What I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self, As Told By 9 Malaysian Directors And Managers

It's about how you persevere when facing challenges.

Cover image via Reuters

When I started off this post, it was about advice for women at work, and I was under the impression that women face more challenges than men – which I think, as of now, it might be too subjective to judge.

I can still recall the days when my wife used to come back home crying because she was stressed out at work. Fast-forward to today, my wife is a tougher, stronger woman who handles situations better.

There will be times when we feel overwhelmed. But it is never really about gender, because really, like it or not, everyone will face challenges regardless of who you are, what you are and where you are.

When I reached out to my network of directors, heads and managers based on my initial thoughts on challenges of women in work, I asked them this: "If you could go back in time and give an advice to your younger self, what would you say? What advice would you give to the young women today, especially those in a marketing role?"

The responses were very liberating and I think, applicable to everyone. This is what they have to say:

1. "BE PATIENT, BE GENUINE." - Dalphine Ong, Management Consultant

Photo for illustration purposes only.

Image via AFP

Remember this – you can't please everyone. As contradictory as it may sound, marketing is a career that demands high persuasive and interpersonal skills. And that is why I said, you can't please everyone, and it's fine not to.

You are selling your own brand, i.e. yourself in every encounter you have at work – your bosses, peers, stakeholders, or even your competitors. People may not know who you are and how you act, and most of the time they don't support you, but it's okay. Give it some time and they will feel your sincerity, your warmth and passion.

Sometimes, women have a little advantage over men when it comes to persuasion, because we are more sensitive to audience's condition, especially in choosing our tones and choice of words. (Note: definitely not "manja".)

Nevertheless, it is also due to this that we women tend to give in easily in tough situations especially when there's a conflict involving male colleagues. Once, there was a trainer in my MBA class who commented that I lacked assertiveness, reminding me that I should be more confident when it comes to such situation. To all the young ladies out there venturing in the marketing field, be bold, sharpen your critical thinking and debating skills. Be confident while maintaining that classy tender approach when you need to cushion things.

2. "DON'T SAY 'NO' WITHOUT TRYING." - Amanda Teoh, Acting Operations Manager

When I was in my final year of studies, I attended a conference called 'Women in Engineering' in France organised by the Institution of Women in Engineering. It discussed what women as engineers would face in the workforce, including discrimination, pay gap, work-life balance – especially the juggle between work, family and kids.

It highlighted that as long as we were aware of what we are entitled to, we will be able to get it.

I learnt that being the "minority" in the male-dominated field, women need to voice it out if they are not treated fairly.

A piece of advice to my old self – don't say any 'no' before trying anything. Saying "no, that's not possible" kills all possibilities and limits our growth; because the world of business is dynamic, anything is possible.

To all the young women today, inequality or discrimination does not only happen to different genders, it happens to different races, appearances, nationalities and others. While we are fighting for our rights, we should keep in mind not to be biased against others.

3. "DON'T BE IGNORANT AND ARROGANT, BE HUMBLE" - Karen Tan, Group Brand Director

If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self that the viewpoints and ideology I had back then and have been practising for the past 20 years have allowed and enabled me to do well in self-gratification and fulfilled as a career mum.

My ideology was not to succumb to the herd mentality and stereotypical culture of the business world. I don't need to look a certain way nor do I need to follow the norm for the sake of blind faith in others.

Don't be ignorant and arrogant, be humble to know that you can learn something every day and apply it to the good of what you are doing – business or personal. It becomes so genuine that no one can deny the enthusiasm and passionate interest.

This has helped me remove many barriers between my peers, juniors and superiors including clients, and left me more focused on doing at what I soon became best at doing. It builds confidence in young people and grows into a wiser stalwart of my craft.

I am not a fan of Steve Jobs but I recently came across his famous quote "stay hungry, stay foolish" while working with my son on his school project. That quote, I think, encapsulates the attitude anyone – men and women – should have in the competitive world.

4. "LEARN TO UNDERSTAND PEOPLE" - Ivy Yap, Senior Analyst

Photo for illustration purposes only.

Image via L'Oréal Malaysia

By managing many youngsters, management trainees, interns or new executives, I find that young female executives appear to be much smarter and confident than many of us were.

However, there is always one thing that bothered me, especially among youngsters nowadays – their lack of empathy. Most of youngsters lack empathy and compassion towards others' emotion, which may or may not be due to their comfortable background as they grew up with less worries.

I would advise youngsters, in their university time, to get a "dog job", to be "humiliated" and learn to smile when they can't. Learn to understand another person's needs even without speaking to him or her. To understand a reasonable amount of "people" is essential even at the beginning, when you're in the bottom of the corporate pyramid.

5. "PLAN AHEAD. HAVE A CLEAR GOAL." - Jin, Creative Head

Always have a clear goal of what you want to achieve in life. Be it in your career or family. Plan ahead and make sure you have enough resources to help care for your children should you choose to work full time.

It is also very important to consider your family's holistic needs i.e. spiritual, mental and physical. If I could make the decision again, I would probably opt for a career that would allow me to have flexible hours so that I can spend more time nurturing my children while still being able to work somehow.

6. "WORK SMART NOT HARD" - Angie Heng, Director from KDSF

Work experience is the most important thing. No matter where you work or whether it’s a job you like or not – pick out the learning points. If it is a boss you dislike, think about why you dislike the boss. Then tell yourself never to make the same mistakes like him or her. But pick the good qualities if he or she has.

7. "WHEN THERE IS A WILL THERE IS A WAY" - Emily Kow, Product Manager from IME

I remember an influential woman leader saying this, that there is no sex inequality in the working world but only differences in knowledge and experience.

I always believe that when there is a will there is a way. No matter how tough the obstacle is, you must always try your very best, even if we fail, it only tells us that we need more strength to get here.

Stay focused, be persistent, and be open to accepting others are my principles in life. Sometimes you may find that the things that you are doing now are not what you want, but everything happens for purpose, so be open to accepting all kinds of tasks and most importantly put in will and effort to make it perfect.

8. "LOOK FOR A MENTOR" - HC Foo, Head of Learning Innovation

Photo for illustration purposes only.

Image via Reuters

Maybe I don't see them (women) being discouraged because the women around me are very much empowered and successful – be it in their career or in their personal lives.

Maybe the only thing that I observed and think women could do better is to have the business acumen to take on a higher position in an organisation. Women tend to work very hard and prove how loyal we are to the company but being able to operate efficiently is just not enough.

However, to be able to think strategically requires a lot of experience and I wish I have mentors at the beginning of my career to help guide me.

9. "KNOW YOUR CRAFT" - Lai Cheng, Director at CapriComm

1. Be confident in yourself and your own skills and knowledge but stay humble at the same time.

2. Make sure you always have all deals, negotiations and promises made by clients or management documents in black and white.

3. Be professional always – don't go dragging yourself down to being petty (nit-pick at small things).

4. If you feel that you've been wronged or short-changed, speak up and ask for help and advice.

5. Make sure you go over all negotiations and things yourself especially if you're dealing with a direct customer, do constant follow-up and do not delay if something goes wrong, attend to it immediately.

6. Know that your worth is not about how you dress, what car you drive or how much you're making (or not), it's about how you conduct yourself.

7. You never know the pot of gold around the corner. Sometimes it takes a little more time to reach your destination. You need hard work and plenty of patience because not everything you want can come to you immediately.

8. Important for women to help other women and not stab each other in the back!

Remember, those who are patient will be rewarded

These people that I know produce the best craft in their profession and personal lives. Just like everyone else, they went through their own set of challenges, but what sets them apart from others was their determination and bold mindset which pull them through difficult situations.

I know for many of us think quitting would be the easier way out when facing challenges. But when you're on the verge of quitting, think of why you started this project or job.

Remember this – no matter how bad or how good a scenario is, it will change, but whether for the better or worse, it is up to you to decide. We need to learn how to live to enjoy the moment while striving in this journey of life.

The full article originally appeared on

This story is the personal opinion of the writer. You too can submit a story as a SAYS reader by emailing us at [email protected]

Read the previous SAYS story from Carl here:

A young Malaysian revealed why he quit his high-flying job at Petronas:

You may be interested in: