At the age of 20, she studied politics in England. At 23, she taught English in Colombia. By 25, she was studying Chinese in Taiwan. And at 27, she became Chief of Staff to Assemblymember Alex Lee, D-Milpitas. This is the story of Allison Lim, Capitol Weekly’s newest Rising Star.
As the daughter of first-generation immigrants from Singapore, Lim was not raised with influences from the political sphere. In fact, she did not even know that this career was an option growing up.
Allison studied Political Science and Sociology at UC Irvine, but she did not know that she wanted to enter a career in politics until she lived in Colombia in 2016, when Donald Trump was the President of the United States. She described her high school students asking questions like “why does the U.S. hate us?” or “why does Donald Trump hate us?”
“It really made me feel as though the current state of politics in this country wasn’t a good or accurate representation of the country as a whole,” Lim said. “And so when I got back, I felt that I wanted to use my experiences and get involved in politics. I ended up choosing to go into state politics, which is what led me to my first job in the Assembly as a leg aide.”
Allison credits many of her best attributes to her mother, who came to the United States at 23. “I think that she’s part of a demographic that may be overlooked a lot of times – a young AAPI woman in a country where you don’t necessarily speak the language as your first language,” said Lim. “Having now lived in three different countries myself, and knowing how difficult that is, her making that permanent move to build a life here is something that I have a lot of respect for.”
Allison describes herself as a problem solver, a decision maker, and as someone who enjoys being intellectually challenged.
Allison describes herself as a problem solver, a decision maker, and as someone who enjoys being intellectually challenged. She evaluates her career based on whether these attributes are encouraged and whether her opinions are respected. That, Lim said, is how she ended up working with Assemblymember Lee.
The Assemblymember and Lim were legislative staffers at the same time and they worked on the API Capitol Association Board together, so they were familiar with each other’s work when Lee asked her to join his campaign.
As a relatively unknown politician and with limited funding, Lee’s team led a grassroots campaign. “During my 2020 run, where all the odds were stacked against us, she also served (as she still does to this day) as my campaign manager,” said Lee. “In 2020, I became the youngest API legislator, first Gen Z, and first bisexual legislator – all while being outspent by a margin of 15 to 1.”
At age 25, he became the Assembly’s youngest member, with Lim by his side as his COS. This staggering accomplishment was met with many challenges. All under the virtual setting of the pandemic, Allison hired their entire team and constructed their office, setting priorities and honing the Assemblymember’s legislative package.
“Allison was instrumental in setting up my 3 offices (capitol, district, and campaign),” said Lee. “Her experience in so many diverse workplaces and even countries, made her extremely adaptable and able to surmount any challenge. She also re-entered the capitol as one of the youngest chiefs in the building at the time. We had a lot of naysayers to prove wrong and I’m happy to say three years on we’ve done so.”
These challenges were coupled with the added pressure of being a young staffer.
“There are a lot of ways that young staff are expected to prove themselves. I put a lot of pressure on myself to have excellent work product because I don’t want anything to reflect negatively on this office,” said Lim. “At the end of the day, even if I’m a younger chief, I’m still a chief, just like every other chief, and we’re doing the same role.”
Allison’s current responsibilities include office management, hiring, priority setting, creating district goals and legislative goals, overseeing communications, managing the Asssemblymember’s schedule, and navigating any issue that arises. The list could probably go on.
“There are a lot of ways that young staff are expected to prove themselves. I put a lot of pressure on myself to have excellent work product because I don’t want anything to reflect negatively on this office.”
“She’s been very engaged on things from engaging with in-district local stakeholders, facilitating huge budget wins, crafting key policies like street safety and social housing, and also managing and hiring a diverse office of experiences and identities,” said Lee.
Despite this hefty workload, Lim still makes time to do the things she loves most: traveling, rock climbing, hanging out with her two cats (one of which has three legs and no teeth), and scuba diving. She has dived in Hawaii, Taiwan, Thailand, and Borneo, and she’s even done deep dives with thresher sharks off of Malapascua Island in the Philippines.
With a natural sense of curiosity and a thirst for adventure, Allison is constantly looking for ways to step into the unknown. “I definitely encourage people to look at opportunities that are outside of their comfort zone, because I think that those are the opportunities that force you to learn and grow the most. I don’t think it benefits people to look back and wish that they did something,” said Lim.
Lim doesn’t approach her career trajectory in a linear fashion. Success for her consists of opportunities to learn and to push herself out of her comfort zone.
For anyone who is unsure of their own path or is worried about taking that next career leap, Lim has some advice: “I think the one thing I hear from a lot of people, especially young staffers, is this sense of imposter syndrome. Even if you don’t have the years of experience or all the technical knowledge, you still have your own background that you bring to the table. And that in itself is an experience. So I encourage people not to doubt themselves here, even though this building historically hasn’t been friendly to some demographics. But that’s why it’s so necessary that those voices are heard and that people feel empowered to speak out and to take ownership over the work that they’re doing.”