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Design or Engineering?

The dilemma of pursuing one's passion versus seeking financial stability is a common conundrum faced by individuals at various stages of their lives, whether they are students just finishing their O levels, or professionals undergoing a mid-life crisis.


The internal struggle between following one's heart and making ends meet can often be overwhelming.


But is it really a matter of choosing one or the other? Let's examine two possible different scenarios.


Scenario A could be where someone has followed their parents' wishes and pursued an IT diploma, now entering the job market as a fresh graduate, searching for their first job.


Scenario B will be that you pursue something you like, landing yourself a design diploma, and see what may eventually happen if you choose to be a “rebel” in life.




After following the crowd and obtaining an information technology diploma like your classmates, you graduated, eager to leave behind the years of coding in school.


However, your job search reveals that your IT background will require you to return to the very task you despised - coding.


Despite this, you accept the job offer as it is what everyone else is doing - working. Three years of performing the same duties bring little improvement in salary, so you seek a better-paying job.


Your efforts are rewarded and you secure a higher-paying position, working there for another four years until you are promoted to an assistant manager role.

Your job is not a source of joy or dissatisfaction - it simply exists as a means to an end. When socializing with friends, there is nothing exciting to share about your work, but that's okay.


Over time, you realize that while there is nothing inherently wrong with your life, there is also nothing particularly noteworthy.


You haven't found your soulmate, haven't been offered a promotion within your company, eat at the same few restaurants, and start to consider whether it's time to switch to a different company to bring some excitement.


You send your resume to various companies, but interview requests are rare.


When you do land interviews, the outcome is always the same - the offered salary fails to meet your expectations.


But why leave for another company if they cannot offer a "reasonable" 20% pay increase?


It wasn't until visiting a recruitment agency that the harsh reality was revealed - the market is saturated with IT professionals, making it difficult to secure a substantial pay raise without having a strong case to justify it.

You find yourself in a challenging job market, surrounded by IT engineers from India who are willing to work for less pay but have more experience and skills than you.


Despite your attempts to stand out from the competition, you feel stuck. In order to improve your job prospects, you decided to pursue a part-time degree.


After years of balancing work and night classes, you finally receive your degree, but you quickly realize that you are now competing with fresh graduates from local universities who are eager to gain experience and are willing to work for lower pay.


As you approach your mid-thirties, you are left feeling unfulfilled with a degree that doesn't have much value in the job market and without a true passion for your job.


You must make a difficult decision about whether to continue down this path for the rest of your life or take a risk and make a drastic change that could turn your life upside down.



Although your friends are hesitant to join you in pursuing a design diploma due to their lack of confidence in their drawing abilities and your mother discourages you from doing it, you are still determined to follow your passion for creativity.


Your father questions the job opportunities you may have after graduation, but you are not swayed. You believe in your talents and have always enjoyed coming up with innovative ideas, be it for a friend's birthday celebration or a fun prank on April Fool's Day.


Thus, you choose to ignore the doubts and pursue a design diploma, determined to turn your passion into a career.


You attend design school and discover that it's not just about drawing but also about creating meaningful designs for specific purposes such as advertisements or logos.


Despite having to pull all-nighters with your classmates for projects, you relish these moments and find enjoyment in the process.


After several challenging years of putting forth your best efforts, you finally earn your design diploma.


Now it's time to start your job search and bring your design aspirations to life.


However, upon searching for employment opportunities in the design industry, you are disappointed to find that many of the design companies in your area offer low pay or only offer basic services such as creating business cards, logos, and website designs.


Determined to find a company that aligns with your creative vision, you conduct further research and ultimately decide that a creative company is where you want to be.


Fortunately, there are numerous creative companies in Singapore to choose from.

You took on a junior role in an advertising agency, offered a pay lower than what your engineer friends are getting but it is okay for you at this point in life since you do not have many commitments yet.


What you do daily is receiving briefs from your supervisor, coming up with creative ideas to impress the clients, getting rejected over and over again, rush for new creatives according to the client’s feedback and submit something you think is ugly.


You don’t understand why are the ugly designs or advertisements always the ones being chosen but you are too busy to care anyway.

For the next 600+ days, you've lived a life of tight deadlines, late nights at work, and daily rejections.


But, you never lost your passion for storytelling.


You loved sharing your experiences of creating advertisements for different companies, like how ABC company loved your seemingly silly creation, or how the masterpiece you made for EFG company was deemed "irrelevant".


When a chance presented itself to move to a client-facing role within your company, you jumped at the opportunity.


As part of the marketing campaign conceptualization team, you now work with clients to develop and execute effective marketing strategies. This includes deciding which platforms to use (such as TV, radio, or social media), finding ways to outdo the competition, and increasing revenue for your clients.


Through countless meetings and discussions with clients, you began to understand why your previous designs were rejected.


You realized that advertising is not the same as art.


In advertising, you need to capture your target audience's attention, communicate your message effectively, and give them a reason to buy your client's product.


Simply put, a Mona Lisa painting won't do as an advertisement.

Over time, it's your turn to feel frustrated at the junior designers in your company (position you used to hold) who can’t seem to understand what you want and always sending crappy design for submission to your clients.


You thoroughly enjoy your time in this department, you get to meet celebrities whom you use for your campaigns, liaise with YouTube stars and bloggers to send messages for your clients, the ability to use all different media to achieve your objectives and get to meet all the like minded avant-garde people at advertising events by representing your agency.


Over the years, your pay increased, your title promoted but not that you really care since you don’t really see this as a job anyway. You totally enjoyed what you are doing but there is this side of you who misses your design side.


The chance came when an assistant creative director position became available. Naturally, with your experience with both departments, you easily got the job.

As an assistant creative director then eventually a creative director, you still come out with creative marketing campaigns for your clients, but this time you have more say on what is to appear on the platforms e.g. what should the DJ say on the radio, what angle should the bloggers write about your client, which artistes to use for the tv commercial.


There are times you have to work with your team until midnight, certain occasion when you are so busy you do not have time for lunch, but you are not complaining. Before you know it, you are in your early forties.


Life is of course not always a bed of roses. Your advertising agency loses a major client and needs to downsize.


After thinking hard, discussing with your family and considering the options you have, you decide to volunteer for the retrenchment. Not only to take it for the team but also for yourself.


Been working your whole life, you have decided that it is time to take things a little slower, have more time for your two kids and try to shake up the comfortable life a little.






In case you are wondering, the 2 different scenarios quoted are actually real accounts of people interviewed for this article.

Nicholas, the IT engineer, is now a sales engineer in a local software company in his 40s. “I have decided to become a sales because it is one of the few options which allows me to get out of doing programming.”

“It was not an easy decision then but I’m glad I made that choice” he continues, “At least now I do not have to compete for job with plane load of foreign workers.”


Steven, an engineer turned financial adviser, agrees, “Not that I like to do sales, in fact I hated it, but it seems like the only way when I lost my job during a recession.”

“But being able to meet people from different walks of life helps a little in the transition as that was how I met my wife!” he laughed.


Kim, the design graduate, has much different words for her work life, “it was the best time of my life” she said, “If I need to make the choice again, I will still go ahead and did what I have done.”

Currently the owner, creative director and finance manager of her own agency, Kim never looked back.


For the younger generation looking for a direction in life, she has this for them “if you do not enjoy what you are doing even when you are in school, you should just stop doing it when you realized it. Because life is short and every minute’s precious.”

When asked what advice Nicholas has for people not knowing which course to take up, he said: “Go for your passion. If I have a chance to turn back the hands of time, I will take up what I like to do for a living. My life will be in a much better situation than it is now, I am sure.”






If you are thinking of what course to take up, perhaps you should just go do something you enjoy doing.


Even if the end results may not be what you wished for, at least you would have enjoyed the process, which is going to be a much longer period of time to live through.


From the 2 life stories we come to realize one thing, the end results may not be what you wanted even if you make decisions against your will in the first place anyway. So why do something you don’t enjoy doing?


Ultimately if you do not have a passion for what you are doing, the possibility of you exceling in it is near to zero.



Credit: Article from blogger Seanbola’s website, first on

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