Often, we read stories or articles about people quitting their corporate jobs and taking the plunge of working for themselves. I’ve read many stories about it, how it sounded like the greatest thing to do, in fact, an almost trendy thing! However, I’ve never really heard about it being done in Malaysia, at least amongst my friends.
Cue Raphael! Raphael graduated from University Malaya with a Bachelor of Law, and then plunged headfirst into the world of law. After a few years, he found himself working in Shell, where he had a great relationship with his boss and was travelling to places like New York for work. He had even recently won an award for being Best In-House Lawyer. I was very surprised when he quit his job to work on his own start up. There didn’t seem to be any problems with his old job. Why quit?
“I’ve always been curious by nature. Curious to explore, experiment and experience new things. I found myself drifting into this comfort zone, and I was getting itchy and restless. Sure, I was earning good money. Sure, I enjoyed the finer things in life. But after a while, material things ceased to satisfy me. I had attained the lower needs of the Maslow hierarchy, and I yearned for something more. To create something new and valuable. To change the world around me for the better. Yeah, sounds naïve and idealistic, I know. But that’s me. I’m never happy just going through the motions. I had dreams, I had visions. Life wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t at least try to fulfil them.”
Quitting your job to start your own business isn’t the most normal or socially acceptable thing to do in Malaysia. Often, people will start gossiping, wondering if you were actually fired or had just plain lost your marbles. I asked Raphael if he received a lot of flak from his friends and family.
“Of course! Plenty of disbelieving stares! They were too polite to mention it, but I could see it in their eyes that they half-suspected I was going crazy! It was difficult, at first, explaining things to them. They just wouldn’t understand. And so I did the next best thing. I just stopped explaining. I evaded thorny questions, and moved on to other subjects. Then I also stopped meeting certain people. Hah, yeah, it was that bad. But there’s no convincing some people about my reasons, you know? So why bother? Besides the usual East versus West cultural thesis, I have another theory why people behave like that. It’s because they have a narrow view of what’s normal and what’s abnormal. So when they see someone else behaving ‘abnormally’, they just lose their minds, you know? Hah, sounded a bit like the Joker there. But it’s true. Seeing people behaving ‘differently’ makes them feel insecure about themselves, makes them ask themselves whether there’s something that they’re missing. To feel secure, they have to eradicate this ‘anomaly’ before their eyes. So consciously or subconsciously they set out to turn ‘abnormal’ people (like me) into normal people (like them). So they keep giving me flak, hoping I’ll come back to the ‘right path’, so to speak. It’s tiring, and annoying. I don’t need people like that in my life, to be honest. So at least making this change in life has brought some positive spin to my social life – I now know who truly understands and appreciates me for the way I am.”
One of Raphael’s projects since quitting has been working on a book. He’s completed his first book, a sci fi fantasy, and is currently looking for a publisher. I wanted to know what inspired him to write, and what was the process was like. After all, a lot of people want to write but never get around to doing it.
“I love writing stories. It’s something I’ve been doing as a kid, but stopped for a long while once I started working, so I’m just catching up on my lifelong dream. Now, the process was gruelling. I set myself milestones, and a regimented schedule to keep to those milestones. Like finishing first the part in 3 months, whole book by end of the year, and so on. I had to force myself to write even when I’m not inspired, at times. People say you can’t force inspiration to come, but that’s bullshit. Inspiration is everywhere, every time. It’s just that life throws out small challenges blocking the way, like a new TV series or a friend finding the flimsiest excuse to party or a long week at work. Just get your lazy ass up, and work! You’ll find that the hard part is overcoming the initial hurdle – once you’ve passed that, you’ll be in the zone and typing away non-stop. And I don’t mean just about writing, but any passion you may have – drawing, dancing, whatever. With passion, comes perseverance. If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to do it, and shove everything else down the priority list. Yes, and that may include sacrificing other parts of your life. If you want to write a book, you would’ve written one by, say, thirty. If you haven’t, it simply means you don’t really want to write a book bad enough and shouldn’t be wondering why you haven’t done so. There are obviously more important things going on in your life, so focus on that.”
While writing his book, Raphael kept up with his blog, which he has had for over two years. At points, I found it a little bit too ironic and sarcastic for my gusto. His post, ‘Why Chinese Chicks Dating White Guys Make Me Sick‘ annoyed me to no end and resulted in a cooling down period of the friendship. I wondered if other people had the same reaction to his blog.
“First things first, my blog is never just ‘sarcastic’.”
“There’s always a deeper message or two, not too obvious from the surface. So yeah, there are many layers to my articles, and I understand not everyone gets all the layers. And that’s okay. We all read to find something that relates and resonates with our lives. Different people can draw different conclusions from the same article. And that’s okay. That’s the whole point of why I write. To examine an issue from multiple facets, and hope people do the same. But that doesn’t always happen, as some people are stubbornly fixated on just one facet and treat my article as an affirmation to their own narrow beliefs – that’s disappointing, and perhaps a reflection of my own poor writing. Of course I have my own biased view of things, but I always make it a point to give a balanced view. And I’m fine with readers taking whichever view they wish to take, at the end of the day, so long as they objectively weigh the different sides. Sometimes, things can get rough. I’m accused for seemingly endorsing certain objectionable views. Topics touching on racism, for example, tend to get people up in arms. It’s ironic how my attempt to shed new light on racism gets me accused of being racist instead. It hurts, too, course. But that’s okay. I write to provoke people into thinking, and sometimes I provoke the wrong kind of thinking. There’s always that risk. You can’t please everybody, you know? And hit the right notes all the time. So yeah, I had a few close shaves where friends and fans have given me a real piece of their mind. But all in all, I think I’ve had way more hits than misses, so it’s all good.”
So what’s next in store for Raphael?
“Make sure my book gets published and start-ups succeed, of course! I think I have enough on my plate now, as it is. Well, maybe even too much. Lots of experienced entrepreneurs, like Peter Thiel, say that we must focus on one thing, and one thing only. I’m still struggling with that. I still get distracted with stuff, and I’m also afraid to put all my eggs into a single basket. Maybe that’s what that’s holding me back from achieving success – and I mean, real success, the kind that gets my face splashed on the Time magazine, ha ha! Maybe my overly-curious nature works against me, sometimes. So I have to curb my curiosity and eliminate even more unnecessary desires, to make sure I’m focused. You may think I’m focused. But funnily enough, I don’t think I’m focused enough!”
I ask Raphael what’s one of the biggest dreams or aspirations he has at this point in time.
“You post this interview up, and my followers rise by the millions. No, really, I’m quite serious there! I’ve always dreamt to be like some kind of life guru. Not the religious kind that throws mass orgies and gases people to death – don’t worry. But the kind that helps people find their way through life. You know, like the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Yoda, those sort of folks. Why do I want to change how people lead their lives? Well, it’s because I genuinely believe a lot of people aren’t truly happy, and can do much more with their brief but precious lives. I hate to see potential go to waste, you know? I hate to see passion go unfulfilled. The world can be – and will be – a better place if everyone lives their lives true to their passion and potential. That’s what I’m doing right now. Hopefully I’ll make it, someday. That’s the dream.”
For more of Raphael’s thoughts, check out his blog here.
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