Dear Thelma: I am sad and worried about my future due to my family's financial woes

I’m at a difficult point in my life. My family has been in a financial crisis for the past five years now, with each year surpassing the other in terms of wealth depletion.

I’ve never been one to complain because my parents work so hard and do their best to support my sibling and me. But after graduating from high school, I’ve come to realise how much I need a safety net of sufficient finances.

I’ve always been a straight-A student, with the determination to break the cycle of poverty that several generations have endured in my family. When I entered college, my only goal was to secure a scholarship and ease my parents’ burden.

I gave up entirely on a social life, spending my breaks revising in the library or going to class two hours early just to prep for the lesson. It was painful because I knew how much fun I was giving up just so I could reach my goal but I reassured myself it would pay off in the end.

But, alas, my world came crashing down.

Although I graduated with 90% honours and was eligible for several scholarships both locally and overseas, the living expenses were too high for my parents to bear. I considered taking out a student loan but they refused to allow me, saying that I’d end up paying it off for the rest of my life.

Since studying overseas was no longer an option, I sought to continue my degree locally but the scholarship wasn’t quite enough and I couldn’t attend the university or the course of my choice.

Now I’m to attend a general course at an average university with hardly any scope of great success. I’ve been chasing after the fantasy of making it big through toil and hard work, so that I can make my family happy, but this dream has shattered before my very eyes.

I’m trying hard to be optimistic, and am joining workshops, participating in anything that would look good on paper which could eventually lead me to a prospective place but my fire is dying down day by day.

I’ve cried into my pillow for the past six months because I wanted someone to blame, to be angry at, even though it’s not my family’s fault; the anger is getting harder and harder to bottle up. I gave up so much of youthful experiences, only for it to result in nothing.

Seeing my friends with average grades, or less, whiz off to places with just the swipe of their parents’ credit card makes my heart hurt so much because I could never have that.

I don’t want to hate my life but with the way things are going, I fear it might turn out that way. How do I get past this? I just want to quench my anger and enjoy my degree.

Overbearing Pessimism

I AM a teenager. Both my parents have been unemployed for a long time. My mother blames my father but she is too proud to work. Their savings have gradually dried up.

My sister has found a part-time job but the pay is not enough. I worked too and use my pay to help the family.

As much as all of us are anxious about our financial problems, my parents have been putting this problem on the back-burner. I fear it is only a matter of time before things get worse.

In addition, my sister and I have plans to attend university soon. Although our grades are better than average, without financial aid, there is no way we can go to a private university. Competition is tough to enter public university.

My family is in dire need of assistance but I don’t know who to turn to, especially since it is considered shameful to tell others this matter. I have spoken to my parents about my concerns but they have taken no action.

I hope you could give me some advice on how to deal with this difficult situation.


If you are a top student at a super-duper school, you do have a career advantage. But that’s less than 1% of all people. Everyone else who makes it in life does so without that benefit. Both of you need to take a step back and be more realistic.

Bosses do like a bit of name plating but you know what they like more? An honest employee who is engaged and willing to learn. If you have the right attitude, you will have employers falling over themselves to hire you. And you will climb that ladder and get to where you want to be.

As for the idea that you have to take “the right” course, that is debatable. If you want to be a plumber, surgeon, computer programmer or engineer, you need very specific training.

However, if you look at job ads, you’ll see many ask for any kind of bachelor degree. That’s because many companies view college as a sign that you can learn and that you have staying power. But they expect to train you to do the actual job.

As long as you have good marks and show interest, you have tonnes of career options open to you. So please don’t panic, okay?Overbearing Pessimism, you are in school and doing well but you fear you’re set up for failure. That kind of catastrophic thinking suggests anxiety and depression. Please go and see the counselling department, have yourself assessed and make a regular weekly appointment for the next few months. You need to talk to someone in a safe space.

Also, all work and no play is not good for you. Top CEOs work hard and then make sure they take time out to relax. Copy them. Take up a sport so that you get to keep physically healthy.

As for the rest, you are on exactly the right path. You have good grades and you are taking workshops. You might also take up internships that will help you gain some practical knowledge and that will introduce you to industry players.

If you need some career planning help, ask the counsellors to put you in touch with a person at your college. Or go to a career fair and talk to people there.O, you and your sister need to plan your career path first. What kind of job do you want? Does it require specific training or will any kind of basic degree do?

Get information by finding a person who is in the industry you want to join. Talk to them about forging a career path. Also, read job adverts and see what the requirements are.

Next, find out about loan schemes. Note: it is not shameful to get a study loan; it’s a practical investment in your future.

You might ask your teachers to help you through the MOE paperwork. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them, visit the MOE website. You can also go to education fairs and ask there. Or phone the college you want to go to, and ask them for help.

Please don’t kill yourself with massive loans! If you go to a local college and get good grades, you can study cheaply. I suggested that you focus on getting the basic training you need to start your career. After that, your enthusiasm, character and work ethic will build your reputation and expand your opportunities.

And, when you go to college, follow OP’s example. Get good grades, take workshops and build your network with internships.

As you already have work experience, you already have a head start. You will have all kinds of practical knowledge that will help you make the most of your studies.

For both of you, the bottom line is this: there is a lot of pressure to be “the best”. And while there’s nothing wrong with excelling and going to top schools, success depends mostly on attitude and sustained effort.

Believe me, you’ll make it.

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Email or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11,46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FULL NAME, ADDRESS AND A PSEUDONYM. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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Dear Thelma , depression , financial woes


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