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How a young undergraduate overcame her self-doubts through the guidance of her mentors
2023-02-27 04:30:00

How a young undergraduate overcame her self-doubts through the guidance of her mentors

By Sng Ler Jun

For young millennials and Gen Zs, the office is a playground, where exploration is the name of the game and experience gleaned is the currency exchanged. Still, for all the opportunities to grow, learn and network, entering the workplace is no walk in the park.

22-year-old Audrina Tan can attest to that.

Having recently completed her internship at NTUC Health’s Corporate Communications and Branding department, the psychology major undergraduate recalls her initial jitters working in the eldercare sector, a field she was largely unfamiliar with. “I was nervous,” Audrina confesses. But alas, a classic case of imposter syndrome—the feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence, as if comparing yourself to a fraud—crept into the psyche of the young undergraduate. “On my first day, I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to be of much help to the team,” she laughs.

It is common for new entrants to the workplace to face anxiety, self-doubts or even imposter syndrome in the beginning. At the recent National Mentoring Summit 2022 (held on 9 Dec), Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong echoed the same sentiments. Reminiscing his past as a young economist, and how happenstance mentoring paved the way for him to discover his passion in public service, he said: “We all know that the transition from adolescence to full adulthood is important, but it is also a very challenging formative period for young persons.”

“It is a time for (youths) to work out their values and principles, and it is a journey of self-discovery and self-mastery,” Mr Wong, who is also Minister for Finance, added.  

For Audrina, who had no working experience in corporate communications then, the internship opening with NTUC Health’s Corporate Communications and Branding department offered the aspiring clinical psychologist several opportunities to interact with seniors and staff members who work with them. She also got to learn how a local co-operative disseminates strategic messages and thoughtful narratives within the eldercare industry. “I feel like I am better able to position myself as an aspiring clinical psychologist now,” Audrina says. 

Fortunately for her, she did not navigate all these alone.

She has not one but two career mentors— Clara Lee, the head of department for Corporate Communications and Branding, and Colleen Tang, Audrina’s then-reporting officer—at NTUC Health who guided her and provided her a platform to execute her ideas.

Audrina (first row, centre) together with her team which includes her mentors Clara (first row, right) and Colleen (first row, left) on her last day of internship. (Credit: NTUC Health)
Audrina (first row, centre) together with her team which includes her mentors Clara (first row, right) and Colleen (first row, left) on her last day of internship. Photo Credit: NTUC Health

Knowing Audrina, who was once the only volunteer at National University Hospital’s cloistered psychiatric ward, is a huge advocate of mental health and wellness, the team nudged her to spearhead a mental health content pillar for NTUC Health, with content tailored especially for seniors. Aimed at targeting the lack of awareness of mental health and wellness in the geriatric sector, the scope of the project ran the gamut from a mental wellness story for the co-operative’s blog, a series of social media posts, to 1-on-1 interview sessions with NTUC Health’s psychologist.

“This means a lot to me,” Audrina says, grateful for the support which validated her passions and gave her the clarity she needed to know that she is on the right track. “I was able to share what I learned in my previous organisations, studies, and volunteering experiences with my colleagues who are in charge of content creation.”  

She elaborates: “They gave me the relevant platform and resources to be able to explore my passion in eldercare.”

Beyond this validation, Audrina is also thankful for her mentors on many counts. In shadowing and observing Clara and Colleen at work, she became more confident and learned how to make herself heard in a room full of professionals, how to work with colleagues of different ages and seniority, and the importance of tacit knowledge. More importantly, through the casual catch-ups after office hours and 1-on-1 meetings, she gained firsthand experience that most work is delivered by teams rather than individuals.

On her self-doubts at her internship, Audrina is thankful that her mentors’ guidance. According to her, both Clara and Colleen would check in on her and were open to addressing any concerns that arose on the job. “Whenever I feel like I am not deserving of the compliments that my mentors give me, I remind myself that I am in charge of my own learning,” she says. “They helped identify and correct my gaps in my knowledge by giving me exposure and the space to try tasks out independently.

“Whenever I doubt my own achievements or feel like I am not deserving of the compliments that my mentors give me, I will remind myself that I am in charge of my own learning and that I put in both hardwork and heartwork when I do something.”

Clara, who has interacted frequently with Audrina in their weekly departmental meetings, was impressed by Audrina’s inquisitive mind and willingness to work. “She is highly self-motivated and has a good head on her shoulders,” Clara says. 

With more than two decades of experience in the communications industry, Clara explains her philosophy toward guiding young team members on the job. “I see every interaction with staff as an opportunity to share from my experience; tips, useful shortcuts and potential pitfalls, which can be helpful especially for a young person starting out on his or her career,” she adds.

She recommends mentors or supervisors to have an open communication with their mentees or staff. This helps nurture future generations of problem solvers, she posits. “We want to grow young people who are able to think for themselves and to apply their knowledge deftly to the myriad of circumstances they would encounter in the course of their career.”

Audrina speaking to a group of panelists at SNCF's Annual Co-operative Leaders' Conference 2022. 

Like DPM Wong, Audrina meeting her mentors at NTUC Health is a classic case of happenstance mentoring. Mentoring SG, also the national mentoring movement in Singapore, recognises that youths can be stewards of change and aims to encourage (and normalise) mentoring between youths and industry experts. Minister of State for Community, Culture and Youth Alvin Tan, who was also present at the National Mentoring Summit 2022, believes that mentoring has the potential to “strengthen intergenerational bonds” too.  

But what does it take to be a good mentee? Audrina’s reporting officer Colleen says: “A good mentee should be willing to learn from good and bad experiences. One may feel discouraged but not give up when things get tough and to take this as a learning journey for future opportunities.”

Many mentors themselves seem to have been mentees too, just like DPM Wong’s and Mr Tan’s examples. Clara elaborates: “Hopefully with each coaching moment, the mentee builds on his or her knowledge and eventually becomes confident enough to do the same for someone else in time to come.”

On how youths can find mentors, Audrina, who has had different mentors guiding her throughout her life, explains: “First, it’s important to know what you want to achieve in life and in your career. Then, you have to do some footwork and homework on the thought leaders in the industry. Finally, take that leap of faith and ask!”

“As a youth, you don’t always get to see the bigger picture. But when you have someone, who has accrued experiences in the field, giving you some words of advice, that can really broaden your perspective.”

Interviews in this story have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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SNCF is the apex body of Singapore’s Co-operative Movement, and secretariat of the Central Co-operative Fund (CCF). Formed in 1980 with the aim of championing Singapore’s Co-operative Movement, the apex body represents majority of co-operative members in Singapore through its affiliated co-operatives.