Image: Lynette Seow, Artwork: Jane Tan

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.

Today’s confession comes from Lynette Seow, the co-founder of Safe Space, who made the difficult choice of giving up her stable job and high-paying salary at a large global consulting firm to work on a business that she truly believed in. Safe Space is a startup that aims to democratise access to mental health services and fulfils a much-needed gap in the Singapore healthcare system.

While growing a startup is already an arduous task for any individual, let alone one with such a massive mission statement, Lynette’s current journey is even more challenging than you might think. On top of working full-time on Safe Space, Lynette is also pursuing her master’s in business administration at a top university in the United States. Just imagine going for a full day of rigorous classes in entrepreneurial management and financial modelling before coming back to your apartment to start work at 8pm and working a full day through to 3 or 4am in the morning. And then doing it all again the next day. 

Needless to say, it’s a tough life. But for Lynette, it is all worth it. When speaking to her, you can feel her incredible passion and enthusiasm for her work, which she describes as being ‘soul-fulfilling’.

This is her career confession.

Name: Lynette Seow
Highest Education: Master of Technology, Master of Business Administration (in progress)
Job Title & Industry: Co-founder/COO of Safe Space, Medical Technology
Years of Work Experience: 7 years
Salary: $3,000 – $5,000

Tell me a little bit about your life and how you grew up.

I grew up in an environment where my parents emphasized finding a job I love. Their rationale was that if you love what you’re doing, you’re more likely to excel at it and also enjoy something that you’re going to be spending a significant amount of your life doing. While we were financially comfortable, we were very frugal, especially with daily expenses. I was also interested in business and investing from a young age, so whatever money I made from giving tuition or other side hustles went into a separate bank account that I used for savings and investments.

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

I have my DREAM job. I always knew I wanted to get into entrepreneurship but decided to go into tech consulting at an MNC right after graduation to get some corporate experience. I’m very passionate about mental health as a cause and am very grateful that I get to work in this space every day, making real change and helping people get access to quality mental healthcare. In my current position, I also love the opportunity to build a team and a business that aligns with my values and to be able to influence key decisions every day.

How did you come to co-found Safe Space?

I actually started out as a volunteer. I reached a point in my career where I was ready to explore startups, and I had also figured out that mental health was the industry that I wanted to be in. So I reached out to my now co-founder in mid-2020 who had launched Safe Space and said “Here’s my CV. I have some time on my hands now and would be happy to volunteer if you think I’ve got any relevant skills.” Apparently, I did, so I became a product volunteer. We worked so well together and have such complementary skills that after 6 months, she asked me to be her co-founder and it was an easy ‘yes’ for me.

I’m very passionate about mental health as a cause and am very grateful that I get to work in this space every day, making real change and helping people get access to quality mental healthcare.

Is this the career path that you envisioned for yourself, or do you wish you were doing something else?

It’s better than I envisioned. I’d imagined my career going in a similar direction, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the process and the people so much. My previous jobs had always been intellectually stimulating, but now it’s also soul-satisfying. Seeing testimonials from clients that we’ve been able to help and knowing that the work we do has real impact is very fulfilling.

Would you say that your life is primarily career-oriented?

Yes. Building a career was always something I was interested in and it is something I prioritize spending time on. I’ve always enjoyed jobs that I’ve done, and looked for learning opportunities throughout. However, I haven’t really taken an ‘outcome-based’ approach throughout my career, for example in the subjects I studied or roles I took up. It’s always been ‘Do I find it interesting?’ and ‘Can I learn things that I would like to learn from this role?’

How is your work going now? Would you change anything about it?

I love it! It’s been an incredible journey and I continue to find it exciting every day. It’s tough, for sure, and you’re constantly navigating ambiguous situations with imperfect information, but that’s part of the fun for me. One challenge now is that I’m also studying, so time zone differences and the physical distance mean that I don’t get to spend as much time with my team as I’d like, but we try our best and I’ve still been able to build a good rapport with the team.

What are some of your long-term plans?

I think there’s so much more than can be done with Safe Space. I’m looking forward to taking it to new heights and expanding the business. In the long term, if I had to do something else, it will probably be to start another business with my co-founder. I don’t think we can go back to corporate life. 

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

Honestly, my salary is at its lowest since I started working full-time. I have a mortgage so I did have to dip more into my savings than I’d have liked and I did have some anxiety and insomnia around financial concerns. Talking with my partner to come up with a plan around making certain lifestyle choices and focusing on the potential long-term upside of entrepreneurship has helped to mitigate that.

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

I think there is internal pressure to have a ‘successful career’ because I’ve not envisioned otherwise and my career is a priority for me. But I would define ‘success’ to me as 1) enjoying what I do; 2) being able to contribute to the company; 3) making a real impact on people’s lives, and 4) doing it in a financially sustainable way. There has been a bit of pressure from my family about giving up a decent paycheck for the uncertainty of startup life, but it doesn’t get to me. Ultimately, I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I just want to do the best that I can in my role. 

I have my DREAM job. My previous jobs had always been intellectually stimulating, but now it’s also soul-satisfying.

Do you feel envious of other people, or compare your career with other people?

Not at all. I rarely meet people who talk about their work as enthusiastically as me, and more often than not, they’re complaining about their jobs even if they would be considered very successful by traditional societal standards. I love meeting people who love their work, and it’s very energizing to speak with them. One person’s ‘success’ doesn’t take anything away from your own ‘success’, so if there’s any kind of comparison, it’s mainly to learn things that I can apply to my own journey. I also recognize it’s not easy to find something you’re passionate about and also be able to make it work financially, so I’m just grateful and hope others can find that too (if that’s what they want).

Has your career impacted your relationships with other people?

For sure, work takes up a lot of time for me, so it has impacted the time that I can spend interacting with friends and family, or even meeting new people. I’m very appreciative that for the most part, the people I value recognize how important work is to me and understand my time constraints. So I do wish I had more time to spend with people outside work, but whenever I do, I’m also conscious to be fully present to make the best use of the time together.

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

I would tell my younger self that “you’re in for a wild ride and it’s going to be tough, but fun and madly rewarding.” At one point, I did feel a bit lost in my career, but then serendipity kicked in and it’s been amazing ever since. Regardless of how things pan out in the future, I would tell my future self “be proud of the decisions you’ve made.”

Anything else you would like us to know?

Being conscious of your own mental health and that of the people around you is something I only learned later in my career, but it’s made such a big difference in how I interact with people because I’m less worried about what they think of me and I can be more authentic and genuine with them, which is often reciprocated.