I was the kid in primary school many people didn’t wanted to touch because they thought I was unclean.
Actually, I was clean. I just had bad eczema.
But because of the scabs and scars and scaly red patches everywhere, people thought I had some kind of disease. Or they thought I kept scratching because I did not have regular baths.
So, for years, I was bullied, humiliated, and treated as an outcast. At least no one tried to beat me up.
Back then, I was this shy, skinny little kid who didn’t know how to defend myself. All I could do was run to the teacher crying for help, or go home crying my heart out to my mother. Why couldn’t other people look past the eczema and accept me?! I hated primary school with a passion.
I was only truly happy when I got to sixth grade, where I met my best friend (who is still my best friend today).
I never expected to be told that I sucked. Then it got much worse.
I don’t remember the exact words my boss used during the performance review, but the gist was this: my work was terrible. ALL of it.
His blistering words hit me like a ton of hot coals. How could my work be so bad, I rarely got negative feedback from clients! Oh, “the clients were just lenient”.
Zero recognition of any good I did. Not even of the fact that I had held the fort of our little department for months. While my boss ran around attending meetings or disappeared into work black holes, I sourced for vendors and supervised a remote team to deliver projects on tight deadlines and tight budgets. All beyond my original job scope. All while juggling my daily responsibilities. All while battling nasty office politics.
But wait, it got worse!
Because he was convinced that I sucked so bad, he put me under probation once more. Yes, probation, after passing the initial one ages ago. If I failed the second round, he would fire me.
I was so shocked, I burst into tears on the spot.
There was nothing I could do to persuade him to change his mind. Human Resources did not help. Top management did not help. I felt bullied into doing that farce of a “probation”. The intense stress and unhappiness triggered such a severe eczema flare-up that I had to seek treatment at a hospital, for the first time in my life.
I held on for as long as I could, then tendered my resignation three days before the end of “probation”. I felt so happy quitting on my own accord. Like I seized back control of my career.
I had no concrete skills.
No relevant job experiences.
No recognised industry-specific qualifications.
The year was 2015 and I had left the Singapore civil service after one year there. Right away, I tried breaking into the private sector, but it was HARD. I interviewed for many jobs, most of which left me feeling disappointed and inadequate.
Eventually, I got a junior role — an internship — at a public relations agency. I thought my future lay in public relations so I was eager to start from the bottom. So eager, that I even agreed to a pay that was a tiny fraction of my civil service salary. STUPID. With hindsight, I should have negotiated a more favourable deal. To cut a long story short, I left that place after a few months, feeling like crap. What did I expect, after accepting without question a pay that was so much less than I was worth? My only defence was that I was naïve as hell.
I was lost, desperate, and jobless again. I did not know who to speak to for advice. I cried a lot, stricken by the fear that no one would ever give me a chance.
Fast forward two years, I now work in content marketing, at a place that recognises the value I bring to the table. But I never forgot those dark, dark times before the dawn finally broke.
There have been various other incidents like these in my life. The three I described are some of most harrowing ones.
The settings, time periods, people involved, and conflicts varied, but there were some consistent themes.
Pain, sorrow, anger, fear, shame, stress, helplessness. Being at someone else’s mercy, or wanting someone else’s acceptance. Plenty of tears.
Above all, this:
I fear being in that position of powerlessness again. I’m angry at the thought of it. I’m disgusted by it.
But if there’s one good thing that came out of all these experiences, it is this:
I took charge of my growth and future.
Why do I have to be around people who treat me with disdain?
I can stand up for myself; I don’t have to take their crap.
Why wallow in self-pity when I find myself in painful circumstances?
I am a victim … only if I see myself that way.
Why must I wait for someone to give me permission or a chance?
I can choose myself.
If I don’t want to be powerless ever again, then I must build my own superpowers.
You know how in the movies or anime, when the heroes spring into action, they shed their everyday look for an awe-inspiring new “power” look? I kickstarted a transformation like that. Only, my change is permanent, so it’s more of an evolution. I shed the meek and quiet Ying Yi that has been around for many years. I’m cultivating a new me that will radiate confidence, strength, zest, and love from within.
Paradigm shift aside, I have also been investing a lot in my personal growth. Since late 2016, I have spent more than $1,000 learning new skills and honing my strengths. Growing also means challenging myself to step out of my comfort zone often. This year, I conducted my first workshop, attended numerous networking events, and spoke on Facebook Live. Unprecedented for an introvert like me, I tell you! But, as a result of putting myself out there, I’ve exposed myself to a world of opportunities.
There’s still a long way to go, but just one year of nurturing myself has taken my life to a new level. Empowerment is a wonderful feeling.
One day, I hope to help others discover their powers too.
I never forgot the bitter taste of powerlessness, though.
I’ve come far but I can’t allow myself to become complacent. It’s an exciting world out there, but increasingly complicated and uncertain too. What would happen if everything I know becomes obsolete? What would happen if I had no safety net for myself? What would happen if my fate somehow ended up in someone’s hands again?
I never want to lose the power to forge a meaningful and fulfilling life of my own. The thought strikes such fear in me that I swing back into action with fervour.
It’s the gun to my head, yet, it’s also one of my main motivating forces.