“Diamonds gain their beauty and strength under pressure and heat…REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE A DIAMOND IN THE MAKING!!! Keep pushing”Laura Robertson
Life can be very daunting and hurting when hope is lost due to certain contingencies that are beyond one’s comprehension and control. It can be even worse if one is a refugee in one’s own locality. This is the tale of Laura Robertson, an Asian homeless refugee from Thailand, whose origin has no trace of pleasure of life until God turned her tale to success story.
When grace is active, the dramatic twist in Laura’s story proved that lost hope can still be regained as long as there is life.
Laura; a malnourished child and unable to speak English, pushed through pressures and bullies to successfully start her company known as “Beautiful Potential Consulting” to inspire others to pursue their dreams in spite of their current situation in life!
In an online discussion with Runways, Laura Robertson shared some intriguing moments of how she scaled through life as an Asian refugee to become a woman of substance in the history of her people (Niphaphone Sanavongsay). The story in full below.
Who is Laura Robertson?
My name is Laura Robertson born as “Niphaphone Sanavongsay”, outside of the refugee camps of Thailand. My family and I were amongst the thousands of other refugees that fled the communist invasion of our homeland Laos, post-Vietnam war in the 1970’s. I spent the first two years of my life living in the poverty-stricken slums of the overcrowded refugee camp. We had our own tiny section underneath the make-shift tents that were used as our shelter. My father said that it was so filthy that my skin started to turn into lesions and the craters are still visible to this day. We were finally rescued by our sponsoring church in Kingsport, First Presbyterian, TN – America, after spending almost two years.
Can you highlight your experience as a REFUGEE and today, a SUCCESS?
I didn’t quite understand the term “refugee” back then as I was too young to understand. However, I do remember growing up very sheltered. My father shared how we had to leave our country for a better life because the communists took over and he would stress the importance of education. We were very poor, on public assistance, and I wore hand me down clothes that were too big or too small. My life was school, home, and gatherings with other Lao refugee families. We were a very tight community and provided support for one another other through the early stages of our new life in America.
“Success” to me is being able to bring others with me. To be able to share the possibilities and that is why I created my company, Beautiful Potential. I wanted to help coach and train others to believe in the power within them so they can unleash their full potential.
I guess success can mean a lot of different things to different people. Might I say that my success story is being born homeless, to a teenage runaway, to becoming a single mother on welfare, and being able to climb the corporate ladder making multiple six-figure income. But, money does not define success for me. If it did, I would not have walked away in the midst of making the most money I have ever made in my entire career. “Success” to me is being able to bring others with me. To be able to share the possibilities and that is why I created my company, Beautiful Potential. My passion is to help coach and train others to believe in the power within them so they can unleash their full potential.
As a refugee, what is the worst challenge faced and mental impact?
As a refugee child, I didn’t know why I was teased and mocked by my classmates. I was often taunted by the chant “Chinese, Japanese, look at these”. The bullies would grab their eyes and slant it back to make fun of my Asian descent. I didn’t quite fully understand what racism was back then. I was being bullied for my race and for being different, but I just thought that it was kids just being mean. I would get spit balls thrown at me, chairs pulled back from underneath my seat. Most of the time, I ignored it. Once in a while, I would get so fed up that I gave it back to them.
How did you overcome it?
It was tough because I went through a period of an identity crisis. At first, as a refugee, I was too Asian for Americans. Then, as I got older and became more Americanized, I became a black sheep within my own community. I was accused of forgetting about our culture or that I was trying to be someone that I was not.
When in reality, I was just being myself the best that I knew how. I became a black sheep of the community and that pushed me further away.
Eventually, I ran away at fifteen years old. I moved to Kansas City and was taken in by an African-American family. They welcomed me in their family with open arms and had accepted me the way I was. The love they showed me helped me overcome my identity crisis and it allowed me to love myself for who I am, to not give anyone else the power. I finally got to a point where I decided for myself that I will never again be defined by what others think of me. From then on, I created my own path for everything that I do.
What’s the secret behind your success story?
I would say that my success today would not be possible without the seeds that I planted along the way. It took a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and sleepless nights to get to where I am now. We have to enjoy the process. Growth doesn’t just happen. I knew that if I wanted to grow, I had to:
1. Be Intentional – This meant I had to be intentional about my growth and feeding my mind with the education that I needed to help me reach that next level.
2. Mental Toughness – When I had self-doubts, I had to learn to replace those negative thoughts in my mind with positive ones. Successful people don’t find excuses, they find opportunities.
3. Faith Forward – It wasn’t a question of “what if I failed…” WE ARE destined to fail. I had to accept the fact that failure is part of the growth process. We must push through, and believe that things do not happen “TO YOU”, it happens “FOR YOU”.
Tell us about your vision and track record?
My career started in the beauty industry. I have been licensed as a cosmetologist, as well as a licensed instructor for over twenty years and worked in many different areas of the beauty industry. My experience ranges from running salons to running the full operations of top beauty schools, managing up to two hundred students and staff. This opportunity allowed me to gain the necessary sales and management skills to become a successful leader. During my time in leadership roles, I found a passion for education, training and coaching. I spent most of my career in sales and management roles. I went on to work with a top dental implant company traveling around the country to provide sales training for the doctors and consultants of the practice. That was when I decided to pursue my business venture.
After I left my corporate career, I spent four months preparing to open up my business. It is a combination of everything you need to “bring out the beauty in you and your brand”. We have a salon, photography, marketing & media studio, as well as an on-site training center. Then, the unexpected happened – we got hit with the pandemic on the day after my scheduled grand opening. It is nothing but God’s grace that even through all the challenges, we are still here. I decided that instead of focusing on the problems, I did my best to focus on the opportunities. That was when I started to invest in learning different software and online programs that helped me build my online beauty, branding and business school.
I am a self-taught visual designer, without any formal training in graphic design or technology. What I learned, during my time working with the trade schools, is that many students are not equipped with the business confidence that they need to succeed. In my online school platform, students have access to over one hundred online courses that focus on teaching them the essential skills to help grow their beauty, branding, and business knowledge (Check out the link HERE). Through the courses and my business coaching services, students will gain the confidence to overcome their fear of technology, be better in their business venture, and become their own success stories.
In addition to Beautiful Potential, my husband and I co-own i-Local Online Marketing. It is a full service digital advertising and marketing company.
What is your concept about locality development, as it relates to your journey to success?
I am always looking for ways to give back and to advocate bringing the community together. As a coach, training, speaker, & author, I share messages of hope whenever I can. In my autobiography, published on Amazon, “Forty Dollars and a Dream” I spread the message of hope with my own personal refugee story. My husband and I also co-host our podcast, Blasian Soul Podcast, where we highlight Asian and African-American leaders in an effort to change the negative image within our communities. To advocate for women’s rights, I work as a COO & Visual Designer for a non-profit women’s advocate organization based in London, called Her Story Matters.
My vision is to make an impact on those I cross paths with in my gifted lifetime. I make it a daily task to help as many people as I can. It fills my heart up with joy when I see others succeed. I get even more excited if I have helped them to pursue their dreams. If it were not for the generosity of the people in my path that helped me get here, I would not have made it. Now, I am just returning the favor and paying it forward.
Any inspirational message to refugees in various localities across borders?
My message to refugees out there is don’t give up. Keep a hold of any ounce of hope that you do have and know that change is possible. Be alright with the failure for it is in your weakness where you will find your strength. You won’t know how to be strong unless you’re tested. Diamonds gain their beauty and strength under pressure and heat…REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE A DIAMOND IN THE MAKING!!! Keep pushing.