Tan Li Min, dancewear designer

Min is the owner and bosslady of Cloud & Victory, an ethical, sustainable and super-awesome ballet clothing brand. She graduated with a LLB/BA (Political Science) from the University of Melbourne (class of ‘12). She started Cloud & Victory as a hobby in her last year of law school before pursuing it fulltime upon graduation. Some of her favourite things are, in no particular order: corgis, BBC period dramas, Hillary Clinton, equal rights in a robust constitutional democracy, male dancers who are considerate enough to perform shirtless for our collective viewing pleasure, and cake.

The intended recipient of this letter, Young (or Younger, shall we say) Min, is in the midst of cramming for her exams in her penultimate year of law school, after which Young Min had to take a year off to deal with severe clinical depression and an eating disorder.

Hey girl, 

First, you are a beautiful and magnificent unicorn ninja mermaid (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise).

Second, I know your life sucks major balls right now. Kid, I feel you. You’re tired; you’re so tired your bones ache when you wake up. But you wake up anyway, driven by the omniscient and looming spectre of failure. It drives you every day, to spend long days holed up in the library, forcing yourself to pore over books, staring at your laptop, never-ending notes to make, cases to research, textbooks to read, papers to practice. To walk the long road home in the deep watches of night, when the streets are quiet and closed, when families are at home, warm and cosy - and here you are alone, tired, lost and lonely. It drives you to spend your winter midnights huddled by the heater, trying to get warm every night before you force yourself to venture out again to run (because it’s important, because it’s discipline, because it’s the only time you are not worrying about school), after eating a slice of bread with the faintest sliver of jam to keep yourself from fainting (you almost fainted once, walking home from school at night with your laptop and too many textbooks in hand after barely eating anything; you literally willed yourself not to). You could enjoy it, and you do: the knowledge, the learning, the mastering of this challenging, pragmatic beast. 

But sometimes when you’re in the law library, you stare out into the known darkness and see what your life will be: a stretch of never ending toil and blackness. Never working hard enough. Never being good enough. Never being happy. And you think about hurtling through the glass window and falling 5 floors down onto the concrete. Or stopping in the middle of the road on one of your endless runs when a car was approaching. You don’t. You don’t even cry - because you. Can. Not. Fail. 

Shocker: you don’t become a lawyer.

I mean, I think you could’ve been a good one, but here’s what: you lost yourself while you were grappling with this beast. You forgot yourself and your ideals, that hopeful kid who wanted to be some kind of Christiane Amanpour-J K Rowling hybrid and write amazing novels and report on hard-hitting stories in war torn countries and stay single and let her hair flow in the wind as she rode through the glen firing arrows into the sunset, swift as a coursing river with all the strength of a great typhoon &c. (That doesn’t happen to you either.)

But here’s what matters: it doesn’t matter. “But what do you mean, of course it matters!” But no, trust me, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter what you do - whether it’s being a lawyer, book-keeper, fast-food worker, secret samurai ninja. It matters who you are, why you do what you do and how you do it. It matters that you are kind, that you never give up, that you feel deeply, that you hold on to your principles, that you will never be happy unless you are putting as much good as you feel you can into the world, because you have, in that awfully short body of yours, so much love to give. And you deserve to receive as much in kind.

“Is life still crappy?” You want to know. Well, yeah, sometimes it is. That’s just normal. Sometimes it’s really crappy. Sometimes it feels like you are being tested beyond your measure, and sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes it feels like you have to work harder and longer than others. People will reject you and underestimate you. You will doubt yourself a lot. You will hurt others and you will hurt yourself. Life can be really crappy for a long time before it gets good (and even then it can still be crappy; that’s just life kiddo), but guess what - good things happen. Many good things happen.  Hang on. Good things happen to you, and you will do good for others. And when life gets rough, you will slowly realise how much better you are at dealing with it. You will begin realise that while situations may be crappy, you are not, in fact, a crappy person.

And also, some really cool stuff happens. I’m not going to spoil it, because nobody goes into reading Harry Potter wanting to know that Dumbledore dies or that Snape loves Lily 4eva, but trust me. Cool stuff. Coming your way.

You don’t realise this as you’re huddled in a corner of the library, too tired, too hungry, too sad, too much work to do. But life isn’t measured in quantifiables: grades, jobs, number on the scale, size of your pay check. It is about the experiences we have, the people we meet, the mistakes we make, the times we triumph, the times we press on, the times we rest (naps: v. important. Trust me) It is about the person we accept ourselves to be, giant hot mess and all. It is about the hugs and gifs of corgi butts we send to people in need, and the same love and corgi memes we allow ourselves to receive. It is the impact we have, however small, on the people we meet. Don’t give up. Believe in your capabilities and the things you stand for. Treat yo’self. I hope you know that I am proud of you. It seldom feels like it, but you know what, we’re pretty awesome. Hang on.



Serena Low, midlife career mentor

Andrew Ong Ser Choong, in-house counsel