Quitting the Corporate Life
Until 8 months ago, I had a really good job. I worked in a Dutch MNC, hobnobbed with big time oil traders, closed deals worth millions, spent lots of money entertaining my clients with good food and great drinks. But I wasn’t happy.
Something inside was gnawing at me… I was lacking a sense of fulfilment. That was really weird because I always thought that I was gonna be a corporate lifer. I have been fighting the discontent for a while, but this time, it was different.
I was bothered by a problem that I very much wanted to fix. I had been thinking about it for a long time and I decided that it was time to take the leap of faith.
Growing up, I never saw myself becoming an entrepreneur. I had a fairly standard upbringing, growing up in public housing, attending a school near my home, struggling through the education system and eventually getting my diploma. The only difference was, I went straight to work right after my time in the National Service.
My first job was in the civil service, involving looking at large radar screens all day long, talking to people aboard ships and giving them navigational advice and weather information. That job gave me a lot of free time. There were three shifts (morning, afternoon, and night) and for every three days of work, we had a day of rest.
That was my workplace ten years ago.
The other beauty of working in a job as such, is that you don’t bring your work home. And during off days, you could do whatever you wanted. However, the flip-side was, I didn’t earn much. Resultantly, I came to know of colleagues who moonlighted as insurance agents, property agents and even part-time university students.
And so I thought, maybe there’s a side gig that I can find so that I can occupy myself during my off days and earn some extra cash. Sounds easy enough right? But nope, nothing’s ever that easy.
Getting another part time job was out of the question as I couldn’t breach the terms of my employment. Plus, which self-respecting employer would want to hire someone who could not work regular hours, who could only work on specific days of the week and not others? Not many. And those that wouldn’t mind probably wouldn’t have been those that you’d want to work for. So, I decided to try freelancing.
In the beginning...
In those days, freelancing usually implied (in order of popularity and ease of sussing out demand):
- Teaching tuition
- Teaching music
- Web design, or some other computing-related work
Firstly, I didn’t exactly do well in school. So being a tutor is out. And though I had a passion for playing the piano in my younger days, rote learning (scales, etc.) kind of killed my passion. Hence, I didn’t clear my Grade 7 exams and might not be able to make the cut as a piano teacher. And lastly, web design and computing… HTML is greek to me. So Wordpress is like the controls of a spaceship, and naturally, coding also seems like some alien language.
After elimination, I came to realise that my strengths were in writing. So I set up a website, told a couple of friends that I could help out with writing and editing projects and ended up doing a few projects for friends. I think I did pretty well. But since they were friends, I didn’t charge them a cent.
I’ve done a fair share of work, some bringing me immeasurable joy and others… relative pride (such as helping friends with their school assignments….). Sadly, I didn’t have roaring success in freelance writing, but the work I did laid a foundation of goodwill with my friends and set me up for writing a book in the future.
And despite my limited success in freelancing, I did have a couple of realisations:
#1: If you’re not sure whether you are good enough, put your skills to the test by doing some work for your friends and family
One of the things that keep people from putting their skills out there, is the lack of confidence and worry that they’re not good enough. To overcome that, although it sounds cliche, is to get work done for friends and family. That is really one of the best way to put your skills to the test. Encourage them to provide you with some honest feedback so that you can improve.
Any compliments you get will be the perfect validation that you have got what it takes.
#2: Get the message out
A key challenge towards monetising your skills is that you can’t just rely on your friends and family for work. It’ll be difficult to charge your friends and family for work done.
Hence, if you’ve got the skills, you’ll have to expand your messaging beyond your direct social circle and get your message out there. There’s probably someone out there who needs your skills and talent, no matter how far out it seems.
There’re so many ways to tell the world about yourself and what you can do. You can set up a YouTube channel, make a FB or Instagram page, or use a dedicated product like what we’ve built, which allows you to get your message out to people who are on the lookout for the skills that you have.
#3: Take the first step
Having the skill sets and getting the word out means nothing if you don’t take the step of going out there and doing it. This is also the part which most people are afraid of. Many stop here. They fear rejection, failure, screw-ups. But let me tell you something, all this, and more, is gonna happen. And so many people have gone before and proven so!
“Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine” — Jack Ma
“The only thing to fear is fear itself” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do” — Robert Schuller
And finally, as the saying goes, a journey miles starts with a single step. Every successful person has got to start somewhere. The earlier you start, the more time you’ve got to improve your skills and the higher the chances of success.
So, don’t let what you can’t do now stop you from doing what you can do someday.