More than just a yoga teacher, parkour enthusiast or data analyst. The Enso Studio co-founder talks about his lived experience trying to attain the Singaporean dream.
“I gave myself a shot in the corporate world. I studied Business Analytics at a local university. It was a three-year degree, but I took two extra semesters for six month-long internships. I wanted to know for sure if this was the life I wanted.
But I had to work overtime almost everyday. I was dealing with global clients, taking calls at strange hours, and rushing out decks that nobody was going to see at the end of the day. I figured out very early on that this corporate life was not for me.
What many people don’t know is that while I was in uni, I was also teaching parkour in the evenings, and the moment I graduated, I registered for yoga classes. I wanted to explore what this discipline had to offer, while figuring out what it’d be like to be a yoga teacher.
To be spiritual about it, if you are fortunate enough to receive signs from the universe, it’ll do you good to act upon them. I did, and went down a path that saw me teaching yoga for three years.
I enjoy teaching as well as playing to my strengths. If I could do something that I enjoyed and was good at, why not? It was the perfect fit: this career allowed me a lifestyle my peers could never dream of. The money was decent, and the time freedom was excellent.
Teaching fulfilled me in ways slide decks and dashboards could never. My journey began at a boutique studio where I completed my Teacher Training and eventually had the privilege to be a part of the teaching team.
But when COVID-19 hit Singapore, the smaller yoga studios suffered. Yoga studios are businesses after all, and yoga was deemed non-essential during the circuit breaker. We were facing reductions in both the number of classes and our pay.
At the time, I was teaching at four studios concurrently, but it still was not sustainable. I was offered the opportunity to move to a more established studio, and I accepted the role, largely for financial reasons, though at the expense of forgoing my current engagements.
As a relatively new teacher stepping into a more renowned yoga studio, I faced a large amount of pressure to perform, most of which admittedly, was self-imposed. Coupling that with the volume of classes I had to teach, I was due for a burnout sooner or later.
From the moment I left uni, my father was not happy with my career choices. ‘How much longer are you going to do this?’ Those were his exact words. I eventually left the studio after two years, and decided to take a short break to figure out my next step in life.
At the start of this year, while I was still deciding if I should pursue teaching as my path, a friend from uni approached me to set up an Interior Design company. While I had no experience in that field, he came to me to handle the company’s finances and the system’s backend.
That conversation translated to the birth of Enso Studio, whose namesake has roots in the online persona I created for teaching yoga and parkour. While the bulk of our clients are HDB and condo owners, we do execute projects in the commercial space as well.
Embarking on this venture, many of my students and peers probably saw a very different side to me. Breaking into this field added a distinct layer to the mental model most people know me for, which is yoga and parkour.
In fact, even my business partners do not have a background in interior design. The friend that approached me is a history major. Like me, he figured out early on that his prospects after university were not aligned with what he wanted in life.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt when I look back upon my journey, it’s to let go of certain identities that you’ve built for yourself. For the longest time, people only saw me as that parkour or yoga guy, even though they don’t feature as heavily in my life now.
When I was teaching parkour at the start, I genuinely enjoyed it. Over the years, I drifted from the discipline, but I kept at it because parkour was tethered to who I was as a person. It was my thing, and what everyone knew me for, so it was tough to let go.
When you meet someone for the first time, you always get asked what you do for work. You might reply saying you’re a consultant or an accountant, and by doing so, you automatically put yourself in a box. That’s just very limiting to me, and it took me a while to break out of it.
My business partners and I, we always talk about the Singaporean dream, and we always joke about how we ‘failed the system’. The truth is, we did try the conventional Singaporean path. We went to school, graduated from local universities and even held corporate jobs.
The thing about the system is that it creates another kind of pandemic, that is, a fear of failure. Ask anyone you know who is self-employed, or has tried starting a business, and you will definitely hear that accumulating failures is inevitable and critical before attaining any measure of success.
We desperately hold on to identities we have created in our heads, or ones that society has imposed on us. But who are you beyond that? Who are you when the chips are down and your back is against the wall? I’m sure there’s a lot more to who you are, and all you have to do is let yourself explore.” – Raphael
Interview by: Arman Shah