I want to start this story by first giving a shoutout to the blog manager for providing me with this opportunity to share my story and journey towards discovering my purpose in life and then finally being able to live in it. I have to be absolutely clear that I agreed to share my story not because I think that it will extend certain benefits to me, but I genuinely saw an opportunity to share something that’s true, and while doing so, hopefully, it will provide some sort of encouragement and motivation to those that are looking to following their passions in life, or even to pursue their dreams.
Here’s Some Context
Like any good story (I hope that this will be one of those), there has to be a context for which it helps the reader make sense of what the author is talking about. So, here’s mine.
I grew up and spent most of my life in Singapore (well, all of it). Being a Singaporean Chinese, I lived in a culture where most parents would not encourage their children to follow their dreams or passions. We are told that it’s okay to dream, and it’s okay to be passionate about certain things, but we just shouldn’t consider making a career or living out of those passions.
I want to be clear that as a child, I’m not even sure if I ever really did have a dream about what I wanted to be. But what I do know is that I was passionate about a lot of things, all the things that today can be classified under the acronym “STEAM”, which represents subjects like Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. At a very young age, I was already showing signs that I was really good in those areas. When I was in school, the only subjects that I ever scored well in are those subjects too. I suffered at linguistic (language) related subjects. Yet interestingly, today I’m a featured blogger (has been for a few years, and I have a reputation for writing really well too). I guess that’s really because everything I am doing today is driven by my passion, so that’s the difference maker.
So, fast-forwarding into the future, I got my Diploma in Engineering Informatics back in polytechnic and decided to step out into the workforce after serving 2 years in the Army (mandatory for all Singaporeans). I spent the next decade of my life working my ass off but I never really got appreciated as a software developer.
While most of my peers got recognized, promotions, salary increments, my professional career was crawling like a snail.
Discovered My Gift for Foresight
This is probably the most exciting thing that I discovered in my life right after discovering my purpose. Back in 2006, I had a moment and experience where I felt this belief and conviction that one day, the subject of “User Experience” is going to be something that we need in the industry. Bear in mind though that we didn’t have smartphones yet. Here in Singapore, iPhone didn’t exist until 2007, and it didn’t exactly become a thing until 2009.
When mobile app development became a thing a few years after that, suddenly, the world realized that they needed to pay attention to the phrase “User Experience”.
You see, for years, many of my peers, ex-colleagues, and bosses have told me that I was wasting company resources and time preaching about UX and advocating better UX for the customers (it means extra man hours = cost = lower profit margin for the company). I would go as far as to say that many of my past employers and superiors never liked me.
Sep 2014: The Year I Took a Leap of Faith
Yeap, that’s right. In 2014, I finally took a leap of faith. You see, I’m a Christian. And though I haven’t been attending a church for more than a decade, I still have some faith in God at that time. 2 years prior, I had two separate moments of a dream and vision. And in those dreams and vision, I imagined myself standing on a stage or in front of large groups of professionals and developers and I would be talking about certain technological concepts and products. That dream and vision don’t really have the specifics, but it’s enough.
But being as doubtful as I was, it was only in 2014 that I finally found the courage to take that step to follow my passions.
I asked myself a question, ‘How many more 10 years will I have to follow my passions to see where it can take me in life?’, ‘Do I want to look back 10 years from now and wondered, what if…?’
It was a simple decision really. But it wasn’t such an easy action to take. When I first left my job in 2014, I lied to my parents about the real reason behind why I left the company. Clearly, the truth eventually found it’s way to the surface. But that’s not the real motivational part of my journey. The real motivational part is that shortly after I took the leap of faith, I got recognized as a featured tech blogger by a software company in Greenville, USA. Shortly after that, I became the first Asian to be recognized as a Telerik Developer Expert (a brand that I have been advocating for since 2006).
Finally, in October 2015, I finally got approached by Progress Software, which at that time has just acquired Telerik and they needed someone who knows the products here in Asia. Being Chinese and bilingual, plus my knowledge and experience with the products, I was the obvious choice. More than that, I was the only option.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to sit for an interview. There were no competing candidates, and I met with the head of the office first over coffee before I met the HR manager. This was the first job that I never had to sit for an interview or multiple rounds of interview for that matter.
You know what’s even better?
This job paid 3 times of my previous salary, just 13 months prior. And my vision and dream came true. Over the next 1.5 years, I got to travel around the Asia Pacific region, speaking at conferences and workshops, conducting product training and demos. I eventually even got recognized as a Thought-Leader for the Asia Pacific region (the youngest ever). Most of the other thought-leaders have at least 10 years or more of experience than I do.
Today, I am a recognized thought-leader and influencer, not just in a single field of work, but across multiple, and I am also recognized across multiple industries.
It’s Time to Dream a New Dream
By the way, if I had failed to mention before, dreaming to work for Telerik was a dream that I had since 2006. Many people called me crazy then (colleagues, superiors and so on).
Anyway, in early 2017, there was a major restructure and as a result, I had to be laid off. I totally didn’t see that coming, but I knew a few weeks after that happened, that it’s time to dream a new dream. I mean, I felt challenged in my faith that I need to be bolder about what I want to achieve next.
Between 2017 and March 2018, I tried my hands at running a consulting firm, but it really didn’t take-off. In fact, it was so bad I reached a point where I wanted to just give up and go back to finding a job. I knew it at that point that my decision and action will cause my parents to say things like, “See, I told you so.”
Frankly, I really hated that.
But here’s the honest truth, I was emotionally and psychologically exhausted at that point. I was coming up to my 4th year of following my passions and I still haven’t found my true meaning in life – my sense of purpose.
Finding My Purpose at the Least Expected Time
I got to be honest, I don’t know if it was God’s sense of humor or just perfect timing. But just as I am about to throw in the towel and give up on my pursuit of happyness, God gave me an inspiration. And that inspiration has led me to create the 100% non-profit online education & skills training platform called onlinelabseries.
I have to be honest…I was SKEPTICAL. Probably the most skeptical I have ever been about anything in my life. Oh by the way, by nature, I have been told that I am always SO optimistic. Clearly, if I was feeling skeptical you know how bad of a place I was in. Yet, I couldn’t deny that there was something about the inspiration that was pulling me towards it.
Fast-forward another 6 months to today, OLS is now the fastest-growing online learning platform that is totally non-profit, not only that, the platform has some pretty amazing brand partnerships to date. Bear in mind that when I first started OLS, I was broke, I was in a 6-figure debt, I don’t have the connections and I didn’t have the right hardware to deliver what OLS promises. It was just a vision and goal that I felt inspired with.
“…when I first started OLS, I was broke, I was in a 6-figure debt, I don’t have the connections and I didn’t have the right hardware to deliver what OLS promises. It was just a vision and goal that I felt inspired with.”
Here’s another truth, I am still working on the educational content, and there’s still an uphill battle right now with regards to raising money for what the platform needs (I have two crowdfunding campaigns and I am still trying my best).
Been Given the Permission to be Absolutely Honest
Before I close up my story, I want to say that I really appreciate the opportunity to do this and also to be honest about my experiences. Because somewhere out there, I have a feeling someone is going to be reading this and go, “Thanks for being honest with us Sherman, at least now I know what I am up against.”
I want to be honest with you by saying that this journey is not without it’s struggles. It is genuinely the loneliest journey I have ever been on, both mentally, emotionally, and even psychologically. It’s tough when you have the circumstances in your life constantly screaming at you, and its even tougher when you don’t have a family that really supports you or believes in you. For me, that’s my case. I am alone.
Now, I do want to give credits to a few people that have in ways helped me along my otherwise lonely journey, and most of these individuals didn’t have to, but they did. People like my mentor, the previous header of APJ for Progress, and finally the Developer Advocate that got me into becoming a Developer Expert. Sadly, there aren’t many people.
Here’s the thing, when you are thinking about going after your passions in life, or to pursue your dreams, you have to be prepared to be on your own for quite a while. You cannot depend on others to approve of your decision or to have the blessings from your parents. If they are understanding and supportive, hey, that’s great! I’m going to be really happy for you. But chances are, you are going to find some kind of negativity along the way. You will meet people that will tell you that your crowdfunding campaign will only succeed in 327141 (not the precise figure, but it’s 300,000+) years…basically never. LOL. That’s a true story by the way. An acquaintance I met in recent times, I’ve long deleted him from my facebook already. Hahahahaha.
“…when you are thinking about going after your passions in life, or to pursue your dreams, you have to be prepared to be on your own for quite a while”
But I’m also not here to scare you away from the prospects of following your passions and going after your dreams. Quite frankly, as imperfect as my life is right now, as challenging as most days can be, I find SO MUCH SATISFACTION knowing that everything that I am doing now, will one day end up touching the lives of millions of children, youths and adults around the world. I take pleasure in knowing that truth about what I am working towards.
So, whatever your passions are, whatever your desires are right now, whatever dream, or dreams you share this very moment, I want to encourage you to take a leap of faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step. I know that it is going to be scary, but trust me, in due season, this journey is going to surprise you. You are going to end up realizing just how strong a person you can be.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.”
With that, I’ll end my story here. I genuinely hope that it inspires you just as much as it has inspired me to even write about it.