Stephanie Murphy: Breaking Barriers from Refugee to Policymaker

Stephanie Murphy

Stephanie Murphy, a businesswoman, policy expert, and former U.S. Congresswoman, was the first Vietnamese American woman elected to the House of Representatives. During her three terms (2017-2023), she overcame partisan gridlock, securing the Employee Retention Credit, gun safety laws, and investments in infrastructure and energy. Murphy was also a leading voice on trade and national security. Her career includes strategy consulting, investment management, college instruction, and working at the Department of Defense. A refugee who escaped communism, her journey from poverty to policymaking is inspiring. She holds a B.A. from the College of William and Mary and an M.S. from Georgetown University.

What is your WHY?

My true north is the desire to honor the memory of my late father by living a life worthy of his sacrifice—risking everything by putting his family on a boat in search of freedom. I also hope to make my children proud of me once they are old enough to understand who I am and what I’ve done. Finally, I desire to continue paying back the debt of gratitude I owe this country, which first gave me sanctuary and then gave me an opportunity. 

What motivates you to put one foot before the other on your most challenging days?

My desire to prove people wrong about me is a huge motivator. People have always underestimated me because of factors beyond my control—my packaging, gender, skin color, and childhood circumstances. I always say when people underestimate me, I kill them with competence.

Would you change anything about how you have handled challenges or successes thus far?

I wish I had taken more time to celebrate successes instead of downplaying them to demonstrate humility or focusing on the next achievement driven by ambition.

What is your biggest challenge, and what did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge and opportunity I’ve faced is raising kids. I’ve learned that I can’t control everything and that I’m learning on the go in this significant life mission. I wonder if I’m doing it right or if I can do it better.

How do you prioritize your time and energy to achieve your personal and professional goals?

I believe work-life balance equilibrium is unachievable for me. I subscribe to the idea of living life in chapters. Some chapters focus more on personal responsibilities, while others emphasize professional aspirations. Whichever chapter I’m in, I need the courage and confidence to believe it works for me, my family, and my career.

Have you drawn inspiration from other women? Tell us about someone who has inspired you.

The late Madeleine Albright, a refugee and immigrant to this country who rose to become the first female Secretary of State, was an inspiration to me. She devoted her life to public service. Her last book was a warning about the dangers of fascism, but she also wrote about how she used fashion (namely brooches) to send messages. For example, after learning that they had bugged a room in the State Department, she wore a huge bug pin to a meeting with the Russians. I have used fashion to send messages when the occasion demands. She also is known to have said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I espouse that philosophy.  

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of working at the Pentagon in the aftermath of the Sept 11th terrorist attacks on the US. I had a chance to work shoulder to shoulder with men and women in uniform like the ones that had rescued my family so many years before when we were escaping tyranny. 

I was part of a team that helped to keep this country safe, and never once did we look right or left to ask, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” We were just Americans focused on the mission.

How do you manage stress and maintain your mental health?

I do things selfishly for me. I love water coloring, reading, and boxing. I learned to watercolor during the pandemic; I get lost in the creative process when I can work on a project. Reading has always been a passion; there are never enough hours for an actual book. I recently picked up boxing at a fellow mom friend’s encouragement. It is my favorite exercise because it’s a good workout, makes me feel empowered, and is unexpected for my 5’3″ self. 

What is your favorite way to practice self-care?

I love a good spa day. But I also love a great fishing day.

How do you stay motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

I eat a macros-focused diet, but it’s hard to do when traveling and working. I also try to prioritize workout time like it’s a scheduled work meeting or school pick-up – things for others that I would never think of missing.  


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