Jemma Wei Talks #HustleCulture And What It Means To Be A Contemporary Millennial

Their pace is not your pace.

By Alvina Koh

April 29 2019

Also known as @jemmawei on her social media handles, she's a force to be reckoned with. Having done it all (and is still doing it), Jemma continues to delve into a myriad of roles that the common millennial should be familiar with - online TV host (HypeHunt, That F Word), travel blogger, film producer and more. Nonetheless, at the heart of it all lies an individual who is extremely passionate about creative writing, as she frequently blogs about anything from travel, fashion to lifestyle on her website.

You might have heard of Jemma from her well-known #JemmaRecommends shelf situated in Changi Airport, an initiative started in 2017 in collaboration with Times Bookstore and presently WH Smith to recommend her favourite reads to travellers. Beyond extending her love for the humanities in this domain, she also began a Grab Academy Scholarship in June 2018, an annual award given to one student pursuing humanities in the local university. With over 68k followers on Instagram, STYLEGUIDE finds out how Jemma Wei does it all at once, as she shares her thoughts on the hustle-culture in Singapore. 

Tell us more about yourself and what you do.

I often joke that I'm a professional millennial - I host, write, review books, pitch and develop passion projects, so on and so forth. It's hard for me to say exactly which takes more precedent for me because it depends on when you ask me: in May and June, for example, I'm basically doing hosting work nonstop, but last month I was doing a spot of acting, and through it all I'm constantly reading and reviewing upcoming books for social media! 

Tell us more about your favourite project thus far and how was it created? 

Ooh this is a tough one. I'm going to have to say the #JemmaRecommends shelf with WH Smith, which is a three-way collaboration between myself, Changi Airport, and WH Smith. It's very close to my heart because it's a passion project I conceptualized and pitched almost three years ago now, and because it's the first time this has ever been done in Singapore, there were a ton of checks and processes to clear. It's been ongoing for two years - first with Times Bookstores, and now with WH Smith. It was born of a passion for reading and curating reading recommendations based on the belief that books can be a gateway to perspective, empathy, and adventure. Changi was the perfect partner to work with on this - they've been a long term partner of mine, and at the heart of the matter, we both believe that reading, travel, and transit are all different gateways to a more enriched perspective, and nuanced lives. 

What is the greatest hurdle you have faced so far, and how has it impacted the way you are right now?

I really don't know what the greatest hurdle is... maybe learning to deal with constant rejection? Because I'm constantly pitching new ideas, stories, or concepts, I'm perpetually being rejected. I would say maybe 10% of my ideas come true, which is what you'll end up seeing on my social media if I talk about the project, etcetera etcetera. Of course when you're younger, you take rejection a lot more personally, especially for projects you're really excited for or believe in. But something I read years ago really spoke to me - "I have become accustomed to rejection." It's the blog tagline for one of my favorite authors, Roxane Gay, who has become very trendy in recent years. And I think to myself, if someone as talented and accomplished as her deals with rejection all the time, what more a kid like me? (I was 17 or 18 then) So from then on I started trying to accumulate rejections, because to me they represent attempts at realizing things I want to achieve. And yes, rejection still stings, but as a result I've developed a super thick skin. I don't really take it personally anymore, and it's helped me understand what I value, refine what my direction is, and get back up whenever I get knocked down. I 100% recommend getting rejected! 

You're constantly on the move! It seems that when you're not writing, you're either hosting, traveling or producing something. Let us into the secret - what inspires you and what keeps you motivated? 

I have so many more things I want to do - and I perpetually feel embarrassed that I'm not doing more. I guess that's what pushes me, knowing that there's so many ideas I want to execute and only a limited amount of time, so I really should make the most of all the time and resources I have now!  

What are you most excited about these days? 

Hm. There are a bunch of things in the works which I'm excited to launch, but that's all in the works so I can't really comment on those as of yet. But I must say, I'm a generally excitable person. I have my low energy days, but I'm generally cheerful about whatever might come - even if they seem challenging or impossible. From the day to day though, I'm super excited about this towering stack of books in my office right now. My mission is to read 100 books this year, and I'm already on number 43, so I think I'm making good headway. I can't express how addicted I am to reading - I actually develop crushes on books that I love, and I'm very obsessive about them, I can get so engrossed that my whole life stops for a day. Everyone knows what a fanatic I am so people tend to give me books as birthday/christmas gifts, and of course I work with publishers and distributors in SG and internationally, so I have accumulated a ton of books that look really promising. I can't wait to get to them all. 

If you could switch lives with someone for a day, who would it be? 

OMG! No time already, I don't want to switch with anyone else! I'll just be stressed about all the things I should have been doing in my own life for that one day. But if I can freeze time for myself and live someone else's life for a day, I want to be a personal assistant to a Chinese herbalist back in the Tang dynasty. Firstly, it's super interesting to learn how someone reacts to life and death situations using only what they have on hand, without the internet or modern medicinal technology. I think it definitely trains a sort of resourcefulness and curiosity we may not have today, you know? And secondly, that would mean I'd be super fluent in Mandarin for that one day, which is something I've dreamed of but failed at despite a lot of hard work throughout my school life! Haha.  

One thing you can't live without?  

Probably my planner. I have all my appointments on Gcal, but also on my paper planner, because writing it down helps me visualize and organize my schedule in my head. I've been using the Starbucks moleskin planner for two or three years now, and I love the monthly view as well as the space in between each month to map out pitches, ideas, and to-do lists. I have to bring it everywhere with me, I'm honestly totally lost without it. 

You're known for your Broke Student's Guide, which provides advice on how millennials can live it up without breaking the bank. It's also evident that you're a hustler by nature and that this guide is ultimately formed with the intent to encourage millennials to take heart in what they do, but still find time to enjoy nonetheless. In light of your experience, tell us about your thoughts on the hustle-culture in Singapore and what are the essentials needed to survive in this competitive environment? 

 I think the hustle culture here can be quite harsh, but I really don't think it's vastly different from any other metropolitan society. Look at Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, London. Everyone is hustling to make it work, and the onus of learning to take a break, achieve balance, and take care of yourself really falls on the individual. The good thing is, in recent years the conversation around self-care has become more widespread. I don't mean the hippie marketing stuff that brands are rolling out, like hey purchase this $200 candle in the name of self-care! or anything like that. But the undercurrent conversation on learning to pace yourself, allowing yourself to fall and get back up, or take a break - all that has become more and more talked about, more accepted, and we have access to so many more resources now than before. Of course, that's when an influx of commercialization flows in, but that's not a bad thing in and of itself. The commercial industry has always leveraged on the zeitgeist of the moment. I think it's actually a good sign, because it signals to us that society is moving towards a more self-forgiving culture, and what we have to do is sift through the messaging with some discernment to find our own individual point of balance. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

 Their pace is not your pace. 

STYLEGUIDE knows you love to read. Tell us your all-time favourite read and why anyone reading this article should totally pick this book up. 

Wow, what a tough question. I don't know how to pick one. I'll give you three - Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, which I think is the perfect novel in its language, lyric, and heart, Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which is an incredible, accessible read on how to navigate the increasingly complex conversation on gender in today's society, and We, The Survivors by Tash Aw, which is one of the best books coming out of Southeast Asia in recent years, and a beautiful, grimy, and nuanced portrait of life and class in our region. For more reading recommendations, you can check out my #JemmaRecommends shelves in Changi Airport's W.H. Smith the next time you fly!