@MusingMutley: Start living your best life

Make your move

Text: Norman Tan

Video: Lighthouse Family - High

To quote the Lighthouse Family: "Don't you think it's time you started, doing what we always wanted?"

For those who know me well, you'll know that I didn't study fashion or communications, and definitely didn't start a career in publishing or anything remotely creative when I left school. Instead, I graduated with a double degree in law and commerce from Melbourne University, and practised commercial law for four years. That's right, I'm not just a pretty face. 

Looking back, I wish I'd taken the leap of faith earlier. Who needs a corner office when I can be styling a shoot? Who needs a handsome pay cheque when I can be happy dissecting trends? Translation: Who needs food when there's fashion? I joke about it now, but I remember those monotonous days working in a law firm (don't get me wrong, it's a great profession, but it wasn't my passion) and the deep-seated yearning to do something more... me. That was five years ago, and now, having made the switch, I'm literally living my dream. Daily discussions about need-to-know cult brands, speaking on panels about the new age of digital media, and attending fashion shows in Milan and Paris — this is pinch-me-am-I-dreaming kinda stuff.

What I'm trying to say is this: We don't need more dreamers, we need more risk-takers. So if you're currently reading this and thinking, "Man, my life is one boring hamster wheel!", let me turn your attention to the wise lyrical prose of the Lighthouse Family: "And though it's darker than December, what's ahead is a different colour. One day we're gonna get so high." But only if make your move. 

To get you inspired to take your first step to living your best life, here are three Singaporean entrepreneurs and creatives who have pulled up their socks, dismissed the haters, and charged after their passions. 

CHARMAINE SEAH-ONG | Founder of Elementary & Co

Charmaine Seah-Ong with husband and child

What was the dream and purpose behind starting Elementary?
The dream behind Elementary is really simple — we want to create a wonderful home within a company, a place where colleagues feel like family, and for this nurturing environment to inspire people to do their best work. The purpose behind starting Elementary was to fill a gap in the market where branding agencies were able to produce beautiful pieces of artwork, but weren't able to help the brand go further than that by developing marketing campaigns thereafter, or leverage off social & digital in effective, but cost efficient ways.

What was the first practical step you took to realising your dream? 
I came to the realisation that no time would ever be the perfect time, and I'd have to take a (blind) leap of faith to just start this company now. But in order to do that, I first had to quit a stable, decent paying job and survive on my savings. That was tough because reduced income meant a rather drastic lifestyle adjustment.

What made you get off your butt and take action? 
A combination of just turning 30, polishing off a bottle of wine, and a long talk with my husband convinced me that it was now or never! The longer I procrastinated, the more excuses I'd cook up for myself, and the more life would get in the way.

Can you share a failure you've had and what you've learnt from that experience?
In my previous job, I failed to get the promotion I wanted (and had been so sure that I deserved it) because I overlooked the importance of managing upwards and working with my boss to help her achieve her goals as well. I'd assumed that just because I had performed well on the tasks assigned to me, I'd been successful at my job. But I'd overlooked being successful in my relationships at work as well, and that selfishness and oversight delayed my career progression. I've learned never to take other people for granted, and to always be mindful of how I can help the people around me — be it the people that work for me, or my clients — grow together with me.

What advice would you give others who have yet to pursue their dreams?
I would advise anyone who wants to pursue their dreams to try and gain some relevant industry experience before plunging headfirst into starting a business. Want to start a cafe? Work for one first and learn how to wait on tables, manage food inventory, and develop menus. Want to start a clothing label? Work in retail or intern for a designer. Do as much research on the industry you're interested in pursuing and talk to people who have been in the business for years. I have a handful of mentors whom I know I can turn to whenever I'm in doubt, and that has helped me tremendously as well.

HASNOR SIDIK | Asia Pacific Music Director, W Hotels

Hasnor Sidik at the W Bali Hotel

How did you get started in the music industry? What was the first stepping stone that led you to where you are now?
I bought myself a pair of turntables after my 'O' levels with the money that I saved from working at a factory as a production operator! This eventually led me to The Guerrilla Collective party series. That was the start for me.

What was the first practical step you took to realising your dream?
Going out to see what's out there with an open mind. You have to understand the landscape before you can understand how you can contribute or be a part of it.

Looking back, what made you pursue your passion?
For me, it was super simple. Falling in love with drum and bass in the 90s.

Can you share a blunder you've made along the way?
Once I picked the needle up off a track that I was playing in a club. There was a few seconds of awkward silence, and then I put the needle back on, and pretended nothing ever happened. Sometimes you just have to wing it.

What advice would you give others who have yet to pursue their dreams? 
Everything takes time. So just keep on pursuing. Good things come to those who wait. 

JAIME LEE | Founder of The Paper Bunny

Jaime Lee, Founder of The Paper Bunny

Why did you start The Paper Bunny?
I started my design journey by creating wedding stationery for couples, but I had a great desire to create products that would reach and inspire real people everywhere through design and words, which is how The Paper Bunny and the ready-to-purchase line was dreamt into reality. We design pieces with the modern individual who has great style and a big heart in mind, and it has always been our dream that our products encourage and inspire real people in their daily lives, as well as facilitate them to, in turn, encourage and inspire those around them.

How did you turn your dream into a reality?
I took a course to learn more about graphic design, even though I had to study while holding a full-time job. I knew I had a good eye for colours and style in general, but I knew that wasn't entirely enough, and I needed to suit up with better skills. Later, I also explored the option of setting up an online store, even though I knew nothing about e-commerce or business, and did what I could with what I had and what I knew. I didn't have much of a business plan and didn't start with a lot of capital, just a big desire to create and share it with people, and everything just rolled along from there.

What inspired you to take action? 
I was very unsure whether I was good enough back then, or whether people would like the work I did, but I couldn't ignore that strong desire and constant thoughts in my head about creating and doing something that would make a difference. Through a lot of prayer and sharing my desires with people and friends around me, who affirmed my strengths and expressed their belief in me and what I was feeling, I had the courage to explore a path unknown to me.

Tell us of a challenge you've encountered, and how you've learnt from that experience.
Our first batch of products were made by a supplier that we had never worked with before, and many of the products that came in just before the launch date was poorly made, done wrongly, damaged, and not up to expectation. We had to spend hours through the night after work sieving through every single product to make sure only those that passed our quality checks would be sold to customers. At that point, it really felt like we failed even before we started. We were so disappointed and at a loss and wondered how we would start well this way. Thankfully we persevered and things weren't as bad as it looked, and now in hindsight, failure is only really failure if we had just given up then and not taken steps to improve, innovate, and think on our feet to work out a Plan B. Businesses can evolve and improve, and it is possible to pivot around most problems, and just do the next best thing.

What advice would you give others who have yet to pursue their dreams? 
I would say that if there is something burning in your heart, that you feel you can and want to do, speak to people who love and believe in you. Speak to people who care enough about you to tell you the truth if it isn't for you, or who will affirm you if you have what it takes to take the next step. I never had any mentorship or connections or friends in business or media before I started, and I do think that if you have that before you start that's great, but it's not the essential thing you need to pursue your dreams. If you start, you have to be prepared that it will be a tedious journey with lots of ups and downs, and you have to be prepared to weather it through with a strong understanding and vision of why you started in the first place.

Read last week's column from Norman Tan, aka @musingmutley. 


Check back every Monday for another @MusingMutley column from Norman Tan, Editor-in-Chief of Buro 24/7 Singapore. For more columns from @MusingMutley, click here.

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