If there’s one other job out there that’s comparable to being an entrepreneur, it’s being a parent. Both are all-consuming. Both are greatly challenging and greatly rewarding. No two experiences are the same. The highs are high and the lows are low.
OEN volunteer Jing DiPiero had been working in corporate America for years when she became a mother—and she found herself ill-prepared. She had been raised to believe that practice makes perfect, but discovered the hard way that the motto is less applicable to parenthood, where the future is unpredictable and where no amount of practice can always prepare you for what’s to come.
After advising and mentoring entrepreneurs for quite some time, Jing herself became an entrepreneur, in more ways than one. First, she learned how to harness her own entrepreneurial spirit as a mother. Second, she launched her own production company and filmed a documentary, Growing Up Together, about the modern-day challenges of parenthood.
We sat down with Jing to talk about her involvement with OEN and her new adventures as a mother and documentary filmmaker:
How did you initially get involved in Oregon’s entrepreneurial community?
I moved to Portland in 1997. I had been working in publicly traded global companies in finance, accounting, and treasury. I’m originally from China so I grew up going to school six days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Working in finance, I always felt like I wanted to do more. I wanted to help out young companies and small companies. When I connected with OEN, I read the mission and wanted to help out. I served on OEN’s Business Review team and its judging committee for the Tom Holce Awards. I’m very good at keeping myself busy. People say I am very brave, if it’s something new, I want to give it a try. I always feel like if I can help others to make a difference, that’s the most wonderful thing for me.
As you’ve become involved in this community, what have you learned about startups and the startup ecosystem here in Oregon?
The entrepreneurs here have really educated me about smaller, younger companies trying to make a difference. Working for large, publicly traded companies, I never had to worry about the cash flow. It’s not my money. What I’ve learned is that other entrepreneurs really put themselves on the line. Not only their time, knowledge, effort, but also financial well-being. That’s bravery! That’s the type of spirit I really admire—giving 100% of yourself to something you’re passionate about. That was an eye-opening experience for me.
Documentary film production is a pretty big departure from global foreign currency management. What inspired you to go the entrepreneurial route and start your own production company?
Part of it was the entrepreneurial spirit I learned from OEN. Also, I love being a mom, even though I don’t think I was very well-prepared for that role. Working full-time and being a full-time mom was very difficult—the first few years of parenting were not an easy journey. I know I’m not the only mom out there who is frustrated or clueless. I wanted to share my experience with other moms and dads, helping other moms who could really relate. There are so many parenting books, blogs, magazines out there, but personally I haven’t see any documentaries on this particular topic.
Also, I realized that time goes way too fast, and I wanted to capture our time together as a family.
Can you tell us a bit about your film?
The most memorable moment of my parenting came when my daughter Genevieve was two. I decided to teach her Chinese characters & letters, I was determined to do it. That’s how I was raised—I was very competitive. I knew very well that many Chinese children were learning Chinese characters at Genevieve’s age. I couldn’t stand to have my daughter fall behind, learning nothing. But my daughter didn’t have the fine motor skills to be able to write. After the 40th time trying to draw a character, she told me, “Mommy, I’m just stupid.” I realized my parenting techniques were a disaster. That was the tipping point. Every night my house was like a battlefield. Genevieve was crying, I didn’t have time for my husband or my younger son Theodore. I was fighting a losing battle. That was the start of the film—realizing my parenting approach wasn’t working and wasn’t helping me or my daughter. I needed to look for something better.
What was the most valuable experience you took away from filmmaking?
At the beginning of the documentary, when I ask my parents what they think is important when it comes to raising children, my mom says, “Study, study, study more.” Then toward the end of the documentary, my mom actually says, “I want my grandchildren to follow their passion. When they follow their passion, they will lead a happy and productive life.” We both evolved a lot during the film!
What’s ahead for you? Is there another film on the horizon?
I’m already thinking about my next film—I want to follow pregnant moms around the world in their third trimester, exploring how people get ready for their newborns, and what kinds of social systems they have to support their lifestyles and choices. In Netherlands, for instance, many of the moms work part-time, and grandma and grandpa usually live a few miles away. In every neighborhood, there’s a little playground for the kids. I want to explore how much support we have from relatives, from our workplace, from our neighbors and friends, and how that has a fundamental impact on the wellbeing of our children.
Is being a documentary filmmaker a long-held dream of yours?
I didn’t even know I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker two years ago! But I’ve always been creative. I’m a people-watcher, I love to see what people do and how they make choices. I’m very curious in that way.
Do you think Oregon is a good place to be an entrepreneur? Why and why not?
I’ve lived here since 1997 – over the past few months, I’ve been reaching out to more women, more parents, more entrepreneurial groups. People here are so intelligent, so passionate. There’s such a community of like-minded individuals who are willing to help and support.
The premiere screening of Growing Up Together will take place at Portland’s Clinton Street Theater on April 12. Future screenings will also be held in Seattle, San Francisco, LA, Boston, New York, and Chicago.