Joy Ambassador: Sheila Sim

by Susanah Cheok

Without realising it, model, actress, designer and entrepreneur, Sheila Sim, has spent decades preparing for her newest role in life – that of helping people to embrace self-love and self-affirmation. The luminous friend of Zenith, and one of its DreamHers ambassadors, shares her compelling vulnerability-to-empowerment stories.

Sheila Sim is in a good place. The accomplished model, actress, designer and entrepreneur, is also happily, a devoted wife and mother-of-one. So much has been written about the award-winning actress and successful internationally recognized model – that she is a natural in front of the camera, for stills in fashion and beauty editorials, a stand-out presence on the runways, an intrepid and versatile actress – but ask her who she is, and, while the veneer of public knowledge remains a true facet of her multiplicity, this rare glimpse at the real Sheila Sim also gets us up to speed with her ever-evolving life and personality.

“It’s true that I am all those ‘documented’ things, and I’m also grateful to have had a head-start at 17, two decades ago, to get to where I am. But it’s also true and ironic that even as an actress, model and designer, I’ve never been into publicity. Right now, especially, I’m at a quiet stage in my life. And while I am still a model and actress, I’m consciously focusing more on myself, on Sheila, on being my husband’s wife, mum to my daughter, on being an advocate of positive psychology,” she says and adds, “You could say that I’m in the process of filling my heart rather than my bank account, doing other things I’m passionate about, for the love of it, rather than to earn a living. My priorities are changing and though there are sacrifices to shifting my focus, I’m happy to be able to choose this way of living and to be where I am.”

Positive Result

Life’s sometimes bumpy ride was what got Sheila curious about the study of psychology. “I was working and travelling a lot. I guess many years were spent just doing stuff because things needed to get done. Life was manic; lucrative, and exciting in a way, but all-consuming too,” she says.

“Deep in my heart, I always had a calling to pursue psychology. When I finally had the time, I googled and found exactly the branch I wanted – Positive Psychology, which is also known as the Science of Happiness. The study was beneficial in so many ways. It gave me insights into people’s emotions, and where happiness and optimism sit in that spectrum. It satisfied my interest and curiosity about why people can have everything and still not be happy, and vice versa. And it’s not about material wealth.

Beyond the knowledge, I also started applying it to myself and my life and in the process, I discovered that I wanted to be that voice for positivity, optimism and affirmation.”

That was when she and fellow alumni Jade Seah started WonderandWellness, a multi-platform service that propagates purposeful positivity, community support and empowerment through talks, retreats, sharing collaborative content from experts and making social connections.

Within her newfound pursuit, Sheila is particularly inspired by the stories of struggles her community spontaneously shares on social media. “Sometimes there are just no words of comfort for the sorrow. I’ve come to realise that people who are hurting just need someone to listen authentically. There isn’t always a solution.

It’s the shared vulnerability, empathy, the reaching back – those are what connect and empower us.

“That’s when my, or someone’s vulnerability can be powerful and empowering too, because other people then start to share their own stories, people start to relate and connect, and the voice of support gets louder and the strength of the listening heart beats stronger too,” she reflects.

She stresses that keeping it real is so essential to the work she does now, as opposed to modelling and acting, where she plays roles and encapsulates dreams and images. “In conventional social media too, people tend to share a filtered, curated life, instead of the grittiness. People read about me and think that my life must always be happy, which isn’t the case,” she says wryly.

Ministry of Happiness

Sheila’s innate happiness life-force, her joyfulness gene, makes her the perfect instrument for the life-giving ministry she has chosen to undertake.

She says, “The pandemic made things more apparent. There is such an obvious needs gap in terms of mental wellness. There is so much work to do to help people to be happier. When I honestly reflected on my own life, I realise that I was never always this happy, but even at my lowest point, I was always able to tell myself, ‘this is not you’, there was always a part of me that yearned to be happy, to climb out of the darkness and to be in the light. When things didn’t go well in my life, when I’d lost faith in people, I would say to the world, ‘wait for me. Sheila will come back’.”

You could say that disappointment and loss have sharpened her skills for this happiness vocation of hers. 

The me now, with so much more clarity in optimism and positivity, has been many years in the making. It is when you have been unhappy, that you appreciate happiness, even small happiness, like contentment and peace.

“It doesn’t always have to be about being overjoyed and literally jumping and trilling with joy. It is only in recent years that I’ve learnt that the reason for living is so that we can be joyful. Where there is life, there is hope, and the chance to catch these breaks. I’ve learnt to live life wisely and to its full potential and not bemoan what’s lacking. True joy, after all, is being at peace and contented no matter the circumstances and we can always find something to be thankful for in any situation,” she imparts.

This sensitive beauty grew up disliking school and so didn’t excel in it. Her childhood was less than idyllic and she grew up under humble circumstances. Despite the odds, she graduated from the Marketing Institute of Singapore and Curtin Singapore, with a Diploma in Sales and Marketing, and a Degree in Advertising and Marketing respectively.

“What life and positive psychology have taught me is that joy doesn’t find you, you have to find joy. If I knew what I knew then, when I hated going to school, I would have dealt with the situation differently. I would have found something, even a small thing, about school to like, to keep me going. I also realise the importance of finding what you’re passionate about. I’m naturally curious about people, their points of view, their thoughts, and when I found psychology, and positive psychology in particular, I soared. I excelled. I looked forward to every lesson, every assignment, it filled me up. After class, I always felt inflated and school didn’t feel dreadful at all, even though it was tiring and I was juggling so many things,” she remembers.

Thankfulness Therapy

As a pro-active silver-linings activist, Sheila also believes in harnessing the virtue of gratitude. Thinking back to her early days in modelling, she says, “When you’re in the public eye, people make many assumptions about you and they feel they know you because you are portrayed in a certain way. The international modelling industry can be unforgiving too, if you don’t fall under its very strict definition of beauty and don’t have the right proportions. Going for auditions with my heavy bag, my book and in my heels, and then being rejected within 2 seconds time and again, for the powers that be to make up their minds about me in the blink of an eye, was very destructive to my psyche and self-esteem.

“Then there are the occasions when people make you feel positively adored because you are a ‘face’, or you physically embody a brand, a look, a trend, a desire. It was a confusing time. Life was surreal, with the building up that goes to your head, and the tearing down that can make you feel like you’re nothing.

Slowly, over the years, I taught myself to disassociate. That’s how I built resilience, confidence, and self-assuredness.

“I’m grateful that I started modelling at a young age, so that at 30, when I went into acting, I was so much more grounded and able to handle a new set of challenges.”

Sheila’s vision and mission of helping people to open up about their struggles and to not internalise and normalise stress saw her set up a fund raiser for Care Corner last year, to celebrate her birthday no less. Care Corner provides counselling and therapy services to individuals, families and youth from all sectors of society.

She says, “I want there to be conversations about the struggles, I want to build awareness of the darker side of life, to bring to light the fact that it’s OK not to be OK. That just because everyone else seems to be coping with the situation, it doesn’t mean you have to. That there’s no shame in reaching out to the community and to professionals for support.

I want to remind people that sharing their vulnerability empowers them and it also inspires others to feel safe enough to share, and everyone benefits from the shared knowledge, experiences and engagement.

“When I was struggling with motherhood, I reached out and I was both humbled and edified by the overwhelming support I received.”

With her shift in priorities, “and now that I’m in a better position and financial state to help other people, being older, more experienced, having a ‘louder’ voice, I’ve also decided to take a step back from full-time acting, at least until my daughter Layla starts school.”

Layla, a year old at press time, is already the blessed recipient of Sheila’s living legacy of gratitude and positive reframing. She says, “Every first thing in the morning before we start our day, I would say this to her: ‘No matter how beautiful a day or how awful a day, there’s always something about it to be grateful about and to feel positive about. Because no matter what, the sun always rises and the sun always sets. Happy is all about perspective; the glass can look like it’s either half full or half empty depending on how you want to look at it. At the end of the day, happiness is a choice. Choose wisely, my baby.’”

Time to Shine

The friend of Zenith timepieces and an honoured ambassador of the brand’s DreamHers campaign is also the very personification of Zenith’s Chronomaster Original Timepieces for women, which she wears for this story. Its clean, modern design informs Sheila’s personal aesthetics, and its uncomplicated looks allude to the way the humble achiever and happiness guru chooses to live her life too – with levity and openness. “I like its unisex look. I’m not into dainty things and I like watches with big faces. A woman’s watch need not look feminine. The Zenith Chronomaster Original is versatile and works for any occasion, even with a formal gown. I like the understated colours – subtle blue, with mother-of-pearl.” 

Zenith exists to inspire individuals to pursue their dreams and make them come true – against all odds. How befitting that they have chosen to partner Sheila in their product stories, her self-belief being proof that she takes full responsibility for aligning the stars in her life. 

This feature is produced in collaboration with Zenith. Artwork by Curatedition, all rights reserved.

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