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How Sheila Sim rebooted her life: 'The only thing I can change is myself'

The actress and former top model realised she was living in a loop of bad relationships. This is how she dug deep to find clarity and strength – and spread positivity.

How Sheila Sim rebooted her life: 'The only thing I can change is myself'

“When people tell me when they can’t do something – yeah, maybe they can’t do it now. But maybe they need to go through a journey in their life for them to be ready to do what they feel like they can’t do now,” said Sheila Sim. (Photo: Kelvin Chia)

It’s easy to look at Sheila Sim and think, "There goes another pretty girl who has it easy." After all, she’s a leading lady on television; she’s been happily married for a year and a half; and she’s a supermodel, for heaven’s sake.

Okay, technically, not anymore, but she’s still popularly known as Singapore’s top model even though she went into acting full-time several years ago, which is testament to her success. The Mediacorp Artiste is also an ambassador for the Samsung Galaxy Fold in Singapore.

In spite of having tasted life’s bitterness, actress and former top model Sheila Sim insists it has been kind to her – but it’s her resilient spirit that has allowed her to find strength and spread positivity.

But what’s less readily apparent than the glamorous gowns, the celebrity endorsement deals and the perfect Instagram photos is this: The 35-year-old had to overcome a lot of adversity in her formative years to get to where she is today.

Growing up in a one-room flat, her childhood was short-lived as she was forced to grow up early on. She lost her older brother to leukemia at the age of nine, a tragedy that still casts a shadow today.

At 12, her parents split up. “I had to start parenting my parents, talking to them about the divorce and helping them make a decision,” she shared. “Looking back, that kind of shaped the way I looked at relationships and believed in love. It took me a long time to come to terms with that and to grow into the person I am today, with help and therapy.”

“I just wanted a lot of love, to the point where it wasn’t practical. I was insecure. When you’re insecure you just want a lot, even though it doesn’t make sense and it’s difficult for someone else.”

In spite of that, she’ll tell you with a smile, “Life has been kind to me” – the sort of statement that only someone who has come through the storm without losing herself can make with equanimity.

FROM ON-SET TEARS TO INNER STRENGTH

(Photo: Kelvin Chia)

Today, having established her own niche in the entertainment scene, Sim has three Best Supporting Actress Star Awards nominations under her belt. But when she first started out in television, it was far from easy.

In fact, on the set of her first drama, I’m In Charge, in which she played a lead role, the pressure got to her and she started crying in the middle of a scene.

“Just learning where to stand, the camera angles, the lighting and the lines – all that was so new. It was scary. There were 15 people staring and waiting – as long as I didn’t get my lines across or give the right emotions, they wouldn’t be able to finish their work. It was stressful, you know. Sometimes people would say something and not really mean it, but because I was so insecure and so concerned with what everyone was thinking, I thought to myself, ‘They must be saying something bad about me.’ And then I broke down.”

Other low points in her life came in the form of rocky romantic relationships. Looking back, she said, “I just wanted a lot of love, to the point where it wasn’t practical. I was insecure. When you’re insecure you just want a lot, even though it doesn’t make sense and it’s difficult for someone else.”

Initially, it was easy to put the blame on people and circumstances. But then, “I started realising that with every failed relationship, it was always the same thing happening. And then I started to realise that maybe it’s me,” she said. With that, “I started looking inwards. I started doing something about it. I think it’s a norm for people to blame external factors for something that happened to them… but I realised that the only thing I can change is myself.”

Meditation and therapy were the keys that helped her improve her mental well-being. “My entire life, I always had questions. Like, ‘Why would people get married and then fall apart?’ In Asian families, you don’t really talk about these things as well,” she said. “I started seeing a counsellor, and that’s when I felt I got the answers and the clarity that I wanted.”

(Photo: Kelvin Chia)

At the moment, she is seeking to be a better person by taking a course in positive psychology. She’s now in her second semester and finding much joy in learning.

The impetus for the course came when she saw that her social media followers were turning to her for solace, confiding in her and sharing their struggles.

“I realised if I had the right words; if I was equipped with the right skill sets or the right techniques to help, then maybe my Instagram account or my voice would be a lot more valuable,” she said.

“During the first semester, I had to juggle filming and classes at night, but I would go to the class and feel so recharged and energised, and I would leave feeling so good, like I had so much knowledge in my head. With that, I am also sharing more on social media. I feel like everything I learn in class would be so useful to everyone.”

“When people tell me when they can’t do something – yeah, maybe they can’t do it now. But maybe they need to go through a journey in their life for them to be ready to do what they feel like they can’t do now.”

GROWTH, PROGRESS AND RESILIENCE

(Photo: Kelvin Chia)

These days, Sim takes comfort and pleasure in looking back and seeing how far she has come.

Her growth has been “quite tremendous”, she said. “Even my husband – we’ve only been married for a year and a half – sees the progress.

“In the past, I would really pack my days. I just felt like I needed to be doing something and have a checklist. But now, sometimes, a wonderful day can just be relaxing and not doing anything, having a meeting with a friend and really catching up and having in-depth conversation and being there, being engaged. I think that’s enough,” she said.

And now that she and her husband are planning for children, she’s especially mindful of the need to look beyond herself.

“I’m thinking, ‘What kind of mother do I want to be in the future? Do I want to be somebody who is emotionally unstable and unable to communicate the right kinds of messages to my child? Or be able to empathise with what they want even when they have no words to say it?’”

Meanwhile, she’s inspiring her social media followers through her messages of positivity.

“When people tell me when they can’t do something – yeah, maybe they can’t do it now. But maybe they need to go through a journey in their life for them to be ready to do what they feel like they can’t do now,” she said. “And there’s no rush. You don’t have to achieve everything you want in life right now. I also believe that everything happens for a reason.”

So, “I tell them to just enjoy their journey. There are certain things in life that are really hard to enjoy, like my brother’s death and my parents’ divorce. But all the things that happened in the past made me who I am today. I have blossomed and I have bounced back, and I’m a lot more resilient than I was back then.

“It’s challenging times that actually make us stronger – and all our problems and failures are ways of bringing us somewhere and teaching us lessons that we can use in the future.”

“It’s challenging times that actually make us stronger – and all our problems and failures are ways of bringing us somewhere and teaching us lessons that we can use in the future.”

Photographer: Kelvin Chia; Stylist: Jeremy Tan; Makeup: Elaine Lim; Hair: Dexter Ng. In partnership with Samsung.

Source: CNA/my

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