I am almost 40, not married, & quit a stable, well-paying job. And I’m perfectly okay with that.
Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.
Mothership and The Birthday Collective are in collaboration to share a selection of essays from the 2018 edition of The Birthday Book.
The Birthday Book (which you can buy here) is a collection of essays about Singapore by 53 authors from various walks of life. These essays reflect on the complexity of the future roads we must take, as individuals, and as a nation.
“Three common questions about the seemingly uncommon” is an essay contributed by Rai Kannu.
Rai is part of the Singapore music duo, Jack & Rai. He has been in the music scene for over two decades, playing at different venues locally and internationally. He has also opened for several internationally renowned acts, such as Rachel Yamagata and Lifehouse.
Rai’s essay is reproduced in full here:
By Rai Kannu
Choice can sometimes be as much of a bane as it is a boon.
According to public opinion, I apparently chose a line of work that most people consider unconventional and unique. I do often find it mildly baffling, that a conversation with someone I just met often goes like this:
“So what do you do?”
“I’m a musician, or more broadly, I work in various aspects of the music industry.”
“How long for?”
“Non-professionally, maybe about 11 years, and the past 10 have been full time.”
Their eyes widen, and this is generally followed by a few questions from the standard list of the bewildered:
1) Bro, can earn money ah?
Yes. Enough to buy guitar strings, contribute to my family and feed myself. No Lamborghinis though, and eggs are for eating soft-boiled with pepper and light soy sauce, not throwing at neighbouring homes.
With some life adjustments, like economic rice instead of wagyu beef, or choosing mock Chinese vegetarian meats over foie gras, yes, I’m capable of survival.
On top of that, I earn enough to contribute a compulsory four-figure sum to my MediSave on a yearly basis.
I just recently discovered that getting a decent housing loan is way harder than the act of making a living, for an unmarried, self-employed 39-year-old, in a job deemed unconventional.
Oh and did I forget to add that I also cover my own life and hospital insurance, and visits to the doctor and dentist, because a public figure needs to have a healthy smile for Instagram posts? Thank goodness for affordable home whitening kits.
2) How to earn money, just playing?
I don’t earn money just playing and performing music. There are fellow musicians way more talented than I am, so “just playing” isn’t going to get me anywhere.
As in any career, we have to identify our strengths and work accordingly.
As such, diversification is key. Sometimes the roads we take tend to involve several paths, unknown to oneself, that hide amidst the overgrowth.
So within the industry, I discovered songwriting, music production for ads and jingles, teaching workshops, all while trying to improve as an artist and entertainer.
Yes, it involves irregular, long hours, running around Singapore and sometimes other countries, being appreciated as much as unappreciated, and constant reminders to improve and inspire oneself.
All part of the challenge.
3) That’s brave of you!
Is it really that scary to attempt to forge a path for oneself in what one has a passion for?
I did leave a “stable” teaching profession, which was my other love, after five years.
I took a break to travel and decided to give the music industry a shot… but I still hate needles and will almost never put a bitter gourd anywhere near my lips, unless it is sliced thinly, deep fried with various Indian spices, and comes with lentils on rice.
I have friends I love, who up till today still tell me they respect me for doing what I did, and choosing the road less travelled.
I appreciate them a lot because, it’s their way of reminding me that as kids growing up, we never really could see accurately what each of us was going to become.
But what makes the road they’ve taken any less arduous?
We all take different roads
I dreamt of being a paediatrician once when I was younger, but I realised I could never operate on a child, let alone live with myself if I couldn’t save one of them.
These same friends who give me respect for making a choice are the ones who are trying to save people from cancer, arguing difficult criminal cases in court, representing the people in Parliament and putting the country on the map by winning SEA Games, Asian Games and Olympic Medals.
Some rescue and rehabilitate animals, while others lobby to fulfil the dreams of less-privileged, critically ill children. Some fight to save our forests and habitats, while some are brilliant fathers and mothers to their children.
So in return, I respect all of them, for their bravery in various aspects of life. I don’t think they do these things without exercising choice.
No one’s road is any less difficult than someone else’s
But perhaps, in a society like ours, where certain occupations are associated with prestige and acclaim, some people fail to notice that their road isn’t any less difficult than someone else’s.
Does that mean the perception of the road itself is skewed? Everyone chooses their path, be it occupation, values or life philosophies.
One may think that he or she chose a normal life by being a pencil-pusher, proposed by offering to buy an HDB flat together, settled down and had kids at 28.
But was the journey getting there not without trials and tribulations, and multiple forks in the path?
I personally feel that in making a choice, whatever it may be, accepting it based on personal circumstances and being unwavering in each section of the journey is a key part of walking the road less travelled.
If I look back now, on how I ended up in music, I can speak of a mix of serendipity, opportunity and choice – including two torn knee ligaments in National Service, without which I might never be a musician right now.
Your decisions are yours: the road is yours and not anyone else’s.
Those decisions lead you to where you are, and on hindsight, you can write the story of how circumstances led you to make choices that resulted from the exact spot you stand today.
The best part? It still isn’t over!
Read Rai’s story about his journey to becoming a musician in Singapore:
Top photo composite image, photo credit: Rachel Ng & Rai Kannu