Stories of Resilience: Pauline Ng
Editor’s Note: In this series, we explore how resilience shapes a person’s character, how it affects our emotional and psychological state and if there are times when we become more resilient to challenges, setbacks and failures.
When Wy-Lene invited me to contribute, I hesitated for a long time before agreeing to it because I questioned if I was worthy to share my personal story on resilience. The process turned out to be a lot harder as it required me to look inwards, to draw on experiences, and recall growing pains that have helped shaped the person I am today. I always felt that the harder something is, the more reason there is to try it out—so here’s my take.
Resilience is about how well a person can adapt to negative events (adversity, health issues, financial stress and trauma) in their life and bounce back. It’s about how an individual can roll with the punches, both major and minor, be put under tremendous stress time and time again, but yet not crumble—and emerge stronger than ever before. Sometimes, we end up with battle scars and feel like we can no longer trust. On the flip side, we can choose to level up and remain hopeful that the world is made up of beautiful people and beautiful things.
Here’s a bit of background on myself: Growing up, my parents split when I was ten. My mother had to also shut down her business and my dad suffered from an injury which resulted in a loss of income. I had to take on part-time work from selling cameras at Mustafa to helping my aunt sell fruits on the weekends, in order to earn pocket money at 16. When I got admitted to SMU, my parents told me that I would have to pay for my own education—$30,000 to an 18-year-old was a huge sum I could not wrap my head around—but it wasn’t too daunting as I had been earning my own keep. Sadly, my grades weren’t good enough to warrant a scholarship, but since a college education was non-negotiable, I pursued that path (thankfully with interest-free loans).
Having to deal with financial stresses as a teenager was perhaps my first taste of struggle and pain. I do think that 18-year-olds are actually capable of accomplishing quite a lot, if they were given the opportunities. So it drives me crazy when I see my 18-year-old cousins being coddled.
Within a year of starting Porcelain after I graduated, two people whom were really close to me passed away. The first was one of my best friends who passed a month after her 25th birthday from stage 4 stomach cancer. It was terribly painful to watch her battle cancer, even in the nine months leading to her demise. Shortly after that, one of my younger cousins passed away at 17 from a freak traffic accident. The sudden loss was shocking, and I cannot put into words the immense pain that I felt. Both of them had their lives shortened before their time. I was 24 then, and had to cope and come to terms with losing loved ones.
To honour their memory, I constantly remind myself to cherish my loved ones, build meaningful relationships and create value instead of simply looking at the bottom line—our lives cannot be so shallow. These experiences also taught me to value health, and to appreciate and not abuse our bodies. After all, what use is there if we spend our health pursuing wealth only to use that same money to try and get our health back?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for 9 years. The first few years, I worked 90-hour weeks with an intern pay of $800. Every adventure is paved with its own set of adversities: from year-long IRAS audits, finding out about a $15k theft by a trusted assistant, being taken for a fool by so many business partners, to figuring out the business model and how to do things the right way… I wouldn’t have traded these experiences for anything else in the world. We even had to make tough decisions, such as cutting out a bad batch of a formulation that cost us tens of thousands, at a time when our company was barely making $50,000. Despite these challenges, I always held onto the belief of doing things right by our clients and our employees.
Talk to any entrepreneur and we all have “war stories” to share. Perhaps it’s just the eternal optimist in me who wants to confront any fears head-on, before letting the fear consume me. For example, like most, I have a great fear of public speaking. But I said yes to every speaking gig (7 in total) I was offered last year. I still tremble when I speak, but each time a little less than before.
We often think that resilience is a trait that someone either possesses or lacks, but increasingly, I see it as a dynamic learning process. Everyone has their own life journey to traverse and their own demons to fight. I think there isn’t a magical formula for being more resilient, but rather a muscle that needs constant exercise. Growth is always painful and change is always uncomfortable, but once you get over the hurdle, no matter the outcome, you end up becoming a better person.
Here are a few things that I remind myself often in order to stay positive, and I hope that it will help you tackle whatever life throws your way:
1. Don’t be dramatic, a lot of emotional pain is self-inflicted.
2. Celebrate small wins, and always choose to be kind, especially to yourself.
3. Set your intentions, always come from a place of love and respect.
4. Be aware, don’t be reactive, you can be the change you want to see.
5. Take care of your health, and build deep connections with your family and friends.
6. Face your fears and find beauty and purpose in what you do.