Why I left Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) - 22nd May 2017

"Find a job that you like, and you won't work a single day of your life"
…or so I think it was.
1. The Environment
Everyday I wake up to find myself in this secluded island off the main coast of Singapore while most of my friends are enjoying themselves in the busy city.
Our usual neighbors are the occasional wild boar, sea otter, monitor lizard and horn bills, none of which you could strike a long conversation with. Thankfully, the influx of participants each week does keep us distracted. They come in various shapes, sizes and personalities, either as students groups, uniform groups, groups with special needs or adult groups.
2. The Participants
We have to look after their safety for a duration that ranges from one day to 21 days at times. (Sometimes I wonder how can I take care of 16 participants but fail to take care of myself). Those are the people who will in the middle of the night look for us because they are home sick. We have to be their brother, sister, father, mother, friend, counselor and mentor all at the same time; nobody told me that I had to be that flexible in this job. Sometimes, they will wake you up for other reasons. I had a participant who woke me up from my hammock at 3am to inform me that our safety boat was drifting away when it was actually just shifting based on the shifting tide. I wanted to make him shift right to left the whole night.

If the night was peaceful (actually even if it was not), you will wake up and either bring the participants trekking in the jungle, sailing on our big sailboat, kayaking through the mangroves or in the sea. Our office changes every time and its challenging if we want something to be constant like a nice cubicle. Instead, we will have the jungles or the sea as office. I guess we should just be happy with having such a big open space as office and a variety of options for our daily toileting.
The participants affect us emotionally as well. Those are the people with whom we will spend the day from 5 55 am to 11pm. As challenging as it may be, we do share stories, laughter and tears with them as they go through this program. There is so much emotion and it's hard when they leave us at the end of the course with love messages. It's an ending for them but it's a fresh new beginning for us as we take the next group, couple of days later.
3. Training Days
On days that we do not take in participants, we will have training days. We will sometimes deliberately capsize our big sailboat just to upright it again. This is to ensure that our skills are current should the situation call for it. It's a job where you need to be constantly on your toe. Once, they planted some of our colleagues in the middle of the jungle for the rest of us to find. As fun as it might sound, I didn't know how hard hide and seek could be. Despite wanting to leave some of our colleagues in the jungle for good, we had to find them.
4. The Colleagues
Talking about colleagues, those are the people who, when you finally have some rest time away from the participants, will call you for a game, swim or supper. How can you have a good rest with such people around? Most of them will volunteer to do extra work that sometimes you don't even need to do your laundry or fold your clothes. How can we become more independent with such colleagues around?

They will even cover your morning duties should you oversleep and they will happily do so as they can tell your participants that it's your birthday when it's not. They will also bring you warm food and drink should you be stuck outside in a storm or order in special food on long days. We would never be able to toughen ourselves up because of that. As if, spending time together in the little island is not enough, every year we will have a one to two weeks long staff expedition on a challenging mountains or sailing/kayaking in challenging waters out of Singapore. That's really not fair because in the end, with all that interaction, you end up with no colleagues at all; they have all become your friends

Those are the people who make the job exciting. They will be the one challenging you in every way possible, be it physically or mentally. Sometimes, they can be challenging as well. I have grown so much just by interacting with them- grown both sideways and on a personal level. They are also the best resources to brainstorm great ideas to make the participants' journey more impactful.
5. The Fulfillment, the Philosophy
Talking about impactful work, this is a job where you get to impact life. The Outward Bound mission aims to help people discover and develop their potential to care for themselves, others, and the world around them through challenging experiences in unfamiliar settings. Our bulk of participants are 15 years of age, an age where they go through a lot of personal and social struggles. It is fulfilling to see how every week, our program makes them become more confident individuals ready to embrace challenges.
6. Behind the scene
But on a more serious note, despite all the fun and fulfillment that the job carries, it does take a toll on us. We spend very long hours with the participants (around 110 days a year). We have little rest and it's the passion of making a difference that drives us. We do make mistakes at times, as the same process doesn't yield the same result on all participants. How often have we wished that we could help our participants more and it linger on us that there is more that we could do. We are also busy up keeping all our logistics and safety items that we have minimum down time. We spend very little time with our friends and families that it becomes scary at times.
7. What's next
I needed a break from all that to do my own things and pursue further study. OBS and NYC (National Youth Council) was kind enough to offer me a 1.5 years no pay leave. I was fortunate to get admission at Oxford Said business school for a one year MBA starting in September 2017. Until then, I am on a four months break to celebrate my 30th birthday in style this year by going for long outdoor pursuits.

On a side note, if you are thinking of joining OBS as an instructor, you can apply now: It's not a job, it's a lifestyle.

2021 Updates:
There has been quite a few of you who have been reaching out to me to ask more about the job. I have created a new post here that addresses all the questions I have been receiving. I hope that helps. Click here.

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