Podcast by InnovatorsBox®

Curious Monica: Season 3

Turning Adversity into Advantages. Why Self-Esteem Matters with Xian Horn

Curious Monica – a Podcast by InnovatorsBox®. Hosted by Monica H. Kang.

The Curious Monica podcast features candid conversations with innovators in thriving organizations across various industries. In each episode, host & founder of InnovatorsBox, Monica Kang interviews her friends in diverse fields about what they do and why they love what they do. If you’re curious too, you’ll gain incredible insight into the workplace patterns that can change the way you think about work, no matter what industry you’re in or who you are.

Tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or your preferred platform of choice!

Low points, adversities, and feeling stuck are all challenges we sometimes face as innovators. It’s part of the process of doing something new and living life as a human being. The key is what you do when you face these moments and how you get back up.

Meet Xian Horn, national disability advocate leader and founder of Give Beauty Wings, who is changing how we engage with self-esteem and understand disability. Xian grew up loved and supported as a half-Asian woman with cerebral palsy. In-fact, the first time she felt hurt for being different wasn’t because she was disabled but rather because she was feeling self-conscious about all the surrounding excellences her fellow teenagers were achieving compared to her. As she looked back at why she felt stuck when she didn’t have to, she realized the journey to self-love and self-esteem is something many of us need help with.

Today, she uses her many platforms, writings, and community efforts to advocate for disability and self-esteem learning opportunities. As we honor Disability Pride this July, we are thrilled to dive into Xian Horn’s humbling and inspiring journey into disability advocacy and leadership in empowerment. She wants to remind you that no matter what challenge you have, you can get through this. 


Founder & Executive Director of Give Beauty Wings

For over a decade, Xian has used her lived experience and expertise as an advocate to share her insights on a wide range of topics, including leadership, allyship, diversity, inclusive representation, support systems, accessibility, and the importance of assistive technology design. She has frequently spoken at the U.N. and is a member of their NGO Committees on Mental Health and Education, Learning and Literacy, she’s presented at The Obama White House, Microsoft, Viacom, Apple, The Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities in Indiana, the ACLU, Congressional Briefings, the Harkin Summit, AT&T, Apple, Xandr, Barnard College, Williams College, POPSUGAR Beauty, ReelAbilities Film Festival, Zappos, Amazon, Estée Lauder, L’oreal and more. Additionally, Xian is the non-profit Give Beauty Wings, where she taught courses for government agencies, at NYU (both the hospital and university), Columbia University, in community centers and K-12 institutions, and anywhere Give Beauty Wings workshops are needed.

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Episode Shownotes

1. Title of the Episode:
Turning Adversity into Advantages. Why Self-Esteem Matters with Xian Horn

2. Host:
Monica H. Kang, Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox

3. Guest:
Xian Horn, Founder & Executive Director of Give Beauty Wings

4. Key Topics Covered:

  • The journey of self-esteem and finding purpose
  • The mission and initiatives of Give Beauty Wings
  • Addressing taboo topics like dating, sex, and money for people with disabilities
  • Overcoming societal and self-imposed limitations
  • The importance of rest and self-care
  • Empowerment through proper compensation and valuing one’s work

5. Highlights:

  • Xian Horn’s program, Give Beauty Wings, focuses on self-esteem and purpose.
  • The significance of addressing taboo topics within the disabled community.
  • The importance of support systems for personal and professional growth.
  • The power of rest and the shift from working hard to working smart.
  • Xian’s insights on the intersection of disability, beauty, and societal expectations.

6. Quotes from the guest:

  • “Self-esteem is really about purpose. Give Beauty Wings is about putting our beauty to action.”
  • “My job is only to get as many of the clouds out of the way so you can shine as brightly as possible.”
  • “Beauty means nothing without action.”
  • “The beauty in you does not take away from the beauty in me or anyone else.”
  • “Anyone can start a YouTube channel, blog, or post to their Instagram and share how they’re feeling.”

7. Some people suggested that we should learn from:

Emily Ladau – Activist. Writer. Speaker.

Haben Girma – American disability rights advocate, and the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School.

Jessica Cox – World’s First & Only Armless Pilot, Black Belt, Scuba Diver, Cyclist, World Traveler, DE&I Crusader

8. Contact Information for the guest:

9. Closing Thoughts by Monica Kang:

Monica emphasized the importance of resilience and community. She highlighted how Xian’s journey inspires us to find purpose, embrace vulnerability, and make meaningful contributions to the world. Monica also reminded listeners to prioritize self-care and to value their work and time.

10. Episode Length and Release Date:
Episode Length: Approximately 57 minutes
Release Date: July 2, 2024


Monica H. Kang
When you have a difficult day or a difficult moment, its not always easy to know how to get back up, let alone use that, the very source of empowerment, to channel passion and empower others. Well, were lucky that we have Xian Horn here today because she has definitely empowered not only individuals, companies, but communities in how we rethink about self esteem, communication, and how we show up in our full identities, including disabilities. As a half asian woman with cerebral palsy, she served as the founder of a nonprofit give beauty wings, and she’ll talk about how she became an advocate, speaker, blogger, and exemplar of highlighting what it’s like to be a person with disability, but also how you can advocate for your own self esteem and why it’s so important to hold on to that and nurture it. 


Monica H. Kang
As we step into her personal journey of how she grew up, how her upbringing was, and how it influenced how she thought and saw the world, it is a powerful reminder to recognize the people around us and the experience constantly empower us and can play a role in shaping what we think we can do, which also means we can choose to change that if we’re not seeing the empowered voices right now. And that’s what she an wants to help you with. So get ready for a powered conversation as we step into July. I’m very excited to celebrate disability pride month and advocate for how we can be a better ally for disability. And so what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in and meet Xian Horn today. 


Monica H. Kang
So welcome, Xian, to the show. I am so honored and excited to have you here. You have worn many hats and continue to do so. I think the number one thing I’m curious is, like, what has helped you channel your personal journey of disability to empowerment and also empowering many others about how important that storytelling is and owning our identity. 


Xian Horn
Yeah. So I had no intentions of becoming an advocate. You know, walking, traversing the world with two shiny ski poles, you call enough attention to yourself. And I felt like I always had to kind of minimize the ways in which I was different in a way, even though I will say the background for me, which we will get to, and I always bring up is, you know, my parents were artists. They prized uniqueness. They always celebrated the fullness of who I was. So, you know, even though that was the case and it made me feel invincible, I think when I was meeting new people, you know, for example, I remember in elementary school, kids saying to me, but, Sean, you’re normal, right? And they weren’t trying to make some grand statement about what is normal. 


Xian Horn
But what they were asking was, it’s okay to talk to you. It’s okay to connect with you. And so I would always say yes because I wanted to make sure they knew I wasn’t so different, that we couldn’t connect in a universal way or play my little pony or whatever we wanted to do. So I looked forward to having those first conversations just so that we could get to the portion of getting to know each other as human beings. And I think things have changed. I think it used to be that whoever was different had to be scrappy and adapt. But at least in the DEI world, I feel like it’s more of an attitude of, I’m here, it’s your job to invite me in and make sure I feel welcome. And I think social media is a big part of that. 


Xian Horn
I think there’s a lot more awareness of different communities. There’s also, I think, in terms of disability community, you can find anyone, and this is not even true of just disability. Right. I think the Internet has empowered all kinds of communities that used to feel very alone. So it’s mostly positive. I do think sometimes it can get a little far, but we can get into that later. But, yeah, but for me, that was so, I didn’t think that already, being so obviously disabled, I kind of felt like I didn’t want to do the obvious or just advocate because people, and be a poster child because other people wanted me to. That wasn’t enough of a reason. But it wasn’t until, you know, again, having these parents who taught me anything was possible and believing them, I really like, honestly, I consider my disability. 


Xian Horn
I’ve said this many times, so anyone who’s heard me speak before knows this. I consider my disability the blessing of my life. And I have to thank Judy Heumann and the disability rights movement, especially in the seventies, for making that a possible statement. Because part of why I said that is I cut the lines at Disney World and the airport and also walking around with two polls. It starts a lot of conversations, not to mention there’s an x in my name. And so people are always asking, how do you pronounce that? And by the way, it’s Sean or Xian, in case anyone was wondering. But, yeah, so I think, you know, as I feel like I now know that I was meant to stand out, and I own that and embrace it fully. And I think it’s my job. 


Xian Horn
And this is where the advocacy comes in to help others embrace who they are fully, disability or no disability. I want to see everyone empowered, and I would love not to have a job. 


Monica H. Kang
I love that. Shan, thank you so much. And yes, we will get into the nitty gritty of your different chapters of your journey, but I love what you share. From the very beginning, you notice that observation, not about the differences. It’s simply like, hey, I want, is it okay for me to just get to know you? Is there something that I need to say or not do? And I feel like that’s something that as somebody who is newer to learning about the community of the disability, the disabled, the advocates, what the protocols are, what to say, what to not say. I was like, geez, like, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. And I’m curious, like Shane, as folks are, perhaps, maybe this is their first time, first introduction, in fact. 


Monica H. Kang
What would you share as a way that they can be a better ally or like, you know, some, maybe some mistakes to avoid if they are learning about it for the first time and how to be a better advocate even from one one? 


Xian Horn
Yeah. And I think, you know, the key is, and I think the difficulty is that there’s not one term, if you’re dealing with disability advocates who’ve been doing this a while, you know, they have most likely, you know, come to terms in a beautiful way with disability and now are celebrating that. And so it’s capital d, disabled proud, you know, and I, you know, I’ve definitely come around to that ship as well, although I use both people with disabilities and disabled, you know, in a proud way. But I think the difficulty is there’s not one term. And I, and so I think the best thing you can do is communicate. You know, say, first of all, I think the first thing is learn somebody’s name before you learn their labels. I think, you know, because that’s, again, going to the human capacity. 


Xian Horn
I think that’s the most important thing to call somebody is call them by their name, you know, and then obviously they may tell you what terms. And if they don’t have, you can say, look, I’d like to be respectful. Please tell me, how do you refer to this or that? Now, if you’re first meeting somebody, that might not even be relevant, right? So you also have to kind of read the room, which can be hard. And, you know, everyone’s at a different place in their journey, and some people may not even identify as a person with a disability. And when you bring that up, they’re like, what you know, or get, you know, can get hurt by that. And so that is tricky. But, you know, if it’s in a professional setting where that is relevant. 


Xian Horn
So, for example, you know, if you’re about to interview someone, you might want to find out, like, okay, how do you identify? And I think that’s true. Disability or no disability, right? Anytime for any community that has a difference or that is not like, mainstream white cis, you know? So I think, yeah, the difficulty is there’s not one answer to that question. And I think the most important thing is you talk to the person in front of you and recognize that not everyone is going to universally agree. I can tell you, for example, 99% of the disability community doesn’t like the term handicapable or these, like, very kit glovey. I personally, for me, I don’t like differently abled. And I see a lot of dei spaces still using that for me, like, I just want to get rid of the kit gloves. 


Xian Horn
We are not so sensitive, and, you know that we can’t just be like, hey, I’m disabled and I’m here. But obviously, there are a few exceptions. I remember being on clubhouse, and there was a woman, probably 60 years old, who said she likes it when her son calls her handicapable. And I was like, oh, like, okay. But she’s definitely the exception and not the rule. So this is why it’s so important. When you’re one one with somebody, you just ask the person in front of you. And there are a list of words that I would, and I can give those to you as a resource. Monica, please. 


Monica H. Kang
Yes, but I have those in the show notes, folks, so that way you can continue the learning. Yeah, and I’m sorry, continue on. 


Xian Horn
I just want to say, though I will be honest, that with AI, I’m not even going to say them on the air because I would never want it to be used in the wrong way. But don’t worry, Monica’s got your back because I will send those to her as a follow up. But there are certain words that are definitely a no. And then there are the words that people can’t agree. And I think this is also true in communities of color where, you know, when you have a huge community of any group, you’re not gonna have a monolith of responses to that. And so the good news is you have to get to know the people in front of you. 


Monica H. Kang
And thank you so much for sharing that. And to that in a way complex question that has a lot of layers and help breaking that apart. And so you’ve heard it, folks. Go to the show notes. If you can’t find it, always send me an email or send either of us a note. We’ll make sure that you get the resources, because we’re here to learn. I mean, I think that’s one of the things I am really inspired this month to reeducate myself as well as I’ve humbly shared as well. I’m also still learning. And I think every time I’m being reminded of just, like, to your point, like, hey, let’s remember, start with a name. Like, everyone has a name. Ask what their name is. Don’t think about the other aspects. Your point? Like, Shein? 


Monica H. Kang
I want to go back to the early childhood story that was so beautiful that you share, like, hey, like, can we, like, play with you? And I’m curious, like, because, like, you grew up in the States, if I remember correctly, right? 


Xian Horn


Monica H. Kang
Tell me what that was. Because also, you still grew up also in an asian american household. And as AAPI, there was an extra layer of tension. And I think even with the warmth and family support, there’s just not enough conversations about this advocacy in empowerment. And so how did that influence you? Perhaps that fueled you even more. Tell me a little bit more how it felt growing up. 


Xian Horn
Well, let’s talk about privilege for a second to answer that question, because I have to say that, you know, I am very aware that the asian community, in its perfectionistic tendencies, I think is even harder on disability than I would say most american households would be. That obviously has exceptions to it. And I, you know, having a chinese mom and a jewish dad who were more artists than they were, you know, my dad became a lawyer to please his mother, but what he loves to talk about is interior design. And he opened, like, three or four restaurants in his lifetime, and he loves to cook. So his creative bone is really. 


Xian Horn
I mean, I always say my dad’s a part time everything, but the only thing that he’s a full time is an artist because he’s always thinking about creativity and beauty and those things. And so, you know, my dad spent most of his until he was, like, 35. He was like a lifeguard. He loved being in the water. He did not really care about school very much, although he, you know, in his era, going to college was already an advantage. But his mom basically said to him, either you get a job or you go to school. So he went to school. Yeah. And so I’m just saying this, you know, that’s not the typical, like, path of a jewish family. And then, of course, you know, my. In my chinese side of the family. And this is interesting. My grandmother was a doctor. 


Xian Horn
My grandfather was a lawyer, and that’s how they met. My grandmother was in the medical school, and he was in the law school, my grandfather. And so they were already those things. And they were a very wealthy. They came from wealthy families. And so because of that, I think a lot of the pressure sometimes is cause you want the next generation to do better than you. But because they were already doing well and I think had very liberal families themselves, they raised my mom and my uncles and aunts to be just whoever they wanted to be. There was no pressure of, like, this is what you need to do to please me, which is not. Nor, I mean, this is not the norm. 


Xian Horn
And, Monica, I know that you’re nodding furiously because, you know, so having a mom that, you know, she was never academic, she was always sketching, she was always drawing. So her parents just supported her in that. And so as a result, because that’s how she was raised. That’s how she raised me and my dad just being a free spirit, you know, I even remember at a point on the school bus, this is a story I don’t. I don’t think I’ve ever told this publicly, but on the school bus once, you know, when I was about eight years old, I went through a really smart mouth phase, and my bus driver said to me, oh, Sean, you have answer for everything. You should be a lawyer. 


Xian Horn
And I was so proud because, you know, my dad’s a lawyer, and I’m thinking that, oh, I’m going to be just like dad, you know? So for a minute there, I was like, maybe I could do this, too. And my dad goes, Sean, you don’t want to be a lawyer. I figured, right? My dad being a lawyer would know, and knowing me, he would know. So that shut down my 32nd dream of being a lawyer, because I just love my dad so much. But this is how I was raised, which is not the typical experience. So I’ve been privileged in love and privileged in that support, that they just wanted me to be who I wanted to be, rather than having some ideas of who I should be. 


Xian Horn
And because neither of them did very, you know, particularly well in academics, it just wasn’t a priority for them. They’re brilliant people, but that just wasn’t where their hearts were. You know, when I was a, you know, if I got a b or an a, as long as I was passing, they were happy, you know? So anyway, so that I do want to put that as the context, but, you know, being aware that obviously there is more pressure in the asian community about perfectionistic standards in general. You know, I will say that, you know, the chinese side of my family, they will openly talk to you about your weight. You know, they will openly talk to you about, you know, anyway, I don’t know. 


Xian Horn
But as far as disability, I think also having, you know, a chinese grandmother who was a doctor, she was almost too technical and, like, so honest that, like, there was no judgment of my disability because it was just a thing. Not to mention that my oldest uncle, the eldest in the family, had albinism, so she had some experience in having someone different in the family, you know, and I think she was almost too practical to have other ideas about it. You know, she’s very forthright. My. I mean, she’s passed, but, you know, it’s so funny because she’s my jewish grandmother and my chinese grandmother were almost opposites, but the thing that they had in common is they were both incredibly resilient and strong women. I mean, yeah, so I have that legacy of coming from many generations of strong women. 


Xian Horn
And so I think I was able to draw strength from that and. And had more of that than judgment. And so by the time I got out in the world, I was so sure in my disability specifically that it didn’t matter what anybody said about it. You can say almost anything to me, and I would be like, okay, yes. Thank you. Next. Because I am so aware of the fact that living in New York City also is a privilege because you’re exposed to every type of human being. And I think it confuses me if anyone would be racist here or zionist here, because it’s a melting pot of everyone. And that’s the beauty of it. And being exposed to everyone. It is totally different if you’re growing up in a small town in Kentucky or somewhere in the middle. I understand that. 


Xian Horn
So I believe I also have diversity privilege because I went to public school where, you know, we had rich kids, poor kids, middle class kids, you know, every race, every, you know, situation. And so I’m really glad, in a way, that I didn’t go to private school for that reason, is that I also just work. I was exposed to lots of kinds of people. And so I think you can bake in a lot of tolerance there. And so, yeah, so I couldn’t answer that question without addressing the privilege that I have because I know that is not the typical asian experience. That is not the typical disability experience. I understand that. 


Xian Horn
I was given a lot of love and support and really, to answer your previous question, and that is really why, even though I was the most stage frightened person you could imagine, and I had my self conscious years, especially teens and early twenties, I had to look that fear in the face and realize there were so many people that I needed to be that love and support for. Because you don’t have control over whether you have great parents or the right school systems. Right, Shan? 


Monica H. Kang
I want to really take a moment to honor your parents and your family and all the loved ones that you have because, especially cause we research the folks before they join. And everything that she describes makes now even so much more sense, given the work that she does today and how she shows up. I mean, the first time I was connected to Shin, I was very inspired by just her, just like thoughtful optimism and just like warm energy that you are hearing just through her voice from the passion. And it’s not a coincidence. And I think thank you to your parents and your family and I you honoring that and highlighting also that is important because I think it’s something that we don’t recognize enough and we only see it in hindsight and so appreciate you sharing that. 


Monica H. Kang
And so it piggybacks then to kind of your journey of now becoming the founder of the Give beauty Wings. What is the mission? How did that come together? And tell us more about it. 


Xian Horn
So give beauty Wings started as a self esteem program that came out of a pitch I did for the Dove campaign, asking them to include people with disabilities in their advertising. It was a minute and 23 2nd video that I made in my mother’s living room. Literally no budget. It was a guy from church helping me out making this video. And the reason I created it, again was asking that question because my second job ever, I worked for a theater in New York with 45 members. Total, 15 with disabilities. And these were the most brilliant, beautiful people I’d ever meth, struggling with disability identity, struggling with self esteem, and actually, to be honest with you, I guess artists, you know, typically do. So. 


Xian Horn
I mean, it was amazing to me, not even just from a disability standpoint, but just to see that everyone, you know, in writing, in their journals would seem to be struggling. And I was like, these are the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. If this is how they’re doing, how’s everyone else doing? And I really asked myself specifically around disability, how come? You know, I never, I had, I mean, not to say that you don’t have conflict, but I never struggled with the disability identity part. Like, that was kind of the easy part of my life, obviously totally oblivious to the, you know, the things that we still needed to fight for in transportation, employment, assistive tech, and fashion and beauty and all the things that I’m doing now. This is pre advocacy, Shawn. Right. 


Xian Horn
So, you know, I’m not saying there weren’t issues, but I had really grown up in a kind of bubble that was created for me, and I kind of stayed in that bubble for a long time. But once I took a peek outside and I thought, oh, my God, these are the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. If this is, you know, and they’re struggling, it made me think about what about everyone else. And so I pitched the Dove campaign because I said, where else do we get our sense of self esteem? Of course, it’s media. It’s many things. But the answer that came to me at the time was the beauty industry. And Dove had already celebrated women of all sizes, and they had already celebrated older women. So they seemed to me like the most natural partner. 


Xian Horn
I will tell you, they did not even respond. I do know that two people pitched on my behalf, and I never even heard from them how those meetings went. I never heard from them again, to be honest with you. And so the good part of that is that my former boss saw the video and said, hey, in lieu of what you’re trying to do, can you help us out? You know, we’re doing true story project, which is what I had actually, I skipped over this part, but I ended up performing. The most stage frightened person you could imagine ended up performing in a show called True Story Project. And when that was over, she said, we want to do these true story project with these girls 14 to 21. Can you help us? 


Xian Horn
It happened to be at NYU, and the next semester, the main teacher could not do it anymore. And so the coordinator came to me and said, is there anything you want to talk to the girls about? They miss you. And I was like, I want them to know how beautiful they are. Because similar to theater that I had been a part of, they were writing, I mean, even darker things, and only 14 years old. And I feel like I, you know, I always say this, but I was sitting in a room full of light bulbs, and everyone’s talking about how dark everything is. And I wanted to say, do you know who you are? You know? And so I ended up, you know, basically creating a six week curriculum from my own personal journey. 


Xian Horn
You know, my low point being, you know, I would say high school, where I could count one hand the number of people who would talk to me, because I started to count myself out. And it was not disability related, by the way. It was. I was actually. I mean, that sounds strange, but I was really popular until I started. And I think what happened is if you create your existence based off validation from others and kind of realizing I had a moment, I’ll tell you the moment quickly, which was I had four. There were four girls in high school that I always saw together, thought they were best friends. And one day they were all together, and one of them left. And before she left, they said, oh, please don’t go kissy, huggy, huggy. 


Xian Horn
As soon as she was gone, oh, my God, she’s such a beep. And I was like, what if this is how they are with their best friends? Like, what do they think of me? And I had a falling out with three different friend groups at the same time. Keep in mind only 63 people in my entire grade. The class was 32 people. So I started to just completely lose my sense of, like, I became self conscious even to answer the question, like, how are you? I felt like there had to be a right answer. And I loved everybody so much that the idea that they couldn’t love me back was like a devastating option. And, you know, I would love to say that I could just, like, you know, brush it off and everything would be fine. 


Xian Horn
But, I mean, that’s also why I wanted to make these courses, because I wanted to make sure that for the 15 year old girl and me, that I would be giving them resources. Like, this is how I felt I, at my lowest point, and this is what I wish I had done. This is what you might be feeling about your disability, but I want to tell you that you can make it awesome, and you don’t have to absorb how people see you. It’s more important how you see you. So these are the kinds of things that I was able to infuse in the six week program, really based off my own experience and seeing where my own experience could help others to make sure that they don’t have the hangups that they could. 


Xian Horn
So anyway, and it became, my program was called give beauty wings. So it was a self esteem program to begin with, but then I realized, again, with the advocacy hat on how much we needed in terms of employment. And not only that, when I was doing this work, what it was really about was everyone in that room, when we would do these courses, was really, you know, they wanted to be a writer, but they weren’t writing, or they wanted to do this, but their mom wouldn’t let them out of the house. And so, for me, I realized that self esteem, you know, is really about purpose. And so give beauty wings is about putting our beauty to action, because we all have that God given beauty inside of us. It just needs seeds and waters to grow, you know? 


Xian Horn
And I think a lot of times what happens is we let our excuse or our fears or, you know, get in the way. And so I even said to them, on the first day I was ever teaching, it was raining at the time. I said, it’s raining right now, but is the sun shining any less brightly? And they said, no. And I said, that’s exactly why we’re here. You know, my job is only to get as many of the clouds out of the way so you can shine as brightly as possible. But the nonprofit side of give beauty wings is really about making sure that we have support systems. You know, if you want to be an actor but you don’t have access to a mentor or you want to apply for a job, but you’ve never had someone to look at your resume. 


Xian Horn
Ultimately, what I would like give beauty wings to be is almost a leadership academy where we’re able to support people who are looking to share their gifts and hone them and develop them. Right now, give beauty wings. I’m so excited. 2024 has been amazing. We’ve already done a dating workshop. We have already done. Yeah, that was in March. 


Monica H. Kang
That’s so cool. Yeah. 


Xian Horn
And for 2024 especially, I wanted to address a lot of issues that I think people are afraid to talk to people with disabilities about. So things like sex and money. Right. So dating and. 


Monica H. Kang
Hard topic with anyone. 


Xian Horn
Yeah, I say that all the time. It’s kind of a taboo topic for everyone. So imagine being disabled, being a woman, being a person of color, you know, and I want to kind of embrace the taboo and, like, let’s dig into. There’s so many specific issues around money that the disability community has that nobody knows about and nobody’s talking about, except I have to give a shout out tori Dunlap, who had me on her financial feminist podcast. She’s the first, you know, finance. I hate the word guru, but the first leader in finance that has a huge following that has talked about this topic. And I want to thank her. You know, she’s going to be, at least at this point, she’s going to be part of our October workshop for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 


Monica H. Kang
That’s amazing. 


Xian Horn
Yeah. So we’re having one called negotiating your worth. We had it last October, and it was such a big hit, people were asking, when is the next one? Please make sure there’s a next one. So dating and money, and then the other one, which I’m so excited, which is this month, is the beauty. Beauty and fashion, because that’s another area where I just think there’s lower expectations around fashion and beauty for people with disabilities. You know, the root of the. Even the word handicap comes from. Comes from veterans, okay? After the war, not being able to get jobs, and so putting their caps in their hands and begging for money. So handicap, hand in cap. The roots of that is poverty, is charity. 


Xian Horn
And so one of the missions that I have that has been really clear for me in 2024 is just making sure that we break away from this poverty mindset and that can honestly, I mean, there’s a lot of privilege in fashion and beauty as well. So actually, all of these things are connected. Dating, too. Like, if you don’t have, you know, a great date outfit or you don’t have your, you know, if you don’t feel beautiful, you’re going to show up differently if you even get a date, right? If you even feel like you, I mean, you’re not going to feel bold enough to flirt maybe if you don’t have those things. So all of, you know, again, give beauty wings is about putting our beauty to action. 


Xian Horn
And so whether that’s a job or engaging more in your social life or, you know, and I even say with give beauty wings, it’s also about, like, if you love to sing and you want to sing in the shower, like, it’s not even about being excellent at everything all the time. It’s just about self expression and being the fullness of who you are and finding out more about yourself, you know? And so. So give beauty wings programs. The workshops are really about, you know, talking about those taboo topics, but in a way that empowers us, gives us a way forward, action wise, because beauty means nothing without action, you know, so important. 


Monica H. Kang
Well, thank you, Shan, so much for deep diving into all these different congratulations on a half year success already that you’ve had and many more programs. I know we’ll absolutely make sure folks will know how to sign out for some of those upcoming sessions, find a way to learn about some of the past ones you’ve done as well. But the kind of theme that I’m continuing to hear as I hear your story, and thank you for getting through the details, because that’s kind of where the juicy part is and the insights is the reminder that when you have those difficult moments, awkward moments, tough moments, whether it was at your early childhood period. And thank you again for even bringing vulnerably during your teenage periods. 


Monica H. Kang
I think many of us, I’ve had actually a pretty, like, tough, like, teen, like, teen high school experience, too. And I think, I don’t know. I guess we’re all like, teenage time is not really a fun time. 


Xian Horn
Wait a minute. You’re ready to rough on everybody, right? 


Monica H. Kang
If you’re listening as teenager, don’t worry, you’re gonna pass through that. So hang in there a little bit more. 


Xian Horn
Oh, yeah. 


Monica H. Kang
There’s gonna be the golden twenties and thirties. That’s gonna come very soon. 


Xian Horn
Oh, yeah. And in a way, I’m grateful it happened because it makes it sweeter. And also, I said this time and time again, mostly to myself, but if I did not have the experience that I had in high school, I would not have had the ability to help others, because, I’ll be honest with you, even my wonderful parents, right, they were always popular. They were always extroverted. I mean, so when I was going through that, they were like, oh, just don’t pay attention to them. But that wasn’t advice that I could practically use. Like. And so, in a way, like, I’m so grateful that I had that feeling, because now I can talk to anyone that’s ever been an outsider and say, I’ve been there, too. And here’s what I wish I had done about it. 


Monica H. Kang
And that’s part of the secret, Sasha. And sorry to interrupt that. I just want to get a chance to dive deeper, which is you somehow have the magic power to make those vulnerable, tough moments, not only overcoming it, which is in itself, amazing, but rechanneling that into a powerful new powerhouse to empower others. New problem solving, new ways to address, new ways to look at things, which I think is so inspiring. And you do it in a consistent kind of, like, growing magnitude. Every time I catch up, it’s like, oh, my gosh, what else is shen working on? Like, what else is she changing the world? But I’m curious, like, going back to the very beginning, like, what helped you to get out of that shell, to help you get back up, to know that it’s okay. 


Monica H. Kang
Like, as you said, I think one of the things you’re already commenting is that when somebody feels down, when somebody is feeling stuck, whether it’s self esteem, whether it’s because of disability, whether it’s just because of being different or even actually being the same, or just having a different thought or anything. Cause it’s not easy to get back up. And I think we often, like, skip through, like, hooray. Like, let’s get through it, but tell me a little bit more, like, what helped you, if you can bring us back to that memory line, and as a result, what values are important that we should carry on, and maybe how we address our difficult moments continually as innovators, because we face it all the time. 


Xian Horn
Yeah, well, that’s such a deep and wonderful question that we could do a whole hour on that, but I will try to. You know, I’ll give you something that really helped was, you know, in defense of my school, first of all, it was an incredible education where everybody there wanted to change the world, and they always had us thinking about how we could question culture and make it better. So I think that was a beautiful thing that I’m able to bring into the work that I do as well. And then going to Wesleyan, where also everybody there wanted to change the world in some way. 


Xian Horn
I was very intimidated at that time, though, I got to say, when meeting 18 year olds who had already started two nonprofits, and there were a lot of overachievers there, and they were also super humble and laid back, which was nice. But I also felt like, oh, my God, everyone around me is changing the world. So I kind of felt like I didn’t, because advocacy did not occur to me and because I hadn’t really found what made me tick yet. I was like, okay, well, they’re shining brightly. I’m just going to hang back. And I think one thing I realized is that the beauty in you does not take away from the beauty in me or anyone else. 


Xian Horn
And I think sometimes we look to the left and we look to the right at what other people are doing, and we either get competitive, which is not me, or in my case, I kind of shrank. And I was like, well, I’m just gonna. I don’t even remember doing any extracurriculars, anything, just trying to survive getting through. You know, Wesleyan was academically rigorous, and so just trying to get through my classes and sort of stay under the radar again, like, you know, I don’t believe in hiding your light under a basket, I think, now. But I think Wesleyan was a really fresh beginning for me, at least socially. So I wasn’t ready to stick my neck out in any way, I think, yet professionally. But I was able to find a sense of belonging and community almost immediately. 


Xian Horn
And so having a fresh start, being able to say, I remember dancing my tail off at prom, knowing that I’m out of here in a couple weeks. Like, this. This thing that I. And I really look back, and I kind of blame myself for my own thinking. Like, I counted myself out, and I became so awkward and self conscious, people didn’t know what to do with that. And, you know, it could be easy to, you know, you would say, well, people could have been kinder, but, I mean, everybody was trying to survive. That’s the thing about high school, is, like, I don’t think anybody was happy, at least at my school. And so I can give grace to that, you know, that everyone was just trying to survive. And I think Wesleyan was a fresh start. 


Xian Horn
And also having people who genuinely wanted to change the world and who you could have conversations with till two, three in the morning, that was the beginning of that. And then I think, you know, I had a tendency, though, in college, was, you know, I would follow what my boyfriends liked and wanted to do. And so I’ve also, you know, I think learning, too, that following people, if you follow someone who’s lost, you’re gonna get lost, too. And so I think my faith was a huge part of that is realizing, like, not anyone, no one on planet earth is perfect. 


Xian Horn
But I do believe that, like, you know, just realizing that I was doing things for a greater good than just whether people liked me, and being able to say, cause when I realized that people were suicidal, that I was meeting or people were really struggling, I realized it wasn’t about me. And so having something bigger to work towards and work for, I think, really was where the big breakthrough happened, where, yeah, I realized it’s not about how’s my hair and do people like me. It’s about how can I use my experience and my low moments to lift others up. So I feel like it’s a source of fuel and power. Anytime that we’ve been marginalized, we can use it for something greater. And because we have the Internet, you don’t have to be me or Monica to make a difference, right? 


Xian Horn
Anyone can start a YouTube channel. Anyone can start a blog. Anyone can post to their Instagram and share how they’re feeling. And it is vulnerable. And you won’t have everybody loving you and liking you all the time. I think that was also something I had to be okay with. So I had to be secure enough to realize, like, my message is for whoever it’s for. So there are going to be people who will never get it, and that’s okay. But I do think, because I know that lives are at stake and lives can be changed by, you know, just shifting your mindset can change how you live your life. I want to get the messages that we are all beautiful and everyone counts and that there’s something great that anybody can do, you know, whether you have privilege or not. 


Xian Horn
We all have, and this is true for nonverbal. We all have a voice. We all have a perspective, you know, that needs to be shared and a story that matters. So I think, you know, being okay with not everyone getting it or liking me, I think was the most freeing thing that happened because there’s too much at stake for me to hide, and I want to make sure that no one is hiding. 


Monica H. Kang
Shan, that is very powerful. And I think folks can hear your speaker voice in you organically, just coming out, wanting to empower all of us, inspire all of us. A few rapid fire questions building on that. I think the other thing, you know, leaders are and listeners are always looking out for us like, we’re empowered and inspired, but we also want to see the reality. Sheehan, like, what’s actually on your calendar? Like, just hearing about everything you have done and you continue to. You probably have a very packed schedule. How do you make the time to recharge? How do you manage your time? Any tips and tricks that you found to be helpful for you? 


Xian Horn
I’m always asking that questions of other leaders, too, because it is. I’m still, you know, I think one thing is actually being okay with asking for help. So getting myself an assistant in the last two years has been super helpful because I think I was a one woman show for a really long time and wanting to grow my organization so that it isn’t just me and it can serve many more in the communities that need to hear these messages and need the support. So I think that’s a big thing that’s freed up some of my time and stress is like, you know, I’m not great, as you saw, I’m not great with the technical part. So having someone else that can. 


Monica H. Kang
We’re all learning. Yeah. 


Xian Horn
Right. And, you know, paperwork, because I’m an ideas person, the paperwork is not exciting for me, and so have no. And I think this is also, like a time saver sometimes realizing what you’re not good at so that somebody else can and realizing what you are good at so that you’re not wasting someone else’s time who might not be good at that thing. You know, this is why we need each other and why we make each other better is that we’re not all good at the same thing. And so I think, you know, having a good team around me is like, you know, has been my priority for 2024. And I think, you know, and I think that’s also true for friendships and all kinds of relationships, to having a good support system. 


Xian Horn
And I think time, I think, actually, the thing I would encourage anyone that’s struggling with time is make sure that you make time for self care. Like, that’s just as important as whatever else you have on your calendar. And so in 2024, I remember the first week of 2024, like a week apart, I had, like, 111 hours night of sleep, and I hadn’t done that in, like, years. And I felt like a different woman. And I was like, wait, this is really important. That I don’t think, you know, what’s right for you is maybe different. But I. I realized, like, no, 2024, I need to prioritize, rest, and it makes me more effective in the work that I do. So, I mean, kind of an Ariana Huffington answer because I know that she always evangelizes on sleep, but it’s not to be understated. 


Xian Horn
So, obviously, I think also knowing how to say no to some of the things that, you know, we have this tendency to want to say yes to everything. And I think actually understanding that the economic empowerment of my community and myself was important. Like, I started, I used to do 80% free, I will say for the first seven years of what I did, 80% free, 20% paid. And we could go into the roots, I think, around disability. That makes people feel more than any community that it’s okay to ask people with disabilities to work for free because, oh, you should just be happy you’re invited into the room or it’s for exposure. I was underpaid for seven years, and it was my own fault because guess what? 


Xian Horn
As soon as I started saying no and started working, I want to thank also I went to Wesleyan where corporations are the man and all this stuff. And I got to say it was actually working with corporations that were thoughtful and willing to pay me well, that I really. And also, when a corporation comes to you, they can’t say they don’t have the money, because if it’s a. Yeah, you know, if it’s like a target or a Walmart, and, you know, we know that they have the money, and so there’s something freeing in that. But the reason I’m saying that is learning to say no more to the things that you don’t have to do or you don’t feel called to do it’s. A really empowering feeling, and it can also empower your calendar. 


Xian Horn
So I feel like I work, you know, I don’t work hard. People think I work hard. I work smart. Now. 


Monica H. Kang
Very important decision. 


Xian Horn
And being able to work with bigger organizations means you do one thing and it has seismic impact. And I do believe I’m still going to be helping out the Harlem children’s funds of the world. I’m not saying I won’t be volunteering my time, but it should be my choice what I do for free. And I think the disability community, more than any other marginalized community, although I think people of color and women know this well, are often leaned on and expected to do things that they wouldn’t ask of white men. So I think you know what I mean in terms of so being able to say, to notice certain things, I think also helps time management so that you can say yes to the things that really make you sore and feel good and that make your heart sing. 


Xian Horn
So I don’t do anything I don’t want to do anymore. 


Monica H. Kang
That’s amazing, Shane. Thank you so much. I think there were so many nuggets of wisdom that we’re going to want to recircle back and realize, and good thing you can all listen back anytime. But before we know it, we’re almost wrapping up. I feel like time flew by so fast. Three last rapid questions that I have as we wrap up is one in celebration of the different months we’ve asked all our guests to help us, that we can, like, teach us how we can learn better. So if you can introduce us to three innovators who happen to be working in disability or, you know, a disabled person that we should learn from, could you do a shout out and then I’ll get the notes from you later after the show so that we put it in the blog. 


Xian Horn
Oh, my God, you’re going to get me into so much trouble because I know way more than three. And then they’re going to call me. 


Monica H. Kang
And we’re gonna add more in the blog. So you’re gonna wanna start with three. You’re gonna see more names in the blog. 


Xian Horn
Yeah, well, we’re not gonna get her into trouble. I don’t know. Okay. Well, I have to say that I absolutely, as a personal friend, I adore her, but I also see that I think the great allies are. I mean, the great advocates are also allies. So I think Emily Lidow, who literally wrote the book on disability inclusion, she wrote a book called demystifying Disability. What to say, what to do and, or, like, anyway, there’s a whole long subtitle to that which we will put in the notes, but, yes, we will. But she wrote demystifying disability, and she got criticized a lot for what was not in the book. And, you know, to her credit, she really took that criticism. And, I mean, I personally feel that if anyone has a problem with her book, they should write their own. 


Xian Horn
I don’t think that there’s one person saying one authority on this is what disability is. So. But I think she’s an incredible person because she always takes the feedback and wants to learn about those of us in the community that, you know, we all don’t have the same experience. And I think a lot of times that goes to the misconception that, you know, sometimes if you have a disability, you know, about every disability there ever has been speak for all disability. And I think that’s a really dangerous thing. Right. And so I’m always trying to learn, you know, from my friends who are blind, deaf, you know, and all along the communities to see, like, what is it that I don’t know. 


Xian Horn
So I can advocate for that as well, or at least make space for someone else who would advocate better, you know, with a lived experience. And I think Emily’s always looking to learn and grow, and she really takes that feedback. And I think she’s the Judy human of our generation, and I’ve told her this. So there’s. Emily Haben Gurma is also someone that I, I think I’m really attracted to women who support other women, and I love to see disability advocates supporting each other because I think there can be a scarcity mindset. This is true for AAPI and a lot of other communities where if there are limited opportunities, there’s a sense of, oh, no, I’ve got to keep it to myself. So anyone who’s sort of generous with their time celebrates other people’s wins. I love to see. 


Xian Horn
So Haben Gurma has an incredible book called Haben, which I highly recommend reading as well. And then again, I’m just going with my friends here. There’s so many people. But Jessica Cox, the first and only woman without arms to have her pilot’s license. She’s also black belt in Taekwondo, and she’s just someone who has supported me a lot. But I feel like she really tries to brighten up the world in sharing her story, and she’s really open hearted. But I do want to say that I think the three I mentioned are very famous disability advocates, and I didn’t pick them because they were famous. I picked them because I feel that they are real. They’re really supportive of seeing the community grow, and they’re not trying to take every opportunity for themselves. 


Xian Horn
So there’s so many people who aren’t well known that deserve to be on this list. So I want to say that it’s not just because people will know them and they’re very google able. It’s because they’re also incredible human beings. 


Monica H. Kang
And we’ll make sure we add those in the notes. So please come visit. Check out. We’re going to have all those other resources to make sure we continue on the learning. Shan, you shared so much different wisdom and perspective, opened our eyes, reminded us of important values. What’s at least one thing you would remind us all as we walk away as innovators, no matter where we are in the journey. 


Xian Horn
Yeah, I think embrace where you are, because sometimes we can get very results oriented, like, oh, yes. And, and there’s no one destination, too. So, like, just because you’re not where your particular goal may be, I will say something controversial. I I don’t believe in, vision boards, even though I know they work, because I feel like my vision is way smaller than what’s possible for me. And I feel like everything that I dreamed about, like, everything in my life has been bigger than that. So I would say that, you know, embrace where you are, but also know that, like, if you don’t get that thing that’s on your goal list or your vision board, like, there’s something greater for you out there that’s, you know, and I, but I. 


Xian Horn
That being said, I think the most important thing, as long as you’re putting yourself out there, if you know that you’re doing it from a genuine place or genuine sense of service, you know, I think you can’t go wrong, and there’s no losing. I don’t believe in failure also, and I’m sorry, I can’t do a short answer. Do you notice. 


Monica H. Kang
You already got so many wisdom ones? 


Xian Horn
You’re trying to do quick fire, and I’m like, yeah, this fire’s burning long, and, but, yeah. And I think also just being, like, patient with where you are and knowing that even if you don’t get there, it’s not a failure, you know, there might be another path that so called, the thing that didn’t pan out is leading you to. You know, like, when Dove didn’t get back to me, it actually opened up my world because I realized that this beauty thing that were talking about was so much bigger than one beauty company. And if it had happened, it might have been a five minute story, and it would have been nice, but that wasn’t really what it was about. And the fact that most people who supported it did not have disabilities, there was something universal that was happening there. 


Xian Horn
I forgot to tell you that the Dove video I made it for one person. My cousin said, well, you made it already. Why don’t you share it on Facebook? And so it went semi viral. Not Justin Bieber viral, but it went viral enough that I got letters from the Philippines and Japan and Australia, a man with AIDS for 30 years, and rheumatoid arthritis. And I gotta tell you, even I didn’t realize how big the disability community was in that moment. I was thinking about mobility, disability, I’ll be honest. And, you know, and also, I would say, be willing to learn. So, for example, that video I’m gonna call myself out on is not. The video that went viral, is not captioned or audio described. I didn’t even know about that, you know? But again, this is how we become an allies. 


Xian Horn
The more we learn, the more we know, the more we can do. And, you know, I think, yeah, just. Just putting yourself out there and also giving yourself grace, I think, is really important. 


Monica H. Kang
Absolutely. Well, hey, that was the one. Wisdom buckets. You are all lucky to be empowered and inspired. The final question is, Shan, what’s the best way we can stay in touch with you for folks who want to follow? 


Xian Horn
Oh, my goodness. Well, my email address is on my website. I would go to sheonhorn.com or seanhorn.com. Xianhorn.com. You could also Instagram. I was not a fan of Instagram, but I’ve come around. That’s where I’m most active now. And I’ll tell you, the reason why this is an inclusive reason is it’s one of the easiest places to write alt text, and alt text helps. Yeah. Blind and low vision folks to have descriptions of what’s happening in pictures. 


Monica H. Kang
I see. 


Xian Horn
So, yeah. So, anyway, Instagram is great, a wonderful way. Please message me anytime. And, yeah, just know that I’m available. I would love to be a resource for anyone listening. So thank you for asking. 


Monica H. Kang
Well, thank you, Shan, so much for spending some time with us, folks. Thank you for tuning in for another conversation. We’re definitely inspired and empowered. And, Shan, we’re so blessed to have you. So blessed to have you, and thank you for the work that you continue to do and inspiring others. We look forward to continue to looking out, supporting, and finding ways how we can continue to learn and empower others. So thank you so much. Thank you folks for tuning in. We’ll be back again with another story next week, so make sure you subscribe and check out for another story and we’ll learn from another innovator soon. So I’ll see you soon again. 


Xian Horn


Monica H. Kang
Thanks so much for tuning into today’s episode. It was so great having you. I hope this has inspired you and empowered you to know that your voice and stories matter. This is your host, Monica Kang, founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, and a little shout out to the wonderful team who made this possible today. Audio Engineering and producing by Sam Lehmart, Audio Engineering Support by Ravi Lad, website and marketing support by Kree Pandey, Graphic Support by Lea Orsini, Christine Eribal, original music by InnovatorsBox Studios, which you can also check out in any music platform and executive producing, writing, hosting and interviewing by me, Monica Kang, founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox. Please give us feedback, questions, thoughts we want to hear from you. Send [email protected] Hope have a wonderful day and we’ll see you soon. Thank you. 

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