Meet Shanshan

Once an unwanted girl

A boy heir for tiger's year?

When my mom’s ultra sound result came back showing that I was a girl, my grandmother didn’t want to believe in the technology. When they told her after I was born and confirmed as a girl, she was so upset that she didn’t leave the bed. She really had hoped a tiger boy were to be born as the family heir.

1986, it was the era when one child policy was strictly carried out in my province in China. Even though my great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all the only boys in their generations, both of my parents would have lost their jobs if they had tried to have a second baby.

There is no doubt that my grandparents loved me. They gave me endless love and patience after the realization that I am the only family name bearing grandchild they got. They even quit smoking in 1 day. As little as I was 3 or 4, I always remebered grandma’s reaction to my birth – told as a family joke, of course.

Lets make her as great as a boy

fter walking up and down the river bank for 3 days, my grandpa named me “山山”, meaning ”moutains”. Written in the traditional way, those 2 characters look like “出” – meaning “out”. The pronunciation ”shan-shan” is feminine, but the character choice is rare and masculine for a baby girl. My grandpa wished that I would become a powerful tiger going out of the mountains to make things happen.

My father always said: ”Don’t speak to me until you stop crying”. So speaking to him only stopped feeing like reporting to my boss a few years ago. I wasn’t a tiger boy, but sure they were pretty typical tiger parents with the tough love that always pushed me to be better.

I was encouraged to be very out-going, responsible and independent.People around us kept saying things like ”She is great, too bad she was a girl”. As a sensitive child by nature, I didn’t know if I should have taken those words as a compliment.

A cross-eyed teen who was bullied in school

During one break at 5th grade, my teacher hinted me that my parents shall take me to an ophthalmologist. I had crossed eyes and it turned out that it was already too late for non-surgical interventions. And I was too young for the surgery. I don’t know if my parents would have ever noticed, unless my teacher had told me. I remember crying and asking them once, ”Am I just a trophy of good grades that you display to your friends? The rest of me being just invisible?”

I felt ugly my entire teenage years while my parents were always regarded as pretty good looking for their age – not a great recipe for building a healthy self-esteem. I was lacking 3D vision, which affected my balance and hand to eye coordination. So I was horrible at doing any sport that involves detecting fast flying object’s exact location – being a cool kid was not an option either.

My only survival mechanism from the mean boys was to be a goofy straight-A student who organized tons of school events. In the end I made great friends and felt accepted. But that girly side of me was further oppressed.

The surgery and the shoot

urning 18 meant alcohol and party for other kids. For me, it meant that I could finally receive the eye surgery.

7 out of the 12 muscles around my both eyes were to be operated. There was one downside – I reacted poorly to local anesthesia. I had to stiffen my whole body to battle the pain around my eyes. I still remember begging for more meds but got denied and sweating through the sheets. In the end, they settled with 6 muscles instead of 7. After those 90 minutes on the operating table, I was half blind with an aching body living in the hospital by myself for a week. My parents visited, but not everyday. I was over-the-moon happy though. It felt like a rebirth.

To celebrate, I asked my parents to get me a photoshoot. It was popular among the pretty girls in my high school in 2005. I just wanted to finally become one of them.

I don’t remember precisely what happened in that session, but I felt safe and free to express the feminine, sensual and accepted part of me that was hiding under the skin. I’ll cherish that experience and the photos til the end of my life.

Looking back, that was the moment when the shame about my identity & body started to heal.

Now be a girl and stay close to your family!

”I need to get away from home! Somewhere far and different!” – I annouced that to my family in high school. That finally made my parents to realize that they probably went a bit too far on making me a boy. And they decided the best solution was to make me taking a ”girly major” and finding a stable job in China afterwards.

”You should choose accounting. You will be still hired even when your breasts drops to your belly button. ” The dean of accounting department in my university was the wife of my father’s friend and I should trust her.

I had mixed feelings. I was happy that I was finally accepted as a girl, but that statement sounded out of fear that older women were not regarded beautiful and could only be useful for certain type of jobs. Business skills are always useful, I convinced myself.

Nevertheless, I graduated from Shandong University majoring in accounting. I had an exchange year between 2008-2009 in Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland studying Industrial Management – that was the start of my ”home escape” phase.

Escaping into my own world of photography

I didn’t yet want to go back to China after my exchange year, so I got in a Dutch business school for a Msc. in Finance. Mostly because it was convenient and I thought if I earned enough money in banking, I would finally figure out what I really wanted to do.

It wasn’t the best decision. Most of my classmates were in their late 20s or early 30s trying to build a better network for their career. I was the 22 year-old who didn’t know how to order a drink from a bar. I felt like an outsider and ashamed for not knowing most of the western culture references in jokes.

With all the time in my hand I experimented with self-portraits on a DSLR camera. At that stage, I started to use my body as a creative medium, even though I still felt very insecure about it. I didn’t show those images to anyone, but I knew that I would never work in a bank.

“I hate babies,”

”but I love my team as if they were my adult babies.” – It was the opening line of my election speech for the national sales leader role in 2011 Jan, for AIESEC in Finland, a global youth run organization.

I came back to Finland to do volunteering in AIESEC and had my first sales team. It was scary but I felt it was right place to prove to myself that I can succeed in other areas than finance. We were a bunch of international students trying to sell interns from other countries to Finnish IT startups. One of us spoke Finnish and we had to start with cold calls. No one had any sales experience. The fear of rejection was through the roof.

On our first cold call session, my team were struggling to dial. I didn’t have much more selling experience so before each of them dialed, I put my hands on their shoulders and said ”I trust that you can do it. You will be great. I am right here for you.” – The tender loving support I wished to have received. Ever since, my team called me ”mom” dispite havinglittle age differences.

In that year I learnt so much about what unconditional belief, support and love can do to the ”fear of not good enough”. We were the best team in the country and made historical record.

When you think you are enlightened, go home and spend a week with your parents

I believed that I was healing myself and empowering others in Europe. Nevertheless, spending longer period of time visiting home was still tricky. I heard from my parents’ friends that they are actually very proud of me.

However, what I often heard ”between the lines” from them was: “If you loved us, you’d be living in China and make us happy!” My immediate defence was: ”If you loved me, you’d be happy for me because I am finding my path on my own!” Why did they still guilt me for not staying in China? What could I possibly have done more to make them happier?

I gradually understood that we were all just trying to be good enough for each other and deeply feared that we weren’t. My parents felt that they should have given me more tender love but already missed the chance. Their only wish was for me to be close. And I feared that I failed them.

Upon reading quite a few books and inquiry of the family history, I saw how generations of family trauma of shame, guilt and over-giving passed on to everyone. I understood that grandma felt ashame for only have given 1 boy for the family. They didn’t know the best way to love, but they have all tried their very best.

Nowadays, we say a lot of “sorry”, “thank you” and ”I am so proud of you” to each other about the past and the present events. We still fight but we hug even more. We are healing together.

The run-away princess portrait
that lead to true love

After AIESEC I continued working for a Finnish company, this time selling to C-level executives. But I quit in the end of 2015. I had already proven myself that I am capable of doing something else than finance. It is finally time to do something that makes my heart sing – something about healing, feeling beautiful and good enough.

My first portrait client was a dear friend. She is bright, energetic, independent and adventurous. She was getting to know someone online from across the oceans. I wanted to bring out the romantic part of her that also deserved being taken care of.

”Imagine that you are a run-away princess testing if the water in the river is too cold.” Upon seeing that photo, her now-husband wrote to her ”You are so beautiful that I want to be there with you.” The rest is history.

Creating lasting impact with portraits

I know that the portraits I created for my clients is helping them to heal, to feel good enough and to express their dreams — just like how I felt about my own portraits when I was 18.

But that was just the beginning of my own healing journey. Few years in the youth development work, difficult conversations with myself & with my parents, being coached & mentored several times myself was necessary to my own healing. I became a certified coach in 2012, attended master coaching class in 2016.

I want to combine longer coaching cycle with photography.

Finding the ''holy grail''

The same story told by all gurus

The coaching education I received was general life coaching. As I wanted to heal, to improve self-love and self-worth, I wanted to make my own tool.

What was the most impactful framework that helped me in the past 10 years? The more guru & guidance I followed, the more I realize that they were teaching the same thing, wrapped in different words and stories.

Some call it self-fulfilled prophecy, some call it ”the secret”. some call it creative visualization, some call it manifestition, some call it mind engineering, some call it law of attraction.The name does not matter. The principle does.

Whatever we want to have, believe that we already have it, act as we already have it, appreciate as we already have it. And we are all born being imperfectly good enough to be and to feel worthy and lovable – we are light that illuminate more light.

Living in my own reality

In 2018, my 1 page coaching sheet was developed.

In 2021, I expanded the sheet to a coaching framework.

In 2022, I have been healing & coaching with my expanding intuition.

– Body is grounded. Mind is free. Heart is as light as a feather.

And I can finally say that I am perfectly imperfect walking my own path, honoring my own reality, feeling good enough to serve with love and to speak up about who I am and what I do.

There is no beginning, thus no end.

read more stories & see my recent work from the blog section