What would you do?
It’s almost a decade since I took my first leap of faith.
Back then, with no backup plan and no job offer, I quit my job at Microsoft and bought a one-way plane ticket to London.
When I told my parents about my decision, they were petrified.
Why would anyone in the right mind leave a well-paid job behind?
And go to a “dangerous” place like London. (In their mind, every place other than Singapore was dangerous!)
Everyone wanted to talk some sense into me.
My parents, relatives, friends…all tried to warn me of the dangers.
It was a difficult and extremely frustrating period.
Not only did I had to deal with my own doubts (what if I don’t find a job? what if …?), but with everyone else’s fears as well.
That I would be set back in my life if I failed.
But each time I think about being stagnated and letting time continue to roll forward for the next 50 years in the same state — it made my stomach sink.
And I knew I couldn’t NOT do anything anymore.
The Degree Dream
My parents were not highly educated and they were the early batches of baby boomers. To them, having a degree was a HUGE deal.
My father came out to work to support his family at 16. My mother was the eldest daughter of 7 children and she was assigned to help with the cooking, taking care of the younger siblings and running the family-run shop.
After my parents got married, generating sufficient income was the utmost priority for raising their three children.
I was engrained at a young age — with a degree, I would be able to get a good job and earn lots of money.
When their first-born, a.k.a me showed potential of going to university, I was repeated told, “ If you get a university degree, you are going to have a much better life than us.”
In my parents’ mind, a degree was equivalent to getting a windfall. Their children would be much educated and would lead a much better life than them. They envisioned that their kids would be sitting in offices and holding white-collar jobs.
What they didn’t realise was, by the time I graduated, the supply of graduates had outgrown the market demand.
My aunt who was over a decade older than me completed an IT degree in Singapore in the late 90s. It was a booming period for the IT industry.
Even though she didn’t graduate with a first class degree, she was sought after and her rise through the ranks was rapid after getting a number of overseas posting.
What they didn’t realize was, by the time I graduated from university in 2004 with an IT degree, the Singapore market was saturated with university graduates and the options for a fresh graduate with a “no-class” degree and no connections in the working world were much narrower than one who had completed their bachelor studies 20 years ago.
Pursuing the dream
Anyway, my parents’ strong belief did rubbed off on me. I started dreaming of the “privileged job” that would give me a four digit salary every month after graduation.
I thought going to university would open up doors that were not available to my parents.
The path to a better life.
A life much better than what my parents had.
At 18, upon receiving my A-level results, I was dismayed.
My grades weren’t outstanding enough to apply for the top faculties like medicine, law, business or even accounting – the courses that would “make my parents proud” and eventually “earn big bucks”.
I wasn’t sure what was next. Back then, I didn’t have a passion about any particular profession. I only knew I didn’t want to become a school teacher.
I didn’t quite know what were my strengths. I was simply going with the flow.
After a week of dilemma, I finally opted for the IT faculty which “according to my mom” — would earn me big bucks and get to travel the world like my aunt.
I struggled big time with the subjects, especially Java programming and computer networks.
I dreaded programming assignments as I could almost never complete them.
And the more I struggled, the more I detest the topics. Most of them didn’t make much sense to me.
In my first semester, I was up every Saturday night till midnight to submit a coding assignment. And I despaired because I couldn’t complete most of the assignments.
Yet, I persevered. I felt I couldn’t “let my parents down”.
Eventually, I managed to find a couple of faculty buddies to study together for tests and exams.
I managed to scrape through.
All this time, the 9–5 office dream was still at the back of my mind.
Somehow I survived the three years and finally received the “prestigious” piece of paper that stated I was a university graduate.
And reality hit me when I started on my career path.
My starting salary was much lower than my peers. There was no clear path of promotion. I put in additional effort in areas I was weak in but I didn’t know how to negotiate for a higher salary.
It didn’t help that I encountered two recessions in the course of my career.
The dream of possessing a high-paying job with a company that would send me for overseas stints to see the world seemed to be forever out of reach.
I couldn’t seem to “qualify” for any jobs that involved an overseas posting or entailed business travel.
I was doing things I didn’t enjoy and I felt trapped in the jobs I had.
Gradually, I saw an emerging pattern.
Each of my role didn’t last beyond two years before I became bored of the routine. The learning curve typically plateaued between six months to a year and I didn’t feel challenged. Those days crawled by and I began dreading going into work.
On each occasion, when I wanted to quit and look for a new role, my families and friends kept dissuading me to keep on and told me things would get better.
When things became unbearable, I would finally pluck up enough courage to resign before looking for a new role.
And I told myself, “This time it will be much better than the last.”
And every time, I was sorely disappointed.
As I hit my late 20s, where my peers were becoming “stable in their jobs” and getting the “higher salaries” I desired, I was still trapped in a role without a future— doing long hours in an environment I detest — work that wasn’t appreciated and grossly underpaid.
I felt all alone and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
When I was in my fifth role in the fourth year, I asked myself, “Would I still be trapped in this vicious cycle for the next three decades?”
The thought was painfully horrifying.
I couldn’t breathe properly even as I tried to figure a way out of this never-ending story.
The golden ticket to “greener pastures”
One day, my friend Jess told me about the option of a UK working holiday visa. With the visa, I would be able to travel to the UK and would legally be able to look for a local job.
The plan was simple.
Quit the current job. Buy a one-way ticket to London.
Pack my bags, bring along my savings and head over to London to search for a job that would sponsor me a visa.
And if things doesn’t work out and I couldn’t find a company that would offer me a work permit, I would repack my bags and return to Singapore.
The problem was, I was scared stiff.
I was taking a gamble to restart from zero again.
It was 2010, the second year after the economy triggered by the Lehman Brothers.
I had no professional network in London.
I didn’t know if I could find a job that required my skillset and knowledge.
I’ve never rented my own place before? And how does everything work in a new city?
There were so many question marks.
And, the biggest fear was, what if…. I can’t find the ONE company that would sponsor a work visa?
What should I do then?
I was in a quandary.
I wasn’t confident of taking on this biggest risk in my entire life that encompassed of so many unknowns..
I had no support.
Mostly everyone in my circle were against this plan. My parents, relatives, friends…all tried to warn me of the dangers.
It was a difficult and extremely frustrating period.
Would this opportunity turn out to be my golden ticket to Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory or would it turn out to be another setback and a complete waste of money and time?
At the same time, I continued to experience chest tightness and I often couldn’t breathe properly.
I’m almost risk-adverse
I’ve never seen myself as a risk-taker.
I’ve always been heeding the advice of others around me. Be it family or friends, I had the impression that they knew more than me or knew what was best for me.
Either way, as far back as I remembered, I’ve never made any “risky” decisions. Mostly, I’ve gone with the flow and the conventional route of education and career choices.
I was an introvert and I fitted in with the crowd.
Never in my life did I ever think I would do something different from others.
On good days, I was confident that this plan would be an enormous success and I would be living in London for a while after I found a job.
On other days, I feared that I was too naive and I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.
On days of uncertainties, I even tossed a coin in the hope of receiving “spiritual guidance”.
Meanwhile my chest tightness persisted and I often consciously take in deep breaths in an effort to release the tightness.
And it took me three long months to finally make THE life-changing decision.
I took a leap of faith
On March 30, 2010, I arrived in London with a suitcase and a bag-pack.
I went on to send out over 100 job applications in four months and ultimately secured a work visa in a media company.
It was the light at the end of the tunnel.
The chest tightness had somehow miraculous vanished along the way. I could finally breathe normally again.
After 5 years, I resigned and began a new self-employment adventure. That is another story altogether.
What I learned from my life-changing decision
I’m not a brave person, nonetheless I’ve started embracing calculated risks and the envisioned rewards.
On hindsight, I recognized that if I hadn’t made the leap of faith a decade ago, I was in reality — giving my silent consent “to continue with the pain”.
I figured out the “trapped feeling” I had was all in my head.
Believe it or not, it’s not difficult to be happy.
When you reach a point where you are extremely unhappy with the circumstances, you either make a shift in your mindset or you change your situation.
Making the leap also taught me that I’m not one to bend to conventions I don’t believe in easily. I would rather choose the path less traveled than to go with the flow and “stay comfortable”.
Understanding this part of myself was a huge mental relief. And in the last few years, I also found people who hold similar beliefs — to take on the unknown rather than choose the easier option of “complaining yet doing nothing”.
For myself, the pain of doing nothing triumphed over the fear of unknown.
And when I chose to do nothing at first, it came in the form of a physical discomfort because deep down, I couldn’t accept it.
As I went down the path less traveled , I suddenly saw previously invisible options unravelled right in front of my eyes.
Whether you believe or not, there are always options for you in life.
It’s up to you to make that choice.
More about the author
10 years ago, I quit my job and left everything behind in Singapore — to write chapter 2 in London. After more than 100 rejections over four months, I finally secured a job and chapter 2 kicked-off.
Five years later, I wrote chapter 3 — when I founded BaselineLabs, a Content-Analytics agency that helps small businesses to fill up their sales pipelines with high quality leads