I started working when I was 15, and I have had over 15 jobs since. Carpet salesman, retail assistant, banquet waiter, home typist, personal assistant, driving instructor, music performer, errands boy, hotel doorman, cafe staff, office clerk, tuition teacher, master of ceremony. Some jobs I was told to leave unceremoniously, some jobs I was asked to stay with better pay.
As a home tutor, I told my students to get out there and work during the school holidays. It is from there that you might discover what kind of job, or life, that you do not want to have, as opposed to what you think you want.
I believe the more you are exposed to the world, the more you will find out about various professions and dimensions available to you. So it is not unusual for you to change or alter directions and ambitions as you go along, and it is important not to see it as quitting or falling short.
Weeks after submitting my application for a place in a public university, I decided to switch to Law. As a result, I entered university a year later than all of my peers. During my degree, I did three brief internships at a legal department of a multinational corporation, a world-renowned humanitarian organisation, and an impressive law firm in Kuala Lumpur.
I know that I do not regret the time I fell asleep at the law firm library in front of my boss’s office, rendering myself semi-conscious by banging my head on the glass table while reading something I actually found interesting. Nor do I regret not claiming more than two weeks of pay for the work I felt I did not deserve. I do not regret studying Law or not getting an A throughout my Law degree. I especially do not regret turning down a scholarship to do it abroad because I wanted to be around to watch my small sisters grow up. I know that I absolutely do not want to be a lawyer.
Today, I am a freelance project manager and I run my own collective, Random Alphabets, which I started only six months after I left university. I often receive invitations to work on certain ideas, or companies seek to engage my services. At almost any social gathering or event I go to in KL, I meet someone who seems to already know of me, the collective I started, the work it does, and they usually have good things to say of it. Both the collective and what I do now have no direct relation to the field of study I devoted five years to in university.
Though the collective and its cause are mine, people’s expectation and impression of it is beyond my control. It is one that I sometimes get exhausted of entertaining, and worst still, struggle to live up to. I see that managing and battling with expectations continues from school to university to work-life.
Last night, I received a personal phone call from the head of department of a fairly large and conservative company. He had never read about me in the newspapers, nor heard of the bizarre projects I had initiated. I had only met him once in a group meeting where I shared my views, and based on that he felt I was suitable to work for him. He offered me a job, more convinced than myself that I was suitable for the position of a writer.
While I admit that the uncertainties of the offer were worrying, accepting it was a start. What I did know is that had I sat around pondering endlessly on what to do, this opportunity would have never fallen onto my lap.
Here is the gist of my winding road. I did a number of things since I left the conventional path of university, and by default began my own education, which forced me to learn a great deal. But unconventionality should not be restricted to education, and that is fine by me. Do not let others dictate their norms on you, even when you are unsure of what to do. It is okay to not know what you want to do in life – just at least know what you do not want to do.
After five years of echoing that message, it is neither ironic nor surprising to me that I still do not know what to do. However, the simple act of speaking up, making things happen, and getting things done will open more doors for you. After all, the first step to finding out what lies beyond your boundaries is to challenge yourself to anything. Who knows, you might actually find something that you love doing.
Zain HD fancies the fine things in life, but often finds himself meddling with the opposite. He chose not to practice Law, and is currently a marketing and events project manager. He is saving up to travel to Kampala, Jerusalem, Fortazela, and Lyon.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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