It’s the end of a long day, and finally, I’m sitting down to reflect on what I will say to the young ladies who will be gathered at the National Young Leaders Day (Women’s Edition) tomorrow morning.

This event is organised by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) and Halogen Foundation Singapore to commemorate International Women’s Day, which is today.

These teenage girls are aged 12 to 19. I’m not sure how many of them will be there, what schools they come from, what backgrounds they come from, what expectations they have coming to this event. What do they most need to hear from me? What is it about my personal story that will resonate with them?

I share the stage with three amazing and inspiring women: Cassandra Chiu, Janice Wong and Gina Romero. Each of us has a different story to share, a different message to bring. What is mine?

NYLDWE2013

If I was sitting in the audience as a teenage girl, what would I most need to hear from these Big Sisters?

I don’t know. To be honest, I really don’t.

But if I had the chance to meet a younger me – myself at 16 again – idealistic, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, optimistic yet fearful, what would I say to her?

Me at 16.

Me at 16.

Pam at 16 had known that she was born to write for just about 3 years now. She learnt that when she was 13, during English class one day, when she was called up by Mrs Greta Ong.

“Did you copy your composition from somewhere?” Mrs Ong had asked sternly. It was an accusation.

“No, no, I didn’t…” she had replied softly, her heart pounding.

With a dismissive wave of her hand, Mrs Ong had sent the young girl in blue pinafore back to her seat. The next day, she received her composition back with an “A”.

That was the day she knew she could write.

But she never did become a journalist because she could never envision herself holding a mic in front of the Prime Minister and asking a question. It was never a vision she felt she could attain. She was quiet, shy, and gripped by a paralyzing fear of failure. And so, it was a dream that was never articulated, never chased, never lived.

She became a teacher, got married, had two kids, pursued a Masters degree in Psychology, worked as a School Counsellor in her alma mater, then as a researcher at the National Youth Council.

She lived all her life in Singapore; so what she embraced as “success” and “happiness” were defined by the society she grew up in. That was all she knew. And she wasn’t unhappy.

Until the day the world, as she knew it, collapsed and she hit rock bottom.

Sometimes in life, blessings can be disguised. You don’t see it then, but you see it only on hindsight. And looking back, that rock bottom was a turning point.

I love what J.K. Rowlings said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Pamela-Ho

I think if I met my 16-year-old self today, and had coffee with her (well, she didn’t drink coffee till 30!), I would probably say…

1. Life is going to take you on a journey of twists and turns. It’s going to make you cry so hard till your fingertips hurt. But then, it’s going to make you so happy, you’ll feel like your heart is close to bursting! It’s OK. Cry hard. Laugh hard. Embrace it all. But keep walking forward.

2. What you think is “success” now will change. Right now, it’s been defined for you. Maybe it’s necessary because you haven’t figured it out for yourself yet. But it’s not the only definition of success. You’ll find that out as you travel the world and experience for yourself. Be open to the many ways success can be defined. Then, define it for yourself.

3. Trust your instincts. You already know what you want to do, and who you want to be. Don’t let the voices of the world drown out that voice. Because it’s the only true voice. Trust it and stay true to it. Because the longer you ignore it, the longer it will take for you to come back to this starting point.

4. What will kill your dreams is asking the question “how?” It’s an important question but it must never be your first. Focus first on the “why”. Why is this so important to you? When you’ve got that figured out, somehow you will find a way to make the “how” happen. If there is a will, there is a way.

5. The opportunities you have now have been handed to you by the people who walked before you: Your grandparents, your parents, even the millions of women around the world who fought for you to have the right to a solid education, to vote, to have fair pay etc. They created  a highway of opportunity for you from an invisible path. Walk that cleared path, and clear it even wider for those who will come after you. Pay it forward. Do that by daring to live out loud, boldly, and freely! Because then, they can see for themselves that all things are possible.

So yes, I took a year off to travel the world and write a book. Yes, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and ticked big fat items off my Bucket List. Yes, most recently, I left my cushy job at MediaCorp after seven years to pursue my calling as a “Writer that Travels”.

But that is only the beginning. It’s going to be a lifetime of adventures!

I do not accept any prescribed linear format imposed on my life. I have decided to allow my life to evolve organically and fluidly, as long as I stay true to myself, always.

I’m #FreeToBe.

As my BFF Ning (aka ‘Magic Babe’ Ning) wrote in our book Adventures of 2 Girls,

“Dance as if no one is watching you,

Love as though you have never been hurt before.

Sing as though no one can hear you, 

Live as though heaven is on earth.”

– Seneca –

At the Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar.

At the Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar.

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