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    Engineer or Troubadour? Your Gift

    Developing the gifts into regular practice will strengthen these skills. Bankable skills.

    Well, musicians really. Though they are busking, technically, at the very moment I’m writing this, undoubtedly they are good musicians. Very good. At least from my viewpoint and ears. Looking at how their fingers flew across the fretboard. I could only dream of doing that… Well, and maybe put at least 5000 hours on that fretboard to be a decent guitarist. Mark Knopfler played his guitar until his finger bled as Bryan Adams sang in “Summer of 69”.

    I’m not sure if they had other careers before this stint at the buskers’ corner. One musician I met one time, belting out Jimi Hendrix guitar licks was a practising lawyer in the daytime. On weekend nights, he tagged along with blues/rock bands whose repertoire he was familiar with – typically those 60s to 90s rock and blues numbers. People like Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Beatles, etc.

    Another guy I met was an engineer. From the same generation – my generation. Playing the songs that we grew up with. Yes, people from our generation – read Gen X and prior, had dreams of being many things, other than the so-called “professionals”. Not all, but many. We dreamt of being rockstars, painters, footballers, race car drivers, etc. Anything other than lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers, and the like.


    Most of us though, ended up precisely in those professions. Except for the very few who had balls. But one person I knew, had no balls – a woman. She was my classmate in secondary school. She went through medical school and graduated. On her first day of housemanship, she decided that this life was not for her. She went on into “further studies” learning about preschool education and childcare via the Montessori method. A world that she loved. She had been doing that now for more than 30 years! Happily.

    Another classmate of mine followed his chosen path after schooling in the accounting world as a chartered accountant. He rose in his world as an auditor, financial controller, chief financial officer, and currently as the CEO of a multi-billion conglomerate.

    There were many of us who had followed or switched paths with a few things in between. And still changing.

    Changing Path, Meandering

    I was the guy who took the path of engineering and then switched tracks. Didn’t sway too far though. Went into selling, with an engineering flavor. Remained in oil & gas and engineering. Rather than operating or designing stuff, I sold stuff.

    I meandered between specialties ie services and products within this “realm” and progressed from product & services sales to solution selling to strategic selling to business development. Now I consult and coach salespeople and I help companies plan their sales strategies.

    Though the career is rewarding and satisfying, I still envy those who followed their calling into the art world. I envy them for their talents – musicians, painters, writers, photographers, you name it. Though there were many who made it big, there were many also who struggled and kept on struggling.

    At the time of writing, there’s a friend who was on his last RM49, to feed a family of six. Clients hadn’t paid him his due. This was one reason I took the “professional path” – the salary at the end of the month.

    The Yearning

    Yet there is this yearning to create something beautiful – a song, a photograph… Or at least being able to play a simple song on the guitar (I regard Ed Sheeran as a genius, listen to how “simple” his songs are). I have this “knowing” that I’d be able to compose and capture more “grabbing” street photos.

    But for now, let me explore the creative or artistic part of me in writing. Let it culminate and result into something meaningful, memorable, usable, and commercial too (need to eat ler…).

    Later I’ll explore photography and guitar playing.


    In the professional world, i.e. doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, etc. are littered with “dreaming professionals”. Sorry, architects don’t count as they get to practice the artistic part of their careers. They got to draw, sketch, etc. Damn! You don’t see doctors/surgeons plating drums while performing surgeries, do you? Even if he just operating on a boil or ingrown hair!

    You do however, get engineers banging on drums or strumming their guitars; or lawyers doing those too, while thinking of the solutions to a problem they have. Often too, after banging the drums to let off steam, going to sleep, and waking up fresh in the morning – with a solution!

    Me On Guitar?

    I played the drums naturally. Maybe not as talented as Lars Ulrich (Metallica) or Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) or even Yazid (Search), but I could play as well as Ian Mosley (Marillion) or Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), probably. Definitely nowhere near Neil Peart (Rush). I had the rhythm and could play songs without the “tricky time signature” as they say.

    To play the guitar however, even to the level of most rhythm guitarists, even in the “Pop Yeh Yeh” band, I would need to invest at least 4,200 hours of playing/practising the guitar. Well, that was how much time I invested to be an engineer. A graduate one, without not knowing really to how actually practice or do any work, without being told. I then spent another 4,600 hours learning and practising to become a field engineer – not supervised on the job. Independent practising engineer – 8,800 hours. Not far off from what Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book “Outlier”. I could add another 1,400 hours I spent as a plant engineer (a year). That brings the total hours to 10,200 hours.

    As a salesperson, to reach the proficiency and mastery that I have now took me 21,600 hours – about twenty years of almost daily practice.

    These were the hours I took to become really proficient in my profession. Professions I had to learn to be in one. To call myself an engineer and to call myself a salesman. 10,000 hours as a proficient engineer and 20,000 hours as a proficient salesman. No doubt that the knowledge I amassed as an engineer, carried forward into my career as a salesman.

    Now, back to the guitar… I know I am not a “natural” at it like I am on the drums. Looking at my engineering career, it took me at least 2,500 hours to become an engineer or five years – full-time. Thus, I’d estimate that if I were to do it part-time (learning & playing the guitar), at a fifth of the time I’d invested to become an engineer, that’d take me twenty-five years from now! I’d be 78 by then!

    The Gift

    Thus, drawing from my lessons with drumming, I’d go with something that I already have in me. At this point, I know I am done with engineering and I’m decent with selling. What I am probably “gifted” is writing. Something that I’d practice more and hone my skills. Something that I’d pick up easier and faster. A gift from God.

    Another “gift” is probably photography. I find this easier to pick up too.

    I believe that youngsters need to explore their gifts at an early age. Without the parents bothering them, just guide them along. Developing the gifts into regular practice will strengthen these skills. Bankable skills.

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    Faizal was an engineer and a salesman. Having been “technical” in the last quarter, in this third quarter of his life, he started to explore his right brain – the world of writing. He writes and posts regularly his “shorts” (observations of Malaysiana) on Facebook and about his sales or business adventure on LinkedIn. Faizal is also a columnist on the portals Marketing In Asia on the topics of business, sales and productivity. Faizal is also an entrepreneur with startups in the agriculture and renewable energy industries.

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