Saturday, 26 November 2011

October 16

It has taken me more than a month to clear all the emotional threads in my mind before I write about this critical day- October 16 of the year 2011.

I will never forget it for the rest of my life.

I went to a special session to get help for eHomemakers. I only manage to finish the template for my presentation the night before. There were terms I didn't quite understand in the template but I tried my best and made ten slides.

However, things didn't turn out the way I had imagined it would be -- supportive people giving advice in a friendly way, guiding me to amend what I didn't know. At slide three, one of the persons became agitated with my presentation and he started to give me the strongest  verbal 'commentaries' I had ever heard in my 14 years of building eHomemakers.

This was what I heard, "You have failed. eHomemakers is not making any money and you are using your own money sometimes for cash flow. You can't grow a social enterprise without making profit. YOU need to get out of eHomemakers. It is because of you that eHomemakers has failed."

I tried to protest and gave meekly the names of the awards we have won. "That is the past! Who cares?  Can't you see you have failed?" The person threw a brochure I gave to him onto the floor.  His voice boomed, it was the only thing I could hear.

I tried to defend myself several times but he shouted me down.  The others were nice but they too asked me to leave eHomemakers. I told them that as of two years ago, I had already told the team that I will retire from actively running eHomemakers in ten years' time as that was the time period I estimated for it to grow in the financial aspect without sacrificing the social profit --the pro-poor and disadvantaged side of eHomemakers.  As of six years' ago, I had already identified a key weakness in eHomemakers -- none of us in the core team had business profit experience so I needed to bring in business minded team members but I haven't had the money to pay high corporate salaries to bring them in.  The chicken or the egg sitiation for social enterprises, so common all over the world, but does that mean I have to be shouted down and labelled a 'failure'?  My mind silently cried out my protest.

"Can't you see you have failed? What kind of social enterprise it is when you can't afford business salaries?"
The walls in the room started to cumbled in my mind's eyes. 
The words 'you are a failure' echoed loudly in my ears.
I crumbled internally.

Other loud voices rom my past were telling me -- the child of primary school years, the teenager of secondary school years -- YOU ARE A FAILURE, you are NO Good, You are STUPID (even though you are a school leader and you are in the A class!)  You will never be able to fulfill our expectations!.

The fear that stemmed from the past was so real.
In those moments when the word "failure' was
thrown at me, I felt tears stinging behind my eyes.

Just like the me in the past, I never shed tears.
I couldn't because I wasn't allowed to cry.
I wouldn't because the fear of harsher and more derogatory words paralyze me. 
And that fear has been a huge mental block in the way I deal with people -- I always choose the
path of least resistance and let aggressive people walk all over me and take advantage of me.

I am unable to stand up for myself many many times.

That night, I couldn't sleep. My mind churned rapidly with the words, "You have caused eHomemakers to fail." I felt so ashamed of myself, and crumbled further into the night. 

At 3pm that night, I woke up, wide eyed. "I am going to quit eHomemakers in the morning. And if no one dares to take over it, I will close it down." In the 14 years I have been helming eHomemakers,this choice has never been an option in my mind. I only knew that I had to keep going untill it can stand on itself without me. 

After putting in so much of my time, internal resources, financial resources and sacrificing my own international career for eHomemakers, I have actually caused it to fail, according to the group of people I met with that day. It hurt so bad to think about it.

At 6.30 am on October 17, I got out of bed and told myself, " I am going to tell Mazmin that I will not be going to the conference with her and I will ask her to tell the conference organisers that I will not be speaking at the last panel session."

I felt awful, it was the first time in my life that I  quit a speaking agreement for a conference. The panel session was very important breakthough for eHomemakers as I spent at least three years trying to speak about the issue to the targetted audience.  "I will incur bad reputation from now be it." Several other engagements in the next few weeks came to my mind, "I have to turn them all down!" I dreaded living.

The new me that day did not have any more inner resources to go on.

At 7.10 am, Mazmin who drove from Terrengganu to KL, came right on time. I told her I had quit eHomemakers. Her eyes pierced me sharply before she said, "I am driving you to the conference, you don't have to do anything. So dress up and we must go now. You can't disappoint me."  All the way to the venue, she told me not to quit.

We reached the conference venue and was told to join the CEO breakfast group. As soon as we sat down, the key oprganizer, a big CEO, sat down at our table and said to me, "Yesterday at the conference opening ceremony, the Minister mentioned eHomemakers' e-community as a talent pool for the nation. I am so sorry that all these years, we didn't listen to you when you tell us that women and men can telework from home. Now that broadband is accessible and the cost is lower, it is time we listen to you!"

Mazmin smiled at me.

Courage returned to my being, I spoke confidently at the panel session, knowing that there was one key pillar of support among the audience -- Mazmin.

The moment I stepped inside the gate of my house, my daughter appeared immediately and opened the inner gate for me -- an unusal gesture from the teenager who is more glued to her Facebook during her free time than to pay attention to mommy's arriving home.

"I don't know why, I just know that you are coming home now and my opening the door will make you very happy," the teenager gave me a big peck on my cheek. We hugged tightly. She knew I needed her in those moments. We sat down on the sofa, I told her what happened.

"Mommy, you can't quit eHomemakers, you have to fight on in the way you have planned it!" she said calmly.

That night, I turned on my computer, a Canadian friend skyped me. After listening to my woes, he sent me email reminders to show me I wasn't a failure and that I had tried my best to live my life.  Melissa Morgenstein, our online intern for this project, also skyped chat and encouragerd me to go on.

By 12 am, I chose to carry on.
All these critical moments happened within 24 hours. Down and down and back to middle ground to carry on living.

Isn't this part of life?
But, is God having fun with me again?
Or has HE given me an answer to my prayers about where to go from now after standing at the junction of my life in the whole year of 2011?


1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful testament ...this individual experience speaks for every founder and CEO of every organization on earth. Remember Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple got pushed out of his own corporation by someone he hired to 'help out'. He was later asked back when the Apple organization was 'on the ropes'. These are the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' that are part of being on the front line of any organization. Ching is going through the necessary and age old process of being 'bronzed by fire'.