Saturday, September 8, 2007

Meaningful Work Vs Cari Makan Part 2


This is Part 2 of the post - Are you happy with your job ? where 5 Malaysian professionals discuss a practical way to pursue meaningful work.

Read Part 1 here.

Kate joins us for drinks, and the conversation continues.

We finished dinner ! – the first part of our night out is completed. More chit-chat about random issues. May Yen then asked if anyone was going to vote in the coming general elections but no one was in the mood to talk about the coming general elections. Anyway, I quickly pointed out to everyone that May Yen didn’t bother to vote at the last general elections; she stayed at home watching Forrest Gump and Austin Powers on DVD.

We ordered a bottle of whisky – I’ve always felt somewhat embarrassed about purchasing a whole bottle of whisky and leaving it on the table. This is a typically 3rd world Asian habit. This doesn’t usually happen in advanced countries. People don’t buy a whole bottle of whatever and leave it on the table.

The waiter brings over the bottle and asked if we would like complementary coke or soda to go with the whisky. I told him to bring me a bottle "mineral water". The rest wanted soda. I’ve always wondered why distilled, reversed osmosis or filtered water are also referred to as "mineral water" in Malaysia. If I were to ask the waiter to bring me filtered water, he would look at me with a blank face. Anyway, it’s better to go with the flow…

Kate finally arrived, greeting everyone with "Hi guys". I noticed that Kate had brought along her portfolio case – this means trouble and you will know why, later. She sat down and was introduced to James and Paul.

Kate complained about the parking and casually asked about how were "things" going, rather than what "things" are happening to us.

Paul said to Kate, "So you’re in advertising. How’s business ?". Kate politely said that business was good, but competition is tough, clients are getting more and more unreasonable…yada yada yada…

James lighted up a cigarette. He added something about the laws of supply and demand. He complained about the business practices in the country and then asked Kate, "I heard you’re also into MLM…how good ah ?"

Kate explained that she had just "re-stared" (for lack of a better word) her MLM business. She was into this MLM business a few years ago with another company, but quit after a few months. She said she didn’t have enough motivation then.

Kate said that since January this year, she had joined her present MLM company and is slowly increasing sales. She then asked for our permission to introduce the range of products that the company has (now you know what the portfolio case was all about).

Out came the brochures from the portfolio case – shampoo, toothpaste, orange juice, vitamins… you name it, she has it. May Yen and myself have seen those brochures before but we decided to look excited and looked at them again.

Kate then brought out another brochure and said, "this is not from my company, my friend is selling this" – It turned out that it was about some "magic" magnetic bracelet that can cure all illnesses. I’ve heard of this before – a cure-all magic bracelet, but without any credible scientific basis whatsoever. Sells very well in Malaysia, I was told. This proves that a sizable number of Malaysians are just a bunch of suckers !.

The others were still looking (or pretending to look) at the brochures.

I looked at Kate and said, "So you believe in this magnetic bracelet, lah ?". She then evasively replied, "Well, some people believe in it…there are a lot of reports from people that it works". She added, "Anyway, its not my product. Its my friend's product…just showing it to you guys." I wanted to pursue this argument with her, but then decided not to.

Pointing at the brochure James was looking at, Kate said, "This product is good for men". James didn’t say a word. Paul and May Yen looked up and smiled.

James then raised up his fist in a "strong man" gesture and asked, "Really good for this, ah ?".

Everybody laughed at James’ gesture.

What I found was that the products were seriously overpriced. The reason is so the MLM company can afford to pay multiple levels of agents / marketers / salesmen / entrepreneurs (whatever you want to call people like Kate), their relatively high commissions.

Half an hour had passed and Kate answered many of our frivolous questions about the products. None of us showed any real interest in purchasing the products. Kate then gave her MLM name card to James and Paul for them to contact her "just in case" they changed their minds about purchasing any of the over priced "revolutionary products" featured in the brochures.

There was a short silence until Paul called the waiter and asked for more Soda.

"So you guys happy with your work ?", Kate asked.

Oh no ! not that topic again. I always had the hunch that we will go back to this topic, as it hasn’t quite met its end, a few hours earlier.

May Yen explained to Kate that we were just discussing about that earlier. Kate then said that it would be a good idea if we could, like her, also get involved in the MLM business, as a stepping-stone towards self-employment.

I pointed out that the MLM business is structured as an organisation. Just like any other organisation, it is a huge pyramid scheme where the thousands at the bottom support the few at the top. Look at any organisation, be it your company, your firm, the stock market, the national and world economy, the government…

The many at the bottom, work very hard, to support the few at the top. The people at the top dictate how the structure of the organisation works (and can change it at any time). Those at the bottom are given the promise that they, too, have the opportunity to reach the top. Theoretically it seems very possible. But in reality, it is very much different.

James asked, "Why do you want to do MLM ?. Its like being a salesman working for 100% commission; no basic salary. James observes that MLM agents work free for the company, in exchange for a commission – the commercial cost of sales is transferred from the company to the "agent".

Further, James said that there are so many "agents" selling the same product to the same marketplace, because it is to the benefit of the company to create artificial competition amongst its "agents" – it doesn’t matter who sells the products, the company still makes money.

Besides, added Paul, not everyone is good at selling consumer goods "door to door", so to speak.

The conversation became very de-motivating for Kate, I could see. She finally admitted that she doesn’t really enjoy the MLM business but is doing it to provide an alternative income to her current job. "I’m doing this just for the money, I just want to quit my job", she said.

In Kate’s case, why do something else (from your regular job) that you also don’t like, just for the money ? For some, it is better than being an employee.

Ok. As an employee, what exactly don’t you like:

1. Don’t like my job function

2. Don’t like my boss / colleagues

3. Don’t like the office work structure eg. starting work at 9am, reporting procedures, overtime etc

4. Don’t like my modest income

5. Don’t like the work culture.

6. All of the above.

What you exactly dislike about your job must be clearly determined, first.

If you have access to sufficient financial resources, then, "doing your own thing" becomes a realisable consideration. But what about the many who do not have sufficient money to "start all over again" or to "do something different" ?

It is difficult for most people to realise their dreams without having either extra money or extra time. James said that if you don’t have the time, but you have the money, you could always start a business (your meaningful work), by paying someone else to run it until it is profitable. Once it is profitable, then quit your job and run the business yourself.

Alternatively, James suggested, "If you have no money but have the time, you can partner with someone with the money". But he adds, this method is more difficult than the former method, but it is not impossible. "Find someone who has the same interest as you, and has the money, but has no time", he said.

James admitted to us that he has invested in a small business doing commercial photography that is run by someone else ("his partner"). "Every weekend I pop in and check things out. I give my partner a share plus a small salary. If things work out, I have an option to quit my job, or it can also remain as a nice sideline", James said.

What if you don’t have the time nor the money to pursue your dreams ?. Paul complained, "Where got time ? and whatever we earn goes into paying the bills and a little left for savings."

I told Paul, "Follow May Yen’s strategy, lah". I was referring to May Yen’s modest pursuit towards self-employment. May Yen quit her previous job last year and took a less glamorous job with less pay, less stress and less working hours. She did this so she could pursue her ambition of being a dance and yoga instructor, on a part time basis, for a start. She teaches on some weekdays and full days on weekends. Once she has enough students she plans to set up her own dance and yoga studio, and quit her day job. She is already making half her previous salary, with her dance and yoga classes.

May Yen’s strategy is a more feasible option for many of us. Start modestly first. Do something that you enjoy doing and have already acquired competent knowledge and skills in. Keep your financial expectations realistic.

All employees wanting to become entrepreneurs and "do their own thing" must be willing to accept the following realities of self employment:

1. You may not earn a regular income. This is especially true for those early start ups.

2. Your passion and financial wealth, may not coincide. Your earning potential may be less than your current profession or job. For example, if you are a doctor currently earning RM2,000. You can potentially earn RM30,000 or more a month as a doctor, in future (although there’s no guarantee). But your passion now is to be a journalist. If you become a journalist now, you will earn RM2,000 per month. If you do some free lance writing part time, you may earn an extra RM1000 per month. That’s a total of RM3,000 per month i.e. more than your current salary as a doctor. However, you must remember that it is not common even for a senior journalist to earn more than RM7,000 per month. You must accept that following your passion may never earn you as much money, as you could earn, sticking with your current work.

3. You may fail on your "career of passion" and lose a few years of your working life. There is no guarantee that you will succeed, even if you have the passion for doing something - there are too many variables in play.

4. You may be passionate about doing something but you may not have the skills and talent to earn a living doing it. Lets face it, not all football fans can become David Beckham. Look at your options, if you can’t be David Beckham, you can try being a football commentator, a columnist of a soccer website, a football bookmaker, own futsal pitches, trade in football gear etc. Look at other options to get involved.

5. You may open yourself to certain occupational hazards. For example, if your passion is to be a skydiver, then, you must accept the risks associated with such profession.

6. You may be criticised by society, your family, your girlfriend / boyfriend or your peers, for "following your passion". You must be very thick skinned and determined.

We teased Paul that he should quit his current job and take a job at a holiday resort. Working at a holiday resort would open up avenues for him to pursue his "gigolo activities" on a commercial basis.

In all professions there are occupational hazards - some are financial, some legal, some health, some social etc. Can you live with the occupational hazard of your preferred occupation ?

In Paul’s case, if he is serious about becoming a gigolo, then he would have to accept that he opens himself up to the higher risks of contracting STDs - a health hazard. He will also be ostracised by society - social hazard.

In James’ case, if he quits his job as an MD and pursues his photography business full time, he may not have the same status, authority or financial rewards as he has now, as a Managing Director - social and financial hazard.

In May Yen’s case, what if the dancing and yoga trend declines ? what will she do next ? - financial hazard.

However, being an employee these days do not isolate you from risks.

The same question can be asked of an employee, "what if your company goes "chap lup" (goes belly-up) or your industry declines – what will happen to you ?" The higher you go in the company’s hierarchy the higher the risks your job is exposed to – management reshuffle, salary review, cost cutting, down sizing, industry decline, relocation of work etc. Financial hazard - you could lose your job / pay cut, legal hazard - you could be sued for malpractice / vicarious liability etc, health hazards - stress, smoking, lack of sleep etc

In today’s world there is no certainly in work and in life. We must accept that life is indeed random and must be prepared for it.

Coping with risks in an uncertain world is certainly something worth learning. Seeking certainty and stability in an uncertain world, is hardly a realistic ideal any longer.

Meaningful work is indeed achievable in our society, by most working class professionals, but are we prepared to make trade offs ? What are our priorities ?


Whatever our definition of what meaningful work is, it is our obligation as free human beings to pursue it; to create an opportunity, when there is none.

Sadly, for some, feeding themselves ("cari makan") is still the main priority in life - just like the life of an animal.

As usual, post your comments and tell me your views.

8 comments:

Seaqueen on September 8, 2007 at 7:33 PM said...

Wow. What a post. But it really gave me that "Aha" moment as in I've been working that many years, still never saving enough as most people, still trying to find the best combination of great job and loving it but still can't.

It's about time I do something about this, rather than continue tyring to walk blindly not know where I'm going to end up at.

This post has given me certain insights on things, that I may have chose to ignore. So thanks. :)

KLThong said...

very interesting post. it articulates what working life is all about.

most human beings are just drones working in a huge pyramid. slogging away for the benefit of the few above - those who rule over them.

yes, we all have to find our own way towards meaningful work; to contribute what we can best offer society.

merely surviving is the main trait of animals. hopefully some of us have evolved from that already.

thanks for the post.

The Malaysian Life on September 9, 2007 at 5:31 AM said...

Seaqueen - Sometimes, I'm not sure if people really read very long posts like this one LOL. Thanks for the support. I try to share whatever I know, in this blog. I hope this post and others can be useful in some way.

KLThong - I'm happy that you've enjoyed reading it. Meaningful work is not that elusive after all. It is achievable. Some people can take great leaps towards their ideal life, while others, have to take more modest steps towards that direction.

Reta said...

thanks for the insight. i believe working for your passion takes a lot of sacrifice. I made a switch into writing but realise i'm not fulfilled money-wise. Money to pay bills, etc etc.

I guess it is only logical that one sticks to the dull office jobs that pays the bills and do what you love as a sideline.

But I also believe our country has not been fair when it comes to salary adjustments and so forth.

The Malaysian Life on September 10, 2007 at 9:55 AM said...

cyber-red - Yes, that is the practical thing to do - do what you love on the side.
No company would adjust employees salary according to inflation. Salary is determined according to the forces of demand and supply in the job market. You want salary adjustment ? work for the government.

grace said...

Last night I couldn't sleep after reading this.
What do I want in life ? How long can I be a slave ?
In Malaysia...should this question be so difficult ?

theseeker said...

I wish there was a some kind of honest career guidance counseling when I finished high school.

The career counseling we get are from private colleges trying to sell us some course or the other...

so sad.

nunuk on September 17, 2007 at 12:06 PM said...

Pity you guys. Wonder if greed has overcome other virtues. Hence the frown on the faces of KL folks :-( Cool blog nonetheless.

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