by Claire Lim
While most of my friends are still studying or figuring out what they want to do with their lives, I decided early on to pursue baking and accumulate as much working experience as I can.
People often mistake my decisiveness for impulsiveness. What they don’t see is the thought and deliberation behind my life choices.
Why I dropped out of school
When I was 16, I was admitted to hospital for anorexia and depression, after years of struggle. During my recovery, I thought hard about what lay ahead and what a life worth living would be.
I’d always loved baking and knew I wanted a career in that field. But it wasn’t an easy decision.
I spent months listing the pros and cons, consulting my parents, my friends, my track and field coach, my teachers. There were fears of failing, doubts about taking an unconventional route.
It’s a waste of life dreaming about something in the distance without taking action.
My plan was to maybe get a part-time job at BreadTalk, gain some industry experience, then enter At-Sunrice when I turned 17. After my O Levels, however, my grandparents convinced me to go to JC and not ‘waste’ my good results.
I became increasingly frustrated. I felt I was wasting my time and my parents' money. About halfway through JC2, I decided to leave.
Thereafter, I completed a Diploma in Pastry and Bakery and started working at 18. Since then, I’ve experienced the four main realms of the culinary scene – fine dining, production, hotels and cafes.
Why I live life on fast forward
My life decisions may begin with an impulse, but it's a justified impulse. I really try not to regret anything that I do. I make calculated risks, and I’m prepared to accept any negative outcomes.
Life is short, so I don’t believe in wasting any time. I know what I want and go for it. As a result, my life may seem like it speeds ahead on fast forward mode, reaching certain milestones earlier than my peers.
Ever since recovering from my mental disorders, I’m quick to seize opportunity. I came to realise that it’s a waste of life doing something I don't want to do, or dreaming about something in the distance without taking action.
This also sort of explains why I got married so early.
Why I got married at 22
I got married in February, after a year of dating. As you can imagine, my situation triggers lots of instant judgements and assumptions.
Are you pregnant? What if you like someone else? What if you change your mind?
To be honest, I don’t mind people’s opinions. But I mind their nerve to diminish my marriage and decision to commit, and be armchair experts on my life.
I feel that no matter your age, marriage is a calculated risk. For me, I thought: Why not? Why wait? My trust and faith in my husband is unwavering, and I knew we could make it work.
We define success as continuing to learn and progress, never hitting a plateau.
Before meeting my husband, I had dated quite a bit and figured out the type of person I want to spend my life with. Someone with life goals – not a drifter. Someone financially responsible, with similar views on social issues – not reckless or apathetic.
When I met him, everything fell into place.
On our third date, I brought up a list of issues that couples usually dance around, including the most likely dealbreaker: I don't want kids (but I want lots of cats.) Surprisingly, a lot of our views were aligned.
It helps that we have similar backgrounds and mindsets. He is also in F&B – a sous chef who loves making fresh pasta. A day before his NUS orientation, he sent an email saying he wasn’t going to show up, and enrolled at Sunrice instead.
Both of us are dedicated to staying in the industry. We believe that hard work will pay off, and we define success as continuing to learn and progress, never hitting a plateau.
Why F&B is not for everyone
To anyone considering the F&B industry, I would say there are sacrifices to be made.
You have to give up your personal life to some extent and you will miss important family occasions. The hours are long, and work ramps up during festive periods – Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, etc. It can also be hard to meet up with friends because our off days rarely fall on weekends.
In F&B, you have to adapt quickly, learn fast and work well in a team. You need to be able to handle harsh criticism and learn from it.
Your pay won’t be as high as what your peers get in other industries. And career advancement can be slow – there are only so many managerial positions to be filled.
What carries you through is passion for the work and joy in your craft.
Why I am a job-hopper
I think there’s nothing wrong with job-hopping millennials, but that's probably because I'm one of them.
Varied experience, at least in this industry, is valuable. Someone who has worked in different environments and diverse teams is more likely to adapt quickly and be open to learn.
But I can see how it's a problem from the employer perspective. Employees often leave before or right after the completion of training, wasting the time and effort invested in them.
The F&B industry, in particular, is dominated by foreigners. Singaporeans are highly in demand, some even switching jobs every 6 months or so. Employers get paranoid, and assume they will leave at the slightest unhappiness. This inevitably creates some bias and a sense of privilege among some Singaporeans, forming the stereotype that they can’t work well.
My mum said: Don't worry about what other people think. Just do what you want and I'll support you.
Personally, I have changed jobs every year or so. But each transition hasn’t been a casual decision.
Of course, money is a key factor. But I usually consider leaving when my learning curve levels off. I want to continuously learn from different people and be exposed to various techniques and perspectives.
The toughest part is the feeling of breaking my obligation to my chefs. They have generously taught and trained me, and the anxiety of having to face their disappointment is hard to overcome.
Why family matters so much
Being determined and decisive in my career wouldn’t be enough if I didn’t have my family’s support.
I was able to choose an unconventional path at a young age only because my mum said, “Don't worry about what other people think. Just do what you want and I'll support you.”
My parents never complained about investing money in my education or the possibility of having to bail me out if any plans fell through.
Now, after three years in the industry, I can’t imagine doing anything else. And I’m so incredibly grateful for my family’s love and unquestioning support throughout my journey.
For more millennial stories, visit the #LetsTalkMillennials page.