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May 4, 2022 // Shen Jegathesan // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

The Joy of Aging Gracefully

At 69, I don’t need to “break a leg” anymore. And actually physically I shouldn’t either – what with osteoporosis and brittle bones setting in.

Having been in the industry for more than 40 years and experiencing different leaders and their styles, A+P has been the best place I have worked. My past stints at previous comms agencies have averaged about four years. But here at A+P, I am now past my seventh year! This is all thanks to such great founders and leaders who put their money where their mouths are and remain great advocates of the A+P culture. Their support for staff well-being has been exemplary. And I have stayed here for all this while for that very reason.

Here's a bit of history. I started work in an international bank and spent 17 years there. For so long? Yes, because each time I wanted to leave that job, my parents, coming from the old-school mentality would say, “No you can’t! This is an iron rice bowl, and you’ll never be safe working anywhere else unless you want to work in the public service.”

My leap of faith came after my mum passed in 1988 and I joined a boutique PR agency which has now become a major player in financial comms. Of course, there was never that joy of staying, as the environment was somehow unwelcoming and high-pressured. Agencies then were also very few and far between. Being a new local agency, the MD was in strife trying to prove herself and working toward making her mark in the PR realm.

If I remember clearly, back then there were only two international agencies and a couple of boutique agencies set up by ex-journalists. It was not a place I had envisaged client servicing/consulting to be. So from then on, it was a series of moves from in-house to agencies, trying to find a good fit. I told myself after 20 years of working that I would never return to working and no way would work in an agency. After a stint setting up my own PR and training consultancy, I decided it was a time to take a break and just chill out.

But along came an offer to mentor a young team of three consultants in a newly set up U.S.-based PR agency. A dear colleague from a past agency beckoned. And so Allison+Partners is where I found joy in my work and still do. The joy of having the vibrancy of youth and a team so buoyant, eager and enthusiastic is what has kept me going and keeps me youthful all these years, even after being crowned a grandmother. I just love the energy and the amount of learning and educating I derive from the young ones at the office. It's a new day every day with them. There’s always a new terminology, a new app, a new hangout place or a new designer for me to catch up on. How fun and inspirational is that? There’s so much to impart and still much more to receive and learn from them.

What about their choice in music and fashion, which in my mind is dated. I wore such clothes and shoes and carried such handbags, which the younger generation now term vintage! I’m also glad they don’t describe me as coming from the “old school” and neither do they say I’m “such an aunty.” I’m flattered they call me “woke”! It’s all about their including me, making me feel so much a part of them and wanting me to join them for drinks and dinners that brings such joy. How wonderful it is to be a part of this vibrant society! 

Compared with many my age, I think I’m quite ahead with digital literacy. What, with working on Zoom breakout rooms, managing and understanding a digital social media programme, and learning all about hip terminologies from bougie to woke, sus to slay and shook and tons more. And Telegram (not what we used to send back in the day) and Slack? It’s not only the noun or verb, it’s now a comms tool.

The respect and fun they bring into my work life is immeasurable. I wake up earlier than I should to ensure I’m at my desk without a gripe or grunt. Mentoring those younger than me has brought me so much joy. I’m a consultant to consultants. None of my friends or peers in the same age group has been given such an opportunity. What a blessing! 

My younger superiors in the U.S. and also my younger GM here give me such independence and respect, heeding my advice and thoughts. That makes me feel so worthy of being in this organisation. This is the longest I’ve ever stayed at any company after my work in the bank.

Shen Jegathesan is a senior vice president of Client Services and HR at Allison+Partners Singapore. She’s been with the agency for more than seven years, providing mentorship to teams on client day-to-day work and serving as an ambassador of the agency’s culture. Shen also leads media trainings, issues and crisis communications and strategic counsel for some of our global clients.

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