Before I went for the interview on BFM I was sent a list of questions. I got pretty excited about it because it was a story I really want to share with everyone. During the interview, I was only asked a handful of the questions and I feel like there was so much more I wanted to tell. So I’ve decided to put it here! :) Hope it doesn’t bore any of you!
From Business to Fitness
While we were growing up, many of us were constantly told to find and settle for a good and secure job, one that will help us earn the dough and make ends meet.
However, the emerging generation is no longer bound by the desire to follow a traditional career path. Instead of just pursuing money, young people today are ready to risk it all for their passion. Karen Siah is one such person who has chosen to go on a less-travelled path.
- Most of us, while we were growing up, were encouraged to pursue a safer, more traditional career path. Was it the same for you?
Yup, actually Mum and Dad were a bit skeptical about me wanting to work in the fitness industry full time. Mum was all “Are you sure this is what you want? Why don’t you do something more marketable?”
- When did you realize that you loved fitness?
When I realised I get bored easily. I couldn’t sit still. I’ve always been an active kid, coming from a very active family. Dad especially is into running, playing badminton, and mum does a lot of jogging to keep fit as well. So from a very young age Mum and Dad sent me to swim lessons, and I was in Tumble Tots as a toddler because my parents couldn’t contain my energy, and when I was 10, Mum sent me for rhythmic gymnastics.
- Why fitness?
I was about 15 when I won a free day pass to Fitness First and I joined in one of those classes, Body Jam I think it was, and the moment the music started and the instructor started bouncing around, I fell in love. I loved the energy, the spirit, the overall enthusiasm that he had, and I knew that I wanted his job. I wanted to be in high energy all the time so I never have to get bored again.
- How did your parents react to your desire to go into the fitness industry?
Not surprised. But they had their reservations, which I could tell that they kept to themselves so as not to discourage or demotivate me, but at the same time they really wanted me to be very sure of my decisions.
- But you did not go for it immediately. Instead, you went overseas to pursue a course in business. Why?
Because mum said do something more “Marketable” so I thought what’s more “Marketable” than a course in Business Marketing? So I did a BCom. I was doing it more for my parents, and I know that the moment I finished that course, I was going to do what I wanted to do anyway.
- You spent years completing the course and graduated with Bachelors in Commerce. Why not work in that line at least for a short time to make it worthwhile?
I worked for a Youth company called Youth Malaysia for a brief while, and we were handling a huge event at that time. Too much stress. A great experience, taught me a lot, but too much of supervisors breathing down my neck, too many hours sitting at a desk, working late nights, eating unhealthy fast food, too many deadlines. I think I lasted 6 weeks. That was it. Then I quit that job and went to work for a fitness centre, while I apply for a course in Sport Science.
- Tell us more about your journey after that – how did you end up becoming a fitness coach?
Already had my mind on studying Sport Science, just didn’t know where. I didn’t want to do a short certification, I wanted to go all the way, do it properly. So I wasn’t too keen on just a Personal Trainer cert, I wanted a degree, because I selfishly wanted this qualification to be just as important as my Commerce degree, if not more. So then I met a friend of a friend, who was studying Sport Science in Auckland University and she told me all about it and I thought PERFECT! It’s far away from home, so I can get my overseas experience, it’s a full-fledged degree from a reputable uni, and it’s a country that not many of us have ventured to (which had a lot of weight to my decision actually) I’m going! And I have to say that I have the greatest family because even in their doubt my parents and brother forked out a lot of money to put me through this degree in New Zealand and I cannot thank them enough for it. Studied 3 years, graduated on the happiest day of my life, came home and worked for Rebel which was an outdoor group exercise company. I joined Rebel as a participant just before my final year in uni during my summer break back home, and absolutely loved it. So I told them I want to be a trainer, and said I’ll be graduating in a year’s time, they said you got the job, we’ll be waiting for you. And they did! I came back exactly a year ago and have been working with them since. And through them I was referred to other segments of the fitness industry, I was recommended to people who wanted personal training, to doing aerobics classes, to teaching in a private secondary school as a Fitness Teacher. A few months ago I also joined Wenisa and her team at Activ Studio as a personal trainer. And here I am.
- What was the fitness scene in Malaysia like when you first ventured into it?
Really blooming. I think my timing couldn’t have been any better, because 3 years ago, it was still pretty quiet, people only related fitness to the commercial gyms, thats all. But now there are so many avenues for people to get a good work out, get inspired, get motivated, lots of toys to play lots of training styles. I think I’m really lucky to be coming in at this time.
- What kept you going?
Passion. Dreams. I want to be successful. I don’t know if I’m getting a bit ahead of myself but I want to make a name for myself in the country.
- What’s the greatest satisfaction in your job now?
Of course when I see the change in people’s lives. When I can convert non-believers into believers of exercise.
- We continue to hear phrases like “pursue your passion” and “follow your dreams” today. But the truth is, not everybody is able to achieve their dreams. Were you always 100 percent sure that your dreams are attainable?
I’m a bit of a dreamer so yes I think I was 100% sure. And because I tend to talk about my dreams to a lot of people, that I think I better make them come true now because I’m accountable for it.
- Some people believe that when you have your dream job, you should be happy 24/7. Was that true for you?
You do get temporary frustrations and disappointment, but on the whole, yes I think I’m happy most of the time. Till my friends think I can’t be working because I don’t look stressed up at all.
- Do you think it’s important to start going after your dreams young, before family and other commitments come in?
It will be a lot easier because you’re only accountable for yourself. But I also firmly believe that it’s never too late for anyone. I think as long as you’ve still got life to live you can just start. In fact I urge everyone to START. Just do it. It’ll make the whole world a much happier place in my humble opinion.
- What’s your final advice to those who are just starting out?
Take time to think about what you want in life. Decide on it. And then just start. Most of the time people don’t take the time to think about what they truly want, and so they constantly find themselves in a limbo not knowing what exactly they’re working towards. But once they can decide on what it is they want, I think working towards that becomes a lot more meaningful. Oh and be adamant. I know that in some families it may be harder to break tradition, but I truly think that if there is something you really want for yourself, and you can prove that you’re willing to put in the effort for it, your parents will see what you see sooner or later.