The minutes ticked on as I sat outside of the principal’s office, waiting for someone to ask me why I was there. I was prepared for the question; I had, in fact, placed a bookmark into my worn Korean-English dictionary and marked the page where I’d written my answer in careful letters.
Hello, my name is Tae Yun Kim. I want to teach your students martial arts.
But no one had asked. Every afternoon for the last several weeks, I had taken a seat and waited for an invitation to speak, to no avail. At just over twenty, I was tiny and thin — at a glance, I almost looked like one of the students walking through the schools’ halls. But aside from a few odd glances, no one spoke to me. Yet, day in and out, I returned with my dictionary in hand, preparing for the day that someone would invite me inside.
It took a month. Finally, a curious administrator asked me what I was doing, and I finally had a chance to explain.
The principal was skeptical, at first. He told me that the school couldn’t pay me, that they didn’t want students to hurt themselves, that there was no martial arts course in place.
“That’s okay,” I told him, “I’ll volunteer, and martial arts will teach your students discipline.”
After some time, he agreed.
Persistence, I’ve learned, is often the key to success. After the first few days of waiting, some might have given up or assumed the answer was no — but because I committed myself, I was able to achieve both acceptance and opportunities beyond measure.
Having the chance to teach brought me joy, because all I wanted to do was share my skills in martial arts. Back then, I was barely into my twenties and had just made the journey from my village in rural Korea to Vermont. Teaching was my dream — and I had struggled for years to study martial arts, facing abuse in a profoundly repressive patriarchal culture. I’d become Korea’s very first female grandmaster but was rejected as a teacher because of my gender. I wanted to teach, as I had been taught, and help others break free of their fears and circumstances — I just needed the chance.
That day, in that office, was my chance. It’s been decades since that day, but I still remember it. Since then, I’ve moved on to establish my own school, hundreds of miles away. I’ve taught thousands of students, built a tech company, and risen far above where my elders thought I would — all because of persistence.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.
If You Don’t Ask, You Guarantee Rejection
Many people abide by unnecessarily strict rules, so boxed in by their fears of seeming impolite or overly forward that they wall themselves off from opportunities. Another person might have been intimidated or embarrassed by the idea of sitting outside of a principal’s office for a month — but taking a risk on that embarrassment helped me make an enormous step forward in my career. I don’t regret it, and I wouldn’t even if the answer was a firm rejection.
You are only ever guaranteed to fail if you refuse to try in the first place. The worst that someone can say when you pursue an opportunity is “no” — and even then, you may be able to make connections or find information that will help you achieve your goals another way.
Don’t let fear keep you from pursuing your dreams.
Rejection Isn’t Always Permanent — Or Even Negative.
When I landed in Vermont, I had just $300 to my name and was living in a trailer park. There, it didn’t matter what I’d given to become a martial arts Grandmaster, or even that I was one. My only career option was to clean toilets for money. Some might have seen those circumstances as a low point, or become discouraged.
I’ll be honest — there were times that it was terrible. Some nights, I had little but bone broth to eat. But I viewed each hard night as a stepping stone for something greater. I was being paid to scrub toilets, which constituted a significant step up from doing it for free for family members. It was honorable work, and I knew that it would give me the financial platform I needed to move onto my next success.
Persistence doesn’t always mean reaching for your furthest goal after a few days — or even months — of effort. Instead, it means being thankful for small steps and maintaining a determined spirit against adversity.
Harsh Words Should Motivate, Not Deter, You
It wasn’t always easy being a Korean woman in 1960s America. Back in my village, I had been reviled for being female and uninterested in gender norms. In America, I was rejected for the color of my skin, my broken English, my poverty, and my gender. It was hard; I was constantly demeaned, faced slurs, and even risked physical abuse. When I finally scraped together the money to rent studio space for a martial arts school, arsonists burned it to the ground.
Each setback was demoralizing and frustrating; however, I knew that I had to reset my perspective. So, after someone demeaned me or my dreams, I would respond — “Okay, I see you. You motivate me. I will prove you wrong.”
And I did.
There are always going to be people who step on your dreams. You’ll hear it from your competitors, enemies, friends, family. Even well-meant advice can be hurtful. You can be put down, made to think that you won’t accomplish anything — but you need to bear through it. Let criticism inform and motivate your efforts, not crush them.
Persistence is key.
When you set the right goal for yourself – a program of one year or three years or five years – and then you work toward your goal with discipline and commitment, I guarantee that you’ll find a way to make it happen.
Few people, however, know how to put together the desire to get somewhere with the means to make it happen.
Want is not enough. For example, many people want to be rich. Yet, are you willing do put in the work to make it happen? Be ready to commit to your goal when you set it, and you will not be disappointed.
Next, set a timeline to motivate yourself on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis towards that goal. Make a plan with steps to be accomplished, and dates by which to accomplish them. If there is an end in sight, with a map on how to get there, you’re far more likely to work towards that result.
In setting a calendar with specific challenges and tasks to be accomplished by a certain time, remember, that success often doesn’t come in the order in which we plan it. That’s okay. As long as you’re making progress towards your end result, you’re doing more than 99% of those around you. And you’re likely to get to your goal.
Remember, a delay does not mean you have to abandon your goal. After all, you may need to adjust plans along the way as new information comes to us. As long as you start with a firm concept of what you want to accomplish and by when, you will be in motion and moving toward the finish line.
Professional athletes, for example, dedicate themselves to practicing, training and striving to meet specific markers along the way to their end goal. Just like that, we need to be specific and consistent.
Keep in mind that none of us know when the sun will go down in our lives. All we have is today, to work our hardest, to move forward doing the very best we can with the tools and circumstances in front of us. If you live each day in service to your goals and values, working towards making them happen, I guarantee you will find satisfaction and success!
It was an amazing honor to have received a Gold Lifetime Achievement Award from the Golden Bridge Awards! This was the 10th anniversary of this prestigious organization, and we were honored at a red carpet award ceremony in the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco!
My heart is full of joy to have been nominated! I feel blessed to have met so many wonderful people at the ceremony!
One of the special messages that I delivered during my awards speech: “If I can achieve my goals in this lifetime, others can do the same – never give up!”
Our President, Scott Salton, was quoted to say: "This award is a testament to Dr. Kim’s relentless pursuit of excellence and ‘never say die’ attitude in all aspects of her life. Her motto is ‘He can do, She can do, Why not me!’”
Celebrate every living breath as if it were your last!
You have the Power in you.
What you do in your life is your Personal Choice!
He Can Do, She Can Do, Why Not Me!
Here is an excerpt from my book, SEVEN STEPS TO INNER POWER. As you read through this, think about times when you've held on to items from your past - did that help or hinder you?
Once you dedicate yourself to achieving goals that go beyond your present concept of yourself, you may also find that you have to work hard at letting go of your past. You have to sacrifice the old story to make room for the new vision of yourself. Doing that may require forgiveness on your part because forgiveness is the way we release the past. You cannot change a situation if you keep holding on to it with negative emotion.
Even though we've all heard that forgiveness is a key to growth, it can be hard to sacrifice a feeling of injustice and let go of past hurts and wounds. Start by reminding yourself that forgiveness does not mean you absolve anyone from wrongdoing. The wrong that was done is still wrong and will always be wrong. Rather, forgiveness helps you release the pattern so it will not repeat itself in your life. You don't want to be terrorized by the memory and the burden of a past incident, do you? Then let it go.
When we keep thinking about and regretting something that happened in the past, we continually re-create it in our minds. We literally change those memories and patterns with the energy they need to stay alive. We saw this in the story I shared of the woman who had been raped three times. She had to learn to stop revolving in her mind pictures of herself as a victim in order to stop magnetizing people into her life who wanted to complete that picture and victimize her.
I understand the dynamic of letting go of past hurts very well. It was an important part of my early training under my martial arts master. My childhood circumstances - being resented by my mother, beaten by my father, shunned by my entire village, and laughed at for aspiring to be a martial artist - would have overwhelmed me with self-pity had my teacher not taught me to take charge of my own life and refuse to be a victim.
Here is an excerpt from my book, SEVEN STEPS TO INNER POWER. As you read through this, think about what it means to be specific. Can you see how important it is to identify the specific details of what you want to accomplish?
Now you know that you have the freedom to create and you know the law: what you think, you create. The fourth principle of mental conduct invites us to engage the power of our determination and, as importantly, to use our power responsibly in invoking this law.
When you decide to make a change, achieve a goal, or create something new in your life, first be sure to focus your objective clearly in your mind and be specific. At my seminars, I ask the attendees to write down their specific goals. Many times, what they write is too general and vague. You need to be specific, writing down and visualizing the exact details of what you want to achieve.
The thought "I desire a change in my social life" will take form somehow, but it may be so vague and indistinct that you won't notice a change. "I desire to meet more people" is better. "I desire to meet more people who share my interest in flying airplanes (or whatever)" is better still. If your goal is to become so accomplished in your profession that you receive an award, write down the name of the awards ceremony, the date and time it will take place, the location of the event, and the dress or suit you'll be wearing.
Focus as specifically as possible on what you want to accomplish. As I said earlier, when you want to buy a car, you identify the kind of car you want and the make, model, color, and accessories you desire. When you take a vacation, you plan exactly where you want to go, where you will stay, and how you will get there, and you proceed to make all the proper arrangements. You are being specific, aren't you? The even greater goals in your life deserve as much care and focus, don't they? Know the details about the goals you want to reach and the steps you'll need to take to get there. Be specific and then focus your will and unflinching determination behind your purpose.
Here is an excerpt from my book, SEVEN STEPS TO INNER POWER. As you read through this, think about changes you've experienced in your life. Do you see any rhythms in the changes?
Here is an excerpt from my book, SEVEN STEPS TO INNER POWER. As you read through this, think about what it means to let go of dangerous attitudes and activities that cause us pain and suffering.
Now let's look at another dimension of sacrifice - letting go of attitudes that block our progress. Letting go of attitudes is just as essential as letting go of unhealthy activities or saying goodbye to people who hinder our progress. In fact, unless you let go of certain attitudes, your physical letting go won't last very long. This concept is related to the inner power step of purity. When you let go of an attitude that is sabotaging who you want to be, you are also purifying your world of a habit pattern that has kept you hostage to limited thinking and limited living.
It's a common misconception that most of our attachments center on objects or people. The truth is that our attitudes and feelings about objects are more binding than the objects themselves. For example, we may become attached to an object, person, or situation (even if we complain about it) because we like feeling comfortable, we fear change, and we don't have the courage to take initiative on our own. Maybe we stay with a domineering boyfriend, girlfriend, or employer, even though doing so is keeping us stuck in a rut. In cases like these, fear is the real attachment, not the person.
If suddenly those people are removed from our lives but we still have not let go of our fundamental fears and have not developed the strength to stand up for ourselves, we'll just become attached to the next domineering boyfriend or girlfriend or employer that comes along - and continue to complain about them. That's because the thoughts we keep in our mind rule over us as long as we allow them to stay there, and they continue to produce the same results.
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