When will you stop dressing for others and start dressing for yourself?
Life changes when you’re a mother, and that’s no different for Sarah Yong, enterprise account manager at Gartner, who is loving life and embracing the joys of knowing who you are and still enjoying the age of personal discovery at 37.
Hi Sarah, congratulations on your recent residency status! Diversity is something close to your heart and important to you. In a nutshell, what does diversity mean to you?
Diversity is acknowledgement. Being born in London to a Singaporean father and Persian mother, I grew up with three cultures and traditions at home, so adapting to my environment and respecting it was always part of my life. It takes being aware of your surroundings and acknowledgement of it to embrace diversity.
Growing up in a diverse home, what do you love about it?
I was brought up in Western society but raised the Asian way – best of both worlds. I love that it globalized me; people say you must travel the world to truly realise how insignificant you are – I was fortunate to have some of the world travel to me.
When did you first realise the importance of diversity beyond your home?
As a child, I visited my family here every year and Singapore was always the place I dreamed I could live in one day. I only truly understood what that meant when I made the move permanently; tiny nuances, both socially and in the workplace, emerged that were different to what I had seen in the UK. My father’s upbringing equipped me to adapt quickly, and I was so grateful for that–it made a big difference in how well accepted and integrated I could be. It’s important to remember that when you move to a new place, you must learn to harmonise respectfully with the ways of the people there.
What are your favourite things to do in your 30s?
I’m a creature of habit; I like to start the day early, fit exercise into my day, power through work, and park some time aside for my family and personal projects.
In fact, not much has changed from what I enjoyed in my 20s. I’ve just gotten more efficient at how I allocate my time!
What are things you had to do/did in your 20s that you’re glad you don’t have to do now?
In my 20s, I worried about what people thought of me and looked externally for validation that I was enough. I tied this validation to superficial aspects of myself and sought popularity. Now, I look internally and measure my worth by what I have accomplished, learned, and improved. I am less concerned about what other people think. It’s true that as you get older, not only do you careless, but you also learn quickly to qualify who you are willing to give your time to.
What does “dressing your age” mean to you? What styles do you embrace or avoid?
It means knowing what looks and feels right for your body. I’ve learnt what complements my figure and what I’m comfortable in. I stick to classics that I know I will continue to wear beyond their season. One rule of thumb I go by is: If I know I’m going to be fidgeting to adjust it all day, then it’s not for me. No point wearing a fantastic outfit but feeling uncomfortable in it!
What does ageing gracefully mean to you?
It means mastering the art of poise. As a younger woman I was outspoken and impassioned; as I mature, I appreciate the impact of speaking only if my words are more powerful than silence.
How has your personal style changed throughout the years? How does that affect the way you rent and/or buy clothes?
I spent my youth in the music industry, so a lot of what I wore was “stage wear”. Then, I became a teacher and I dressed modestly. Now, I am a corporate professional and when I select my outfit, I ask myself: “What impression do I want to set today?” Your style reflects how you see yourself and how you wish to be seen, I want my clients to take me as seriously as I take myself.
Finding your career could take multiple trying-and-failing, and for some, they find success early into their career years. How did you get started on your current career path?
I don’t know if people grow up thinking “I really want to be a saleswoman!” so it wasn’t by design, but a happy accident!? I was a singer in a girl group, as well as a schoolteacher, and moving to Singapore, I realised I wanted to combine my traits across both careers. I’m a high-execute person who enjoys meeting clients, so being an Account Manager allows me to fully exploit those aspects of myself! I was also incentivised by the notion of commanding my earnings.
We understand you have a young daughter. What are some challenges you faced in the initial phases of entering motherhood?
There isn’t enough preparation in the world for motherhood. Being a woman and becoming a mother is like being reborn!
I struggled with my identity for a while; was I woman, was I mother? How could I be both? I was reluctant to transition away from being free-spirited and spontaneous.
At work, nobody saw me changing nappies or breastfeeding, so to them I was still ‘woman’ – however the conflicts appeared when I had to say no to late meetings, drinks after work, or I needed to find time in the day to pump milk. Not all managers are understanding.
Now, I’m quite clear on how to be both, which is about prioritisation. I get a few hours after work each night to bond with Leila, and put her to bed. If I can justify forfeiting that for work, I will make the exception – otherwise, from 6pm onwards, I am MOTHER.
What about diversity do you want your daughter to learn more of?
Respecting differences. Embracing diversity as something to learn from, to be strengthened by. She will grow up in a rapidly changing world and her ability to adapt will be her survival.
Being both a mother and an account manager, what are some on-the-go tips you swear by?
My mindset has shifted from short term thinking to much longer-term; how will I provide my daughter with the best start in life?
Mothers are the hardest working professionals. We fit nine hours into five; we have to be that much more productive because we have more responsibilities. I have had internal meetings via WebEx at home with my daughter on my lap because I had no childcare for the day! You learn how to be efficient because you simply have no choice.
Most importantly, I try to ensure that when I’m in ‘mummy mode’ there are no distractions. My tips don’t just apply to mothers, but women: Decide how you’re going to spend your time each day, then drive it.
What is one thing that you hold close to your heart despite the exiting and entering into different phases of your life?
Review your year. I review every December: what have I achieved, what have I learned, what joy did I find? It spans relationships, career, family, and personal development. A friend once told me we have many boxes in life that we must make equal deposits into. One box should not be too full or too empty.
Whatever happens, I will take a step back to course correct and not neglect any part of my life that contributes to my sense of well-being.
What was the defining experience that you found your motivation/mantra/philosophy in life?
A loss in my family in my twenties forced me to take an honest look at the way I was living day to day. I asked myself, “If I died tomorrow, would I be proud of the life I’ve lived?” Many things sprouted to the surface that frightened me – unhealthy relationships, baggage I was holding onto, a lackadaisical attitude towards my future.
Since then, I’ve been fearless in stripping away anything that threatens my joy. I turn my passions into projects – whether it be singing, or dancing, or art. I think people shine when they do things that set them alight, and we shouldn’t lose sight of those things.
My mantra is “to be a courageous CEO of your life.” I think if we are all honest, there are aspects of our lives we should change, it’s having the courage.
If you could give one sentence to encourage other working mothers, what would it be?
Whatever you do, prioritise your well-being so that you can bring the best version of yourself to the table.
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Beat the stereotypes and embraces the differences. Find out more about our celebration about diversity in our community from our interview series: