VICKY Loh (not her real name) is in a dilemma. She is torn between following her passion for the performing arts and fulfilling her parents' wish.
"I'm really keen on being a performer but my parents expect me to find a stable job. I don't know if I should follow my dream or make my parents happy," says Loh, an undergraduate at a local public university.
At a loss what to do next, she turned to the recent Graduan Aspire 2012, a career and postgraduate fair held in Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, for answers.
Graduan Aspire is organised annually since two years ago by Biz Connexion, which has been producing the Graduan and PostGraduan guidebooks and website since 1995, and holding career fairs overseas for Malaysian students since 2005.
The highlight of the recent networking fair was a two-hour Aspire 300 Conference, in which industry leaders from various fields spoke candidly about their professional journeys and the realities of the working world to an audience comprised of 300 undergraduates.
Panel members FlyFM radio deejay Hunny Madu, actor Adi Putra, singer-songwriter Reza Salleh and television host Daphne Iking led a lively talk on the ups and downs of breaking into showbiz in the session titled Do What You Love and You Will Never Work A Day.
Loh was one of the first participants to ask the four speakers for advice on her conundrum.
The consensus among the panel members is that pursuing your calling starts with knowing what makes you tick.
Hunny, Reza and Iking knew that they belong in the entertainment scene as they had gravitated towards the arts since young.
"In school, I was game for any extra-curricular activities -- be it nasyid, poetry recitation or public speaking. These helped me find my passion and shape my personality," says Hunny, a self-professed class clown.
Iking, on the other hand, described herself as a "a little terror" and prankster who had the gift of the gab.
"I was a talkative child and my Literature in English teacher suggested that I go into Journalism or Broadcasting if that was what interested me. I decided to study Mass Communication in Universiti Sains Malaysia after school," she says.
The stars stuck to their guns once they had identified their vocation.
Reza, for instance, continued playing music even after his friends had stopped.
"I played the guitar at the student lounge throughout university. My lecturer would pass by, laugh and throw 20 cents at me. Eventually I started writing songs."
Both Hunny and Iking volunteered to enter the Arts stream after their Penilaian Menengah Rendah examination despite parental pressure to enter the Science classes.
"My father didn't understand my decision initially but he finally relented when he saw how determined I was to be in the creative industry," says Hunny.
Iking revealed that her decision to pursue Mass Communication led to a three-year disagreement with her father, who had wanted his daughter to study medicine in the United Kingdom.
"I ended up funding my own studies. (We) are okay now. I have done my Master's degree and hopefully I can do my doctorate next so that I can add the title doctor to my name," jokes the former broadcast journalist, who eventually became a TV anchor and producer.
Hunny, who strongly believes that "everyone needs to start somewhere", urged young people to follow their ambitions and grab any opportunity to gain experience and hone their skills.
"Go out there and audition. You don't want to be 50 and regretting your decision to miss an audition," says the mother-to-be, who got her lucky break when she started hosting for Astro Hitz.TV.
However, Hunny cautioned that living your dream might not bring you the happiness that you desire.
Adi Putra and Reza agreed.
"Happiness and wealth are two separate things," says Adi.
"It is important to go back to your personal idea of what happiness is," says Reza.
You may need to adjust your expectation in order to reconcile chasing after your ambition with earning a steady pay cheque.
"You might not be able to afford material things as a struggling musician. But you can be happy with a lot less," adds Reza.
Judging by his own experience, it may take years before you can establish yourself in the art scene.
"I have been organising music shows every month for the past six years. It does not earn me much money at all but I do it out of interest. Only now do people recognise me for my talent."
The stars advised students such as Vicky Loh to get a job that they can fall back on while they make a name for themselves as a performer.
"Find a career within the industry that you want to penetrate such as working behind the scenes," says Reza.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you stand out from the crowd, says Adi.
"If you are the only one who can play the note A minor in the sea of people who can only play D minor, you are rare. I like to go against the grain as an actor by taking on different roles. When you are exceptional, you are in demand," he adds.
Although making ends meet in showbiz is still a challenge in Malaysia, the speakers have not grown disillusioned by the difficulties they face.
As Reza puts it: "I really believe in my music and wanted to give it a chance. On top of that, I realise that I am not getting any younger so I have to do it NOW. Besides, if I were to do something boring in a cubicle, I might as well do it when I am older."