“A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”
This is a mantra that celebrity Sharon Au has followed for her whole life, which led her on a lifelong journey through different career paths. From flight stewardess to media personality to investment director, Au has trodden a colourful and winding road that keeps the rest of us wondering what’s next in the cards.
Those familiar with Singapore television would recognise Au’s name in an instant, having seen her star in local dramas and host variety shows in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These days, Au lives in Paris with her beloved cat Rudon and works as an investment director in a private equity firm.
While her country of residence is now Paris, Au’s roots go back to a humble kampung in Serangoon. Right after graduating from school, Sharon Au joined Singapore Airlines as a flight stewardess. At the age of 20, she made her debut in showbiz after being spotted by a talent scout.
She recalls having a tumultuous childhood, but rather than let herself be dragged down by circumstances, she stayed positive, using her trials to temper her resolve and strengths. She calls her mother her role model, whose joyful and positive attitude influenced her to be who she is today.
The highs and lows
“’Sharon Au quits showbiz!’ ‘Sharon Au left for Japan to study!’ ‘Sharon Au resigned!’ ‘Sharon Au moved to Paris!’ ‘Sharon Au is looking for a job!’ […] those were the headlines of some of the most daunting career decisions I’ve made in my life.”
While a mid-career switch is challenging enough by itself, it becomes even more daunting when the eyes of the public are on you—and that is what Au had to endure when making some of the most important career decisions she made in her life.
At the peak of her showbiz career, Au made the decision to step away from fame and pursue her studies at Waseda University in Tokyo on a Mediacorp scholarship. Upon graduation, she returned to Mediacorp but chose not to resume her career as an artiste. Instead, she fulfilled her bond by working in the corporate side of the company. Following that, in her early 40s, she moved to Paris and started working at a private equity firm.
It was not always smooth sailing for Au as she wove through her different careers. Going from showbiz to pursuing a degree to corporate work, she talks about having to “start from scratch as a student” at Waseda University before returning to serve her company in a different capacity. Going from an artiste to business leader in Mediacorp, she had to take a significant pay cut, yet Au was determined to upgrade herself to serve her company in a new capacity.
Similarly, Au describes the move from Singapore to France as “starting life from zero again”. In Paris, she struggled to navigate through social mores and differences in culture, language, communication and work philosophies, and values. She mentions having to put her pride down and ask for help. While job hunting, she even slept on her friend’s couch for 6 months to save on rent.
The sum of Au’s experiences and her resilience through it all is what makes her a successful individual today. In an interview with Yahoo, she says, “Be fearless. Fail as much as you can. But always stand right back up and be humble. And know the importance of unlearning, so that you can learn and relearn new skills, new character, new power, new strength.” For Au, life is not about taking the safe and comfortable path but stepping out of your comfort zone and realising new things about the world and yourself. Even through her struggles while going from one career to another, she emphasises the importance of remaining optimistic and never giving up.
What matters to her
While Au is a self-professed workaholic, her experiences have led her to realise the priorities in her life. Her mother remains a high priority in her life, for whom she even considered moving back from France to be with during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, her mother urged Au to prioritise herself and the career she had painstakingly built up for herself.
A self-professed workaholic, Au pours her energy into her work as an investment director and other side projects such as the online French cooking academy, Ti Yan, which she founded. In her downtime, she unwinds with yoga and Pilates classes, and plays different musical instruments including the violin, guitar, and keyboard.
“Stretch your potential and seek the most you can for yourself. You will be surprised by your own strength and resilience. Most importantly, never be afraid of failing because I have come to see that I actually learned more from my failures than my wins.”
These are the words that Sharon Au has for aspiring jobseekers and words that she has lived by through the different paths in life she has taken.
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