ANJA CHONG, 24, Short Track Speed Skater/Head of Business Development
Necklace, Bremen Wong; silk dress and sliders, Anja’s own.
How many winter game athletes do you know are from the tropics? Well, Anja Chong has never let anything stop her from becoming outstanding at just anything. SEA Games gold-medalist Anja Chong juggles a career in the finance industry and sports, where she excels at being a short track speed skater. The affable athlete shared that she wishes to be an example for young women everywhere to redefine their boundaries, and to always ask the difficult questions. She strongly believes that emotion is a strong attribute a woman can have, contrary to societal belief, in order to spread kindness and love. Find out how Anja, on her journey, emulates women who are trying to disrupt the norm.
Tell us a little bit about the journey you were on in becoming the athlete you are today?
Originally, my challenge was throwing myself into the world of being a full-time athlete and uprooting myself to Korea. Once I accomplished my three Gold Medals at the SEA Games, I had to look towards what my next challenge would be. I wanted to empower women to believe that we really can do it all — so I’m trying to juggle a career in the financial industry, as well as one out on the ice!
What is it about speed skating that has you so hooked?
Being on ice has always felt like home. As an awkward little kid who never really fit in, it was the one place where I felt like I belonged. When you work hard and it all comes together, you get in the flow and everything just clicks into place — that is the best feeling in the world.
How do you wish to empower the generation of women after you?
I hope to empower them by showing them to redefine boundaries. I hope I did that by being a winter athlete from a warm country, but more importantly by standing up to all the patriarchal, misogynistic forces and aggressors that were constantly trying to push me down and mould me into someone they wanted to be. Being authentically and vulnerably yourself is the best gift that you can give the world — I hope women can become empowered by who they are now, and also the woman they wish to be.
How can a person press for progress in an industry like yours?
I’ve had people tell me to my face that women should be seen and not heard, and that I should dress or act a certain way. I’ve never really been good at listening to those who told me that I am valued or worth less simply by being a woman. I hope that through sports, women can reclaim their bodies and find strength in pushing past gender stereotypes and cherish the beauty of being authentically themselves. I am a woman and I’m also strong. But being strong doesn’t mean I can’t also be feminine.
Grit. Knowing that sometimes you have to push through your ‘facedown’ moments and rumble with the hard stuff. Nothing that is worth it comes for free. To walk tall and walk away with grace, despite what other choose to demean you to. Only you have the ability to give control to others to bring you down. Choose differently. Choose to show them that you are stronger and what you believe is worth fighting for. Fight for you.
— On what Anja would take away from the business that she is currently in.
What’s one flaw of yours that you’ve turned into strength?
My emotions. Often times women feel like their emotions are their weakness. In fact, a women’s ability to feel and be compassionate is what helps them to spread kindness and love. I thought my emotions made me weak, but it was also my emotions that created my fire, resilience and unwavering belief in myself to never quit. Use your emotions and channel them to give you the hunger and drive to get to where you want to go.
Can you tell us any habits you have that set up success?
The most important thing I do every day is meditate and remember to be grateful. I try to meditate at least once a day, to still my mind, breathe and relax. I keep a gratitude journal, which helps to remind me of the important things in life and everything I have to be grateful for—which is a lot. I am very, very blessed. But sometimes, we forget it and we just need a little reminding!
What is the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Finding my feet after the SEA Games and realising that struggling didn’t mean that I was weak. I suffered from a lot of emotional abuse during my time as a full time athlete and it took me a while to get back to being myself again. I struggled a lot with depression and anxiety and it made me realise that it was okay to take some time and not be okay. I realised that when anyone is told that they are worthless every day, even the strongest of us can break. So I broke, and I had to learn how to pick myself up and lean a lot on my loved ones around me.
The strongest thing you can do is ask for help. Being vulnerable is the most courageous thing we can do. None of us are perfect and we all struggle sometimes. It’s part of being human and part of having the courage to do something that really matters.
It’s going to get hard. That much I can promise you. But if you decide to stay, instead of running away, that is where the magic happens. On the other side of pain, suffering, hard work, sacrifice and grit, is where the winners are made. Give yourself a chance to see the magic. Because when it happens, it’s the most beautiful feeling in the world.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women after you?
To not get comfortable. It is easy to live a life in the shadows. Ask the difficult questions and keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. We can only expect as much as we stand up and ask for. Never settle for ‘good enough’. Always seek what you deserve.
What sort of women inspire you?
Glennon Melton Doyle. Oprah Winfrey. Brene Brown. The list goes on. Any strong woman that is trying to disrupt the norm of what it means to be a woman. Women come in all shapes and sizes and strength comes in all forms. But the most inspiring women are the ones who are authentically and unapologetically themselves, and empower other women to feel the same.
To hell with gender stereotypes and patriarchy— what’s the one thing you think women should do?
Understand what they are comfortable with and what makes you happy. We all have a limited resource of time and energy. Stand up for how you feel and never let anyone compromise your values and beliefs. Lead with loving kindness always and act from a perspective of the most generous assumption always. Being caring and kind, is not contrary to being strong and empowered. We can be both. Femininity comes when you are your most authentic, loving self.
Imagine yourself in 5 years. Tell us where you would you like to be and your accomplished achievements.
I hope I will not have let the world make me hard. I hope to continue to love with my whole heart. I hope that I will grow stronger, kinder, and more empowered in what it means to be a woman—and help other girls to do the same.
I hope I will have learned to juggle my corporate career with my passion for skating. Ultimately, I hope to build a platform for myself so that I can ignite strength, belief and passion within others and change the way that people think to become kinder, more inclusive and the best and most authentic versions of themselves.