By most societal definitions, I am a high performer. I was top of my class in kindergarten, I received a full scholarship for my undergraduate from the Singapore government, I was promoted very quickly and was headed towards the position of principal in a school, I went to Harvard for a Masters in Human Development and Psychology, I could earn USD$50 000 in two weeks when I ran some of my training programs, my connections and friends are Broadway producers, multi-millionaires and heads of states, I live bi-continent in Santa Monica and Singapore,I was named a Women Icon 2017. I was and can still be considered a High Performer.
I came from a lower income family. We could not afford to send me to ballet or music despite the fact I showed promise at both. When Christmas came, I was taught to give my parents any presents or cash gifts I received and they would go into the room, open the gifts to assess the value, change the wrappers and re-gift these gifts so that no one would know we were poor. When my dad lost his job when I was 15, I had to figure out a way to fund my schooling. Life was always a little bit tougher from me then my peers, I was always aware of this need to save and be responsible. The day my father lost his job, I instantly became an adult in a child’s body. I looked like a child and thought like an adult. I pushed myself to higher standards of success equating each level with some form of financial and, therefore, emotional security.
With each level of success, I achieved, I was enamored by my new lifestyle. The first eye opener was my ability to buy material goods that I use to yearn for. Hello Kitty was a toy that I hankered over as a child. Now as an adult even though I had no reason to have a stuffed toy in my room, I had more than one Hello Kitty stuffed toy and inside my inner child would sing and dance. When I went to Harvard, I had to pinch myself daily. I had been accepted to one of the top schools in America, little ole me. Walking in and out of Harvard Square, with trust fund babies as friends and the most brilliant of minds at my disposal. When dignitaries and intellectuals come to speak to us, my heart sang with the intellectual abundance I was blessed with. Entering top resorts and partying with multi-millionaires was the one that fazed me the most. Totally unused to the lifestyle, I would stand by the sidelines watching and wondering how to be able to look as good as ‘so-and-so’ or to able to party better. Yes ‘party better’ was my new goal in life being I was an introvert who didn’t spend much time around makeup and boys.
Yet I managed each time to slip through layer and layer of what people would deem as the Higher Life. It culminated this year with a $10000 dinning table at a gala recognizing Women Entrepreneurs. Black tie was called for and I had none. Thankfully, I found a stylist for the stars who like a fairy godmother turned me from Cinderella to Woman Entrepreneur and Force to be reckoned with. I stood next to local celebrities I had grown up with and respected, this time pinching myself as I was standing on 4 inch heels, 4 inches higher than most of my shoes. I had fun. I learnt so much. Yet somehow I still felt empty inside. All the running around and working hard and receiving accolades to get here meant less and less to me once I got to the top. I was confused and lost.
One thing you have to know about us higher performers, is that once we give ourselves a goal; there is simply no stopping us. We will go and go and go and then it’s done. Simple. Yes it could be hard and challenging but the challenge is the joy, too easy and it gets boring. Give me something you think I cannot do and I want to get it done, somehow to prove something to myself or others. Ingrained from a life of challenge, I was a survivor. However when most of your life is about doing and getting and achieving, there is an emptiness when all is done and yet you seem to crave for something more. I began that search for more when I started taking months off the grid to reflect. My understanding of myself was clearer, if I was going to be running — I really need to be clear what I was running to and why it mattered so much to me.
The High Performance Life can be relentless. Once you are on the top, you keep maintaining that edge. You are called for bigger paying gigs and flown to more exotic places. Your idle small talk is with people whose decisions can influence thousands. Your comments and opinions shape the consciousness of those who follow your work. Many times, all I want to do is to sit by the beach and be ‘no one’. Nobody to no one and do nothing. The responsibility of that High Performance pumps out adrenaline and testosterone, I am on edge mentally and physically. Downtime is little or none. The “being on top of my game” is not my challenge. It is tough but manageable and can be really fun. It’s the why I need to be on top of any game that really gets to me in those darkness of nights.
When I see mothers and children at the park simply playing. When I watch the fisherman and his grandson simply fishing. When I watch a cat… well you know simply being a cat. I am awakened to the fact that I am somehow missing out on another type of game. The game of life. This game is less concerned with who knowing who and who achieving what and appearing on the cover of this and that and getting how many likes and shares and comments. I see life again as the child I lost growing up too fast. I see life as a daily adventure in appreciation and awe for what is. Not what I have to make it be. I had rushed by life so many times before on my way to something better that I deprived myself of the wonderful amazing rich and highly satisfying life of now. And it didn’t take any makeup, black tie outfit or ten over years of hard work to attain. Available to all, now if we would just have it.
Now I am sitting here writing. I made no money from this and I may never make any money or win any awards from this article. Yet in me, a sense of happiness and satisfaction as I craft a communication piece that matters to me. I hope to connect deeper with you my fellow reader and humans through this piece. I feel lighter as I share my inner journey with you. No bling, no glam, no multiple people at my beck and call. Perhaps if I am lucky, applause on your side for my piece. Not the same as the hundred over audience applause I have had in my lifetime. But just as sweet if not sweeter because it is not the high performance that makes life worth living. It’s life that makes life worth living.