I (Tay) have always remembered that night. I’d flown halfway across the globe from Singapore to New York City to collect my first international Gold Award for Best Direction in Documentary.
That was exactly what I said to the TSA officer at JFK Airport, when asked why I was in NYC.
“I’m here to collect my Gold award for Best Direction from the New York TV Festival in Tribeca.” I said, proudly showed him the invitation.
As I prepared myself for the red carpet and award ceremony, I felt like I was checking off a list of signs that “I’ve made it!”
I wore my first little red dress – checked ☑
Put on crazy-high heels – checked ☑
And actually sat still on a chair for 3 hours while professionals from a top salon in NYC did my hair and makeup – and checked! ☑
When I finally made my way onto the stage (without tripping over myself in those heels), and collected my award in front of filmmakers from around the world clapping for me… I thought I would feel it.
No. I thought I would have filled it.
But it wasn’t the award, the flight, the dress, the heels, the checklist that I’ve been working my whole life to check off that etched that night in my memory.
Heck, it wasn’t even the documentary! (And it was, still is, a pretty darn good documentary!)
It was the moment after I’d received my award.
After I’d starved myself at the dinner because I was afraid of spilling out of my little red dress.
After I’d stumbled out into the cold pavement without a jacket (because who remembers a jacket when you’ve got a Gold award waiting for you?).
After I’d made it back to my hotel room.
Behind closed doors, I kicked off my heels, carefully placed the award on the nightstand beside the bed and waited… staring into the empty room.
“What’s next?” – this question echoed throughout the room.
This was what I remembered from that night.
The emptiness around me. And most acutely, the emptiness within me.
The “it” I thought my award-winning moment would fill.
The thing is, I thought I had finally arrived.
Before that, I’d worked 10 years in the film and television industry.
Diligently working my way up from an intern to a Producer and Director, to traveling and telling international stories for prestigious platforms like the BBC and History Channel, to winning an international award some people would kill for.
This was supposed to bring me happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment.
And yet, all I felt was a gaping hole in my chest – empty.
Don’t get me wrong.
I loved what I did.
My work was purpose-filled.
I think that being able to bring a camera into another human being’s life, and help them share their personal stories with other people, is one of the most privileged and sacred jobs on the planet.
The places I’ve traveled to. The people I had access to. The stories I got to document.
I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
I got to share a first-time mommy’s labor journey right on National Day in Singapore; find and capture hope in Sri Lanka after a 9.3 magnitude tsunami; had my heart broken – many times over – by a stranger and the homeless railway kids he adopted in India; and be strengthened by the resilience of the children training for the Olympics in China.
And I did all of that with passion, with gusto, with a genius, even.
This is what I got to do in my extraordinary career.
Not everybody gets to witness, capture, and then share these stories with millions of viewers everyday.
What I did made me feel like I was part of something bigger.
I was #withpassion and #onpurpose.
How many people get to say that for themselves?
And yet, that night in 2008, after 10 years of heart-opening, mind-humbling, and overall soul-transformational experiences… in a hotel room in NYC, after achieving THE milestone in my life and being celebrated for it –
I actually dared to feel unfulfilled.
There must be something more to life.
I know most people don’t talk about this because it seems so wrong to want more.
Especially when where it is, is already plenty good enough.
(At least, by most people’s standards.)
My parents told me, where I’ve gotten to, is good enough to last a lifetime already.
I should be appreciative. Have gratitude.
Time to get married. Settle down. Raise children. Don’t rock the boat.
But I was grateful! I still am. I’m grateful, eternally grateful.
And deep inside, I know there’s something more that’s calling me.
Something that will help resolve this conflict within me:
Why was it that I was doing everything right, using the gifts and talents I had, getting rewarded with all the perks…
AND STILL FEELING EMPTY???
I have a feeling that because you’re here reading this, you can relate.
And I want to talk to you about this.
In the next couple of weeks, Val and I will be hosting an email masterclass series to share the journey we took to “fill up” this gaping hole within.
(Hint: It isn’t about filling it.)
But first, I’d love to hear from you:
Where are you at on this wonder-filled journey called life?
Click on the option that most resonates with you:
- I’m figuring out how my passion(s) fit with my purpose?
- I’m living out my passions in alignment with my purpose. I’m wondering when will I see the results (rewards)?
- I’ve done what I needed to do and checked all the boxes I’ve set out to check. What’s next?
Your stories will co-create the masterclass with us.
After all, we’re all in this together – and uplifting you – strengthens us all.
Tay (with a dash of Val)
P.S. This post was originally sent out to our community folks subscribed to our newsletter, because we weren’t sure if we wanna publish it… But so many folks have written back to share their stories with us – we know we’ve got to. So if what you’re reading resonates deep within your soul, do us a favor and share it – pass it on Thank you so much for stopping by, we look forward to connecting further with you!
P.P.S. Our Distill Your #SoulPurpose FREE masterclass is open for registration. Claim your spot here.