As I sit here in my late 40s, I look back at a series of rather serendipitous twists that have brought me to where I am today, running the World’s first Career-Strategy Consultancy, Career Agility International.
As a kid, I had always been very fascinated by other people’s careers. My dad was a humble Administrative Clerk in Standard Chartered Bank, a place where he worked for close to 3 decades before retiring at 55. Mom was a ‘Housewife’ (Yes…that’s what they were called back in the 70s.) My older brother and I didn’t have much, but we were living comfortably.
I’ve tried my best to find out what other kids’ parents were doing and was always amazed by how much wealthier they were than my simple family. A classmate’s dad was a Singapore Airline Pilot and he never failed to show off his annual vacation photos to Disneyland and Europe (even though the tickets were free!)
I started exploring careers and by 13, I decided that I was going to be a Medical Doctor as I easily aced Biology and had this amazing knack for remembering Latinised terms. Words like Malleus, Incus, Stapes in the Inner Ear, and Medulla Oblongata, anterior to the Cerebellum simply rolled off my tongue.
By age 13, I was convinced that Medical Studies was the way forward for me.
However, as fate would have it, my brother who was 5 years older than me, got into Medical School and one day, he sneaked me into the Anatomy Lab where First-year Medical Students conscientiously dissected their freshly procured Cadavers.
Yes… Dead Human Bodies.
With youthful enthusiasm, I stepped into the dimly-lit room and caught sight of rows of frightfully tanned, leathery and shriveled bodies laid bare on cold steel gurneys. I was then greeted by the nauseating stench of Formaldehyde (preserving fluid) and old, wet socks.
I turned around and ran out of the room, expelling my breakfast all over the corridor. I remember by brother laughing out loud behind me saying,
“If you can’t handle this, a Medical Career is out of the question for you!”
He was correct, so I had to redefine my career aspirations.
Then, I watched this movie starring Michael Douglas (Wall Street) and got fascinated by the world of Business and High Finance.
And also by Gordon Gekko’s speech about how “Greed is Good”.
I then decided to go into Business.
But when I turned 19 and was serving my National Service in the Army (and with lots of free time on my hand), I decided to gain some hands-on experience in starting up a business. At that time, my brother’s med-school classmates lamented the lack of Real Human Skeletons that they needed to study Anatomy with and plastic replicas just weren’t detailed enough.
“Responding to the market-gap, I started a Business that sourced and imported Medical-grade REAL Human Skeletons to sell to the local Medical School Freshmen.”
These bones were clean, odourless and most importantly, legally/ethically sourced from authenticated Medical Institutions across Europe. Initially, I had issues identifying storage facilities to keep them, and ultimately, had to store them in my room and at any one time, I literally had about a dozen skeletons in my closet.
I ran this business on the side even as a Undergrad and supported my own expenses throughout my 4 years at University…which was pretty cool as my classmates were wondering where I had the resources to drive to school and own a nice mobile phone (this was the early 90s… handphones weren’t common then!).
(Pictured – Me with my best buddy, @Kelvyn Ee in 1992 at a RoadShow at NUS Medical School)
I had my first taste for Business and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Interestingly, if it wasn’t for my brother’s invitation to the Anatomy Lab which killed my aspirations for Medical School, I wouldn’t have been introduced into this exciting world of Entrepreneurship. This was the first Major Career Decision that shaped me for who I ultimately became.
The most important Career Lessons I learnt?
- You need to roll with the punches. Don’t cast your Career Dreams in Concrete. You need to be flexible and agile to adapt to changing situations.
- Understand what ‘fires you up’. What makes you excited? What brings you Joy? Follow that angle and love what you do!
- Keep learning. I didn’t have any Mentors until I was 30 and starting up without one was difficult. Find a Mentor and keep him/her close.
Tune in to Part 2, where I share about how I encountered my ‘Mid-Career Crisis’ at 30 and decided to make a Bold and Daring Bet into a Career-move that was high-risk but high-reward…if it worked out.