The unsolicited messages I received when I officially launched V1.0 of JenKuo.com in May 2020 overwhelmed me with a mix of emotions…
Never in my life have I ever imagined receiving feedback like this about my writing because I sucked at it for a long time.
After enduring a lifelong battle with words, I am now standing on the other side looking back at my journey in awe and disbelief.
This is why the breakthrough I felt in March 2020 felt like a miracle.
The dark clouds that have overshadowed me for 30 years finally cleared.
Writing is still challenging for me because it’s an art form, and a craft that requires years to master. The difference is I’m no longer sitting with fear and resistance when I write.
Since deciding to write about it in May, I battled with the enormity of this piece because it’s been a long road to get myself to this point — a point where I feel like I’m finally on an even playing field with everyone else who never felt the fear and resistance when they write because writing comes naturally to them.
True to the hero’s journey, my battle with words turned out to be so much more than just my struggle with writing. The reality is fear doesn’t just show up in one place, it shows up in multiple places in our lives because that’s the nature of being human.
My journey lead me down the darkest valleys where I learned to face my dragons and demons.
Because my battle with words spanned three decades, it’s impossible to encapsulate everything in one single article. Hence why I sat with the idea for months, not knowing how to best tackle it in a way that makes sense to you.
So… this is my best attempt at giving you a glimpse of what life was like for me as I present a “birds eye view” of my long journey.
If you also struggle with words and writing, I can only hope that telling my story opens up a few doors for you.
The Struggle at School
My struggle with words became obvious to me when I was 11 years old during my first year of high school.
The struggle did not surface in primary school because I was busy learning English in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes from the 4th Grade, after my family moved to Sydney from Taiwan.
It was not until high school that I started attending English classes with everyone else, and I couldn’t have hated English more.
English was the bane of my existence.
I hated writing essays.
I hated creative writing.
I hated English assignments and 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 and shoulders hunched over, but what I was really doing was staring at the pen in my hand thinking… “Why are you not moving?!”
“Come on! Write something!”
“You can’t hand in a blank page!”
The thought of writing made my body freeze up.
Coming up with just 1 page of “something” from nothing was a monumental struggle. Didn’t matter what it was.
Again and again, I’d end up watching my classmates with their heads down, feverishly filling up their blank pages with words, and I’d sit there listening to the annoying sounds of rustling paper as they flip their pages over.
Being in the same class with kids who could easily write anything they wanted filled me with feelings of awe, jealousy and inadequacy.
I often wondered “What’s wrong with me??? Why can’t I write like everyone else?”
I’d chalk it up to “Maybe I’m just not creative… I don’t have any good ideas.”
My mind goes blank and decides to empty itself at the thought of writing. Getting something on the page always required a tremendous amount of willpower, effort and energy.
Most of the time, I’d sit in English classes staring at the clock feeling all twisted up inside…
On one hand I wished time would go slower because it takes so long for me to write something, while on the other hand I wished time would move faster, so I can be put out of my misery.
The fact that English was a mandatory part of the high school curriculum felt like punishment. I dreaded the days English showed up on my timetable because all it did was make me feel anxious, inadequate and worthless.
The Struggle in Music
I’ve always loved music for as long as I can remember. Music was how I made sense of the world growing up — it’s my language. Mum would always find me happily humming to myself.
I discovered my ability to write music at 14 when I was given my first composition assignment in Music class.
As musical ideas popped into my head, I couldn’t wait to play them out on the piano and feel the rise of excitement in me to hear what my ideas would sound like.
I remember locking myself away in the music room for days after school to work on my composition. It was so much fun and so fulfilling to see my creation come to life.
Even though the creative process is the same, my experience writing words and writing music was night and day.
Deep down, I wanted to write songs but the thought of writing words stopped me.
It wasn’t until my early 20s when I decided to pursue songwriting and to work in the music industry that I seriously started attempting to write songs.
Every time I tried writing lyrics, resistance showed up and I never got very far.
It was like staring at the blank page in English classes all over again. And it was excruciating not being able to do what I really wanted to do in life.
In some rare occasions when I was able to put some lyrics down, I’d look at it and go “What a load of crap…!”
So I either threw it away or buried my notebook into my drawer feeling disappointed, frustrated and angry with myself.
I was very conscious about leaving any of my “writing attempts” lying around on my desk because I didn’t have the capacity to deal with the embarrassment and shame I know I’ll feel if someone found my crappy work — even if it’s my mum.
I always made sure to bury my work away somewhere so no one can “stumble upon it” by accident. I needed to keep everything to myself as a protection mechanism, even from my own family and friends.
My reserved, shy and quiet behaviour stemmed from being a very guarded and closed off kid with very little to say about anything. I’ve always preferred to be left alone to stay in my own little world.
When I finally worked up the courage to pursue music at 24… my dream of writing songs was realised when I partnered with a friend who wrote lyrics.
Because words have always felt useless to me, music naturally became the tool I used to help me express my sensitive soul and to process all my feelings.
To me, music speaks when words fail.
The Struggle in Business
When I threw myself into entrepreneurship in 2010, I learned to generate traffic with SEO in order to sell products online as an affiliate marketer.
SEO is content based and required writing… lots of writing. Talk about a bad fit! Because I was a newbie entrepreneur, I just followed what other people did and pig-headed my way through it because I didn’t know any better.
Of course I struggled my ass off, and ended up having to hire writers to write articles for me.
When I stopping doing affiliate marketing, I started a marketing agency to help small businesses with their online marketing, and continued to educate myself on business and marketing.
The more I learned, the more I recognised how important writing is in business.
Good writing meant standing out in your niche, which meant more recognition, more traffic and more sales.
Bad writing meant being ignored, blending into the noise and getting stuck on struggle street.
Words was again standing in my way — preventing me from creating the life I wanted.
Because I saw the life long benefit and the advantage to being a good writer, as well as understanding the utility of writing in marketing and communications… I decided to do the impossible.
I decided to get good at copywriting, and invested in books, programs and mentorship.
However, no matter how much I practiced, the resistance persisted.
I didn’t know how to make the resistance I felt go away until I realised something profound that changed how I saw my struggle with writing.
There were layers of deeper problems hidden beneath my struggle with writing that kept showing up in the form of resistance.
Writing was just a surface level problem.
Forcing myself to sit at my desk to repeatedly scribble words on paper was not going to cut it. I came to realise that I was doing the right thing at the wrong time that wasn’t helping me progress toward where I wanted to go.
The problems I had were not just about putting words on paper, grammar, structure or vocabulary.
I needed to find the root problem and solve it once and for all, because I knew if I didn’t do that for myself, my life would never change for the better.
When I really examined what writing is all about… I realised that at the core, writing is all about communication and self expression.
The Communication Problem
I eventually recognised that the same resistance showed up in my body whenever I tried to speak — this was the reason why I stayed quiet growing up.
Every time I tried to express myself with words, it’s as if an invisible lump would appear at the back of my throat, blocking the right words from coming out of my mouth. I’ve always struggled to find the words to say what I really wanted to say, and it made me frustrated and angry at myself.
Very often, my words come out wrong and I end up hurting people I care about.
I’ve always been very direct and blunt when I do open my mouth.
Because my communication and conversation skills were underdeveloped, it was easier and safer for me to stay quiet and to keep to myself.
For decades, the question that kept surfacing in my mind was… “Why is it so hard to articulate how I really feel, and say what I really want to say?”
While I was frustrated with how incapable I was at communicating, I also had a deep desire to connect with people.
And the only way to connect with other human beings is through language and words.
I can’t tell you how many times I wished I was telepathic so I could just transmit my brainwaves to others and people would understand me.
The struggle with communication was a big part of myself that I didn’t like.
I’ve always wanted to be the person who can talk to anyone, and was not afraid to meet people…
I wanted to be able to easily make new friends…
I wanted to have deep and meaningful conversations…
I wanted to always speak my mind…
Most of all, I wanted to be able to fully express myself.
I knew my life would change if I learned to become that person — A new person so different to the person I identified with and was conditioned to be.
So I had to find what was standing in my way and figure out what was causing this immense struggle I feel every time I tried to communicate.
It came down to FEAR.
It’s always fear.
Fear stops us from achieving our dreams, and becoming the person we know we want to become.
I started recognising how I talked to myself every time I tried to write or speak.
It was like living with a loud, multi-headed dragon screaming never ending criticism in my head judging every single thing I do…
- “Holy crap, this is bad… Are you kidding me?! Nobody can read this!”
- “You can’t write for shit. This is so embarrassing.”
- “I’ve got nothing. I don’t know what to say…”
- “Who is going to listen to you?!”
- “You can’t put your name to that, I mean… are you for real?!”
- “Hide your work! Before someone finds out how shit you are.”
- “What if they don’t like me?… Don’t say anything.”
And on and on it goes…
I had to confront what I didn’t want to see, and learn to look for answers within myself.
I needed to dig at all the underlying issues that I conveniently swept under the rug over the years.
The REAL Underlying Problems
The voices in my head were always negative. I never had anything positive to say about myself.
I lived life with a severe level of self-hatred, self-criticism and self-judgement that I was unaware of until my mid-30s.
Those toxic voices hid away in my subconscious, taking jabs at me every opportunity it gets, and it drove all my decisions and behaviours like I was a puppet.
For over 30 years, I only knew how to talk to myself and treat myself with negativity.
I was oblivious to the fact that I was carrying anger around until my friend (who is a gifted healer) pointed it out to me in a session with her.
While my blood was not boiling and big veins weren’t visible across my forehead during that session… I learned that my underlying energy was all anger, and the fact that I was the angriest person she has ever seen.
To put things into perspective, even the likes of big, angry men she’s seen over the years in her practice didn’t carry the angry energy I had.
My energy field must have looked like The Hulk to her.
My anger was all directed at myself, not towards other people.
That session started helping me see the self development work I needed to do, and the journey I needed to go on in order for me to become the person I wanted to become.
That valuable session helped me understand why I always felt like a ‘ticking time bomb’ waiting to blow up at any second.
The habit of suppressing my emotions throughout my life affected my ability to communicate effectively.
I never allowed myself to feel my emotions because they always overwhelm me, so I never learned to properly process my feelings. Because I was so guarded and closed off, I never ever talked about how I felt with anyone.
As a coping mechanism, I got really good at pushing everything down and sweeping everything under the carpet hoping I’d never have to deal with my emotions. This meant I’d either implode or explode when I couldn’t contain my emotions anymore.
My capacity to manage my emotions was non-existent, which is why it was incredibly difficult to express myself without blowing up and hurting people around me.
Once I was made aware of the anger I had toward myself, the self-deprecating voices became loud, really loud.
I was finally able to really hear how I talked to myself, and realised that I was my own worst enemy. The voices in my head had no praise, no compassion, no love, no encouragement and no support.
I was the by-product of my cultural and environmental conditioning.
Being born into an Asian family meant words and actions of affirmation, praise, love and encouragement were pretty much minimal to non-existent.
In life, you don’t get to choose your family, and it didn’t help my sensitive soul that my dad was particularly harsh and strict.
Criticism, judgement and “Why can’t you be more like so and so…” was the norm.
I don’t blame my dad anymore for being harsh on us, because I realised his dad was also harsh on him. My parents did the best they could with what they knew. As human beings, we learn, inherit and model our behaviours from our parents and the people around us.
Understanding my behaviour helped me learn to manage and process my own emotions.
As I worked on my fear of feeling my own emotions, I also had to work hard on another big fear that held me back from expressing myself — My fear of abandonment.
The fear of abandonment lived deep within my soul.
Even though I used to feel the fear in my bones, I was never abandoned as a child. To this day, I still don’t know where my fear of abandonment comes from. I guess it must be generational trauma that was passed onto me and came as part of my soul when I was born into this life.
I had to learn to accept it as one of the mysteries of life and wonders of how the universe works.
While I cannot change my circumstances nor have any control over where I was born, all I could do was to learn to face the realities of my life, even if the fear is not mine.
In addition to my fear of abandonment, and my fear of feeling my emotions, I was also afraid of rejection, afraid of being seen and afraid of not being accepted.
All the underlying layers were what I needed to learn to confront that sat beneath my struggle with communication.
These were the sources of pain that I lived with that showed up in the form of resistance I felt in different areas of my life.
Every time I tried to speak or write, all I could feel was getting hit by a big tangled ball of overwhelming fear.
I believe the worst place to be stuck in life is between fear and desire.
The fear of being seen and the desire to be seen.
The place that slowly tears you apart, and where we feel most trapped.
Due to my lack of self awareness, my inability to communicate effectively, and my lack of capacity to face my own fears… I lost the love of my life at 26.
Important Lessons I Had To Learn
Even though my surface level desire was to get good at writing, what I really wanted was to be able to design and create my True North Business and live life the way I wanted to live.
I recognised the fact that I will forever be struggling in business if I didn’t learn to expand my capacity to develop and grow myself.
It took me a while to see that all the answers to everything I wanted in life lies within me.
The answer is always within.
Along my journey, I discovered this quote by Miyamoto Musashi which remains my all time favourite quote to this day.
I also finally understood the undeniable truth and wisdom of Jim Rohn:
“Your level of success will seldom succeed your level of personal development.”— Jim Rohn
The painful truth to why my life was not working the way I wanted to was all because of me. I had no one else to blame — I was responsible for all the results I created in my life.
So, I learned to take responsibility for every aspect of my life — after all, I was the only person who can change it.
I learned to accept that my external world was a complete reflection of my internal world.
Once the anger was out of my system, I focused on repairing my relationship with myself.
I learned self-compassion and self-love.
I went from treating myself as my worst enemy to treating myself as my best friend.
The critical, judgemental and harsh voices in my head eventually diminished and went away.
I learned to stop comparing myself with others.
I learned to stop caring what other people think and the choices I make.
I learned to focus on walking my own path in life.
I learned to cultivate loving, supportive and encouraging voices in my head.
Most of all, I learned that the fastest way to reach my desired destination in life is to go through the dark valleys and face my demons.
3 Things That Changed Everything
1. I got real with myself and made a decision
I had to decide whether I really wanted the skill of writing.
Am I just saying I want it or do I really want it?
Talking and doing are 2 completely different things.
Talk is cheap. The only thing that matters are the actions we choose to take.
I forced myself to answer these questions with honesty:
- How important is this skill to me?
- Am I serious about becoming a better writer?
- Am I willing to do whatever it takes?
There were also 3 big reasons behind my desire to get good at writing.
- As an entrepreneur, I wanted to be able to influence people with my words.
- As a musician and songwriter, I wanted to be able to write lyrics.
- As a human being, I wanted to be able to express myself authentically.
2. I committed to doing the work
Repetition is the mother of skill.
Competence leads to confidence.
Making a commitment to myself meant carving out time and space to practice facing my fears head on.
My practice looked something like this…
- sharing things about myself that even my closest friends and my sister didn’t know about me
- sharing my writing on Facebook for everyone to see
- copying direct response ads and sales letters by hand
- writing journals and making it a habit
- opening myself up to friends and family
- showing up and doing the work even when I didn’t feel like it or felt scared
3. I was willing to let go of my identity and see myself differently
The process of letting go of my identity and creating a different self image took years. I went on the journey of deconditioning myself from who I thought I built myself up to be.
I had to learn to stop hanging onto my ‘old self’ and stop identifying with the person I once was, and instead learn to start identifying with the person I was on the journey of becoming.
Speaking from experience, deconditioning is the most difficult yet rewarding part of self development work.
Because I’ve always believed I sucked at writing, I couldn’t see myself becoming good at it even when my writing skills improved. So I continued to doubt myself, dismiss praise and genuine compliments that people gave me.
The reason why I didn’t know how to receive praise was because I believed I didn’t deserve it, since I kept comparing myself to people who are better writers.
My revelation only came after I reflected on why I turned down a writing project a business friend offered me who had 20+ years of digital marketing experience.
I finally realised that he wouldn’t have given me the opportunity if he didn’t think I was good enough.
Because he is a person I like and respect, his offer gave me the validation I needed to finally see myself as a writer, and helped me accept myself as a “writer”.
My revelation came with the feeling of alignment. A feeling that I was finally coming into my own person with a sense of grounding in my individuality, without the baggage of my conditioning and my ‘not self’.
The hard work I did to decondition myself from the person I thought I was has presented me with a sense of peace and contentment I’m finally able to feel for the very first time in my life.
I was no longer at war with myself.
I was able to start stepping into who I really am, and allow the new version of me to express myself however I choose to be expressed.
The resistance is finally gone at the thought of writing.
Inner peace and contentment came with a sense of self trust — which was the sign I’ve been looking for to follow my inner compass and allow it to guide me to find my true voice.
I became free to write my story and a new chapter of my life.
The breakthrough came a week after I turned 39.
It was the… Best. Birthday. Present. EVER!
New skills, expanded capacity and new perspectives opened up space for new possibilities and opportunities.
I am very grateful that I can finally add “words” to my repertoire as a Creator.
The breakthrough changed my personal and professional interests. It widened the scope of projects I can take on in life.
I was finally able to create the personal brand website I’ve longed to create for myself. I even wrote a case study sharing my process of how I built V1.0 from scratch in 3 weeks.
Now I can freely write about the things I care about and share lessons I learned from my journey as a way to guide others.
I even had book ideas pop into my head a few times, because the thought of becoming an author now is no longer far-fetched.
It’s crazy to think that what was once impossible are now within grasp in my reality.
And it all started with ONE single decision — to get good at writing.
Our lives are just made up of a series of decisions we make.
I’m not special — I’m just another human being doing my best to carve out a life that I love and create a career that I adore.
I’ll leave you with this quote that I’ve come to love and appreciate:
“Follow your blisters, because in your blisters you’ll find your bliss.”— Joseph Campbell