Michelle Kuei: Disabled by a Car Accident, She Refused to Settle for “Being Normal” and Discovered Her Inner Diamond #19

Warwick Fairfax

May 5, 2020

She never really had a chance to dream about what her life could be before a tragic car accident at 11 in her native Taiwan left Michelle Kuei with physical and emotional scars that plagued her for 30 years. When her body stopped growing after the crash, her mind started racing with how she would never be “normal.” It wasn’t just that friendships and romance were hard — grocery shopping was near-impossible: she couldn’t grab anything to put in her cart without first discarding her crutches, and items on even the middle shelves were beyond her reach. But everything changed when she set her mind to fighting through the pain and fear and took up hiking, a pursuit that resulted in her ascending the peak of Machu Picchu and learning that she wasn’t just normal, she had extraordinary in her. Finding the diamond inside her rough circumstances, she tells Crucible Leadership founder and BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE host Warwick Fairfax, led her into a rewarding coaching career in which she helps negative self-talkers discover inner strength and beauty by overcoming their fear of judgments. “Each and every one of us,” she explains, “is a gift to this world.”

Hightlights

 

  • The car accident that caused her crucible at age 11 (3:15)
  • The loneliness of being unable to live a “normal” life as a young girl (5:01)
  • The lingering physical; trauma of the accident (6:03)
  • The emotional trauma of the accident and its aftermath (7:45)
  • The pain of feeling and looking different (11:34)
  • How she desperately wanted to feel “normal” as she grew up (15:02)
  • Was it harder to overcome her physical or emotional crucibles? (17:37)
  • You have to accept your emotional challenge to overcome … and see the beauty inside yourself (19:27):
  • Freedom comes in fighting back to overcome your crucible (21:40)
  • There’s power in challenging your limitations (22:13)
  • How hiking Machu Picchu changed her life … and her view of it (23:47)
  • Affirmation’s power in helping you overcome your wounds (30:52)
  • The moment she realized she wasn’t “invisible” (32:39)
  • The key perspective shift needed to find the diamond within you (34:30)
  • How to find the diamonds in our roughs (36:48)
  • Why being “normal” wasn’t a high-enough goal for her (38:16)
  • What her purpose is (42:02)
  • How helping others heals you (44:38)
  • Key takeaways from the episode (49:42)

Transcript

Gary S:
Well, welcome everybody to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Gary Schneeberger, the cohost of the show and the Communications Director for Crucible Leadership. And you have pushed play, hopefully pushed subscribe to a podcast that deals in what we call crucible experiences. Crucible experiences are those things that happen to us or those things that perhaps we in some way, shape or form might help cause those painful moments in life, those difficult moments in life that can truly change the trajectory of life, that can make you feel sometimes like there’s no way out, can make you feel sometimes like you might want to give up.

Gary S:
But the reason for the show and the reason for Crucible Leadership, which is informs the show. The reason for that, the reason we talk about these things is so that we don’t end up camped out there. We don’t end up not wanting to get up and move on. It’s to talk to folks who’ve been through these moments, like you listener have been through, and to offer hope and healing, and encouragement to you in that process. And with me, as always, is the architect of what I mentioned earlier, Crucible Leadership, Warwick Fairfax. Warwick, we’ve got just in the little chat we’ve done before we hit record, I can tell we’ve got a barn burner here today.

Warwick F:
Absolutely, Gary, looking forward to it.

Gary S:
Our guest today, listener, is Michelle Kuei, and I’m going to read her bio to you right now. Michelle Kuei is a certified transition life coach who helps negative self-talkers to discover inner strength and beauty by overcoming fear of judgements. Michelle’s speaking career began in 2018, soon after she founded her own coaching company. She’s the author of the new memoir, Perfectly Normal; An Immigrant Story of Making It In America. She is a board member of the United Nations Association of the USA and a clinical pharmacist at USC’s Keck Medical Center.

Gary S:
Michelle was born in Taiwan and grew up in New York, but today, she lives in Los Angeles with a short haired Brown Tabby named Buster. If you’re looking for her, odds are you’ll find her at the gym. And Michelle, I’m going to put a pin in that comment because after we talk about your story, I want to come back to that comment because that’s a key element, I believe, of your story. Remember listener, that last point, if you’re looking for her, odds are you’ll find her at the gym.

Warwick F:
Well, Michelle, thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate it. You have an incredible story. I’d love to just start with tell us about your story that leads up to your crucible moment. Yeah, just tell us a bit about Michelle and your story.

Michelle K:
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure and in isolation, but it doesn’t feel like isolation right now. I’m surrounded by a lot of love. To start, basically, I grew up, like Gary said, I grew up in Taiwan. I was born in Taiwan and as I was growing up at age 11 years old, just like all the other kids who go to school, I came off school one day and I remember that day my mom was running late. I was waiting for her at school and when I saw her coming towards me to pick me up, she was on her motorbike. There’s a lot of motorbike in Asia. She was coming off on her motorbike, and I got up from my chair, I ran across the street. I wanted to meet her on the other side of the street.

Michelle K:
As I was approaching and walking to the middle of the street, I realized that my best friend was waving her hand at me and she said, “Stop, stop.” And she was waving at me and there’s a lot of shouting that was going on. I was confused. I was standing in the middle of the street and I could just smell the rubber that was burning, and I don’t remember where the sound was coming down. Then the next thing I know was that I woke up and I was in a hospital bed. And when I woke up and my parents were standing next to my bed, and they were talking to the doctor. I started to have sensation and I started looking down on my waist, and from my waist all the way down to my ankle, I noticed I was wrapped with this plaster that was surrounding my body.

Michelle K:
Basically, the doctor had… because of the accident, I had the accident while I was standing in the middle of the street, and the doctor had to stabilize me by wrapping me with a plaster from waist all the way to ankle. Following that incident, three months afterwards, I was basically trapped at home in isolation. I was in bed and I couldn’t go to school, and I couldn’t go anywhere. But what’s the crucible, and I love the title of this podcast because it’s crucible. What’s really difficult in those moment at age 11 is that the fact that I was a little kid and I wanted to go out to play. I wanted to meet my friend and I wanted to just be where the life that I used to live in, but I couldn’t do that and I was starting to live a different life.

Michelle K:
That moment was like a turning point for me because I no longer can do all the things I wanted to do in my past. And now I have to learn how to walk after they unwrap me. I have to learn how to do a lot of things by myself. Learning how to walk, learning how to make new friends was another thing at age 11. That was the beginning of this crucible moment. From age 11 all the way till 40 years old, so I spent 30 years of my life living very differently. It’s not a normal life where… so just to backtrack a little bit to gave the listener an idea of how I look like.

Michelle K:
I’m 4 feet, 4 inches tall, very short, very petite. This has been the same height since I was in elementary school, because the accident actually required the doctor to go back and perform a lot of different surgeries, so I had a lot of scars on my leg. And with that, something must have happened and inhibited the way that I was growing. I had not grown since when I was 11, the same height as I was 11. Growing into adulthood, being with the same height, it created a lot of challenges for me.

Michelle K:
There’s moment where I go to school, I can’t reach stuff on the shelf. When you’re a kid, that’s okay because people will… adult will just reach over and grab it for you. But when you reach over to adulthood or when you’re in your first job, and I remember my first job, I work in a pharmacy where the counter is taller than me. In order to me to work like everyone else, I have to use a step stool, I have to reach to the top. There’s a lot of climbing. There’s a lot of physical strenuous activity that I need to be able to do in addition to all the other responsibility that I have. That’s quite challenging.

Michelle K:
And I could never figure out why when you walk into a grocery store, all the essential items would be on the very top shelf rather than on the bottom shelf, that I never figured out. That’s also really very, extremely essential challenge for me because I need to buy essentials and I can never reach to the top. And there’s something about asking that always frightens me in the past. I never liked to ask people what to do or help me with things. What ended up happening is if I need to reach the toilet paper on the top, I can’t do that. I was just using an alternative rather than asking, putting myself out there and ask.

Michelle K:
That’s 30 years of my life growing like that. During that time, I was also battling with what’s going on in the inside, because as adolescent, as I grow into adolescent, I was experiencing a lot of that peer pressure where people are dressing up, all these girls they’re looking very pretty. They started to wear… it was during the ‘80s, so I don’t know if you guys remember the ‘80s, the hair.

Gary S:
I had hair in the ‘80s, so.

Michelle K:
The hair, the mini skirt and I wanted to look exactly like that, and that was one of my dream, wanting to look that way when I go out. When I’m in a social group, when I’m with my friends, when we hang out, I want to dress like that, but I couldn’t because with my leg, the way that the surgeon was performing, the doctor had told me that, “Michelle, from 11 years old, after the surgery, you have to wear these metal bracelet because as you’re growing, we don’t want you to grow your bone into a deformity.” I was given a pair of really ugly metal bracelet that I was supposed to wear up until the age of 18.

Michelle K:
But by age of 16, I was struggling with the look. I said to myself, “You know what? I’m not going to wear these. These are too ugly. I want to take it off.” I decided I was going to take it off, I took it off. And the minute I took it off, I started to use my body weight all on top of my leg. That created pressure and as I’m walking, it started to hurt my back. And by the time I reached my college, I noticed that I could no longer walk comfortably without any assistance. For the longest time, my mom was my crutch. She goes everywhere I go. I always hold onto her hand. She goes where I go.

Michelle K:
Once I got into graduate school, I had to live in the dorm. I went when off and left home, I started to live in the dorm. I couldn’t take my mom anymore, so I got to figure out a way to somehow walk. My doctor told me, “Well, this is time, basically, at this point, your leg is so disfigured. If you don’t use a crutch to walk, you’re not going to make it.” I said, “Okay, fine.” I started to use two arm crutches. Instead of holding on to my mom, I used arm crutches. And being short is one thing, it’s already a challenge. Now I have to deal with two arm crutches, holding on. I have no hand to hold anything else.

Michelle K:
A lot of times when I go out, it’s a matter of how do I strap things on my body so I can carry groceries. How can I use my body so that I can carry things that I need to carry with my hand? And when I see people going to a coffee shop and I get so envy of them because they have the ability of holding their coffee in one hand and looking at their phone at the other. I don’t have that luxury. I have two crutches and I can’t do neither one of them. I often have to stop either to get my phone, put my crutches down or one or the other. I couldn’t do both. And I get really jealous of people having the ability to do that.

Michelle K:
And that was something that I was really struggling with for 30 years of my life because I want to look normal. I want to have that life that everyone else has. Being able to go to a store and reaching to the top without asking people for help. I wanted to dress up pretty in my clothes so that when I go out people will say, “Michelle, you’re beautiful.” That first impression I never had, the first impression that we all value. Even during job interview, we look at someone, we look at the first impression. I always thought that that’s a luxury that I don’t have because I don’t have that first appearance.

Warwick F:
Wow, that’s an incredible story. And I want to go back a bit. And before age 11, you were probably just a typical girl, had a lot of friends. I’m guessing you’ve always been a happy kind of person in your nature.

Michelle K:
I was a happy, happy baby, my mom said.

Warwick F:
I can imagine. When that happened, I mean, sometimes there’s anger and resentment, like depending on your beliefs, God or some spiritual force, why did you let that happen? Maybe if my friend hadn’t waved to me, I would have kept going or why didn’t this car see me? And did you go through a cycle of anger and resentment, and how could this have happened?

Michelle K:
I did. I absolutely did. And I thought if my mom had come just a minute earlier or she hasn’t run late that day, maybe all of this wouldn’t happen. Or maybe if I were to just wait just one second more before I start walking across the street, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened. I went through that period initially, at least for a good 10, 15 years of my life, thinking why does it have to be me? Why is it just me that happened? I have two other siblings. I have a brother and a sister, and I’m thinking, “Why couldn’t it just happened to them? Why does it have to have happened to me? What is it about me? Why did it happen to me?”

Warwick F:
Why does the world not like me? I mean, you used the word normal before, which is we all want to fit in. It’s just part of being human. You want to be liked. You said growing up in the ‘80s, you want to be seen as pretty, be able to wear all the fashions and just like your friends. And it’s like, “Well, why can’t I be normal like my friends? Why can’t I be like everybody else? How has this fair?” I mean it just, the comment you made, “Why can’t I hold a cup of coffee in one hand, a phone in the other? I mean, is that too much to ask? It’s like I’m not asking for, I don’t know, a million dollars and a beautiful house. I just want a normal life.” Right?

Warwick F:
And so, for that must’ve been not just the accident, but the years after and grad school, and do I have to have my mother around me. I mean, I’m sure you love your mother, but can’t I go somewhere without that? And so that must have been… it sounds like it was years and years of dealing with that frustration. It wasn’t just the first few years, it was how many years would you say that frustration of just the-

Michelle K:
It was a good 30 years and I just wanted to be normal. And not being normal to me means that you have the normal body shape that we all… we flipped through the textbook, the biology textbook, this is how a woman or a man should look. There’s physically, they look identical, they look perfect, their legs are straight. That’s normal for me. And that’s how I define normal. And that’s what I believe normal should be. When I see myself in the mirror, I actually felt really ashamed of my body because this is not what I was taught. This is not what I see around me. This is not normal.

Warwick F:
It’s almost like I cannot be happy and fulfilled unless I’m normal. Was that the mindset that you’re going through? And therefore, it’s impossible for me to have a happy, fulfilling life because I’m not normal, as you looked at it.

Michelle K:
Yes.

Warwick F:
And so, I mean, I’m sure a number of listeners maybe have had physical challenges, there are all sorts of challenges that make you feel like nobody can love me and accept me. And it’s all from physical challenges to abuse, to you name it, there’s all sorts of things that people feel like nobody can possibly love or want me kind of thing. How did that change for you? Because there are certain things like physically, I imagine that’s a difficult thing. I mean, certainly you probably had to accept that you can’t actually change, but how did you manage to combat that and just change how you thought about things?

Gary S:
And especially if I can add here, especially from an emotional perspective, one of the things, Michelle, that strikes me about your story, your crucible experience is that it is both physical and very devastating, and also emotionally very devastating. One of the things that you and I talked about in advance of our interview time here and the note I took is that romantic relationships were very difficult. There’s an emotional aspect of this that is in very real ways as painful in different ways, but real ways as painful as the physical aspect of it.

Gary S:
To Warwick’s question, how did you overcome that both from a physical and emotional sense? And I guess for listeners who face some of those same things, there’s a physical crucible and emotions tied to it. Which one was perhaps more difficult to overcome?

Michelle K:
I would definitely say the emotional is the most difficult to overcome. Because a physical challenge, like what I did was I used a step stool. These physical external challenges can overcome by accommodating with a step stool or with something else, or with a crutch for nowaday, I reach over and just push things to the edge. External physical challenge is really easy to overcome, but emotional challenges, what I find that really were the core of the energy, the majority of the time that we’re spending dwelling on.

Michelle K:
And I remember one of the incident was I was in my 30s and that was during the time when I first got into relationship. And I remember I was just sitting there one day and there was an empty chair with a man’s jacket on the chair on the back. And I was just looking at the jacket and looking at the chair, and I started to crying. I was crying. And there’s an enormous sense of loneliness that was inside that was coming out for me, because for the longest time I was longing for someone to love me. I was longing to be loved, to be appreciated and to have that love be returned to me when I send it out.

Michelle K:
But when I’m not getting that reciprocate of love and caring from another person, from another man, I felt extremely hurt and alone. And that was the emotion I was going through from ever since I started to explore the relationship side. And there’s so much of interpersonal relationship that we deal with every day. What I’ve learned is that it says a lot about… it’s teaching a lot about who you are. When I was in those moments, and perhaps this is something that the listener can and find value in, is that in order to overcome your emotional challenge, many times you have to be able to recognize it. You have to allow it, you have to accept it.

Michelle K:
And my condition, my physical challenge was something I needed to accept. This is how I am and this is who I am. This is how I’m going to look for the rest of my life. I can sit here and not accept it, and keep having resistance, keep having that fighting emotion and keep wanting to understand why has it done to me, and keep wanting, exploring it in that victim thinking mentality or mindset. Or, I can accept that this had happened. It’s very unfortunate, but it happened. I can accept this is how I look and I can embrace every part of me because there’s something else other than, greater than what we see on the outside. It’s not just the physical appearance, it’s not just what we see externally. It’s what’s going on in the inside. There’s a light that’s inside each one of us. That’s what we need to accept.

Warwick F:
I mean that is so profound about focusing on the light that’s within us, accepting the things we can’t change. How did you do that? Because as you said, I think it was like, what, 20, 30 years of battling with this. I mean, it’s not easy. I mean, you’re an intelligent person. You’re somebody that looks like when they want to achieve something, they do. I mean, you strike me as that kind of person. It’s not like you’re somebody that just sits there and does nothing. How did you get to that point where you could actually accept the physical limitations and change how you thought about yourself? How did you do that?

Michelle K:
One of my biggest challenge in this life is my physical challenge, right? I grew up 30 years of being physically challenged and this is my limitation. And part of it has to do with the word that you used, combat. And when you’re in that combat mode, you realize there’s something that you need to fight. What is it that you need to fight for? And for me, what I need to fight for is to find a light, to find my purpose, find the reason why I am here. I started to tap into that anger, that resentment. I want to know why.

Michelle K:
And one day I remember I was waking up and suddenly, I was getting so tired of living this life. I told myself, “All right, so here you are. This is your physical challenge. What are you going to do about it?” I was asking, having a conversation with myself, I said, “What are you going to do about it?” My answer was, “Well, if physical challenge is my challenge, guess what? I guess I have no choice but challenge my physical challenge.” I decided that in 2016, I’d never been to a gym before. I never signed up to a gym, don’t know how to work the easy equipment. I was really afraid of breaking them. And being myself, getting myself broken. I was afraid to go into the gym.

Michelle K:
But in 2016, I decided I’m going to go sign up in the gym. I did that. That was my number one, my first step of wanting to find out what would it take for me to fight in this. I went and signed up to a gym, and then the second thing I did was I hired myself a personal trainer because obviously, I don’t know how to work these machines, so I need someone to show me, to teach me how to do it. I hired a professional, I hired a personal coach. And then the third thing I did, at that time all my friends, they were talking about how amazing it is to do hiking, to go out and climb the mountain, and going to Peru.

Michelle K:
And so, I could never participate in those conversations with them because it was some part of me that I just couldn’t do. One of my goal is actually to be able to participate in those conversation. That same year, 2016, I made a promise to myself, I’m going to promise myself that I can do this and I’m going to do whatever it takes to hike. I started hiking that year. And the other goal that I had was I don’t want just hiking, I don’t want to just go up to any mountain, I want to go up to Machu Picchu and I want to do the Inca Trail.

Michelle K:
The Inca Trail is 26 miles and it’s a four-day hike. And each day you have to just camp out and you have to rough it out. There’s no shower, there’s no toilet whatsoever. You really have to rough it up. And so, in addition to just being rough it out there, I flew myself to Peru in that same year, in September. I flew myself to Peru and I don’t speak Spanish, by the way. I flew myself there and I had my two crutches and I brought my two pink arm crutches because it has to be pink, it has to be pink. I brought my pink crutches, went up to the mountain, I got food poisoning the day before the hike, check myself to the infirmary the night before.

Michelle K:
And I remember calling my sister. I said, “I’m really sick. I’m in the hospital right now. I don’t know, can you talk me out of it?” My sister was like, “Yeah, you need to come home. Come home today.” And I thought about it, right? And I was, “No, I made it this far. I’m going to go.” After we hung up the phone, I told my sister, “I’m going to go.” And lo and behold, the next day, I went out to Machu Picchu, started my first day of hike. On the first day, it was all uphill. It was all inclined. I remember I had a lot of difficulty because the high-altitude syndrome, it was real.

Warwick F:
Right.

Michelle K:
Yeah, it was real. And I remember I was getting tired. I was dehydrated and so my immune system was kind of down. The first day was a struggle and I barely made it to the final camp that night. And my team leader, the tool guy who was with us, he sat me down and he asked me, because past the first day if I made a decision to come back, then there was still a chance that I can come back. He sat me down and he said, “Michelle, I know you were struggling and I know this is something that you want to do, but you were leaving behind you had to a difficult time to catch up. What do you want to do?” He gave the option to me and I thought about it. I said, “Thank you. I appreciate that you’re letting me know that after this point, there’s no turning back.” I said, “I appreciate that, but I want to continue.”

Michelle K:
Every morning after the first day, so starting on the second day, every morning, I will wake up at five o’clock in the morning, I would start my hike. I would put my headlight on. It’s still dark outside. You can’t really see the steps. I would put on my headlight and I would start my hike. Every day, five o’clock, I would start my hike. And I can barely just made it to meet everybody around dinner time, around lunchtime, around break time. And all these people that I met during that trip, it’s been an amazing journey.

Michelle K:
And so, I did that in September 2016, and the very last day of the Inca Trail hike, we were at the point of the Sun Gate. This is the final entry point before we get into the Machu Picchu, so I was looking at the steps, the final 50 steps at Machu Picchu. I looked up, it was 60 degrees angle or 70, yeah. I was looking up, and I was, “Oh my God.” I wasn’t sure what have I done? How am I going to finish these last 50 steps with my two crutches? And the steps were really narrow and small. I stood in front of the Sun Gate, I was looking up and I thought about all my life for this very moment. “Okay, I’m here. What do I have to do to finish this?”

Michelle K:
I gave my two crutches to my team leader, took off my day pack, hand the day pack to him. I say, “Here, you lead me to the top.” I sent him to the top. I got down to my knees and legs, I started to crawl because that was the only safe way for me to go to the top. I got down to my hands and knee, I started crawling every step, every step, one step at a time. And by the time I went to the top, my team leader was clapping. I turned around and there was someone else taking a picture. I took my hand up, that victory gesture. I was in the air. It felt so accomplished.

Michelle K:
Then I turned around, I started approaching to meet everybody and my teammate, and all these other travelers at this big platform at the Sun Gate. I walked in, everyone stood up and they were clapping, they were cheering for me. And I actually got a pin from Canada. It was an honorary citizen. I still have my pin. I still have my pin. And it was amazing. And that was the moment that I start to realize that I am capable. Whatever it is going in front of me, that I am capable as long as I set my mind to it.

Warwick F:
Well, it seems like that moment was pivotal on your journey, that changing how you think about things. I mean, there’s the internal and there’s the external, exactly sort of busting into the picture here.

Gary S:
Hi Buster.

Warwick F:
For the listeners who are listening to it, there’s a beautiful old Tabby cat that just emerged. But Michelle, there’s the internal and there’s the external, as I said, to think about this story. There’s externally, you are having an enormous impact on those around you. I’m not quite sure which to start with but just maybe on the external. You felt alone, like nobody wants to see me, but yet you had a whole bunch of cheerleaders, people that were with you. What did it feel like or as you looked at their faces, they were on team Michelle, right?

Michelle K:
Yeah.

Warwick F:
They were your team, they wanted you to win, they wanted you to succeed. Talk about the effect that you had on them and how it felt back to you.

Michelle K:
It was a really strange feeling because when I was in that moment, when I was so busy caught up in my own misery and tragedy, and thinking that the world, just all the bad things just happen to me, when I’m so busy tied in thinking about that, it was really hard to believe that I had any impact on others. Actually, that’s what my teammate had to called were Team Michelle, and we actually celebrate it with a cake on my last day of the trip that says Team Michelle.

Warwick F:
Oh really?

Michelle K:
It was really hard for me to believe that because I was so busy thinking about my own misery. And when you start changing your mind, when that shift starts to happen and you realize that you are not alone in this. There’s so many people around you who celebrate you, who cheer for you, who stood out for you and who clap for you. Now they really see you as the light at the end of their tunnel. It was a complete different experience for me and it was eye-opening to really stress seeing them for the first time.

Warwick F:
It’s almost like if you let them, they want to be with you, they want to not just support you, they want to cheer for you if you’ll let them, and you could see that. And then just it’s often we think of physical limitations and there are limitations, but yet it seems like you did what most people would say is impossible. Machu Picchu, I don’t know how many thousands of feet height is, but it’s very high altitude, sickness that a lot of people get. You got these 50 steps, 60-degree incline. It’s like most people would say somebody with your challenges and crutches, it’s impossible. Give it up. You’re going to hurt yourself. But yet you overcame that physical limitation.

Warwick F:
Talk about the feeling you had when you’re on top of those steps and you’d done what most people thought was impossible. What were you feeling at that moment when you’d achieve the impossible, seemingly?

Michelle K:
I was crying, the minute I reached to the top, and to answer your question, it’s 14,000 feet high.

Warwick F:
Oh wow.

Michelle K:
That’s the altitude.

Gary S:
Oh, just 14,000 feet.

Michelle K:
And when I reached the highest peak, I broke down and cry. And I think a lot of it has to do with that spirituality, that feeling that there’s something greater than myself, there’s something bigger than myself. And when I look around, the whole environment, the whole world, the mountain, there’s something bigger than just me. It helped me to lift my thinking away from that egocentric me, me, me, me, me, to a broader view of I am not in this alone. There’s so many people around me who celebrated me and there are so many people who’s going through the same journey, and they’re struggling too. I may not see their physical struggles, but they’re struggling too.

Michelle K:
And on my journey, I remember there’s a guy, the perfectly well, very fit. He probably worked out a lot and he was just kept throwing up. Every 10 seconds, 10 minutes, he was throwing up on the side and it was a race between him and I, because he has to stop and throw up, and I have to stop and catch up. It made me realize that yes, my struggle was the physical challenge, this is my limitation. But for someone else, it could be something that’s going on inside. There’s a storm that they are experiencing on the inside and I don’t see that. It’s not my place to judge them of what they’re going through.

Gary S:
Right. This is a perfect time, I think, to jump in and read something, Michelle, that you wrote in that form I talked about that we have guests fill out. And I have to tell you that we have had every guest that we’ve had on fill this out, and yours is one of the most inspirational ones I’ve read. But you said this and I think it summarizes your story perfectly, not just from your perspective, but also, I hope from the perspective of listeners who have different realities to their crucible experiences, but the emotions are the same.

Gary S:
But this is what you wrote in talking about how to think about a crucible, and you just described the way that you did that when you were going through yours and when you were bouncing back from it. But here’s what you wrote, in part what you wrote. “So what if this very moment, whatever this setback you are experiencing was meant to be something bigger than yourself? What if this is the universe’s gift to refine and polish the diamond within you? What if you are meant to find the gem, and that is what makes you different, unique and extraordinary? How would you choose to see your setback? How would you choose to see your tragedy? The misfortune that measured only a small fraction of our entire lifetime.”

Gary S:
That is a beautiful summary of not just your story, but the story of a lot of folks who are listening right now. And listeners hear that and realize that gift was not a word, I’m sure, Michelle chose lightly. That your crucible can be a gift from the universe, from your spiritual tradition. Can be a gift to help you realize things you’re capable of and to help you realize what you were, as Warwick talks about, what your true purpose is here on earth.

Warwick F:
Yeah, so great point. Michelle, talk about how what you went through can be seen as a gift, which for most people they just said, what are you talking about, Michelle? Not getting at all the hidden gem. I mean, there’s a lot of profound words in it. Talk about how your thinking changed and your message, frankly, to the world. Talk about that message in your perspective.

Michelle K:
I think each and every one of us are a gift. We are a gift to this world. For me it’s I’m really good at doing medicine. I’m really good with pharmacology. I’m a pharmacist, right? That’s what I do. And that’s a talent that was given to me. And for someone else, they could be a really good engineer. They could be someone who has a lot of analytical thinking. Each one of us are very unique and there’s a purpose in our life that we came to this earth for, and that’s how we serve to the world. Right?

Michelle K:
And when I talk about gift and each one of us being the diamond, you have to believe, you have to start to believe that you are this thing that we dig out from all the dirt, and what’s behind all that dirt, it’s actually something very beautiful, very profound, and very special, and very unique. Because there’s something inside of you that makes you who you are, that defines who you are, that makes you perfectly different than everyone else. And that is the gem. That is the diamond of you. You are the diamond, and you have to believe that because that’s who you are.

Michelle K:
And until you believe that, and until you have that grind in your brain, in your memory, in your mind, everything else in this world just have that impermanent sense, right? Everything that happens to us are just experience.

Warwick F:
Talk about how you began to see yourself as the diamond, because that aged 11, aged 28, 30, that I don’t think was where you were at. What did that look like for Michelle, for Michelle Kuei, for looking at yourself as the diamond? How do you change that thinking and what did that look like for you?

Michelle K:
Before I saw myself as wanting to be normal, I just want to be normal. Whatever that normal is that’s acceptable to the society, I want you to look just like everybody else. I meet you, I want you to be able to do things on my own. I want you to be able to hold a coffee, a cup of coffee in my hand. I want to be normal, which is fine, but living in normal, that’s not who we are. And I keep emphasizing that you have a purpose in life. What is your purpose? There’s a reason why we’re all here on this earth. And with that purpose, you need to be able to serve.

Michelle K:
Do you want to be normal? Do you want to remain and just being enough? And our purpose is not just being enough. And I think a lot of people, a lot of listener might resonate with this because we’re constantly thinking about, “Oh, it’s not enough. We’re not good enough. We’re not pretty enough.” Well, why even bother settling for enough? What if the idea is that you are more than enough? What if the whole idea is for you to find your purpose, find your strength so that you can use that purpose, use that strength to serve others who needs your help? Whatever that strength that you have, that is your purpose, that is your gem, that’s your diamond.

Michelle K:
For me, the way that I found it and how did I begin to see myself as a diamond is I start to realize, and this is actually just happened recently, I finally had an aha moment just a couple of weeks ago and I spent all my life wanting to be normal, and my book was talking about normal, like being perfectly normal. But I’m here, I am here in the middle of the road and that was my past. I’ve already done that. I am more than normal. I climbed Machu Picchu, I did all that. I’m able to hike. I did all these things, but that’s not normal. That’s not normal at all.

Michelle K:
People can’t do that. People can’t just wake up one night and they say, “You know what? I’m going to go high Machu Picchu.” No, that’s not normal at all. I’d done something very extraordinary that not many people can do. Why not accept yourself for your extraordinary? Why not accept yourself for who you are? You are more than just enough. Why not accept yourself for the gift that was given to you? And then that was my aha moment. I said, “HUH,” so I lived all my life just wanting to be normal. But in fact, there’s nothing normal about me. I’m really abnormal. I’m unique, I’m different, and I’m embracing it. I’m going to live it, I’m going to love it.

Warwick F:
And that’s a profound message that we all want to fit in, be normal. But I guess why be normal? I mean, as you said, we’re all unique, extraordinary in some sense. We’re all designed a unique way, with certain backgrounds, talents, skills. We all have a different purpose. Normal is overrated. Why be normal? Why not just embrace being extraordinary, embrace being different? Because everybody’s different. Why fit in? Fitting in is limiting, you know? And it sounded like your whole attitude to life changed.

Warwick F:
Talk about how you do pharmacy, but I know you do a lot of coaching and writing, and speaking. Talk about what is, it’s a word that’s tough to embrace for most of us, but talk about in what ways is Michelle unique, a gem, a diamond, even extraordinary, if you will. How does that manifest itself? What is your purpose in the world, do you feel?

Michelle K:
My purpose in the world is to inspire. I do everything. One of the things that I do very often is to speak about my story and the journey that I came through, and how I was in that place of feeling sorry about myself and just playing small, from the fact that today I see myself as a diamond. It sounds very like I give myself a lot of credit, but I truly feel that I am the diamond. And in order to have this contrary journey, there’s a breakthrough moment. There’s an aha moment that I finally said, “You know what? I’m going to step in. I’m going to start doing this.” That is my inspiration for everyone and my purpose is to inspire those to start to lead for themselves.

Michelle K:
And I think self-leadership is such a very important process and message that the world needs to learn and to hear. Because through self-leadership, you become the best version of yourself. And when you are the best version of yourself, you start to influence all these others around you. You start setting up example for them. You start showing them the way to lead their life. You’re not telling them how to lead their life. You’re showing them that it is possible through this crucible moment that you can find your way and make yourself shine, make yourself stand out.

Warwick F:
And what you’re saying is so profound. I think one of the things I’ve also found in my own life and I think some or many others have, is as you take your focus off yourself on to other people, how can I help others? How can I inspire them? How can I… it’s not just overcoming your own demons or your own self-limiting thoughts for yourself, by doing that, you help to inspire others. It’s almost like the, I wouldn’t say the challenge is greater, but the challenge is even more inspiring. It’s what is the purpose of getting up? And part of it is you want to inspire others.

Warwick F:
And so, as you’re focusing on others, it helps you feel less focused on yourself and how you look. Because when you focus on others, there’s not as much room to think about yourself, right? There’s what I call a healing balm, like a healing ointment, if you will, by focusing on others. Have you felt that just within your own spirit, as you focused on others? There’s a healing component to that, right?

Michelle K:
Absolutely. And when we start looking at the bigger picture, that’s where the healing comes in. Because you’re no longer focusing on the wellbeing of yourself, you’re focusing more on the wellbeing of the society, the community within your family. You still have that broader view of life.

Gary S:
We’re at the point of the show where we’re going to have to begin to not land the plane yet, but I think the captain’s turned on the fasten seatbelts sign. We’re starting our descent a little bit. But one thing to follow up on that point, Michelle, one of the really a blessing in getting to know you even before we started this interview, is you are very connected on social media. And after we first talked, you sent me a friend request on Facebook, and I have so enjoyed watching you live your life and the way that you live your life, and the way that you encourage people with exactly what you just talked about. Being focused on bringing joy to people, being focused on not what limits us, but the things that we can do.

Gary S:
And one of the things I said at the outset when I read your bio, the last line, if you’re looking for a Michele, odds are you’ll find her at the gym. There’s a video you posted on social media a couple of days ago and it speaks to this entire story that we’ve been talking about. On one side, there’s a photograph of you with your arm crutches, somewhat at some point after your accident. Obviously, you’re older but you’re still using those to get around quite a bit. And then the video is you-

Michelle K:
Doing a jump rope.

Gary S:
Right? You’re skipping rope and you’re not just skipping rope like I’d skip rope. Okay? You’re skipping rope like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. You are skipping rope like a prize fighter. You are skipping rope fast. You are skipping rope well. I mean, it is in 45 seconds, hugely, hugely inspirational. In the time that we have left, first of all, let listeners know how they can connect with you to maybe hear some of the things that you can help them along their route as they’re going through their bounce back from their crucible.

Michelle K:
They can definitely find me on my website at elevatelifecoaching.org, or if they like, they can definitely follow me on Instagram, which I’m very active on Instagram. It’s a Elevate Life Coach.

Warwick F:
Michelle, you have such an inspiring story, that it’s one thing to have a physical limitation, but you’ve changed your whole perspective. You view yourself as, I don’t know, to me, a lot better than normal. You view yourself as, as we all should, as a diamond, uniquely created. We all have extraordinary attributes. You’ve changed the way you’re thinking and your focus on the helping and inspiring others. I mean, rather than being normal, you’re somebody that people admire. You’re somebody that people look up to. I know that you probably think, “Well, how could anybody look up to me?”

Michelle K:
They’re probably looking down on me.

Warwick F:
I’m 4-foot something but yet people do look up to you. In that moment when you were on top of those stairs at Machu Picchu, people were saying, “This is one extraordinary woman. This is somebody I admire. This is somebody that can teach me a lot.” It’s very difficult to change your way of thinking, but you’ve done… I mean, that is miraculous. That is extraordinary. You are, in a sense, a role model.

Michelle K:
Thank you.

Warwick F:
Helping people see that we all have limitations. Most people feel bad about themselves. I mean, if you take off the mask, give them truth serum, most people do or many people do. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but not much. But yet you’re giving people hope. Your limitations are clear. For many, it’s not so clear, it’s internal, but you’ve changed the way you’re thinking. You give hope that we all can change the way we think and focus on helping others, and using our extraordinary qualities we all have to help others. You have an amazing story, an amazing mission. Thank you for what you bring to the world.

Michelle K:
Thank you.

Gary S:
And one last thing I have to ask because I’m going to go back to this form that we had you fill out, and we ask every guest the same question at the end. If we could only ask you one question, what would that question be? And no offense to our previous guests, but your answer to that question is the best one I’ve seen. And this is what you said when we asked if there was only one question we could ask you, what would you want it to be? And I’d love for you to answer this question. Here’s how you answered our question and then you can answer your own question. Fill in the blank. You said the world needs what? What does the world need, Michelle?

Michelle K:
The world needs more love.

Gary S:
On that note, listeners. See, I’m sitting there thinking it’s going to be a nice long. No, it’s very inspiring. And when you can make me like at a loss for words, you’ve done something, so bravo. But thank you truly, thank you truly for that. I mean, because that summarizes what you’re talking about, I think. And listeners, thank you for joining us today on this episode of Beyond the Crucible. There’s a few things from Michelle’s story I was taking notes on as she was saying them that I hope you heard as well, and I want to accent again before we go because I think there’s some good takeaways.

Gary S:
There are far more good takeaways from her story than the three I’ve written down, but here’s three that as you look at your own crucible experiences, as you look at your own desire to bounce back from those to embrace your vision and live a life of significance, here’s three things that Michelle has talked about today that I think you can apply to your own life. The first thing is that it’s true that crucibles can change the things you love to do and they can even change your ability to do certain things, but you can conquer so much of that with a positive attitude and positive action.

Gary S:
The second takeaway I think from Michelle’s story, and this is a powerful thing, and she said it herself here in our conversation that it’s hard, but press through how hard it is and do it. Second takeaway point, ask for help. The key to overcoming crucibles, Warwick has talked about it many times, is having a team of people around you, formal or informal, professional or personal. Ask for help. There are people out there who want to help you, who are willing to help you and who are able to help you.

Gary S:
And then the third point, I think that all of us would do well to follow in our crucible experiences, that in order to overcome emotional challenges, Michelle talked about it in depth. In order to overcome emotional challenges tied to your crucible, you have to accept the reality of your crucible. Pretending it’s not there, pretending it didn’t happen, pretending there aren’t repercussions of it isn’t going to work. You have to accept the reality of it. But don’t camp out there, like we said at the outset. Let it inspire you to action, both in the way that you think about yourself and others, in the way that you act in to yourself and to others. Yes, it’s real, but you can make it. You can find the diamond inside.

Gary S:
That’s all the time we have, but thank you again for joining us on Beyond the Crucible. We’d ask you for a quick favor, listener, if you can do it right now on whatever podcast app you’re listening to this show on, click the Subscribe button. What that will do is make sure that you don’t miss any episodes of what we talk about here on Beyond the Crucible. It will also help us to reach more people with inspiring stories, with hopeful stories, with stories filled with joy and laughter like Michelle’s. A quick subscribe, share it with friends. That will be a huge benefit to, I think, your friends and a huge benefit to us as we can share the realities of how people are overcoming their crucibles and the hope and healing that comes from that.

Gary S:
Until we’re together next time, remember that crucible experiences are real. They do happen. They can be devastating, but they are not. Michelle Kuei’s story proves that they are not the end of your story. They are the beginning of a new chapter of your story if you choose to dive into them and learn the lessons of them. And that chapter of your new story can be the best one yet because it points you toward, leads you to a life of significance.

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