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Making a career choice

While growing up, many people will give you generic advice that sound like this: “chase your dreams”. This seems to imply that you are looking at the goal-point and deciding what you should do now. This is potentially so disastrous that it should come with a disclaimer - "Chase your dreams* - Terms and conditions may apply".


First of all, what is a dream? If your life goal is something transient like “I want to be rich”, or, horrors, “I want to be a PhD”, then what happens after you have attained that objective? You have achieved the purpose of your life. That's a mean feat to beat, but I suppose once you are rich, you are able to pursue other interests and engage in philanthropist activities like funding the cure for cancer, or saving the world. Or once you are conferred a PhD, you can, uhm, well, that's not go there.

The point is that if your satisfaction is achieved only at the endpoints, that means you spend most of your time unsatisfied while you are working. Instead of evaluating your life based on what you have achieved, view life as a journey - enjoy the ride.

I think the solution is to move generally towards your goal. This is in reference to one particular trekking exercise when I was training in the army. I was lost and asked the leader where exactly we were on the map. "Well, I'm not sure where we are too. But the end-point is at the North, so I am moving generally Northwards". I thought he was crazy back then, but in retrospect, I would have been consumed by the inane need to know exactly where we were and would have wasted time by stopping whereas his decision to simply proceed towards the goal was the most sound decision. We got to our destination ahead of schedule.

In other words, you pursue the things which you are interested in. As long as you are not wasting your time, you can worry later about what actual paths you take. However, taking up scholarships in Singapore is particularly noteworthy and there is a specific question students considering to take up scholarships which have bonds (like those in Singapore) need to ask themselves. Are you truly interested in the work that the institution will assign you after graduation? I am not talking about faint interest like "oh yeah, I find health policies to be important and 'interesting'. Working at the Ministry of Health will be a breeze!" I am talking about the fire and the passion to work on something even if you are not going to be paid. Are you as eager to start work as Rambo is to dash into the battlefield? Yes, that's the kind of dedication I am referring to.

Many, in fact, most people have a resigned view on this. Oh, it is impossible to be working on things that you love. Seeing them work is almost like clockwork, start at 9, perform work, end at 5. It does not mean that they are not good at what they do, but it does mean that when things become difficult, they will be the first to leave. Motivation, that's the key. Even the misguided individuals (IMHO) who are working for the pot of gold at the end will persevere longer than unmotivated people. But, only the truly passionate people are deriving any sense of satisfaction from the work.

The Almost Non-Job

Undoubtedly the most amazing fact is that almost everyone knows this, and yet so many choose the daily grind of going to work doing things they do not like. Going to Google is a fantastic opportunity - one that I think few would hesitate to take up. But it almost never came to be because I never actually wanted to apply.

My wife had found out that one of her friends knew someone in Google, so she requested her friend to forward my resume without asking me. And I got angry. I got angry because I did not think I was ready to apply. It's too soon, too early. What if they reject me? That would ruin my chances in the future.

But guess what, what if it's not too soon? Maybe the time is now, and you never know. That's why I am on a crusade to encourage people to venture out of their comfort zone. I openly ask people if they want to apply to Google, and if so, they should get me to refer. Cynical people like to retort and ask, "There must be a catch - There has to be employee referral bonus". And why yes, there is a $2000 referral for each successful referral. But that's not the point. Getting a Google employee to refer you vastly improves your chances of being noticed by recruiters because Google is on track to receive more than two million resumes in 2007.

If you do not dream big, you will not do big things. I hope your life can be shaped by your own dreams and curiosity. Just remember you do not have to wait to start - take the first step now.

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