01 Mar HITTING THE ROADS WITH A RENEWED SENSE OF DIRECTION
For over 16 years, I did procurement in both the government and private sectors. I left my comfortable position at Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) in 2007 to run a trading company with a friend.
In 2013, however, he ended his partnership with me and within 2 years, my life crumbled. I lost my job, my car, my business investments, my savings – everything. In those years, I had no money to buy Chinese New Year goodies, much less to give Ang Bao money to my son and all the other kids.
MY SHORT-TERM BACKUP PLAN KEPT ME AFLOAT BUT HINDERED MY JOB SEARCH
I told myself that this cannot go on. I thought about the taxi license, the retirement backup plan I tucked away in the dusty corner at the back of my drawer for the past 14 years.
My dad had persuaded me to get one after I left the army. I never thought I would be using it so soon, but I wiped the dust off the license and used it anyway.
My days became a 12-hour sprint to hit the minimum income I needed to tide me through the weeks. I just kept my eyes on the next pick-up, the next traffic junction, the next destination. Every night, I would fall asleep on the sofa even before having my dinner.
Time was slipping away in a chaotic race on the roads until I paused and realized that I could no longer sustain this temporary means to survive. I could not even concentrate on my job search in this mad, meaningless scurrying from Point A to B.
I KEPT RUSHING BUT WHAT I REALLY NEEDED TO DO WAS TO SLOW DOWN
I started going to employment agencies, job centres, and recruitment fairs. I started applying for suitable purchasing roles I could find. I started following up on my application status and proactively sought feedback from employers on areas for improvement.
I kept rushing and rushing to make up for lost time, but the companies were slow to respond. My morale dwindled considerably, then that day came. As I was driving, there was something, a nagging voice within, that urged me to buy the newspaper. It was weird because I have not been buying the newspaper for years since I lost my job.
That night, the first thing that caught my eye when I flipped open the papers was the STJobs Career & Development Fair 2017. It was ending the very next day and I just knew I had to go for it. I went as early as I could and found my way to the Center for Career Excellence (CCE) booth.
EVERY ENCOUNTER IS PREPARING YOU FOR THE NEXT CHALLENGE
I never thought that driving a taxi or taking the Race to Actualising Career Excellence (RACE) Program will lead me to where I am right now, or where I am heading towards. I have come to realize that perhaps God has a plan for me and that I needed to go through this in order to learn something.
Driving taxi opened up the possibility for me to interact with a wide range of people. There were many instances where I have doubled up as a surrogate counsellor for those who just needed someone to listen to them.
Due to the fleeting nature of our taxi driver-passenger relationship, I was able to serve a safe witness to their confession of pain. I could see a broader perspective to their problems as a neutral observer and in turn, my very own roads, because in facets of their stories, I saw myself and the struggles I went through.
Perhaps all it just takes is for someone to listen and point out the flaws in our thought patterns for us to be able to see clearer. I realised that I have the power to do that for the many strangers who have confided in me. My passengers have helped me to learn what it means to be a better listener.
In one of the RACE Leadership and People Management (LPM) module, Manage Self, we learned that in order to manage ourselves effectively, we have to first understand ourselves. It struck me then, just how it all made sense that my Gallup’s StrengthsFinder* results scored highly on the theme of Significance.
People with the strength of Significance have a strong internal desire to make a difference in lives of others. I have always felt the need to leave a lasting contribution in the work that I do, which rings especially true for this period of driving and helping many passengers to work through their problems.
*Led by educational psychologist Donald O. Clifton, the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment was developed by the Gallup Organisation in the 1990s as an objective measure of personal talent.
NEVER CLOSE THE DOORS ON YOURSELF
Like a blind spot in the corner I never thought to look, the RACE Program helped open my eyes to the many roads that lie ahead of me.
It was just like that time when Grab first came into the market and disrupted the scene, where many taxi drivers responded in fury about how badly it affects their income.
They were too resistant to the technology for them to be able to see the benefits it could also bring to their lives. And I was very much the same.
It was only much later that I saw the opportunities created by the very disruption that technology has caused. I learned to embrace change instead of guarding defensively over the familiarity of the old.
The ease of switching between Comfort and Grab or Uber gave me a chance I never had to explore new options. I was able to reclaim my independence and diversify my paths according to what works better for me.
I never knew I had so many choices and alternatives all along. Exploring those alternatives can lead to even more possibilities that I have never considered before. I just need to be flexible and open to all the doors ahead of me.
LEARNING HOW TO PLAN STRATEGICALLY FOR THE FUTURE
During my coaching sessions with career coach Irene Lee, she taught me how to plan strategically. I had a few business opportunities that came to me in the midst of the RACE Program, but I have since learned to be extra careful with my investment decisions.
With Irene’s guidance, I learned how to come up with an objective assessment of my plans by listing down their risk factors, costs and benefits, and time considerations.
I remember about twenty years ago when my boss at DSTA asked if I wanted to upgrade myself and get a degree to stay competitive, I closed my doors too early and did not have the foresight to consider its long-term benefits. Now, I am looking out for relevant opportunities to further my studies and upgrade my skillset.
Irene also knew that I was interested in the practice of coaching, and suggested that I go and listen to the Certified Coach Skills (CCS) (Career Coaching) Preview seminar to find out more. We spent many hours later working through the challenges and expectations of being a coach before I made my decision to sign up for it.
HITTING THE ROADS WITH A RENEWED SENSE OF DIRECTION
Now that I am 49, I have come to acknowledge the importance of networking and having the support of people who are willing to share and offer well-meaning advice.
I am thankful for the people that I have met through this encounter – Irene Lee, Allen Chia, Steven Seek, my RACE Program course mates – this community of friends.
During the first day of my CCS course, coach mentor Viya Chen was telling us that only when we have a clear sense of what we want for ourselves will we then be able to carve our direction in life.
Back then, money came before passion. I just did whatever I was paid to do, and I thought that was how life is supposed to be. Now, I will go for my passion first and trust that the money will follow.
Through the RACE and CCS Programs, I managed to regain control and confidence in the choices I have made and the journey I am about to embark on.
I might still be in the process of transitioning into my new career, but I have shared with Irene that I already have a vision for the coach that I would be. I want to share my story with those who are going through a difficult time so that they will be able to overcome theirs like I did for mine.
No matter how tough it is to ride the waves of change, the human spirit is much more resilient than we imagine. As long as we keep our hearts and minds open, the right opportunity will come by when we are ready to take it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official views, policies or positions of the Center for Career Excellence.
If you would like to start your path to career success now, visit here to learn more about the RACE program.
“HITTING THE ROADS WITH A RENEWED SENSE OF DIRECTION”
as narrated by Michael Lee, written by Carol Boey.