On 6 October 2021, I quit my job as a social worker to start a business.
And nope, I didn’t end up eating grass, nor did I turn to the government (or my parents) for money. For those who are thinking about career changes in Singapore, it can sometimes seem enormously scary. After all, you’re giving up the security of a pay-check, to … get a better job?
You don’t even know if the job will work out for you.
This article aims to address some of the myths so you can better understand if you should change your career. Because the question isn’t what will happen after you change your career, because that will depend on what you do.
A better question to ask is,
What do you want with life?
Myth 1: I just need to take the plunge
Having worked with youths who considered crazy career decisions (like quitting their social worker job to be a baker), I’ve seen what differentiates those who make it after quitting, and those who don’t.
Those who do, don’t just see it as taking the plunge. They actually know what they are plunging into.
For example, Yeo Min left her training as a social worker to train as a baker. You may think that baking and helping seem like two different worlds, but Yeo Min was already baking and selling for at least 3 years, before she took the plunge.
I didn’t quit a job as a social worker to become a writer, without ever writing. I didn’t take a dumb plunge into the ravine. I was writing since 2018, for a full 3 years, getting paid a paltry £40 a month writing blog posts for university, before I eventually went full-time into writing.
No. Don’t take the plunge.
Especially when you don’t know what you’re getting into. If you think you’re great at something and want to do it as your new career, make sure you actually experience the career is like first. 2 ways.
Don’t quit without knowing what you’re getting yourself into.
Myth 2: If I do something I really like, I will be great at it.
No, no and no.
Don’t fall into the passion hypothesis. The passion hypothesis, as Cal Newport shared in his book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’, is that if you found what you loved, you would love your job.
Nope. Not true.
Rather, you can and will become great at what you’re good at. Sounds logical, but try saying that to your self of yesterday, who came back dragging her feet after work, tired of all the toxic people at work, and wondering how best to move forward.
You will become better at things that you already are good at. Working from your strengths, rather than your love, is what will bring you to a level that’s much better than everyone else.
In 2016, I nearly fell into suicide because I was pondering the question,
What do I like doing?
That led me down the rabbit holes of Google, constantly searching and trying to read the next article on how to find one’s passion. It got me so lost, that I wanted to end my life. I simply thought that I would never figure out the answer to what I wanted to do with my life, and thought that I should just quit.
But I found myself, after a random opportunity led me to teaching at a tuition centre. Standing in front of the class, and not having students throw things at me, led me to see that I was actually good at teaching.
That led me to eventually switch my career from a social worker, to training young adults, full-time.
How to make a better decision
I don’t feel you. I don’t know you.
But I know that it’s a painful decision. I’m sorry.
During the first time I was considering a career change, I was offered a job. For 5 days, I vacillated between staying and leaving. One evening, I went down to think about my final decision. After walking for an hour, I decided to go. But after taking a bath, I decided that I should stay.
I stayed… and promptly regretted it.
It is difficult.
No one can tell you what to do with your life, and whether you should make the career change.
But looking back, here are the principles that guided my action.
Start from strengths, not love
If you’re in pain today over your job, I’m sorry.
You’re considering a career change because you may be sick and tired of what you’re doing.
And to do something different, requires you to try something different. Something you’re good at.
All your life, you may have ceded to your parent’s request to do what was safe, rather than what you were naturally successful at.
It may not have seemed safe for you to take up art, even though you were good at it.
But sticking to your strengths is ultimately what is going to help you find flow, rather than persisting with something that destroys your soul.
You can and will take care of yourself
You appeared in kindergarten, singing the teacher’s ABC song, even though you weren’t sure whether your mum would come back to pick you.
You stayed in primary school, even when your friend smacked you.
Through life, you have taken care of yourself. Why do you not trust yourself to take care of yourself, now?
Sure, there are mortgages to pay. And there are people to be responsible to. (This is why the first 10 years of your life, between 20 to 30, is ideally the time when you’re trying everything you can to make something happen. Because you don’t have dependents. Change careers, change countries. Change your life!)
What’s the worst thing that could happen when you quit.
Ask yourself that question.
You can’t eat at that fancy restaurant as often. Or you can’t buy the latest phone. Or you can’t pay for your partner’s meal.
Sure, you can deal with that, right?
If you can’t, then don’t think about a career change.
This sounds harsh, but a career change is difficult. And in Singapore, with the traditional expectations of Society making it even more difficult to be non-conformist, and do what everyone does, you have to stomach the pain.
The best time to try is now
I was 26 when I left my job, without a job.
I turn 27 tomorrow. For an entire year, I have not had a ‘job’. But I have survived.
When I left, it was more that I didn’t have any other job offer, rather than a conscious decision to make a career change.
But deep within, I knew that there was nothing to lose. I had (too much) money in the bank. I had more than 6 months of savings. I knew nothing much could go wrong, as long as I kept working hard.
I had no dependants. I could stay in my mum’s home, rent-free.
The best time to try a career change, was now.
Life is meant to be tried, not to be tied down to. But too often, when I hear people asking me,
What’s going to happen to your CPF (retirement account)?
How long can you last?
Do you know you need to save?
Ah, I do.
But I know you don’t. That’s why you’re asking me these questions.
people will inevitably put fear into you. The thing isn’t to stop listening to you. It’s to realise that their position of fear, will keep them there, hiding, cowering, and never really living life, for the rest of their life.
Instead, they will grow up, fat, pampered, and comforted by creature comforts like Netflix, Prime, and Spotify, complaining about their boss, and constantly wondering,
What if I changed my career?
They never acted it out.
And you made the difference.