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Against the tide

Your stories

She’s an award-winning businesswoman, a best-selling author and an international speaker. Pauline Nguyen shares some of the lessons she has learnt in an eventful life.

When Pauline Nguyen talks, people listen. It may be because her life story is fascinating, a rags-to-riches classic but with enough twists and turns to make it read at times like a thriller. It may also be that what she has to say makes you feel you can do better, be better.

When she suggests that it’s good for your mental health to hug a tree, well, you hug a tree. “Fifteen minutes of nature – touching or hugging a tree – will reduce stress and boost your mental health,” she says. “And it’s absolutely free to connect with nature.”

Pauline knows a bit about mental health. Her grit, her strength and her fierce determination were born out of trauma and violence. She’s a poster girl for surviving against the odds.

It always starts with a decision. Never underestimate the power of a decision. Lots of people don’t allocate the time to do a life audit.

Pauline Nguyen

She was a child when her family fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975. They spent a year in a Thai refugee camp before coming to Sydney where her father opened a small restaurant. Traumatised by his own experiences, her father vented his frustrations on his children.

“I cannot remember any time when fear did not lurk over my shoulder,” she recalled of her childhood years later. “Hard work was beaten into us. We had no choice but to work hard.”

At 17, Pauline ran away from home. “I was unhappy with the person I was becoming, not understanding why I was angry, depressed, and suicidal. I told myself, ‘This cannot be your life’.”

She travelled and put herself through university. Then several years later, alongside her brother Luke Nguyen (the now chef and TV presenter) and her partner Mark Jensen, she co-founded Red Lantern, the most awarded Vietnamese restaurant in the world.

But success carried its own cost. The stress of working up to 100 hours a week triggered Pauline’s alopecia (hair loss). Again, she decided her life had to change.

“It always starts with a decision,” she explains. “Never underestimate the power of a decision. Lots of people don’t allocate the time to do a life audit. They live by default.

“A lot of people are afraid of change. They’re afraid they might have to change some patterns, divorce some friends, partners or jobs. That fear is natural, but the universe rewards the unreasonably determined.”

I could look back and carry that trauma from my early years which I did as a young adult. Now I look back and see that experience as a training ground.

Pauline Nguyen

Self-love changed Pauline’s world. She learnt to be kinder to herself. “Our self-growth and evolution – me the mother, sister, wife – must come before everything else,” she says. “It doesn’t mean I neglect everything else. But how can I be best for my children when I haven’t been properly rested? How about we allocate time out to rest.”

She believes we’re here to do three things – to evolve, to push humanity forward and to do it with joy. “And it’s the last part that we forget to do.

“How can we experience joy when we are burnt out and don’t understand the wounds we carry and how to heal them?”

Nature, she says, provides its own medicine. “I love watching the sun rise in the morning. It’s filled with beautiful power.

“Finding time for stillness, meditation, deep rest is so important. Make it part of your daily routine.”

Pauline is a woman who now makes a career out of supporting people to find balance, peace, and purpose in their lives. “I could look back and carry that trauma from my early years which I did as a young adult. Now I look back and see that experience as a training ground. I chose not to live with anger and hatred and regret.

“We can either play victim or we play creator. That happened – now what will I do with it? Will I let it defeat me? No! It developed me but it doesn’t define me.”

All rea­son­able steps have been tak­en to ensure the infor­ma­tion cre­at­ed by Jean Hailes Foun­da­tion, and pub­lished on this web­site is accu­rate as at the time of its creation. 

Last updated: 
17 January 2024
Last reviewed: 
24 May 2024