Getting a clear head with Angela Lim

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I was in my second year Biomedical sciences degree when I met Angela at a university workshop. After graduating with her Bachelors in Science, she got into Medicine. Since then, I have been so impressed watching all the wonderful things Angela has been involved in. 

Recently, she has co-founded Clearhead, a mental well-being software platform. It is an honour to have her on Kia Ora! 

To kick things off, it would be great to hear more about what inspired you to go from medicine to starting your own company, Clearhead? 

As a doctor, I constantly felt that I was the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Very frustrated at the health system being geared up around an illness model and I wondered what it would take to shift the paradigm towards wellness instead. I started Clearhead because I saw a real potential for technology to achieve this through improving access to care for everyone early.

Clearhead is a free, one-stop-shop, online platform for mental health and wellbeing. We use an artificial intelligence chatbot to screen users for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. We then recommend mental health resources such as books, meditation guides, videos to watch that they might find helpful and to do so for free on the platform. We also make it really easy to book available therapy sessions online and provide tools like mood tracking and goal setting to help you stay well. We hope this empowers people to seek the help they need early in a non-stigmatising manner.

Screenshot of Clearhead

What has it been like starting and growing a company? What are some of the biggest challenges and wins you’ve experienced so far?

I have really enjoyed my journey of starting my own company and relish the autonomy. I am lucky to be doing this with my co-founder Michael and even though entrepreneurship is quite a lonely uncharted journey, I make a lot of my decisions together with Michael. The biggest challenge we faced was in hiring talented people but it has also been our biggest win that we managed to achieve it. Enabling us to build out platform in 6 months when most other companies would easily have taken 5x as long. All while having my employees not work more than 40 hours a week.

The other thing I am really proud of is that we co-designed and collaborated with key stakeholders such as mental health users, clinicians, NGOs, etc. the whole way through the development of the platform and continue to do so post-launch. So we really get the community buy in with what we’ve built.

You have given many talks and interviews around imposter syndrome, which is what we started Kia Ora for, to share humble and honest stories. What has imposter syndrome meant for you in your career and what are some of the personal or professional challenges you are experiencing right now that you don’t mind sharing?

Imposter syndrome for me was this constant feeling that I wasn’t good enough and that insecurity leads you to compare yourself with others for validation and not being able to be happy for other people’s success. That I had to keep doing more to prove that I deserve some of the recognition I was starting to receive as well. 

The challenge that I am dealing with professionally at the moment is that change takes a very long time. I need to learn to be more patient even when I feel that what I do seems futile when battling against the inherent bureaucracy of the health system. To remind myself that I am making waves and I am sowing the seeds that would lead to change eventually.

Angela Lim with her doctor friends wearing scrubs

How do we personally reconcile the very high expectations we put on ourselves these days to constantly do more with our lives and still feel content / happy with oneself? What are your thoughts around this topic?

This question for me follows on from the Imposter syndrome question. I don’t feel the Imposter syndrome as much anymore because I went through a period of deep self reflection. It took me years to figure out what do I believe I am good at, what I gain satisfaction in doing and what I felt I am making a difference in. Finding the sweet spot that the Japanese called “Ikigai”. 

I then took the steps to allow me to presently be working within this sweet spot. When you reach this sweet spot, you feel that comparing with others is meaningless and this is also true about feeling the need to do more to prove your value to others. Rather I gain fulfillment and joy in seeing other people flourish and in helping them find their Ikigai. 

From being in medicine to now working in a mental health field, what factors have you observed that contribute the most to personal fulfilment in people?

Relationships. Whether that is friends, family, romantic partners. It is so easy to lose touch of real human-human connection in the busyness of life. We prioritise the things we feel obligated to do, that deadline at work, etc. The reality is that when we meet that one deadline, there will be another deadline to meet. 

It is in the moments when we make time to truly be there for the people we care about and be a part of a wider support network. We stop feeling alone and stop feeling the need to chase these external markers of success to quell that emptiness. We become deeply content with where we are at this moment of time because we are stripped away of all the pretence and seen for who we really are.

Angela Lim and her family on the beach

What is your average day look like? What are some of the day to day things that bring you joy? 

My average day consists of a lot of meetings with people and replying emails. Not very glamorous. Haha. I practice daily gratitude and something as simple as the weather being good that day is enough to bring me happiness. By doing this I am content (most of the time) with where I am and still maintain the drive to achieve more in my life.

You sit on quite a few different boards. Tell us a bit about what it entails and why do you think being involved in that aspect of community is important?

The main thing for me about being on a Board is the ability to influence the organisation at a strategic level. In order for an organisation to achieve what it sets out to do, it always flows from the leadership at the top setting the right example and direction. Diversity enriches decision making around the Board table. So if you feel that it is an area that you can add value in, you should definitely consider it.

For young people out there who want to have a meaningful contribution in this world and might be thinking of pursuing medical, social sector or science careers, what advice would you give them?  

Be observant, listen, ask questions, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo (in a respectful manner). Develop the skills you feel you need to achieve what you want. Be in touch with your values and don’t compromise them. Build your networks early and to do so in an authentic manner, as that will open doors of opportunity. 

The Clearhead team

What were the most useful things you have done throughout your personal and professional development that made an impact on you? 

I always take the time to be reflective of the good and bad experiences that come into my life so that I am always learning. I try really hard not to make the same mistake twice. 

Are you learning / pondering about anything right now that you would like to share?

A friend of mine, Sam, gave me some advice that I am finding a lot of comfort in at this point in my life that I would love to share.

“Change is like a garden, keep working away week to week sowing those seeds. One day, your efforts will eventually flourish and become not only sustainable but regenerative. Every time I garden, it reminds me that life doesn’t go as fast as we would like it to. Sometimes the plant dies. But I learn every time and overall the garden is doing well.”

Angela Lim during sunrise in Turkey

And finally, whose story would you want to read about on here? 

Genevieve Griffin-George (PICMI)

Elina Ashimbayeva