I suppose I was what you'd call a black sheep - both in my family and at school - and as a result it's taken me a long time to really find my niche. When I look back on my schooldays in the 1990s, I don't think there's anything in my education that influences me now except maybe that I learned to play around with rules. In my teens I ran away from school. I found there was little meaning in my life. And in fact I tried to end it on two occasions. I think the first time was attention seeking, while the second was more serious. I was found unconscious and when I woke up discovered I was in hospital. But I found the will to go on because I knew what I wanted most was my freedom and I was determined to get it. What I can say is that because I wasn't the best student, the teachers paid me attention. If they asked questions to the class, invariably it'd be me who replied - and I'd do it without raising my hand to ask for permission. My four sisters and I were raised in Kowloon by our domestic helper. Dad worked in insurance while mum had a beauty salon. Later, when I went overseas, it was my helper whom I missed most. My parents didn't like me going out on my own so I found ways to get around that. When they thought I was going to Sunday school, I'd be pushing back the boundaries and going ice skating in Taikoo Shing. At school I was popular because I was what was referred to as a troublemaker. I remember in the first year of secondary school making stink bombs and letting them off. But my scrapes with authority also surprised me. Once I was caught skiving and was sent to the staff room which was chilly due to the air-conditioning. There, I found most of the teachers looking down at me except for one, Ophelia Tsang, who taught biology. She very kindly asked me if I was cold, then offered me a jacket. I found that very humane and compassionate, and even now it touches my heart when I think about it. I wrote her a letter to thank her and she replied saying she was surprised I'd do that. We went on to develop a friendship and to this day I still visit her. Because I was viewed as this rebel when bad things happened, I'd often be regarded with suspicion. Yet I'll never forget one teacher once saying it was the likes of me who were most capable because we were creative. I think there's certainly some truth to that. I've been working in the office of a secondary school now and I can see how teachers behave negatively, often because they hate their jobs. The trouble is teachers have to do so much administration that they don't have the energy to put into the students. The troublesome kids also scare teachers who don't know to handle or engage them. I liked English best at school but hated Chinese history for having to memorise all those dates. The best part of school was my friends - because they were critical years when you grow up together and share so many valuable experiences. I never knew what I wanted to do at school. I did know after Form Five and the Hong Kong Certificate of Education that I wanted to work to be financially independent because that represented freedom from my family. So I went to work at an office next to school where the boss liked me and she became like family to me. Later I went to Australia where I had an uncle and found it quite unlike Hong Kong - it wasn't materialistic. I studied accounting, while my Japanese roommate's subject was zoology. It opened my eyes that someone studied something because they were interested in it. I then decided to sail around the South Pacific, which I did for three years. I had my daughter and later returned to Hong Kong. I knew I wanted a good life but that's not so easy to afford in Hong Kong. I found making soap was the way to do it. I used to bake bread but it spoils easily in the climate here. I like that soap is a necessity, it's about keeping clean and it's organic. I've found that my story has struck a chord with people who buy my products. I've also found this kind of work has been flexible for me and doesn't use my brain or energy too much. I realise now that people often don't believe enough in themselves. They think they don't have choices. I've found, however, that we do, but it's up to each of us to take that step and make the change ourselves. Bella Ip is the founder and owner of Bella Sapone.