When I was 8 I drew this:
and spent countless hours of my childhood creating other meaningless illustrations of cars, shoes and guns. I didn’t take classes or anything, I just punched my way out of my mom’s womb, instinctively grabbed crayons and started hysterically doodling away. I was good at it (compared to other 8 year olds).
I’m not special. Millions of people including you are just like me, born with certain gifts, talents, instincts and inclinations which make you different, special and unique from everyone else. It’s hard to see how I could build a life out of drawing muscles, but the point that I’m trying to make here is that being able to draw muscles was something unique about myself, and I’m sure there’s definitely something unique about you too.
I am talking about traits that reside at the very core of your being, traits which never really change even when you’re 29 or 45.
I still paint today. But it still looks at bad as the stuff I drew when I was 8:
Instead of continuing to create art or making creativity an integral part of my life, like many of us I was conditioned to suppress those attributes and instead embedded in myself the notion that math was important and everyone should get a job- but only as a lawyer, an accountant or engineer.
I diligently but painfully passed the necessary exams so I could obtain a UK law degree and embark on a career as a lawyer. I regularly dressed up as Dracula with a giant black curtain on my back and billed clients RM1000 per hour because they were too lazy to read stuff.
In law, like in my other “respectable” professions you start off as an apprentice and spend years waiting to take over the managerial roles of your superiors. For law, it’s the equivalent of being an equity partner of a firm. In large law firms, it takes over 8-9 years to achieve this.
Until then, and even when you gain that position you are expected to follow instructions, do as you’re told, behave obediently, refrain from speaking up against the organisations’ collective voice that hands you a pay check. It’s simple, just listen to orders, fit in, you’ll make money.
When you strip away the medical coverage, 5 Star hotels and bonuses at the end of year, ones successful life in legal practice is not much different from that depicted in this book I once read:
Throughout this period I always reflected about those talents I was born with, this kid who drew stuff well, who was the creative, odd misfit. I always remembered that being that person was effortless and liberating. It was instinctive and natural. But somehow being part of an organisation and excelling as a corporate employee seemed a little force. Don’t get me wrong, I was good at legal practice and applied my unique attributes to drafting legal submissions, advising clients, and cross examining witnesses. I just was not great at subscribing to the collective.
When you’re in any organisation your individual instinct, talent and uniqueness is still largely suppressed. Further, if you continue to stay in an organisation for the rest of your life, who you were as a child and the liberty you had to roam free and wild guided by your own thoughts and imagination will have very little room to thrive- it will sadly eventually wither away. You forget who you were born to be- instead you’re told who you should become, and you politely oblige.
This scared the hell out of me and also because I could predict how the rest of my life would be. I would make a healthy amount of money but it would be to the expense of losing my identity.
It was a nerve wrecking decision when 2 months ago and after 5 years of legal practice, I decided to abandon my “promising career” as a lawyer and embark on a journey towards becoming who I think I am supposed to be.
Someone very close to me said that there’s a difference between lions in a cage and lions in the wild. That sparked a series of random Facebook posts on my timeline which got a little out of hand:
So that’s why in November 2014, along with my business partner, I launched a start-up named Kaodim. It’s a platform that aims to be the Uber for services- a business model that relies heavily on creativity, innovation, problem solving and inspiring people to change and be different. A little more challenging than drawing muscles, but I figured it couldn’t be that much more challenging.
I have no business experience, no ability to do any math other than basic addition and subtraction of numbers consisting less than 2 digits. I’ve never sold or traded anything with anyone in my life and can never remember the “patterns” for Chor Tai Tee. These are the traits of a man destined to fail in business.
Nevertheless, I’m sure there are others who suck at Chor Tai Tee in Malaysia just like me but still remain frustrated and restless in their finance or law jobs. Despite not knowing how to count their change, or knowing the difference between “buy” and “sell” at a currency exchange teller, they still fantasise about entrepreneurship and idealistically believe that they can be good at it.
So they think about launching a start up – it seems like the next most fashionable thing to do next to wearing skinny jeans or opening an artisan coffee shop. But it’s important that you do it to really test who you are, what you’re made of, and why you exist.
When time permits, I’m going to chronicle this journey and share my experience and knowledge (whatever it’s worth) with anyone out there who’s thinking about leaving their jobs or facing the same challenges I am facing with building a tech business from the ground up.
I’ll talk about how we arrived at the decision to build Kaodim and the challenges we faced in getting a business up and running. I’ll share everything from the day I thought about whether there were enough Malaysian plumbers with smartphones for this business to work to coming up with a brand name which could stick. I’ll talk about how my business partner and I overcame that and hundreds of other obstacles which suggested to us that we are out of our league- which presented to us more compelling reasons to listen to your boss and be thankful for that pay cheque every month.
Meantime, if anyone is reading this (I expect about 2 people or so), leave a comment about your thoughts on being in employment, finding that unique attribute about yourself which you’re destined to share with the world. That’s always the most important thing to think about first.