Taking that leap — becoming a consultant
A story of how I fought depression and listened to my gut’s call
Disclaimer: This is extremely dramatic writing. If you are the boring kinds then … this might just be the rainbow.
“Yes, send the email to me. I will take a look at the pictures and let you know of what should be done next”. I hung up and my phone buzzed. I was just recovering from one of my episodes of depression and it had been an invariably crazy week at work. It was mid-week, perhaps a wednesday and I was taking the exit at the Raffles Place train station. My phone buzzed the second time. I was quite numb to everything that was happening. It had been a tiring one hour journey and I was meeting my best friend to get a book that I had got delivered to her place. I swiped my phone open and texted back “10 mins. I will see you”. She worked at Raffles Place and then little had I known what the CBD really looked like.
The escalator was fairly long. I took mental note of the exit — it said exit A. I waited patiently on the left as the escalator moved upwards slower than the stream of formally dressed men and women who climbed steadily on the right. My mind drifted to the last two days. How I had been so empty and had cried myself to sleep yet again. There was a certain resentment, a bout of self-hate and tons and tons of tire. My pace was slow, shoulders hunched and expression blank. The escalator came to an end and I was alerted to reality. I remember my last thought being a plea to the universe, god or whatever force there was, a plea to help me smile again and feel happiness.
As I stepped out of the exit I stepped into the middle of what seemed like a forest of architectural beauty. The kinds where you have bright lights, a humongous television screen that hung on a beautiful glass-skycraper. I was surrounded with them. Each of these buildings proudly held their biggest tenants’ names; UOB, Bank of Singapore. Bang in the centre was a humble green garden with benches. I looked up to measure the heights of these sky scrapers, I was amazed. There was a pang in my heart. Something like a mixture of excitement and fear. The kind that you have when you are just going to jump off a bungee. I was quite taken aback by the sudden gush of emotions that poured into me. Surprised, I whipped out my phone and tried to capture the impeccable mixture of modern glass-skyscrapers, technology, balanced lighting and nature. I did no justice.
I wondered. Why wasn’t I working here? Then I thought to myself, one day I will.
“To appreciate the existence of something strongly, you need to have wanted it badly. And to want something badly, you need to first not have it” — train thoughts
Getting behind the driving wheel — becoming healthy
It was probably something that day. The want to be working for something more fullfilling that drove the next few decisions to come. Having worked both at MNC’s and start-ups, I was aware of the culture they contained. I wanted to enter something where I could see the results of my work first hand. Impact and the satisfaction from that was essential. But first I had to do something about my depression episodes. It didn’t go as planned and as controlled as it sounds now, writing this story. It actually went downhill from then. It became worse and in a jiffy everything, the thoughts about Raffles Place went down the drain. My efforts went into trying to get out of depression, of being healthy again. The battle was long and best described by a spider trying to climb out of a slippery well. A million slips, a thousand falls. There came a point in time when I had decided to give up fighting and even today, although that was some two years ago, it brings tears to my eyes. Tears of gratitude for that little call from my heart that had asked me to give life one last shot. (I have written a different blog post on my recovery. This is the link)
I focussed the next six months on me. On my happiness and the ability to feel something. I was under medications and visited a god sent psychiatrist. The recovery process was slow yet effective. Working the whole day in a clean room would drain me but I’d sleep well at night. Work got busier and tougher and I’d put in a hundred percent (well with whatever energy I had left) but something was lacking. It was not peaceful. I don’t mean the mind-stress kinda peaceful. I speak of that joy that you get when you are happy working on something. The flow.
About a month after my last day of medication. I had this conversation with a friend.
“I am quitting my job. I want to work directly with clients. I want to make an impact and see it happen. I hate the bell curve. I am not happy. I hate it when employees are pit against each other even thought their goals are the same. It’s paradoxical. I want something that gives me the power to express, to influence. I think that’s why I like start-ups.”
“What are you going to do?”
“For now, I am going to do my masters. I need to this year to become happy and more stable. Medicines have helped for now, but I am going to still have to fight the relapses. I need this year to find what I am good at, what I like doing. Perhaps consulting is good. I just don’t know yet. But this masters decision, it feels right.”
Three months later I started my master’s course in SMU and this period of life was what I called “getting behind the driving wheel”. This is when I finally felt like I was driving the car of my life.
The battle — Finding what I was good at
“Hey! beer pong was fun!”, Ken walked down a little tipsy. It was Christmas party at my internship at SGX and on this one day the office was filled with free flowing wine and beer.
I was a little tipsy too. It was almost a year since I had stopped taking medicines and about five months into my masters course. I was finally allowed alchohol. I smiled, “It was but they shouldn’t have given so much to drink. How do you get a job here?”
“Red wine?” He slid two glasses down the bar top table. “Well, there are ways. Associate programs… and …”. My mind found it hard to focus. I was quite unstable but I nodded trying to digest what he was saying. It seemed too much for my mind to take in. I regretted asking then. Then there was a tap on my shoulder. It was my supervisor.
“So! I am heading off. Can I leave the dashboards to you? See you in two weeks? If you have some queries just drop me a message.”
I smiled uneasily and forced out a “Sure. I’ll build them”. I decided to leave then. I said good-bye to my new colleagues and walked down the wooden staircase. I was uncertain and perhaps a little shaken and frankly quite scared. I had to code and I had really never done that before. Although I had been working on tutorials picking up that language, I was still not an IT person and here I had a timeline to deliver. I went to my cubicle and picked up my bag. I remember thinking to myself “It’s ok. This won’t be easy. But then nothing was until now. I didn’t know how to fight depression, but I did it. This is another uphill battle,I’ll fight it.”
Another six months went by. I was able to build the dashboards and they went live. I picked up other programming languages and I hadn’t realised then but my six month stint at SGX had really converted me from person who hadn’t programmed before to a developer, to an IT girl. During my last week at SGX, I was standing in a meeting room and presenting a deck of slides. The meeting was titled “End-Internship presentation”. I was almost at the end of my last slide when I made my concluding speech. It went something like this :
“…And today six months later I am able to not just code in Q, but I have also picked up Python in due course. I remember clearly, I had spend two weeks writing the script in Python. Initially, I had no clue what the language was all about. I was done with 80% of the script but there was this 20% that absolutely couldn’t figure out. I was so frustrated ! But last monday, thanks to our amazing data scientist I found a conceptual solution. I coded it out and my very first python script worked perfectly. I ran it over and over estatic! and every time it gave the exact results I wanted. I was coming back home that night and in the train , I teared up. I was happy. I told myself that perhaps what I had experienced was flow.”
“We are celebrating tonight! It’s our last day. We are offically done with MITB!” one of my friends exclaimed as we sat in a circle on the green. It was late at night close to 11pm, but for us the night had just begun. We spoke about random things, about the last one year and especially about the last few months of our course. I was smiling, laughing and aware of my emotions. So glad that they existed. My best friends were sitting right next to me. One was lying cos she hadn’t slept for 48 hours coding and taking selfie breaks, and the other one was so tired from the presentation culminated with a dash of alchoholic drinks, which she had never tried that she spoke gibberish while she took naps face on the grass. Behind me I shared my wine bottle with my boyfriend who was so dissappointed that I had drunk more than half of it. Right there, right then, among them, I was in this beautiful, peaceful space. Time almost came to a pause telling me to relish these moments, and I did feeling, every bit of it.
I was grateful to not just achieve what I have, but to have felt that immense satisfaction that came when I built my first dashboards. There were those periods when I was interning full-hours and studying full-time (I didn’t even know this was possible) and the balance was so hard to strike and yet I kept myself alert imbibing every word that our amazing professors imparted. I was learning about everything and from everywhere. I was like this excited kid who ran around in the playground from the swing to the slide to the see-saw experiencing everything the playground could provide. Then came the last three months when I had fallen in love with developing. I had begun creating more and more dashboards and in different languages. I spent nights at school working on projects with my friends and whenever someone would ask “how is it going?” I’d reply and say “It’s painful. But I am loving it!”.
This last year I experienced happiness. It’s the happiness that majorly comes from the peace within, magnified by the positivity of your surroundings and the people. I found what I liked to do and enjoyed that. I cried, laughed, smiled and even got angry, loving every bit of these feelings within me for I knew very well how bland life was without them.
My last one year at SMU, was perhaps the most fullfilling year of my life till date. In this one year I realised my interests in consulting. I consulted for Singapore American School and sent an experiment to the International Space Station (more on this here). I was transformed into a developer, I understood IT systems and I could make sense of data. The entrepreneur is still in me and I am using all of these skills at my job. I joined Nielsen+Partner, an German IT consulting firm which opened shop in Singapore five years ago. They are growing and just that bit tingles the entrepreneur in me. When I was interning at SGX among all that work and study, I was offered this role and co-incidentally, their office is located at Raffles Place, exit -A. Thinking back, I am grateful for everything and mostly for making that decision to live.