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When life comes knocking: Grace Ann Chua of Friendzone & HTHT on meaningful connections
2024-05-31 08:01:00

When life comes knocking: Grace Ann Chua of Friendzone & HTHT on meaningful connections

When life comes knocking is a column featuring changemakers–a PR professional, a social entrepreneur, and a therapist–making a difference in other people’s lives and their responses to life’s many curveballs.

Grace Ann Chua is the co-founder and CEO of Friendzone SG, and htht.
Grace Ann Chua is the co-founder and CEO of Friendzone SG, and htht.

Mental Health Awareness Month, observed every May, is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues and the importance of mental well-being. The month-long observance encourages open conversations about mental health, aiming to reduce the stigma often associated with mental illnesses. 

In the last of three-part series, the Singapore National Co-operative Federation has spoken to Grace Ann Chua, a social entrepreneur who co-founded Friendzone Singapore and HTHT, on how your social connections can help alleviate tension in life.

“Mental wellness, for me, is about creating and having healthy relationships with others,” Grace explains. “To be in a healthy state of mind, emotions and body, to live authentically, and to continue making a positive impact.”

Read the full interview below. 

Sng Ler Jun: How would you introduce yourself to someone you're meeting for the first time.

Grace Ann Chua: I’m someone who cares a lot about healthy relationships. And that sort of manifests into the different roles I take on, whether it’s as a social entrepreneur through Friendzone and HTHT, or running programmes for changemakers at NVPC. 

Grace Ann Chua is the co-founder and CEO of Friendzone SG, and htht.

LJ: What is Friendzone and HTHT? 

GAC: Friendzone is a social enterprise that organises events, creates content, and hosts workshops for people to network, form friendships, and improve their relational skills. We provide opportunities for strangers to meet and have meaningful conversations with one another. It’s our solution to a perennial problem some young adults may face: how do I make friends in adulthood? It’s about building social connections outside our social circles, and offering opportunities for that to happen.

HTHT (which stands for heart-to-heart talk), focuses on building healthy romantic relationships. Through dating coaching, content creation, panel talks, and workshops, we educate couples on the mindsets and skillsets towards healthy romantic relationships.

LJ: At the National Volunteer And Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), you work in the BAGUS Together team, where you are heavily involved with groundups and strive to level up their impact. Tell me more about these groundups and what you do there. 

GAC: These are volunteers, self-starters, or individuals who come together with passion projects that do good for society. It's really awesome that I get to support these folks through developing programmes around core competencies groundups need, such as digital marketing, impact measurement, and volunteer management. Friendzone and HTHT started out as groundup initiatives, too. You could say I'm familiar with the journey it takes to go from having an idea of wanting to serve a bunch of people to scaling it into something more. 

LJ: What does impact mean to you?

GAC: Creating a positive change within the communities I serve and the wider society at large. To me, I’m always thinking about how to solve issues upstream, in a preventative manner. For example, if we can develop people’s social skills and create opportunities to connect with people outside our social circles, we’d have individuals who are more empathetic, respectful and open-minded. This can also facilitate new opportunities as well as help individuals gain new perspectives and pathways to live.

When it comes to romantic relationships, if in singlehood, we can help people gain better self-awareness about their core values, non-negotiables, ideal partner traits, and teach better relational and conflict resolution skills, and facilitate important conversations around key topics like money, in-laws, career, kids, intimacy, they would date better, marry well, and that would improve the quality of family life (and hopefully reduce divorce rates in the future!).

LJ: You once said that we have the capacity for both novelty (new things) and intimacy (going deeper). Conversations thus become the medium strangers connect with one another. Why are such connections important? 

GAC: As humans, we’re multifaceted, which means we have different social needs to satisfy. This could be having friends in our workplaces, industries, in our different hobby interests, and who live in close proximity to us.  

We have relational needs for intimacy – that’s about having friends who know you well and have seen you through different journeys and seasons of life. 

We also have relational needs for novelty – to meet people from a different industry or a different worldview that introduces you to new options, opportunities, and ideas.” 

Grace Ann Chua is the co-founder and CEO of Friendzone SG, and htht.

LJ: So, it’s about finding your tribe? 

GAC: Yeah, but it's also about recognising that a healthy social life and community includes having both strong and weak ties: friends whom you are close with and the acquaintances that make your days interesting. Once you recognise that then it’s about learning when to tap on which tribes across which situations.  

LJ: How does this promote mental wellness? 

GAC: When you have close friends you can turn to, because they understand your context over time, they can be trusted confidants to share your troubles with. Coupled with having a wider network, you can seek solutions to your troubles faster by reaching out to your network (or someone who knows someone) who may have gone through the same thing before for insight and help!

LJ: You wear so many hats. I’m curious about how you juggle with all these commitments. 

GAC: I always tell people that I don't do things alone. I recognise that I don't have all the skill sets, I also don't have all the answers. I work in teams. My teammates and I complement one another. I also make it a point to take breaks. Having hobbies (like rock climbing, dancing and cycling) that are totally unrelated to my work also helps!

LJ: What does burnout look like for you?

GAC: Not wanting to do anything anymore. I’m generally quite motivated and driven. I know I’m burnt out or getting burnt out when I feel super lethargic and dreading everything. 

LJ: How do you cope with it? 

GAC: Self-awareness is my first line of defense. Catching myself when my eating habits or choices are unhealthy is one indicator that I’m burning out.

What helps me get rekindled is taking intentional rest and doing activities that recharge me. I also tell my family, friends and colleagues when I’m feeling burnt out so that I can get that social support and necessary encouragement to recover.

Of course, prevention is the best! Learning how to pace myself is a key way to prevent burnout. Life, after all, is a marathon.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

By Sng Ler Jun

Images courtesy of Grace Ann Chua, Friendzone, and htht. 

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