As I look back over my life, there were many strong women who had great influence over my life. I grew up surrounded by strong women – my grandmother, my mother, my sister, my aunt. All of them influenced me in different ways with their unique superpowers.
Some of my earliest memories was of sitting in a corner of the kitchen as my grandmother cooked. Her superpower was being a fantastic cook. She whipped up a variety of delicious meals every day for the family. As she prepared the food, she would have an on-going commentary about how and why she was doing what she was doing.
“Fry the garlic and onion first, to bring out the aroma. Do you smell it? When you see that it looks like this, then it’s time to put in the meat.”
“When you braise meat, the flame can’t be too hot. Just keep it at a slow simmer so the meat will be tender.”
“Here, taste this. What do you think? Too salty? Then here’s how to fix it…”
She never cooked by measurements, it was always by sense. It was “a pinch of this” or “a dash of that”. These daily cooking commentary and demonstrations instilled in me a discerning palate and a strong cooking instinct. To this day, I enjoy cooking. (Looking back now, if YouTube was available then, my grandmother might have become a proper cooking influencer!)
My mum, my aunt and my sister were all strong personalities in their own way. My mum’s superpower was her great discipline (something which I know is good, but find hard to practice unfortunately). My sister’s superpower was her passionate spirit. She was never one to NOT chase her passions. She took her risks, paid the price sometimes but never let mishaps of failures get her down. My aunt suffered a a broken marriage and struggled as a single mother to raise her 3 small children on a teacher’s salary. Her superpower was resilience. She eventually became one of the top teachers in the nation and workbook author, and all her children grew up to be successful and responsible adults.
But for this article, I want to focus on the women outside of my family whose superpowers have had a tremendous impact on my life. I want to honour them because even though they are not family, they have had a life-changing influence on me, and contributed to moulding me into the person I am today.
i. Lay Chin - the quiet church admin clerk
As a teenager, I had a lot of self-esteem issues. As a result, I was hyper-sensitive, had extremely poor self-image, socially awkward. When I became a Christian, I was very active in my church youth group. Because of that, I spent a lot of time in the church office getting things settled for the group activities or going for meetings.
Somehow, I got to chatting with this very quiet lady. For some reason I felt comfortable talking with her. Over time, I began to share more and more of the burdens I was carrying in me. On her part, I’m pretty sure she must have felt very uncomfortable as I unloaded more and more of my internalised poisons on her. But I guess it was too late for her to back out – because she worked there and I was always dropping by!
From her expression and tone of voice, I could feel that she sympathized although she never allowed me to wallow in my poison. She would try to get me to see things in another way but mostly she just listened - patiently and gently. That was her superpower.
This simple act had a great effect on me. I felt understood and accepted yet she held me accountable for my own thoughts and responses. Through her gentle kindness of just listening without judgement, yet still holding me accountable, had a great healing effect on me. Over a few years, I feel God used her to help me drain the poison from my life. If someone like her did not turn up in my life, I’m not sure what level of destruction I might have sunk to in my dark thoughts and feelings.
I still think of her as my very dear sister and I will always appreciate her for listening to my rubbish for years.
ii. Yok Lin - the magazine editor
When I was fresh out of college, I was looking forward to a glamorous career as a copywriter. I dreamed of being one of the top in the industry. I wanted to win awards and see my name in lights. The problem was, I graduated with a diploma in design, and I didn’t have any writing samples to show.
So I went from interview to interview, getting weird looks from potential bosses when I showed them my final design project (an anti-smoking campaign). I felt my idea and headlines were strong but I guess the interviewers disagreed. After being jobless for months, I began to wonder if I was worth anything in the market.
Sinking into a depression, I decided to look outside of the advertising industry and apply for any and every kind of writing job. I finally landed an interview for a lifestyle magazine called TV Review.
When I turned up for the interview, I was immediately asked to write a 500-word movie review – in an hour. I had never done any written assignment before that! And back in those days, we didn’t bring laptops around. I was given a pen and paper, and I had to literally write the piece. I threw myself into the assignment and handed it in about 20 minutes after the deadline. Then I waited.
When I was called to see the editor, she told me that she really liked my writing. Hearing that was a great encouragement. I was called back for a second interview with the MD, but they were looking for an experienced lifestyle writer. I had none of the experience they were looking for (clubbing, sporty, fashion, etc). Even though Yok Lin pushed for me to be hired, I didn’t get the job.
But Yok Lin was kind enough to give me my first freelance writing assignment – a restaurant review. It was published in the magazine’s next edition with very minimal edits. That felt incredibly affirming to me after months of rejection. And I now had a market-proven writing sample to show at future interviews. If I were to name her superpowers, they would be a generous and gracious spirit.
I sometimes wonder where she is now. If I have the chance, I would really like to reconnect with her and thank her for timely affirmation and support, which helped me regain my confidence and kept me on the path that led me to where I am today.
iii. Wai Ling – my wife
I met Wai Ling in my church youth group in Ipoh. In the 4 years we spent in the youth group together. We were polar opposites – she prefers to talk, I prefer to listen. She doesn’t see very far, I worried until the end of time. She connects quickly with people, I’m slow to warm up. She’s quick to come to conclusions, I take my time. She notices how people feel quickly, I live in my own head most of the time. Being around people energized her, while it exhausted me. So while we became good friends, we never thought about dating. Anyway, we were both interested in other people at the time.
But we reconnected when both of us ended up working in KL. Two lonely people quickly became one couple. But because we were so different, we had incredible fights over petty things. She would mention something off-hand and my mind will process it to the extremes. I would be insensitive because I live in my head, and she would end up feeling hurt that I didn’t care.
But over the years, I learned many valuable lessons from being with her. I learned how to read and understand people better. I learned how to better appreciate being in the company of other people (even though being with people still exhausts me). I learned how to be patient and less sensitive. Most of all, I learned love.
She stuck by me in my worst times - when I was penniless for 15 years, when I was highly-temperamental because I felt like a utter failure, when I was (am?) an insensitive bastard – and showed me unwavering love. Despite the blowups, she forgave me. Despite my failures, she stayed with me. Despite my weaknesses, she accepts me. Her superpowers is her love for me.
Her love changed me and made me want to be a better man. Someone that she could be proud of and happy to be together with. I am still far, far from being the perfect man for her. But after 7 years of friendship, 3 years of dating, and 22 years of marriage, I still hope to be that man.
Read more: The Female Advantage: What Distinguishes Women In The Workplace
Celebrate your superpowers!
There’s a line in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when the matriarch of the family said that the man can be the head of the household, but the woman “is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.”
To all the ladies, embrace your superpowers! I think it is a mistake to think that competing equally with men means playing the man’s game better. Women have their unique feminine superpowers which men are lacking. Used wisely, women can use these superpowers to make a tremendous difference.
In the case of these three women, I could summarise their superpower as love and kindness. They didn’t need to be aggressive. They didn’t need to defeat the problem or competition. Just being open, patient, accepting, encouraging, affirming, was enough to change my life.
Related: Valuing Women Leaders
Thank you to all the women who are changing the world quietly with the power of your love and kindness. Know that you are making a difference even if it sometimes doesn’t feel like it.
Happy International Women’s Month!