Marching to the beat of my own drum

Dael’s Designer Kidz workshop

Recently, I attended the Design Your Life workshop by Bold At Work. Going in, I did not think I had many questions about my future career. My mind was set, I thought. I’d already designed a map of what my life was going to be five years down the road.

However, as the workshop progressed, I started to explore more of who I am and what I want and began to recognise a tension I had been feeling the entire time. It was the first time I could put a name to what I was feeling: the tension between Stability and Freedom.

To me, Stability meant having a family, a country I am settled in, and a company of my own headquartered there. It was the “dream” to me and everyone else, or at least that’s what I thought. But I started recognising that I also want Freedom in my life. I do not want to be restricted to one country and be tied down. I want to be able to explore different paths as and when I desire.

I thought I had it all planned: I would go to California and major in Computer Science, and start up a social entrepreneurship. I would settle in the US and visit my parents back in Singapore/Myanmar. That sounded right to me and everyone else. It was the safe and stable path. Even if my entrepreneurship attempt failed, I’d still be able to get a good job as a software engineer in this digital age where Computer Science skills are in demand everywhere.

During the workshop, I met two other participants. One was a UX designer. From her, I learnt about art schools that taught UX design. My interest in this career path rekindled. I was good in art when I was younger and had loved making it. Yet, I was reluctant to go down the design path because I had bought into the larger narrative that to make an impact, you had to go the science route. I had an interest in science too but I found that I was not able to keep up once the mathematical equations started piling up. Over the course of the workshop, I learnt that I preferred solving human problems rather than mathematical ones, and this is how the dilemma of whether I should study design or Computer Science began.

During the ‘prototype’ phase of the workshop, I set myself the challenge of talking to people from both ends of the arts-science spectrum, to learn more about the pros and cons, and which path I resonated with more. In the process, I came to terms with the fact that it would be really difficult for me to keep up with the demands of Computer Science as my interest was superficial. I found myself drifting off a mere 5 minutes into watching an introductory video to Computer Science! Initially, like many of us who have attended motivational workshops or watched such videos, I thought I was just being pessimistic. I told myself, that if I “believed in myself more”, I could still bulldoze through this obstacle and achieve my original plan. But during the workshop I saw a new narrative for the first time. I learnt to focus on my areas of strength rather than my weakness.

The coach and participants I met in the workshop reassured me that it was okay to follow my interest in something I am more inclined toward (without forcing myself to watch 5 motivational videos and procrastinate endlessly to try to make myself do something). I started reflecting more on why I even chose Computer Science in the first place and was honest with myself. I wanted to pursue that degree not only for the safety net it would give me, but also for the glory and money that would come with being a “software engineer”. It was something I thought I needed in order to be “successful” in other people’s eyes.

Having freed myself from what I thought I should be and do, I talked to those in the design field to learn more about their story and their motivation behind this “alternative path”. Listening to their stories, I learnt to create my own version of success, which was having freedom. Not “financial freedom” in the business or entrepreneurial sense, but the freedom to work on different projects. The freedom to choose my partners at work and the type of projects to take on.

I started to let go of what people might think of me for walking this “arts” path and that lifted the burden that had been sitting on my shoulders. Over time, I did not feel the need to prove to others that I am a “success”. Instead of recognition alone, I wanted knowledge and mastery of design skills. Slowly, the results and end goal did not quite matter as much anymore; instead I became more interested in the process of getting there. I was excited for the first time and became more willing to develop and master a new skill. For once, I felt like I was in control of my life.

There was so much freedom despite having shifted my entire career path to one that would have way more uncertainty. I had to talk to many people and inform them of this new choice, compromising some relationships in the process. But I walk on this path knowing I am now much more in tune with myself.

TLDR, to sum up my takeaways from this workshop:

1. Stop following popular opinion / market demand.

2. Stop trying to impress others, after all, it’s my life.

3. Start focusing on the process more than the goal.

Written by Dael.

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The above is a reflection of MadAtWork (Designing Your Life) workshop by one of our participants- Dael, where she gives her insights on how the programme has helped her to understand and explore her future roadmap. By reconsidering her initial plans and the values which she holds strongly to, she has gained a clearer picture of her life direction. Now, Dael is ever –ready to chart her life forward.

You can design your Life too! Join us at MadAtWork to explore possibilities and ideate for your future. Find out more here: https://boldatwork.sg/mad-at-work/