When the wrong decisions bring us to the right places
You’ll know what to do when you are older. Once you get a degree, you’ll have a much better life than us. You’ll do much better than us. You’ll be the first graduate in our family. You have to set an example for your younger brothers.
That was what my parents told me since I was little.
I never really knew what I was doing
I was born before the internet became an integral part of our life today.
Nobody told me about the “life journey” and what the options were.
Naively, I was under the impression that as long as I follow along what others were doing, I would eventually know what to do when the time comes.
I thought if I obeyed the rules and completed what was required of me, eventually everything would fall into place.
Get a high-paying job, achieve financial freedom before 30 and maybe start a family and have kids.
I seriously thought grown-ups (my parents and relatives) around me knew everything there is to know about life. So whatever they told me, I followed suit — presuming they know what’s best for me.
Boy, how wrong I was
However, I was constantly frustrated after “following the right way” especially when the outcome didn’t meet my expectations. I kept wondering, what I could have done differently.
What I didn’t realize was — everyone typically offers advice based on their own experience and what they have gone through.
What was right for them might not necessarily work for me — even if I followed everything to a T.
Each time I hit a crossroad in life, I felt extremely stressed. I didn’t know what options were available so my future would “turn out brilliantly”!
On one hand, I was worried about making “wrong” choices because apparently in life, you only have one chance to get it right, else everything was screwed and you’ll have to suck it up.
You can’t “undo” mistakes you make.
On the other hand, I didn’t know what options were “right” for me. I didn’t know what I wanted in life nor the path I wanted to take.
Before, I was just focused on passing the examinations, never thinking where it would lead to. I thought, miraculously I would know what to do when the time comes. Well, I didn’t.
I constantly felt that I was walking around in the dark. Without a torchlight.
A late bloomer
It was the year after a financial crisis, when I finally graduated with a degree and entered the job market.
I had all these questions running around in my head —
- How an impressive resume looked like and how I could ace an interview. My parents didn’t go to university so they couldn’t offer any help in this area.
- How does one move up the ladder?
- How do you negotiate for your salary?
- Which are the industries available?
I felt quite alone. Back then, there was the internet but there were not as much information before.
Groping around in the dark, this was what happened:
- I got a job in an area that had nothing to do with my information technology degree. A job I accepted because I was getting desperate after four months of job search after graduation.
- While my peers were carving out their careers and moving up the ladder, I moved from job to job and somehow whilst the others progressed down the route of the “ideal route”, my path was going in the opposite direction.
- My salary stayed in the low region because I was waiting for someone else to appreciate my talent to offer a reasonable amount as I built up my expertise. That obviously didn’t happen. One of my ex-colleagues who had worked for more years offered me tips on how to “fight” for an amount more appropriate to my expertise.
- I constantly put in alot of effort (and overtime hours) hoping to be recognised and become more skilled (and of course, higher pay). That didn’t work out either. I figured out eventually — I should voice my opinion to make sure I’m heard and recognized. Staying quietly at the desk while completing all the work will never get me anywhere.
- I was in my mid-twenties when questions about meaning of life and what I wanted to do with life kept my mind busy. While my friends were planning to get married and have kids.
All of these added up till I was in my late twenties.
I was a failure in life
Or so I believed.
Brought up in an education system where each of our abilities was measured by our results, I constantly compared my personal and professional “achievements” to my peers.
Despite following the “prescribed route”, the results weren’t what I expected. I kept telling myself, things would get better as long as I keep pouring in efforts and focused on up-skilling myself.
The more energy I poured into my personal and professional growth, the more hopeful and determined I became.
Yet, I had no tangible results to show for. Things reached a standstill.
And that was when I decided to quit my job and move to a new country. I chose London — the only option I had at that point.
The Leap of Faith
I took a huge leap of faith and moved to London eight years ago. Then I went down the route of self discovery — without anyone’s prescription.
I discovered things about myself that I never knew about.
- I didn’t like alcohol as much as I thought even though it’s much more readily available here (in London) than in Singapore.
- I don’t enjoy crowded areas at all despite growing up in one of the densely populated countries in the world.
- I don’t enjoy routine — I become bored after a while and love seeking knowledge and finding out what’s out there in the world.
- I hate being told what to do and what’s best for me — I figured out, no one actually knows me better than myself and getting equipped with information for my own evaluation suits me the best.
- And of course, I relish my own personal space where I can be left with my own thoughts — where I practise self-care and use the opportunity to recharge and restore my energy.
For the first time in my life, I discovered new possibilities and options.
Life is made up of variables and unpredictability
I came to the realisation that life is made up of ongoing changes and decisions to be made. It’s unpredictable. And not everything is under our control.
For sure, no one can declare: “I know it all”.
Because each of us had a different starting line and environment we were brought up in. The circumstances of our beginnings wasn’t within our control.
However, once we become independent, we can make our own choices and take full responsibilities for them.
I came a long way
I learned more things in my eight years here than in my entire life. One of my greatest epiphany moments was — the education system in Singapore wasn’t the right benchmark to identify my strengths.
And neither could it help people who had special needs or who are far more knowledgeable than their peers. It was a system that had its flaws.
The most important advice I can offer anyone is:
Always ask questions, ask why people say what they say. And analyze any opinion that’s offered to you. Don’t take everything in blindly.
There is no absolute right nor wrong for anyone at any one time.
Even the right decision made in one point in time could be a wrong one when you look back. And the seemingly wrong decision could turn out for the best further down the road. None of us know what the future holds.
At any juncture, we can only put in our best efforts to make the best decision and we live with it for the rest of our lives.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you: You’ll know what to do when you are older.
In reality, as we become older, the problems we had in the past would appear to be less significant while we are presented with a whole new set of problems to solve and new choices to make.
At any one point, you can never really be 100% sure whatever decision you’ve made at that point would be correct.
And sometimes the wrong decisions would bring you to the right place
If I had made the right choices, I would possibly not be happily living in London today.
Excitedly exploring the diversity and knowledge I haven’t been exposed to before.
Most definitely, I wouldn’t have started my own business.
I could be married with three kids living in Singapore with a successful career lined up into a routine. And squeezing in the crowded train to get to work everyday. (Yikes!)
Just chill and do your best. With luck, sometimes two wrong decisions could turn right and looking back at your journey, you’ll be able to see how the dots eventually join up together to put you in the right place in your life.
If I can do it, so can you.
More about the author
10 years ago, I quit my job and left everything behind in Singapore — to write chapter 2 in London. After more than 100 rejections over four months, I finally secured a job and chapter 2 kicked-off.
Five years later, I wrote chapter 3 — when I founded BaselineLabs, a growth-marketing and rebranding agency.