A shapely woman with coffee colour skin stood at the front of the auditorium, facing a crowd of fifty eager young women. She wore a sleeveless, white cotton dress with wide navy stripes that accentuated her round figure. Her full lips were immaculately coloured red. But there was something not quite right about her face. It was masked in too much white powder. She looked like a porcelain doll with brown arms.
“Today I’m going to teach you about authenticity, which is the first step to finding true happiness.
“This is going to be a highly interactive presentation and for you to get the most out of it, I need you to keep an open mind and be willing to share with the group.”
I let out a long exhale. Not another New Age presentation. I hoped I didn’t have to get up from my chair at any point, my high heels were killing me.
The woman cleared her throat. Her dark eyes slowly scanned the room.
“I will start by sharing something about myself. My name is Sonia. I was born in New York to a conservative Pakistani family, so you can imagine the kind of identity issues I had growing up. When I was a little girl I had dreamed of becoming a dancer. I would practice my arabesque pose every day in front of the bedroom mirror. But in Pakistan, dancing is associated with prostitution so my father dashed any hopes I had of becoming a dancer early on. Instead, he urged me down the path of business studies.
“All my mother ever wanted was for me to marry a nice Pakistani boy from a good family. Growing up, every conversation always came down to the list of potential suitors my parents considered to be good husband material.
“By the time I was in my late twenties I was unhappy and dissatisfied. I was a successful sales director, but I dreaded going to work. I had the big diamond ring, but I was in an abusive relationship. I was living a life that had been decided for me by others. I was not being my authentic self.”
I looked around the audience and saw young women nodding their heads in identification.
“I was brave enough to quit my job, leave my husband and seek out happiness. I spent two years travelling the world, having an AMAZING time, meeting BEAUTIFUL people, and discovering my TRUE self. Today I’m going to teach you about the power of authenticity and happiness.”
One hour and some very sore feet later, the workshop was concluding. I felt drained but Sonia looked like she was on a natural high. Her prominent red lips were beaming as she stood at the front of the group, clasping her hands and calling everyone her lovelies.
“Today I have shown you just a few simple tricks to learn more about yourself. But this is only the beginning. Everyone, please drop your business card in the bowl to learn more about my workshops. And as a special gesture, just for the lovely ladies in this room, I’m going to offer everyone an absolutely free one hour coaching session!”
I dropped my card in the bowl and didn’t think about it until several weeks later, when I received a Whatsapp message from Sonia. The message was littered with flower emojis.
Hi Flossie! Thank you for attending my workshop ✿ I would like to offer you a beautiful, complimentary coaching session to help you build a life that you love from the inside out!!! ✿✿✿
I found it hard to take such language seriously. Her target audience must be young women with low self-esteem and high salaries, so I dismissed it. A few days later, I received another message.
Hi Flossie! I haven’t heard back from you. Do you want to discover your authentic self? ✿ I’m available for your absolutely free and beautiful coaching session.
Again I ignored it, only to receive yet another message one week later.
Hello lovely ✿ I am offering a free one hour workshop named the ‘5 secrets to happiness’ to corporates for a limited time! I’d love to come and deliver this at your company. What do you think? It would be exciting to bring this gift forward!! ✿✿
Was this a case of the harassed becoming the harasser? Who was this Sonia?
I decided to do some investigating. I Googled Sonia and her LinkedIn profile came up first. Sonia’s current job title was listed as Transformational International Speaker despite just five years of coaching experience in Singapore. No prior employment was mentioned. I scrolled countless selfies of Sonia on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter but I discovered nothing more revealing.
Searching from Singapore was getting me nowhere. I needed to refocus my efforts on her previous life in the US.
After some relentless browsing, I came across the American University Library website and searched for Sonia in the online news archives. BINGO. Scores of articles popped up.
Sonia Abbasi, Best Woman Sales Director, 2013 Finalist WISA
Sonia Abbasi, 2012 Stevie Award Winner for Sales & Customer Service
Sonia Abbasi, Sales and Innovation Award Winner 2011
Best Marketing Campaign, CRN 2010 Winner, Sonia Abbasi
This woman was incredible! She was recognised by so many prestigious US organisations for exceptional sales and marketing talents. I did not stand a chance at avoiding her iron sales grip.
I heard my mobile ringing and looked at my watch. It was already 1am in the morning, my online snooping had gone too far. Who could be calling at this time?
I rose from laptop and checked my phone that was buzzing away around on the couch. It was my boss. Seriously. What on earth could he possibly want at this hour?
I muted the call and opened up Whatsapp to respond to Sonia’s message.
Hello gorgeousness. Thank you for thinking of me and I absolutely loved your beautiful workshop. Unfortunately I have decided to move back to Australia so it doesn’t really make sense for me to take this forward right now. However, I know someone who could really benefit from discovering their true self. Let me pass you his contact details…