Gen Y Speaks: Financial hardship shaped my family’s idea of a 'stable' job. I had to convince them when I chose a different path
I started working when I was fourteen years old.
Like many of my peers, my first job was at a fast-food restaurant. The pay was around S$3.50 an hour, and I remember the satisfaction I felt when receiving my first S$300 paycheque.
I started working when I was 14 years old.
Like many of my peers, my first job was at a fast-food restaurant. The pay was around S$3.50 an hour, and I remember the satisfaction I felt when receiving my first S$300 pay cheque.
While my co-workers were happy at the extra pocket money to spend, my joy came from reassuring my parents I can now take care of my own expenses at school from meals at the canteen, mobile phone bill and public transport fares.
I grew up watching my two elder brothers taking on part-time jobs to help the family since we rely on a single income from a blue-collar job. I felt it was only right that I did the same and take care of my personal expenses myself like they did.
We were content in making do with what we had, and never felt envious of friends in better circumstances.
Having to work during our teenage years to help our family never bothered us. Instead, it made me comfortable with the concept of working hard from a young age. It was very satisfying to contribute a part of our pay cheques to support the family expenses, no matter how small the contributions were.
But I shudder to think how much more difficult it would be if any of us were affected by a major accident or health incident.
My dad works as an electrician. We had very little savings as a household because what he made was what we could spend for family expenses from food to utilities and school expenses.
I can’t imagine how stressful it would be on my parents if something catastrophic were to happen when they are already grappling with many uncertainties for our day-to-day finances.
With my childhood set against such a backdrop, it became natural for me to prioritise enrolling in a degree course leading to a stable, secure job, rather than a course that would lead me to pursue my passion.
At the back of my mind, I also had to consider that the school fees could amount to a significant sum, so I worked hard to secure a scholarship and ensure that I did not have to worry about this in the future.
After graduation, I carried on pursuing a job in the same field as my degree in engineering.
But the nine-to-five workdays began to weigh me down.
I felt more and more upset at the thought of being stuck at my desk the entire day. It even affected my weekends, as I started dreading Mondays as soon as work ended on Friday. It was then I realised that a desk-bound job was really not for me.
SEEKING CAREER FLEXIBILITY
I started looking for something that I hoped would give me greater flexibility over my career and finances, ideally one that offers both stability with entrepreneurship opportunities.
To me, this meant choosing between two options that I was interested in: Property or insurance.
Insurance was my first choice simply because I had some exposure to the industry during one of my odd-job stints with a medical benefits company.
I also had to take some financial certifications as part of that job, which I could leverage for a career in financial planning.
But the more I thought about it, the more I saw a third benefit from insurance. It’s not just selling products. It was a chance to help families like mine to achieve better financial security to be able to dream big like most other families, which also gives me a greater sense of fulfilment and meaning.
I agonised over this decision for months and created spreadsheet after spreadsheet to try to project what this diversion from a steady and promising career would mean financially.
I knew I would be upsetting my parents because I was risking a stable and promising job – especially at the height of the pandemic – for something unknown. After all, what I can earn solely depends on the sales I could make.
As a self-employed person, I also had to make a lot more than my previous pay since I do not get any Central Provident Fund contributions from an employer.
But while my family’s concerns were legitimate, I wanted to put my happiness first. I wanted to be able to embark on a career that didn’t just bring in the dough, but also had a tangible positive impact on people.
SQUARING THINGS WITH MY FAMILY
Money was always tight for us and the last thing I wanted was to add to the financial burden already on my family.
Nobody at that time supported my decision because they could not understand why I would leave a stable job during the pandemic, when I’m already on the fast track for progression as a scholarship holder, for a very sales-dependent one especially in a saturated industry like insurance along with all its negative perceptions by the general public.
I finally mustered the courage to speak out and had a long discussion with them, and while I didn’t exactly get their blessings, I became a financial representative at Great Eastern in November 2020.
Initially, some of my family and friends avoided talking to me as they were worried that I would pressure them to buy something from me.
However, eventually they saw that my approach was to see where and how I could help, and not the stereotypical hard-sell.
They sensed that my heart was in the right place and eventually approached me to assist with their financial planning. My goal all along was to help them where I can first, without asking them to buy anything from me, especially for those already well covered.
I haven’t looked back since. Everyone has a different dream job, and I’m glad I found one that resonates better with my desire to shape my own destiny.
In my two years since I joined, I’ve felt a great sense of fulfilment being able to help my clients and often am happy to go above and beyond what my job entails.
Sometimes, I help clients translate government documents into Mandarin, and even help them navigate application processes for houses and schools.
Some of them are new to Singapore and may be shy asking for help from their limited social circle here. Others perhaps feel more comfortable getting someone neutral to help. I derive a lot of satisfaction and purpose from being able to help where I can and am happy to do so.
I am grateful to also have clients who go the extra mile themselves to express their appreciation, like preparing meals for me during our meetings. I’ve also learnt to embrace the fear of doing something unconventional and unpopular.
Most importantly, I’m thankful that my parents are now supportive of my career. They have realised how much more fulfilled I am with my job and am now happier because they see I’m happier.
My time is also more flexible so I can accompany them more often, which they appreciate, especially since my two elder brothers are both married and staying on their own now.
I took a huge leap of faith to switch career tracks at a time when jobs were hard to come by and knew that I would rather live my life knowing I tried, than to follow a pre-ordained path and regret it later on.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lee Wei Xiang, 27, is a financial representative at insurer Great Eastern.