By Koh Hui Xin
On February 25, Ms Anthea Ong will be headed to Antarctica to champion self care and workplace wellness.
Together with 80 selected global changemakers, she will join world-renowned explorer, Sir Robert Swan, on his Leadership on the Edge Antarctica Expedition. Sir Robert Swan is the first person to walk both the North and South poles.
This 12-day expedition will see these changemakers raise awareness for different causes.
Anthea will be the only changemaker championing workplace wellness. For a long time, she has felt that there is insufficient awareness about workplace wellness in the corporate sector.
In 2014, the Health Promotion Board reported that workplace stress in Singapore has been steadily on the rise with one in four workers reporting high stress levels. Psychiatrists in Singapore have also shared that 90% of their patients are grappling with mental health issues caused by stress from work.
To Anthea, this mental health epidemic is a pressing social need that needs to be acknowledged and addressed immediately.
The desire to champion workplace wellness did not come suddenly. Anthea has been through a lot in life.
Before she became a social entrepreneur, she was a high-flyer in the corporate world and a tech-entrepreneur. She started her career as a banker and in no time, rose to become managing directors of several multinational corporations.
Some 11 years ago, at the dizzying heights of corporate success, she went through one of the darkest periods in her life – one of “unbearable suffering”. She suffered simultaneous blows to both her professional and personal life.
The business she co-founded had failed, and she found herself embroiled in a long, ugly divorce battle with her then-husband. “I am a pretty strong person,” she says, “but I was completely broken.”
She was left in a financial meltdown, accumulating debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
All she had left was $16 to her name.
However, Anthea was unfazed. “When there was nothing more to lose, I was given everything,” she writes on her personal website.
She began practising yoga and meditating, and it changed her life. Through silence, she was able to shut out the world and search more deeply within herself. She learned to define herself not by her titles and accomplishments, but by the qualities she possesses.
“It’s not how much you have in the bank, but how little you need,” she said, eyes glowing with positivity.
In 2008, she went back to the corporate sector. After five and a half years, she left her last job as managing director of an international consulting firm, “walking away from the big pay check again” – except this time, she did so willingly.
Anthea started devoting herself full-time to being a social entrepreneur, life coach, motivational speaker, and yoga and wellness facilitator. She served as board member in various non-profit organisations and founded a string of community-driven initiatives.
One such initative is Hush, the Silent TeaBar. Founded in 2014, Hush is a roving silent teabar that combines Anthea’s passion for helping the Deaf committee, dedication to silent mediation and appreciation for tea.
The Hush experience is “a journey of silence, awareness, and peace”. Participants are guided through a tea reflection experience by TeaRistas, as they engage in self-reflection while appreciating tea in silence. They then share their experience and post-Hush emotion with fellow participants, empowering each other in the process.
Having gone through the highly stressful environment and intense demands in the corporate world herself, Anthea hopes that Hush raises awareness for self care in the workplace by giving busy executives time out for themselves to engage in mindful reflection.
Furthermore, as a social enterprise, Hush brings the worlds of the hearing and Deaf together by hiring the Deaf as TeaRistas. When it expanded, Hush also began hiring persons-in-recovery and people with mental illness.
Hush took off beyond Anthea’s expectations. To date, it has been engaged over a hundred times by 52 organisations and has trained close to 40 TeaRistas.
Now, Anthea hopes to take Hush beyond Singapore’s shores. As she embarks on her expedition to Antarctica, she wants to spread awareness of workplace wellness and inspire change on both the national and global scale.
She launched the “Dare to Care” challenge, where she hopes to rally 50 champion-employers to commit to bringing self care to the workplace through Hush before she leaves for Antarctica on February 25. They can then challenge her to complete a dare in Antarctica, such as doing crazy poses or taking a photo with the penguins.
Anthea also hopes to bring the complete Hush experience to fellow changemakers from all over the world on this expedition.
As an intrepid traveller who has scaled Machu Picchu and Everest Base Camp, Anthea is excited that she can combine her passion for Hush and her love for travelling.
The North Face has very kindly agreed to be her official outdoor gear partner.
Despite the many ups and downs in her life, Anthea has braved the storm and emerged stronger and more courageous.
She sums up her life experience in a quote by Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”