To say that motherhood changes me is an understatement.
I often hear that the decisions we make as parents reflect the person we are, but I beg to differ. I think the decisions I have made as a parent reflects the person I want to be and the person I want my child to become.
As the Founder of Trinity Kids (an early education group of schools), I never thought I would become an educator, solution provider to many families and mentor to a team of women.
And here’s my journey how.
As A Little Girl
When I was a little girl, I liked reading, math, solving puzzles, playing outdoors, catching spiders and dancing, not your typical combination of girly activities. I felt that I became a little adult in the year I turned eight years old. Due to my mother’s heart problem, I had to take care of the house chores, take care of my parents and myself. That was the year I first learnt how to mop a floor, iron my school uniforms, sewed and patched my clothes, cooked soy sauce chicken. While there was no need for me to contribute to the household, I started my first job as a sales assistant at 13 years old to earn my own pocket money and never looked back. Becoming independent from young help me discover my inner voice.
Growing up in Singapore in the 1980s, there was a bias towards homogeneity and stereotyping. I have clear, unique preferences of what matters in my book.
I resist external voices telling me what I should look like, what magazine I should read or what activities I should do. I believe that ‘One true voice is louder than a crowd’ and let staying true to myself guide me through my teenage years.
Becoming an Investment Banker
I was doing my A levels in Singapore when the Asian Financial Crisis struck. A thought came to mind that I would like to study Economics in an international environment, and that thought became louder and louder. I knew I had to make it happen. I took up a bank loan and worked two full time jobs in London to put myself through university.
I had thought that I would return to Singapore after graduation. But the Iraq war resulted in my internship being cancelled. I applied for summer internships in London as the deadlines were not closed. I was lucky to receive two offers and genuinely did not know what would suit me more. Instead of settling for one, I approached both HR departments and offered to do both. I would start earlier at firm one and later at firm two, and the unfulfilled weeks at firm two to be made up during the winter month. I offered not to be paid for weeks worked outside the original internship period. Both HR departments were pleasantly surprised with the enterprising request and said yes. I received graduate job offers from both and more after my internships and before graduation. That is perhaps my first taste that hard work does pay off.
I cannot say I am the smartest or most talented member of the teams I was in. But I am certainly diligent, motivated, curious, enthusiastic and always willing to go the extra mile. I remember working from 7 am to 2 am regularly and always have a warm smile for everyone. With this attitude, I became the girl that my bosses leaned on, consistently exceed expectations at appraisals, received one lucky break after another and was transferred to Singapore to be responsible for Asian marketing shortly before I turned 26 years old.
Becoming a Mumpreneur
I never thought I would become an entrepreneur or educator. But perhaps it was written in my stars and it was through my children that I found my calling.
I was living in Hong Kong and responsible for Sales & Investor Relations in Asia when I first became pregnant. I am an avid and speed-reader. When I first found out I was pregnant, I went straight to a bookstore and read many parenting books quickly. My intention was to make informed choices and to embrace motherhood with the same gusto I apply to all aspects of my life. I was jet setting across Asia as I delved further and pursued my Diploma in Early Childhood Education and certification as a Dr Sears Health Coach.
When my first child was born, my husband and I decided to return to Kuala Lumpur to raise our family. I have no issue finding a job in finance and banking, but I had problems finding a satisfactory childcare for my daughter. I delayed starting work till she was 7 months old and placed her in a popular childcare near my work place. I had no peace of mind with the daycare due to lack of awareness towards child development, in nutrition for neither infants nor knowledge of handling breast milk. One after another incident occurred and I decided to take the plunge to open my own center. It turned out that the preparation for motherhood had qualified me so.
I opened my first center as a master franchisor of a Singapore enrichment center and wrote the daycare program. We became popular faster than I imagined. The school became full and the franchising requests started pouring in. But I had bought a system with many holes that I was trying to patch. I didn’t feel confident entering franchising agreements hastily on a shaky foundation. I made the difficult decision to terminate my master franchise right and start afresh on my own brand.
I am not someone who likes making mistakes. The second time round, I take heart and put in effort to make sure every aspect of business is done right so we have a good foundation to grow upon. I tune out what my competitors are doing and I don’t look sideways. Instead I let my children and my students be my muse. Our education system here in Malaysia in fragmented and flawed. I want to provide a solution for families and our children to have the best possible head start.
As an investment banker, I help clients invest and derive money from money. My time horizon seldom stretches beyond the annual budget or quota.
As the Chief Education Officer of Trinity Kids, my job still involves helping people invest. Now, I help parents invest in their future through their children and families.
Frequently the seeds we plant may not geminate in their time with us. On the rare occasions they do, the sheer joy and pride far outweigh the tears and sweat shed or the shallow joy of closing a billion dollar deal.
Challenges of being a Mom and Entrepreneur
My day as a mumpreneur starts at dawn. The solitude at dawn is when I get to catch up on administrative work, write and cook for the day ahead. If I am lucky, I may be able to steal 15 minutes to write or for yoga.
Many people tell me that I seem to have my cake and eat it. I get to have a career and watch my children grow up.
To be honest, there are many times it feels like I am in no man’s land. There were many times I had to carry my baby to a meeting, or while conducting an enquiry. I receive a few hundred messages a day from parents. I have been assaulted for standing true to our principles.
Then there are the up moments my children sprint to me and rain kisses all over me. That I know my children so well and they are happy, balanced and healthy. Or my students dash up to hug me and greet me warmly when I enter the school. Or my students chorusing ‘more’ for what I have just cooked or baked. Or the sweet messages parents pause to leave for my team and me. They eclipse the down moments.
I am not always so certain. On dull days, there is no visibility ahead and I stand disoriented why I have been charging full steam ahead. There are days when the fog clears and the line connecting the dots is clear. I can see value in what I am doing, and that I am making a dent to my kids’ worlds and the society.
Starting my own business has to be the most terrifying thing I have done (yet). There was no safety net of an employer, no wise manager to look up to and no appraisals for external validation. The year I started the school felt so similar to the year I turned 8 years old. I have to grow up faster again. In the years I have become an entrepreneur, my inner voice gets louder and clearer. I learn to lean on myself and trust my instinct. I also learn that I cannot control every element of my life. ‘Over-prepare but go with the flow’ becomes my new motto in life.
There is always more work to be done and there’s a constant tug of war for my time as a business owner, a mother and a wife. I remind myself that being a mumpreneur means a mother first, entrepreneur second. This is my guiding principle and I strive to build a career that balances business and heart.
What starts off as something I did for my child has grown to something beyond that. Today, Trinity Kids has expanded to multiple centers and we have built a wide array of awards-winning programs and services. I am responsible as the solution provider for many families, managing a team of over thirty people and continuously pushing boundaries in our field.
Looking back, I do see a common theme in my life and perhaps we each have certain quality that helps us become who we are.
I am thankful for my strong inner voice that nags at me when things do not sit right. I am not afraid to challenge status quo if it doesn’t make sense to me. I seek to do what I believe in, rather what others expect of me. I find joy in what I do and derive strength from deep within to pursue what I want to do. I am positive and strive to make a positive contribution. I know the person I am, and the person I want to be.
I have read a quote once, ‘Education changes destiny’, and it has certainly changed mine. Now, the onus is on me to influence change for others.