Heads up: This is a pretty long post!
Just a little over a month ago, I bid my full-time day job in the bank goodbye.
It was my first job after graduating from SMU Accountancy & Business, and I joined one of those graduate programmes in a bank “by default”. The education system in Singapore, and especially SMU was as such – we all narrow-mindedly only knew of those few industries that we could work in. Don’t be mistaken, I’m not here to put our education system down, but I’m just explaining my thought process in my job search. 90% of my friends went into either banking or the Big 4 accounting firms, and though I had an interest in PR/communications then, it was tough to find a job in that area since I majored in Finance. Even when I did get a single job offer for a boutique PR firm, I pondered long and hard before eventually rejecting it due to the low salary and the uncertainty of how much I would actually enjoy it.
I decided to take the safe route to apply for big, established companies which would look good on my resume as my first job, and I’m thankful that I managed to get a place in one of them. I joined a programme where I was bonded for 3 years (for no good reason), and in those few years I saw friends in other companies job-hopping and growing in their careers. Some friends took a slightly different path – one joined a broadcasting station as a producer, and that was when I started to realise there were jobs out there that we’d never heard of in SMU, and that we could possibly get into, despite the fact that we did not have a related degree or experience. Nonetheless, I was bonded, and I couldn’t go anywhere.
A year into my job, I noticed how my body had changed in the span of 12 months of sitting at a desk. I’ve always been active, and I tend to stand even when I’m at a desk and a chair is available. But at work (at least in the first year), I thought it’d be odd to stand at my desk and so it was 9-hour workdays of sitting in front of a computer. My hip flexors felt tight. My neck was starting to ache from looking down at my laptop all the time, and I bought a stand to prop it up. I began to lose my flexibility and that was a wake-up call for me since I never used to have any problem touching my toes but that was starting to feel uncomfortable! That motivated me to exercise after work (instead of just on weekends), even if it was just 15 mins of yoga or Pilates a day. I began standing at my desk after lunch, and my colleagues joined me (haha). We all looked strange together and some people gave us side-glances but it felt good to be able to move around more easily instead of slouching over the laptop in a food-induced coma.
3.5 years flew past, and I was still in the same company.
I’d completed the 3-year bond, and I was in a permanent role where I felt like I was finally learning something useful. At the same time, I had embarked on a Pilates Mat instructor course and I fell in love with movement again. It took a gruelling 1 year to complete the course (thank God I passed the exam on my first try), and I was so burned out at the end of it that I went on a 6-month hiatus off Pilates. At the time, I had lovely colleagues, an interesting job scope and good bosses. I am extremely thankful for that – it is a coveted trinity that is nearly impossible to achieve, and I feel lucky that I had the chance to enjoy it. Yet, I kind of had that nagging feeling that “this” was not where I wanted to be. I never had an interest in climbing the corporate ladder; or impressing bosses; or making myself “known”. I felt constrained in a desk-bound job, and I didn’t like how I was not moving (physically).
Thinking back to my friend who was on a completely different career path in the broadcasting station, I began to explore the notion that perhaps there was more to a job than this. I started teaching Pilates again, and I’m so grateful for the support of family and friends who were there right from the beginning, attending my classes and giving me feedback to help me improve. I loved teaching. My mom is a teacher, and while I never wanted to be a schoolteacher, but perhaps I actually do have that same passion for teaching in me? Interacting with my students and seeing them improve made my day (especially after a dreary day in the office). But still, I wasn’t ready to take the plunge.
I toyed with the idea for a long, long time. There were obvious disadvantages, most of them monetary. My salary in a banking job was comfortable, though nothing to shout about. To become an instructor would be taking a huge pay cut, and my monthly income would be unstable. I had just gotten married, and my house was coming – the bank had a generous staff discount on mortgage loans. If I had children, I would lose out on the 4 months of paid maternity leave. And not to forget the medical coverage and flexible benefits – there was so much that I would be giving up and I was fearful. And then I saw this quote:
Your salary is the bribe they give you to forget your dreams.
Haha, you might think that it’s a bit harsh. But there is some truth to it isn’t there? I realised how much my fear of the unknown was stopping me from finding out what I was really interested in. Yet, I was 4-going-on-5-years into working and I still couldn’t answer the question of where I could see myself in the corporate world in the next 5, 10, 15 years. All I knew was that I had so much more fun in the Pilates studio than at a desk in the office. I didn’t want to look back in my 40s and regret not even trying to do something that I love, and realise that I’m too bogged down with commitments at that point in my life to consider any other option.
Granted, not everyone has the means to “take the plunge and pursue their passion”. I absolutely respect that, and we have to be realistic. I am thankful for the support of my husband (disclaimer: not monetary-support, but emotional encouragement) and my family and friends as well. I saved up over the years and ensured that I have some financial stability before leaving my regular-paying job because I expected that it would be a struggle. AND IT IS. I am acutely aware of every dollar and cent that I spend now, and whether my income is able to cover that expense. It is not a good feeling, but I do know that this is just the beginning. It also helps that I trust that God will provide if this is the path that He wants me to take. I can’t know for sure, but I am looking forward to finding out.
I’m excited for this journey! And I do hope that a year later I will still be on this path to share the experience with all of you 🙂 keep close!