Working Class: Things I Wish I Did Before I Left My High-paying Job

Working Class is a series by CLEO where we ask experts and real women for job, career and salary tips. Have relevant advice to share? Contact us at cleo@sph.com.sg.


While most of us enjoy what we do for work, very few of us want to do the same thing till we’re elible to withdraw our CPF. As multifaceted individuals, many among us are inclined to want to explore our other interests, whether professionally or as a side hustle.

But let’s be honest: not many among us can muster up the courage to make a career switch. It’s not just about the uncertainty in success and financial stability—there’s also the pressure to be holding a position at work that correponds to our age (#socialconstruct).

Ann Lim, however, bravely took the plunge at the age of 37. The 40-year-old Singaporean gave up her job as a manager at a research centre in a local university three years ago to start a home-based nail salon.

She actually quite liked her previous career 

Prior to making a career switch, Ann had been in the scientific research manangment industry for 15 years.

“Even though my work in higher education seemed very dry to most people, I really enjoyed it,” she says.

And her work didn’t just excite her—it also provided a good income.

“When the director at my last job hired me, he asked me to give him my expected salary. I did, and he made sure it happened. It was definitely a healthy sum.”

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But when a project she’d been managing for five years wrapped up, she felt that it was an opportunity for her to take a break and pursue a different passion.

“I’d been working excessively, like 10- to 12-hour days even on weekends, and wasn’t going on long vacations. So when the project came to an end, I decided to leave and carry out a clean handover.”

Things she wishes she did before making a career switch 

Ann has no regrets about making a career switch and will readily admit that there are very few things she misses about her previous profession.

“Working from home is a breath of fresh air, especially since I used to have to make a two-hour commute at my previous job. Frankly, the only things I miss terribly are the air-conditioning and employer’s CPF contribution,” she says.

“Plus, unlike my previous work, which involved blue sky research (research without a clear goal) that took years to directly impact individuals, I now see the faces of my clients light up immediately.”

But like many others who make a mid-career switch, there are things she wishes she knew before leaving her high-paying job, and things she did differently. She candidly shares some of them.

1. Save a larger sum of money before leaving her previous job

“I took a major pay cut. While I’d saved enough to live comfortably for a bit, like I wouldn’t worry about paying $250 for a hotpot meal, I realised I should have hoarded even more money in my previous job. I currently have a regular group of clients but my earnings are definitely insufficient.”

2. Make smarter shopping choices 

“One of the biggest lifestyle changes I had to make was with food. I usually crave food the equivalent of very expensive therapists, so I had to find out where are the artisanal stores that restaurants buy their food from are, and learn to cook them myself. I wish I’d done this earlier so I could have saved more money.”

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3. Hone her discipline in sticking to a schedule

“I knew having a schedule is important, but being able to keep to it is another story since there isn’t a fixed time I have to be at work. When I have a nail appointment the next morning, I’ll make a consicous effort to sleep early, but when I don’t, I’m a sloth and only wake up in time for brunch. My sleep cycle is messed up but I’m working on improving it.”

4. Build a support system 

“Freelance work can be extremely isolating. Having a network of artists, whether nail, makeup or hair, to share and learn from can be beneficial psychologically. Even if I don’t meet them face-to-face, being part of a chat group [makes me feel less lonely].”

Here’s the thing, though: while Ann is having a whale of a time in her current job, she doesn’t see herself sticking to it.

“I never planned to do this [for the rest of my working life]. There’s no delusion that I’ll need to get another full-time job in the future in order to retire comfortably,” she says.

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But till then, she’s making the most out of her career as a nail artist.

“I may make less money, but I’m having fun. I’m well-rested and able to do my best work for each client.”

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