I’ve met some people I believe have landed their dream jobs: One watches all sorts of movies and critiques them; another travels the world tasting ice cream; still another is so passionate about “saving the world” that she bravely approaches heads of real estate companies and hotel industries that aren’t the “greenest,” and they create opportunities for her to launch her sustainability efforts.
Sabrina Iovino, who writes her own travel blog JustOneWayTicket.com, says: “Find your passion, become more knowledgeable about it, and become an expert! Learn by doing. Create a product or service and find people who are willing to pay for it. It’s important that you mix your passion with something that is useful for other people, because only if your skills are useful to others will you succeed.”
Indeed, some people make their dreams come true on their own terms. Some recognize it right away and relentlessly focus on it, while others take a longer time doing it.
Ria Mackay, 38, goes to work in flip-flops and a bathing suit. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would teach swimming for a living,” she says.
At first she thought she would be an architect or pursue a career in mass communications. Her father was an engineer and her mother, a housewife.
Her own swimming school
For six summers, Ria earned money by teaching neighborhood kids how to swim. After graduating with degrees in communication and marketing, she worked as a merchandise assistant, and then moved to telemarketing.
But she continued to teach swimming after office hours and on weekends.
“There came a point when I felt I was dragging myself to work every morning and found that my job was bringing out the worst in me,” she recalls.
So, in 2000, Ria left the corporate world and taught swimming full-time.
On a friend’s suggestion, Ria went to the US for two months to get her teaching certifications. She taught swimming that summer to save for her airfare and course fees.
“I love kids, so when I was thinking of leaving my corporate job, I thought of taking courses in education and become a preschool teacher. But then I realized I already had eight summers (1992-1999) of experience teaching swimming.
“But I did not have the confidence to pursue it full-time unless I had the proper credentials. I did not have a name; I was not a Lozada, a Christine Jacob or an Akiko Thomson, all household names in swimming in the Philippines,” Ria says.
She returned to Manila. “Though I already had my certifications, I still had doubts if I made the right decision to make this into a full-time career,” she admits. “I remember the reactions of some people when they found out I teach swimming for a living. They didn’t say it outright, but I saw in their faces that they looked down on me because in those days, most swim teachers were lifeguards; some did not have college degrees.”
Ria started teaching swimming in one of the sports clubs in Makati, and slowly built her clientele. “As the number of clients grew and I got recognized for my work (in magazine and newspaper articles, TV interviews), I felt more confident and thanked God that I finally built a name for myself teaching swimming. As more people came to enroll in my classes, I had to train and hire assistants to help me,” she says.
In 2007, Ria put up her own school, Aqualogic Swim Co. The risk paid off: “I am able to fix my own schedule, determine how much I want to earn, and choose where and when I want to work. I get to travel to teach swimming, visit other swim schools abroad, attend swim conferences to further enhance my skills, and I have met the most amazing people [as a swimming teacher],” she says.
“Life is too short, and I believe anyone who has the desire to follow their passion should do so. It’s not easy in the beginning, but once you take the big leap and work hard, everything will pay off. These days, there are many courses to learn different skills. Products and services are more specialized now, so people should take advantage of this and allow themselves to wake up every morning looking forward to doing what they love most,” she advises.
Medicine is a vocation
Trisha Crisostomo, 37, is a mother of two toddlers. Her job as a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the Philippine Dermatological Society allows her to control her work schedule so she can spend time with her kids.
“I examine, evaluate and treat patients with skin diseases. I love my job because of the gratitude I get when patients come back telling me they are cured or they feel better,” she says.
Being a doctor has always been Trisha’s ambition. “My mom has psoriasis, a noninfectious skin disease. This is what inspired me, even when I was a child, to be a doctor so I could treat my mom,” she explains. Her father has retired from the US Navy and her mother is a medical technologist.
“To become a doctor, you need to graduate from a premed course; medical school takes another four years, post-graduate internship is another year. Even if you have your diploma from medical school, you need to pass the board exams to get your license to practice. And when you do get your license, you have to decide on your specialization, then devote another three to five years,” Trisha points out. “I did not have any doubts pursuing medicine, but I was a little envious of my high school friends who were already working, earning their own money and building a family, while I was still studying, asking for allowance from my parents and going on 24-hour hospital duty. But I knew that once I get through all the hardships, I would eventually become a doctor.”
If the medical profession doesn’t interest you, “don’t be forced into it,” cautions Trisha. “You will never be happy if you are forced to commit 10 years or more of your life to studying. It would also be a waste of your time and your parents’ money if you go into it halfhearted, and then decide to shift courses. Medicine is not a career, it’s a vocation.”
Soft skills trainer
José Antonio “Jak” Kahn, 37, studied computer science for the wrong reasons. He transferred courses when he realized it wasn’t for him and had to stop studying for a few years due to financial difficulties.
He eventually earned a business management degree in a long-distance education facility in Manila. His mother is a housewife and his father a consultant.
Today Jak is the managing partner of Engaged Consulting Manila Inc., providing human resources (HR) and training services, public courses on leadership and personal development for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the Philippines. “SMEs need strong HR support, but they don’t have the budget to hire high-quality HR personnel,” says Jak. “My dream job allows me to do what I love most: training. I’m also able to control my schedule, so I spend more quality time with my family, and I get to help Philippine SMEs grow and succeed.”
Jak knew early on that he wanted to be a teacher. “I should have taken up psychology. Thankfully, events in my life still led to where I am today, so I really don’t have regrets,” he says.
“In college I was working part-time as a tutor. When I had to stop studying, I tried tutoring full-time but the income wasn’t enough. My friend recommended I try a call center,” recalls Jak.
His career in training and development began in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry. Starting as a technical trainer, he later learned “soft skills” training.
“As the company grew, it needed a fully dedicated soft skills trainer, and I got the job. This exposed me to organizational development, dealing with employee engagement, performance and competency assessment, team-building and company events. I loved what I was doing because I could see the impact it had on people and the organization,” he says.
Jak quit his job shortly before getting married, because his wife worked during the day while he worked nights and they wanted to have a normal married life. He got another job as a soft skills trainer.
“My wife was relocated to Singapore, and so I had to leave my job again,” he says. “We were able to live within what she was earning, so there wasn’t too much pressure on me to find another job. At some point, we agreed we wanted to become consultants. There were also many certification courses available in Singapore, and consulting work was relatively big there. Also, having a consulting business based in Singapore looked good when approaching clients in other Asian countries.”
While securing certifications in Singapore, Jak landed a couple of clients. “Engaged Consulting LLP was born,” he says.
When Jak and his wife returned to Manila after two years, they met with a couple of friends who were also interested in consulting.
“I always knew I wanted to be a ‘student’ and also a ‘teacher of life,’ but initially I thought I’d end up being a teacher. Events led me to become a corporate trainer, but I wasn’t happy in the corporate world. I just wasn’t happy with a 9 to 5 kind of environment. I also realized success in the corporate world meant climbing the corporate ladder, but I was perfectly happy being a trainer conducting classes and working on projects. Then when I tried the consultancy route I realized I could do what I loved and not be pressured about getting promoted,” says Jak.
He was inspired by one of John Maxwell’s leadership principles: “Figure out three things you’re good at and then focus on those.”
Jak says: “I knew I was good at speaking, facilitating and motivating. These pushed me to go into consulting.”
But his biggest fear was the unpredictability of freelance work; he valued security and stability.
“I wasn’t famous and didn’t have a lot of connections, so my biggest doubt was my ability to sell myself and generate clients. My wife helped me overcome these doubts by working with me to develop a name for the business, the logo, even helping me build the website,” says Jak.
For people deciding whether they should pursue their dreams like he did, Jak advises: “Know your passion. By focusing on my strengths, I was in a better position to sell myself to clients. Have the right credentials. Be realistic. I’m not a risk-taker, so I gave myself two years as a consultant to see if it made sense financially. If, after two years, it didn’t work, I would go back to the corporate world. Thankfully, the business picked up before the end of the two-year period.
“Be sincere about why you want your dream job. Some people want to do it because of money, fame or power. I do what I do because I sincerely want to help my clients become successful, which means also helping the economy and being able to spend quality time with my family.”
In her book “Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!,” Tama Kieves says: “If you’re good at doing something you don’t like, imagine how you’d be doing something you love.”