An Interview with Celina Lee: Live Your Dream

I recently interviewed Celina Lee who is a lawyer, author, and talk show host from New York. She has recently published a book in Korea called “꿈을 이뤄드립니다” (“Live Your Dream”). In her book, Celina tells the life stories of nine Korean-Americans who have lived their dreams and their stories of overcoming failure to achieve success in diverse industries, and their unique journey to the top of each profession. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  You can also purchase her book in the US & Canada & Korea. Finally, stay tuned for her next exciting project, Give One Dream (!

Paul: What is your book about?

Celina: The book is about the stories of nine people in nine different professions who have pursued their passions and their stories of overcoming failure to achieve success and live their dreams. By showing the young generation that there isn’t a conventional path to achieving what we deem as success, I wanted to inspire and encourage them to pursue their dreams.

The common denominators of success I have seen in these nine people are the ability to overcome failures in life and the desire to serve others. The book is not intended to be written in a purely autobiography format but from my own perspective and with my voice – a young person who is dreaming big and looking for advice from mentors. When I interviewed these individuals, many of their stories triggered memories of my own life and I have shared my stories in each chapters.

live dreams

  • Paull Shin– Washington State Senator, first Korean American ever elected to the Washington State Legislature
  • Victor Cha – Georgetown professor in political science, former Director for Asian Affairs in the White House’s National Security Council
  • Dennis Hong – Robot scientist and professor at Virginia Tech, pioneer of various innovations in soft-body robots
  • Chi-Won Yoon  – CEO and Chairman of UBS Asia Pacific
  • Hooni Kim– Chef and owner of Korean restaurant Danji and Hanjan, Received first Michelin Star for a Korean restaurant
  • Won Sook KimKorean visual artist,  work highlighted in various gallery and museum exhibitions, including at the Thomas McCormick Gallery
  • Alex JeongJudge of the NYC Criminal Court
  • Margarette Lee – Real estate developer, Principal at Youngwoo & Associates in New York City
  • Howard Koh– United States Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Paul: Why did you want to write a book?

Celina: Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to have a book with my name on it.  It was one of my childhood dreams. I think I was in third grade when I attempted writing my first novel and showed it to my mom.

After I grew up, in my professional and personal life, I met many successful people but the people who really inspired me the most were those who used their skills and talents to help others and make the society a better place. It didn’t have to be anything big like curing cancer  (although I have met some people who do that too), but some things that they could do to help others in their own environment and circumstance.

I thought to myself, “What is it that I can do? If I have any skills or talents, how can I use them to help others and contribute to the society?” I was a good student and had jobs that many people in the society approve as good occupation but I thought there had to be more to life than just getting a job and a paycheck. So I started pursuing other interests that I found fun and meaningful.

Aside from my full-time profession, I’ve been a talk show host for MKTV (the largest Korean American broadcasting company in the east coast region) where I interviewed many successful professionals from diverse industries and different walks of life. I began to realize that I really enjoyed hearing people’s stories and sharing them with others, and wanted to figure out a way to share stories with more people. I thought the best way to contribute back to the society would be to share the inspiring stories in a written form of a book. I would also be able to live one of my childhood dreams too! 🙂 

Through this book, I wanted the readers to be able to experience nine different professions, so I intentionally chose people in nine different industries. In the Korean society, there is such an emphasis on pursuing a very few set of professions like doctor, lawyer, or finance. I wanted people to know that there are far more number of different industries and jobs out there- some that young students may not even have heard of.  So through my book, I decided to introduce mentors who work in many different professions so my readers can indirectly experience what’s it really like to be an artist, professor, robot scientist, politician, real estate developer, chef and so on.  I visited and closely observed each person at his or her job (for a chef, I went into his kitchen, for a professor, I sat in his lecture, etc) and tried to describe the profession as accurately as possible in my book.

Paul: How do you personally define success for you?

Celina: Through writing this book, I learned (and hope that my readers will learn too) that success has different definition for each person and there are many different ways to achieve success.  So, the first step is to define success. This can happen only by knowing who you really are, what you stand for, and what your values are. It requires a lot of introspection before you can define success.

My personal definition of success is being able to live your dreams while at the same time using your accomplishments and talents to help and serve others.

I know people who make a lot of money or hold high positions in companies/organizations, but they don’t do anything for other people and keep it all to themselves. Some are even arrogant. I am seriously disappointed when I meet these people. I don’t think they are successful in my definition of success.

When I meet people who use their  “success” to humbly serve others, I am really inspired. I think they are the truly successful people and I respect them so much.

Paul: Why do you think there is an epidemic of ‘dreamlessness’ or absence of dream in young people’s lives?

Celina: I’ve seen many Koreans and Americans brainwashed by the culture. Many have fallen into the trap of thinking more money means success and more money means happiness. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite. Society does a fantastic job in brainwashing people. I’ve also seen parental expectations profoundly shape the expectations and realities of young adults.  The sad truth is that many people don’t even think about what they really want to do with their lives. I truly believe that if all the people did what they really loved doing, our world would be a thousand times better place to live in. It would be full of very happy people. Doesn’t that sound just great?! 🙂

Paul: Could you give advice to the Millennium generation who are in pursuit of discovering their dream? 

Celina: I’ve been asked a lot of questions like this from my friends and readers. The first question I would ask is, “If nothing else mattered to you, like money, geography, society or parental expectation, etc, what would you do?” I’ve heard some very unexpected, wild, interesting and fun answers. This is a good starting point.

  • Think about your happiest moments in life. When was the last time you were really, truly happy? What were you doing at that moment?
  • I read this book by Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project that suggested a good indication of discovering your passion is determined by how you are spending your free time. What are you doing on a Saturday afternoon when you have no plans and you can be doing anything you want?
  • Write down your list of dreams, and your strengths and weaknesses.  Writing down what you really enjoy and not enjoy really helps clarify your talents. I read from a book that asked “Write down all the things you want to do in the next five or ten years. Now, imagine you were going to die in the next six months, write down what you will be doing then. If they are pretty similar, then you are on the right track. If they are very different, you should be reevaluating your life.
  • Try out new things. I remember hearing somewhere “When is the last time you’ve done something for the first time?” For the past few years, my new year’s resolutions included “Do something for the first time every week.” This could be as small as eating a new dish or going to a new show, or do something that I normally wouldn’t do or put myself in an unfamiliar or even uncomfortable situation or new environment. Exposing yourself to new experiences will help you discover something about yourself you’ve never known before. Also, traveling is very important as you will expose yourself to new experiences, new people, and you’ll learn to gain different perspective and new points of view. If possible, try to go live in a foreign country. I have traveled to and lived in many different parts of the world and every time, I not only learned about the new cultures and the people there and their ways of thinking, but something new about my own self. For students, I would highly encourage you to go study abroad. I spent my junior year second semester at Oxford, met many friends that I normally wouldn’t be able to meet at my college, and got to travel to awesome places in other parts of Europe.

Paul: What is your personal dream?

Celina: I have always wanted to create an organization that helps people and society and I’m happy to tell you that I am currently working on it! It’s called “Give One Dream” ( and you can leave your email address and I’ll be in touch when the site launches in a few months. This is something I have been thinking about for many years and thought may be I will do it when I get older and have a lot of money. But I decided to not wait and just do it now. I’m so excited about it! You’ll hear all about very soon!


_______ Celina LeeCelina Lee is the author of  “꿈을 이뤄드립니다” (“Live Your Dream”). Using her bilingual and bicultural background, she decided to publish a book in Korea to tell the stories of successful Korean-Americans to inspire the young generation and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Celina started her career as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch and worked as a corporate lawyer at a law firm, Ropes & Gray LLP in New York. She is the President of Cheongwon America, Inc. and spearheads the effort for global investment for a premier real estate developer from Korea. Celina hosts a talk show on MKTV, the largest Korean American broadcasting company in the east coast region and has interviewed guests representing diverse professions including CEO, politician, writer, musician, professor, chef, filmmaker, golf coach, judge, etc. Celina graduated from MIT with a B.S. in Management Science and received her Juris Doctor degree from U.C. Berkeley School of Law.