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Rachel's Letter To Her Younger Self

Rachel is a wife and stay-at-home mother from Singapore and spent 5 years in London where she completed her PhD and married her longtime love M before returning home. She chronicles the big and small moments of her life at The Pleasure Monger and her baking adventures on Instagram @twentysevenbyrachel.  

She has a way of making words sing and her writing is heartfelt and unflinchingly honest. I know her letter to her younger self will touch you as deeply as I did for me- thank you for sharing this with us Rachel!

Dear Rachel,

You have just turned 26 and you feel like you can't go on. I know it's hard. After all, you've left everything and everyone behind in Singapore to be with your fiancé M, while he chases his dream of studying medicine in London. You turned down a stellar job opportunity six months ago, and while you have been awarded scholarships to fund your postgraduate studies in London, you lost your beloved grandmother less than two weeks before you packed your bags. You bade a teary farewell to your family, and spent the entire flight (and months after) crying, not knowing what this new life has in store for you.

Life as a PhD student is terribly punishing, with its unpredictably long and gruelling hours and prolonged lack of affirmation, and you wonder, two months into this London gig, if you have made a complete mistake of giving everything up for M. Yes, I know, you guys have been fighting, and I'm sorry that you feel like you have lost everything for nothing.

You were one of the top students in the university and yet, you feel like a fish out of the water doing postgraduate research. Your mentors don't mince their words and you feel daft in their presence. The long hours and hard work are not rewarded in the manner that you have gotten used to by now. The drawn-out lack of results in your research work makes you feel like a complete failure, and you wonder if your past life as an excellent student for all those years were a lie, if you have been a fraud. You will continue to drown in self-doubt and depression for a long time but trust me when I say this…what doesn't break you will make you stronger.

You see, I have made it to the other side, and so will you in four years' time. You will learn that people can't break you with their words if you don't allow them to. You will learn that the lack of positive results does not translate into 'no results', and you will learn that when influential people are pressurizing you to show them what they want to see in challenging times, being honest, persevering in what you truly believe in and speaking out against a sea of voices will pay off. You will learn that good outcomes are not always tangible in life, and they do not define who you are. You will transit with this hard-earned knowledge to what God has planned for you; the PhD candidature is not so much a pursuit in postgraduate education, as one of the most valuable lessons you will ever learn in order to embrace life the way God has intended for you.

Believe it or not, we are a mother of two now. I would not be writing this letter to you if not for the fact that you have hit rock bottom. Without you going through this, I would not be able to take the plunge and give up the career I had badly wanted to raise our two precious ones when there there are plenty of voices ridiculing me for 'wasting' my qualifications. It takes tenacity and unyielding belief to steer a drastic change in direction in life and to persist amidst gales of protest and mockery. 

Motherhood has been fraught with an excess of moments feeling like a massive failure; suffice to say being a mother is the toughest role I taken on to-date. Salaries, achievements and good appraisals are tangible outcomes that I do not harvest as a mother. The days are filled with the mundane. Don't get me wrong, I love the kids with every fibre of my being, but there is hardly anything stimulating when I spend the days wiping dirty bottoms, negotiating with little people who don't understand me, fighting naps, and waking up every forty minutes in the night to rock the littles to bed.

I have learnt to look down at my feet, pace myself as I pound on the gravel in a marathon that cannot be finished whilst gasping for air amidst the intensity. And the only reason why I can keep going is because you taught me to. Because of what you went through, I know that rewards can come at the most unexpected moments in the most intangible ways, like when the kids caress my cheeks tenderly as I do the ugly, guilt-ridden war cry after I lose my temper at them, or when M (now your husband) wraps me up in his arms and assures me that I am more than who I think I am even if I am wiping bottoms all day long. Getting to those pitstops is usually a one-step-forward-two-steps-back sort of tango and it takes a fair bit of stamina, something that I am glad I haven't run out of, thanks to the strong woman you think you are not.

Rachel, I know it's hard to breathe and that you wish you could turn back time and make different choices. But I wouldn't change anything for the world. Your eyes will water but your tears will encourage growth. You will learn to trust that you are much more than what the apparent may suggest, because loving and giving nurture people in the deepest ways, even if those efforts and outcomes can't be measured or seen. You will learn that failing propels you to do more, to do right and most of all, it teaches you to be resilient and to persist whilst keeping an eye on the prize, which often shape-shifts but rewards you all the same. You will learn the importance of loving yourself and giving yourself due credit so that you can inspire and take better care of people you would live and die for. You will learn to breathe even when the air thins. I did, and I am learning to do it better each time I think I have let the kids or the husband or myself down.

Give it time. Let M love you, for he will hold your hand through this and for the rest of your life. Love yourself. Trust in God and let Him guide you, even if there isn't any light illuminating the step you are on; His hand on your heart is all you need. You only have fear to lose and so much joy to gain. The kids and I can't wait to see you on the other side. Just so you know, the kids are amazing because you are. And M truly appreciates you as the anchor of this family's growth and the reason why your children will grow up to be meaningful citizens of this world. Hang in there, babe. Know that your sacrifice has not come to nought; life is teaching you something that books can't. You can do this. We can do this.

Your 33-year-old self

All photos in this post are courtesy of Rachel.

1 comment

  1. This was really great to read as I go through a PhD while raising a kid with my partner who is also doing a PhD. Thanks for sharing!


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