Strategist and IG influencer Iris Yang cultivates her place of belonging

Principal strategy and insight manager at Google, Hong Kong-based Iris Yang is better known under her Instagram handle @prettyinpalm. When she isn’t tending to her day-time job and influencer work, she is busy volunteering for causes that are important to her. Yang talks to us about how she is getting closer to her Chinese roots and integrating into Hong Kong culture

Photo: Iris Yang

American-born and raised Iris Yang found her first job at Goldman Sachs in New York City. Well aware of her parents’ perseverance and sacrifices over the years making a life in the United States, it struck Yang how much she wanted to know about her roots back east. But there was another catalyst that lingered within her consciousness that partly cemented her return.

“When I was little, my dad told me that ‘the world is going to be a tough place for you because there aren’t a lot of places where people like you can exist. You are not Chinese enough for China, and not American enough for America’,” she remembers. 

When Google offered her role in Hong Kong – it was a chance Yang took with both hands.

Tree is company

Photo: Iris Yang

When Yang moved to Hong Kong – a place she visited over a few summers – she found herself to be a stranger in one of Asia’s busiest cities. “I only had a couple of friends when I first arrived,” she says. “It feels like starting all over.” 

At the time, Yang had just gotten out of a long-term relationship and she found it difficult to cope. “It was good that I was coming into this US-based company [Google], but everything else was kind of starting fresh with new friends and this new opportunity to redefine myself.” 

“If I had a total pie chart of attention, my career was always at least at 70 or 80 per cent,” Yang explains. “I’ve always been very career-driven and it was always all I really focused on.”

Photo: Iris Yang

It was at this point that @prettyinpalm sprang to life – an Instagram account that features a young woman and her affinity for plants and beautiful spaces, with about 15.5k followers to date. “It’s a very loose interpretation or theme of things I like – it’s not fully a plant account,” Yang reassures. “I’ve never experienced being creative and it wasn’t something I pursued as a career.” 

“The reason why I started this was because I never lived in an apartment by myself. I can’t read half of my bills (in Chinese). You go home and it’s lonely, you don’t have roommates or a significant other,” she says. “I also didn’t want to get a dog, but I wanted to make the place more lively. Hence the plants.”

“When I started this [Instagram] account, it was really just for me, not to influence or anything,” Yang elaborates. “It was just an outlet for me because I came to the realisation that when I die, no one is going to be like, ‘Iris Yang was a great employee! She had a great career!’ It’s nice to have something for yourself.”

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The Hong Kong Dream

Photo: Iris Yang

It was an avenue the Google manager was more than keen to explore. And with it, came opportunities for Yang to demonstrate her abilities beyond the realms of finance and technology, and into the creative. With her platform, she was able to support local businesses and charities. Just as she felt her parents did everything they could to allow Yang to achieve The American Dream, so too does she want to do anything in her power “to help other people elevate and ‘get there’”. 

Though the influencer has no ambition to start her own business as of yet, she is eager to support local entrepreneurs. “I admire people who start businesses, and love using my channel to support [them].” 

She also volunteers her time with ImpactHK to raise awareness for and support the city’s homeless people. In addition, she worked with WWF HK to curate a Pretty In Palm holiday collection of home decor items with all profits going towards a matched donation. 

Photo: Iris Yang

Mental health is an important topic for Yang, too. “There is so much in life that we can’t control, but taking time to acknowledge and process our feelings is one thing we can all do to live happier lives,” she explains. She is due to make an appearance as a panellist on Women’s Mental Health at the Workplace at Talking Mental to be hosted on 17 October. “Making a dedicated effort to reflect, practice gratitude and empathy has not only helped me build better relationships with others but allowed me to grow more comfortable with myself.” 

Especially in a city like Hong Kong, “this is something that I am passionate about sharing with others,” she adds. “Where it is so easy to get overwhelmed or feel like you’ve lost control.” 

Finding her roots

Photo: Iris Yang

Though Yang had a hard time finding where she belongs, her love for the city is apparent. “My only regret is that I didn’t move here sooner. But I think it is a really interesting position to be in. I thought it would be like home, where everyone looks like me, and that is great. But when I go around, people’s first reaction is to speak to me in English,” she says bemusedly. “But it is only a place like Hong Kong – which is such an international hotspot – that we can find a sense of belonging.” 

“I really love it here and I’m excited for what is to come. There are still so many opportunities to be had, and I feel really connected to this place. It is also something else that my dad said that there aren’t many places in the world where I can feel at home with my face and culture, [in addition to] their different culture, and this [Hong Kong] is one of those places where I can fit in.”

Research by Vivian Li

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