Transcript of Interview with Jamilah Samian
International Women’s Day
March 8 2015
On this day women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, language, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the potential that can inspire future generations of women.
This 2015, we introduce to you ten icons of our society, each that had set change and progress in their field. We usually don’t see behind the scenes of success. What we see is a result of years of hard work, personalities who didn’t give up, who stayed true to themselves and their dreams even when all looked bleak.
Today let’s celebrate them and the women that inspired them to get there.
Inspire. And be inspired.
What we hope to achieve through these set of questions, is to remind everyday women of Malaysia, that they need not measure or limit themselves to accolades and awards – for every woman can be an inspiration. Introduce the woman who inspired or still inspires you.
Inspiration can come in the most unsuspecting ways and encounters. For that reason; it need not be limited to your mother or a family member and does not have to correlate directly to your field.
Your life journey
- What motivated you to choose the field that you are currently in?
When I was young, my father, a bus driver, who hardly knew any English, used to buy me The New Straits Times. There was a column titled ‘As I Was Passing’, penned by Adibah Amin (pen name: Sri Delima). I loved that column! I enjoyed it so much, I told myself I would become a writer one day.
In my family, love and respect for books started early. Although my family wasn’t well-to-do, my parents insisted to buy new books for us as each new school year arrived. I distinctly remember my father saying that he would not allow us to have used books, if he could help it, because they might be torn, damaged, or full of scribbles.
I’m addicted to books; I have a life-long love affair with the written word.
Today, the feedback I get from readers about how my books have transformed their lives make writing worthwhile.
Initially, I had to speak to tell people about my books. To my surprise, over time, I discovered that I loved connecting with people, especially youths, to help them discover their inner strengths and life purpose. Too many people are floating aimlessly in life, just because they don’t see how they can make a difference in the world, with their innate abilities.
- If you had to choose one moment in your life, what was one of the biggest struggles you had to overcome?
Trying to get my first book, Cool Mum Super Dad, published. I was told by a publisher who rejected my first manuscript that I would have to change the style of my writing before he could publish my book. I remember sitting in a corner of my room, feeling dejected, wondering how to move forward, and if I really had to rewrite the entire book. It didn’t feel right, so I didn’t do it. In the end, I found another publisher.
- Was there a point where you felt like giving up? What emotions consumed you the most during this time?
To be honest, this happens each time I work on a new book. Writing a book is not easy. It’s like climbing up a mountain, an adventure, and you don’t know how the path will be. I’m a near perfectionist and I find it difficult to please myself. I would start wondering why I bothered to work on the book at all.
- What was the turning point that helped you push through?
When this happens, I will remind myself why I started the project in the first place. When the ‘why’ is clear, the ‘how’ becomes easier. My books, which are available from major bookstores in Malaysia, fall under the genre of creative non-fiction. They contain anecdotes backed up by solid research. At times, finding solid research can be daunting, like looking for a needle in a haystack. As an author, you need to consider lots of things in the writing process e.g. focusing on the theme and not going off tangent, using words and expressions that would help the reader to understand your message, encouraging the reader with every word that you write.
- Through what you do, what kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind for Malaysian women?
Go off the beaten track. Walk down the road less travelled, if you believe what you do has value and can change society in a meaningful way.
Challenge yourself with what you can or cannot do. There’s little you cannot achieve if you remain focused, and get others, especially family and friends, to support you.
See the value of contribution.
- What message can you share with the future generation of Malaysian women to help inspire
There’s so much that each of us can do. Stop complaining, start doing. Develop and use your potential and influence for the greater good of humanity. Become an agent for positive change. Life is about contribution, not entitlement. Change begins with you and me.
If only every woman knows the potential she has! Women tend to underestimate the power of their influence. I’m not talking about speaking behind a podium before a huge crowd. I’m talking about the everyday influence you and I have with the people we interact with everyday. It begins with those nearest and dearest to us.
How we communicate with people around us – family, friends, neighbours – carry significant weight. Our smiles, gestures, what we say and do at the dinner table, in front of our parents, spouses, children; how we carry ourselves, sway their opinions in more ways than we probably imagine.
You can never achieve anything on your own. Be humble, no matter how hard you have worked, or how important your position, it would not be possible without others supporting you.
- Name a woman that inspires or has inspired you in some way. What is her relation to you?
My late mother, Puan Hajjah Halimah bt Abdullah.
- Is she still with us today?
She died in 2013.
- What is her profession?
- How would you describe her personality?
Very shy and quiet. But very determined to raise her children right. She had six children. One died in infancy. I’m the fifth.
- How does she inspire you? Was there a specific obstacle or hurdle that she helped you get
through? If there was, feel free to share your story.
She had a quiet strength that I deeply admire until today. My mother had a shared dream with my father – to give all of us a good education. She was unconventional in the way she treated us. Most mothers would expect girls to spend more time in the kitchen and get most household chores done. But to my mother, whether you are a boy or a girl, your job is to learn and get a good education, for your future. My elder sisters and I were expected to excel just like my brothers.
- What advice or encouragement did she share with you, if any?
She once said to me, “Kalau buat baik, tentu Tuhan tolong.” (“So long as you’re doing good, God will help you.”) Her words have become my motto since then. When things get a little tough, all I do is recall these words to get up and go.