Vera Koo describes her journey to becoming one of the world’s finest shooters and how she overcame cultural obstacles and why you must shine through, too.
My husband, Carlos, likes to tell a rendition of an old Chinese fable about a conniving fox who takes the form of a beautiful woman.
The woman marries a poor man, and it is a mystery as to how the man could get such a beautiful wife. The neighbors do not realize she is a fox, because she hides her tail under her dresses. Even so, friends and neighbors suspect something is afoul, and finally, on one occasion, her tail shows, and her ruse is up.
This story illustrates a tenet of life that I hold to be very true: You are who you are. You can try to be something you are not, but it does not work. Eventually, your true self will show.
Oftentimes, we feel we need to please a lot of people. To do so, we become something we are not. I find this to be especially true in young people.
Trying to live this way is exhausting. Every day, you puff yourself up and put on a good show, trying to please people. The next morning, you go through the same routine. Each night when you come home, you deflate. If you do this day after day, it drains you.
Frequently, even if you think you are fooling people, people can see through your disguise. You might work very hard to appear to be a caring, friendly, intelligent person, but if that is not who you truly are, your tail will eventually show.
I went through much of my life trying to please everyone. I was expected to be a good daughter, an attentive mother and a serving wife. I was expected to be a meek and mild Chinese woman who tended the house and cooked the meals. I dutifully performed to those expectations.
But eventually, when you reach a certain age, you realize there is so much on your plate, and you cannot please everybody.
As I grew older, I came to not care what other people thought. I think it started when I began shooting. I met disapproval from some friends and family when I started shooting, people who thought it was not proper for a woman – let alone a Chinese woman — to compete in this kind of sport. They questioned if I was neglecting by duties by traveling around the country to shoot in competitions.
However, I came to realize that I did not need to live a life that was pleasing to everyone. After all, what is pleasing to one person might not please another. I decided I only needed to have my husband’s approval. He gave me the time to shoot and supported me as I pursued the sport.
I decided then that I had to live for myself. I put my foot down and figured that if others did not like how I lived my life and did not think well of me because of that, then that was their problem, and I was not going to take it personally.
And yet, even inside the world of shooting, I still tried to hide my tail at first. I did not want to appear to be this petite Asian woman. That is not what a top shooter is supposed to look like, I thought. I took measures to make myself appear more masculine, even wearing shoulder pads under my clothes in some of my early competitions to try to make my body appear more square.
For the first half of my life, I had worked so hard to be this proper female, and then here I was trying to shake that appearance because I was competing in a masculine sport.
After some reflection, I decided to be myself. I am feminine. I am petite. I am Asian. I do not need to try to hide that, and so I wore Chinese dresses to the dinners at the Bianchi Cup, not worrying that I did not look like a stereotypical shooter. I knew I could be a serious competitor while not hiding who I am. There was no need to puff myself up.
Life seems long when you are young, but when you are older, you realize time travels fast. You feel like there is still so much to do, but you do not have enough time.
Everyone is born with a gift. It is sad for me to see so many people with so many gifts failing to dedicate the time to develop them. If you are trying to please everyone and be something you are not, you are wasting your time.
The sooner you realize who you are and what you are and what your gifts are, the sooner you can embark on the journey to develop your gift.
Spend your time developing your gift, because even though we are all born with a gift, it takes time to develop that gift into something of great significance.
I spent a good portion of my life trying to please everybody, trying to be everything to everyone. I realized you do not have to do that. Instead, you have to answer to yourself. I wish I would have realized that sooner.
I have been shooting and working hard at my craft the past 25-plus years, and I have developed an above-average skill in this sport. However, I am not great. If you want to be great at your gift, you must start early. That means you have to know who you are at an early age. That way, you get the chance to develop your gift throughout your life.
Do not try to hide your foxtail, because it will show in the end. Instead, embrace your true self and seize the opportunity to dedicate yourself to doing something great.
Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese American woman. She’s a wife and mother, author, entrepreneur and retired competition shooter. Along with Vera’s fantastic memoir and life story, "The Most Unlikely Champion," she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News." View all posts by Vera Koo
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