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Courage To Be Someone New

Have you ever felt paralyzed or crippled by fear? As a businesswoman, producer, and model through my various business ventures, I've felt fearful from time to time. And I'm sure that, like me, you've found that you can accomplish little when you're afraid -- and almost nothing if you let fear of what might happen seize you. Fear freezes the mind, erases possibilities and clouds opportunities; and it makes most matters we're fearful about seem disproportionately greater than our ability to deal with them.

However, I've learned that you and I have the ability to put fear in its rightful place -- a place where we don't have to stay. Yet sometimes situations we're frightened about have to get worse before things can get better. Sometimes not until something or someone hurts us and/or wounds us badly or deeply enough do we realize that we have to go beyond fear to make a change.

I remember vividly some of the most unpleasant challenges I've had to face to earn respect and defeat fear. In 1987, I moved from my homeland, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Vancouver, Canada, to continue high school for post-secondary education. I found myself a stranger there -- a funny looking "foreign" girl with a bad haircut and poor English skills. And soon, I became the prime target for the supposedly "cool" high school kids around me to antagonize. And believe me, they did their best to make my life miserable. I couldn't hide from them; they seemed to be everywhere, taunting me. They'd throw objects at me from behind my back; they'd push and trip me when I wasn't looking. They'd sabotage my every chance to be part of any extra school activity I wanted to pursue; they'd point at me and laugh, call me names, and torment me in countless other ways, too.

But because I was extremely unfamiliar with Canadian culture and lifestyles, and for fear that I might say or do something wrong, I decided I'd just tolerate the situation. Though I was already a competitive martial arts fighter in the process of earning my second black belt in Karate, (a sport I've been involved in since I was eight years old), I didn't feel that I should utilize those skills. Again, I feared I might provoke my tormentors further and possibly even incite them to extend harm to my family.

So during most of those high school years I allowed emotions like fear, loneliness, anxiety, anger and sadness to consume me. Yet eventually even those feelings, however negative, forced me to find courage to turn my situation in positive directions, and as a result I can now help others in similar circumstances to do the same.

I decided that every time my tormentors tried to start a fight with me, I would look each of them in the eyes and just calmly walk away. What worse could happen than that they'd push me, laugh and call me names? However, one afternoon, things did turn worse.

That afternoon I felt a couple of small objects hit the back of my head. As usual, bursts of laughter behind my back followed, and I continued on my way, refusing to even acknowledge this petty behavior. But this time I made no effort to keep my eyes on my tormentors as I walked away. Suddenly one of them decided to run up and strike me in the left eye. In an instant, I realized that she had crossed a boundary and endangered a vital organ of my body, and this I simply couldn't ignore. Before she could blink, with a crowd of students as my witnesses, I unleashed a kick that dropped her to the ground. Quickly, two of her friends leaped at me to defend her. Soon they, too, were picking themselves up, and then all three made a run for it, leaving me standing there. Now I began to feel the throbbing pain in my left eye -- and discovered that it was bleeding.

For many years, I'd tried to avoid confrontations with my tormentors. But that afternoon they'd made confrontation inevitable, and I had put fear aside and finally let them know who I truly was. Now I wondered what the consequences of my retaliation would be.

Shortly after the fight I was called into the principal's office. There I was told that the three girls who started the fight had been suspended from school. The other students who'd witnessed the encounter had reported the story of the attack and my self-defense. Luckily for me, they all supported my actions. I was free to return to class unpunished.

After that day, things took a clear turn for the better. My "tormentors" stopped harassing me; from then on they only looked away whenever I passed by them. When a new school year began, some of them left to attend different schools, though some of them remained at my school. Some of them even stopped being each other's friends -- and others decided to start greeting me with smiles. That year -- my last -- in high school, I finally was able to make some good friends, direct numerous extracurricular activities, coach the basketball and volleyball teams and even serve as captain of the cheerleading squad.

As my life has unfolded since then, throughout my varied career I've had many fortunate opportunities to assist diverse groups of women through some of their own challenging moments in life. Of course, through these experiences, I've broadened my own knowledge about career, socializing, love, relationships, family and much more. Along the way I've been able, in turn, to assist, inspire and empower a great number of women along their journeys in life, for which they've pointedly thanked me in one way or another. And whether they know it or not, their exercise of courage that made their lives better, plus their trust in me, have been all the thanks I've ever needed. They've truly inspired me to constantly grow, transform and become a better person.

A few years ago, while I was out of town, Lidiya, an assistant in one of the companies I founded, hired two new recruits to join our team. She formally introduced me to them when I returned from my trip. One recruit happened to be a chief "tormentor" of mine from high school.

She didn't recognize me until Lidiya introduced me by my first and last names. Then, my former tormentor's jaw dropped and her face froze. But I reached out and shook her hand and welcomed her to our team. Later, she approached me abashedly and tried to apologize for what had happened in the past. I told her not to worry; it was quite all right with me. To help her feel comfortable, I then took her out for lunch. When we got back to the office, I jokingly told her, "Get back to work now!" and we laughed together. Since then, she's become one of my most cherished workers.

Can you see how learning to make the best of every situation, including that painful one at school, has led me to discover something great -- that courage begins with character? Courage not only means being able to do something new, it also means being able to be someone new. The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy. I've come to learn that growing into a good, solid character requires rising to levels of self-esteem that so many of us doubt we have.

One way by which you can enhance your own self-esteem is to do as I did, and make it really clear to those around you who you truly are. When you know who you truly are, and act based on who you truly are, you'll realize, as I did back then in high school, that no one can harm you unless you choose to keep them around and allow them to trouble you.

Copyright © 2005 Penny Phang Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Penny Phang is one of Canada's nominated Top 40 Under 40 business leaders, recognized for her commitment to provide strategic business services with inspiring enthusiasm, creativity, and elegance. She is also well known as the Producer for Playboy Special Editions for Western Canada. In addition, she remains involved in full-service business communications with her founded Simplex Communications Group, and continues to write for her monthly inspirational lifestyle column, Moments of Inspiration with Penny. Miss Phang's experiences are not limited to the business world. She holds two black belts in Karate and was a member of the West Coast Warriors National Karate Team. She's also a former Top 20 Special Editions Celebrity Model whose inspiring personality has been transformed into "Penny" the 3-D animated character for Electronic Arts' Def Jam Vendetta video game.

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