Editor's note: What began in high school as a hobby combining poetry and music soon became a passion for Alexander Ou. He now uses that platform to convey important messages. Alexander, who works in Mayo Clinic's Department of Human Resources by day and is a hip-hop artist by night, shares his story of overcoming criticism for pursuing his passion and staying committed to his goals. His commitment extends not only to his music, but also to his career at Mayo Clinic.
By Alexander Ou
I am a Cambodian American hip-hop artist born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota. I am a father of four — three sons and one daughter. I started creating music when I was 14 and have done so for the last 17 years.
I lived in Bloomington, Minnesota, for a few years because it was closer to the airport. I was traveling almost every weekend for shows throughout the country and sometimes even overseas.
When I had my third child, I decided to move back to Rochester. I needed more of a steady income to support my family. I found a position at Charter House that I enjoyed and that was flexible with my schedule.
At the annual high school career festival that Mayo Clinic hosts, I was asked to represent Charter House at our booth. During the festival, I was approached by students familiar with my music. I took this opportunity to inform them about Charter House and the positions available. This led to a number of new hires at Charter House.
At the following year's festival, we had a representative from Mayo Clinic Human Resources assist with on-site applications. Similar to the previous year, I was approached by students, and I pitched Charter House's opportunities. Our Human Resources representative noticed this, and she informed me that there was an opening in Human Resources for a limited-tenure position as an administrative assistant. I took the position. A year or so later, a full-time position opened. Now here I am as a full-time Human Resources coordinator.
"We all have dreams, but none of them becomes reality until you wake up and take it into your own hands."Alexander Ou
As for my hip-hop career, I originally started writing poetry when I was 13 years old. The very first poem I wrote was called "Day 911" and was written on Sept. 11, 2001, about the terrorist attacks. I showed a friend, and she showed it to our teacher. This caused a snowball effect.
The poem was recited on the PA system at school, at churches in town, on a local radio station, published in the local newspaper, published in a book of poems, and even recited by Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" show. With such positive reactions, I continued to write poetry — more to impress girls than anything else. Growing up with my uncle, I was introduced to hip-hop music at an early age and was always a fan. A friend of mine suggested that I throw a beat behind one of my poems. The rest is history.
As an Asian American hip-hop artist, there weren't too many artists like me when I first chose to pursue this. I was often criticized, even by family and friends.
You cannot satisfy everyone. The more people you try to please, the less you actually do. A quote I wrote in high school — "Don't follow your dreams, lead them" — is one I continue to use. I tell those who ask me how I continue to balance my work life, family life and music life: We all have dreams, but none of them becomes reality until you wake up and take it into your own hands.
"I find influence every day from the interactions I have with people — whether they're co-workers, residents or new candidates. Everyone has a story."Alexander Ou
I used the discouragement as fuel to encourage my drive and determination. After school, and sometimes during, I worked on my craft every day and studied the art of hip-hop. I even took on DJing as a side job in high school, which helped me understand how people react to certain rhythms, what they enjoy, and what they sing along to.
I find influence every day from the interactions I have with people — whether they're co-workers, residents or new candidates. Everyone has a story. Also, the flexibility of schedules I've had in all of the areas I've worked has allowed me the time needed to continue my work as an artist.
I truly enjoy my role and my work environment. My leads and manager continue to make me feel like a valued team member and will always offer support. My co-workers and I always help one another out without hesitation. The roles of our position help make people feel happy, hopeful and excited about their next step in their careers and, ultimately, their lives.
That is also part of why I create music.
I've been blessed to have traveled all over the world to perform throughout my career. I've performed at concerts, colleges, nightclubs, birthday parties, weddings and even bullying-prevention events. I've opened up for a number of major artists. I've accumulated over 70 million views on my YouTube channels along with thousands of followers on my social networks. Because of this, I've been able to meet all sorts of people, experience different cultures, and hear about other people's stories and dreams, and how my story has inspired them.
This all started from a single dream that I had as a teenager. I aspired to be someone that would be able to positively impact the world and have fun while doing so. Again I say: "Lead your dreams. Don't follow them."