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Career switch among young Singaporeans: Why finding purpose is more important than chasing money

Five individuals relate why and how they made a career switch, and how they battled social and financial pressures to make the change

How young Singaporeans are switching careers to find meaning besides chasing money
How young Singaporeans are switching careers to find meaning besides chasing money (Photos: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE - According to the recent Forward SG report released in October, the idea of the Singapore Dream has shifted among youths today. More young Singaporeans have expressed a "desire for meaning and purpose in what they do, not just for good salaries".

In embracing wider definitions of success, how does the Singapore Dream look like for young Singaporeans now? Yahoo Southeast Asia had a chat with five individuals who made career switches, to find out why they made the change, how they navigated the transition, and why meaning and purpose is important in their careers.

Pressure and stress of corporate careers are major pushes

Many cited the pressure and stress of corporate careers as major push factors in their decisions to switch jobs and find their purposes elsewhere.

Tan Jia Hui, a facilities management professional for the past 12 years, made the switch to become a fitness trainer last month. An annual wage supplement and a special payout were not enough to motivate her to stay in a corporate job.

"I just felt like it wasn't working out anymore even with the amount of money I was drawing. I was going through a lot of stress everyday. For whatever reason, the issues just kept piling up. I really didn't feel like I had career satisfaction anymore," she said.

"The biggest telltale sign is when how much money you earn is not enough to keep you motivated at your job. Maybe it is then time to change."

Tan recalled the joy she experienced running an aerobics workout at a company wellness day. So when a gym opened near her house, she saw it as a "universal alignment" to consider fitness coaching. Accepting a 50 per cent cut from her previous salary, she took the plunge after discussion with her husband.

Now, despite longer working hours, Tan has a lot more fun with her current job. In her previous job, she would often come home in a bad mood and would wake up in the middle of the night, ridden by anxiety over uncompleted tasks. Since switching careers, she found herself a lot happier, more energetic, and would talk more with friends and spend more time with her kids.

"Money is not everything. There are so many other ways to earn money. So what if you have so much money, but am not emotionally in the right state of mind?" she said. "I think about the kind of satisfaction that I will get when I see people lose weight and progress. I need to feel like I'm contributing to my job."

Another Singaporean, Mila (not her real name), decided to take the leap to work part-time at a local bakery after getting tired of corporate life. Meaning and purpose in a job to her is tied to work culture as well as her employer and colleagues.

"I felt that the environment in the bakery was something I could go into. It felt like they care about their employees," she said. "Different jobs fulfil different needs. I was previously earning much more, but it was still a corporate environment. You might feel like you want more money at a certain stage. At another life stage, you might feel you want to be more in touch with what you are doing."

The 31-year-old now has more flexibility with her schedule, and she is able to work on starting up her own businesses on the sidelines - an apparel swapping platform and an online dessert store.

While a lower income affects her life progression, such as getting a house, she has come to accept it with the support of her husband.

"I'm generally okay with earning just enough. I'm alright if my salary can cover basic necessities, bills, and a little bit more to live comfortably," she said. "I feel that a larger salary comes with a lot of responsibilities, which some people like to pursue. For myself, I have never wanted to climb the corporate ladder."

Accumulating experience, qualifications first

For others, the courage to embark on a new career comes after years of accumulating experience and qualifications.

Christine Seah, 32, decided to dive into the pet industry after 10 years in the F&B industry operating her own cafe. Her father, who passed away five years ago, was a dog trainer. To process the grief of his passing, she wanted to walk in his footsteps to see if she could understand more about him.

In F&B, her greatest joy would have been giving a customer the best experience by serving good food or coffee, or getting a good review. With pet grooming, gratification comes in other forms - and is often immediate.

"It's a whole different level of happiness that you are giving someone. This is not just serving an 'Eggs Benedict' dish. These are two lives (dog and owner) that you have the potential to change forever in a positive way. That's what is so fulfilling and alluring," she said.

Seah reveals she was humbled by the journey to deeper self awareness. "Money has never been a motivator. It's nice to have, but at the end of the day, if you find something that you truly believe in and find a way to make it sustainable, money is a natural by-product.

"Purpose is everything. There is no way I could do any job or task if I didn't believe in it."

For Kimberly Goh, 28, she had felt that her two-year stint as a researcher lacked fulfilment or happiness, as it had no visible impact on the lives of others. She decided to pursue speech therapy, after volunteering at a not-for-profit organisation every fortnight for two years.

Securing a scholarship for a Masters of Speech Therapy also helped to confirm she was heading in the right direction, and alleviated financial concerns from her parents.

Although the program is "mentally challenging" and "rigorous", and Goh is expected to take home 30 to 40 per cent less in her predicted salary, she is looking forward to seeing patients improve physically and directly benefit from her future job.

"I want to do this until I retire," she said.

Blocking out societal pressures

There are also many Singaporeans who are still searching for a purposeful profession. Leona Ziyan, 26, decided to close her boutique video production agency earlier this year to pursue content creation, having reached a point in her career when she felt she had to make a shift.

She feels that in her bid to keep the agency afloat, she lost sight of what she was chasing for. And she admits that, in the 10 months since closing her agency, she is still trying to figure it out amid creating social media content for brands.

During the transition, Ziyan wrestled with her self identity, outside of a job or job title. Yet, with the support of a financial advisor who plotted out how she could make her dream work, she gained confidence in her decision.

When asked if she feels the societal pressure to excel and earn, as compared to friends who are lawyers and educators, she says she "just have to shut the thoughts out" to avoid going down the rabbit hole of comparison.

"Whatever I do has to fit within the purpose of being able to help young women transform their lives, regardless of the cards they have been dealt with," she said. "I want my platform to be a resource for young girls who are going through things in their lives, and do not know how to get through it. I hope they will be inspired by my stories, and how I'm going through things."

Office woman changing her job (Photo: Getty Images)
Office woman changing her job (Photo: Getty Images)

Will the trend of career switching continue?

All five individuals which Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke with agree that the trend of young Singaporeans switching to jobs with more personal meaning will continue.

Ziyan sees young Singaporeans having the "space, stability and bandwidth" to explore a lot more things. Crucially, the vast information available on the internet and social media has allowed everybody to "wake up faster" in the need to find their purpose in life.

At the same time, she does not want to downplay the contributions of previous generations who have laid the foundation for the current generation to pursue their dreams.

"It's not just a want, it becomes a need for us to find fulfilment and meaning in whatever that we're doing. If not, what are we here for?"

For Seah, she has noticed young people having this "realisation" that they do not necessarily have to stick to the script of "getting a job that pays a certain salary by this age, get married and secure a BTO, and have children".

She also believes that opening a business these days has become far more easier. In the past, that would have meant getting a physical store, gathering equipment, hiring staff and getting licensing; now, businesses can run from home with an Instagram page or a website and a strategy.

"We have fantastic tools at our disposal to enable small businesses to happen for much lower entry points than before. With all these new opportunities, the switch is not only potentially easier, but a lot more appealing. It's actually amazing how technology is facilitating small businesses," she said.

And what advice would they give to those contemplating on making a career switch?

Tan believes that family should be considered before making a career switch, and that "finances is the top consideration".

Ziyan advises getting a financial plan in order, and having a reasonable timeline, before making a career switch.

"Look at the people at the top of where you want to be and ask yourself: Is the end goal and lifestyle I want?'"

As for Seah, she believes the worst piece of advice is to 'follow your dreams blindly without a shred of self-awareness'.

"Be crucially introspective, and ask what you are unhappy about, or what is alluring to you. Do your research before making the jumping. Adopt low-risk ways to get a taste of what you want to switch to - such as working part-time, asking a friend, or volunteering," she said.

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