Your Degree Doesn't Define You
MANY people get pushed or simply fall into a career path. In some cases, a parent or family member convinces a child into a career or the child simply wants to be like the parent.
In other cases, it could be due to economic factor that forces a person to fall into a career to earn a living. In some instances, they might just realise that the work is no longer fulfilling and choose to make a career change.
Some may decide to make that shift because life has offered them an opportunity to discover their hidden potential. According to INTI International College Kuala Lumpur counsellor Hany Cheng, one’s career pathway is a significant part of life as it takes up a substantial amount of time in day-to-day living.
She said it can be dynamic and will naturally evolve over time.
“Deciding to make a change reflects a person’s courage to be different. It further suggests a willingness to take risks and venture into something new as there is hope in realising one’s potential through the unexplored paths,” she said.
However, Cheng believes one of the biggest challenges a person can face when wanting to make a career change is not having the support system they need during the process.
“It’s important to have a circle of people who motivate, encourage and believe in your aspirations.
“As the saying goes, ‘no man is an island’, so we all need support especially in making life-changing or career changing decisions.”
Cheng said some career changes may require formal training and education in a specific field, while others may come in informal ways which include coaching, mentorship or shadowing leaders.
“In all circumstances, I believe the process of learning never stops and gaining a higher level of academic qualification only enhances a person’s knowledge and experience,” she added.
Some professionals started out in their careers feeling passionate and idealistic about their job. It’s only after several years of working life do they realise that the job was not what they imagined it to be and that it’s not their cup of tea anymore.
At this point, many professionals find themselves thinking of a career change. This was the case for Anis Fatimah Ibrahim, Stephen Yong and Irwan Ismail Johari. Although the reasons people change careers can vary, for them it revolves around being unsatisfied not only with the work, but with the company and working environment.
The following three individuals made a career change at the right point of their life and they have not looked back.
Lawyer Turned Travel Junkie and Freelance Travel Writer
Former lawyer Anis Fatimah Ibrahim, in her 40s, took a risk and ultimately landed her dream job as a journalist, eventually becoming a travel junkie and freelance travel writer.
But what prompted her to make a career change when she had almost everything — a good salary, her own room, a secretary and a clerk?
“I practiced law for almost five years, in which half the time I did litigation, but I was not happy.
“I thought maybe litigation was not for me, so I switched to corporate law. I was dealing with more than sales and purchase agreement, or conveyance agreement.
“Basically, the job was interesting and I got to meet international clients in the process, but yet I was still not happy,” said Anis.
Questions flitted through her mind, such as “Why am I not enjoying myself as much as I should?” or “Do I have to do this for the next five years or so?”
But at the same time when she was in corporate law, she was sending out articles to newspapers and magazines.
“Some of my articles got published but I never saw it as something I could do.
“And I thought something had to be done because obviously I was enjoying something more than my day job,” she said, adding that it happened towards the end of her corporate law stint. She was at that stage where she had given law a chance but was left bereft of joy.
“So I thought maybe it’s time for me to go. You can’t be waking up every morning and hate what you do,” said Anis. By that time she was in her early 30s. Anis then quit her job and took a month-long break before she joined the New Straits Times in 2003. Her stint as a reporter lasted up until 2010.
She then landed a job in Astro as a Digital Senior Editor (News) until 2012.
“After I quit my job and started freelancing, I had more time to travel. At that point of time, I didn’t know what I was going to do and what was going to happen.
“The Trans-Siberian Railway journey I took opened my eyes to a slower and deeper way of travel,” she said, adding that was the starting point of freelance travel writing.
Anis said she was lucky because the then editor of New Sunday Times had asked her to contribute her travel stories for her own column which lasted for almost three years.
The moral of the story, said Anis, is that it all boils down to luck and having the right connections.
“You will be better off to change careers if you have enough years in whatever you were already doing and you have established yourself first. If you jumped straight to something new, people might not know you right away,” she said.
Anis said she likes travelling and enjoys writing so in a way she found her true calling.
“If you want to change career paths do it while you are still young because it is easier and less risky to try something new.
“But make sure your interest is compatible with your career change. And also, you have to be mentally prepared to settle for a pay cut.
“Being a freelance writer, you really have to diversify your sources of income and be ready to do things you never thought you would do.
“It is important for you to give some credit to the job you are in first. When you’ve reached a certain point when you couldn’t take it anymore, then you have to decide,” she added.
Graphic Designer Turned Diving Instructor
Eight years ago, Irwan Ismail Johari, 37, signed up for his first open water diver course and he instantly fell in love with the ocean.
For him, its like a completely different world where “you leave your stress” on the surface.
Since then, he has never looked back and dived his way into the deepest ocean. His hard work paid off as he is now a certified PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and Emergency First Responders Instructor.
Like many other boys during their teens, Irwan had set his eyes on graphic design and built his career in the publishing and design industry.
“I loved being a graphic designer because that was what I studied for but after many years of having to work odd hours with tight deadlines and deal with people and their attitudes, I began to feel suffocated,” said Irwan.
While he was still attached to the design industry, he went on a scuba discovery as a tryout before getting into a certification course.
“I wasn’t sure at that time and wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge into a certification course, so the scuba discovery programme seemed to be the right thing to do.
“After a few dives, it was like love at first sight.
“I have been diving ever since. Clichéd as it may sound, the rest as they say, is history,” he added.
With his burgeoning passion, Irwan wanted to share his experience with others, so he set up Sorte Met Stella Scuba, a company providing PADI diving courses, trips and dive equipments.
He has organised many trips to places such as Redang Island and Tioman Island, and conducted PADI Open Water Diver course for AirAsia crew members and diver enthusiasts.
He does not mind not getting a fixed income as he did during his previous career.
“My clients will pay me but it depends on the location and services I provided to them,” he said, adding that the salary is not lucrative, “but it helps to pay the bills”.
Irwan said he is still in the process of learning.
“For me, among the subjects that I learnt was marketing, physics of diving and its equipment. The more you dive, the more you learn,” he added.
He said initially he only wanted to dive twice a year — which never happened, because he dived every month, jumped at every opportunity to experience the first of many encounters with turtles, marine life and corals.
Irwan said his most memorable diving excursion was in Raja Ampat, popularly known as the Mecca of Diving, in West Papua of Indonesia, where the corals are untouched, the fishes and marine diversity are in abundance, and the local Papuan people are friendly.
“Having more dives makes you an experienced and better diver but don’t go without proper certification. Scuba diving is not a race nor is it a recreational sport for individuals to compete.
It’s not about proving who is the best or who can stay underwater longer or deeper. It’s about enjoying and appreciating God’s creation underwater.
In the end, it’s all about passion, safety, practice, respect for each other as divers, and most importantly, the ocean. Safety is always number one and fun is second,” he added.
Online Game Founder Turned Barista (Cum Trainer)
As a 40-year-old working in the information technology industry, he was told he was having a mental breakdown when he announced that he was considering quitting his high-paying job to pursue his passion — by becoming a barista.
His friends and family said he was nuts to do something so drastic at his age.
But in the end, it was his decision, and it taught him a lot of things, including how to be happy.
That was last year. Ever since, it has been smooth sailing for the Penangite who opted out from being a founder of an online games company to brewing coffee.
Stephen Yong Saw Wei, now 41, who has an Advanced Certificate in Computer Engineering, Diploma in Computer Science and Diploma in Telco & Electrical Engineering, always likes to bring joy to people.
In 1994, he personally set up an ISP (Internet Service Provider) so students can play online games, followed by an online games company — Gamestotal.com in 2003 so people worldwide can enjoy playing games.
But 20 years in the online gaming scene finally took its toll and he wanted to try something new and different.
“After sometime, I was burnt out and bored of the industry. I have tried out a bit of coffee making while I was still working and experienced my first French press (coffee press) in 2000.
“At that point of time, it seemed like fun. I thought it was nothing but just a hobby and interest,” he said. However, three years ago he decided to go full time in the coffee making business.
“The attraction of getting involved in the coffee or latte art industry is merely for fun as most people drink coffee to relax and unwind.
“As you know, most people in Kuala Lumpur are too stressed due to work, rising costs of living, traffic, among other things.
“So people come for coffee, with the venue that provides a calming and relaxing environment. And you get to make a lot of friends, be happier and more open,” he said, adding it helped that his wife loves coffee.
“I see a strong future for the coffee industry in Malaysia, at least for the next 10 years. This is based on trends in nearby countries such as Australia and New Zealand where their coffee industry has been doing well for more than 10 years, and still continue to do so.”
Yong then started up a business, MalaysiaBarista.com, offering barista classes for those planning to start a cafe and wishing to serve authentic Italian style espresso-based coffee; existing cafe owners or baristas who wish to learn or improve their cafes’ coffee techniques; and serious hobbyists with great passion for coffee.
Apart from coffee training and classes, Yong also started Hobby N Coffee, which act as a venue hosting hobby and fun activities where they have several hosts, trainers and teachers conducting different ranging from classes, workshops, talks, gatherings or events. Topics include sewing, handbag making, crocheting, book binding, and craft.
Yong said the biggest challenge he faced with his career change was trying to explain to his friends and family.
“I guess people tend to view you differently when you start anew at that age of 40. I was a video game designer for 12 years, so my entire life revolved around doing nothing physically demanding at all.
“The current work requires me to be on my feet from dawn till dusk. At first it was hard. Imagine a middle-aged guy who has been sitting in front of a computer his entire life who now has to work with his hands and on his feet.
“The first one week my whole body was sore, I had problems even sitting, let alone standing up,” he said, adding that however, “no pain, no gain”.
His daily routine now includes buying ingredients (milk, coffee beans, sugar, chocolate power and others), or preparing for class (arranging cups, coffee equipments and accessories).
“Usually there will be other DIY trainers and their students, I will also be making coffee for everyone in the shop. I conduct class, then clean up and pack up,” he said, adding that he appreciates life more now.
On days that he doesn’t have classes, Yong said he will do some research on how to improve his barista skills via the Internet, trade shows, road shows or networking events.
“This includes barista-related accessories, equipments and techniques. To practice, I will normally set up a video camera then replay the video in slow motion to further improve my skills,” he said.
Yong also enjoys being in the spotlight and has been featured in the national newspapers and television. He said a barista’s final dream is to one day be a celebrity barista, in which they get featured on various media and get special invitation to company events, road shows, expos and others.
“Life is short, so ensure you enjoy what you do. The best would be if your work makes people happy,” he added.