When Sasi Kumar wanted to take up a new course called Outdoor Adventure Learning, his friends and family all tried to stop him.
They argued that the course by Republic Polytechnic had no prospects for graduates and he was much better off studying engineering, which could guarantee him a good job.
“That was the biggest decision I had to make because Outdoor Adventure Learning was a new course at that time. Nobody knew anything about it. So everybody that I asked told me not to take it up,” he said.
But almost 10 years later, he has proven them wrong.
At 28, he is the boss of a new start-up company, managing five staff and making decisions on everything from the logo, the office location and even the budget.
The reason for his success is a cliché – follow your passion.
“Because when you talk about passion, it’s not work anymore. You can actually go for hours without realising how time has passed. You are enjoying yourself, you see things happening and you get excited,” he said.
He has always preferred to do things he is keen on rather than those which he had no interest in.
As a student in Xingnan Primary, he preferred to learn to play the trombone for the school band than scoring As in his tests.
And when he was in Pioneer Secondary School, he found sports and picked up rugby, playing for the school team for five years.
“I always had something to do. I knew that studies wasn’t my passion. So, I took up all these things because they were interesting. Doing stuff – that was the most interesting part for me,” he said.
So when he learnt there was an Outdoor Adventure Learning course that could build a career in adventure, it was impossible not to sign up.
And even though everyone tried to dissuade him, he was convinced it was the right decision. He asked his mother for her blessings.
“She told me to just go for it.”
Not just fun and games
For a course named Outdoor Adventure Learning, not all of it was fun and games.
There were plenty of outdoor camps and adventure themed modules for the students, but they were also drilled in maths, the study of human psychology and methods of effective communication.
The blend of theory and practice kept Sasi hooked on his studies for the first time in his life. But deep down, he continued to nurse a fear: Will there be a job for him after he graduates?
“Because, you know, it’s such a specific diploma that when I go out, I cannot just go and do anything that I want to do,” he said.
The answer came in the final year of his course, when he did an internship at a company called Focus Adventure, which does adventure-themed training for both adults and children.
Focus offered him a permanent job after the internship, which he immediately accepted. He had decided that organising camps and training programmes was what he wanted to do.
“The internship was a game-changer. I realised that there are opportunities out there for you to be able to make it (his passion for the outdoors) a full-time job,” he said.
Not just passion
As a facilitator, the amount of preparation that goes into planning a course or a programme is immense.
He has to ensure that the participants have a good time while learning something about themselves by putting them through mental and physical challenges.
Sometimes, the challenge is a simple one that can be done in an air-conditioned office. For instance, he gets participants to express themselves by building Lego structures.
Often, however, Sasi has to put himself and the participants in stressful real-life situations, which is when his adrenaline starts pumping.
Last year, he was the captain of a four-day sailing expedition which had 20 people on two boats sailing from Singapore to Port Dickson in Malaysia.
It was supposed to be a simple excursion aimed at teaching youths aged between 18 and 24 the importance of teamwork and self-reliance.
But after two relatively uneventful nights, the winds of change blew.
In the middle of the third night out at sea, Sasi woke up after a short nap to find that the second boat that was sailing beside him was missing.
While he tried to call the other boat, the winds started to pick up, from 10 knots an hour to 35 knots an hour – or about 60km per hour. It brought in waves about 4 metres high, causing the boat the keel to one side.
As Sasi and his charges scrambled to the other end to keep the boat stable, the rope holding the sail snapped, causing the boom to swing wildly from side to side.
Everyone yelled out in horror and even Sasi hesitated for a moment.
But his training quickly kicked in. Shouting above the panicked voices, he told his crew to keep their heads low, avoid the swinging boom and remember what they had learnt during their training before the trip.
Recovering from their initial shock, some of the youths started to pull together and discussed solutions. They decided to create a makeshift pulley system to hold the boom in one place while the others secured it to the mast with rope.
And when the sun rose, Sasi located the companion boat and found them almost an hour behind. The boat’s engine had ceased operating, largely because of a problem with the valve that controlled the flow of fuel.
“Actually both myself and my colleague on the other boat were panicking. But you cannot show it. We were all cool about it and making jokes and stuff,” he said, with a grin.
It is heart-pumping moments like this that keeps the job interesting and challenging for him.
But interest and passion are not enough; moving up the career ladder also constantly required him to upgrade his skills.
Over the course of his short six-year career, he has picked up nine different types of qualifications from becoming a Lego Serious Play Instructor to a DISC Behavourial Consultant, which allows him to carry out psychological tests.
“Since we are selling a service and not a product that they can see, we need to be accredited in different fields to make sure they trust us,” he said.
Apart from his diploma in Outdoor Adventure and Learning, he also holds an Advanced Diploma in Management and is pursuing a degree in business to prepare for the next stage in his career - building a company from scratch.
The idea of using sea sports in corporate training was something that Sasi had brought into Focus. Called SeaOps, the unit was started with just two sailboats and four dragonboats.
It has since grown to four speedboats, two yachts, two sailboats and 16 dragonboats – assets which have spun off into a new company called P1 Powerboats.
Asked if he would do anything differently if he had the chance to restart his life again, Sasi shook his head and said he has no regrets.
“When I look at people of my age at this moment, the position they are in right now, and the position I am in right now, I can safely say that I’ve made the right choice in my life, to be able to do what I am doing right now,” he said.