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Why it’s impt to understand that you are more than your degree

SPONSORED DECLARATION: This article was sponsored by Gov.sg they’ve created jobsgohere.gov.sga website that highlights the various job opportunities in growth sectors during COVID-19. 

Here’s a bit of background about myself: When I was 14, I saw the 1997 Japanese-animated epic fantasy film Princess Mononoke.

I was so captivated and enamoured that it made me want to make animated films. Ever since then, I’ve always held on to this dream that I must become an animator and fulfil my destiny. 

My passion was so great that I consumed anything and everything animation. I learnt about animation history, I watched all the classics, I practiced drawing and writing. Naturally, I went on to get a Bachelor’s degree in animation, then a Masters of Art, majoring in Animation (I considered PhD also, but decided not to).

At some point, I told myself: This was my calling, beyond the petty realms of money and earthly comforts. I would be an animator even if it meant being broke. At least I would be happy.

In my 2nd year of studying animation, I even declared that “If I could earn $3,000 a month doing animation, I would happily do that for the rest of my life.”

Hohoho, young me, how naive you were.

Some harsh things I had yet to realise:

  • I was not prepared for the grind of the animation life.
  • No one would sponsor the kind of animated art films I wanted to make.
  • I could still find meaning doing other sorts of things.
  • $3,000 a month was not enough for the kind of life I wanted.

Anyway, here’s my career journey in a nutshell:

  1. I worked as a web designer for a year (because that’s all I could get at the time)
  2. I became a designer.
  3. Then a videographer.
  4. Then a content lead.
  5. I then joined a medical device company as a marketing creative;
  6. Later becoming a marketing manager.
  7. Then I quit to do Woke Salaryman full-time

I’ve loved animation for 16 years. I have a postgraduate degree in it. Yet I’ve never worked a day in an animation studio.

Does that seems sad? Like I’ve turned my back on my first love?

Let me assure you that it has worked out alright. You have to read on to see why and how.

WHAT A DEGREE IS GOOD FOR:

Let’s get this out of the way first. This article is not saying degrees are worthless. Far from it. 

Of course there are real benefits to degrees. Many places still tier roles and salaries by qualifications. At a basic level, it is a somewhat reliable indication of training/skill.

And let’s be completely honest; I didn’t learn many concepts/skills in my Masters degree coursework that I applied to my marketing roles, but you can be damn sure I leveraged my Masters as much as I could when I was negotiating my salary!

Anyway, I can totally relate to this need to be defined by your degree.

As a fresh graduate, it felt like all I had was my degree. So, it was a sort of wishful thinking that the degree was a powerful piece of paper that will open doors and pave paths. After all, you took on a bunch of debt and spent a bunch of time getting it, so…it must be special.

But in 2021 (and for a while now), this is no longer the truth.

Decades ago, degrees were seen as something special, a distinguishing aspect. 

But as Singapore became wealthier, we also got higher and higher qualifications, degrees have lost the ability to help their holders stand out from the crowd – this is not unique to Singapore, but to many developed nations such as South Korea, the UK, US and Australia.

In light of this, we need to pursue a different strategy that is less reliant on our degrees. 

YOUR QUALIFICATIONS ARE NOT YOUR IDENTITY

A recent study found that over half (53%) of Singaporean graduates work in jobs unrelated to their degrees – turns out, not doing what you learnt in school isn’t as big of a deal as we often make it out to be.

Instead, what we are better off doing is embracing the fact that life is full of changes, and the best strategy is to be flexible and adaptable.

I set myself up to be an animator for life since I was 14, and I’ve not been a professional animator for a single day.

Why? Because animation is labour intensive. It’s much more difficult to earn a good living as an animator in Singapore because you’re competing with animators from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, China etc. and animators there, especially those from lower tier cities, who can survive with a lower salary.

Because I’ve had a big uni debt since I graduated, I had to put my passion aside for a bit. I kept gravitating towards higher paying jobs, sometimes leveraging my animation skills, but often learning new ones on the job.

At one point I felt guilty for “selling out” my purpose, training and identity of being an animator, but in hindsight, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

“Selling out” allowed me to chased skillsets outside my degree.

It allowed me to solve problems that the world valued more, which resulted in me being able to charge more for my time. In turn, this allowed me to save more, pay off my student debt, and eventually build up an emergency fund.

This cushion allowed me to take the risk of doing The Woke Salaryman full-time, and now I draw comics for you wonderful people for a living full-time and I can’t believe my luck.

In retrospect, I think that’s quite worth it.

T-SHAPED SKILLS ARE THE WAY TO GO

We’ve said it and gotten quite a lot of heat for it before, but being a pure specialist is overrated. 

Unless you’re top 10% in what you do, you probably won’t be very successful.  Even if you’re in the 10%, you’ll be putting all your eggs in one basket and at the mercy of change. 

Our suggestion? To be a T-shaped person. Some who is both a specialist, and a generalist.

If you’re a generalist, work in specialising in something.  On the flip side, if you’re a specialist, pick up complementary skillsets.

Combine your deep knowledge of a single, primary field with general/sufficient knowledge of other secondary skills.

For example: I’ve learnt enough about erectile dysfunction and kidney stones to help me perform my job well at the med-tech firm. I’m still learning personal finance, psychology and economics as part of the content creation for Woke Salaryman.

If I were not open to learning about things in these new fields, I would have far less opportunities. I might even have thought there were no opportunities for me.

By being a T-shaped person, you get both the best of being both a specialist and a generalist. You take advantage of what you learnt in school and you are still open to changing to solve problems that the world needs solved.

It also helps if your secondary skills are related to your primary skill.

For example, animation training had already taught me about shot composition and storyboarding; so when I started teaching myself videography, I didn’t have to relearn these concepts. 

It’s kinda like skipping modules you’ve already taken when you go on exchange in university.

DON’T LET YOUR PAST DEFINE YOUR FUTURE

If I had told myself that I could only be an animator because my uni education was in animation, I would never have picked up all these other skills and experiences.

I would not have learnt videography or social media marketing. Neither would I have gotten that job at the medical firm that helped me to pay off my uni debt. Nor would I have been interested in personal finance – and I’d never have started Woke Salaryman. 

Similarly, if you limit yourself to what you’ve learnt in school, you’ll be turning a blind eye to the opportunities that are emerging in growth industries locally, regionally and internationally.

The sooner you realise that you are not defined by your degree, the sooner you’d be able to adopt a growth mindset. 

Stay woke, Salaryman. 

 

A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSOR

Graduating during a recession is tough, but not all hope is lost. Especially so if you remain flexible, adaptable and with a growth mindset. 

While it’s true that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many industries into disarray, many growth industries have also emerged in areas such as professional services, logistics and biopharmaceutical manufacturing. 

Find out more at these opportunities at jobsgohere.gov.sg

Liked it? Take a second to support thewokesalaryman on Patreon!

2 replies to “Why it’s impt to understand that you are more than your degree

  1. I love that concept of a T shaped skill set. I was something of the opposite of you. I knew I had a love of science and math by the time I was 11 and I had determined the best way to monetize that was to study chemical engineering by the time I was 15. I had a wonderful career and was highly paid from my first day on the job. I also realized I needed to be in the top percentile range to advance and that one thing that could get me there was to be world class at a technical skill set but to add public speaking, writing, team building, networking, economics and other general skills in addition to my core focus. It served me well as I rose from intern to GM of a billion dollar company. The technical core gave me credibility and the broader skills separated me from the pack of my competition and made me promotable. Most people won’t have that laser focus I had because that was kind of weird, but developing that T shaped kit of know how will serve anyone well I think. Very interesting post!

  2. I hold a postgrad in IT majoring in e-comm. I end up doing project management for one of the affiliates for Microsoft as my 1st job. It had nothing to do with my involvement into e-comm. Picked up investing skills and knowledge along the way. Ended my project management job to join a local alcohol supplier for the last 10 years. And then, Covid happened…

    I quit my job after the bosses decided to trim salary and cut back on staff. Took a break of about 3 months to readjust my body and timeline. Participated in free webinars and learnt from trainers by NTUC Learning Hub and Skillsfuture website. Picked up data analytics and now certified under Wiley. Now I’m participating in one of the SGUS program for Business Analytics. Meanwhile I’m coaching and providing training for younger students in investing, particularly in crypto.

    Looking ahead, I might be coming back to the IT industry again. I guess it was my calling but when I was young, I wanted to do something different and the night life industry is indeed exciting. Getting paid to drink and party and experiencing the under belly of Singapore. Now I’m in my mid-30s, it’s time to start a new chapter and put the old one behind me.

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