I don’t think I can talk about advice to my younger self without mentioning a turning point in my adult life.
This was when I was working for a financial publication in Hong Kong and feeling the pressure to conform, to fit in, and to ‘do well’ on a material and financial level.
Yet inside, I was dying.
This was because – somehow - I knew that I was living on auto-pilot mode, doing what I thought was expected of me and living a life that was deemed to be outwardly ‘successful’.
Therefore, my first advice to my 22-year-old self would be:
Sometime in my young adulthood, I realised that I wanted to be a writer, to write books, yet back then I thought that I could only pursue that as a ‘hobby’.
I’m not saying that my job working for a financial magazine wasn’t rewarding––I got to travel a lot and meet different people––but I knew that I wasn’t being true to myself by spending eight hours a day in a job that I didn’t love. It didn’t give me meaning.
Being a sensitive person by nature - ‘porous’ even I would say - I would get affected and be influenced by the people and energies around me in my environment.
So I think I absorbed a lot of ‘messages’ growing up––whether these stemmed from family, my peers or from the wider culture––they gave me messages on what a successful life should look like.
Baby Cynthia with her mother. Photo: Supplied.
I didn’t have many artist role models growing up, so the idea of becoming an artist, a writer, and living in less confined way was something that seemed far-fetched and out of reach.
But by listening to my inner voice, I knew that my current life was not the one I wanted to be living, and that I had to take steps to live differently and authentically.
It took me a long while to sort out all the noise––to distinguish between what I really wanted, to what I thought I wanted––but I eventually got there.
When I finally decided to take the leap to come to New Zealand to pursue my dream to become a writer, I had to make some sacrifices: money, security, family, friends and life as I had always known it to be.
I had to start anew.
I always call coming to New Zealand in my thirties as ‘my second life’ or ‘my second chance in life’. This was a time when I could live my life as I saw fit, without all the cultural and societal baggage and pressures that I was carrying around with me.
But in order for me to break free from the current I was flowing along with and change courses, I had to take a (calculated) leap of faith.
I planned my move to New Zealand, as well as giving myself options if things didn’t go according to plan.
Cynthia Hiu Ying Lam. Photo: Supplied.
It has been seven years now since I started my writing journey.
I enrolled in literature and creative writing courses at Massey University, learning the craft of writing and studying and reading the work of others. And now, after seven years since coming to New Zealand, I have a play, my one-woman autobiographical show, a matrilineal memoir about me, my mother and two grandmothers to show for it! 愛，媽媽 (Love, Mum) is the accumulation of this work, where I gather my life stories and the life stories of my foremothers, and express it in a beautiful, poetic and honest way.
Cynthia Hiu Ying Lam and her mother Cecilia Toi-Lai Wong in Queenstown. Photo: Supplied.
愛，媽媽 (Love, Mum) is about my family history especially on the matrilineal side, and through the process of doing research for my play, it has brought my family closer together.
My relationship with my mother has grown stronger, she even sings two songs in my play: which includes a Chinese opera which was my Por Por’s (maternal grandmothers) favourite song. Her singing is featured in my promo trailer!
My aunt has helped us with the Chinese calligraphy (below) which will be embedded in my set design, her writing hanging from panels of beautifully crafted organic paper. My brother is helping me with the marketing design and stage management; and my father has been sending me props and costumes from Hong Kong.
So my final piece of advice to my younger self would be:
Believe in yourself and your vision but surrounding yourself with those who love you and support your vision will make achieving your goal that much easier and sweeter.
You only live this life once, so enjoy the ride.
Cynthia Hiu Ying Lam performs 愛，媽媽 (Love, Mum) at the Herald Theatre 16 & 17 September – with the final performance is also streaming online at vidzing.tv