Wow! Life…How this caterpillar learnt she had wings to fly
I am a multi-hyphenate. Multiple identities sit within me. This is true of everyone and for me, I express them in my work and my community agendas and my personal life. As such some of my friends think I lack focus. My family has no clue how to introduce me and what I do to others. Social media friends just tell me I always look busy.
I have not been intentionally secretive. I share freely if someone asks me about my business and how I make my income. My multi-faceted self was always known to me and some other of my peak performing friends. Our business cards carry multiple roles or we simply have multiple business cards. We just have varied interests and a whole lot of energy.
Growing up in an industrialized education system that I came from; you were either in the Science or Arts or Commerce stream. I was never offered Biology-Literature- Marketing as a subject combination. I think I would have thrived if I did. Despite my scientific bent, if one did not take Physics — one could not be in the Science stream. So I enjoyed my Literature and deplored my History. Never touching any commerce or business subject apart from Economics all the way to my young adulthood.
I must thank my widowed mother for becoming so ill that I took time off from my normal scheduled career track to take care of her. It sounds terrible to say but that life crisis re-organized my life so much that I acquired life skills at an accelerated pace that literally changed my DNA so much that my previous friends, colleagues and family members cannot recognize the same me they knew from 0–28. I remembered my former teaching colleague saying to me when he met me on the streets in Singapore — “I don’t understand it, you and I were both teachers… how did you become this?”.. here ‘this’ meaning something good and amazing and surprising. Hahahahah. He is not the only teaching colleague I have left confused.
So in response to him — my cousins who called me a bookworm and timid but now envy my international travel lifestyle — and my wonderful Catholic friends with their 3–6 children and a stable job of over 20 years; here’s who I am (now) … and how that happened.
The Passing of an Era
When my alcoholic conservative Catholic father died, I was allowed to be more of the me, I knew I was. He saw the 1) entrepreneurial and 2) problem-solving and 3) travel the world parts in me that he too had. However he was beaten down by demons of his past and a school education broken by the Japanese Occupation in World War II.
He had to die. So one part of me could live. The part of me who wanted to explore my own voice and my life outside the role of dutiful daughter to a man whose life was too small to contain mine.
The writer and truth-sayer part of me came fully alive when he passed. I no longer had to hide the fact that I was emotionally abused as a child and had to stand up to my father when he raised the occasional hand to my mother. I no longer had to dim my light to save his face. (International non Asian audiences reading this — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_(sociological_concept))
I loved my father dearly. So in order not to hurt him, I played a smaller game. I had literally no voice and I kept family secrets. Too many. I still hold some today. When I finally could write and say mostly what I felt and not be worried to be judged or shamed or chastised by my father and to be fair what I saw as the Catholic guilt I grew up with — I wrote about life as I experienced it. Honestly, raw, and authentic.
Then I found my new family. Those who were willing to share how life challenges confronted them, the loneliness, the courage, the desire to have multi-lives and selves. Fellow writers of fiction yes, but mostly writers of our lives. Myth-makers and yet personal truth tellers.
I loved my father so dearly, I tried to please him and being the top student in class made him glow with pride. He would go down to the local coffee shop and meet his neighborhood buddies and take newspaper clippings of when I won writing awards or was featured for my community contributions. https://medium.com/the-ascent/why-i-stopped-high-performance-living-d986db1fc20d
It was only after I entangled myself from my father’s emotional legacy and abuse that I could write-keynote-date consciously-speak about mental health issues-and be less afraid of societal (dis)regard. He cared so much about how the world saw us that I would be decked as a child with gold jewellery to attend Sunday service so that no one would guess that he was without a job.
The timidity my aunt and cousins keep remembering of me as a child was not my natural adventurous self. It was learnt. I was told so many times by my mother to keep quiet and not anger my father. Not to trigger his bad temper. My mother was a master of disappearing or being unseen even when she was in a room. His voice, his presence, his dominance was all that mattered. So I learnt to be quiet — to please her. Now I am no longer timid and it serves me better in the world. This sensitivity to the dominant power in a room or in an event has served me well. I am innately able to detect the power plays and social norms in most situations and I ally myself with decision makers. Politics exist in all social interactions and learning to take or borrow power from those who have it, allows someone who is the least powerful to climb up the corporate ladder or to gain access to wealth and resources faster.
In hindsight, I knew my masculine traits of assertion and problem solving and relying on my logical side and less so my emotions was a rejection of the feminine and (in my child’s mind then — weak) traits I saw in my mother. I refused to be like her — spoken down to by my father. In my family, my brother and my father fought for the power in the home, so they were always either Top Dog 1 or 2, and then came me and then my loving self-less mother. I became ‘manly’ as I did not want to be a victim or bullied. This was all done rather unconsciously, seeking daddy’s approval and avoiding being poor mommy. Yet now I see it clearly in hindsight.
Out with the Old. In with the New?
I must have become a psychologist to heal my childhood wounds and those of others. I started off as a teacher yet again and again I would be presented students whose academic grades were adequate yet their personal life in shambles. I used to say I was gifted in making people cry. I now know I was gifted in holding the space for people to feel vulnerable enough to share their inner world and pain. (https://medium.com/@marionneubronner/the-house-where-women-come-to-cry-1c934bd33266)
The most challenging thing about change is leaving one’s comfort zone. Even when that comfort zone is simple a psychological prison. When I decided to start exploring living overseas in an attempt to scale my business and to find a life partner, I had to leave a sick mother and all the creature comforts of the Singaporean lifestyle I had built. I was used to having a 3 bedroom for myself however to save on costs and to get to know people and build community in a foreign land — I started having room-mates. Yes room-mates. Not just housemates. I was not used to that at all.
However I have learnt as a psychologist and coach, that to stretch oneself is a necessity. I had to build new neural pathways so I could be the new me I had hoped to be. I had to stretch beyond what is comfortable and expected and then somehow the breaking or melting or great cognitive shift will take place and then I can change and stay in that change. I have a simple coaching philosophy that I hold and all my clients are made clear of it. If you are not already doing what you say you want — be in being in a relationship, being an entrepreneur, starting that new hobby or leaving your spouse; you can speak all you want about it but until you actual take active steps towards that goal and also maintain it for some time; you really do not want it. In fact, you have values in direct conflict to them.
My first task with out with the old, was to go far far away from Singapore and to do all the things I normally would not do. I would try things for the sake of trying even if they made no monetary sense. As long as it was within my budget to explore, I would do it. Just to know what it was like. I also followed my intuition and did not simply experiment for experiment sake. When I was in a new environment and could not use my usual means of discerning what was good to do or not, it became more natural to go inward and use my gut. When I was surrounded by the daily rules and social conventions of Singapore or the industries I was in, I defaulted to old working styles.
My favorite retreats or spiritual journeys — https://medium.com/@marionneubronner/before-you-die-know-the-meaning-of-your-life-18a548cc3820 led me to a lot of quiet and a lot of new. Sunsets were my meditations. Nature was my balm. New conversations shaped my brain.
Where’s my Tribe?
While many people speak of changing themselves and the world, to take that first step and to stay on the course requires courage and encouragement. I have been full of self-doubt until someone else older, wiser, younger, smarter, reminds me that it is possible and I needed to persevere. I do. They cheer from the side-lines or grab me by the hands and run with me. Over the years, these communities of meditation, writers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, coaches, healers, Singaporeans, Estonians, yogis have helped me maintain new ways of being and thinking. I never felt alone. I could do anything. We could do everything. Co-living is something I encourage and communities and masterminds raise the standards — change my standards.
Lead your Tribe
As time has passed, I also realized why having a mission is crucial to the entrepreneurs. I have called myself an accidental entrepreneur. I chose to work for myself so I could have time to care for my ailing mother. However I now know Mission is what makes me do what I do. With or without payment, when a community member calls and needs professional advice and Women on Top in Tech leaders ask for support as they enter to new markets, I know that is my path.
It can be very lonely trying to be a conscious entrepreneur, driven by a mission few others can see, and no profits to show. Yet there is a knowing and a drive I cannot explain. There is an ownership and an accountability to use all of your talents and efforts to push the boulder just that one inch more.
Leading can be lonely. Entrepreneurs can be lonely. Yet seeing that light at the end of the tunnel is somehow deeply satisfying — filling an a personal identity hole with some semblance of lightness. Sharing the madness of my mission has been terrifying and fulfilling all at once. Building peak performing positive resilient leaders and communities — did I make an indent? Yes. It’s a one of those never to be a 100% solutions however I believe its one of those struggles that make one’s life work worth doing especially with peers, mentors, friends I made along the way.
If this piece spoke to you … you see your story in mine. You know that is a Wow Lifer in you. Or you want to uncover more of that Amazing You that I found more and more through my journeys. Join us at …
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