5 steps to escaping the rat race and living your dream sustainably

By Winifred Tan

If there is one thing people commonly regret on their deathbed, it was their failure to live life true to themselves and not conform to the lifestyle others expect of them.

So says Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse who spent several years counselling patients in their last 12 weeks and helping them go gently into the good night.

“When people realise that their life is almost over and look back on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled,” Bronnie notes.

Step 1: Break Out of the Mould

No one wants to die with regrets. We all want to realise our dreams and live life the way we want – but it is a scary and daunting path to take. This is because we’ve been conditioned since young to believe in practicality and follow a tried-and-tested template for living.

But just because a lot of people play it safe doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. Living is more than simply existing and settling for a predictable 9-to-5 existence; living means having dreams to accomplish and finding the courage to live life on your own terms.

Work-wise, this means identifying your passion in life and turning it into your “dream” career rather than meandering from job to job, feeling unmotivated and unfulfilled.

Step 2: Identify Your Passion

37-year-old Lim Der Shing is a prime example of someone who dropped out of the rat race to pursue his dreams.

The co-founder and current CEO of JobsCentral could have had his pick of the career crop after graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbour. But after 8 months of working in a GLC, he was convinced that climbing the corporate ladder was not for him.

“I could not visualise myself working as an engineer forever without at least giving my dreams a chance to materialise. This was what prompted me to start an online business as I had a strong desire to control my time and life. Running my own business fulfils both objectives,” Der Shing explains.

Step 3: Take a Proactive Approach and Plan for the Future

His sentiments are echoed by 32-year-old Harry Grover, proprietor and head barista of 40 Hands, a quaint speciality café located in the heart of Tiong Bahru.

Fuelled by a strong determination to “make it on his own”, Harry left behind a cushy but “stifling” managerial job at his family’s property maintenance company in Perth to start afresh in the F&B industry, on a foreign land.

“For me, the twenties was about working hard to save up sufficient capital so that I could set up and have more control over my own business. I didn’t want a repeat of my previous job, which was very much about the bottom line and profit margin, but at the same time I’m pragmatic enough to believe that passion has to run hand-in-hand with business,” Harry explains earnestly.

He emphasises, “It’s got to be both. You need to have a strong business plan and work out your finances, and you need to have passion in the subject otherwise you’ll hate coming in to work every day.”

Step 4: Turn Your Passion into a Sustainable Livelihood

For Melissa Jien Tai, 23, both “plan” and “passion” were paramount in her decision to break away from her parents’ expectations and pursue an unconventional career.

The NUS English Literature alumnus had initially caved under parental pressure and enrolled in the Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Management programme at Pratt Institute, New York. 3 months later, however, she was ready to call it quits.

On her painful decision to leave graduate school, she explains, “I was absolutely certain I didn’t want to do an MBA as my parents had suggested, so I thought I’d compromise by reading Arts Management, which gives a quantitative business perspective on the qualitative ‘soft’ Arts. But the 3 months were a real struggle. I realised it was pointless to continue, not only because I couldn’t sustain an interest in the subject, but because I actually wanted to write and I wasn’t writing!”

This “existential crisis” served as an abrupt wake-up call for the budding writer. Once back in Singapore, Jien plucked up her courage and decided to try her hand at her true interest – writing and publishing.

“By then it had occurred to me that freelance writing was, in fact, a sustainable career. I would have the freedom to write on topics I was interested in, supplement my income by giving tuition, and still have the time to pursue my other interests in life,” she grins.

Step 5: Watch Your Efforts Pay Off

If their emanating sense of satisfaction is any indication of their success, it is clear that all three risk-takers have seen their dedicated efforts pay off in spades.

“I’d like to branch out into the publishing industry eventually, but until then, I’m happy writing freelance and sharpening my writing and editing skills,” declares Jien. “I love this; I know I want to write for the rest of my life!”

As for Der Shing, his tireless efforts culminated in his company being acquired by US-based CareerBuilder, making it one of the largest and most influential career media players in Singapore.

Meanwhile, Harry is happy to take a step back and witness the self-sustaining growth of his F&B team.

“Do I ever get bouts of boredom?” he repeats. “Not at all! I believe in being a hands-on boss and still work the floor regularly with my guys. Just the other day we were brewing coffee shots together and commenting, ‘This never gets boring, does it?’ When you’re doing something you genuinely enjoy, it’s no longer a mindless sprint through the rat race. It becomes the marathon of your life.”

What is your opinion on the rat race? Share with us your career aspirations in the comment box below!

The JobsCentral Group, a CareerBuilder company, is the owner of JobsCentral.com.sg, one of Singapore’s largest job and learning portals. Get a free career personality tests and more career- and education-related articles at JobsCentral and JobsCentral Community.