Now Or Never·Point of View

Andrew Phung: How I overcame my fear of failure and got a do-over

Before Kim's Convenience fans were stopping Andrew Phung for a selfie, he was an awkward 17-year-old, whose fear of failure stopped him from becoming his high school's valedictorian. Now or Never gave him the chance at a do-over.

One of the Kim's Convenience star's biggest regrets is not trying out for class valedictorian

Now or Never challenged actor and comedian Andrew Phung to go back to high school to face his fear of failure and one of his biggest regrets. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)
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I remember the moment vividly. 

I was 17 and walking out of my morning homeroom class when my TA, Ms. Pezzente, stopped me.

"Why didn't you apply for valedictorian?" she said.

I didn't know what to say. 

That question has bothered me ever since I graduated high school.  

Fear held me back

I remember hearing the announcements calling for valedictorian submissions. I kind of wanted to do it, but I figured I would have no chance at all. If I had no chance, why try?

Phung at age 17. (Submitted by Andrew Phung)

I'm a Calgary kid, born and raised. I grew up in the heart of northeast Calgary, an area filled with immigrant families trying to make the best life possible.

All my parents wanted for me was to be happy, healthy and stay out of trouble. And I did. 

My career today is built on risk-taking, but in Grade 12, I played it safe. I wasn't someone who was ambitious. 

Embracing failure

As a teenager, I didn't try because of the fear of failing. As an adult, my mentality has completely changed because of my work and the years I spent learning how to embrace failure through improv comedy.  

If I have no chance, who cares? I should try anyway.

So when Now or Never challenged me to finally give my valedictorian speech at Scarborough's Wexford Collegiate School of the Arts, I didn't think I'd be nervous, but I was!

Phung steadies his nerves ahead of taking the stage. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

The do-over

I listened to my early 2000s hip-hop playlist on the drive to the school to amp myself up. As soon as I walked into the school, I was sent back in time. The smell, the lockers, and the feel of the place.

This wasn't even my school, but I felt like a 17-year-old kid again!

Hearing the students waiting for me in the auditorium got my heart racing, which is uncommon for me. I perform for a living, but this wasn't an improv or comedy show. 

That all went away as soon as I started speaking. I spoke from the heart and I genuinely felt like the audience was with me the entire time. 

In the moment, I took a risk and turned one section of my speech into a call and response from the crowd. The crowd was fantastic and it felt so right to include them.

Phung speaks to students at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts in Scarborough, Ont. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

Walking off the stage, I couldn't stop smiling. I did it! I never thought I'd be able to go back and make this right. It's cheesy to say, but a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

Ms. Pizzente, if you're reading this, I want you to know that your encouragement was appreciated. Thank you for believing in me.

'It's cheesy to say, but a weight was lifted off my shoulders,' says Phung. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)