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Who’s your hero? Who do you look up to? Who invigorates you and makes you feel invincible? I recently heard from a fellow PA student that one of the essential qualities for thriving in PA school is thick skin, which almost immediately got me thinking about my hero:

Mo, Nonnie, Mouth… So many nicknames. How about Emmy? This lady was my major childhood crush and, to be honest, has still got me enchanted. Right now I’m calling her simply ‘She.’

As music artist Moby once said, she’s “smart, sexy, and talented”—a winning combination in my book. She’s kept me interested and intrigued for years. She’s transformed herself countless times over, and my understanding and respect for her grew and grew. But It turns out that she’s quite the button-pusher, and her career has never had a short supply of controversies. But here’s the thing: she’s my favorite champion and inspiration. That’s why she beat out the fierce competition from my childhood heroes, Atom Boy and Ninja Turtles, as well as my taekwondo master instructor. I’ll share 3 reasons why: thick skin, discipline, and stay clean.

First, thick skin.

Back in primary school in the 90’s, the influence of American pop culture was massive. I still remember my classmates talking about her. I didn’t know anything about her so I asked them, and here’s what they told me: she’s ugly, she can’t sing, but she’s sexy, and very popular. It quickly became clear to me that she was thought of as some sort of living legend, who was unbreakable. And unbreakable she seems. I’ve come to accept and appreciate that she’s wonderfully thick-skinned. Without it, she’d crumble every time people publicly called her names or suggested that she should retire or drop dead. But it seems to make her more determined. That’s the thing: don’t we all want it? Don’t we all need it? At a time when virtual aggression and violence can drive someone to suicide and mess with our mental health and well-being, her almost inhuman ability to rise above the noise and stay focused is inspiring.

But there’s more: discipline.

The first photo I’ve ever seen of her turned out to be from the 80’s where she’s wearing a dark Spanish costume. Her tiny waist, piercing blue green eyes, and barely-clothed chest left such an impression on me. Right there, I fell in love. And for months, that’s all I talked about in class-her tiny, tiny waist! Now, over two decades later, she’s still a world-famous fitness buff, and not surprisingly, looks unbelievably fit and healthy. Now that’s what I call discipline. Every time I feel like slacking off, I think about her incredible discipline, and it never fails to energize me and get me going. That’s also how she realised her American Dream, through discipline and good old-fashioned hard work.

Last but not least, she’s stayed ‘clean.’

How often do you hear about celebrity meltdowns? Back in Sydney, Australia I was a counsellor working with people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and/or substance use disorders. I know firsthand that none of us are immune to stressors and traumas. So it’s a wonder to me that despite her whirlwind celebrity, she’s stayed clear of all of the above and more: no DUI arrest, no drug scandal, no rehab drama, and no nervous breakdown. She seems to me like someone in control of her life. And I believe that we all want it—taking charge of our own life no matter what. But how does she do it? Experience tells me that focused determination and discipline mentioned above would help, as does a toolbox of self-care strategies.

She embodies strength and resilience, and that’s why she’s such an enduring inspiration to me. And revisiting her awe-inspiring achievements through music, writing, and visuals is one of my go-to self-care strategies that never fails to re-energize me. Besides, she’s been a champion of hope, diversity, and equality for decades.

Here’s to another 30 years of rebellion.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis


  • Hwal Lee

    Thrive Global Campus Editor-at-Large from Radford University

    Hwal Lee is a community health PA and mental health advocate. Besides movies and boba tea, mental health education and outreach is his favourite hobby. Hwal completed his counsellor training in Australia, and is a nationally certified Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid instructor in the U.S. He may have recently graduated, but learning must go on.