TEDx Talk about my journey

I’ve always been a fan of TED talks, for those of you who don’t know it, it’s a sharing of inspirational ideas. so I was really honoured to be invited to speak at the TEDx Women Singapore in 2012.

So, here’s the full story about my journey to be who I am today, how I made the decision to leave banking, and the ups and downs I’ve faced as a singer-songwriter in Singapore!

For those of you who prefer reading, this is my speech:) “For me, life started out pretty much the same as everyone else. I was a product of the Singapore education system, studying hard, acing my exams and expected to become a banker, lawyer or accountant. Sure enough, I followed the route that was expected of me, heading to London School of Economics to read a bachelor degree in Economics.

But from the beginning, music had always been a huge part of my life. Coming from a musical family, my fondest childhood memories are of staging musicals at home for neighbours and friends, Christmas sing-along sessions with my extended family etc.. The home was always filled with music of some sort. There’s a video of me, when I was 10, in my mum’s winter coat, arms wrapped around myself, singing my heart out to On My Own from Les Miserables. I’d also completed grade after grade of classical piano exams, was a member of the school choir for 10 years, and wrote my first few songs on friendship and love and even Singapore.

However, I never seriously considered becoming a musician. I hadn’t wanted to be a classical pianist not a choral singer. I remember, at an interview in my secondary school for a music award, I was asked by the panel if I felt that music was my calling and if I would pursue music as a career. At that point in time, I wasn’t quite sure yet. Although I can’t remember what my answer was, maybe others saw what I couldn’t see yet. Little did I know then, they were right.

Fast forward to my university days, I got stuck in the grind of the material chase. I succumbed to peer pressure and applied to banking, the so-called ‘dream career’ of LSE students – I was offered a job as a currency sales analyst at one of the biggest investment banks in the world. Knowing the recession was just round the corner, and jobs were hard to come by, I figured I would give this job a shot. Who knows, I might end up liking it, right?

Then began the long days of sitting in front of the computer screen, 5 screens, in fact; watching the currencies fluctuate on a daily basis. Hearing the traders shout animatedly about the EUR/USD going up by a few pips; the pound against the dollar being obliterated become routine. It was standard to execute trades worth millions of dollars, and you know what? The biggest trade I was involved in was worth 150 millions dollars. I remember watching the trade I executed move the markets. However, the novelty wore off after a few months. Any excitement I initially felt was replaced by a hole inside of me – this desperation to be able to create something, to express my own individuality. I did not feel connected to whatever I was doing at work, and after some soul-searching, I realised that I wanted to be making some sort of difference to the people and the world around me. Furthermore, I felt out of place. In a world of testosterone-pumped traders and salesmen; I was a dreamer – coming up with melodies and lyrics to new songs while staring blankly at the screen. I found solace in the lunchtime runs where I had to buy lunch for my team, being the most junior. I’d plug on my headphones and immerse myself in this bubble as an escape from the financial markets and the frantic world around me. The turning point for me came when I made a small mistake at work and lost a few thousand dollars for the bank but it didn’t even affect me. Instead of feeling bad or guilty, I shrugged it off. And that was when I knew I had to get out. How could I go on doing a job that I felt nothing for, that I could not put my heart and soul into. Wouldn’t I be wasting my life if I continued to do this? And for what? I was just another employee amongst the thousands. If I’d left, they’d easily replace me.. but I, for one, could go on to live a life that I was passionate about. So with all the courage I could muster, I told my boss that I wanted to leave. I still remember vividly his reaction that day. He was shocked, said he didn’t see it coming, and told me he was speechless. Turns out, he didn’t know how to respond as he’d previously only had colleagues leaving to join our competitors… so all he said to me was, “Good Luck, then”.

And with that, I walked out of the bank, feeling lighter than ever, a huge weight off my shoulder, and with much excitement, began the new journey to reach for my dreams.

So, I’d like to share with you a song that I wrote about my old job. It goes out to all of you who might be feeling stuck in life. It’s called, Go Fly A Kite.

(GO FLY A KITE)

So, I often get asked, how did your parents respond to your decision? What about society? Well, my parents were very understanding and supportive. I think they always knew I would eventually return to my first love, it’s just how quickly I’d take the leap. If anyone asks my dad, he always looks at my mum and jokes that her genes are just too strong and I couldn’t escape! It was harder to convince society, though. In such a practical and traditional society like Singapore, I still get faced with comments like ‘Are you crazy?’, ‘How could you give up a banking career? And to become a musician?’

I know what they are thinking, of course, but I totally understand where they are coming from. It is definitely not a conventional move, and without such a burning passion or belief in myself, I would not have dared to take this leap.

The journey so far has been fraught with challenges.. Some days are filled with doubts that eat me up inside, for example ‘Am I a little old to be doing this?’, ‘My friends are all settling down, should I be like them?’, ‘Maybe people are right, there’s no future in Singapore’ and of course the classic ‘Maybe I’m not good enough’.. And then there’s also been the dislikes on youtube, the negative comments, which, trust me, has the real ability to crush you.

But then, every time I sing and write new songs, the sense of achievement and accomplishment makes it all worth it. There have been other incredibly rewarding experiences too – having fans sing along to my songs, connecting to people through my music, opening for one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Marie Digby at the Esplanade Concert Hall and to having the entire cast of the new Resorts World production, Incanto, singing the lyrics that I’d written to an audience of more than a thousand people. These moments are what keep me going; to be able to achieve my dreams, one step at a time.

The past two years have been such a roller-coaster ride. But last year, something happened, that reaffirmed my decision. I found out that I had a cyst, which doctors suspected might be cancerous. In those few days before the operation, fraught with uncertainty and despair, I found comfort in knowing that I had the chance to pursue what I really loved. And at that moment, I found peace in knowing I had lived a life with no regrets. So, I encourage you all today, to look deep inside your souls, and do something that you’ve been wanting to do, to tell your loved ones how much you love them, to dream and to work to achieve them, because life is so fragile.

I’d like to share with you the newest song I’ve written.. I wrote it specially for you today. It’s about daring to dream..
This song is called ‘Fly’.

(FLY)

Well, who knows, ultimately, where this road’s going to take me. But at the end of the day, I know that when I look back, I can be proud of my achievements, knowing that I had the courage to step out and live my dreams, to have ticked off some things from my bucket list., for example, writing for a musical, releasing an album, to have made a difference to some people through my music and my story, and inspiring others to pursue their dreams… As clichéd as it sounds, remember, you only live once, so, dare to dream, live with no regrets, live the life that makes you happy.

LYRICS:

Go Fly A Kite
Music and lyrics by Natalie Hiong

You say I’m too quiet, I should learn how to talk back
You say I’m too nice, you don’t appreciate that
You want your lunch on your desk at noon
There’s only so much you can get a girl to do

You’re not quite as glamorous as they all say
Now I know you well enough, I can see right through
Like a bird in a cage, I’m dying to fly away
Cos’ nothing I do is ever good enough for you

Chorus:
All the money in the world
Can’t buy my love (can’t buy my love, can’t buy)
I’ve gotta find a way out
Cos’ that’s not what I’m made of (what I’m made of)
I’ll find someone who’s gonna
Treat me right (oh yes he’ll treat me right)
So go on, go on, go fly a kite!

You expect me to read you and your schizophrenic mood swings
I’ve put up with it long enough, I gotta make a living
You seduced me with your charm and a life of luxury
Babe, I’m a fool no more, I won’t wear you like a trophy

Chorus

Bridge:
I tried to convince myself you were the one for me
Wanted to prove I could handle you easily
But I’m sick of this façade, it’s time to admit
You and I just aren’t a good fit

Chorus

FLY
Music and lyrics by Natalie Hiong

I’ve got two feet stuck on the ground
But my head keeps spinning around
Underneath the girl in the suit
Hides a soul that’s been wilting inside

Spotlight shining as I’m singing
Images are what dreams are made of
What’s the point in dreaming dreams
If we don’t have the courage to try

Chorus:
I’d rather fall than be standing
Without taking one step
I’d rather stumble than be walking
Through life half asleep
I’d rather try
Than watch my life slip right by
I’ll crash, I’ll burn, I’ll fall, just to fly

People say, are you outta your mind
Why’re you leaving this good life behind
But one man’s meat is another man’s poison
My heart’s got a mind of it’s own

Chorus

Bridge:
I know this road is less travelled
I know the end’s out of sight
But if I never try
Then how will I know
What’s on the other side?

Chorus
I’d rather fall than be standing
Without taking one step
I’d rather stumble than be walking
Through life half asleep
I’d rather try
Than watch my life slip right by
I’ll crash, I’ll burn, I’ll fall….
I’d rather fall than be standing
Without taking one step
I’d rather stumble than be walking
Through life half asleep
I’d rather try
Than watch my life slip right by
I’ll crash, I’ll burn, I’ll fall, just to fly
I’ll crash, I’ll burn, I’ll fall, just to fly

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