My Lean In Story

Below is a story that I wrote to share at tomorrow’s Lean In networking tea at China House Cafe.

Emi and I are planning to announce the book project at this tea.

We plan to create a role model book of sorts – a first for Penang anyway – to document our own personal Lean In stories inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same name.

One of the things that’s startlingly obvious is that we don’t have a book of local women heroes and trailblazers (yes we have a lot on famous women and celebrity women but what about local women, local heroines, the everyday woman?).

In the last couple of months, I have met some super smart women and I believe it is high time we recorded our own Malaysian history – of incredibly accomplished yet virtually unknown local women who are doing excellently in their own fields.

If you’d like to contribute a personal story to our Lean In book (and we’re still sourcing for sponsors!) please do.  In the meantime, let me know what you think of this story of mine.

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I used to work before I joined my husband in the business. I always tell people that if I didn’t run my business, I would be just as happy out there in the corporate world, having worked for 7 years before I took a break to do my Masters in Linguistics.

I thought I was quite a self-aware individual. 

Until I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book. 

I thought I knew what I knew about myself and the world. And here I was, nodding vigorously as I read her book. It felt like someone you know is telling you how she viewed the world and you find yourself going, “Ohmygawd, me too!”

Suddenly women didn’t feel so alone and ridiculous with their thoughts. 

It felt very emotional at times too because Lean In addresses issues which are close to women – it doesn’t matter if you’re single or married, working or not. Of course her book is targeted at women who work but I chose to look at it as a universal message for all women. 

While some lambasted her for the book, I believe she opened a door to discussions – discussions that most women would not have engaged in if she had not put those messages out in the open.

With her book, we realise that women have stop underestimating their abilities. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are or how high you are on the corporate ladder. Most women face insecurities. 

We’re often not good enough, not clever enough, not confident enough. 

Over the years, I have learnt to focus on my strengths. Never believe it when books tell you to work on your weaknesses. You can but it will be so de-motivating. Work on your strengths instead – and I find that I am more energetic and enthusiastic when I am doing things I am best at, for instance, writing. And work on the messages that your brain tells you. Many of the messages are negative and throw you into a spiral of, you guessed it, underestimation of abilities!

I was once at an event where I watched a smart, articulate corporate woman give a good presentation. When I finally caught up with her after the event, she turned to me worriedly and asked, “How did I do? Was I OK?” 

Another friend always starts apologizing for her inability to park her car each time she tries to park her car. She doesn’t believe she can park her car properly and she doesn’t. Some people believe they’re always unlucky and guess what, they’ll end up having episodes that reinforce their bad luck! 

I think we need to be aware of these negative self-talk. This negative self-talk is dangerous and allows women to underestimate themselves, even when they’re excellent at what they do.

This reminds me of my own childhood. 

I was a very shy child. 

In school I used to watch my best friend go right up to the front of the class and animatedly launch into fantastic storytelling. She was unafraid of standing in front of 40 pairs of eyes and telling her story complete with gestures and facial expressions.

I wanted to be just like her! She was good at storytelling and everyone envied her skills. I didn’t know how she did it but all the same, I wanted to be just like her. 

Despite my fears of public speaking, I decided to raise my hand the next time our teacher asked if any of us wanted to join an inter-class storytelling competition. 

I decided to do what I feared most. 

Did I know what I was getting into? Nope.

Did I know it involved days of committing the story to heart and having to re-tell the story with all the enthusiasm and passion I could muster?

Did I win? 

No.

But did I learn something? Yes, I learnt that I could try and trying is better than sitting at the sidelines, watching others live life. 

Of course I wasn’t as magnificent as my best friend in storytelling – she had a natural flair. However I went on to join school debates and a whole lot more because I knew I could not underestimate myself if I wanted to reach out for what I wanted.

I would always give myself a chance to work things out.

That one tiny step – of braving myself to take part in storytelling – allowed me to move a little more out of my shell. It made me a little more sure of myself. It gave me the courage to try things, one step at a time. 

And once I read Lean In, it all fell into place for me. 

Women need to sit at the table, to welcome unexplored opportunities and to stop giving excuses.

We can all succeed if we stopped holding ourselves back from that project, that opportunity, that promotion especially if we really wanted to jump in and get going. We can all succeed if we stopped worrying about the future that’s 5 or 10 years away because we’re deciding to live life to the fullest today. 

I wish I read this book when I was just starting out after graduating.

It would have been such an inspiration and confidence-booster. To take heart that we all have abilities and we don’t need to underestimate ourselves but to just have fun and gun for it. 

No one gets anything if they don’t think they deserve their success. 

No one gets anywhere if they don’t think they’re good enough. 

Sheryl says, believe in yourself, negotiate for yourself, own your own success. 

It does take time and experience for each of us to feel truly comfortable in our own skin before we can truly own our own success. We will make many mistakes before we can be cool enough to admit we’re fine the way we are.

But we also need friends who support us. Or encouraging stories of women who have been there, done that and that road is not as rocky as it seems.

Or women who are kind enough to mentor us and teach us how to ask for a raise, how to say no firmly and how to evaluate if something is worth doing. No one teaches these things in school or university and we’re left grappling with issues and trying to find our way in this world. 

That’s why I look at Lean In as a leadership manual. It has given me permission to give myself an opportunity to try. That is how I got involved with facilitating at the Lean In Forum at Hard Rock Hotel. That is how I got involved with this book. That is how I am writing a non-fiction book on my own. 

A year ago, I would never have thought I’d write a book. Not because I couldn’t write. I majored in Journalism and I have been writing ferociously since I was 9 years old. Everyone tells me that if anyone were to write a book, it’d be me. 

I knew I had the skills. 

But deep inside, I asked myself, “Who am I to write a book, and a non-fiction one at that too?” 

It was a fear that gnawed at me and that monstrous fear kept pawing me, pulling me back. I didn’t feel I was worthy enough to write a book despite having the skills!

I have to say that Lean In gave me the courage to ask, “Why not?”  

Why should I not share my message with the world? Everyone has opinions and perspectives to share and mine is just as valid as the others out there. Why shouldn’t I be proud to talk about what I am passionate about? 

Every girl and woman should keep asking “Why not?” over and over because frankly, there is only one life to live. We might as well live large, exceptional fulfilling lives! 

 

Restart, Renew, Refresh…

As you can see, my blog got a facelift. I was getting quite sick and tired of the old visual. Wanted something contemporary. Something clean and neat. And hence, this new look.

Anyway, besides the new look, I am looking forward to a couple of things. I have some plans in mind for 2015. That’s just 2.5 months away. I like starting new projects and I love writing goals down. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely me.

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Childhood Food

I wanted to post up stuff about my trip with my parents to Hong Kong but honestly I got a little lazy since I had to resize the bunch of photos.

Anyway.

That will have to wait until I am in a less lazy mood. Actually it’s not that I have nothing to say. The problem is, I have plenty of things I want to write about. But the thoughts and ideas fly by like mozzies.

I was a facilitator at a Lean In Forum in early July (and yes, that begs for a post of its own) at Hard Rock Hotel. Don’t ask me why it was at Hard Rock. It just was. Apart from the godawful long drive from my place in Bayan Baru all the way to Batu Feringghi, I just think it would have been a lot less of a hassle if it were held in say, E&O Hotel or Eastin Hotel.

But more of that later.

Today I had an interesting conversation with Nic at dinner. It’s kind of strange saying that as I am my husband’s business partner and if I am not out and about meeting potential clients, I am mostly with him. For breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.

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The Malaysian In Me

Many, many times I catch myself saying – “I am so grateful to be living in Penang!”

You see, this is a fab place. And more often that not, we islanders forget we’re on an island. A sunny one.

A friend who called from Melbourne said she was wrapped up in 3 layers of clothes because it was super cold now. Another friend who lives in Newfoundland told me it was snowing in May over there.

And I don’t have to listen to the weather report before I leave the house.

I don’t have to carry a coat or umbrella just in case the weather turns nasty and cold or rainy.

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In Memory of Margaret

It’s been a roller-coaster of 2 weeks.

Margaret, our tabby of 10 years, has finally left us.

Margaret our snobbish cat

Margaret is one regal cat

It’s difficult trying to piece together the quick turn of events but I am coping, and Nic’s coping. Many friends have been extremely kind – offering words of solace and comfort on my Facebook page. Still, I am grieving because you can’t suddenly just accept and move on.

Friends have also asked me, “Would you consider adopting another cat or kitten?”

I am sure I am not the first to say this.

Many pet owners who have bonded closely with their pets treat their pets like family. Margaret was our family for as long as I can recall. And we didn’t adopt her – SHE adopted us!

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It Takes Two

The more I want to sit down and post my thoughts, the more stuff lands on my plate and the more they drag me away from blogging.

Such is life, sometimes!

I had a great Chinese New Year break – despite the fact I didn’t get to visit Bangkok with my parents, no thanks to the political unrest in Thailand. My sister and I were quite adamant that we go, protest or not but the thing with travelling with parents is that they INSIST everyone stay home and quit moaning about not going shopping in Bangkok.

I was so looking forward to a change in my Chinese New Year routine so we got our Air Asia tickets cancelled (and got the credit shell from them in exchange – they weren’t giving us back our money but credit shell was all right).

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The Curry Mee Tragedy

I never knew how much I loved my Penang curry mee until my favourite hawker died.

Yes, she died.

Not while cooking curry mee, of course.

 

Penang curry mee in Georgetown Penang Malaysia

Yummiest Penang curry mee with some teh C on the side

You see, Nic and I have a ritual on Sundays. We potter into town and have a totally “ah pek” breakfast. I call it “ah pek” breakfast because it involves an old corner coffeeshop with loud patrons speaking Cantonese, hawker fare which are deemed typical of Penang and yes, it also involves some old-style kopi and tea.

We sit about this coffeeshop, enjoying its ambience – the sights and sounds of a regular coffeeshop can be quite comforting.

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My Indian Roots

Chicken paretel that tastes as good as it looks

Chicken paretel that tastes as good as it looks

I tell people I have Indian roots. And if you know me, you probably know it’s true even though I look 100 per cent Chinese.

My Indian roots aren’t due to some inter-marriage or something.

My Indian roots come from growing up in a small town like Banting, where we had Indian neighbours on both sides.

My two best pals are Indian – one is a Ceylonese Christian (who hated to be called “Lain-lain” on her IC) and the other is Hindu. Many of my school friends were Indian. That is what real unity is about.

But that is what growing up in the 80s was all about.

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Leaning In, Leaning Out

I would have never read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book if it were not for YB Chong Eng. Honestly. Even though I am a big fan of books, I always have too much to read, too little time and too much planning.

Sheryl Sandberg Lean In Book

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Book

As it is, I am always reading at least 3 books at any given time. A lot of people say they don’t have time to read. I say, you DON’T make time to read. Not having time is just a stupid excuse. And I hear this from educated people.

Can you stop watching so much of TV? (Anyway these days Astro keeps playing re-runs so I’d rather turn off the TV than watch another episode of some travel programme that’s spliced from previous programmes. Yes Astro, this is a hint. And stop bloody segmenting your channels. Soon, there’d be nothing left to watch. And that RM2 hike in subscription is magnificent. Simply magnificent. Since I have terminated my subscription to The Star and Flavours, perhaps one day Astro’s going to go too.)

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Turning Pizza Ingredients Into Bread

After a long hiatus, I am back to using my bread machine. It’s been staring at me long enough anyway on the kitchen counter.

Freshly baked tomato bread from my bread machine

Freshly baked tomato bread from my bread machine

Of course the other reason is, I ran out of bread flour. Can’t make bread without bread flour. So I had to wait until I went downtown (meaning go into George Town) before I could bake some bread.

The place I normally go to is Sim Company on Carnavon Street. This shop is an institution for baking supplies – you name it, they probably have it. They are the old school type of baking supplies store and if you look at their “staff”, you will know why. They’re all in their 60s. Some can be grouchy as hell. But if you know what you want, you just go and grab what you want and pay.

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