‘We should try to have it all, if we can’

Published February 5, 2021, 1:30 AM

by Nikki H. Huang

‘It’s so not easy but it can be done’—Dr. Aivee Teo’s advice to young women

Dr. Aivee Teo came immediately to mind when I thought of women to feature in this series. She, along with husband Z Teo, has built an empire founded on her love for beauty, medicine, family, and the Filipino people. She and Z have gained renown not only in the local beauty community, but in the international scene, and rightfully so: Aivee cares, leading her staff and her own family with a sense of almost maternal love and a humble fear of God. 

I’ve been enchanted by Dr. Aivee since I first met her. She is sweet and bubbly on first impression, but the calm, cool collectedness, which underscores her bright demeanor, hints at the tenacity and wisdom that have carried her so far in life. It was an absolute privilege to sit down with her over green juices at the Aivee Cafe. 

Dr. Aivee Teo is a dermatologist by profession, in her 40s, and a good friend of mine. She is the mother of three children and of nine dogs, all of whom one can keep up with on the family’s vibrant Instagram accounts. Teo is a self-described working mom trying to fit into many roles, and do as much as she can as a doctor, wife, mother, and friend. “It is not easy, but I’m enjoying it, and it is what makes me fulfilled,” she says. “I enjoy fashion, eating, traveling (when it was still allowed), and I live both here and in Singapore. I founded and run the Aivee group with my husband, Dr. Z Teo.” 

“Alpas Filipinas” is a series meant to show young people what it means and what it takes to pursue their dreams. Dr. Aivee is one of the best examples of what this is like. She is a woman who made hard choices, waited patiently, worked hard, and now, though each day comes with its own struggles, somehow manages to have it all. 

“I am so humbled to be a guest in this series. I hope that I can show young women that they can, in fact, try to do it all, and that we should never feel like we have to choose between one thing or the other. We should try to have it all, if we can,” she says. 

WITH A SMILE A scene from the episode of Alpas Filipinas

“But it’s not easy!” I tell her, to which, without a moment’s hesitation, she replies, “Oh, it’s so not easy. I’ve been through so much. It’s a lot of hard work, but we can do it.”

Here are more snippets from our conversation.

One of the most important questions of this series is, “What are your greatest challenges, and how have you overcome them?”

Everyone has challenges in their lives…I have had a lot, but I really only remember a few. Everybody knows that my husband, Dr. Z, is Singaporean. What people expected me to do, and the natural thing to be done, was for me to give up everything for the man I loved and move to Singapore to build my home there. It was very difficult because I am a dermatologist, and I studied for 14 years. It was very difficult for me to consider just giving everything up and so we decided, I decided, to stay here. Simply because, really, I knew that as a woman it would be very difficult for me to give my all if I was not truly happy on my own. It would affect my relationship. I asked my husband if I could build my practice first, shuttle back and forth [between Singapore and Manila], and settle down and be physically together once everything was more established. It was a sacrifice flying to each other every week, but we were able to build practices on our own. We were able to feel fulfilled. It is easier to love somebody when you are whole, rather when you are half and don’t feel complete. When both our practices became successful, we decided to be together physically, and I truly feel we are better for it. Of course, not everyone agreed at the start, when we made this decision, but I feel that really, no one can judge, and everyone has to live their life as they need to. Sometimes, we have to be practical despite judgement and make decisions best for everyone in our family. 

There was so much wisdom in what you just said. One thing that really sticks out to me is the idea that you bring up where it is easier to love someone if you feel complete on your own. It is a notion society often conditions young women to forget. 

Yes, I’m not saying everybody should do the same thing, but it is what worked for me. Personally, I feel it is so hard to love somebody if you don’t feel complete inside, if you constantly feel like you are lacking. For me, that was important. It worked for us and all our sacrifices were worth it. Now we are enjoying the fruits of all our sacrifices and I can say for certain Z and I made the right decision. 

So what are you proudest of and how did you get there? 

I’m very proud of the fact that I have a very stable home, and that I am happily married. I have a loving, responsible husband and three beautiful children who are really the apple of my eyes. I am so happy that, at the same time, I have a career that I am very proud of as well. I don’t necessarily have it all, but I have all that matters to me. I am truly living what I wanted to be. But, having said that, it was not easy. There were many sacrifices I had to make, and it was very difficult. Everything is a challenge, but the fact that I am here and I can say that I have everything that makes me happy, and that I am content, is what I’m proud of.

My follow up question to this is, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self, and other young people trying to follow their dreams and find their place in the world?

The advice I could give my 18-year-old self, is that, when we are young, we are very restless, we are very scared of the future, and we want to have everything we want. But we shouldn’t worry too much. If something is meant for you, the opportunity will come. We don’t have to force it, and the right opportunities will be there. But the most important thing is you have to grab them. Don’t be passive. We reap what we sow, and our life is based on how we live and work for it. If we work hard, make sacrifices, and we know how to prioritize and not get distracted, we will get there. But you have to be patient, don’t rush into it. Don’t feel that, oh, I want to be like her. I want what she has, how do I get there, and fast? Is there a shortcut or easier way? What I say, Nikki, is that when something is easy, it’s not good. You have to work hard for things. Something gotten easily will be lost just as easily. So I believe in hard work, in sacrifices. When I work hard for something, I feel that it is going to be mine. So to all the young girls out there, take your time, take it slow, be patient, and you will be rewarded for all your efforts.  

‘As a woman it would be very difficult for me to give my all if I was not truly happy on my own.’

That was truly special, thank you for sharing. I think one of the most important things you say is that we should focus on ourselves, and not the people around us.

Yes Nikki, you know one of the true keys to happiness is contentment…and a lot of the time we aren’t content because we are trying to be a different person. Which shouldn’t be the case. Each and every one of us is different. We all have our own purposes in life. Don’t dwell on or compete with others, compete with yourself. 

LOVE EMPIRE Dr. Aivee Teo and the author

Yes, everyone has something to offer.

It is our differences that make us shine. Don’t be afraid to be different, to be unique, and to not conform. Because that is what will make you shine. 

What is something you’ll never forget?

As a woman, I think first and foremost I am a mother. And I can never forget seeing my kids for the first time when they were born, seeing each of my children live in the flesh after nine months of carrying them. Seeing their smile, their scent, is the most special thing. It is what I always remember when I’m feeling down or sad. It is really my kids who inspire me and keep me going. I’m looking forward to you having that moment in your life, Nikki.

I think it’s wonderful that you bring this up, that you talk about how your motherhood has inspired you and made you feel stronger. I know there are many new mothers out there whose lives have changed so dramatically—carrying another human in you for nine months, not everyone has the easiest birth experience. Becoming a mother comes with so much change and uncertainty. It’s wonderful advice for our audience: You have used your motherhood as a source of strength.

As mothers, we have a responsibility to be a good person, to show your children how to be good. You live your life knowing you have to take this responsibility seriously and not take it for granted. How we are will be how they grow up to be.