From The Straits Times    |

Do you like your job? Or wonder what it would be like if you’d gone against your parents’ advice and pursued your dream career? Her World’s Career Confessions column spotlights the professional journeys of its subjects and reveals how each individual’s career path and the choices they have made can have an impact on their personal finances, psychological health, and interpersonal relationships.

Should you follow passion or follow profit? It’s never an easy decision to make, but for Elaine Lim, her decision to quit the military and become a professional beatboxer proved to be ultimately rewarding.

She discovered her passion for music when she was growing up: “I grew up in a middle income Singaporean family, and being the oldest you’re expected to set examples to the younger siblings. I never learnt to play an instrument, but yet music touches my soul in a way I cannot describe. I felt an affinity to piano but couldn’t afford it then. So I saved up to learn drums and later on I came across beatboxing when I was invited to join an acapella group.”

She adds, “Since I was young, I saw writing songs as a way to express my soul and the emotions I was trying to understand.”

She never thought of pursuing a career in music full-time, and ended up joining the army, much to her family’s delight. She would be in camp the entire week, and look forward to Friday nights where she’d be able to perform till midnight, when she was expected to return to her camp.

When the stresses of military life became unbearable (she ended up developing irritable bowel syndrome as well as debilitating anxiety), she finally took the decision to quit the stable job.

Along with her partner Zack, they set up Beatz Inc Music, and started teaching beatboxing classes.

Since embarking on this path full-time, Elaine has represented Singapore at multiple beatboxing competitions and also performs under the stage moniker General Ling. In fact, in October this year, she’s also releasing her first-ever solo Mandarin hip-hop track.

Elaine tells us about her unusual career path.

Name: Elaine Lim
Highest Education: Undergraduate degree
Job Title & Industry: Beatbox Entrepreneur & Artist /Edutainment and Music
Years of Work Experience: 10 years
Salary: $1,000-$3,000 (it depends on the projects I get)

How would you describe your career? Would you describe it as a job, a career, or a calling that you’re extremely passionate about?

Right now, it’s not a job, or a career. It’s life. I live it everyday and I share it with the various students regardless of age that I come across. Whether they’re listening to the music techniques I’m sharing or the life values I teach through the art, it brings me great joy that I make a difference. I put in 1000% all the time and hope it helps them in some way. As well as being able to put pen to paper and write lyrics that can connect to people through my experiences. I wouldn’t trade it for the world living my life now. And performing for people, it’s an experience not many have. 

What’s your day-to-day schedule like?

On busy days, I would wake up early to go to the various schools to teach beatboxing, about late noon I’ll head back home for a quick swim, and teach the private lessons at night or hit up the studio to work on my tracks. Sometimes I can be teaching from 7am to 9pm, depending on the booking on that day. I would double check bookings and plan for the next day after I get home. Then I’ll use the downtime after to spend time with my loved ones before going to bed. Usually every day differs a little, I would go with the flow while making sure to get the important things done. When it’s lull time (lesser projects) it’s my favourite time to study. That’s when I’ll look at my bookmarked list of courses and go through them. 

You were formerly in the military. Can you tell us more about that time in your life, and how did it lead you to your current career in beatboxing? 

My time in the military was bittersweet and fruitful. It gave me an insight to what I truly loved and how much I could push through. From the long gruelling hours of training, the mental strength and how many times my body wanted to give way. I met many people in the army and this gives me an understanding of the various perspectives of people. I couldn’t live without music and realised while I was in a great job – secure and good pay, I couldn’t envision myself working till I was 55 and I was torn between societal expectations and what my soul yearned for. It’s then I decided to leave. The stress between living my life and what everyone thought I should do was getting a bit much and my body was showing signs of mental stress. So I took the leap of faith – left and did what everyone thought was an insane move – going into music and beatboxing. 

Tell us a bit about your salary and compensation. How has it had an impact on your life?

Salary and compensation. Hmm. Well it’s always a debate with money versus time isn’t it? At the beginning it was rough, but I was way happier having the freedom to do what I loved even though there was no guaranteed visible financial stability. To me it just meant keep your head down and keep going. My choice meant I could decide my own financial ceiling. I have the freedom to live and make x amount depending on the projects and engagements I get. My time is compensated properly based on the amount of time and effort I put in. After 10 years I’m at a comfortable point where I have a proper work life balance – deciding how I would use my time and being able to make enough to live life happily. I have the ability to live and breathe music – and I’m blessed and grateful for my life. 

Do you feel pressure to have a successful career, or to earn more money? If you do, is it mainly internal or external pressure?

 Initially there was a lot of pressure to make money for survival – I did leave a stable and good career for something uncertain. Eventually I kept at it, and could live comfortably. External pressure was existent due to the perception that my chosen life path does not make money. How does one define success? To me it’s being happy doing what you want without worrying about survival. So I kept reminding myself – time versus money, I need a balance and there has to be a point where I have to prioritise other things over money. No point working myself over at the risk of lack of rest or happiness. Self care is important. 

Has your career impacted your relationships with other people?

People come and people go, I’ve learnt to embrace that change. I had people who supported me and have stayed throughout my life. I also had people who thought my choices were ridiculous and they are no longer around. At the end of the day it all worked out, people who align with you would stay on, people who don’t will fall away. 

If you could tell your younger or future self something, what would you say?

I would tell my younger self: you’re not insane for having a vision, keep going! Oh, and don’t worry about others’ opinions of you, as long as you know who you truly are deep inside. Definitely don’t go asking people what they think about you. What do you think of you? 

What challenges have you faced in pursuing your career?

I have faced several challenges in the pursuit of my career. Going against all odds and fighting stereotypes as a female – you’re not as good – in a male dominated niche market that many see only as a form of street entertainment.

My team and I had to establish value in the art of beatboxing being more than just a street act, and it took a long time to establish that – even when I represented Singapore in the world championship. Occasionally, I also get asked questions like: can you survive doing this? But as years passed it became more of “oh wow that’s so cool!” It was a thought provoking period of my life where you had to really dig deep and believe in your vision. I had to stand my ground on my beliefs – skills, people, attitude. We believe in doing it right. With a simple mission: to educate people on the value of beatboxing. It’s an ongoing process and that’s why we’re doing what we do – educating people on the art of beatboxing one student at a time while keeping a lookout for more opportunities to share the art. 

If you could go back in time and change anything about your career, or life choices in general, what would you change?

Nothing really. All my mistakes, my learning points, my experience, the people I’ve met, they made me the person I am today. Good or bad I am thankful I met each and everyone and had that experience. I am not perfect but it’s the fun part about life – change is the only permanence. All the little pieces made me, the good, the bad and the ugly. Changing anything would be taking away from the experience. Even if it was painful. They made me a better person. 

What are some societal pressures and stigma that have arisen from your unconventional career choice? 

Societal pressures – definitely around the whole “can you make money with music” issue. I get asked “are you doing this full time” a lot, from people from all walks of life. I guess another stigma is you have to be different to do different things out of the norm, this would be more a message to those who have dreams and are afraid to hop on it – what defines you is not how you look, or how much you earn, or how you dress. It’s that fire within and the belief in yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes, it’s how you react to it that matters. If you have a dream, go for it. Naysayers or haters don’t matter, hold your ground – you will find people who love you for you. 

Anything else you would like us to know?

Yes. I’m happy to announce that my artist persona – General Ling, the general leading people to win their inner wars to be their true authentic self – will be making her solo debut in end October and release a Mandarin hip hop track, Forget it, just listen to yourself. So do watch out for that on Instagram.