Ping Fu’s BEND Not BREAK, A Tale of a Woman’s Unstoppable Resilience

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I first met Ping Fu when she gave a talk at a Singularity event in Silicon Valley last summer. I wasn’t attentive during her entire talk until about a third the way through when suddenly I was drawn into the personality of the woman in the front of the room. It took me a moment to realize we were talking about the world in 3D since it wasn’t her topic that drew me in at first, but her energy…her calm, quiet energy.

Was she really wearing pink plastic shoes I thought? Not only was that the case, but they were printed from a 3D printer and she had a matching handbag and iPhone case as well.

I decided I had to meet her and after a few moments of chatting in the back of the room while the evening was winding down, I found myself asking to photograph her for a “photo book” I’m working on and so, we quickly exchanged cards and weeks later, I was at her San Francisco-apartment with my Canon 7D.

Greeting me with that same calm energy that initially drew me in, I still didn’t have much history on Ping’s life, nor did I know she was tortured as a political prisoner in China years before.

Here I was snapping away at this woman of great resolve without knowing her life’s pains and battles. We were on her roof and the buildings of San Francisco were behind us, beyond us….she was calm as she greeted me and continued that resolve throughout the shoot in a way that put me at peace and made me smile on more than one occasion.

The wind was blowing and she fell into various poses I asked despite the fact that they weren’t all that comfortable or frankly, safe given the height of the building.

Finally, we started talking and little by little, I learned of her past. I learned of her world as CEO and President of Geomagic. Nothing however could have prepared me for what I was about to learn a few months later when Ping shipped me an early version of her book, Bend Not Break, which is now available from Amazon, released on December 31, 2012.

When things arrive on my doorstep from someone who jolts me, as Ping had done with me on both occasions, I take it as a sign from the universe that there’s something more to know, in this case, something beyond what I first heard when she began her speech that one evening in Santa Clara, California.

I flipped through the book when it arrived and came across this excerpt, “Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back even from the most difficult times. . . . Your ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances. Take everything in stride with grace, putting forth energy when it is needed, yet always staying calm inwardly,” a quote from her “Shanghai Papa,” a man she lived with for part of her childhood in China.

I knew at once that this wasn’t just another book on business entrepreneurship and lessons learned and immediately dug into the 274 pages which would leave me speechless. For several nights, I flipped through a beautifully authentic tale of her life with tears in my eyes, unable to comprehend the wounds she must have had to shed to become the dynamite, successful woman leader she is today.

She started her life in China in the 1950s, growing up as a factory worker, child soldier, and political prisoner. In those days, it wasn’t an honor to be born into a well-educated family, but a curse, one which labeled her as “black,” which resulted in being beaten and gang raped and later deported with barely enough money for a plane ticket.
Exiled from her country as a student, she came to the states to start anew and in her life of all things new, she became a pioneering software programmer starting in California, then the midwest and later North Carolina where she still has a home.
The book begins in the earliest days of her life, in the midst of China’s Cultural Revolution, when Ping was separated from her family at the age of eight. Away from the only family she ever knew, she grew up fighting hunger and humiliation and shielding her younger sister from the teenagers in Mao’s Red Guard.
The lessons from her Shanghai father aided her well as she looked back on his words of wisdom, courage, resilience and strength when she felt most alone. She also has incredible survival instincts, ones which served her well as a child laborer, as a student and later as an entrepreneur and founder of her own company.
During her imprisonment, she learned to obey not challenge, which is counter to the entrepreneurial spirit. She writes, “the communists had taught me I had to be good so as not to be beaten.” She was told that she was responsible for her parent’s wrongdoings and no matter what she did, she’d never be able to change the fact that she had been born with ‘black blood,’ and was a nobody. Her wise Uncle W who used to bring her books told her one day, “you are precious and you must always believe that. You don’t need to earn it; this is your birthright.”
A few words were enough to set her free even if temporarily so, powerful in a world where she was surrounded by the dogmatic anti-capitalism of Mao’s China on a daily basis. She writes how she felt when she heard those few rare encouraging words: “My heart swelled like a rising ocean tide under a full moon.” It occurred to me that even in a world where we are free, so many women aren’t told that they’re precious growing up and despite my grandfather telling me I could “be anything I wanted to be,” I never once felt that I didn’t have to earn it and that being precious was a birthright. When I see lack of confidence rise in boardrooms or before women even make it to the boardroom, I think about Ping’s Uncle W and his statement. “You are precious, it’s your birthright” and even beyond this, a statement that more and more women need to hear: “you deserve to be loved for doing absolutely nothing at all.”
Ping not only had to overcome her lack of confidence from years of no encouragement and support over the years, but isolation and what that isolation did to her state of mind and way of looking at the world. When you’re in survival mode, it’s hard to be in creation mode, which was something she was forced to do when she arrived in the United States years later.
Self confidence isn’t the only issue women face as they try to make their way to the top – it’s also believing that things are possible outside of yourself and just trusting in those possibilities. As a role model female executive, she has spoken at conferences over the years and many would ask, “how do I break through the glass ceiling?” She paused as she thought about it acknowledging to herself that she doesn’t believe in limits and ceilings. She responded to the women, “If you don’t believe in the glass ceiling, it does not exist.”
This statement stems from a fundamental belief system that you can create your own destiny and reality by simply deciding what’s possible and what’s not possible and then having the faith that those dreams and visions will materialize despite the odds.
Enduring what she endured and getting through it was vital to her success. Ping didn’t have a choice but to believe that she would rise above whatever glass ceiling was in her view at any given time.
I’d argue that having to raise her little sister from such an early age, taught her important leadership skills before she was ten. As a caregiver to her sibling when she herself was still a child, she had an earlier start to motherhood than any of us could imagine. There are touching moments in the novel when Ping writes about the birth of her daughter Xixi later in her life. There is a colloquial expression in Chinese which says that “children are a better version of their parents,” and when her daughter was born, she felt such unconditional love that she writes, “with one breath, she rescued me.”
Later when she returned to China and poured through family journals, she was able to take back her pride and once again, understand the power of family bonds. In those journals, she felt the strength of her connection to her ancestors for the first time in many years. Even though she intellectually knew that her family wasn’t “black” and “evil,” despite so many years of brainwashing, it took her return to China to see the depth of the atrocities of Mao, who had caused millions of people to starve to death during the Cultural Revolution.
She draws parallels to the lessons she learned from her grandfather to decisions she made in business at Geomagic, particularly in the early days. A bad contract can be a good decision she writes. During a tragic time in her company’s history, when they didn’t have the finances to last another week, she signed a contract that wasn’t a good ‘financial’ deal for her company.
While it may have been a bad financial contract, it delivered just enough to get Geomagic through to the next month so they could stay afloat. She says during that tenuous time, “the contract was about something far more previous than money. It was about the survival of the company and the dream they all shared.” She equates this experience to her grandfather who had to sell his prized collector’s items for pennies in order to feed his family, even though he sold everything for a fraction of what they were worth.
Going through the trauma that Ping endured made some of her business traumas not seem so catastrophic – she was able to rise to the top and do what was necessary to move her company to the next level. “Making good decisions,” she writes, “means being clear about what really matters. It also requires giving people the authority and freedom to fail.”
 Ping also had vision and had the courage to see her vision through even in the face of skeptics. Her passion became clear when she had an aha moment. She writes:
“I discovered that many people were using the alpha shapes software to process data captured by 3D scanners—not medical CT and MRI scanners, but industrial ones made from digital cameras. With the aid of either a laser or light patterns, they would produce 3D point clouds.
Imagine dots floating in space, arranged to cover the surface of an object to form an impression of its shape. In 2D digital pictures, those dots lie directly on the paper or flat screen; we call them pixels. In 3D, the dots are not projected onto a flat surface, but rather retain the depth of an object’s true shape in space.

This was my aha moment. State-of-the-art 3D appliances, such as 3D scanners and 3D printers, already existed. If we offered software that could take the data from 3D scanners, process it, and output it on 3D printers, our new company could do in three dimensions for desktop fabrication what Adobe had done for desktop publishing in two dimensions. My head spun with possibilities.”

That aha moment became her vision, her destiny, her calling as an entrepreneur. She says, “I could see where it came from—the depths of my subconscious. For the first time since volunteering to create a business, I felt confident that I could actually do it because I had found my reason why.”

That vision led to endless possibilities and to the success of Geomagic today, a company which has reshaped the world on multiple levels, from creating personalizing prosthetic limbs to repair­ing NASA spaceships.

Bend, Not Break is a must read for anyone who leads a company or wants to. It is a must read for anyone who has faced obstacles and struggled with their “why’s” in life. It is a must read for all women and anyone who considers themselves an “underdog.”

It’s a must read for people who say “I can’t,” or have been told “they can’t” as there is no room for “can’ts” in the world Ping Fu has created.

Her telling story is a tribute to one woman’s courage in the face of cruelty and a valuable lesson on the enduring power of strength and resilience.

Top photo credit: Jonathan Fredin. Bottom photo credit: Renee Blodgett, taken at her apartment on that lovely summer day in San Francisco.

 

Renee Blodgett
Founder
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
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