5 Min ReadPeople 13 March 2020
When you grow up and live your life surrounded by remarkable women, you develop a special strength that can only come from being around these unique forces of nature
I would certainly not be where I am in my life without the various women who have shaped and molded me in so many different ways. They have influenced me consciously and subconsciously, intrinsically and cosmetically; they have shaped my inner-self and how I am viewed by the world.
Many of us are fortunate to have not just one, but several such women in our lives throughout the various milestones we experience, and I am blessed that I have had so many of them in my life.
There is a certain special type of strength that comes from being around women who are strong, yet gentle, and in many ways haughty but humble. I have learnt the art of being like water, to shape and adapt myself to meet life's many challenges only because of the feminine presence in my life. They always leave you with an impact one way or another.
While there have been countless women who have taught me things both big and small throughout my life, here are the five that I consider my strongest influences.
Paatti — My Grandmother
My clearest memory of my paternal grandmother, who I fondly called Paatti (Grandma), is that she was a constant ball of energy.
She raised nine birth children and adopted two more. And she even took in a maid or two who she raised as her own children. Including my grandfather, there were 13 people in the house at any given time. This obviously kept her on her toes at all times, and yet I never saw her frazzled. She was always warm, loving, and full of kindness to all that she met.
Paatti was a diminutive little woman but fiery when crossed. She managed to feed everyone and raise an incredible number of children on the single paycheck that my grandfather brought home. She was the true representation of the iron hand in a velvet glove and very clearly wielded the power in that household.
And she wasn't just the Queen of her household, she was also quite a well-respected personality within the community. People came to her with their troubles all the time. Whether it was a family dispute or problem in a marriage, they came to her for advice.
Paatti taught me the importance of making decisions, to never leave anything hanging in the air. To be definitive, to be clear and concise, and above all, to do it with a warm smile. Even today, in my mind's eye, I can see her with that enigmatic smile as she goes bustling about in the house.
Amma — My Mother
Amma is an incredible woman who taught me the true meaning of independence. In the 1960s, when women still largely played traditional roles and were homebound, especially in Malaysia where she grew up, she was already driving a car, working, and running the household all by herself since my father had to go abroad to study for an extended period of time.
As a working mother raising two kids by herself, she was always strong, independent, and resourceful. She gave me the confidence and ability to believe in myself regardless of whatever challenges I faced. She also taught me my culture, traditions, and to a great extent spirituality. She gave me an unshakeable belief in the Lord which sustained me through so many trials and travails. She remains the bedrock of my rational thought and behavior and is an intrinsic part of who I am today.
Mrs. Sena — My Teacher
Mrs. Padmavathy Senathirajah was my teacher in primary school and remained a teacher to me throughout my life — even today after she has passed on. She faced challenges undaunted, unbowed, and unabashed, and she took it all in her stride while juggling work and raising 3 young children on her own, at a very young age.
She taught me the meaning of resilience, and that responsibility comes with power and authority. I was a prefect and monitor in school, and she taught me how important it was to take my duties seriously.
She was a rigid counselor, teaching me to be so to others. I've never seen her without a smile and a kindly glint in her eye. She was full of compassion and her love sustains me till today.
Velma Jean — My Boss
Velma Jean Caulder was my first employer after I graduated college. She was a relentless boss, and a hard worker who taught me diligence and perseverance. She was a stickler for principles who did everything on time and in time. She taught me about the principles of planning, preparation, and projection. She taught me to research and analyze. Her greatest strength was that she did all of this in a cool, calm, and efficient manner. I learnt that from her and it has become a part of my personality today. Thank you, Velma Jean for that important lesson.
Umayal — My Wife, My Partner, My Soulmate
Umayal is a remarkable woman whose quiet strength has been unwavering over the years. She has been the balustrade I lean upon. She is my hook, my rope, and my ladder. She taught me not to give up on myself and my dreams. She put my dreams, passions, and vision ahead of her own. It took me years to be able to repay her in kind.
She put aside her passion for classical dance and put on hold her dreams of teaching dance while we focused on building our future together. It filled my heart with joy that I was able to sit in the audience years later and watch her perform on stage for a dream that she has always been so passionate about.
She is still, today, the one who prods and pulls and pushes me along to be the person that I need to be on a daily basis. She is my friend and guide, guardian, and sometimes somewhat like a Goddess!
From Paatti who taught me gentility, to Umayal, my life partner who taught me grace, to all the remarkable women who raised me and raised within me an innate strength to learn, to bend and bow, to learn to break and yet be unbroken; the strength of a woman is interwoven in me.
With you all in my life, every day is International Women's Day!
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The Armchair Psychologist has all the answers you need!
Help! I Might Get Fired!
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
What's the best way to be prepared for a layoff? Because of the crisis, I am worried that my company is going to let me go soon, what can I do to be prepared? Is now a good time to send resumes? Should I save money? Redesign my website? Be proactive at work? Make myself non-disposable?
- Restless & Jobless
Dear Restless & Jobless,
I'm sorry that you're feeling anxious about your employment status. There are many people like yourself in this pandemic who are navigating an uncertain future, many have already lost their jobs. In my experience as a former professional recruiter for almost a decade, I always told my candidates the importance of periodically being passively on the market. This way, you'd know your worth, and you'd be able to track the market rates that may have changed over time, and sometimes even your job title which might have evolved unbeknownst to you.
This is a great time to reach out to your network, update your online professional presence (LinkedIn etc.), and send resumes. Though I'm not a fan of sending a resume blindly into a large database. Rather, talk to friends or email acquaintances and have them directly introduce you to someone who knows someone at a list of companies and people you have already researched. It's called "working closest to the dollar."
Here's a useful article with some great COVID-times employment tips; it suggests to "post ideas, articles, and other content that will attract and engage your target audience—specifically recruiters." If you're able to, try to steer away from focusing too much on the possibility of getting fired, instead spend your energy being the best you can be at work, and also actively being on the job market. Schedule as many video calls as you can, there's nothing like good ol' face-to-face meetings to get yourself on someone's radar. If your worries get the best of you, I recommend you schedule time with a qualified therapist. When you're ready, lean into that video chat and werk!
- The Armchair Psychologist
HELP! AM I A FRAUD?
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I'm an independent consultant in NYC. I just filed for unemployment, but I feel a little guilty collecting because a) I'm not looking for a job (there are none anyway) and b) the company that will pay just happens to be the one that had me file a W2 last year; I've done other 1099 work since then.
I'm sorry that you're wracked with guilt. It's admirable that your conscience is making you re-evaluate whether you are entitled to "burden the system" so to speak as a state's unemployment funds can run low. Shame researchers, like Dr. Brené Brown, believe that the difference between shame and guilt is that shame is often rooted in the self/self-worth and is often destructive whereas guilt is based on one's behavior and compels us to do better. "I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it's holding something we've done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort."
Your guilt sounds like a healthy problem. Many people feel guilty about collecting unemployment benefits because of how they were raised and the assumption that it's akin to "seeking charity." You're entitled to your unemployment benefits, and it was paid into a fund for you by your employer with your own blood, sweat, and tears. Also, you aren't committing an illegal act. The benefits are there to relieve you in times when circumstances prevent you from having a job. Each state may vary, but the NY State Department of Labor requires that you are actively job searching. The Cares Act which was passed in March 2020 also may provide some relief. I recommend that you collect the relief you need but to be sure that you meet the criteria by actively searching for a job just in case anyone will hire you.
- The Armchair Psychologist