‘I’m an introvert, so there’s really nothing interesting about me,’ says the empowered woman who has been making a huge difference in the lives of many people for decades across various media platforms. Preconceived notions of introverts would tell that they are quiet, reserved, and socially awkward. But Hannah Tan proves that beyond the textbook definition of this personality is a wild heart that has withstood the challenges of depression, societal expectations, and health issues.
Leaving the comforts of home at 16, Hannah shares that the secret behind her success is her failures – going on wrong business partnerships, exhausting her life savings for uncertain investments, getting into debts, and being depressed and on the verge of suicide. She found that owning her mistakes and finding the courage to tell her stories were the most impactful things that she has done. “I was so high up on my idea of success that I realized that it’s not the success story of mine that will impact people but my willingness to come out, admit my mistakes, and share these learnings. Secondhand learning is cheaper because you don’t have to make the mistakes I did.”
Despite her success, Hannah confesses that she still battles with insecurities – of not being able to achieve the level of confidence like those people who can easily step out with confidence and conviction. Like most people, she has always been so critical about herself, and whenever she feels this way, she used to put on more makeup or overdress. It took a while before it came into her the idea that probably it’s not always about being confident; rather, it’s about learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
It’s only when she gave up the thought of striving for confidence that she learned to be comfortable with her own skin. Her lack of confidence eventually became her greatest asset. Recognizing the things that she needs to work on pushed her to do better, strive harder, and practice more. But these are easier said than done. Her social anxiety constantly reminded her that there is so much more than she has to work unto. Hannah recalls having trouble with sleeping, getting constipated, and experiencing migraine attacks and gastric illness whenever she gets engagements.
It took time for Hannah to come to terms with her fear of rejection and desire to be accepted when performing on stage. But when she readjusted her focus – that it’s not more about her but the message that she conveys when she’s hosting – when she learned that it’s her priority to bring the best experience of the brand to the audience, that’s when her feeling of anxiety naturally disappears.
While most people try to paint a perfect life on social media, Hannah uses her platform to amplify stories of self-acceptance, of embracing one’s flaws and imperfections. “What is truly inspiring is when people come up to me and say that they didn’t give up in life when they heard my story. That they give it another 24 hours. And I think that’s the most powerful message a person can understand. You don’t have to be a celebrity or an instagrammer or influencer because every story and every person is unique. People just need someone that they can relate to. And we make it through today because we heard someone else’s story. It’s like your future-self telling you that you will get through this.”
Hannah fondly recalls having such raging hormones when she was younger. Coming from a strict Christian family, she was prohibited to do a lot of things that people her age are doing, like talking to boys, watching TV without parental supervision, and going out for parties. She was naturally defiant and rebellious to the point that she just decided to run away from home and live the life she wanted to get – without plans and money. Of course, reality eventually hit her. She needed to figure out how to earn money to feed herself, to survive, and to try out sorts of things that would generate income – until things go haywire in her body.
Hannah was already diagnosed with chronic pharyngitis, an inflammation of her throat which could make her lose her voice, before she found out that there was a tumor on a nerve on her brain. Despite all these, of all the trials she’s been through, she believes that God kept her alive for a reason.
At present, Hannah uses her Instagram to connect with people in her community, where they make time to comment, encourage, and show love to each other. She lovingly calls them her ‘online family’. This virtual space provides the community a venue to share whatever they are going through – family problems, marriages, jobs, and the like. “It amazes me how these people, some of them lost their jobs and all, still make time every Thursday to comment to encourage. They never complain. I just want to cry inside because these people have hundreds and million and one things to do at home, yet they make time to encourage people. These people are broken inside, but they still make time to show love.”
And this led Hannah to a certain kind of realization: that there is always purpose in pain. People may not see the whole picture at the moment they are hurting, but one thing she knew from all the trials she had that the happiest and strongest people she met are those who have been through the most challenging times. She relates these experiences to “kintsugi”, the Japanese art of mending broken and precious objects by filling up the cracks with liquid gold or silver. Like bowls, people get to be broken at different points in life. And when people get through all these pains and heal, they become a masterpiece that is so beautiful and difficult to duplicate.
“What is success to me? What is it that I want?” Hannah explained that success grows through people. It’s a journey, like a caterpillar going into a journey towards becoming a butterfly. There are different stages to it. You can’t talk butterfly language to caterpillar people. Some people will not understand your journey because sometimes we grow faster (or slower) than the people around us. But all the same, our experiences and challenges build us.
People are creatures of habit and comfort. We usually despise change. However, Hannah emphasized that through the years, she learned that it is in discomfort and pain that she grew. She was forced out of her comfort zone; she was forced to confront uncomfortable scenarios before she became who she is right now. The process of growth is truly uncomfortable – like a seed that needs to be torn and broken, pressured by the soil and weather, and rained steadily.
Even in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hannah sees an uplifting silver lining, especially to those people who lost their jobs and are still striving to do things beyond their scope of expertise. “People are willing to put their pride aside and get down and dirty to feed their families. Instead of fretting over the things they’ve lost, they are counting their blessings, the things they still have and retained.” So, instead of looking at the jobs that she lost, her pay cut, she looks through the things that she still has. Changing into this mindset also changes the way she approaches things.
Hannah focuses now on passion projects – of trying to translate all the stories and lessons she learned in fitness, health, managing stress, and all other issues into content that would help and inspire people to stay strong despite uncomfortable situations. “I used to plan ahead and say I want to do this and that. But now that we don’t know how much time we have, I just tell myself 24 hours that I will just make sure one person is happy every day. So, if today is my last day, at least I know I’ve made one person happy.”