Millennials Rising — Ximena Quan Kiu

woman-carrying-world-earthYou’ve likely heard the stereotypes about millennials: They’re a generation of entitled misfits. They lack a strong work ethic. They’re only interested in activities that offer immediate gratification.

You want the truth? This generation isn’t going to wreck the world. They’re going to save it.

If millennials feel entitled to anything, it’s the opportunity to be passionately engaged in a vision they can pour their entire heart and soul into. Show them what success looks like, then get out of the way and watch what awesome looks like.

I’d like to introduce you to Ximena Quan Kiu, one of nine millennials I interviewed who have faced and overcome significant obstacles that stood in the way of their goals and dreams. It’s a privilege to share their inspiring life stories with you here.

Click here to see all the Millennials Rising stories.


Ximena Quan Kiu

Ximena Beltran Quan Kiu, born in 1987, is a founding partner of C1 Revolution, a Chicago-based creative agency specializing in brand amplification through the integration of influencer outreach, social/traditional media relations and event marketing.

At twenty-seven, I had a tough decision to make. I could either take a well-paying job doing something I loved to do, or I could take a big chance and launch a business of my own. I decided to do the safe thing: accept a job at Walgreen’s and start climbing the corporate ladder. Then I remembered the seven avocados.

I had recently seen a photo of seven avocados lined up in a row. Under the first avocado were the words “Not yet.” Under the next four, the same thing: “Not yet. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.” Under the sixth one was one word: “Now.” Under the seventh was “Too late.” I thought, Yep, it’s go time.

One year earlier, I wouldn’t have dared to leave a secure job; but then I learned that “secure” didn’t mean what I thought it did. I had been a new media specialist for DePaul University in Chicago, where I had gotten my master’s in journalism. DePaul was a great job. I saw my media pitches get used by national publications and got to interact with celebrities from politics, movies, and sports. I was even asked to write a guest column in Forbes after I reached out to Jenna Goudreau, who was writing a series of Forbes columns on millennials in the workplace. Almost everyone who was featured in it hated their job and talked about how miserable they were. I loved my job and wrote about the importance of finding career-changing mentors.

On the Outside Looking In
Finding mentors made all the difference because I knew nothing about the business world growing up, or about life in general, for that matter. I was born in Mexico City and came to the U.S. with my mom, Elizabeth, and my sister, Isabel, who is three years older than me, when I was almost two. My mom had gone to college and was well educated, but the culture and systems here were foreign to her. She worked as a freelance writer for Spanish-language publications in Chicago. Money was tight but our basic needs were cared for.

Even though I didn’t have to struggle like my mom did, I still grew up with an immigrant mindset. I’m mixed ethnicity, Mexican and Chinese, and was the only brown kid in school. I had friends I hung out with, but I still felt like an outsider. My sister and I were the only kids who brought sandwiches filled with beans and cheese for lunch, and believe me, that got noticed. At that age, school was my whole world; I had to try to belong because it was the world I lived in, but I never really felt like I belonged. My mother encouraged us to take pride in what set us apart from our peers, but I didn’t see those differences as a gift. I just wanted to fit in.

The worst of it came in sixth grade when a girl I thought was my friend turned on me. She was mean and aggressive and would make fun of me with racial slurs. It hurt so much because I already felt like I didn’t fit in. I even entertained thoughts of suicide. What saved me was thinking about how much my mother sacrificed for me and loved me. I told myself, I can’t do that to my mom. I can’t let her down. My mother has always been my saving grace.

Other than my mother, who was always working, I didn’t have much of a support system. All our relatives were back in Mexico. We lived in a lower income part of town near an affluent neighborhood, which was pretty isolating because we lived so much further away than the kids I went to school with. My mom was also very strict. My curfew was very early and it seemed like I was perpetually grounded for not doing my homework and chores. Looking back, I’m thankful for that strict upbringing but I certainly didn’t appreciate at the time because it separated me even more from my peers.

Today, I’m proud to be an immigrant. When I think of an immigrant, I think of someone who leaves behind everyone and everything they know so they can make a better life for themselves and their family. That takes fearlessness; it takes courage. On my twenty-eighth birthday, I called my mom and said, “When you were only a few years older than me, you left your home, family, friends, and everything that was familiar to you to move to a new country with nothing but your two little girls. I can’t even wrap my mind around that!” If that wasn’t difficult enough, my mom didn’t go back to Mexico for six years because of the immigration process; she was afraid that if we went back home they wouldn’t let us return.

Having an immigrant mindset means there’s some fight in you. If you’re the only person around who looks like you or if someone make racist comments, you don’t let it get you down. When you make a mistake or fail, it’s not the end of your story. You push through the fear until you achieve your goals. The American Dream isn’t about work or money, it’s about having a life that you’re at peace with; it’s about doing well and being happy.

Clueless in Chicago
It was a good thing I was so clueless growing up. You need to be a little naïve to think that you can power through obstacles and overcome prejudice. In my junior year when classmates were applying to colleges, I was surprised to learn that they were paying $500 for test prep classes and getting recommendations from influential family friends. There was no way I was going to ask my mom for $500 and I didn’t know anyone who could write me a letter. That’s when it became clear that for me to get ahead, it had to be a numbers game; I needed to keep putting myself out there until someone said yes.

I went to DePaul because it was the first college that accepted me. My sister, who was also going there, kept me on track. She had become like a second mother to me and helped me navigate through all the challenges of college life. I needed that because it was my first taste of freedom; after growing up in such a strict household, I was a lot more interested in having fun than studying. My study habits were pretty much nonexistent. I remember being scared because I was getting a D in one of my classes. My sister found out and said, “You better turn that around.” And I did. I listened to her.

Still, I didn’t take college very seriously until I studied abroad in South Africa before my junior year. It was very costly but I got a partial scholarship and had been babysitting six days a week for ten hours a day for a year leading up to it. I would go to all my classes in the morning and then babysit from two o’clock to midnight.

I spent almost six months in South Africa at Stellenbosch University. The system was just so different; you didn’t get to pick your classes, and if you didn’t know the material you failed and that was that. It didn’t matter whether you participated in class or even went to class at all. It was just so harsh. That trip completely changed my mentality. I realized I had been squandering the opportunities I’d been given and how much of a privilege it was to live in the U.S.

When I got back to Chicago in November 2007, I started applying for internships. By summer I had two lined up: running interactive guerrilla marketing campaigns at Clear Channel Radio and helping manage Nike’s Tournament of Champions event, which is a showcase for female basketball players. I had a few more internships after those, including doing public relations for the Chicago White Sox for ten months. I applied to the White Sox with a resume that was laid out to look like a player trading card. It was silly but I wanted to show how much I wanted the job.

My mom, to her credit, has always been so supportive. When I told her the internships wouldn’t pay anything, she said, “Don’t worry, I’ll figure out a way to cover the costs. You’re young. You can make the money up later but you’re not going to have another opportunity to build these connections, have these experiences, and get to know these people.” She was right. It was through interning that I found two wonderful mentors as well as other people who are some of my most valuable connections today. Working in those environments also taught me how to conduct myself professionally, manage my time, and exercise good judgment.

Back them, because I didn’t have any connections, I wanted big-name companies on my resume. I didn’t chase just the work experience, I chased the brand name. But that was just a means to an end. I didn’t want my reputation to be defined by who I knew but by the quality of my work. I was willing to do any task, any project, any time. That’s how you build trust among your superiors and peers and become the go-to person for more important projects.

When I interned at Clear Channel, my bosses invited me to the Taste of Chicago, an outdoor food and music fest, after a promotion event. It was getting late when they mentioned that they had to be up extra early the next day to execute another promotion. I asked if I could come along and provide assistance. At five o’clock the next morning, I was onsite and ready to help with whatever they needed. At the end of my internship, I was the only one of twenty interns to be offered a part-time position. My boss cited that early-morning promotion and said he was impressed by my work ethic and maturity.

Internal vs. External Security
After two years at De Paul, I got laid off in June 2013. I never saw it coming. I always had great reviews and great relationships with not just my peers but the executive team as well. I thought layoffs were something that happened to older people so it took me totally by surprise. It was such a shock to my system that I think I’m still processing it even now; until then my life had been all about school and work and getting ahead.

In February of that year, my mom had asked me to go on a vacation with her to Mexico for her birthday. In May, my sister, who lives in Texas, came to town to spend time with me. In both cases, my first thought was, I can’t take time off. I have to work. Fortunately, I figured out how to stay on top of my workload so I could spend time with both of them. When I got laid off a month after seeing my sister, it was a rude awakening. Here I had been so committed to DePaul and it just didn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, work is important, but so is family time and having a life.

The morning after I got laid off, I was up at seven o’clock, emailing everyone I had worked with. I told them what happened, let them know who their next point of contact was, and thanked them for working with me. I also let them know that I was looking for a job and asked them to keep me in mind should they hear of anything. A week later I had three job offers. Here I had been thinking, Am I going to work again?, so that was awesome.

Just one week after I lost my job at DePaul, I was hired as a social media risk consultant at Walgreen’s on a seven-month contract. My role was to identify any conversations or situations that could impact the company from a financial or reputational standpoint and look for trends that might inform consumer behaviors.

A month later I was still receiving job offers. Getting laid off was a blessing because what happened afterward taught me to have more faith and trust in my capabilities. Social media data mining was just something I liked to do, but when I realized that nobody else was doing it, I saw it as a skill that could make me valuable. That’s when I started getting all these crazy ideas about having my own business. Life is too short to not have big adventures.

In January 2014 when my Walgreens contract was set to expire, they extended the contract and let me know they were working to make the position full time. Two months later, they made me an offer. If I’d never been laid off I wouldn’t have hesitated; I would have taken the job. But my experience at DePaul had shown me that I could be pushed out the door at any time through no fault of my own, and that scared me.

I also knew that accepting the position at Walgreen’s meant I would be deferring my dream of starting my own business by at least a year, and probably two. I’m kind of old-fashioned; it’s not in my nature to walk away from an employer I’ve given a commitment to. That’s the way my mom raised me.

Full Throttle
I love to work. I want to be working until I’m in the grave, and even beyond if I could. But the more I thought about starting my own business, the more scared I got. My networking had given me some great leads, and getting all those job offers shored up my confidence that I was valued and that I was on people’s radar. But I had to ask myself, What am I really capable of? I had to admit that even though I had always done good work at my internships and jobs, I had always coasted to some extent. I hadn’t ever pushed myself to the limit and challenged myself to go full throttle and really be 100 percent committed to something. I finally realized that I could only reach my potential if I chose the entrepreneurial route.

As soon as I got clear with my intentions, good things started happening. When a friend learned that I was born in Mexico, was bilingual, and was considering quitting my job to start a business with my friend, Amanda, he said, “Perfect timing. My friend runs the Four Seasons Hotel in Mexico City and they’re looking for an agency to help with communications in the U.S.”

Next thing you know, Amanda and I were running our own creative agency. Our focus is primarily digital but we also do print, television, and radio. It’s not traditional public relations or advertising, it’s more about simplifying ideas and messages and communicating them organically through all the different mediums available. We also specialize in social media crisis intervention, which is a mash-up of traditional public relations and the digital world.

It’s funny, I just started doing social media data mining because it interested me, and that’s now at the core of everything I do. I really enjoy digging through and synthesizing information, looking for patterns and connections, and figuring out how to leverage all that to create opportunities and deliver the greatest impact.

We named our company C1 Revolution. Why did we call it that? C1 is shorthand for “Crazy One,” and we added “Revolution” because we’re crazy enough to believe that we can revolutionize the traditional public relations model. Oh, and if you’re wondering what the significance of “Crazy One” is, it’s an homage to the famous “Think Different” ad campaign initiated by Steve Jobs after his return to Apple:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.


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Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to be.
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Click here to order your copy of Through God’s Eyes from
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Like to learn more about Through God’s Eyes? Here is a free 44-page PDF sampler from the book that includes:

• an overview of the book
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• my Introduction
• chapter excerpts
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• endorsements from authors and thought leaders

Just click on the link below to download your free PDF sampler!

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In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
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sixty-seconds-coverPhil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent authors and thought leaders he interviewed. The roster of storytellers includes Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Caroline Myss, Larry Dossey, Rachel Naomi Remen, Bernie Siegel, Dean Ornish, and Christiane Northrup. Sixty Seconds has been translated into four languages: Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories.

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