Every young college adolescent in their 20s would probably never forget their Commencement Day. Dressed in their graduation robes and mortarboards, listening to the speeches given by the valedictorian and notable figures, a mix of emotions emerged – part excitement, part nervousness, part inspired for what’s to come.
They are excited to strike out as an independent adult, entering the workforce, eager to climb the corporate ladder with their recently completed vocational or university training.
Like many of them, I thought my career path would revolve around the food science industry, which I graduated from. I thought my weekdays would be in a white coat staying in the laboratory from 9-6 working on research and development on food.
Yet my story did not turn out that way.
10 months after graduating, cancer hit me as I was training for Asia’s first female triathlon. The doctors had strongly advised me to skip it and start my treatment as soon as possible, even though I felt great and fit at that time.
The treatment plan involved 12 cycles of chemotherapy every 2 weeks. Each session would last between 4 to 6 hours – an hour of waiting plus 5 hours of different drugs on an intravenous drip.
Every week, my blood was drawn to check for my white blood cell counts. This was to determine if my body was fit for the next round of chemotherapy. Scans were also a regular part of the journey to verify if the treatment plan worked.
Most times, the experience was manageable. The usual side effects started to kick in, usually around the halfway mark – mainly hair loss, fatigue, nausea and vomits, and painful mouth ulcers.
Over the next 6 months, my days seemed pretty routine. I found myself just shuttling between home and the hospital. Once a planner, I stopped planning my days as they depended very much on how my body felt when I woke up. If my energy felt good, I would go for walks or spend time with friends and family. If I felt lethargic or emotionally not up for it, I would just stay in bed, resting as much as I can.
Soon, the treatment plan ended. My scans revealed no more traces of cancerous cells. It was a huge sigh of relief to hear, yet the anxiety of moving into the next phase of my life grew stronger.
My cancer fight has ended. I guessed I won, but now what?
Do I start looking for a job in the food science industry or should I continue the e-commerce business that started as a side hobby during university? If it was neither, then what can I do next?
To some, 6 months may seem short. However, it felt as if time had stopped for me. It opened my eyes to the fragility of life. It had me thinking about my purpose of what I should do with time and energy.
I found a conviction to choose a career path that fulfilled my newfound sense of purpose. I figured to continue my business as I felt it fitted the picture aptly. Thus, this near-death experience kickstarted my journey as an entrepreneur, even though I did not know what it really meant.
4 years later, I was faced with a hard decision to close my business due to a combination of financial and mental health reasons. And I hit a career roadblock.
I started networking with business leaders and entrepreneurs and learned from their stories. It soon dawned upon me that entrepreneurs typically start with a product-based business, a service-based business, or a hybrid of them, but it is important to focus on one.
I rethought my next business opportunity. I spent my 20s building a product-based business which did not feel right for me. I decided to pivot as a service-based entrepreneur and chose the health and fitness industry.
I didn’t see my role as a fitness trainer as just a regular job. I devoted my resources to learn the what, why, and how of enabling people to move and live better.
Over the next 8 years, my career path evolved as the health and wellbeing landscape changed. I advanced to being an integrative health coach for women. But I hit another career roadblock as I struggled to build a business around it.
I wasn’t ready to start a new business as an entrepreneur, so I pivoted to an entirely different industry in a 9-5 corporate job for financial security. Yet I did not feel fulfilled and the earlier days of my near-death experience resurfaced again. In the end, I decided to leave the job, just 2 months before the pandemic hit.
No one nor any countries or industries were spared from the effects of the pandemic. My job-hunt became a lot more challenging than expected. As gyms and studios were closed due to restrictions, returning to my previous role as a fitness trainer was also not an option. I was once again forced to look at my career path again.
But I knew the saying – what doesn’t kill you truly makes you stronger.
I took the pandemic years as an opportunity to redesign my career path to better suit not just the changing needs of lives but also my combined skills, experiences, and my purpose. I also took the time to rebuild my mindset and now found myself ready to start my 2nd business as a cancer health coach.
On looking back, did I know I would be an entrepreneur? Did I know that I would still choose the path of healing as a health coach? Not in a million years.
But I probably would not have taken the road less traveled if not for my cancer at 23, which I have always felt so grateful for.
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