When it comes to career choices, traditional Asian families are known to be highly pragmatic. It is common for parents to nudge their children to pursue a practice in accountancy, medicine or law, and thus build a name in a respectable profession with high earning growth prospects.

Some may conform to their parent’s wishes and societal pressure despite a lack of interest in the field of study. A few will find courage to break out of the mold to pursue their heart’s desire.

David, Ethan and Elise are 3 Singaporean professionals who made the plunge to drop their respective 9-to-5’s to pursue their artistic passions.


Photo by David Seow

Photo by David Seow

David Liew

Freelance Illustrator

What were you doing before venturing full-time as an illustrator?

I’ve held a number of jobs in my “previous life” – junior college art and history teacher, model-maker, animation production artist, polytechnic lecturer.

What prompted you to make the switch?

I had finished my contract at the polytechnic and decided to go back to school to do my masters. Somehow along the way, my children’s illustration work picked up somewhat. And so when my graduate studies were done, I somehow forgot to go back to teaching full time. Not having a regular paycheck was too seductive a lure to ignore…

In reality it wasn’t a true switch as I’ve been an illustrator since I was 18. And I’ve never seen my illustration career as being in conflict with my non-illustrative one – they complement each other.

What did your family think about the move?

Unless they should ever read this, they don’t think anything of it… they think I’m on an extended masters’ course! I’ve always been a bit out there so this wasn’t too shocking a move.

They’re generally supportive but also understandably concerned because creative work, while increasingly appreciated, is still not accorded the financial recognition it deserves.

How did you convince them you’re making the right choice?

(I’ve) Never had to. The oddball son / son-in-law / husband had always been known to take the path less travelled, fall flat on his face, pick himself up, dust himself off, and continue to stumble and putter along.

My wife is supportive in a very practical way; her response to a question like this (italics are mine): “He’s (supposed to be) an adult. He knows (hopefully) what he’s doing. After all, he doesn’t drink (except for way too much Coke), smoke (since he doesn’t have to write academic papers anymore), or gamble (because he has problems adding up to 21), so he’s hardly a starving artist (I need to lose some inches anyway).

I didn’t really have to. I’m fortunate that they trust me enough to allow me peace of mind to take this path less travelled.

How has making a career change transformed your life and personality?

Not really. I had always been an eccentric, off-kilter nut-job. My creative team’s regular meetings are pretty intense, if not downright bizarre. The CEO, CTO and CFO all don’t get along. The Art Director is an intolerable egomanic diva and the designer should be fired. Oh did I mention that my company is a sole proprietorship with the staff of ONE?

No real earth-shattering changes in reality. I guess the most obvious thing I’ve realised is that I do have to let things go a bit. Dealing with clueless yet demanding clients still rattle my cage but I’ve taught myself (and I’m still learning) to let it slide. I didn’t leave the heart-attack-inducing, stress-filled world of salaried work to die of a cardiac caused by people who wouldn’t buy you a second hand funeral wreath for you despite them being the source of pain.

Being on my own also made me more aware of the needs of others – particularly those who I had to engage to work with me on the projects. Even though in the past, I had subordinates who I made an effort to look after in terms of support and welfare – I was ultimately not the final authority on things. There would be many instances where, regardless of how much I tried to look out for my team, it came to naught because someone or something higher up the food chain decided otherwise. Now as my own boss, the sense of responsibility is higher because the rest of team depend on me.

What does FREEDOM mean to you?

Not having to wear a long-sleeved shirt, tie and toe-killing sharp leather shoes to work, but then again when I was working full time, I never wore that either. Maybe it’s the privilege of picking up the razor every fortnight (when the neighbours start whispering about the caveman spotted in the vicinity of the block.)

It basically means not waking up at 8.30am in the morning, jumping out of bed screaming, “OMIGAWD I’m late for class!” then running every red light to get into school in time. Now it means getting up at all manner of hours, jumping out of bed screaming, “OMIGAWD I’m UNEMPLOYED!!!!”

It basically means being more in control of what I work on and who I work for. It may mean less in the milk powder tin under the bed, but at least it was by my own decision.

What’s coming up next that excites you?

Working on my next book which I will update on my Facebook page when it is released.


ethan_seow

Ethan Seow

Musician and Entrepreneur

What were you doing before venturing full-time as a double bass player and entrepreneur?

I was previously a full-time medical student at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine for 5 years before deciding to venture in music entrepreneurship. I had been performing as a musician and was functioning as a session musician for events for 2-3 years at that time.

What prompted you to make the switch?

It was really a mixture of push and pull factors. I entered Medicine believing that I could do a lot through music therapy in Psychiatry but found out that my expectations were different from reality. Psychiatry, because of its niche, is and will continue to be a drug-driven treatment system rather than a psychotherapy or public health-based system. What I wanted to achieve was mental health for people, rather than focusing on severe cases, as I believed that prevention is more powerful than cure. When I went full-on into music education and was teaching music outside, I started realising that what I taught had an impact on people’s lives even though I was teaching music; I saw the changes in perceptions and passions in people’s lives and I wanted to continue doing it, and therefore sought to further it when I took my leave of absence from school. I started the business wanting to also show the possibilities of bringing quality music (music that brought people catharsis and joy through genuine expression) through creating a platform for that.

What did your family think about the move?

My mum was devastated, she really wanted me to be a doctor. I had previously wanted to be one and therefore went so far into it, but couldn’t go on with it and it shook her badly. I could hear her crying every day through one of the lower periods. My dad has been fully supportive but wanted me to learn my lessons, and not repeat them. He and my mum did whatever they could to support me through this process whether or not they agreed to my decision, and for that I’m very thankful.

How did you convince them you’re making the right choice?

I haven’t really convinced them that it is the right choice. It is the right choice for me to pursue my passion and try it out and do my best, but right choice will be when I’m able to fulfil my dreams and show them that this path of trailblazing works for me.

How has making a career change transformed your life and personality?

I’ve learned to be more responsible with my actions – when one goes into business, every action in and out of the business counts. The impressions you leave upon others, the choices to take care of one’s self over others also affects your business. I became a lot more realistic; it took 3 years of hard knocks to really get that into my system, and finally learn how to identify a con-man. More importantly, I’ve learned to be in touch with myself and to inspire others, as well as to teach better. Still a work in progress though.

What does FREEDOM mean to you?

Freedom is the ability to make choices that are in line with who I want to be and the long term good I want to see myself create out of this world. It means the opportunity to learn.

What’s coming up next that excites you?

The Music Salon, the events, our appreciation programs and the ability to be the platform for great music and appreciation to happen. It is the perfect place for me to achieve my dream of inspiring the world through music education.


elise_shen

Elise Shen

Musician and Entrepreneur

What were you doing before venturing full-time as a violinist and entrepreneur?

I was a lawyer in private practice with one of the top law firms in Singapore. I was trained in commercial litigation and arbitration and was a litigator for 2 years before moving to Merger & Acquisition practice for another year. I was also a corporate counsel so in all, I’ve accumulated about 4 years of PQE.

What prompted you to make the switch?

Honestly, I was a little burnt-out from practice and I always had the nagging passion for entrepreneurship. I love music and from my own experience as a performing violinist, I found a lot of room for improvement for the local music scene. Hence, the switch combined all the push and pull factors and here I am.

What did your family think about the move?

My family is worried about me as the traditional view values practical stability more than pursuing one’s idealistic dreams. There is also inevitably a sentiment of disappointment and finding the switch a waste of all the professional training and experience. Till today, my family still wants me to find a stable job in the legal industry.

How did you convince them you’re making the right choice?

I still cannot convince them fully yet and will not be able to do so until the day I succeed with the business and make the business not just an idealistic dream but a practical and stable livelihood too. Therefore, it shall be.

How has making a career change transformed your life and personality?

It has certainly shown me a different perspective and has given me the freedom to really do things in the way that I would do. However, there’s always the other side of things and now I know for sure that entrepreneurship is a difficult path and is not meant for everyone. Through learning to be a better entrepreneur, I am also learning to be a better person.

What does FREEDOM mean to you?

I like to think that freedom is but an illusion. Who is truly free from everything in this world? I also think that freedom is only a relative concept that can only exist with limits because it is about not being bound by limits. Imagine a piece of white canvas. Only when you draw a shape or line, can you define what is beyond or outside that shape or line. If there is no rule, it’s just blank space, there will be neither inside nor outside to talk about, hence, no concept of freedom.

What’s coming up next that excites you?

I am looking forward to the new exciting events and crowds we will have at The Music Salon. It excites me to think of how our events and programs can inspire and excite the lives of others and make more people appreciate the finer, beautiful things and meanings in life.


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost

Part of a series of interviews on the theme of FREEDOM

Edited by Chiara Maria De Castro.

*An earlier version of the article mentioned Ethan as a saxophone player, which is incorrect. Ethan plays double bass for the band, Gypsyfication.

Daylon Soh

Daylon Soh

Design Founder at CuriousCore
Creative Rebel, Marketer & Managing Editor of @OpenBrief. ♥ Digital Photography, Copywriting & Gaming
Daylon Soh
Daylon Soh

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