Shirley Maya Tan grew up as ‘spoiled brat’ heiress to a business conglomerate in Malaysia. Raised by Filipina nannies and maids she regularly abused as a kid, who would have thought that she would become someone who would help build homes and improve the lives of poor Filipinos?
“I was your typical spoiled brat. Everything was laid out for me. I didn’t have to work. My most difficult decisions in my past life were: should I buy a Porsche or a Ferrari? I had no clue how the other half lived,” Tan recalled.
“I was quite abusive and mean but they [the Pinay nannies] were always so sweet. They were always there to tie my shoelaces, feed me breakfast, pick me up from school. They would even shield me with their own bodies when my father tried to hit me. I bullied them like hell, but they would still love me.”
But as she grew up, she felt emptiness even with her vast fortune. Her search for happiness and meaning in life led her to Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsem Rinpoche.
After talking with the guru, she made a realization, “And then I realized: I had everything but I was the poorest person in the world, because all I had was money. I didn’t have anything else.”
The guru encouraged her to write, something that was a huge feat for someone as lazy as her, she admitted. But this would soon help give her some purpose in her life.
In 2006, Tan visited a friend working in one of Kuala Lumpur’s poorest districts. While she had only donated to her friend’s cause, seeing her friend rescue abused children and trafficked women made her realize she had been living in a golden cage all her life.
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