Su H On Stepping Outside Her Comfort Zone To Build a Growing Personal and Professional Brand
Join me and Su H in the Presidential Suite as she shares on how consistently stepping out of her comfort zone has resulted in an amazing career and brand for one so young.
Su H, an 18-year-old actress, voice-over artist, brand ambassador, successful lifestyle blogger and Psychology and Business student, has achieved a lot for someone her age. She has done both radio and TV and voice-over work for Nickelodeon, SABC 3 Play Network, YO TV’s Little Cooks Club, dubbing and voice-over for foreign TV series and is an actress with experience in theatre productions such as The People’s Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty. Su H is currently a brand ambassador for Laughing Cow cheese and a former brand ambassador for 100% organic honey brand Eat Naked Honey and Kokanati Bowls. She is the co-founder and curator of the Eat & Tell lifestyle blog which has over 100 000 followers on Instagram and is a UNISA Psychology student and aspiring property developer who, with her partner, does a show one Sunday a month on SAFM on Africa’s hidden gems. Su H also attends the Sue Grealy School of Arts where she continues to hone her skills in dramatic arts.
Out of the 21 interviews we do at Higher Self every year, we have decided to do one interview with a very young person in order to inspire young and old alike but most especially our youth so that we can bring them into the conversation about where they are headed in this world that we are living in. Who better than 18-year-old Su H to share with her peers on what it means to be a young person with a plan and a purpose to live out? Studies have been and are being done about Millennials, Generation Z and Y and how these generations relate to work, purpose, money, the future and social relations in general. I sat down with Su H and learned so much about her interior world, her motivations, her hopes and dreams and the amazing opportunities for personal growth that continue to come her way and how wisely she is using these platforms to carefully build an authentic brand. Leadership is indeed diverse and should be showcased in all its glorious manifestations.
You are 18 years old, but you’ve already achieved so many amazing things, take us through that entire ecosystem so that the readers may have an appreciation for all of it.
In a nutshell, I am a voice-over artist, actress, food and travel blogger, a Psychology and Business student, a brand ambassador for Laughing Cow cheese, I host an insert on SAFM on tourist hidden gems in Africa and I am an aspiring property developer. The SAFM gig came about because of the success of my lifestyle blog, Eat & Tell, which is followed by over 100 000 people; the producers on SAFM wanted people who could speak on hidden gems in South Africa and other parts of the continent every second Sunday of the month. We present this insert with my partner.
In terms of the acting, when I was young, my school did not offer drama classes, so I would go for acting lessons at a drama academy. I was very, very shy but taking these classes really opened me up to other worlds and expressing my emotions while pretending to be someone else. To be honest, initially the acting was just an outlet to channel some of my issues constructively, I didn’t plan at all on becoming some big actor or anything of the sort. After drama lessons, I took up cooking lessons when I was about 8 years old at Little Cooks Club and when I was about 11 a production house which was producing for YO TV showed up and they were looking for little kids to speak about cooking and their experiences in the kitchen and I actually got picked.
A few years later I got a call to be a brand ambassador for Laughing Cow cheese. I also continued doing theatre and the acting has been really instrumental and cuts across so many of the things I do. It has been incredibly empowering. I now understand its place in my life and career years after starting the drama lessons, whether I am shooting a commercial or doing a voice-over gig or anything else, I am able to apply all those lessons and logic to my work. The lifestyle blog was actually started earlier this year and it just blew up. It’s a creative outlet that has attracted a lot of sponsored content and opened quite a number of opportunities for me and my partner. We started it with the intention of sharing our culinary adventures and showcasing some of the interesting things we saw in our travels. What the Eat & Tell blog has taught me is that building relationships is really important and sometimes, yes, on this journey, you’ll meet people you don’t like but that should not deter you or distract you from achieving your goals. Most importantly, I must say that all these experiences have taught me to adapt to all kinds of situations. Sometimes I meet difficult people and I counteract that with politeness. I strive to be the best version me and it is not always easy but this is what I consistently strive to be when I wake up each morning and go out there and interact with people.
Life is definitely not linear, so, passive income, I feel, is the way to financial freedom. The reason why I want to get into property development is that I can’t see myself working at a 9 to 5 corporate job. I feel like I would lose my mind. I don’t have the soul for it. I’m not saying that being in a corporate job is bad, if it works for some people that’s fine, but for me it wouldn’t work. So playing in the property development space would allow me the opportunity to provide housing and make an income while also ensuring that I take care of whatever debt I would’ve accumulated.
So, what kind of thought and planning goes into building your brand?
First of all, I think that before you even decide to build your brand, you have to know who you are, you can’t be led down a path you have no idea about because you have no clue who you are. There’s some work involved in trying to figure all that out and it’s a daily practice. So, for instance, I’d suggest taking 15 minutes out of your schedule to sit and write all the things you need to improve on for the sake of your own growth so that you are constantly growing and assessing whether the opportunities coming your way will do you good or cause you harm. I like weighing my options in situations and holding my ground because I think that this is important. Sometimes you really want something, but your heart or gut feeling says no, this is isn’t right for you, so when that happens I do ask for advice but if from the get-go something doesn’t feel right about an opportunity, then it’s best to stay away from it because usually most of the time your instincts are right. I find that it’s best to approach open-minded people for advice because people will want to tell you what to do but not why you should do it.
We live with my grandparents and they’re a reliable sounding board and are very wise; they see from a mile away if something isn’t right for me. I must admit, it did take me a while to realize that sometimes you must listen to people who care about you the most because even if it’s not something you want to hear, at the end of the day, they still have your back. So, all in all, you need to be very selective about who you ask for advice and who you confide in, because not everyone has the same heart and mind as you. When I was in high school my friends were my go-to but after I matriculated I found that my friends and I started to drift apart it saddens me to say. The thing is, we are all growing, going through our own growth phases, going through a lot of things and sometimes there is no time or energy to invest in our friendships as much as we used to have in high school.
You mentioned earlier before we started the interview some of the struggles you had in school being a year younger than all your classmates, your petite size and struggles with academics as well…
So, when I was in school I just couldn’t do Maths and that stunted my growth because I kept thinking that there was something very wrong with me since everyone could do it. Everyone else can do it, why can’t I? It took me a while to realize that I am not a mathematical person at all. I love things that allow me to express myself like painting, drawing, doodling, talking, acting and all those things. So, I think it’s an important message for the youth to hear that just because you’re not good at something doesn’t mean that you aren’t fulfilling your true potential. It’s like that whole thing of testing a fish and its ability to climb a tree, the thing is, fish thrive only in water, so you have to find the environment that you thrive in otherwise you’re going to sit there and wonder what your potential and purpose is without any real breakthroughs. Life is not linear, and you have to accept that sometimes it’ll have to take going down different paths to figure out which one is actually right for you. I am very petite and was a year younger than everyone in my class, so I had to adjust to maturing at a faster rate, but I also learned that maturity actually does not necessarily come with age but comes through different experiences. You could easily meet someone who is 35 but they still behave like a 19-year-old, or vice-versa. I am currently also studying Psychology with UNISA and the human mind and how it works has always fascinated me, so it all worked out in the end. So, if something isn’t working out for you in school or in life in general, it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself, but what am I good at? It’s so easy in that scenario to fall into a negative mindset because you’re not good at one particular thing which you feel you should be good at. The truth is we all have different paths to follow.
One of the serious issues that we as younger people face is depression, but the problem is that in our society, the word has almost lost meaning. People are so blasé about it and they throw the word around without understanding what it fully means. I feel like depressed people keep a lot to themselves and it’s not human nature to bottle everything up, you must have an outlet, you have to speak about what’s really going on inside of you. My objective with studying Psychology is to help people who may not want to be helped in the beginning but will eventually come out of their little shell and decide that life is not meant to be lived alone and that seeking help and guidance is perfectly okay.
What does your best life look like?
For me it starts with emotional happiness or wholeness and no one can buy that for you, no one can give it to you and no one can be that for you. In order to become happy, you have to know who you are and living my best life is everyday stepping out of my comfort zone within reason and pushing myself to a point where I can be able to say, I’ve learned a new language or constantly asking myself, what can I do, what else can I do, what’s next? It’s about constant growth for me; that’s how I can become the best version of myself so that I can live my best life. You don’t have to have your whole life sorted out or planned out to know that there is a purpose and a reason for why you exist. You will never really figure out your true potential unless you go out there and do the things that make you slightly uncomfortable. You are as capable as your mind tells you that you are. It is also important to recharge your batteries, sleep, watch a little bit of TV and just take time off from all these activities so I make time for that as well, time to just unwind and relax. I don’t want to be overwhelmed and have a meltdown. I have a schedule and allocate time slots for all my activities and keep track of everything. Otherwise you become lost in the chaos of your mind and that is never healthy.
What you’ve said about going out there and doing things that make one slightly uncomfortable is very profound, so what things have you done that fall squarely within this?
I used to be very, very shy and I didn’t like to talk a lot and was more comfortable being this silent observer. It’s only when I started going for drama lessons that I began to open up. Those drama lessons were the exact right amount of uncomfortable that I needed: there were all these new people I’d never met totally surrounding me; there was this new teacher I’d never met telling me to do things I’d never done before. That helped, and I was able to gain confidence, speak more freely to people and voice my opinion because prior to that I was very afraid of voicing my opinion because I felt very shy and very small. That experience helped me grow as a person because even though I am very petite, I’m still able to speak and people actually listen. You have to decide: am I going to be shy my whole life or am I going to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself in new ways? Because if it’s the former, you’re not going to go anywhere. Even in terms of voice-overs, I just decided one day to audition for them even though I had zero experience in that area. It turns out that I love doing voice-overs, it is my absolute favourite and has exposed me to so many opportunities. I also do voice dubbing for telenovelas and series that are in foreign languages for South African TV audiences. So, stepping out of my comfort zone has revealed passions and talents that I never even knew I had.
I was placed in The People’s Theatre for the production of Sleeping Beauty and that was a big step out of my comfort zone because People’s Theatre is a big stage and has a wider audience. During rehearsals I was very uncomfortable and kept thinking to myself, I don’t know if I can do this, but then the minute we started to perform before this live audience, all that fell away, and I could feel the little layers of insecurity and fear just falling away. So, you don’t necessarily have to skydive out of an airplane or do anything crazy to say that you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone. You can do small things every single day, for example, if you are a shy person, you can go and greet a stranger.
So, I don’t necessarily see myself as this young girl doing big things as such, I just see myself as a young person who aspires to constantly grow and this is the journey I’ve chosen. Another area I struggled with was art, I loved art, but I feared painting and it was only in my Matric year that I decided to use paint instead of the usual charcoal, pencil and crayons in my finals. I decided to really give it my all and start blending paints and using the right techniques and so on. That year I received the best marks ever for Art in my entire high school career and I realized that I had all this potential hidden away this whole time. My lesson there was, the smallest changes in your behaviour can have the biggest impact.
That all said though, there are certain instances of discomfort that I’ve learned do not benefit me in any type of way. They carry negativity and zero growth and those I stay away from e.g. toxic people and toxic environments that are not constructive at all and will actually delay my growth.
If there’s any advice I’d give to my generation is this: start planning now, whether you’re 15 or 20, start planning your future now, don’t be stuck in your present circumstances and know that it all starts with you. For anything to happen it all has to start with you making moves. Also, it’s important to prioritize people that have always prioritized you and give back to people that have always given to you.
In terms of setting goals and keeping track of progress, how do you check in with yourself?
I have a chart with 1-year goals, 3-year goals and 5-year goals and it’s divided into personal, career, financial and bucket list. That gives me such direction. Every time I start questioning where I am going and what I am doing, basically having a bad day, I check in with my goals and it really grounds me and gives me much-needed perspective. It’s normal to have bad days, it happens to all of us, what’s most important though is how soon you bounce back and move on.
I’ve been very fortunate to work with good people who listen to my views and respect my boundaries. Respect is earned both ways. Know where to draw the line. It’s not always smooth having to deal with so many different people but overall, it’s been very fulfilling. I’m also learning to not take on other people’s issues which have nothing to do with me but play themselves out in some of these scenarios. Sometimes someone is having a bad day and it has got nothing do with you. I used to overthink things like that and let them affect me but it’s something I’ve consciously worked on and I’m much better at dealing with work stresses and I am actually learning the importance of empathy and that most times, whatever bad someone is saying to you is only a reflection of themselves.
Photography by Makgomo Mushwana – Sali Sali Photography