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Cover Story: An Open Letter from Tengku Zatashah

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, Prestige Malaysia shares the thoughts of HRH Tengku Datin Paduka Setia Zatashah Binti Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

To all the young women,

If you know me well enough then you’ll know, I am not one to back down from a challenge and if I have a goal or a dream (of which I am sure each and everyone of you has), I will work hard to make it happen, despite those around me who may be negative. The biggest criticism would be when I decided to move to Paris, leaving a prestigious job opportunity to become a student again in France. Everyone thought I was mad. Study a Master’s degree in Paris? Live a student life in a small studio? 

“You’ll never get a job in France” they told me. 

“You’re a foreigner, and France has the highest unemployment rate so what chance do you have?” they said. 

If you know me well enough then you’ll understand living in Paris was my dream, and I wasn’t going to give it up simply because the odds were stacked against me. It just meant that I had to work twice as hard. 

So when I had the opportunity to apply for an internship whilst I was still studying for my Master’s degree, how could I say no? For me, it was to gain crucial work experience. That day as I walked along the leafy boulevard towards my future, I ignored the negative voices of earlier. What did I have to lose? At worst a rejection, at best an internship. 

As I entered the enormous office building of one of the world’s top cosmetics companies, L’Oreal headquarters, to say if I had doubt and anxiety would be an understatement. So if you want your dream to come true, be prepared to live outside your comfort zone. My interview happened to be with an Englishman who was head of human resources. I thought to myself at that split second, I could speak happily in English, but how would he know if my level of French would be good enough at this leading, multinational France CAC40 company? So I made the decision: introduce myself in French. We started the interview in French before switching to English and he noticed on my CV that I spoke Spanish fluently too. Yes, to be fluent in multiple languages is a big plus for employers! After two further interviews in the weeks to come, I finally had the good news: L’Oreal wanted to recruit me!

“But Zatashah, (I never shared my family background so they had no idea of my royal connection, I was simply Zatashah Idris from Malaysia) it’s not for three months, our internship programme is at least one year full time”.

Gulp. One year?

Whilst pursuing my Master’s degree full time as well?Well the concerned voices came out again, this time from some of my professors, “Are you sure you aren’t pushing yourself too much? How are you going to balance studying with a full-time job?”

My confident voice replied as it had before “Don’t worry, I will manage. I will make it work.”

And work I did.

Working at the L’Oreal headquarters from 8.30am until 6pm in Clichy, northern suburbs of Paris then rushing back by metro to the south of Paris 14ème arrondissement for my 7pm – 9pm Master’s classes.

That was my daily grind. You need to work hard to make your dreams come true.

A year later I was offered a full-time contract at L’Oreal and I graduated with Magna Cum Laude for my Master’s degree in International Relations & Diplomacy. It wasn’t easy believe me, and there were moments I thought to myself, this is madness – but the one thought that kept me going: ‘this is your dream Zatashah, you want to live and work in this city, you need to make it happen, above and beyond expectations.’

And so you will encounter this many times in your life – from the naysayers and the pessimistic voices, to unbelievable challenges and difficult obstacles – but when you do achieve that dream despite all of that, there is nothing sweeter or more satisfying.

Don’t allow your own negativity stop you in the way of striving for excellence.

There will be those who talk of “breaking glass ceilings”, of women’s empowerment, of women’s rights, of how society needs to help the “fairer sex” – but for me, what it boils down to is simply: what are you going to do about your own future? Are you resilient and daring enough to listen to your inner voice and pursue your dreams? Stop looking at society to make those changes as that may be another lifetime, and maybe it will be your turn to write an open letter to another generation of young women.

But for now, my advice is make your life count, work hard to achieve your goals, set the challenges, live beyond your comfort zone, and act on your aspirations – don’t simply let life pass you by where you’ll end up regretting and wishing that you had followed your dreams.

My advice for budding corporate women: we need to learn how to network and gain visibility in the workforce just like men, because this is what will get you noticed for the next opportunity. We have to learn to hold firm and be taken seriously, yet not lose our femininity. If I had known this during my time in the course of my career, things would have been different, of that I have no doubt. It is not enough to stick your head down and work hard hoping you’ll be noticed for your work performance, you also need to be confident and visible.

Last but not least one thing I live by is you have to walk the talk. In these days of social media it’s too easy for people to just talk or complain or lament about matters. But instead of just “talk the talk” you need to “walk the walk” – meaning do something about it. Actions speak louder than words so make that change, and be that change.

When I commit to charities or community activities, I am 100 percent hands-on and I get personally involved, whether it’s #zerofoodwastage and feeding the homeless with Kechara Soup Kitchen; granting wishes for our Make-A- Wish Malaysia children with life-threatening illnesses or active in eco friendly actions such as #saynotoplastic by bringing my tiffin carriers. When I say something, I mean it and I will act on it. You will also be remembered for your actions and not only by your words.

So for everything that I have achieved so far in life, I am truly blessed, which is why I actively give back to the community where and when I can. I hope one day, I’ll be able to read your inspiring stories for as women, we must continue to push for excellence. Only you can make that transformation for women’s empowerment. Dare to be that trailblazer. Women leaders have never said their journey was easy. So dream big, be daring, keep learning, pursue your goals with tenacity, and last but not least, rely on yourself to be a strong, independent, self-sufficient woman.

I would say for women that would be the ultimate road to success.

All the best to you, and I hope these words will inspire.