Goodbye full time, Hello freelance

Though I am not given to soppy, soul-searching posts, I suppose there are times when life cries out for them. Up till a year ago, I was fairly certain I was going to spend the majority of my working life at The Economist Group, and now I find myself on the verge of leaving my job for the unpredictable world of freelancing. Easter Sunday is my last day.


Everybody has quibbles about their job; and life is no different here. Yet I think we have it better than most. Laissez faire culture; good work-life balance; stimulating environment for a writer; flat corporate structure; and lots of interesting work. (See my other post, “Our work at The Economist Group”.)

And yet despite all that I have decided to leave. The reason, quite simply, is that after seven years with the firm–and almost nine since I cycled around Malaysia for 30 days on RM10/day–I believe that it is time for my next long crazy book project.

This was not an easy decision. I’ve gone through the same thought processes that I imagine lots of fellow artists or freelancers must. Can I make it on my own? How am I going to earn a living? Will Singaporeans still talk to me without a recognised brand on my name card?

Amidst this uncertainty I received lots of great advice from colleagues and mentors around the world. Almost all of them told me the same thing: “Go! Do this while you are young, you may not get another chance.” And, perhaps to assuage my career concerns, “You’ve got seven years under your belt; you can always find another job.”

And so I have made the leap. I feel nervous, scared, excited and liberated, all at the same time. It hasn’t quite sunk in that I am now on my own, i.e. gainfully unemployed.

In the immediate future, I will be going on a book tour in the US. From Apr 8th to 16th I’ll be speaking in the Bay Area, DC, Cambridge, New York and New Haven. For more details, click here.

Then, from May to December this year, I plan to travel from South India to North China, as part of research for a book about the two countries. For more details, click here.  After I return to Singapore next year, I will start working on the book proper. At that stage, I may or may not also decide to return to full-time work…not too bothered about that at the present moment.

For now, all I really want to say is thank you for reading and sharing and commenting on my writing over the years. You’ve certainly helped me make this leap.

I wanted to leave you with a rather quaint, cherished tradition here at The Economist Group. Whenever somebody leaves after having spent a few years at the firm, it is customary for the line manager to prepare a special spoof cover of The Economist. The manager asks the departing person’s colleagues for cover and fake story ideas. Essentially, it is one last chance for everybody in the firm to semi-officially take the piss, usually in our dry British style.

This is what they gave me a few days ago:


I’ll explain all the jokes because they may not be apparent.

Cover image:

I have a rather embarrassing, well-deserved reputation for eating lots of chilli late at night and then suffering the next morning on the potty. For all our sakes, enuff said.

You will also see a stream of reports flowing from the potty, to the bottom left. That is the cover of the first ever research report I edited: a piece on customer service in Asia, commissioned by DHL. I suppose there are two possible angles here for the crack. First, the implication that my work is rather crappy. Second, the idea that churning out research reports may, after a while, seem like diarrhoea.

Finally, the “bubble” is the most obvious jack, which is that after The Economist Group, my literary career will inevitably be on a downward trajectory.

Fake stories:

“Pyjama pioneer set new model for bedroom telecommuting”

Over the past few years, I have worked 2-3 days of the week at home, mostly because the rest of my editorial team is based in Hong Kong, i.e. I’m the only one in SG. So I’m one of those who answers calls in pyjamas. The grammatical mistake (“set”) could be one final test of my editing skills. Or perhaps an honest mistake.

“Ext. 614 now answered by human”

Partly related to the above, I am notorious for missing calls (unless scheduled). I am rarely at my desk; and my mobile phone is always on silent, much to my wife’s irritation. I do, however, reply quickly to e-mails and SMS (or perhaps that’s just my way of consoling myself…)

“Singapore pork belly futures plummet”

I love all foods, but sioh bak, kong bak, and all those other lovely baks rank right up there. I’ve gotten several of my ang moh colleagues hooked on the kong bak at Beng Hiang Restaurant, Amoy St, which is three minutes from our office.

“One mana left behind”

A reference to me leaving Sumana Rajarethnam, my best friend and the person who I cycled around Malaysia with, behind at the company. He’s been actively getting others to apply for my vacant position—spurred on by a handsome referral bonus—so I don’t think he’ll be shedding too many tears lah…but of course, I think we’re both quite sad that our two-year stint as best friends—colleagues is now over.

That’s about it. Thanks again for reading and, well, let’s see what the literary future holds…I’m getting ready for the ride.

11 thoughts on “Goodbye full time, Hello freelance

  1. If you wrote for the economist…probably what you write in future will be an improvement.

  2. I love what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever work and reporting!

    Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve included you guys to blogroll.

  3. Dear Sir,

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  4. Hi, I took the plunge 2 yrs ago and am jowls a private tutor, u are in a much better position than me to leave your co…. u definitely have no prob doing freelance

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