work. There’s something magical and beautiful about seeing someone do the work, and see them happy, it’s infectious!

It is infectious! What comes to mind for me is that with each experience, I evolve. I learn something and grow from it. A big part of my life is running. Old Man Run Club has given me so much happiness over the years so I constantly want to do as much as I can - go the extra mile if you will - to give back to the club and the running community as a whole. That’s why the opportunity to co-coach the Nike Community runs with Jes Woods has been such a highlight for me. These leadership roles come with a lot of responsibility and exposure. Exposure in the sense that I feel like I have really put myself out there to continue to play an active role in this community I love so much.

As you continue to expand your perception of who you are, how are you embracing the different versions of you that have come forth in your self-exploration?

I’m learning to come to terms with the fact that every day, and even within the day, there will be different versions of me taking the wheel. Right now, the different versions of me are heavily based on the different emotions that I feel—happy Kim, motivated Kim, sad Kim, angry Kim. I am constantly exploring the lengths I need to go to internally when I feel these different emotions. Productivity comes easier on some days than others. Sometimes I need to dig extra deep to get the simplest things done. At the end of every day though, I know I need to take care of myself. Recognizing and embracing these emotions, that’s self-nurturing. When I neglect my emotional needs, I go into a depressive state. I shut down and shut the world out, and that’s the least happy and productive version of me.

“I want to spend less of my time on autopilot and more on things that I want to be doing, things that I can learn and grow from.”
What have you become more aware of, what are you learning about yourself?

That I am in charge of the next step. In my corporate jobs, my bosses and I would map out my career path which dictated what I had to do if I wanted to end up in a certain position or make “x” amount of money. Now that I don’t have that clearly defined path, and I’m in complete control of my future, I have to keep putting myself out there. The other day, my partner asked me in the most curious and compassionate way ‘What do you want to do?’ At first I was like, oh my god?! But he said this in the most reassuring way ‘You have all of the tools in your tool belt to be able to do what you want to do and if you don’t, you’ll find a way to learn them’. 

The crux of it all is me showing up. I’m trying to be more bold. Lately I’ve been questioning things differently, in a way that gives me a framework to make sure that what I'm doing promotes self growth—Is this going to bring me one step closer to where I want to be, wherever my journey is taking me? Am I going to feel a sense of fulfillment? Am I going to feel like I've contributed to something greater?   

So far I've been really fortunate to have been approached with these different opportunities and I’ve been excited to take them on to see where they take me, but there’s also a part of me that doesn’t just want to wait to see what comes next. It’s not sustainable and my growth will develop at a slower pace. What I'm more aware of now, and what I’m learning is that while this is hard, I am in charge and I've got to put myself out there more. I believe that will yield a lot more growth in a shorter amount of time.

What do you find yourself struggling with the most right now?

Being content with what I’m doing and being proud of where I am. When you are down this road alone it’s hard to quantify all of your success, to reflect on all of the wins - big and small - because everyday looks different. You are on this quest of figuring out what’s next so it’s easy to overlook all the great things that you’ve already done, and I struggle with that for sure. In a way I feel a little hypocritical because I am in full support of everyone else’s endeavors, cheering them on, but I have a hard time being my own cheerleader. 

What are you learning to let go of?

The idea that I need to control every aspect of my life. As I learn to trust the process, I’ve had to relinquish that control and just let things happen. In the past I used to tread lightly when it came to uncertainties, but now I’m like, well this is what I asked for so let’s go for it, let’s see where this takes me.

How do you befriend the ambiguities and complexities of being in this “in-between space”?

I constantly remind myself that I am here because I wanted something more. To use surfing as an analogy, this in-between space is where you challenge yourself to test out your capacity for the waves that come to you, each one is different and you’re learning how to move and grow outside of your comfort zone. You start riding the smaller waves first and then you move on to slightly bigger ones, something harder, and you reap so many of the rewards that come with putting yourself out there. You quell the fear, you try something new. These in-between spaces are like those waves for me, they increase my capacity and remind me to embrace my learnings.

When self-doubt and self-criticism creeps in, how do you invite back in the inner voice that is kind and compassionate?

Oh god, it happens all the time and I think five year old recluse Kim wants to come out when I am the hardest on myself. Being compassionate to myself is definitely not second nature and is something that I’m continuing to learn how to be better at. In some ways it's being able to relinquish control. Not everything is going to be 10/10 perfect, and so it’s reminding yourself to trust your abilities, that you can do it, and that it’s ok to make mistakes. Practicing that requires a lot of trial and error and a lot of patience. 

At the end of 2022, I paced the NYC City Marathon for the first time. I was so nervous and in my head. I put so much pressure on myself that I was starting to get sick leading up to race day. I was being everything but compassionate to myself. I asked myself “Why are you so nervous?’ I had to remember that I have done something like this before, and that I’d just be another runner in the sea of runners out there. I’ve paced 20 milers before, I had to trust and have faith in myself. I also had to tell myself that if it doesn’t go according to plan it's ok too. Nothing is ever certain on race day and that’s the beauty of being able to do things with uncertain results.

Where do you find community? What role does it play in your life?

The NYC running community has become such a significant part of my life. When I started running with Old Man Run Club, it was such a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by other Asian runners, which at the time, I felt was very rare to see in this space and community. Through running, I’ve found new challenges, a series of accomplishments I am so proud of, and an extended family that I love spending time with. Having the opportunity to be a leader in this space has made me appreciate the community so much more, not only am I helping to foster community, I’m also helping to build it and encouraging others to be a part of it.

There’s also the restaurant community that I've recently become a part of, which has been amazing. In addition to being part of the Potluck Club team, being around the diners who are interested to learn the story that the team is trying to tell through the restaurant design and the food—I love it. Being a part of these communities has been so enriching.

In some ways Chinatown has become this main character in your story that’s unfolding.

That’s so true. Well my grandma and uncle still lived in Chinatown after my parents moved to Queens, so I did spend a lot of time there growing up, and in some sense it felt a bit like home. However, once my grandma passed, we moved our family gatherings to Queens and I didn’t really frequent Chinatown again until I started to date my partner who has lived there for over a decade. I reconnected with parts of the Chinatown I remembered growing up, and was introduced to the new parts of Chinatown I was not previously familiar with. In all honesty, it was sensory overload in the beginning - the noise, the density of people, the smells of the streets. I had forgotten about some of these characteristics, but over time I found beauty and a home in their midst. 

There’s a rich cultural history that you can feel when you walk down the streets, when you go to these mom and pop places to buy, say a breakfast bun. I buy rice noodles from a woman who sells them on the corner of Canal Street and Centre Street every week. I walk everywhere and feel like I'm just so integrated in this community. I feel so lucky now, it’s become part of my fabric.

On reacquainting with cultural traditions…

I was just reflecting on the fact that there were some years that our family didn’t celebrate Lunar New Year because we forgot so many of the traditions. Once my grandparents passed, my family stopped practicing a lot of those cultural traditions. We kind of navigated away from our culture and our heritage, not because we wanted to, but because that’s kind of where life was just taking us. Not going to Chinese school, being in gymnastics, and going to Catholic school where there weren’t a lot of kids that looked like me—growing up in those settings took us further and further away from our heritage. It wasn't until I started dating my partner, and being part of a larger Asian community who celebrated Lunar New Year, that I found myself being reintroduced to these celebrations. And now we’ve actually brought these traditions back to my family to celebrate. Everything just comes full circle in a way; now I live in Chinatown, close to the Lower East Side, and my parents are bewildered by it all, in a good way.

What gives your days meaning?

Having a nice mix of variables and constants. Amidst all of the unknowns in the day, I am learning that there are certain things I need to include to help me stay grounded and help make the day a good one - a combination of simple things like movement, eating well, alone time, having meaningful conversations, helping someone out. The list will change depending on the day and which version of me has the wheel.

What brings you joy?

Supporting and being there for others and in turn being there for myself. I draw so much empowerment from helping people and I find in doing so I’m also able to discover new things about myself.

Who inspires you?

The people around me. Everything that you’re doing with Chasing Sunshine. Working and being in the company of Ricky, Kim, Cory, Justin, and Zhan - the Potluck Club team! I’m so in awe of what they’ve built and their journeys to get to this point. They went through a lot of lows but overcame them to get to where they are and they’ve only just started. I would love to be able to replicate that for myself.

I also draw inspiration from my parents. I recently spoke with my Dad who said ‘I’m so proud of you for quitting your job. I wish I had done that. I really wish that I didn’t spend 28 years at my old job because it took everything out of me and I wasn’t happy. Now I see you, and you're so happy.’ 

Where are you on your journey?

I’m at the beginning of my journey taking each day as it comes. Each day is somewhat of a blank slate. If yesterday wasn’t great, tomorrow is a new day which means an opportunity to reset. I feel as though I’m always at the beginning because I often find myself recalibrating and learning—I find comfort in that. I never want to lose the lens of being a student in anything that I do. 

What does chasing sunshine mean to you and how does it manifest in your life?

Chasing sunshine for me is taking a risk or going down a path less traveled—knowing you could fail, knowing it is different from the norm, and exploring it. And, perhaps, having something beautiful come out of it. I manifested it when I started running so many years ago and when I quit my corporate job last year. I will manifest it by saying yes to the many adventures that lay ahead of me this year.

Words to impart with those who are in pursuit of what makes them uniquely whole.

When you take that leap of faith, be your biggest fan throughout the process. There is so much fulfillment in the lessons learned and in taking a risk—you just don’t know where it's going to lead you.