Growing up in a lower-middle income family, I was brought up to believe that academic performance was the guarantor of future success. Although I was good in my studies, I had no strong passion or motivation in life. I naively thought that I would succeed whatever I chose.

With concerns about the weak economy after completing junior college (high school), I chose safety and joined the military hoping to win a prestigious scholarship to study overseas. Without a clear idea of why I joined nor a passion for the military, it was no surprise I didn’t get the scholarship. Still, I was offered a generous study award that covered tuition and allowances at a local university.

Hoping to turn my fortunes around after graduation, I went back to what I did best: studying. Here, I committed my next mistake. Instead of picking a major that would be useful for my career, I chose one that gave me the best odds of doing well. Since I was bad at physics, I didn’t consider engineering. Having no interest in business and finding humanities too subjective, I chose biological science.

Although I did well, many of my module choices were motivated by the desire to excel rather than to acquire any specific skillset. Since most people don’t end up working in fields that they studied, I naively thought it didn’t matter in the long run.

After graduating, things didn’t improve. The salary was great, but I couldn’t muster much interest or motivation at work. I also felt envious of my peers, some of whom had won scholarships to study in prestigious universities overseas. As scholars, they were given more opportunities and set up to progress faster in their careers.

Not wanting to be trapped or resentful, I decided to leave after my bond ended. It was not easy as I had to serve 6 months’ notice and take a substantial pay cut. More worryingly, despite applying for almost 30 positions, I did not receive a single call-back.

Thankfully, a boss who left the military just before me was hiring. Although the job was not interesting to me (it was in operations), I decided to interview anyway. After all beggars can’t be choosers.

During the interview, the hiring manager asked about my work interests. I expressed interest in technology and innovation, but didn’t expect anything to come of it. Surprisingly, when the offer was made, it was what I wanted rather than what I applied for! This was a turning point for me. I began to be more engaged and my performance also improved.

As I interacted with jobseekers in my work, I began to see my experience reflected in their stories. Many struggled with the consequences of poor choices, didn’t know what work they should do, or were afraid to make a transition from disengaging jobs. Having been through these, I want to help others harness their mistakes to craft a career path that is purposeful and rewarding for them.