He took a failing airline company and turned it for profit. Then he was thrust upon an international disaster, to which he showed the world what leadership meant. He’s also my new boss, and today, I’m about to give him a haircut.
My tools clatter in my trembling hands. Wait, did I say tools? I meant a shabby kit made out of office scissors, a wooden comb, a women’s disposable shaver, and a bottle of mineral water. Tony Fernandes looks at me, a stretch of bubble wrap hanging off his neck at an angle.
This is going to get messy, I say to myself.
I tussle his hair with the comb, if you could call it that. Its teeth can barely take in hair. Even a ruler could do a better job than this… contraption. People often take a hairdresser’s tools for granted. You can’t just cut hair with any pair of scissors. Just because you trimmed your fringe with your childhood scissors doesn’t mean that I should forgo a proper pair. Along the same vein, stuff like adjustable chairs and water sprays all play a role in achieving the perfect haircut—all of which were absent.
I consider announcing this oversight. Hairdressing with these items would be like cross-stitching with chopsticks, but something tells me that the man behind ‘Dream the Impossible’ would have none of it.
“By the way, Tony,” a guy from PR says, “this guy is your four-day old writer!”
“Yeah,” Tony replies, “and it might be his last.” It’s in jest, but seeing what I have to work with, it might not be far from truth. Sensing my horror, Tony adds, “But I have faith in you Stuart. Let’s go.”
I take a deep breath as I look at the score of spectators in the room. Here we go.
I’ve wasted a good portion of my life, well, wasting life away. I’ve never broken down my goals into achievable blocks, like the self-improvement books tell me to. I’ve never even set goals, really. My life has just been a series of doing things and seeing what happens. Sometimes, things work out, but more often that not, it just adds on to what I’d like to call ‘the pool of fuckups’.
Let’s take hairdressing. I’ve put in six years before I decided to hang up my pair of scissors. It was too late before I realised my disillusionment with the industry. The upside was that I learned how to talk to people, negating some of my social awkwardness. I also got fairly proficient in hairdressing, which was a plus.
Since my Singaporean stint, I’ve never picked up my scissors again, partly because it wasn’t allowed on the plane and was dumped in the trash, airport regulations and what not. So I figured that to be the end of my hairdressing life, forever.
After that, I sought a new chapter. Because hairdressing took so much time and paid so little, I chose the whitest collar I could put on—I got into accounting. That would prove a worse representation of my decision-making skills, because I spent thousands of dollars and years of my time to realise that it’s possible to hate a job so much you’d rather sit in the toilet to pass time. My blunders would eventually put me far behind my peers in terms of career progression. But at least I picked up something from college.
Because my classmates spoke Mandarin, and because I grew tired of the communication barrier, especially in group assignments, I resolved to speak the language for the years I was there. I was blessed to have the same classmates throughout, and they helped me work on it despite the initial ‘laugh whenever he opens his mouth’ period.
Picking up the language helped me in my following endeavours, but it’s weird how the only thing I learned in an accounting programme was language. It was when my childhood friends—who have never heard me mutter anything beyond wo ai ni—told me that my Mandarin sounded ‘normal’, that I realised my college days weren’t so much squandered as they were lived through.
By the way, I know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as well, so I guess I do remember some of my school lessons.
So how did I end up cutting Tony’s hair anyway?
Well I was pretending to be busy at work (which is deceptively harder than actually working) because I was new and didn’t have a laptop. Out of nowhere, the PR team hollered, asking if anyone knew how to cut hair. I raised my hand, only because it was a weirdly specific question relating to me. I figured it for a hazing ritual, but when they told me that I had to cut Tony’s hair, my jaw dropped onto the table.
“B-but, what do I cut with?” I asked, still trying to gather my chin from the keyboard.
“Good question. Does anybody have a pair of scissors?” one of them shouted.
An interested onlooker passed hers over, and before I knew it, I was holding all the ‘tools’ I needed. I looked to my editor for help.
“I can’t cut with this,” I said. “I’ll need my—”
“Do it!” she whispered. “It’ll be fun! Don’t worry, Tony won’t know the difference.”
Oh but he would. When it comes to barbering, two millimetres could mean the difference between a fade and a bald spot. But the editorial team had already herded together and egged me on. Next thing I knew, I was in the CEOs office, with a small entourage in tow.
As I get ready for the first snip, I see a sea of smartphones aimed our way.
“I never had spectators before,” Tony says. “Hang on. I gotta get a picture of this.” Talk about photo-inception.
My sweaty palms help moisten Tony’s hair, and my scissor-hand hovers above his head with a jitter. I take a sliver off in length, and as if summoned by muscle memory, my old form returns. It’s like being able to sing along to a whole song you’ve never heard to in years, and being surprised about it when you’re done. I’ve paid my dues in screwing up haircuts, and I just know that today’s not going to be one of them.
“Well blimey,” Tony says. “You actually know what you’re doing!”
“Yep,” I say. I’m not sure what else I could’ve said.
“Perhaps you could do everybody’s else’s hair from now on,” Tony says.
Now, when I introduce myself to somebody from a different department, they go, “Ooh! You’re the haircut guy!”
Like I said, I’m socially awkward at best, and it’s great to have an icebreaker on standby. Tony’s haircut helped introduce me to the whole company, and weirdly, it was my life’s mistakes that facilitated it. Now I subscribe to the thought that there really are no mistakes in life, just experiences.
So what does that mean for you? Well, you might have relapsed for the third time, or have never finished school. You could’ve passed up on that great career, or lost all your money in a bad investment. Maybe you settled down too soon, or never at all. But those ‘mistakes’ are what make you, uniquely you.
Your past regrets might be irreversible, but it doesn’t change who you are today, and hopefully, like me, they’ll be something you wouldn’t wish happened any other way.