The Price of a Dream

If you are an executive earning $10k a month, you had a dream but you chose to give it up so you can keep earning $10k a month and more in future. That would be the price of your dream.

If you were a poly lecturer making $5k per month but you gave up the job to pursue your dream of being a volunteer to take care of stray cats at a much reduced income. However, you are happier and derived satisfaction from the volunteer work. That would be the price of your dream.

If you have a dream but currently you are working in a job to earn enough savings for you to realise your dream, even though you may or may not enjoy what you are doing now but that is the price you are willing to pay to realise your dream.

What is the price you are willing to pay for your dream? What was the price I paid for my dream?

I was an engineer making $40k a year. I risked it to develop a product which I thought would benefit and bring convenience to Singapore wedding couples. It took me 3 years before there was a sufficient revenue stream. So in terms of monetary value, the price I paid to pursue my dream was $120k. However, in actual fact, it may be more than that. Assuming a 30 years working lifespan with no increment, my economic value as an engineer would potentially be $1.2 million. If you were me, would you be willing to pay the price?

I was lucky. I wasn’t intelligent as I didn’t consider so many factors. I attribute it to the brashness of youth. I thought my idea was going to be a runaway success so I just ran (pun intended) with my idea. I was naive. On hindsight, it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Maybe I was also stupidly stubborn. I didn’t know when to give up. And I stupidly persevered for 3 years, so much so that I was almost unable to pay my bills. That was the price I was willing to pay.

After 12 years. Now. Looking back. Have I gained more or lost more? Does success have to be measured that way? I would rather choose to contemplate and be satisfied by what I’ve gained.

I’ve more time to spend with my family. I can spend more time with my wife. I’m able to see my children grow. I can be part of their childhood. I’m there for them when they need me. I can be more flexible with my time. Please do not be mistaken for a second that by doing your own thing, you have more freedom or more free time. On the contrary, you have less freedom and more stress as there is no moment when you are not worried about your venture. There isn’t a moment in time where you stop thinking how you can do better and how to outrun your competitors. I work longer hours. Many a times, I sleep for less than 6 hours.

It is also a fact that what I’ve achieved can be lost in a whim and through no fault of my own.

What made me do it then?

I just had to know. I just had to know for sure if I can make my idea work and realise my dream. I don’t want to regret for the rest of my life if someone had successfully implemented a similar idea and it wasn’t me. I don’t want to be plagued by what ifs? If I had tried and failed, at least I would be satisfied with the knowledge that I wasn’t the better person to make it work. In that sense, I’ve also realised my dream, even though it was a failed dream. But at least, I’ve dreamt. I’ve lived.

Do not blame Singapore or the people around you if you dare not live for your dream. Do not blame the society that it does not tolerate failures. The truth is that you don’t tolerate your own failure.

There is a price to every dream. The question is: Are you willing to pay the price?

You Can (Not) Do It

Many years ago when I just started working as an engineer, I had an opportunity to attend a seminar organised by Intel in Penang, which was also where their factory was located. The seminar was related to the introduction of a series of new chips which will be using ball-grid array (BGA) arrangement. The seminar was to let us know how the BGA packaged chips may impact our printed circuit assembly process. As my ex-company was a large customer of Intel, up to four engineers were invited to attend the seminar for free, with flight tickets and hotel lodging provided. The procurement engineer from our company had included my name as he felt that I should attend as one of my future new product will be using BGA devices. We were to fly in on Friday morning, with Intel plant tour and seminar the next day. We’ll be back on a Sunday flight. The only thing I needed to do was get approval from my manager. I thought it would be easy since my department did not have to pay a single cent for me to attend. Boy, was I wrong!

I met my boss at the factory floor with the machines nosily pounding chips onto printed circuit boards.

“Boss, there is an upcoming conference organised by Intel in two weeks time,” I said. “It is about the new ball grid array packaging technology. The procurement engineer has included my name for the seminar and it is free. Just need to get your approval for me to attend.”

“No.” He replied.

I was shocked.

“Boss, but it is about a new technology that we’ll be implementing on the assembly line, it is good that I can attend. Besides, it is free and we won’t need to budget for it.”

“No.” He said again. “Why do you want to go? This packaging technology is not related to our department. It is about how our completed PCAs will be packaged in a box and shiped. It is about packaging technology, which simply means, it is just about boxes.”

When did Intel start making boxes?

“Boss, I think you misunderstood. You can check with the procurement engineer and he can confirm that it is not about boxes.”

“No need. The engineer has already called me and I’ve already told him you won’t be going.”

“But boss, I really think I should go, it is related to my work.” I can feel my temper rising but I spoke with a controlled tone.

“No.”

“Fine. Then I’ll apply leave and attend the seminar. I’ll pay on my own.”

“No, you can’t do it.” He insisted.

“Why?”

“Because it has not been done before and I won’t allow it.”

A short shouting match ensued but it was drowned out by the assembly lines so no one overheard our ‘conversation’.

“Fine. Ok. I won’t go. Happy?” I stormed off.

Two weeks later, I applied leave knowing that my boss would have forgotten the exact dates of the seminar. As expected, he approved my leave. I bought my own flight tickets to Penang making sure that I am on the same flight with the other engineers of my company. I’ve arranged to ‘bunk’ in the room with a colleague whose boss of another department had approved his attending the seminar.

I was glad that I attended the conference. I learnt something that was related to my work. In fact, it gave me a better understanding and I was able to have a better appreciation of the problems related to BGAs in the later months when one of my new product started using BGA chip devices. In fact, I thought that the knowledge was important enough that I actually conducted a short and concise introductory course to my fellow engineers in my department – minus my boss, of course.

Ever since then, if I ever come across any arguement simply stating that “it cannot be done because it has not been done before”, it would really irk me.

Did I regret my decision? No. Did I break rules? Maybe.

Don’t ever let people convince you that you can’t do it because they can’t. Don’t limit your potential based on other peoples expectations. Realise your own potential. Believe in your dreams. You have yourself to answer to.

P.S. The title of this post was inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion.