Not Entirely Dead – Designing for belonging after Cancer | Eason Yang | TEDxSantaBarbaraSalon | Summary and Q&A

September 22, 2023
TEDx Talks
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Not Entirely Dead – Designing for belonging after Cancer | Eason Yang | TEDxSantaBarbaraSalon

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In this video, the speaker discusses the organization Not Entirely Dead and their journey from being a rock star designer to becoming an activist in the fight against cancer. They talk about the bias and stigma against career gaps, not just for cancer survivors, but also for other individuals such as veterans, prisoners, moms, and those who have been laid off. The speaker emphasizes the need to change the narrative around cancer survivors and focus on their strengths, resilience, and superpowers. They also discuss the importance of valuing soft skills in the workplace and the role of intuition in creative industries. The speaker ends by advising others with ideas to not give up and to keep pushing forward in their pursuits.

Questions & Answers

Q: Tell us about the organization Not Entirely Dead.

Not Entirely Dead is an organization that focuses on raising awareness about the bias and stigma against career gaps, particularly for cancer survivors, as well as other individuals who have faced similar challenges.

Q: What led you to start Not Entirely Dead?

After going through cancer and experiencing discrimination and stigma in the workplace, I realized I needed to do something not just for myself, but for others facing similar challenges. I wanted to create a supportive community and raise awareness about these issues.

Q: How did you determine that there was a bias and stigma against career gaps?

While pitching my idea to people in Silicon Valley and conducting academic research, I discovered that there were many scholars and professionals writing about career gaps and the challenges faced by individuals who have taken breaks from work due to various reasons. This research validated my intuition and motivated me to take action.

Q: Why is there a bias against career gaps?

The workplace often values a linear career trajectory, where individuals continuously climb the ladder without taking breaks. Society tends to view career breaks for reasons related to wellness or personal circumstances differently than a sabbatical or gap year. There are negative assumptions and questions about whether someone can still perform and be relevant after a career gap. Additionally, cancer survivors specifically may face a "damaged goods" image, leading to doubts about their abilities in the workplace.

Q: Why is it more acceptable to have a gap year than a career gap related to wellness or personal circumstances?

This discrepancy is rooted in misunderstanding and a lack of empathy regarding people's health and experiences. Society often associates diseases like cancer with negative narratives and death, while lacking knowledge about the realities of individuals' lives. The lack of understanding and care contribute to the stigma surrounding career gaps for wellness and personal reasons.

Q: What made you decide to become an activist and raise awareness about this issue?

Every time someone responded to my cancer journey with pity or sympathy, I felt the need to shift the narrative. I wanted to focus on the power, strength, resilience, and super abilities that cancer survivors develop through their experiences. This desire to change the narrative for all cancer survivors and combat the stigma led to my decision to become an activist.

Q: How should people interact with cancer survivors to support them?

Instead of pitying them, it's better to acknowledge their strength and courage. Instead of tilting their heads in sympathy, people should express admiration and respect. By recognizing the challenges they faced and emphasizing their resilience, individuals can foster a more positive and empowering environment for cancer survivors.

Q: Can beating cancer give individuals superpowers or unique skills?

Yes, overcoming cancer can develop various skills and superpowers. The experience of facing and conquering a serious illness cultivates qualities like strength in crisis, tenacity, and resilience. These soft skills, often overlooked in the workplace, hold immense value and contribute to an individual's overall abilities.

Q: Has your background in advertising and design helped you in starting and running Not Entirely Dead?

Absolutely. My experience in advertising and being part of problem-solving teams gave me a well-rounded understanding of different roles within a team. This knowledge allowed me to handle multiple responsibilities when starting my organization and enabled me to piece everything together to create a successful initiative.

Q: What advice would you give to someone with an idea who wants to start their own organization or initiative?

The most important advice would be to never give up. Activism and making a change in society can be incredibly difficult and disheartening. It is essential to find any source of energy and keep taking small steps forward. Persistence is key to turning an idea into a reality.


The video highlights the bias and stigma against career gaps, particularly for cancer survivors, and emphasizes the need for a narrative change that focuses on individuals' strengths and resilience. Soft skills developed through challenging experiences, such as overcoming cancer, should be valued in the workplace. The speaker encourages people to support cancer survivors by acknowledging their strength and avoiding pity. The video also underscores the importance of persistence when pursuing an idea or starting an organization.

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