Phung Tran: “Never turn your whole identity into what you do”

Never turn your whole identity into what you do. What you are doing is amazing. You are going out there, changing the world and challenging the status quo. This is a mistake I made when I blurred the line between my personal life and my business. It affected my mental health greatly. I had no […]

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Never turn your whole identity into what you do. What you are doing is amazing. You are going out there, changing the world and challenging the status quo. This is a mistake I made when I blurred the line between my personal life and my business. It affected my mental health greatly. I had no energy left to serve my clients and audience. Now, because I have clear boundaries, everything suddenly becomes much more manageable.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phung Tran.

Phung Tran is the founder of Be Active is Easy LLC which aims to help women (especially women of color) to gain confidence in their body image and establish sustainable healthy habits to write a new chapter in their family medical history. As an immigrant to the US, Phung went through a period of adapting to the new culture which she not only had to overcome the language barrier, but she also had to find a new way to fit being active in her new environment. She now guides women to be true to themselves and build happiness in the routines they do every day.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born in Vietnam and at the age of 14, my parents decided to move me to the US to pursue a better education. Besides trying to assimilate to a new culture, I struggled to get used to the fact that I could no longer work out as much. You see, in Vietnam, I had a bicycle to ride around the city and was into semi-competitive judo. In short, I was very active for 10 to 12 hours a week. That is quite a lot when you consider that the recommended duration is only 1 hour and 30 minutes per week.

You see, I broke down crying like a mess because my mother asked me to take a walk with her… But there was no particular reason for me to cry because of a simple walk. However, what I knew was that I was not doing well. I stopped working out while still eating the same amount, so I ballooned up. It did not feel great. I did not like how I looked. That motivated me to major in Exercise Science when I started college. From then on, I spent 4 years learning about human anatomy and physiology. My studies also included how exercise affects the body and minds and how to help other people improve their lives by being more active. I made lots of friends who did not judge me and kept me accountable for my fitness progress. I had knowledgeable professors who did not mind setting aside time to explain to me every little thing about my learning. Now, I am here to help other people with similar mindsets and situations before discovering the easy way to enjoy life while still being healthy.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I always love to read “I am Beto” whenever I am feeling down. It is a children’s book written by Nguyen Nhat Anh, a famed writer from Vietnam. The book is written from a puppy’s perspective of its surrounding environment. The puppy sees how its owner got disheartened after her great-grandmother’s death, her pride to show to any friends who visit. Life is too short. Let us enjoy our time together and focus on creating the best memories with each other.

The puppy’s perspective in a way is how I see myself in the US. I’m a new immigrant and cannot help to stop questioning how everything works here. I particularly resonated with the puppy when it said “evil people have a particular smell that you cannot see.” The little quote reminds me not to blindly trust everything I see on the Internet. I do not know what is going on on the other side of the phone.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

“Making A Difference” is a process that happens and preserves over time. My goal is to educate more people (especially women) about fitness and health. The first step is to reach and speak in their language so that they can understand my point. But what are they going to do next? How can they take the first concrete step to improve their health? What do they do once they have gotten better? Are they going to be able to sustain it in the long term? I found that a lot of social movements lack perseverance.

You can create attention to a particular problem. People will try to solve it. But nobody is aware of the push-backs that keep coming due to resistance to change. For example, in fitness, a person might realize they need to lose some weight to maintain a healthy body. They would go and exercise or do everything right to achieve that goal. And they will get it. But more often than not, those people would easily gain back the weight that they worked so hard to lose. And we are back at square one again.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I found Be Active is Easy LLC right at the beginning of the pandemic last year in 2020. It’s supposed to be “be active” is easy as I want more people to think positively about exercising and treat it as a fun thing, not a chore. My main mission is to empower women of color to build confidence in their body image and write a new chapter in their family medical history.

Even before the pandemic, the media and wellness industry do not pay much attention to the needs of women of color. It is time for us to shine. My mission is to teach women how to take control of the narrative of their body, mindset, and one-of-a-kind capability to break the glass ceiling so that they can build intentional systems that would anchor them when the storm breaks out.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I sort of touched on this at the beginning of our talk. I felt bad about my body and my mental health suffered. I did not feel like I got a lot of help from the mainstream media. I felt that being healthy was unachievable. The advice I found was generic and did not apply to me. For example, if you want to improve your diet, “try adding salads or broccoli and chicken.” You are looking for a role model? “Look at all these gorgeous pale-skinned models!” These pieces of advice are generally useless. I cannot upend my entire diet just for the quest of losing weight, nor does my skin look that pale, to begin with. I dealt with a lot of insecurities regarding my body image during high school. That feeling created a ton of problems, me not wanting to excel in class, me doubting every decision, or not taking the necessary next step to grow as a person. And I have since gotten over the huge problem.

The second part is also personal to me. My family medical history is not good. Like, when you think of any chronic disease, I am probably predisposed to it. We are talking about diabetes, high blood pressure, or even cancer. That is a scary reality that I have to deal with. Instead of giving up, I can use exercise and sustainable healthy habits to reduce the chances of me getting them and improving my quality of life during old ages. It is not just about taking care of your appearance today, it is also about preparing for your future, as I want to put it.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

It is not as glamorous as you think it is. Every moment of life thus far led me to create this little business. I decided to start my little site at the beginning of the pandemic while being stuck at home. I realized that a lot of friends were struggling with staying inside and keeping themselves active. They may lead themselves go a bit but they still want use this newfound free time to accomplish bigger checklists in their bucket. I know that I have the appropriate education to help and that was how I got started.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I started another organization before starting this one, so I would say I have some experience. The biggest difference was the previous organization is for a student organization where I get to work with many people and have others to fall back on. Right now, I am the only one in charge of my business and what goes on. The very first step I did was to create step-by-step plans for every scenario for my operation. You can think about stuff like how to register my business, how to accept a client, how to plan my posts on social media and more. Everything needs a plan A, plan B, and plan C. That is how detailed you need to be to sustain a business or do anything in the long term. Answer all the questions you have in your head. In this unpredictable world, the plans provide me with confidence so I can show up confidently to serve my clients and audience because I know I have something to fall back on.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

A professor of mine started following my Instagram and liking my stuff. You know, you have this mental image of an educated professor, who is polished in everything they do and generally just kind of up there. And here, I have one who loves to see my posts on fitness, which are extremely silly. She would even comment on a couple of them. So now, I have to be even more careful about what I post since I know the person who taught me my knowledge is watching and probably fact-checking my every step.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I once got way too excited when I received a heartfelt comment on one of my posts. Without thinking about the other person’s feelings, I immediately messaged them to tell them more about who I am and what I do. That was a wrong move. Luckily, they did not find my messages too offensive and pushy. Even though I have a plan to not invade people’s safe place on social media, especially in Direct Messages (DMs), I still made that mistake because how popular that kind of approach is these days. We ended up being good friends after I apologized but I still thank the stars the situation turned out much better than expected.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have so many mentors who help me get to where I am today and I can spend all day talking about them. But there is one person I would dedicate the start of my business to. My business would not survive until today had I not received guidance from Ms. Dethra Giles. She is an international consultant and a three-time TEDx speaker. Over the summer of 2020, she worked with me and a group of people to pivot our businesses online. I am so grateful to her for clarifying and answering questions about starting my own business during the pandemic. Her kindness builds a strong foundation for my business. My mind is assured that my business is on track and imposter syndrome goes away with my gratitude.

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I am now working closely with a brand new non-profit in Canada to mentor young women from ages 17 to 24 to learn about all about health & fitness. We target primarily newly arrived immigrants or disadvantaged women in the Toronto area to educate them on how to take care of themselves properly. Because the organization is so new, I am able to voice my concerns and see them flourish. Being a trusted friend of these young women is a great honor.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

As a society, we have to stand up to misinformation online. I am not talking about politics here. I am talking about unproven “methods” like drinking dubious juices, grueling dieting, or exhaustive workouts. There are bad actors online and they prey on emotions from the vulnerabilities of people to make money. Their goal is not to help you; they just want to make a quick buck.

In addition to fighting misinformation, we have to invest in facilities and safe locations for people to be more active. This act involves everyone, the community and the politicians because it requires a huge amount of money. You cannot simply encourage people to exercise without providing a place where they and their families can do it.

In conjunction to accomplish these two goals, we have to also focus on what we eat. Right now, in the US, you have what is called “food deserts.” They are pockets of locations where people cannot or it is extremely hard to get nutritious and affordable groceries. Diet goes hands in hands with exercising. If you are not properly fed, it is highly unlikely you would be able to exercise consistently to reap its benefits.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

  1. Discipline trumps motivation. It is so exciting to get started on a new thing, especially when you intend on helping the world. But the steam will run out eventually. You have to establish a step-by-step operation plan to keep your flame going. This is something I was fortunate to learn right at the beginning of my journey.
  2. Nobody loves your project as much as you do. You are making the world a better place and there is no denying it. But people also have other priorities. My friends and families have work and school, so obviously I cannot expect them to know about the day-to-day stuff that was happening. Because I am by myself, I need to keep the flame going and rely less from the help of other people.
  3. Never reaching out for collaboration. This advice is almost the opposite of the previous one but hear me out. When I first started out, I did not have a lot of contacts. One way for me to create more buzz was to help out and work with other people. I first guested on a podcast to talk about what I do. That person gets a new episode for their audience and I get my name and what I do out there to even more people. That way, it is a win-win situation.
  4. Understand how social media for business works. Despite being somebody who started using social media at an early age. I did not know what branding was. People could not differentiate my posts from millions of other people. It took me a while to establish my color themes and brand font. From there, my followers immediately recognize my stuff as soon as they see it.
  5. Never turn your whole identity into what you do. What you are doing is amazing. You are going out there, changing the world and challenging the status quo. This is a mistake I made when I blurred the line between my personal life and my business. It affected my mental health greatly. I had no energy left to serve my clients and audience. Now, because I have clear boundaries, everything suddenly becomes much more manageable.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

You do not have to reinvent the wheel. We have this notion of rugged individualism, “started from the bottom now we’re here.” Work with what you already have and build more upon it. For any problem you want to solve, there are definitely people out there trying to do it. Instead of going in by yourself, learn from those people. Save your time from making mistakes and starting imprinting yourself to the world today. Positive impact does not come from one source or one person. Instead, it is the result of the hard work of an untold number of similar-minded people.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would definitely love to have lunch with Angelica Delgado, a gold medal Olympian in Judo. She is an amazing athlete who dedicates her youth to the highest level of sportsmanship, plus she is in Judo as well. I have been wanting to restart practicing this sport but could not because of the pandemic.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am most active on Instagram @beactiveiseasy, and you can check out my blog and what I do Anyone who is interested in setting up a sustainable health system can get my free checklist to begin laying down the stepping stones.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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