I want a job I really want, not just any will do.
Updated: Feb 20
By Calida Soh
PHOTO: ETHAN TAY
Everyone knows the template for success in Singapore — study hard, get into a good university, get a good (read: well-paying) job and check off your 5 ‘C’s. Rinse and repeat for future generations.
My looming graduation spurred incessant questions about my future from well-meaning relatives I met over the Chinese New Year. The questions I was not ready to answer sent me spiraling into a mini existential crisis. It was as if they were following a script: “(Cousin whose achievements and accolades I will never live up to) has gotten a job already! He is a (occupation that draws an obscene amount of money)”; “The economy is bad now, you need to start finding NOW!”, and the classic “Huh, study arts ah? Next time do what?”
Sigh… Aunty, in the words of the glamorous Taylor Swift: “You need to calm down.”
Life in Singapore is an endless rat race. (The irony of the rat as my zodiac animal sign has not escaped me.) Every stage of my life is a fierce competition with my peers. Be it PSLE, O-Levels or A-Levels, the struggle to stay ahead of the curve was very real for me. Everyone seems to be on a constant lookout for greater opportunities; a chance to be the next face of entrepreneurship, an opening to emerge victorious and leave the monotonous grind of life. I want the same things.
And in achieving the ultimate Singaporean dream, the first job — like all other “firsts” — is a monumental step in adulthood.
In an utopian world, my dream job would strike an effective balance between earning enough for a comfortable life, with job satisfaction and a work-life balance. Unfortunately, according to the Singapore Employee Engagement Index 2018, Singaporean companies have not been offering very engaging work environments. Bluntly put, working in Singapore is fraught with less-than-ideal issues, such as: burning out, gender wage gaps, and workplace discrimination by race and sex. It seems my dream job could be nothing but a far-fetched ambition.
My schooling life and the life that waits for me at the end of my university years seem like they belong in two separate worlds. As a student, I could count on the support of my parents in walking the paths I chose; be it entering the “Arts” route in junior college (which was seen as less lucrative) or being heavily involved in my co-curricular activities in school at the expense of my studies. School was like a trial period — with no hard consequences. I was free to chase my desires. And even though I have yet to enter the working world, I know that that freedom stops here.
Work and play, it seems, are mutually exclusive; activities on opposite ends of a spectrum. A workplace that manages to find a balance between the two is to many working Singaporeans, a boon.
The dream we were sold — if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life — is but a dream; one that creates the unrealistic expectation that working could be effortlessly enjoyable. The truth, however, is we all need to put in hard work to reap the benefits. Here is a more realistic saying: “Anything worth having doesn't come easy”.
I know it’s futile looking for the perfect job, which to me is one that offers financial security, opportunity for growth and fulfilment — so I will settle for what’s closest to it. Every job has its own share of difficulties and mundanity. Even celebrities and royals can’t have it all. But I believe, perhaps in naivety, that if pressed to choose, the emotional fulfilment from pursuing my passion will easily outweigh the cons.
Now comes The Big Question: how do I, then, find such a job for myself?
A job that aligns with my passion seems idealistic. It follows from earlier statements that I would thumb my nose at such a sentiment. Talk is easy: I can easily proclaim that I am for passion over money but the fact remains that money makes the world go round. Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has obviously never traded up a McChicken for a Double McSpicy. In typical kiasu Singaporean fashion, it is wiser to be practical and work towards financial independence.
Note that I said financial independence, not wealth or status.
A job that pays you to indulge in your interests is not impossible but requires a tweaking of your expectations. I faced this dilemma in my hunt for an internship: To take the offer that paid better or the one that promised opportunities for growth and learning? I chose the latter.
It was not an easy decision. Accepting the second offer cost me half of what I stood to earn from the other one. But I never regretted it. It was my time to learn; to know how life was like working as a real writer. Starting from ground zero proved to be a steep learning curve, but I was growing. As a photojournalist, I learnt to pitch my ideas, form connections with my interviewees, and picked up new technical skills from editing photographs and videos. I learnt how it felt to be truly passionate about my job. I realised a love for what you do drives you to take initiative and smash expectations. These may be harder to achieve in jobs taken only for the money.
Such a decision is largely based on personal preference: to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big sea. I concede that even having a choice is a privilege. Some have to settle for the job that pays because they are bound by financial constraints. My youth is another luxury. I can pick and choose because there will be other opportunities that come my way. There is ample time for a mid-career switch.
Lastly, consider your priorities. What matters the most to you when you are looking for a job? Everyone aspires towards different life goals and have different motivations. That’s okay.
My family is my first priority. I don’t want to slog into the wee hours of the night, much less over something I have no passion for. My time is best spent at home with my family. An ideal work environment would be filled with people who are like “family’’; people who encourage and believe in one another. To reprise the clichéd saying, teamwork makes the dream work. A collaborative arena where everyone is unafraid to be their true selves and are in pursuit of the same goal is my dream workspace, where I can truly thrive.
But let’s be real — no matter how much I love my job, work will be work. I will be stressed out and there will be days I am tempted to quit, as with any job. Yet I don’t want to just settle for any job. I will wait for a job with purpose and fulfilment, and score the win I deserve. What about you?