So here are some unsolicited messages I received since I officially published my website in May 2020…
Never in my life, have I ever imagined receiving feedback like this about my writing.
Because I sucked at writing for a long, long time. I endured a lifelong battle with “words”.
This is the reason why my breakthrough in March 2020 felt like a miracle.
In case you’re wondering… writing is still challenging for me because writing is art.
Writing is a craft. Crafts require a creative process.
I have been battling with the enormity of this piece since deciding to write about it in May…
The challenge of including my personal stories from different stages and areas of my life, what I discovered and learned about myself along the way, and what I did to finally get my breakthrough.
After sitting with the idea of this article for months, I finally made a start over 2 weeks ago.
I went deep and surfaced all the struggles I went through in order to give you a “birds eye view” of my long journey.
So you can get a glimpse of what life was like for me battling with words all the way from the beginning…
The Struggle at School
My struggle with words became obvious to me in my early years in high school… I was 11 years old. The struggle did not surface in primary school because I spent Year 4 to 6 in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.
I had just started Year 3 in Taiwan when my family moved to Sydney. Mandarin was the only language I knew when we moved to Australia, so I was busy learning English grammar and vocabulary in ESL classes in my first 3 years in Australia.
I still remember reading my Chinese comic books in class cus I didn’t understand a word of what the teacher was saying. Lol
It was not until high school that I started attending normal English classes with everyone else. I couldn’t have hated English more.
It was the bane of my existence for 6 long years.
I hated writing essays, I hated creative writing, I hated writing assignments and I hated English exams.
What I really hated was the fact that I almost always end up staring at the blank piece of paper in front of me, feeling completely stuck.
I’d sit in class pretending like I’m trying to write something with my head down, but what I was really doing was staring at the pen in my hand thinking “Why are you not moving?”
“Come on! Think of something to write! You can’t hand in a blank page!”
Writing just 1 page of “something” was a monumental struggle. Didn’t matter what it was.
Many times, I’d end up watching my classmates with their heads down, feverishly filling up their blank paper with words, and listening to the oh-so-annoying rustling sounds they make as they flip their paper over to a new blank page so they can write more.
Sitting around people who can write just filled me with feelings of awe, jealousy and inadequacy… I wondered “How the hell does words just pour out of them?!”
“What’s wrong with ME??? Why can’t I write like everyone else?”
I never knew what to write about.
I’d chalk it up to “Maybe I’m just not creative…”
It’s like my mind goes blank and decides to empty itself.
Writing even just a few paragraphs required a tremendous amount of willpower and effort to get something out on the page.
Most of the time, I’d sit there staring at the clock feeling all twisted up inside…
On one hand I wished it would go slower because it takes so long for me to write something, while on the other hand I wished it would go faster, so I can be put out of my misery.
I hated the fact that English was a mandatory part of the high school curriculum.
My goal in English was *DON’T FAIL*, so I don’t have to repeat a year.
I couldn’t stand the thought of going through an extra year of compulsory English classes.
I dreaded the days English showed up on my timetable because it made me feel anxious, inadequate and worthless.
English classes have always felt like punishment.
They were worse than detention.
The Struggle in Music
As a kid, I have always loved music. It’s how I made sense of the world. Music is my language.
Mum would always find me humming to myself in my own little world.
I discovered my ability to write music at 14 when I was given my first composition assignment in music class when we first learned about Jazz.
Once I understood the assignment, melody ideas popped into my head. I’d get excited as I tried playing it out on the piano to hear how it sounds.
I happily locked myself away in the music room at school where I had access to a MIDI keyboard so I could work out all the accompanying instrumental parts and record them together to create a piece of work.
It was so much fun and fulfilling to see my work come to life.
Looking back, it’s interesting to see that even though it’s the same creative process, my experience with writing words and writing music was night and day.
As much as I enjoyed writing music, deep down I wanted to write songs… because I secretly loved to sing.
Singing require words. And songs require lyrics.
I didn’t seriously attempt to write songs until my early 20s when I decided to go into the music industry.
Every time I tried to write lyrics, I felt stuck.
It was like staring at the blank page in English classes all over again.
So much resistance showed up once again as I attempted to write lyrics.
I never got very far.
It was excruciating not being able to do what I really wanted to do.
In the rare occasions when I was finally able to put some lyrics down on paper, I’d look at what I wrote and go “What a load of crap. That is shitty lyrics…!”
So I end up either throwing it away or burying my notebook into my draw feeling disappointed and frustrated with myself.
I hardly ever leave my “writing attempts” lying around on my desk. I was very conscious about that.
I wouldn’t be able to deal with the embarrassment if someone found my crappy work, so I’d make sure to bury my work away so no one can stumble upon it by accident.
I never wanted anyone to know what I’m working on (including my own family). I kept everything to myself.
I’ve always been a shy, quiet and introverted kid with very little to say.
I lived in my own little world. Very guarded and closed off.
I didn’t know how to talk to people, I didn’t want to share anything about myself to anyone, and I didn’t have many friends growing up.
I never felt like I belonged anywhere.
The 2 things I loved the most growing up was sports (basketball) and music.
I was that Asian kid that can’t do Maths, Science and English. I have no academic bone in my body.
For a long time, I wanted a career in music. It was the only type of work that made the most sense to me. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.
My piano, walkman, disc-man, and stereo were my go to places to feel somewhat normal.
Because music could always speak for me without me needing to use words in order to express what I feel.
Music was my only communication channel to the outside world.
It was the only way I knew how to express myself and process my feelings. Words were useless to me.
My answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has almost always been “Composer”, “Songwriter”, “Musician”.
Of course, in true introvert fashion, I never told anyone my dream. I kept that secret to myself.
When I finally worked up the courage to pursue a career in music at 24, I ended up partnering with a friend who wrote lyrics.
She couldn’t write music, and I couldn’t write lyrics.
We wanted to work in the music industry, so working with each other was our chance to get our work published.
The Struggle in Business
I became interested in business in 2010. I saw it as a way to get myself out of my miserable corporate job.
I started my career in online marketing as an affiliate marketer.
Like any newbie entrepreneur, I had no clue about business and marketing.
My first side hustle was selling products on niche websites I built and learning to get traffic with SEO.
SEO required a lot of content. Not only did I have to write content for my websites, I also had to write lots of articles.
Talk about a bad fit!
Of course I struggled my ass off, and ended up having to hire writers to write articles for me.
I persisted long enough and managed to make a side income. So I quit my job in 2013 to start a service based business helping small businesses with their online marketing.
As my knowledge for business and marketing expanded and deepened, I’ve come to realise how critical writing is as a key business skillset.
Good writing meant standing out in your niche, which got you more traffic and more sales.
Bad writing meant being ignored, blending into the noise and stuck on struggle street always hustling to get clients.
Words was again standing in the way of the life I wanted to create for myself.
Writing was the key fundamental skill I lacked in business.
So I decided to do the impossible…
I decided to get good at writing and copywriting.
I invested in myself… in books, programs and mentorship.
I made myself practice when I didn’t feel like it. I hardly ever feel like it.
I practiced and increased my knowledge, but the resistance was still there.
I didn’t know how to shake off the resistance that kept showing up…
Until I understood that writing was really just a surface level problem that masked all the underlying problems I had that showed up throughout my life in the form of resistance.
I eventually realised…
Writing is not just about putting words on paper.
Writing is not just about grammar, structure and vocabulary.
Writing is communication.
Writing is self expression.
Communication and self expression were my problems.
The Struggle with Communication
The same resistance showed up when I tried to speak.
I always felt as if there’s a lump at the back of my throat, stopping the flow of my voice as I struggled to find the words to say what I really wanted to say.
The constant struggle always left me frustrated with myself at the end of conversations.
Very often, words would come out wrong because I’m very blunt when I do open my mouth. So I end up hurting people with my words.
That’s why I stayed quiet and kept to myself. It was easier and safer.
I had zero conversation skills.
The question swimming in my mind all these years was…
“Why is it so hard to articulate what I really feel, and say what I really wanted to say?”
While I was frustrated with how incapable I was communicating with words, I had a deep desire to connect with people.
In the world we live in, language and words is how we communicate with other human beings.
I can’t tell you how many times I wished I was telepathic so I didn’t have to communicate through words.
I just wanted to somehow transmit my brainwaves so people know what I’m thinking and feeling. I wanted people to “just get me”.
Because my inability to communicate well is such a big pain point in my life, I knew my life would change if I learned to connect and communicate with people.
I wanted to be the person who was not afraid to meet people and have the ability to strike up conversations with anyone…
I wanted to be the person who can easily make new friends…
I wanted to be the person who have meaningful conversations…
I wanted to be the person who always speak their mind…
I wanted to be the person who can fully express themselves…
That was the person I’ve always wanted to become.
A completely different person to who I was.
Before I became that person, I had to figure out what was stopping me.
I had to figure out what was causing this massive resistance I felt every time I tried to speak and write…
The thing that stopped me?
Layers upon layers of underlying fear.
My “inner demons” showed up every time I sat down to write.
It was like living with a loud, multiple-headed dragon screaming never ending criticism at me…
Here’s just some of the voices that were in my head:
“Why is this taking so long? Come on! Think of something to write!!”
“Holy crap, this is bad… Are you kidding me?! Nobody can read this!”
“You can’t write for shit. This is so embarrassing.”
“I don’t know what to say… I’ve got nothing.”
“Who is going to listen to you?”
“You can’t put your name to that, I mean… really?!”
“People won’t want to read it. Hide it now! Before someone find out how shit of a writer you are.”
“What if people find this out about me?”
“What if they think I’m dumb?”
“What if they don’t like me?… Probably better if I don’t say anything.”
And on and on it goes…
The REAL Underlying Problems
Thinking about the voices that were in my head and going down memory lane is a little disturbing…
But that was how I treated myself for over 30 years.
The voices always told me how much I sucked, because I had a *severe* level of self-hatred, self-criticism and self-judgement.
Those toxic voices hid away in my subconscious, driving my every decision and behaviour like I was a puppet.
I was oblivious to it until 2015.
I had no idea I was carrying anger around for over 30 years, until my healer friend pointed it out to me in a session with her.
I was obviously shocked when she first revealed this to me because I didn’t feel angry at all at the time.
My blood was not boiling, I didn’t have a big vein across my forehead, and I felt normal on that call. But the underlying energy I had was all anger.
She told me I was the angriest person she has ever seen, and she has seen *a lot* of angry people over the years.
My energy must have looked like The Hulk to her.
She said my anger was all directed at myself.
A couple of days later, it all started to make sense as she told me to do boxing 7 days in a row to let the anger out of my system.
It explained why I always felt like a ‘ticking time bomb’.
I had the habit of suppressing all my feelings, and that affected my ability to communicate.
“Queen of Bottling” is the appropriate name I gave myself.
I didn’t allow myself to feel emotions that bubbled up, and I’d never talk about it nor share it with anyone, because I thought it was weak.
Also, my emotions always feel like they’re too much for me to handle because I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), so I got really good at pushing everything down.
I never learned to process my feelings.
I suppressed everything until I couldn’t contain them anymore, and I’d implode.
My capabilities to manage my emotions was non-existent.
This is why I found it incredibly difficult to express myself without blowing up and hurting everyone around me.
When I was made aware of the anger I had towards myself, all of a sudden those self-deprecating voices became really loud!
I was finally able to really hear how I talked to myself. It was disturbing.
I was my own worst enemy.
I had nothing positive to say about myself.
The voices were all negative. No praise, no love, no encouragement at all.
That is the by-product of growing up in an Asian family. I hardly received any praise nor encouragement growing up.
Words and actions of praise, love and encouragement were pretty much non-existent, especially from my dad.
Criticism, judgement and comparison (with other kids) was the norm.
My dad is harsh on us because his dad was also harsh on him. I don’t blame him because that was the example he got growing up. We all learn behaviours from our parents.
So I inherited harshness towards myself and towards other people.
It helped me understand why I’ve always been incredibly hard on myself and why I demand a lot from myself and from other people.
On top of learning to overcome my inability to manage my own emotions… I also had to learn to overcome my biggest fear that was stopping me from fully expressing myself…
My fear of abandonment.
To this day, I still don’t know where that fear comes from because I was never abandoned as a child.
I was lucky enough to have good, responsible parents who took great care of me.
But my reality is the fact that fear lived deep in my body.
It must have been generational trauma experienced by my soul in other life times and got passed onto me in this life time.
So all I could do is to learn to face it even if the fear was not mine.
In addition to my fear of abandonment…
I also feared not feeling accepted (loved)…
I feared rejection…
I feared opening up…
I feared expressing myself…
I feared being seen.
There were so many layers of fear that sat beneath my struggle with words.
That’s where all the resistance was coming from whenever I tried to speak or write…
I’d get hit by this “big ball of fear” that stopped me every time.
Understanding and acknowledging all those fears also helped me understand why I built thick walls to make sure the real me could not get out, and nobody could get in.
Expressing myself and letting people in felt like monumental risks I was taking.
I believe the worst place to be stuck in life is between fear and desire.
The fear of being seen and the desire of wanting to be yourself. It’s the place where you feel trapped.
Because of my inability to communicate, express myself and deal with my own fears… I lost the love of my life in my 20s.
Failed relationships are always expensive lessons.
What I Had To Learn
Even though my initial desire to get good at writing was to be able to create and grow my True North Business so I can design the life I want…
I realised I wasn’t going to get very far in business if I didn’t develop myself first.
I realised the answer to everything I wanted in life was my personal development.
I finally understood the undeniable truth of Jim Rohn’s quote:
“Your level of success will seldom succeed your level of personal development” — Jim Rohn
2015 was the year I got serious about my personal growth. I made it a priority and committed to work on myself.
The painful truth of why my life was not working the way I wanted was all because of me. I have no one to blame, even though I wanted to.
I learned to take responsibility of every aspect of my life, because I was the only person who can change it.
I learned to accept the fact that my external world was a complete reflection of my internal world.
Once I got the anger out of my system, I focused on fixing my relationship with myself.
I learned self-compassion and self-love.
I went from treating myself as my own worst enemy to treating myself as my own best friend.
The critical, judgemental and harsh voices in my head eventually diminished to a quiet whisper.
I learned to stop comparing myself with other people.
I learned to stop caring what other people think me and the choices I make.
I learned to focus on playing my own game in life.
I learned to cultivate loving, supportive and encouraging voices that gently cheers me on no matter what I do with my life.
I learned that the only way out is through.
I learned to face and overcome my fears.
I learned to develop my “courage muscles” along the way.
3 Steps I Took That Changed Everything
1. I got real with myself and made a decision.
I first had to decide whether I wanted the skill of writing.
Am I just saying I want it or do I really want it?
Talk is cheap. We can say anything we want to ourselves and easily lie for years on end if our actions don’t match our words.
I wanted to develop trust with myself by doing what I say I’m going to do.
I checked in with myself and got really honest.
- How important is this skill to me?
- Am I serious about becoming a better writer?
- Am I willing to do whatever it takes?
I had 3 big whys behind my desire to get good at writing.
- As an entrepreneur, I wanted to be able to influence people’s decision to buy from me with my words. I wanted to write good copy.
- As a musician, I wanted to write lyrics.
- As a human being, I wanted to fully express myself without any filters.
2. I made a commitment to practice
Practice is the mother of skill.
Making a commitment to myself meant carving out time to practice, and choosing to face my fears head on.
I practiced by sharing with my closest friends and my sister things about myself they didn’t know…
I practiced by writing about my life and sharing my writing on Facebook…
I practiced by copying direct response ads and sales letters by hand…
I practiced by writing journals and taking notes of what was going on in my life….
I practiced by opening up to friends who has never heard of my relationship stories…
I practiced by showing up and doing the work even if I didn’t feel like it…
3. I saw myself differently
This last step took a while!
Because I never saw myself as a good writer, I kept dismissing all praise that friends and colleagues in business gave me about my writing even when my skills improved.
I didn’t know how to receive praise with the words I wrote because I never believed I was any good, and didn’t think I deserved it.
I was blind to all the progress and improvement I’ve made over the years, because I was so wrapped up in how much further I still have to go.
I even turned down an opportunity from a friend who offered me to write copy for his marketing projects in early 2019. This is a business friend who’s spent over 20 years in direct response marketing.
Only in 2020 I realised that the reason he asked me to write was because he obviously thought I was good enough of a writer.
That realisation helped me see myself as a writer.
My breakthrough finally came in March 2020.
The Final Breakthrough
I started feeling in alignment with myself as the world went to shit with COVID lockdowns.
In January, I started wanting to share things I learned about how I healed my body and overcame my chronic health problems.
I wanted to share my experience on my own website and write articles on it to help others who suffer from the same things I did, because people have asked me about what I did to improve my health for the last 2 years.
My desire to share my health journey started changing the way I saw writing.
I wanted to share useful information and that took the pressure off. I wasn’t trying to write great marketing copy.
The desire to build a new website followed in March as everything started to click for me.
During that time, I saw people create successful businesses with their blogs outside the online marketing space as a result of writing and sharing their knowledge. They didn’t have amazing copywriting and marketing skills, and was still successful.
Because I have always compared myself to gurus and people at the top of their game, and fixated on how much further I have to go… I didn’t see how far I have come as a marketer and writer in my own right.
I only made that realisation when I caught myself analysing copy, design, layouts etc when checking out other people’s websites. Occupational hazard… Lol
All I needed to do was just write like me and not like anybody else.
It was freeing to step outside of the online marketing space.
I finally got the confidence I wanted all this time to just be myself and to create my personal brand business.
I finally changed my perception of myself. I saw myself differently.
Goodbye imposter syndrome.
I am no longer just a marketing strategist, but a writer and a creator.
I am writing my new story and creating my new life!
The breakthrough came within 2 weeks after I turned 39.
I *finally* found my voice.
Best. Birthday. Present. EVER!
You Can Do Anything!
I am living proof.
We can do anything if we want it bad enough.
We can do anything if we don’t give up.
We can do anything if we learn to face our fears.
We can breakthrough our own limitations and do the impossible.
I have never thought I’d be able to write anything decent, let alone become a writer.
But writing and creating is my new reality.
I love creative work and now I’m finally able to add “words” to my repertoire as a creator.
Since my breakthrough in March, I started taking on big projects…
I created my new personal brand website in April, which was launched in May. I wrote a case study on how I built it from scratch in 3 weeks.
I decided to create a new business in June, as I contemplated on which niche to go into. I am multi-passionate and felt like there was a lot of different things I could do.
I felt the call to help people write better copy, so I listened to my intuition.
I launched my True North Business in September, where I’m helping service based business owners craft their magnetic lead magnet so they can attract their perfect clients who are ready to buy.
I also decided to write a book. — That’s a sentence I never thought I say!
I almost rejected that crazy idea when it first popped into my head in July. I figured that came from the universe too, so a book project is now on my to-do list.
2020 has been an amazing ride so far since my breakthrough back in March. It’s kinda crazy to think that everything I wanted and has started manifesting itself this year all started with ONE single decision I made 5 years ago.
If you’d like to see behind-the-scenes details on how I’m building my True North Business then feel free to add yourself to my “Behind The Brand” newsletter below.
I will leave you with this quote:
“Follow your blisters, because in your blisters you’ll find your bliss.” — Joseph Campbell