Tammy Ly Overcame a Tumultuous Childhood to Create Her 'Dream' Life and Thriving Career: 'I Turned Fear into Fuel'
Tammy Ly has many identities: real estate agent, real estate investor, house flipper, insurance agent, model, actress, part-time bartender, and standout star of “The Bachelor” Season 24.
But above all, she is a self-made woman — and, as she explains in an exclusive interview with BachelorNation.com, the creator of an incredible life that contradicts her tumultuous upbringing in Syracuse, New York.
“All of this came to me because I fought for the life that I wanted. I was at a very low point where I had nothing,” says Tammy, revealing details of a challenging adolescence marked by her parents’ divorce and subsequent neglect. “I was sleeping on the floor next to rats. I didn’t have any food. I was basically homeless.”
A resilient teen, Tammy took numerous jobs at once to provide for herself and her younger sisters. “My mom neglected me, my dad resented me, and I decided, ‘I’m not going to live this life. This is not going to be my story,’” she recounts, her voice warbling with emotion. “I used that feeling of abandonment as fuel to work really hard so that I would never be close to what my life was like before.”
Noting a precocious hunger for financial independence, Tammy elaborates, “I wanted to make sure that the people in my life would also never have to experience that. I turned fear into fuel.”
Just shy of 26, Tammy’s decade-plus of hard work has paid off. Her multifarious career is thriving and she’s looking to expand her empire soon with an insurance brokerage. This trajectory, she says, is the fruition of a plan she designed during her darkest days.
“I’ve thought about this plan of being in real estate and insurance and then eventually getting into brokering since I was a kid,” says the prosperous franchise alum, who, these days, indulges in traveling, donating to her local church, and supporting her loved ones — including her mother and father.
“I am truly living out my dream with exactly what I want in this world,” she says. “Everything I went through — especially the tough times — has made me the woman I am today. As hard as it all was, I’m actually grateful for all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building this.”
In the wake of 2021’s Stop Asian Hate movement — launched in the face of growing attacks against the AAPI community following hateful rhetoric incited by the Trump administration regarding the COVID-19 pandemic — Tammy is particularly proud of her achievements and the platform she has to inspire positive change.
“I’m a woman who is very successful in the field, I am an Asian person, and I’m young. I think those three things are reasons why some people look at me and are confused by my success,” says the entrepreneur, who is of Vietnamese descent. “I’m here to show other Asian girls out there, Asian people in general, that we are more than capable. Representation matters and I will always advocate for my community.”
Below, Tammy talks more with BachelorNation.com about her path to success, making peace with her past, her hopes for the future, and, of course, her memorable journey within the franchise.
Let’s begin with your time on “The Bachelor.” It ended in a very dramatic way during your two-on-one with Mykenna Dorn, with whom you had been feuding. How do you process your experience on the show more than a year later?
When I look back at that moment in particular, what I see is someone who fights for the things that they want in this world. I will fight for the people that I love — almost to the death of me. That type of passion is rare and I’m proud of it. I won’t take no for an answer. I used to be a yes-man. I used to people-please all the time, and it didn’t get me anywhere. It only led to disappointment. The way it ended, of course it could have gone a better way, but we’re all human. It was my best chance. I don’t think there could have been a better outcome for me. People say, “Well, why? It was so bad.” But it really wasn’t “so bad.” That is my personality to an extent. Was it amplified? Absolutely. But I am not this mean person who some people think of me as. Now that time has passed, I hope viewers have been able to change their perception.
What was your immediate takeaway after Peter Weber sent you home?
The reason I blew up like that was because I just cared so much. Maybe I needed to tone it down? I don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with caring too much, in my opinion. It’s all about maturing, but the lesson here, I think, is that it’s important to pick and choose your battles.
Following your argument, Mykenna repeatedly told you, “You are nothing.” You calmly — and memorably — replied, “I’m everything.” Reflecting on that response, tell me what was going through your head. Viewers likely felt empowered watching that. How did it feel for you?
I was just so freaking sick of her at that point in that situation. I’m not a dramatic person. If any conflict happens in my life, I’m going to let it be and move on. But you can’t run away from your problems while filming a show like “The Bachelor.” I was like, “I’m not talking to her anymore. I’m not going to waste my time or my breath on this girl any longer because this argument is not going anywhere.” She wasn’t willing to listen, and I wasn’t willing to listen. So, she said, “You are nothing to me.” I then say, “I’m everything.” I don’t care if I’m nothing to you because you mean nothing to me. So, therefore, I am everything to myself.
It’s almost comical because you really are “everything” as it pertains to your career. You maintain so many different jobs simultaneously. How did your interest in entrepreneurship begin?
I feel like people see my success and they think, “Oh, she was so well off and she was given everything in this world.” And that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve gone through so much and have struggled so much in my life. And I feel like people don’t see that. They only see the tip of the iceberg where it’s like, “Oh, she’s just privileged.” That’s not the way that it is. And it’s certainly not the way that it was. My interest in entrepreneurship came at a really young age. It came out of necessity, which later turned into a passion.
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How would you describe your childhood?
My parents got divorced when I was young, which was not the worst part. That was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But with that being said, I moved out with my mom. And my mom — being a recently divorced, thriving single woman — wanted to date around. She put me on the back burner, and I remember just trying to figure out ways to get to school. There was no one looking out for me except for me. No one was checking to see if I was going to school, and no one even knew what was going on in my life.
Could you turn to your father for support?
Sleeping on the floor with rats, waiting for my mom to come home, that was not as bad as me coming home to my dad, who hated me. He didn’t tell me until I was 18 that he wasn’t my real dad. So, all these years, he resented me and I never knew why. And then I figured out that, obviously, he resents me a little bit because of that situation.
How would you describe your relationship with your parents today?
Fast-forward and we’re all fine now because I refuse to let that be my identity. My dad and I are business partners now. He helps me flip houses. My mom moves around, and I take care of her a lot and that’s just the way she is. Both my parents are narcissists, but I love them. And I realize that I can remove them out of my life if I choose to — but there is no point in holding that kind of grudge because how can I ask for forgiveness for the things that I’ve done in this world if I don’t forgive people who have done me wrong?
Did your struggles make you a stronger person?
Yeah, definitely. I also have two younger sisters and I became their parental figure. I helped put them through college and I worked three jobs since I was 15 to make sure that they never knew that I was struggling. So, it’s all fine now. We’re all adults, but I help them with a lot of things. Paying for their school, clothes, groceries, stuff like that, just because I can. But I wouldn’t be able to have gotten to this point without blood, sweat, and tears, and working so much as a young kid. I hardly ever talk about this because I do love my life today. My life is great. I just worked really hard to get there.
Being a hard worker seems like it’s part of your DNA.
Yeah, and people always tell me, “Your parents must be so proud. They raised such a hard worker.” But their neglect is the reason why I work so hard. It could have gone very badly. I could have gotten into drugs and pitied myself. But my mindset is, “Don’t ever pity yourself.” Because what good is that going to do for this world? What can you put out in this world that’s worth something if you’re just going to lead with pity?
How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
It’s important to stop worrying about everything and just let life happen. That’s what I’ve learned. You only get one life. I used to be constantly worried fighting for the next thing. But what is the point of fighting for that goal if you’re not able to enjoy the moment when you hit that goal? There are a lot of people like me who always strive for the next achievement. We’re go-getters who have this unrealistic expectation for ourselves. When we hit the next goal, we’re on to the next thing already. But it’s just about enjoying the moments and enjoying the people we’re around. We work hard for a reason and that is to enjoy life. That mindset switch was huge for me because I needed to learn that I work really hard and it’s OK to enjoy life. And that’s why I travel to California for two days just to have dinner with my friends — because I work really hard, and I can.
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With varying responsibilities in each job that you have, how do you stay organized?
I have a lot of planners. My Google Calendar is my best friend. I also have an assistant that helps me out and a business partner who helps me out. I hate saying this, because it sounds so cliché, but I do 110 percent in each of my jobs. People who work with me in real estate, they would never think that I did anything else. I go into every job knowing that I need to be present, and I need to put 110 percent into everything that is in front of me. Currently, I’m in the process of starting my own insurance brokerage that I hope takes off this summer.
Has your experience within Bachelor Nation impacted your professional life?
Syracuse is a very small town where everyone knows each other. So, I feel like my reputation was already established here before the show. Obviously, the show amplified it, so people do know me more than before. Did it help my jobs and my work? I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s true because people are going to buy a house if they want to buy a house. And the insurance rates are only the insurance rates if it’s competitive with what they paid out. So, I think yes and no.
Do people recognize you on the job?
Yes. But I like that it’s secondary. Don’t get me wrong. I am so grateful for this franchise and what it’s done for me. But I kind of like that people want to work with me first because they know I’m a hard worker and then they’re like, “Oh, wait, you were also on a TV show that I know.”
How have you adapted to life in the public eye?
I see myself as so normal and maybe I’m a bit naïve in regard to that. Is it cool to be known a little bit more? Yeah, absolutely. But I don’t want the Instagram followers and the clout just for the sake of being known. I want to make a difference in this world. I want to be able to have credibility and a platform to speak on things that I wish I saw growing up — which is Asian representation and transparency about the hardships of coming from a broken family and discussing what it looks like when you’re introducing another person that you love into this broken family. That’s why I want the platform. My goal is not to be an influencer.
You’ve advocated for the AAPI community on social media even before appearing on “The Bachelor.” How do you navigate being a voice for important causes in a sociopolitical climate that often feels divisive?
I enjoy it. I feel like people are truly blind to their own ignorance. They just don’t know. And I think people need more grace when it comes to that because we’re in this society where people just like to attack people for not knowing. But how are they supposed to know? I’m not going to expect someone who’s white and who has never dealt with racism before to understand. If you want people to understand, we have to welcome them with open arms. It’s a tough situation because Asian people being attacked, and our elders are being attacked and we’re getting racial slurs thrown at us because of the pandemic and it being labeled the “Chinese virus.” Those attacks stem from people being uneducated. So, I started off with educating my circle first because they can now educate their other circles outside of our friendship. I’ve always been an advocate for this, and I always will be.
How has your experience as a young woman of color impacted your career?
Like I mentioned, I’m a woman, I’m Asian, and I’m in my 20s. So, people are like, “There’s no way Tammy can be successful. She’s too young, she’s a minority, and she’s a woman.” It can be frustrating to feel that kind of judgment, but it just inspires me to work that much harder.
What’s your professional dream or the pinnacle of success for you?
Oh my gosh, I feel like that changes all the time — because I just keep hitting my goals. And that’s great. I’m definitely not complaining. But I think I just want to amplify what I am now. I want to grow more and more in each facet of my career, so I’m just taking steps to amplify those positions.
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What career advice would you give those who might be intimidated to go after what they want?
It’s as simple as this. If you fight for the things that you want and you’re truly passionate about what you want in this world, I don’t see a reason why you can’t get it. Everything that I’ve ever put my mind to, I’ve gotten — every single thing. Like I’ve said, mindset is so important. It’s not about how much money you have or the people that you know. That can definitely be a tool to help you move forward in your goals, but it starts with you being able to fight for the things that you want in this world. There’s a chance for failure, absolutely. But are we going to accept failure? Absolutely not. We are all capable of making our dreams come true.
You might need to add motivational speaker to your résumé.
(Laughs) Oh, God. I’m so emotionally scarred. So, I don’t know about that!
Your businesses are flourishing. How’s your love life going?
Oh, jeez. It’s nonexistent, which is why I believe that this franchise works. Because if I were to be dating, I would have to give up things that are super important to me. And the things that are important to me are work and making money. If I were forced to press pause on that and focus on a relationship, I feel like I would be able to find my person. Right now, my distraction is work. I’m not going to go out on a date because I’d rather go on a work appointment, to be honest. Having no distractions and being able to focus on just one person or even a couple people — who knows? — would be my best chance to find a person who can match my energy in this world.
What are you looking for in a relationship?
I do want to get married, I do want to have two children, and have this bomb-ass successful family where we have this killer life because we worked so hard for it. And we’re able to do what we want and give our kids the life that they deserve. And just live a dream. That’s the goal. But right now, I have nobody, and I am dating myself. (Laughs)
After going on “The Bachelor,” did your outlook on love shift at all?
Yes. I knew that I was very involved in my work. And I knew that I was distracted, but I didn’t realize to what extent. There are people out there who will match your energy and accept you for who you are just the way you are. That’s why I believe that this franchise works, and I’m hoping that I’ll find the kind of love I deserve if it’s meant to be. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic, but the franchise has kind of made me a hopeful romantic.
For more from Tammy, listen to her recent chat with Mike Johnson and Bryan Abasolo on Bachelor Nation’s “Talking It Out” podcast below.
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