Search & Replace Episode S01E19: Michelle Kuei

Negative self-talk had become too much for Michelle Kuei, so she came up with a challenge to prove that she could surpass her own worst feelings about her body. Despite relying on crutches since she was a child due to an automobile accident, she wanted to hike Machu Picchu. The hike was grueling, and the most physically challenging event Michelle had ever faced. Still, she put the negative self-talk out of her mind and reflected on gratitude for what physical abilities she did have to pull her through. The experience allowed her to change her self-image as a person living with a physical disability and what it means to be beautiful. Michelle’s been helping her clients overcome the effects of their negative self-image as a certified confidence & leadership coach. Listen to her compelling story on Search and Replace.

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode. 
[00:00:10] Joe Taylor, Jr: What if you could silence the voice of your harshest critic, especially if that voice is coming from inside your own head. I'm Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace.
Michelle Kuei coaches her clients to overcome the kind of self-talk that leads people to struggle with their confidence, especially in leadership roles. But there's one word Michelle doesn't like to use to describe her story. 
[00:00:38] Michelle Kuei: I don't use the word extraordinary on myself, period. I use a word different. I've used a word - I am ugly, I don't look normal, to describe myself. And this is all as a result of a car accident when I was 11 years old. And this car accident has led into a permanent damage on my legs. I've been walking with crutches since age 11. Once I got and recover and return back to home discharged. I was given a pair of crutches and also a pair of metal brace to wear for the rest of my life.
It was so hideous. It was so ugly. So I decided, I don't want to wear those metal braces. So I took it off around when I was 16. And ever since then, I haven't been wearing it. And the way that I was walking created a lot of permanent damage on my back. And nowaday I can't walk even just a couple of steps without the crutches.
So that's always been my physical disability that I was dealing with. And every time I stand in front of the mirror, I can see how my legs are disfigured. I am short, I'm only four feet, four inches tall. And that will be an average nine year old, American nine year old. That's how tall I am. 
[00:02:05] Joe Taylor, Jr: Living through her physical recovery and then moving from Taiwan to the United States, Michelle observes things about our culture that we might otherwise let slip into the background. 
You may have noticed how good looking the folks are in your Instagram feed, but have you really noticed just how much pressure there is to look great in our culture? Michelle has. 
[00:02:25] Michelle Kuei: Perfect body, perfect shapes. People are in shape. You have to have really skinny ways. You have the long hair and you have your body needs to be positioned in certain ways to consider as you're healthy individual, healthy adult. And people strive to do that. I did, too. 
So self-talk is something that we constantly experience. It's that little voice that jumps into our head, with or without you consciously knowing it, you're doing self-talk.
So when I turn on the social media, when I look at the women who are pretty and they have these beautiful, amazing followers and account on Instagram, all I could tell myself is, oh look at them, they're so pretty. I wonder what it feels like to have that body. I wonder if I can have that lifestyle. What would that feel like? So it's that constant judging. 
So I did a lot of self-talk by asking myself what is wrong with me. Like, why can't I be in a relationship? And that was a point where it finally dawned on me. That I've been doing all this negative, self-talk all along in my life. So I actually went back and trace all of the negative self-talk that I was doing to myself. 
[00:03:35] Joe Taylor, Jr: By 2016, Michelle had enough of that self-talk and came up with a challenge to prove to herself that she could overcome her own worst feelings about her body.
[00:03:44] Michelle Kuei: I bought myself a ticket to go to cruise to Peru. And there was an intention with that trip - it is that I wanted to hike Machu Picchu by myself. I repped it out, as they call it. And on that trip - and it was a struggle. It was not easy. I didn't just fly there to - oh, you know that every day, every single day, my body was aching.
There's not a moment where my wrist is not burning or swollen or red. And I kept pushing through it. And on those days, each day, I have learned so much about myself. And that learning is about sometimes we fall, but somehow we get up. And that learning is about seeing my self and appreciating that I have legs.
It's not like I don't have legs. There are people who's worse. Who's experiencing worse situation where they could no longer walk. So there's a lot of self-reflection. There's a lot of, just, understanding, self-appreciation and self-kindness I was practicing on that trip. 
There are days where I wake up, I feel like I don't want to do this anymore. There are people along that trip who keeps motivating me. Every person that I pass, they gave me a thumbs up. 
[00:05:04] Joe Taylor, Jr: Since then Michelle's been helping her clients overcome the effects of their own negative self-image. She shares a few of the questions she likes to ask when working with someone new. 
[00:05:13] Michelle Kuei: Can you be true to yourself? Can you be true to others? Connection is once you can be true to yourself, how do you connect with others in a deep, meaningful, genuine way? 
Everybody, every one of us are going through some kind of challenge. You understand what that means should be happy. So take away all about physical world, all that appearance, all that things that we chase after our entire life. Behind that we're all the same. Every single one of us. There's no color. There's no race. There's no ethnicity. There is no different believed religion or political beliefs. We're all the same. We're all human beings. And having that realization allow me to make connection, better connection, better relationship with others through my genuine personality. 
[00:06:09] Joe Taylor, Jr: Summing up her philosophy, Michelle's got one more observation about the state of our world today. 
[00:06:14] Michelle Kuei: I think looking around us, there's a lot of chaos. The world is crumbling as we speak. I think one of the most important message I want listeners to walk away with is that all the chaos that we see in this world, it begins within us. So if we can focus on taking our responsibility to become a better human ourselves. Know how you show up in this world. That would be the solution to the chaos that we see. 
[00:06:43] Joe Taylor, Jr: That's Michelle Kuei, the author of a gripping memoir. It's called "Perfectly Normal." We've got a link to a sample chapter of her book over on our show notes page at 
Today's episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr.
[00:07:04] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. 
Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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