“I want to one day dedicate myself to a non-profit organisation to make the world a better place. No really. I’m serious.”
Those were the lofty dreams of a 21 year-old me. Fresh-faced, eager, clueless as to what the future would hold but almost naively certain that I want to make an impact on the world.
At first, I thought the key to making an impact is to get really rich. So, off I went to join an investment bank because investment bankers make a lot of money. I slogged, worked long hours, and soon that fresh-faced 21 year-old became jaded, demotivated and just looked downright worn.
I found my first white hair at 27 after an intense month of working on a merger deal. That was it. It was time to take a step back and reflect on my life and what I’ve done to myself. #dramaqueen
Leaving the corporate world was a decision I struggled with for a very long time. I was getting paid pretty well for a rookie and I knew if I continued down this path, I’d be set for life.
But I felt empty.
While I knew all this was so I could get rich and make an impact one day, that one day just felt too far away. I was unhappy and I was complaining about my job every day. My world was shrouded with a giant cloud of negativity. I knew something had to change. This was not how I wanted to live my life.
So, I finally took a blind leap of faith and quit my job, trusting that the universe wouldn’t screw me over and my stars will somehow align. I left with some savings (thank goodness for investment banking bonuses!) and travelled for a bit.
With all that free time, I used it to do things that pushed my boundaries. I took up scuba diving and got a PADI license (I can’t swim very well), rode on a motorbike without a license in Vietnam (I am chicken) and I travelled aimlessly with no itinerary (I like to be well-prepared). This entire “exercise” of pushing boundaries helped me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It allowed me to learn to go with the flow, to adapt and to not let fear stop me from moving forward.
The greatest lesson I’ve learnt is that if you close your eyes tight and just force yourself to take that step forward, you’d open your eyes to a new adventure.
When I came back from my travels, I joined Teach For Malaysia as a fundraiser. It was a non-profit organisation with a mission to eradicate education inequity in Malaysia, a cause that resonated with me. There, I met so many passionate people and for the first time, I felt like I belonged.
It was at Teach For Malaysia that I understood what passion felt like. This passion drove me to uncover strengths I never knew I had. I began to see myself differently, gaining confidence in my abilities and finally, I got brave enough to take another leap — to start my own social enterprise.
I joined the MaGIC Accelerator Programme for Social Enterprises with nothing but an idea on a paper. It was an idea that came about after hearing time and again that teachers were constrained by the lack of funds to provide the best learning experience for their students. Four months later, we launched a crowdfunding platform for classrooms in need, 100% Project where people can now discover and directly support impactful classroom projects all over the country.
I have been slogging, working long hours and I’ve even given up on picking at strands of white hair. Some days I don’t even bother wearing concealer to cover up my gigantic eye-bags.
But you know what, I have never felt more alive and present.
I have found passion and a cause bigger than myself. Every ounce of energy I pour into this is absolutely worth my while — white hair, pfftt, don’t care.
I bet 21 year-old me did not expect that she will one day become a social entrepreneur. Heck, just 6 months ago, I would’ve laughed and “pooh-poohed” the idea if someone were to tell me I’d be doing what I’m doing now.
It took me 9 years to discover my passion and an area where I could contribute. It took awhile but I wouldn’t trade my story for anyone else’s. When I reflect upon this journey, every phase I went through has shaped me significantly and has led me to this moment.
The only constant in this story is that I pushed my boundaries — I kept taking leaps forward into the unknown no matter how afraid I was.
In the strikingly true words of English poet, Robert Frost, “And that has made all the difference”.