I have a secret to share.
I used to be afraid of intimidating other people. Specifically, men.
Since my early 20s (I’m 28 at this point of writing), I’ve been regarded as a “power woman”. I’ve constantly been described as “smart”, “intelligent”, “courageous”, “driven”, “powerful”, “strong”, “highly developed”, “capable”, “intellectual”, “career-driven”, and at times, “fearless”. Some friends have gone as far as to tell me that I’m the smartest / most capable person they’ve ever met, which I think is the biggest compliment anyone can ever receive.
Me in Hong Kong last weekend, having breakfast with friends.
And apparently with very bad bed hair. -_-”
I can understand the source of these comments, for I’ve achieved certain noteworthy milestones in my life. Nothing big like earning one million or one billion dollars (those are in the plans!), but still things I’m proud to have achieved nonetheless.
For example, in school, I was a Dean’s Lister and graduated top in my specialization of Marketing. Work-wise, I beat hundreds if not thousands to secure a place in a top multinational corporation (Procter & Gamble) two years before I was supposed to graduate.
Later on, I quit my well-paying job in P&G right at the start of a financial crisis no less, to pursue my passion to help others—with no prior skills or knowledge in this area. I then turned my passion into a full-fledged business (Personal Excellence) which now earns me more than my previous job in P&G today, with 95% of my income being passive income.
Today, I write at PE to a half-a-million readership every month. I’m frequently interviewed in the media, occasionally TV. (I’m quoted in this month’s issue of Her World Singapore by the way. Check out pages 252–254!)
Not too long ago, I went on a world trip for seven months without any companion or itinerary, basically creating my agenda on the fly. Depending on how things go, I’m possibly going on another long trip this year, scouring places like India, South Africa, and South America.
You can say that these “accomplishments” are atypical of an average person, much less a girl from Singapore. Hence, I’m frequently singled out by others for my accomplishments and for being a driven and “fearless” person.
With my friends in Hong Kong — Clockwise, from left: FCC, Rita, Banana (my nickname for my friend—mosaiced her face to protect her privacy), and myself
“Powerful” = Unfeminine?
Despite people lauding me from a place of good intention, I would feel mixed about being such a “strong” person (read: woman).
For a long time, my biggest struggle was that by being so “strong”, “powerful”, and what have you, I would be unfeminine. For while I’m driven, passionate about achieving success and mildly accomplished in my own right, these factors are considered masculine, “yang” (as in yin-yang) qualities, and are not necessarily things that men look for when considering a romantic prospect. If anything, they are seen as negative traits for a female to have, because they make her unfeminine. This is especially the case in Asia, where males prefer to have female partners who are more easy-going and less opinionated.
While I’m consistently building on my feminine qualities, I felt—at that time—that my drive, my strength, and achievements were offsetting whatever femininity I had—and in a way, my “appeal” and “draw” towards men.
I felt sad and conflicted because it seemed that I was making myself increasingly unappealing to men by virtue of every step I took in my career and growth. Since becoming more prominent in my career would naturally make me a more powerful character, men would find my persona/success too intimidating and hence back off from pursuing me, rather than consider me romantically.
Note that I do have men expressing and/or showing interest in me on an ongoing basis; many times I’m flattered by the attention I get from some guys. However, this still did not stop me from having the above concerns, for it is a societal fact that many men (particularly Asians) prefer less domineering, less opinionated females.
By being more and more accomplished, I felt I was in fact digging my own grave in the area of romance. The further I “climbed”, the harder it seemed for me to find a guy who could match my achievements. People often speak of the archetypal lone career woman who is highly accomplished yet barren in her love life, and I could see myself gradually trawling into this direction.
While I am totally okay and at peace with being a single (I would rather be single than be with someone whom I don’t like), I don’t want to end up as that archetype if I can have my way. I don’t want to have a life where I have no one to call my own. I don’t want to not have a romantic partner because I believe love is an important part of life.
So, I would shirk my character. When around others, I would dumb myself down as much as possible. Rather than discern, I would put my analytical brain on hold. I would hide my opinions, unless asked to speak—even then, I would be very choiceful about what I said and how I said it. I would smile a lot and talk little. I would stay away from talking about myself or anything that would remotely suggest I was capable or in a place of power.
It got to the point where I felt that I was turning into a brainless, empty—and if I may say so myself—a pretty-face shell.
Still Intimidating Guys Even Though I Was Trying Not To
Believe it or not, even though I was trying my utmost ability not to intimidate guys, I would still wind up intimidating them anyway, through no direct action of my own.
One can tell based on their behaviors. Some would clam up when I’m around. Some would speak nervously. Some would try to put me down and rebut whatever I say. There was this guy I met last year who became highly antagonistic towards me after just three minutes of conversation, even though I was being nothing but amicable. (I later found out from a common friend that he is highly averse to strong female characters, which would include me.)
I thought one reason for the unwitting intimidation could be my height, which is 1.7m—taller than the average Asian girl. Another reason could be my talking speed, which is faster than the average person. Yet another reason could be my presence, which is apparently quite strong. Often times, people could sense my presence right when I walk into a room (even in MRTs) and look up from their resting state.
This reminds me of this incident two years ago where a friend’s friend, Kev, who is a spiritual practitioner, located me in a very busy locale in Hong Kong by way of my aura—during peak hours no less. (I was in Hong Kong then for a business trip.) While my friend Fenix was getting ready to text me and check where I was, Kev simply told him, “No need. I know where she is. Follow me,” and found me in the next minute!
The amazing thing? Kev and I had never met before. When I asked him how he did that, he said my aura was so strong that it outshone all the people at the locale (probably a hundred at least?). All he had to do was simply close his eyes and “follow the light”.
Out on the Hong Kong streets, from left to right: Fenix, Rita, Celes, Banana
Questioning My Femininity
My constant intimidation of male characters
without me even trying to do so when I was already dumbing myself down / shirking my character was perplexing. It got to a point where I questioned my femininity.
“Am I not feminine enough? Am I not skinny enough? Am I not attractive enough? Am I too intimidating? Am I a very scary person? Am I not appealing enough as a woman? Am I not worthy of pursuing? Is there something wrong with me? Should I lose weight? Should I change to become a different character?” I wondered.
Deep down, I thought there was something wrong with me as a woman. Where others have no problems landing the relationship of their dreams, I seem unable to do so. While I have never had any problems achieving business goals or developing awesome friendships, it would seem that getting into a romantic relationship with someone I desire was out of my grasp.
So in my darkest moments, I thought that—hey—perhaps I had failed, you know? That perhaps I had failed, as a woman? That regardless of what I did, be it shirking myself down or being my natural self, I couldn’t never seem to get into the relationship of my dreams. That perhaps, it was just not in my destiny to be with someone in this lifetime, and I could only wish for that in my next life.
Me with Fenix last weekend. Fenix is one of my bestest buds from ex-P&G days.
It took a while, but I finally found the answer to my heart’s dilemma. I was chatting with my god-sister, Rita, while I was in Hong Kong, and she said something that made me see the situation in a different light.
I had always thought that the solution to my guy-intimidation problems was to shirk my character, dumb myself down, and/or work on my appeal as a woman… so that I would not intimidate guys anymore, or at the very least, not intimidate guys so much that they wouldn’t want to woo me.
However, while I was chatting with Rita, I asked her if there was a possibility that some guys would be afraid to woo me because they didn’t want to hurt me, say due to my longstanding singlehood.
Rita thought for a while, and said, “I think that might be true for other girls. But for you Jie, I think it’s more of a case that guys are afraid you would hurt them.”
While my immediate reaction was to burst out laughing because the thought of that happening sounded so ludicrous, I immediately stopped to think right after. For if it is really true that some guys are shying away from me because they are afraid that I would hurt them, just as there have constantly been guys who would feel intimidated by me no matter what I do (or don’t do, even), then it just means that… these guys aren’t right for me, be it as a friend or as a romantic prospect.
Because I’m not an inherently scary person, or at least I don’t try to be. I don’t try to intimidate people. I don’t harbor bad intentions against others. I live by a cruelty-free life (veganism). I try to help people where I can; heck, I’ve even dedicated my life to doing that. I never try to change others because I believe it’s not our place to tell others how they should behave. I respect individuals as I respect myself. I put my heart forward in whatever I do and I treat people with full earnestness and respect.
If guys can somehow feel intimidated by me even when I’m not even trying to intimidate them at all, if they can somehow feel scared by my character/presence/drive/ambition when I’m simply just trying to be myself and to be a good person, then that’s really just too bad and not a problem I should bind myself with.
Rather than feel inferior about myself, I should take pride in my ability to strike such deep emotions of fear in men no less, because I can imagine it probably takes a lot for guys to feel that—fear, awe, intimidation, all rolled into one—about a girl.
Suddenly, I felt that I had finally solved a long-standing problem that had been bugging my soul and tying down my heart for the longest time.
At Hong Kong PE readers meet-up! Clockwise, from left: Gabbie, Michael, Elton, Kit, Rita, myself, Serene!
Finding Someone “Bigger” Than Me
In light of this revelation, the answer is then simple.
Rather than shirk my character, force myself to fit guys around me and tip toe around guys out of fear of intimidating them, I should instead look out for guys whose characters/ambitions are “larger” than mine. Because it’s when the guys have larger characters/ambitions than me that they are able to take on my character/ambition, relish what I have to offer, and still want more.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that such guys have surfaced in my life before. For example, my past romantic encounters were precisely with guys with larger characters/ambitions than me. In university, I was romantically linked with a guy who was a top performer (he was in fact the valedictorian). When I was in Holland, I had a romantic brush with someone who was a high-flyer and used to be an associate partner at a top firm. While I was in London in 2011, I fell in like with a good friend who has a very solid character and solid head on his shoulders. (I don’t like him anymore and we are very good friends today.)
Each of these guys was very conscious (at the time I knew them) and had similar or “bigger” character/ambition than myself when we knew each other, which was why we liked each other at that time.
I also have very close guy friends today who are able to take on my natural self and actually thrive in my presence as I do in theirs. For example, my friend Karl Chong loves hearing what I’m up to and consistently supports me in what I do. He and I often make sarcastic jabs at each other every time we converse, all done in good stead. My good friend Wen enjoys and celebrates the fact that I’m a woman of power and in power, much to my delight. We often have conscious, intellectual exchanges which he loves, and he constantly reminds me not to change myself for anyone else. Another friend who comes to mind is Derek, a renowned TED speaker, who enjoys my opinions and soaks in everything I say.
What’s more, I’m starting to meet more and more of such conscious, “larger-than-life” type of guys today, as I progress in my path. It has made me realize that it is only by embracing my true self that I will meet more compatible guys—not the other way round, where I force fit myself to be compatible with guys around me. The latter approach is a never-ending path and will only make myself miserable in the end, as evidenced by the years where I held down my natural self to “match” others (with abysmal results to boot).
To All Ladies Out There Who “Intimidate” Men
If you’re a woman who often intimidates guys around you, my advice is to simply to get out there and meet guys with “bigger” characters and ambitions than yours.
By “character”, I’m referring to consciousness, personality, and emotional, mental, and spiritual capacity.
For “intimidation” only happens when the guy has a smaller character/ambition than yours.
I remember the first few times I met my friend, Karl (who is happily married by the way, just so you guys know). Karl is a highly accomplished and successful person—in fact, he is one of the most successful persons I’ve ever known in my life. (Karl is the CEO of Groupon Singapore.)
I was very conscious to behave in a way that wouldn’t intimidate him—something which I used to do with everyone I met before my revelation. I tried to talk slower, hold down my high energy, not talk too much about myself, and avoid any mention of things which would remotely suggest I’m a woman of drive, ideas, and ambition.
As Karl and I became closer friends, I continued to hold back parts of my real self lest I turned him off. Until one day when I asked him if my talking speed was an issue and if he thought it was better for me to speak slowly.
“No, why would it be an issue?” he said. “I think it’s perfectly fine.”
“Really?” I replied in surprise. “You don’t find that I speak too fast or that my energy can be a little overwhelming sometimes?”
“No, not at all. I mean you talk fast and you have a high energy, but that’s what I like about you Celes. That’s part of you being you, and that’s part of what makes you such a great and fun person to be around. I don’t think you should worry about this at all. Just be who you are, Celes. You are fine the way you are.”
I was absolutely taken by surprise by his answer. Here is a true friend who was basically giving me the space to be my true self, which, in my opinion, paved the start of an authentic friendship between us. Today Karl and I are very close friends, and I can’t be more grateful for this friendship of ours.
Conversely, if a guy has a fraction of your character/ambition, he will find it very hard to take on your character. He will feel constantly intimidated by you, even if you aren’t trying to intimidate him.
For example, I once knew this guy who kept feeling intimidated by me even though I wasn’t trying to intimidate him at all. He would have issues with me—from my actions, my non-actions, my kindness, my friendliness, my positivity, my personal success, to my influence on other people.
It got to the point where I realized the issue isn’t with me—the issue is with him and his own insecurity with himself. Doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, or what I say or don’t say—he is always going to find fault with me at the end of the day. In the end, I decided to cut him out of my life because I don’t need such vitriol.
I know it can be tough meeting compatible guys sometimes, be it for friendship or romance. However, I ask you not to give up. Know that this “difficulty” is only part of the journey, and it will only make you appreciate the great guys who are going to come your way eventually.
And believe me, they will. I’m living proof of that. Even though I’m still single today, I have many great guy (and girl) friends, including the three guys I have cited above, who accept me just the way I am and celebrate my real self. I think such connections are the purest type of connection you can ever, ever ask for in life.
I wish you all the best in your journey of romance and great social connections. ♥ Here’s to all of us women of power and in power. Let’s celebrate our power with great joy and not bind or hold ourselves down our of fear of intimidating other people, because we should never live our lives in fear, but instead, love. ♥
My friend, Banana, and I
Update Sep ’13: About 1 month since writing this article, I’ve found my soulmate in life and he is every bit the “larger-than-life” guy I’ve described in this article, and many many more. 🙂 It’s funny reading this article in retrospect because I didn’t realize that I was so near to meeting my soulmate when I wrote this piece. Read my soulmate series for the full story, as well as my guide on how you can find yours: How I Found My Soulmate (7-part series)
This is part of my Single & Finding Love series:
- Are You Looking For A Relationship To Complete Yourself? (Why Singlehood is Not a Disease)
- ‘I’ll leave love to fate.’ 5 Myths Keeping You from Finding Love, Debunked
- Are You Treating Dating as a ‘Game’?
- Are Looks Important in a Marriage Decision?
- ‘Should I Marry a Guy I Don’t Love?’
- What I Have Learned about Marriage From Being Hit On by Married Men
- How I Used to Be Afraid of Intimidating Men and Why It Does Not Faze Me Anymore
- How to Move On From a Relationship (5-part series)
- How to Find Your Soulmate (7-part series)
Images: Celestine Chua Pictures © Personal Excellence