{Interview #10}: Christine Teo – Social Worker

Christine Teo, 37, is a Mental Health Social Worker and Founder of Generation 414. She achieved the Golden Key Award for academic excellence, won first prize in RMIT University’s Business Plan Competition 2015 and attained the Litmus Group Productivity Award.

This initiative is part of our 101 Paths to Success series of interviews to gain insight into how successful people came to do what they are doing, and enlighten parents that there is a vast array of occupations for our children to discover. Hopefully it might spark an interest in our children and youths to start their journey of discerning their life’s path.

Your qualifications

Masters in Social Work
Masters in Counselling
Graduate Diploma in Theology
Bachelor of Business Management
Diploma in Human Resource Management

Christine Teo

Describe your job

I support people living with severe and chronic mental illness with complex issues by providing a more coordinated system response to their mental health needs. I work closely with the client, carers and family by getting multiple sectors, services and support they may come into contact with to work in a more collaborative, coordinated and integrated way, ensuring the best possible outcome for their recovery.

In my work at Generation 414, we provide dignified employment and personal development opportunities for women affected by human trafficking. We offer skills training, educational support, and a long-term sustainable income channel through the online sale of bags and clothes handmade by the survivors of the sex industry.

Tell us about your career path

I started out in the corporate world as a consultant in one of the Big Fours. I loved the challenges the job offered and the money was great and I enjoyed my time there. However, after a while I started to question that there must be more meaning in life than this.

I regularly volunteered in mission trips and enjoyed the interactions I had with the communities that I worked with, so I made the decision to change my career and applied for a post-graduate course in the helping profession.

I was privileged to be granted a full scholarship so I quit my job, packed my bags and moved to Australia. It’s been 10 years now and I’ve never looked back.

How did you find your passion?

I have always enjoyed helping people. My parents, being traditional Chinese Singaporeans, are not very supportive of my career move. It’s been 10 years and they are still trying to convince me to go back to the corporate sector so that I can “make more money”, and to “give up my ideals”. I am very blessed that I had a grandmother (who has since passed on) who was the kindest, most selfless role model.

I had the value instilled in me that there is so much more to life than making lots of money which you cannot bring into your grave anyway. I am glad I listened to that advice instead and have never been happier. The satisfaction and fulfilment I get out of being able to be a positive impact on the lives of others is priceless!

Which aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

I find it a huge honour and privilege that I have been given the most broken and fragile of people (mental health clients or survivors of trafficking) to journey life with, to walk alongside them, to care for and support them in their journey of recovery to make a better life for themselves.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is when I work myself out of a job! When the person I have journeyed life with comes and tells me, “Thank you for all that you have done for me. I don’t need your help anymore because I can do life on my own now.” That is the  best thing a social worker can ever hear.

Does this job enable good work/life balance?

You learn to set healthy boundaries and with experience you know that if you don’t set yourself good work/life balance, you will burn out quickly. We are in this profession for the long haul. It is a marathon not a sprint, and if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will not be able to take care of others.

When I am at work I give my 100% and am fully engaged with my clients. When I am away from work, I shut that out of my personal life and give my loved ones my 100% attention and also make time for myself to love and care for myself by doing things that I absolutely enjoy.

You must be incredibly busy. How do you avoid being burnt out?

I am very organised and I plan. I plan time to work, to play and to rest. Most people burn out because they fill their diaries with so much work and do not allocate specific time to rest. “No” is a very important word to learn how to say. I also make sure I eat healthy, exercise regularly by doing bikum yoga and going for long runs or swims to help me relax and decompress the day’s stresses. I balance work with a good social life and I get enough sleep.

Are you involved in any charity work?

Yes. I am an advisor and consultant for Atlanta Alliance Against Trafficking, resource manager for Hillsong Church, and I volunteer at the Human Trafficking Resource & Assistance Centre, NightLight International, The A21 Campaign, and in Passion City Church.

One piece of advice to parents

Allow your children to dream and to follow their hearts. Do not be too quick to shut them down just because they may not conform to society’s template. Everyone is unique, with a different set of talents and gifts.

Your actions, even more than your words, are critical in helping children adopt good moral and ethical standards. If you are a good role model from early on, that is the best thing you can do for your children. The provision of material possessions, although good, is not the crux of it all. If you raise them well, your children will be resourceful enough to be able to provide for themselves and take care of you in your old age.

One piece of advice to teens

Be the change you wish to see in your world. Not all of us can do great things but we ALL can do small things with great love. Dare to dream. The only person who can truly prevent your dream from becoming your reality is yourself.

To be a good social worker, it takes someone… who will not give up on doing small things with great love. If you work from a framework of unconditional, unjudgemental love, the people you are working with will appreciate the efforts. Their lives may not become perfect overnight but to know that someone out there cares enough to want to help and support them changes their world for them.

{Interviews} 101 Paths to Success

#1 – Dr Karen Crasta Scientist Associate Prof at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

#2 – Jeremiah Choy Creative Director Sing50 Mega concert at the National Stadium
#3 – Elaine Yeo Musician Singapore Symphony Orchestra
#4 – Chong Ee Jay Cyber Wellness Educator TOUCH Cyber Wellness
#5 – Professor Tan Huay Cheem Cardiologist Director of National University Heart Centre
#6 – Ruth Wan Children’s Book Author Timmy and Tammy series
#7 – Andrea Decruz Media Personality Owner of CINQ Salon & Belmont Flora
#8 – Ebelle Chong Dance Practitioner / Choreographer SSLD:7 in R.e.P 2015
#9 – Dr Phillip A. Towndrow Research Scientist Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~