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Month: June, 2012

The story of finding my life purpose

Unlike some people I know, I was not blessed with innate self-confidence. From a young tender age it was clear to my family that I was different from other kids and endowed with basically what they labelled as a general sense of laziness. They were very exasperated because they didn’t know how to motivate me. I didn’t know how to motivate myself either. I thought they were right that I was lazy, so I kept trying to do things they hoped I could do – like study hard, but it didn’t work out because I don’t really have a capacity to remember theory, especially theory that doesn’t interest me.

I was set up for society-perceived failure and my self-esteem eroded. In fact, I don’t think I had the chance to build one anyway. 

I didn’t think there were any incentives for me. I wasn’t interested in material wealth and I think that was the core problem. The incentives that other people pursue – prestige, wealth and security were not motivating for me at all. What made it worse was that, it didn’t seem like I was interested in anything else either. I was basically disinterested in life in general. I didn’t understand why I had to suffer just to live a life that I don’t actually find very interesting at all. I kept asking, what is the point?

It took me a long while, actually only recently that I realized I wasn’t lazy. I was basically interested in something very intangible. Till today I don’t think I have a string of words which I can use to accurately describe it.

I have a long-time friend whom I am very grateful for, because if not for her I probably would have given up on myself a long time ago. I was feeling very lost in my early twenties, moving from one job to another with no sense of purpose, still wondering what was the point of life, feeling very discouraged because everyone around me was telling me I was a disappointment. 

She told me that it is okay to be lost, to be experimental, to do whatever I want to do while I was still young and had no commitments, because once I got older and have inevitable commitments, I wouldn’t be able to do so anymore. 

I never had anybody in my entire life up till then, to tell me that it was okay to feel lost. Or to keep trying different things. Everyone was telling me to stick to one thing, even if I didn’t like that thing. They said it was reality and that in life, it is not possible to do something you like doing. That is just life, they said. But I really didn’t understand why I should bother with a life which I had to stick to doing one thing that I don’t like doing. It makes no sense.

Because of that one friend I had and because of what she said, it gave me hope. It made me look at my life from a different perspective, it reminded me of my precious youth, that she was right. 

I still struggled for a few more years after that but I kept her words in my heart and each time I felt despair, she would be there to provide new perspectives, or some sanity – that I wasn’t alone in this. She was leading an unconventional life by Singaporean standards and she was a bright shining example to me, that if she could live her life differently, I could too. Perhaps one day I would have the courage to be more like her.

Gradually I did. With tons of her encouragement. With a little more hope. I fell down a few times, went into despair, but I picked myself up. I started getting to know a few more people who were like her. Somehow despite my general bitterness with life they saw something in me which I couldn’t see. They provided unconditional support and encouragement, even though I was my own greatest wet blanket.

I wouldn’t have been writing this post today if not for these people. So it was clear to me, when the opportunity came along, I should do the same for other people who were lost, misguided or misunderstood like me. It was not because I have “made it” (I still have not) but I knew how tough it was to receive geniune empathy, I also knew how important people’s empathy was to me. One by one, by serendipity, I offered my listening ear and my heart to friends who needed it. I started writing on my blog about my ups and downs, because I wanted strangers out there to know, hey, you’re not the only one. 

I was very lucky to have access to people who were my support when I felt like giving up on myself. I know for a fact that there are many out there who are not as lucky as me. I hoped that if I could be more honest and blunt about myself online, I would perhaps become a tiny trickle of invisible support for these people. 

A couple of years ago I received a hand-made thank-you card from a dear friend. She simply wanted to thank me for being there and for encouraging her to do what she loves. Till today, till this very moment, it still fills me up with immense pride that she is now doing what she loves. And she’s doing really well. I am proud not because she thanked me, but because she had the courage to finally do something for herself. 

It was that indescribable emotion when I received that card, coupled with a few precious emails and comments I received from strangers who read my blog, plus a few real-life conversations I had with some others – it finally came to me when I wanted to do with my life.

I don’t have much to give to this world, what I have is – excess empathy. I don’t have much strength admittedly, I wouldn’t run a marathon for example or be a tireless activist like Louis Ng for ACRES, but I have the courage to be honest. As honest as possible, without negatively impacting other people. I am not motivated by material wealth, but the extraordinary strength of humanity when it truly matters. 

I believe there are tons of people out there feeling lost or despair. And I believe like my friend who is now happy doing what she loves, that if more people have enough support and encouragement to do what they love, they would ultimately be happier, more fulfilled, and in return they would be impactful and contributive for the greater good of the world. 

It breaks my heart when I see my talented friends hiding their innate talents and taking on jobs that kill their souls because they believe it is what they have to do to survive. And my heart breaks into a million pieces when I see friends giving up on themselves in ways you cannot imagine because they feel like they do not deserve better.

Some people may not possess the inner strength to change their own circumstances but they habour secret hopes. They simply need something or somebody to tip them over. 

I had a serendipitous conversation with a couple of new friends last week. They were facing some challenges and I told them something similar to what my friend told me almost a decade ago – that it is okay to feel lost and try different things to find your own ground when you’re young. That sometimes even though it seems impossible, just do it anyway, because you’ll never know what you’ll get. Hustle. Know that we’re only young once and not to take their youth for granted.

Their eyes began to light up as they saw more doors opening in their heads. I didn’t do much, I simply paid it forward with what was given to me a decade ago. Most of the time we just need new perspectives. 

When I tell my story to people now it has more power because I am a living example of what I believe in. When I share my sense of purpose with people it is starting to gain a strange momentum because I know my eyes light up when I talk about it. I feel my entire self being lit up from within.

I don’t think I can feel more alive than those moments when I am living exactly the way I am meant to be – full of joy and love, driven by the desire for a more empathetic humanity. 

That, is my incentive to live better and work harder. To be able to create more opportunites to deliver hope to those who need it. To see their eyes light up, to witness people’s genuine happiness when they finally make that leap of faith to do what they love or to
be themselves.

That is what that truly keeps me alive, it is what I think about when I wake up, when I eat, when I shower, before I sleep. 

Why am I so obssessed with this? Because it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and it makes me proud to be human. Proud to be part of a species capable of extraordinary strength and love. That is priceless, which all the money in the world cannot buy.



What keeps me going

The couple of months leading up to our product launch was particularly hard for me. I was feeling alone without close friends or family near me, I keep having this paranoia that whatever I did would not be accepted positively, I was very tired, didn’t have enough sleep, couldn’t sleep even if I had time because I was stressed. 

There were some dark moments when I felt like I wanted to throw in the towel, not because I had doubts over external factors, but I was very doubtful towards myself. I honestly wondered if I had the strength overcome all the odds. (I am sure whoever’s of startup blood would empathize with me ;P)

During those times, what kept me going was not the promise of riches or grandeur, they were things that were somewhat unrelated to my work.

There were a few nights when I was completely fatigued by work but unable to sleep, I turned to Netflix and my Kindle – I’ve always believed films and books have this uncanny timing of bringing the right message to me at the right time. 

Many times I wondered to myself, seriously, I was so spent, was I sure that I wanted to read a book or watch a movie? I could use that time to do more work! However, each time in turned out every book and every film was significant, I never regretted any of the time I lost, because what I gained in return was something intangible – continued hope and strength.

Here’s a snippet of what I watched and read for the past couple of months:

1. Capitalism, a love story
Was particularly moved and encouraged by the solidarity and team spirit shown by the factory workers in Chicago

2. Coco before Chanel
I hmm, didn’t know Coco Chanel had so much influence in redefining women’s fashion, it was incredible considering her background and what she went through to make Chanel the brand it is today. I changed the way I perceived Chanel as a brand after this film.

3. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
I don’t think I can particularly point out to any part of this book because I was highlighting tons of passages in the book:

We wouldn’t tolerate schools that don’t teach, that are chronically underfunded and understaffed and underinspired, if we thought that the children in them were like our children. It’s hard to imagine the CEO of a company giving himself a multimillion-dollar bonus while cutting health-care coverage for his workers if he thought they were in some sense his equals. And it’s safe to assume that those in power would think longer and harder about launching a war if they envisioned their own sons and daughters in harm’s way.

4. Michelle Obama in Her Own Words
Reading this was particularly inspiring for me because I’m reading a book which echoes my own thoughts and beliefs. It is a book of such great quotes and these are my favorites: 

When you know you’ve been blessed and know you have a set of gifts, how do you maximize those gifts so you’re impacting the greatest number of people?


The selfish part of me says, “Run away! Just say no!” because my life would be better. But that’s the problem we face as a society, we have to stop making the Me decision and we have to make the We and Us decision.


Things get better when regular folks take action to make change happen from the bottom up. Every major, historical moment in our time it has been made by folks who said, “Enough,” and they banded together to move this country forward—and now is one of those times.

There is a common theme throughout these books and films. They are stories of ordinary human beings who chose to be extraordinary. Like the factory workers in Chicago showed what it means to unite for a common cause, that collectively, common people like you and me can make a difference. 

These events inspire me for my work because they show me what is possible with belief and perseverance. That the impossible can happen if only you have the will to try. That sometimes it takes courage to want to act for the greater good than for yourself.

Unlike some other people I don’t believe tech startups are trapped in their own silo or echo chamber. There have been tech startups making great strides towards making this world a better place (think Khan Academy). I honestly believe those of us who have the blessing to be working in tech have additional resources to make this world a better place:

“It used to be that in order to reach more people than you could talk to in a day, you had to be rich and famous and powerful, be a celebrity, a politician, a CEO, but that’s not true today. Now ordinary people have voice, not just those of us lucky to go to HBS, but anyone with access to Facebook, Twitter, a mobile phone. This is disrupting traditional power structures and leveling traditional hierarchy. Voice and power are shifting from institutions to individuals, from the historically powerful to the historically powerless, and all of this is happening so much faster than I could have imagined when I was sitting where you are today and Mark Zuckerberg was 11 years old.” – Sheryl Sandberg

I am greatly inspired by these stories of people who had more difficult circumstances or faced with more difficult choices but they did it anyway. Those of us who are privileged enough to choose, and by privileged I don’t mean having material wealth or being born with a silver spoon; by privilege I mean the fortune to have health and mobility which people in third world countries may not have. If we have the privilege to choose, or rather, if I have the privilege to choose, I cannot in my conscience, choose a safe and comfortable existence. 

I now consider myself highly privileged, because by the fortune of my birth I don’t have to be in some country where females are subjected to constant threats or unfairness, though I was never born with a silverspoon I never had to worry about the survival of my family, though I don’t have the best health but I have full function of my body.

Everybody has their own reasons why they live, or perhaps most people don’t even wonder why they live, for me, it is becoming increasingly clear why I live. 

I live, because I want to make a difference, as long as I am not bound by unavoidable conditions, I will try to always make that choice to have the uncomfortable but meaningful existence, to always make that extraordinary choice to be extraordinary, even if I am an ordinary human being.