What do you do when you want to do something, only to be told you cannot because you are not smart enough, good enough, experienced enough, or “whatever” enough?
Do you believe it and hold yourself back? Or, do you keep going and disregard what you are told?
In my life, I have been told countless times about the things that I cannot do. I grew up in China where women are considered weaker, less smart, less capable, and less worthy. In my childhood, I was constantly told I couldn’t do things because I was a girl, but I knew there was one thing I could do: I could dance.
I had a passion for dancing. I started dancing when I was in kindergarten and I enjoyed performing on stage. When an opportunity arose for me to enroll in a professional program so that I could be in a national dance competition, I was thrilled. I submitted my application and I practiced diligently to get ready for the interview. When the day came, I showed up prepared – and I couldn’t believe what happened. They didn’t even give me a chance to dance. Instead, as the first step, they took out a tape and measured my body. There was a rule that a candidates’ legs had to be a certain amount longer than their upper bodies and my legs were 1 cm shorter.
I was told I could not be admitted because my legs were not long enough. I was discouraged and disappointed. All of a sudden, the only thing that everybody agreed that I was good at, was not even an option.
In China, the rule is the rule and you don’t get to question the authority. As a girl, you are raised to listen, keep your head down, and work, and you are never encouraged to speak up. Now there was one more thing to add to my “not enough” list: “Your legs are not long enough so you cannot even dance.” That voice was playing in my head over and over again and I started to feel the rule was absurd. I had always been a great dancer, and nothing should make me question myself, so I followed my passion and still participated in all the dances at school and enjoyed the opportunities to perform.
Twenty years later, for a New Year’s party hosted by a global company I worked for, I hired a professional coach to teach me to dance in a solo performance – and I danced in front of 1,000 people. People told me they thought I was an invited professional and my dance was the most amazing performance that they had ever seen. At that moment, I knew my potential was never supposed to be measured by numbers and fixed rules. This is just one example of a time I was told I couldn’t do something, and I did it anyway.
Success in China is measured by your academic and professional accomplishments. No one in my family was going to college so I was determined to be the first one – even though girls are considered less smart, especially girls with pretty faces. I was told over and over again by some family members and teachers, “There is no way you can go to college. You just have a pretty face. That’s all you’ve got.” And yet, I also had people like my Grandma and my mom who believed in me and told me that I could do anything. I chose to mute the “you cannot” voice and turn up the “you can” voice. I worked hard day and night during my high school years and not only got into college, but also got my Masters in Communications from the best university in China – Peking University which is ranked 56th worldwide. I accomplished this while working for a Fortune 500 company helping executives to lead and succeed.
Now, I have my own Coaching Business to empower women to speak up for who they truly are, believe in themselves instead of what they are told, and maximize their full potential to be the best version of themselves. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t believed in myself.
Here is what I have learned from my journey:
- Find your voice. No matter what you do, you will always hear a voice that says “you cannot” and a voice that says “you can.” Find your own voice! Find the voice that you believe aligns with your own value and your passion! We are what we believe.
- Find your people. Be around people who see your value, love you the way you are, and lift you up. No matter what you do, there will be people who make you feel small and worthless. Stay away from those people. They are toxic. You don’t have to practice strengthening your lungs by inhaling poison every day. Stay close with the people who love you and make you feel like a million bucks.
- Find yourself. Who are you? What do you want to do in your life? Find your passion. Find your purpose. Find your strengths. When you unleash your true potential and discover your superpower, you can be anything and do anything.
Remember when you hear “you cannot” and “you are not enough”, keep your head up and know that “you are enough” and DO IT ANYWAY!