Discovering Difference with Jessie Lian

“As a child, I was always wanted to be different. But I was too afraid, because I cared a lot about what other people thought. I remember super vividly when people would make fun of me for being Asian or for not wearing some kind of Abercrombie clothes.”

Jessie Lian is like salmon.
Swimming upstream, fighting currents, and pushing up against everything for a purpose, even she ends up a little bruised and bloodied. She steps back, heals, then swims again. Resilient, fierce, multi-faceted.

In middle school, Jessie joined the step team, “because I was like no Asian is going to join the step team so I’m going to do so little things like that. It had a lot to do with my wanting to push against Asian stereotypes, so it was I’m going to be a writer or someone who is good at the arts instead of math.”

In college, Jessie pursued a degree in Management Information Systems, because everyone thought she would major in journalism. “And it was such a weird thing, because I think I was always functioning under, I want to do what people don’t expect, instead of what is actually true to me as a person, but at the same, I always talk about, oh in college, I wasn’t authentic to myself. But I was, based off of what I knew about myself.”

But Jessie was on to something. Inspired by Chik-Fil-A’s Truett Cathy, she saw him in the business world focusing on purpose versus profit. MIS became an avenue for social good and belief in potential growth.

It’s pushing back against expectations that took Jessie her from there to a business consulting group then graduating from General Assembly in UX Design.

What catalyzed the switch?
Quitting a job and making a bunch of mistakes while traveling the world on her own: 

“An example of that is… I went to Yosemite, and I backpacked by myself for a week. I didn’t know anything about backpacking and didn’t know how to make a fire and was really under prepared. I brought a 55 degree sleeping bag, and it was snowing. Also, I brought a little camp stove, but the entire park was out of fuel. So the only way to make food or be warm was to make a fire, but again I don’t know how to make a fire. And my tent was a summer tent.

It was just a series of so many mistakes, but it was one of those things that I learned to just make fun of myself and not take myself so seriously. 

At first, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, all of my pride is being shot right now. I didn’t even realize this, but I came on this trip because I wanted to show people again that I’m this great adventure woman, that I can do these things by myself, and I’m independent.’

But to have failed so miserably and then to still realize, ‘Oh I am still okay as a human being.’ In fact, I felt very joyfully liberated from having to do A, B, and C, especially when in the wild and there’s really no expectations except for just being with the trees and the mountains and survival.”

Jessie returned, and quit her job. After surviving the wild and her travels abroad, no fear seemed to hold up anymore. She finally pursued an inkling for design, “being confident in my creative ability and not always comparing my creative self to other creative people. Really, really trusting in the growth as almost the end goal and not the end goal as the end goal. 

I’m always saying I’m not there yet, I’m not there yet, therefore I’m not this or I’m not worth that. But to realize you’re probably never going to get there, that’s a beautiful thing.

I’ve always longed and ached for things, and I still do now. But I think it’s a beautiful thing to say okay, ‘Let’s take a step back and realize that what you’re going through with this growth, and this progress is you satisfying a bit of that ache.'”

How do you think this focus on being different helped you and hurt you?

“Hurt me in the sense that I was functioning off external factors, so I never really knew who I was, because I was always so concerned with who I was compared to other people.

But it was healthy in the sense of realizing that about myself recently, and kind of exploring what does it mean to be different, without necessarily letting it be dependent on what others are already doing. Just different in terms of Jessie-different, just as how anyone is different already by default, because they’re a human being. Living in that mindset, or else, it’s exhausting.”

What made you choose UX design from all of the options out there?

“Well it wasn’t until my first day of class that I realized how perfect UX design was. I just knew that it seemed like a good first step in getting into the creative space. But on the first day of class, I realized that it’s this blend between business and human behavior/psychology and research and data analysis and visual aesthetics and creating something that someone wants or needs. Doing something with purpose, which is something I’ve always inherently craved is doing meaningful work. By nature, UX is that but also a blend of all these interests and passions that I’ve always had, I just never knew that a field existed out there that could combine everything, so it’s awesome.”

You have just so many passions, but tell me about one of your recent passion: yoga. You’re now a yoga teacher!

“Yes! The reason I love yoga is because it forces you to be still and check in with your body and your soul and mind and make sure everything is still okay in there. My default is to function out of external factors, so it is so important for me to go into myself and practice a sense of balance as well, instead of being so extreme all the time in my emotions and passions.

To have a grounding place on my mat has been keeping me stable and sane in so many ways. Yoga gives you a sense of stillness. It aligns your spiritual, mental and body selves, so you feel a sense of wholeness by yourself. And for me, it’s been super spiritual, the Lord has been meeting me on my mat. It gives space for the Holy Spirit to begin talking to you, and your body is in a space that is more willing to listen and to hear.

Because you’re able to give yourself that space, you’re able to give people a fuller version of love, because I feel whole all by myself already, I don’t need anyone to fill that in me anymore.

It’s so healthy, and I want to share that by teaching yoga as well.”

Do you feel like because you’ve been battling seeking acceptance from external factors for your whole life, the battle has become one of your passions, and maybe your purpose as well?

“Ah, I actually have never made that linkage, so that is really awesome that I get to reflect on that now.”

It’s pretty clear!

“Yeah, that’s awesome, because I think that these past few months have been filled with so much self-discovery. And I think it’s time to turn that around, and be more outward again. Being internal is only half the journey, I feel.

I feel like I’m in that process of turning, and that is a really good little trigger. Because I do think, even in the church, as a mentor in high school and college, that was always one of the I wanted to tell the girls, your identity is in Christ. For me, that was such a big thing while not knowing who I was. As I’ve been stepping more into what that actually means, I think I’m finding my passions in helping other people find that too. Thank you for that discovery.”

Yeah, of course. Along the same vein, how important do you think it is for someone to understand who they are? Because in this time where everything is so fast and asking us to define ourselves in 140 characters, we’re not really given space to ask, who are you really.

“Yeah, absolutely. It’s so funny, because I remember, in eighth grade on Facebook, spending so much time crafting that bio. And I would always go back and read it to almost validate myself.

I realized in college that I’m not going to do social media in the ways I’ve done it before, because it’s been so toxic of me, always trying to put out things always for the sake of being received.

I think it takes a lot of intentionality to understand, because everything is asking us what are you, what are you doing, blah blah. You feel pressured to come up with something quickly without taking the time to be still and reflect and have the courage to be by yourself for an extended period of time, and I think the fact that we don’t spend time by ourselves or even always posting on social media, ‘Oh I’m by myself right now,’ things like that. It just doesn’t make it easier.”

I feel like it takes courage also to say that we don’t know either.

“It’s so true. Ah, I think the older we grow, the more we realize that we don’t actually know who we are and the more okay you are with that space. It’s a goal for me to become that kind of safe space for people.

What do you dream for yourself?

“I know that before, my answer would have been very tangible things, but recently, I’ve been learning to let go of those very specific things. I mean they’re still there, but also being able to let go of what a specific dream looks like and just have a vision for what I want to feel, like I want to present all the time. I want to have a daily practice of meditation and yoga everyday, I want to value things that are truly important and be a citizen of my city. Very intangible but also things that I can walk toward and know that I’m walking toward them right now and be okay with that.”

What do you dream for the world?

“Oh man, that hurts to think about.

That question requires a lot of hope, that things can change in the world, and that I could have a part in it.

I know that I had that hope before, and maybe it was a very egotistical pride of I want to be able to say that I’m doing this for the world, but I think that recently it’s been hard to feel hope on such a grand level because of how hopeless I feel with the times.

In the space that I’ve been, I haven’t been reading the news, because I’m afraid if I look too long in the face of that I’m going to met with an abyss of empty darkness. I’m just too afraid to go down that path and then also, I’m afraid that it will be a trigger for depression if I’m not actively fighting it with the hope that I truly believe in.

I am currently trying to start small and thinking about the positive impact that I could have in the city of Atlanta and how to be a part of that and slowly making my way to thinking about the world again, because if I do that now, I will easily go back into depression. But also filling my heart with true tangible hopes and actually believing in them so that they’re strong.”

Yes, serving yourself well, so that you have space to serve others.

“That’s definitely the space that I’m in. My hope has always been to live in a foreign country, I’ve always had a passion for that to travel and know different cultures and maybe that is just in Atlanta and Buford Highway and things like that but maybe it also is going to China.”

So what are you struggling with right now?

“I guess, staying present. And not getting too ahead of myself to the point that I dismiss what’s happening right now and today.

I mentioned this, but with my new job, it’s really scary because after choosing to make so many changes in the world of my career, it’s like, okay I should’ve arrived at a certain place at this point. But I feel like I’m always evaluating, is this where I need to be to get to the next place and then get to the next place? Then I feel like if it’s not the right place, I get super anxious and reevaluate and then it turns into a weird going overboard, doing all these random things that aren’t helping anyone or become super melancholy, depressed and apathetic, or I just indulge in drinking and eating lots of things. I have such a hard time with balance. Just being present and being happy in that.

Being so inward, it’s important to have something to give again but also, it can feel so hopeless. It’s all the more important to see how light is breaking through everyday,

how God is breaking through and how he is working things to a greater purpose and fixing things. It can be so hard to see that especially if I’m not trying.

dear jessie,

whatever you do, don’t forget to hope.

whenever you get that achy feeling that makes you feel like an empty void, hope. whenever you feel like screaming into your pillow angry obscenities, hope. whenever you want to roll up in a useless ball in the corner of your room, hope.

whenever you feel discontent, hope. whenever you feel apathetic, hope. whenever you feel ashamed, hope. whenever you feel suffocatingly alone, hope.

hope in the strength of others to help you through, hope in the love of God to carry you past. hope in the simplicity of the present to bring you joy, hope in the expanses of this earth to teach you what’s wildly free. hope in what is lasting and infinite, hope in what is good and pure.

squeeze every ounce of hope out of your tiny little body, then plant it and watch it steadily grow into strong and organic joy. crush those fearsome weeds before they even take root, and let the fruition feed your hopes, and your hopes the fruition.

not everything needs to be so serious, jess, not everything needs such eloquent answers.

but hope.

with a love that I think is growing,


photos by Gina Yu ©2017

Jessie, you are luminous. Undeniable, catalyzing, dazzling, warm. Thank you for the ways you search yourself and then search the world— for meaning and for goodness. 

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A Mess, Brunch and Being Solange in a Beyonce World with Tomi Falegan

Oluwatominsin loosely means “God has given me a reason to praise him.” Oyinlola means “honey is wealth.”


Tomi Falegan’s full name is Oluwatominsin Oyinlola Falegan. And if you get the chance to talk to her, she exudes such depth, celebration and sweet generosity that it’s almost magical how her name was spoken so prophetically over her path.

Tomi currently works with City Hope Community, an organization that works with refugee families. “It’s not what I thought I would be doing,” she says. “But I love the kids so much. At this stage of my life, I don’t really know what I’m doing. A lot of things I had been sure about for a long time, I’m not sure about now, that includes things like people groups I’ve been committed to.” 


How has that been, being unsure?

“I think the worst of it was at the end of summer (2016), I had just gone through two months of mission trips and volunteer things that I did and coming back, we had a bunch of events with family and City Hope. And I just felt directionless at that point. I didn’t know how to move forward, what I should be looking for, things like that. I had also just resigned at my job, so everything felt up in the air. That was weird.

I think I’m sort of a mess anyway as a person, so a lot of things are just go with the flow but this felt like something different. It’s not that anything’s changed a lot, if anything, going through that made me look at things that I had never considered before… like a brunch place, that was something that was at the far back of my mind. I just want to grow. I want to learn.”


Do you feel like the ways you’re navigating this time have been more intentional or coming out of nowhere?

“I think it’s both. With the whole brunch popup thing I’m going to do, looking into how to build that. Keeping myself busy, not really trying to figure out the answer is another thing.

I just take each day as it is or each hour if that’s what it takes that day.” 


So tell me about the brunch thing.

“I’m really excited about it. I’m really scared too. It all grew out of just trying to make different things. I really like the food that I make, so maybe other people will like the food that I make. It’s food that I haven’t really seen anywhere before, so I want to try it out.

I also just want to create a certain type of space for people where people feel like they can live life, take things slow, whether that’s talking with a friend or getting work done or just sleeping or whatever.


I have this three stage plan with the first stage being just figuring out the recipes, if people actually like them, holding fundraising brunches to test them out and doing market research… finding out what market research even is. It’s been an interesting process, but I really like it though because even though this is something I want to pursue right now, I don’t see it being the end of what I’m doing.”


What do you dream for this spot?

“It would be called Lulu.

When I think of a person named Lulu, it’s someone you’ve heard of, you’ve never really interacted with her, and she seems kind of weird, but your friends are like no she’s cool, so you guys hang out and at first you’re apprehensive about hanging out with her but then you get to know her and she’s just as weird as you would imagine but it’s not off-putting.


It makes you feel really comfortable, like you can be yourself. That’s what I want this space to be like. A type of place that they’ve never tried before, or it’s completely new to them, or they didn’t think they would be comfortable with it.”

What do you dream for yourself?

I want to be amazing.


I want to be really good at something. Do it really well, with excellence. And for that to be used for something bigger than me. ” 

What do you dream for the world? 

“I think about the Acts church and how people were giving of what they had for anyone who had need and it wasn’t forced on anyone, it was just, I see that you need this and I want to give this to you. Everyone was taken care of.

I feel like that’s missing a lot, because people, we, I, feel like I have to look out for myself , because no one else will look out for me but I guess, just selflessness to the point where everyone is still cared for.

It’s not just one person giving one-hundred percent and no one else is taking care of them. Everyone is cared for.” 


Mutual generosity, what a dream. 

It’s funny that you said earlier that you’re always a mess, because I feel like that about myself, even if people think differently. You say it very endearingly, what do you mean by it?

“The way I think isn’t very linear, it’s all over the place. The connections make sense in my head, but when I say them out loud, they don’t translate the same way. And in my life, it’s kind of of messy. I’m not nasty. laughs. Everything is clean, there’s just stuff everywhere. I leave things where they are. Organized chaos. And a lot of the things that I do and the decisions I make don’t make sense to the people around me. 

To me, it’s like Beyonce versus Solange. It’s not that one is better, they’re just really different. Their view of the world, their view of success and how to attain success. One is not bad one is not good, just really different and look really different. That’s how I sometimes feel, a Solange in a Beyonce world.” 

How have you found community in all of that? In a Beyonce world?

“I tend to feel lonely a lot of the times, because I’m different from my friend groups in a lot of ways. But I think it goes both ways because I’m really closed off because I automatically assume that people won’t get where I’m coming from and then I don’t give people the chance to do that. Or people assume things about me, then it doesn’t go any further but I think one part of it has been putting that aside and just going for it, regardless of how they might accept me. Or not being afraid to be offended.” 


What have you been struggling with lately?

“I’ve struggled with some decisions that I’ve made. When things happen, when I struggle with rent or go travel, that’s when I question turning down certain jobs or taking certain jobs.

Another thing lately has been, I get that God has this plan for humanity, for me, I get that and I know it’s good. I go through seasons where I don’t feel like more than just a pawn in this big plan that He has, like loving someone but not being sure it they actually like you as a person. I struggle with that as well.


That leads to not being sure if I can trust myself, then not being sure if I can trust others. Also, feeling like I don’t know as much as I should know. Feeling really ignorant, in terms of skills or knowledge of what’s going on in the world or even how to interact with people that are different from me. I feel like I lack a lot of those skills, and I want to build them up.

It’s both where, I’m excited to learn and grow from that but at the same time, I feel like I should’ve known all this by now.” 


A letter, from Tomi to Tomi:


Hey— I know, you know how much I’m writing and rewriting this in my, your, head. Remember that one time a couple months or weeks ago when you felt the weight of the fact that you are the only you that will ever exist? I was thinking about that a couple days ago and wanted you to remember the importance of that—how freeing it felt, in a weird heavy way.

You are the only you, the only Oluwatominsin Oyinlola Falegan with this family, living in this time/era, with these experiences and talents. Who you are will never, ever be replicated. I felt my heart drop a little reminding you of that…but I don’t want this fact to scare you. I want this to spur you on and remind you that you have purpose: you are black for a reason, Nigerian for a reason, your hair curls the way it does for a reason, you love Clarkston and Cincinnati for a reason——the people that you work, live, play and worship with are so different from you for a reason——even if that reason is just for the beauty of it.

I know you’re trying to balance what it means to love being Tomi and being a follower of Christ without being a robot lol and to be honest I don’t have any real insight of how that looks like, but I think I…I’m pretty sure…somewhere deep inside believe it that He is trustworthy. He says to seek truth and you’ll find it, so keep doing that. I like that you are you…mostly, and I like that I can say that and mean it.

sn: you can’t be everything to everybody, it’s impossible. you’re doing it right now, lol but just stop.

Onward ❤

photos by Gina Yu ©2016

Tomi, you’re full of easy lightness and weighty gravity, both at once. Reality, humanity, and hope. Thank you for all that you are.

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The Generosity of Silence

My favorite travel writer and essayist of the soul, Pico Iyer, once said,
“There is, of course, a place for noise, as there is for daily lives… Silence, like all the best things, is best appreciated in its absence: if noise is the signature tune of the world, silence is the music of the other world, the closest thing we know to the harmony of the spheres. But the greatest charm of noise is when it ceases. In silence, suddenly, it seems as if all the windows of the world are thrown open and everything is as clear as on a morning after rain. Silence, ideally, hums. It charges the air…

Silence, then, could be said to be the ultimate province of trust: it is the place where we trust ourselves to be alone; where we trust others to understand the things we do not say; where we trust a higher harmony to assert itself…”

In hiking the slippery, snowy edges of Bryce Canyon, sliding down into the swirling, swallowing depths of Antelope Canyon, and inhaling in the ethereal dust of the Grand Canyon, the dust of a green-screen landscape, so ancient and so vast that my mind still reels at the reality of its reality, its existence— I experienced speechlessness.

It was in moments of falling back, falling behind, apart from the pack, that I heard, yes, heard silence. The sweet, numbing, unfamiliar lack of noise and grand foreign fullness of nothing. Looking out onto the creamy reds layered with humble violets and kind greys in rock cut by rains of age, molded by carefully careless winds, “It’s all okay,” the voids whispered. Just as the layers of sand and stone were laid into the earth by serendipitous placement and pressed into purpose by time, I, of flesh and bone, of restless thoughts and constant seeking, might be okay.


We were discovering the tendons of the earth, especially in the curves of Antelope— the muscles carved by soft water and rain, flexed and exercised by passing time and whirling winds. Humbling. Under the cracked, dry rocks, we climbed deep and looked up to see the majesty above… yet, when you shine a light on the rocks and look close, they illuminate like mounds of compacted glitter.


We are tiny and constantly striving to be excellent in a world that is anything but. Yet, the earth echoes excellence, in its limbs and organs, in every breath of it. Peering into the expanse of something so endless and incomprehensible to the mind, speechless, I was. And so taken care of, I felt.

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I’m not an advocate of escapism or running away from the daily going-ons of human existence, but I am learning the art of generosity and balance. As many battles as you fight and visions you chase, your being deserves and craves to feel small and uncontrollable in the face of something immovable and excellent in nature.

Draw close to the hum of silence.
Or go, and experience a creation so grand,
no sound could be uttered in the presence of it.


New York City, An Island No More

Yesterday was a mess of chaos. My flight to New York arrived on time but resulted in the plane flying around the airport due to a sudden freak thunderstorm over the city. I was supposed to land at 6 p.m., drop off my gear, and head to The Color Purple on Broadway at 8 p.m.

Did I mention I hadn’t eaten all day or slept, because I was helping out at my parents’ small business (more to come on that) minutes before heading out for my flight. By the time I landed, my bladder was busting, my stomach was gurgling, and I was so exhausted I wanted to throw up from dizziness. But alas, we ran to the theatre and made the show. It was a true work of art to say the least. I think of all the shows I’ve ever seen, it’s by far the best in terms of singing talent. And Danielle Brooks from Orange is the New Black was amazingly funny and hilarious.

The night ended with Japanese pasta and garlic bean sprouts, with a side of Stranger Things to spook me to sleep.

Yet this morning, at a breezy 68 degrees, the city was kind. I took my time on the subway, watching each individual life pass by. I let myself hint at my non-native status by looking up every block, smiling at the skies and stretching skyline.

I thought my relationship with New York was strong when I spent so much time in Brooklyn last year, but wandering around by myself for hours, I appreciate it so much more. The rushed stoic faces, the glint of cyclists and walkers as they glide through crosswalks, still ever in love with the tall buildings and waves of life around them.

The scents of fried this, stewing that, and drip, pour, steamed liquid energy on every corner and block.

As I sit at HousingWorks, a cafe and bookstore that feels a little like home and generosity, I think of how different I feel about the city. The blinking lights and grand views are still breathtaking but less distant and intimidating and more familiar.

It’s like any relationship. The more we visit each other, the more we return, we become a little less like floating islands.

And we start to notice the color purple in a field of green. The little flower that we almost missed, the point, the joy.

For doubts and valleys: You are more.

We forget.
That we are more.
More than we are told,
treated and defined.

We are brighter,
bolder, wider
in our capacities,
with more fire to be ignited,
more vision to be seen,
more texture felt
and complexity, flavor, depth
to be uncovered.

Let your cages and wall sharpen
your vision
to see past the iron bars,

Do not accept lazy or timid.
Let it tend to intention
and action. Breathe.

When the winds shake
and the skies drip,
the candles stay lit.
Look. Do not forget.

You are more.


I want to hear about your journey, your process, your day— your story.

In ATL? Let’s grab coffee.
NYC? September 14-28.