How I found the courage to follow my dream: MaryAnn Loo


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How I found the courage to follow my dream: MaryAnn Loo

Welcome to the second in our series of personal success stories, where community members share their journeys of personal growth and life transformation, catalysed by coaching. Read stories of people just like you and me, who have overcome struggles and gained confidence to live the lives they truly want.

Illustrator, artist, and dreamer, MaryAnn Loo shares her journey of self-discovery and how she found the courage to follow her dream:

When I was 8 years old I wanted to be an artist, but my Mum told me that artists don’t make money, and I should be something else instead. I listened to her, and I spent the next 20 years trying to figure out what that “something else” was. I went from believing I wanted to be a doctor, to getting a degree in Psychology, to trying out as an actress, to selling costume jewelry as a retail assistant, to pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Music Business and Songwriting in USA. I was 28 and a semester away from graduating into another “something else”, when I enrolled in the college’s “Introduction to Drawing” class, and that was how I rediscovered my artist dream.

"Dream Tree" (2014)
“Dream Tree” (2014)

I had not drawn anything in 20 years, nor had I read much about art, but I decided that after so many years of searching for my purpose, this might be my last chance. So I moved to New York for a year and tried to be an artist. “Tried to” because every time I wanted to draw, I had no idea what I wanted to express, then I would get discouraged and uninspired by what I did create, and get distracted by something else less challenging. Just like everything else I’d done before, I started to doubt that art was really my path, that it was too late for me, and having no ideas as to what else was next, I felt scared, I was completely lost, and even though I had been lost for a very long time, it had finally caught up with me and I had no place left to run.

I returned to Singapore in 2012, and an old friend shared with me about how coaching enabled her to find her direction and passion in life, and rebuild her relationship with her family. I was inspired by how genuinely happy she seemed, and with nothing more to lose, I signed up for The Courage to Create™. During the 3-day program, one of the things I uncovered was my childhood decision to always listen to my Mum. As a result, I constantly needed my Mum’s approval, and even when I tried to find my own way in my teens and 20’s, there was always a part of me that felt I had let her down by not living up to her expectations of what she really wanted me to be. So I had an honest conversation with her, and asked the one question I’ve been holding on to all my life: “If I studied really hard in school but never got straight A’s, if I tried really hard in this life but failed at everything, will you still be proud of me?”

And she said “Yes. I’ll always be proud of you because you’re my daughter.” All of a sudden, I realised that she has always been supportive of me, but because we’re very different in our thinking, I had failed to understand her perspective, and naturally concluded that she was always against me. My Mum had never been my enemy, and suddenly I realised the only person holding me back from truly pursuing my dreams and my passion in life was really just myself.

MaryAnn with parents at first art show, 2013
MaryAnn with parents at first art show, 2013

Not wanting to waste any more time, I worked with a coach for the next 5 weeks to create my first solo art exhibition. With no prior experience as an artist or an events planner, I created 30 paintings, rented a venue, raised $2,000 and spent time inviting friends I had not kept in touch with for many years. On the day of my art show opening, amidst the 80 guests who showed up and my paintings on the walls, I was moved by how for the first time in my life I truly created something just for myself. Not to please my parents, not to gain recognition and acknowledgement from my peers, not to try and impress the world. I proved to myself that I was truly capable of producing not only my own creative work, but an entire event in order to share it with my world.

MaryAnn speaking at her first solo exhibition opening reception, 2013
MaryAnn speaking at her first solo exhibition opening reception, 2013

I sold 17 paintings for $6,000 that week, and received a $7,500 contract to illustrate 3 children’s books. Within 2 months, I had transformed from a lost, confused and untrained artist-wannabe to a professional visual artist and illustrator. And the journey continues from there. I curated and organised my first group exhibition in 2014, and in 2015 my work was exhibited at the Noise Arts Festival in ION Orchard, and a gallery in South Korea sold 3 of my paintings at the Daegu Art Fair.

"Flight of the Dreamers" (2013)
“Flight of the Dreamers” (2013)

Coaching has allowed me to understand and acknowledge my internal barriers and obstacles, and as a result I found my courage, my passion in life, and the freedom to create and express myself on my own terms. I’m also able to talk to my Mum and share my plans with her, and receive her opinions and advice without feeling judged or rejected. Not only am I living my childhood dream today, I also got back my Mum whom I thought I had lost a long time ago. Coaching continues to be a big part of my life, and I’m currently working on my ability to support others in creating their own possibilities and fulfilling their dreams.

"New Sky" (2013)
“New Sky” (2013)

Find out more about my work at and follow me on Facebook and Instagram @PenguinGirl_Art 

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