For 51-year-old Sharon Ong, finding the “right job” was not an easy process. She battled with serious alcohol addiction for many years and her last full-time job was 17 years ago.
…finding the “right job” was not an easy process
But the former lawyer has emerged from the experience as a stronger person. She credits her e2i career coach Ms Aishah for helping her discover a new passion in nannying.
Sharon’s career, like many others, started conventionally. She began working as a lawyer in 1994, shortly after her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. As such, her parents decided to take care of her grandmother without any help from their children.
However, in 1995, her father died suddenly, effectively leaving her mother alone in the role of caregiver. As a junior lawyer, Sharon’s working hours were long; she struggled with guilty feelings leaving her mother to care for both grandparents.
In 1997, Sharon switched to a job with more manageable hours. After her grandmother passed away in 1999, Sharon and her mother continued caring for her grandfather. It was then that a bitter legal dispute broke out in her family. The case was finally resolved in 2002.
At this point, Sharon also realized that her job had reached the end of its “life cycle”. So, she began her next chapter of freelancing in photography, copywriting and copyediting. However, her one-year break to plan for her next steps turned out to be a long break from full-time employment.
It was around this point that Sharon developed a serious drinking problem. Lacking the stability of a proper job, together with the family legal dispute, Sharon lost confidence and became clinically depressed.
“I started drinking socially when I was very young. My family had a history of alcohol abuse. I also have relatives who died due to alcoholism,” Sharon revealed.
Sharon began drinking excessively as a result of the problems she was facing.
“At my worst, I was drinking as much as 500ml of whisky daily, equivalent to 21 standard drinks,” Sharon described. This is 20 times the recommended daily quota for a woman, according to Health Hub.
…no one knew about her problems
Yet despite the excessive amounts of alcohol that Sharon was consuming, no one knew about her problems.
According to Sharon, this pattern of high-functioning alcoholism is surprisingly common amongst women who are caregivers; they tend to drink alone and in secret.
In Sharon’s case, she was still able to live day-to-day and handle family responsibilities despite her severe alcohol abuse. However, despite appearing normal, Sharon’s health was suffering.
Reaching out for help
Sharon finally decided to seek professional help after many years.
Things came to a head in 2011 when a medical condition that Sharon was neglecting became so serious that she was forced to stop being in denial.
I would have been dead, by 45…
“I was 43 and had delayed going to my gynaecologist because I was too embarrassed to come clean to her about the drinking. Today, I’m glad I spoke up because my gynaecologist helped me to get the alcoholism treated. If I hadn’t stopped drinking when I did, it is likely that I would have been dead, by 45, of alcohol-related causes,” Sharon explained.
Deciding to face her problems head-on, Sharon admitted herself for a 10-day inpatient addiction management programme at the Institute of Mental Health. Thereafter she continued with a regular counselling programme for a whole year to avoid a possible relapse.
Since 2011, Sharon has been in her own words “comfortably and durably sober-ised”. Along the way, she also picked up healthy new activities such as weightlifting.
For the first time in many years, she dared to think about the future.
By 2019, Sharon had been stable in her alcohol recovery for eight years. She is healthy and clear-headed. For the first time in many years, she dared to think about the future.
But it was not easy for her. Having been out of touch from the full-time workforce for 17 years, Sharon could not return to law because jobs in that sector required relevant and recent experience.
Taking steps in the right direction
The job search journey for Sharon had been a stressful one. She started responding to “job calls” at the beginning of 2019 but she did not receive any replies at all from employers. Did she have any skills that anybody wanted, she wondered.
After leaving full-time employment for 17 years, Sharon kickstarted her job search journey with an e2i career coach.
Eventually, Sharon found e2i’s career services online and made an appointment to see an e2i career coach. Still, her doubts about the job market and her chances of finding a job plagued her.
“I wanted to give up after making the appointment as I was out of the workforce for a very long time. I also wasn’t sure if I could be placed back into the workforce,” Sharon said.
It was at Sharon’s first career guidance session in August 2019 with coach Aishah, where she received a much-needed boost of confidence.
Seeking career guidance at e2i
“My first impression of Sharon was that she was strong, brave. But I also saw that she was lost in her career journey. She had been freelancing for 17 years and she did not know where to begin to re-enter the workforce,” shared Aishah.
…her life priorities had changed
“After all that she had been through, her life priorities had changed. Having come from a corporate working life with high earnings and high stress, she was now looking for simpler jobs with more work-life balance. She came to e2i looking for a part-time job, as she had decided to make it a priority to finish the novels she was writing; and she did not have the bandwidth to pursue freelance work concurrently,” she added.
Aishah also shared useful resources such as job listings that Sharon could apply to and guided her on resume writing. She signed Sharon up for an employability workshop in September of 2019 to address other gaps.
True enough, the workshop was a great help to Sharon as it also exposed her to people from different walks of life, who were in similar situations as her. Additionally, Sharon also picked up on interview skills, how to improve her confidence, and practical job search tips.
I was not alone in my job search journey.
“The workshop showed me that I was not alone in my job search journey. It allowed me to network with fellow participants. We supported each other and bounced ideas on potential jobs with each other,” Sharon shared.
She had also picked up skills from the freelancing and volunteering she had done in the years since she stopped drinking; by then she was a seasoned volunteer with NLB’s KidsRead programme and visiting hospital wards regularly as a Therapy Dogs of Singapore volunteer. Given her hands-on practice with caring for her grandparents and even her nephew, her part-time job options expanded beyond just data entry, to jobs in elderly caregiving, working at a vet clinic, or babysitting.
A supportive and empowering employer
During career coaching, Aishah suggested nannying to Sharon, and recommended NannyPro, a social enterprise seeking to empower women with life skills to be an asset to the community. Sharon jumped on the idea and interviewed with NannyPro.
we did not know if this was the right job fit.
Initially, NannyPro had some concerns about Sharon as a candidate.
“Our first impression is that Sharon is highly knowledgeable. However, we did not know if this was the right job fit. She was also not a mother and the job nature requires someone who is a mother or has experience caring for children.”
“We believe that she will be able to do the job well given her caregiving experience. We also tried to prepare her if she were questioned by parents since they are the ones selecting the profiles of the nannies.”
…it is not about what they were before, but what they are capable of now
Regarding Sharon’s past with alcoholism, NannyPro shared, “The mental well-being of our hired Nannies is important to us. If they overcame their past, we give them a chance because it is not about what they were before, but what they are capable of now.”
NannyPro has since recognized Sharon’s copywriting experience and plans to expand her job opportunities to contribute to the company’s blog.
To Sharon, Nannypro’s position was a dream job as the flexible working hours gave her sufficient time to pursue her dream of finishing her novels and even writing a book about her struggle with alcoholism. She also enjoys caring for the young children of her clients. Nannying has also taught her many things.
Aspirations and dreams
Sharon is looking forward to her book being published.
Today, Sharon is looking forward to her publishing first non-fiction book about overcoming alcoholism. She is attending courses on eldercare and hopes to extend her nanny work to caring for children with special needs or medical conditions.
“I am immensely thankful for the strategic advice, the resources and leads from Aishah and Robert (employability trainer) who has helped me along the way, and my employer for giving me this opportunity” shares Sharon.
In response to readers who might be facing or have faced similar social struggles, Sharon’s advice is:
“Do things one step at a time and don’t let
the fear of the unknown hinder you.”
We thank Sharon for sharing her story with us and NannyPro (a partner in e2i’s employer network), for being an empowering employer!
By Elena Owyong