Spill the Tea with Monica (2021 #GetChatty Series)

Monica Tan Jurin is an academic and professional executive with fabulous insights in innovation, interdisciplinary thinking and corporate governance. She also taught many students with her unique work-integrated & real-world-centric methods, which I wish my lecturers had done that for me when I was in uni.

In this episode, Monica and I chatted about:

  • How our cultural and gender identities played into our mental well-being
  • Ways that being Asian become somewhat tricky when it comes to finding the right way and right help
  • The importance of lifting each other up, especially in workplaces, and do it mindfully

Transcript (from 00:22):
We just watched a very interesting video about Japanese TV shows. They have reaction videos called “wipe” on the corner of the screen showing people reacting.
What do you think after watching that video?
I must say that I kind of grew up with it, in Malaysia we watch a lot of Asian channels and it’s very common for us, to have that little box and watch different reactions at the same time. It’s entertaining because you can get different dimensions, sometimes it’s the actors or the entertainers looking at themselves, it is actually quite funny. I don’t think I’ve seen that quite common in Western entertainment shows… I think that have been replaced by youtube reaction videos, I think that’s how they’re west adapted…
I mean, that would probably help that Japanese channel quite a bit… one of my favourite shows on tv is Gogglebox which is very strange – you’re watching people reacting to tv shows that they watch… but it’s very entertaining, watching people like us watching tv shows.
It’s like (the movie) Inception, it can be funny and disturbing at the same time because it’s like instructing people how to react… I don’t like when I’m watching a sitcom and there’s a laughing track, “what, I must just laugh now?” When I was in the U.S., I attended one with my friend and I asked him “why is that guy holding up that board and say “applause”?” “oh, this is for us…” (to do exactly what the board says)…
Even for our generation or the younger – we grew up in the media culture that, there’s someone tell you how you should feel, and this is not a good idea. I found myself most comfortable when I get to express myself the way it is…
The thing is, I think, those laughing tracks, the applause or the wipe helped me enhance my experience or see my favourite celebrity dropping by, that would be great – as long as it is not instructing me how to feel. I need to know how I really feel otherwise I’ll be in a really bad mental state- many men don’t express themselves, if I have a bad feeling that keeping it in just like… have you ever want to vomit but then you keep that in, and you come up even nastier…

When i was doing my PhD, there was a period of time there’s too much stress inside, being Asian growing up, we are expected to manage it internally. Asian people don’t express too much of how they feel, how they think or whether they’re happy or not. Then there are hierarchical constraints, like whom you can talk and that sort of thing.
you are just trying to manage it yourself. You may talk to your friends, but sometimes you question would they understand and believe me? When you’re doing PhD, you don’t actually have many friends.

I started to bottle up… in Asian cultures it’s something that needs to be done in a very controlled manner – you shouldn’t have an explosion or, you shouldn’t have exaggerated ways of expressing yourself. One thing I never knew is why is the stigma that Asian people think? “If you go and see a counsellor you’re weak” “can’t manage yourself?” “You have to go and talk to a stranger, what’s wrong with you?” But I did, I went and I’m glad that I did. I saw the counsellor at the university. I sat down I said “I don’t know what is going on?! I’m so stressed, I think I cannot do this anymore.” and she’s like “…hmm this is called volcanic syndrome…” It’s like you something’s boiling inside and it’s building up the pressure, one day when you can’t cope with it & can’t put the lid on anymore – explosion…..
She’s like, here’s a little exercise i want you to do take it home – and this is a CD-ROM (ok, that’s how over old I am), there’s a very calming voice instructing how to meditate… It was a very simple exercise which I use until today and with some of my students. I said to them, “that is something really important, I’m glad you bring it up.” We shouldn’t be ashamed of it, you know and we should find our own way. (It’s not without hurdles to get there…) If I explode around my colleagues all the time, they would be like “What’s wrong with her?” I think when the explosion happens, that’s really when we haven’t found a way to express, manage our feelings & emotions. I’ve been through times in the past, where I bottled up too much and then it just went really bad – afterwards I thought “why did I do that?”.

Transcript (from 10:20):
It’s interesting that you mentioned the cultural influence in that because (in the last episode) we talked about growing out of our past & constructs that we were expected of. I mentioned in my early to mid-20s I rocketed myself away from what I was expected of. During my school time, I spent a lot of time within the Asian community, I don’t think it was ill-intended advice, but looking back, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t take those up. This is like diarrhea if you don’t even let it out when you’re on the toilet… seriously? you don’t do that! … I’m never ashamed of admitting that I have my mental health care plan organised, I am talking to a psychologist because I know that my life and my identity is complex, and that would affect how I personally expecting and interacting with the world – That’s why I think it’s a good thing. There are people who not only think that it’s weak, some even use it against me, but I know then those people are just should not be in my orbit with. Frankly, if someone in the workplace does that, they can get sued; if someone in my social circle does that, I’ll just know that these people are not my friend.
You know it might be a little bit heavy, but I think we just need to be mindful that – it’s true – someone’s cultural experience or cultural background would have something to do with how they deal with what they feel; as long as you don’t tell me how I’d feel – I can figure out how and then work with it, and then make it work for me
Maybe I’ll just use this video as an opportunity, to talk to anyone – no matter who you are, sometimes you’d let yourself feel bad and you don’t need to feel fantastic every single day.
Have you seen those horror movies? Like there are people “haha… having such a great time (and then smiling but they were tear coming out of their eyes)” that kind of thing…

Transcript (from 13:40):
someone related to me (is) against the idea of getting a psychologist and their theory is that (mental health care professionals) just want your money
Then I was like “well, imagine the shit that they have to hear every single day, five days a week, sometimes six days a week – they kind of deserve the money!
yeah, that’s right. I have heard some really bad ones but we must respect that profession. They are trained and they have methods to help people, of course, if you go to one and it doesn’t work for you – you seek a second opinion. Just like any other medical advice.
(don’t think that) if you go there, then you are not managing it yourself & you are not a strong person.
I have a very good friend and she was struggling to complete her PhD, she had given birth to a baby. Having a baby is stressful and on top of that, you have to finish your PhD, imagine that kind of pressure!
ah, they were so tough you know the person is trying to manage and seeking support (she’s from an Asian family) and she was crying. And I said, “okay, if I don’t give up maybe, I go take medication, I see a doctor”
she would come to me and cry I said, “look you take the medication if you think it helps you for this period of time because you can’t find any other way to manage this – choose not to give up your PhD” and I told her you’re so close, you only need three months
okay three months later, she managed and graduated with a PhD.
but that kind of pressure you can imagine you know it’s not just the stress and the pressure itself – it’s a people who have ways of their own thinking about how you should manage.
I must tell you that as an Asian woman, it’s not easy because we are brought up in that way that we should listen to advice by people who are older than us our family members, they care about us we should listen to their advice.

Transcript (from 17:55):
In one of my classes, I asked my students “foresee yourself in 10 years time – where would you be what would you be doing ? and they would type up a little survey about what they think they’d become in 10 years, and all my students in that class were Asian, (about) half of the class are female the other half are male.
male students were like “i’ll be doing AI”, “i’ll start my own business”; the female students “i will keep studying and i’ll build up my confidence” and one would become an accountant professional and keep learning. That was so obvious that Asian girls growing up taking too much advice, looking for too many instructions.
it’s a combination of culture and gender. On the gender notes, I just want to break it down with you. I don’t know if you’ve seen something similar – in the workplace, if there’s a male who has an idea like 40% or 50%, they will push it out there like they can do it even they are horrible at their job; but then, there are so many women that they are really talented, they know what they’re doing, they may be 90% 95% of something, but they want to wait until it’s perfect to put it out there. There are female colleagues that I used to work with that I’ll be like just “give it a go girlfriend” “you can do it” (Some may be a) bit more than their male counterparts to be honest. I’m not shit-talking the male in the workplace but it’s like a pattern?
I can also see it’s so tricky to get yourself away from it.
Sometimes that we might have the idea of “I’m abandoning my family or people that are advising me.” I can only speak for myself, but I take the advice I keep as advisement. I filter it – it may or may not fit me, and sometimes there’s something that doesn’t fit me now, may fit me in the future or the other way around.
I always try to tell myself to believe these people who gave me advice or ideas were well-intended, but I have to filter them out, it took me so long.
You have to make your own decision

I must admit that it took me such a long time to learn it, I’ve gone through really difficult times in my early to mid-twenties; it was really painful but um I’m so glad that I did… it’s so weird, isn’t it?!

Transcript (from 22:00):
10 years ago, a friend sent these random emails, says “If you have you heard of midlife-crisis – maybe you haven’t heard of a quarter-life crisis?” I’m like what’s that quarter-life crisis?
You were so confused, everyone’s trying to give you advice, you are told to do things in a certain way, express yourself in a certain way… You are struggling to find your own way of doing things. it is tough.
I must admit, same as you it was a confusing period. In the late 20s, you would think that’s the best time of your life… so young, you’re single, money to spend whatever but it’s just so confusing; (and on top of them there’s) gender, culture and everything spinning around you – so exhausting.
Now I feel much more settled. I know the way I deal with things, sometimes my mom said she doesn’t like it, but I’d say “well it’s me”
Quarter-life crisis is actually quite tricky because, for many people, there’s also a deadline of 30… you’re confused but you also have a deadline, that’s usually that’s how you fuck things up.
Audience in their 20s who’s going through the quality life crisis, I would put it this way: think about your high school exam – it’s the same with 30s (deadline), once you pass this, it’s like “Oh … that’s it?” There’s a lot more in life after that and in this day and age, I’m happy to tell people that I’m in my 30s. I made my mistakes but I’m glad that I went through that really tricky period, (and learnt) to look after my well-being and my mental health and etc

Transcript (from 24:54):
It’s 2021 and it’s finally good for people to talk about their feelings, finding tools to help them like you mentioned, going to see a counsellor, learn to meditate meditation; for me, I use my mental health care plan, talk to a psychologist.
I don’t want that to be a burden for my friends
and they may not know how to help you
maybe they’re going through something similar themselves
all of us have our biases, we are not perfect. We know we still have plenty to work on ourselves, but i think something like this series would be good for people to share experiences and be open about who they are and what they’re going through.
Just a quick reminder: we’re in the 2020s and it’s finally good and okay – it’s empowering for people to talk about how they’re feeling, how it is affecting them and learn the tools to deal with it.

Transcript (from 27:00):
At work, some men are generally more risk-taking and they’re happy to share their ideas even if it’s half cooked…
in the meeting room there are men like them, whom would agree to pursue with; but if women do that they would have been scrutinized more…. we should actually acknowledge the difference –
whatever the difference is, hear them out. Don’t put your own biases on, just listen actively,maybe there’s something good….
On the flip side after men are also less likely to share their feelings … reports said the suicidal rate is higher among men than women. As women are more open to share with their peers; men on the other hand, don’t do it enough – they may not acknowledge they have a problem or they were taught by the parents “you are strong” “boys don’t cry”. We should help bridge the differences and bring everyone together and say it’s okay to talk about it.
To have the courage to talk about something is actually not being weak – it’s strength

diversity can actually bring organizations or businesses more profit because it gives them more angles, in my opinion, this is an opportunity to lift people up especially the workplace. We can lift up other male identifying individuals to be open about how they feel to achieve a better mental health; for female identified people to empower them to voice out their ideas opinions and collaborate…
hopefully that would attract a community of people that we would lift each other up because if we find a way to lift each other up, surround yourself with your tribe, and surround yourself with people that means well but at the same time you know like you know you know where the boundaries are but then at the same time you know what’s going on. Just work with what you got uh and also be open to improve yourself and be vulnerable and just say “hey i’m having a bad day” or “hey i’m actually going through some trouble right now” or “hey i have an idea let’s talk about it”…

Talking about it may not lead to any action however you you make people aware of the issues. I must say it’s not easy for other people who listen to the issues they may not have the solutions or they may actually take a long time to realize the extent of the issues, or the complexity, the depth of it
When you talk about something to someone expect that that person can immediately bounce some ideas back and go oh okay this is what we’re going to do and i’m going to help you with this it may not happen that way sometimes it happen that way which is good but if it doesn’t happen that way we should not hold others accounts for not responding
because issues are complex. If you are if you are not the one who is going through the issues, it is even more complex right they may not understand the depth of this and they may not understand what actually causes it or a combination of things
both ways we actually need to acknowledge uh each other’s roles in the sharing of and managing the issues that we have
we do be careful with the person that listening to because for example if they’re just our friends or colleagues or our boss or whatever – they may be going through something themselves that they haven’t told us. That’s why that genuine conversation that having that genuine friendship to develop that with your friends or family or colleagues or just your social circle is very important
well look at me let’s put it this way it’s like a high fiber meal that some people digest quickly some people take a long time to digest
that’s right if you talk to my husband it will take a long time to digest ?

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