In our Dare to Dream series, we invite 12 inspiring individuals who have courageously stepped out of their comfort zones to dream about a future they can truly call their own.
There’s a famous saying that goes, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. Erwin Shah Ismail is a testament to that. Knowing from a young age that he’s wanted to pursue a career in acting, the freelance actor and performer dreams of performing until he can “no longer lift a muscle”.
Given his job as a freelance creative and thanks to an early lesson from his father on the value of prudence, concepts like budgeting and staying debt free are not new to him. Although he doesn’t believe in regretting choices he has made, he does wish he had invested in Bitcoins ten years ago.
In this interview, we talk to Erwin about what his dream future looks like, his relationship with money, and the positive habits that have served him well.
How did you wind up doing what you are doing today?
From a very young age, I loved performing in front of an audience. In fact, I have a vivid memory of performing animal sounds when I was just four. Acting wasn’t just something I found fun, it was something that was effortless for me.
In secondary school, I had the opportunity to play a character in an exercise called “From Page to Stage”. I played Ralph from Lord of the Flies. Even though it was just one scene, that was more than enough to get me hooked. I never knew there was a career in acting. I thought it was a side job or something people did for fun. Thankfully, my dad told me I could do whatever I wanted as long as I was good at it so I enrolled in a bachelor’s programme in acting at LASALLE College of the Arts.
No turning back, best decision ever! I’ve spent the past ten years as a stage and screen actor, singer, voice artist, host, as well as stuntman. To put that into context, that’s about 50 professional theatre productions and 20 different TV shows. Just last year, I also started teaching and directing back at my alma mater.
Meet actor and performer Erwin Shah
Is there any setback that you’ve learned from, that has led you to where you are today?
First of all, I choose not to understand the word setback. It actually means nothing to me. Fun fact (my word of choice): I actually studied Diploma in Computer Network & Technology at Singapore Polytechnic before NS. Do I apply that today? Not one bit.
However, it was during my internship then with a Microsoft-based company that I was engaged as a support technician for the first month. My manager roped me into training clients on how to use Microsoft Outlook. Let’s just say, I was an extroverted and vocal individual. Again, that role and job scope training clients gave me an audience, and that’s another reason why performing felt right for me.
I’ve found the most satisfaction performing as compared to any job I’ve done or know of. Also, I’m not interested in being famous and I’m glad I’m still not. I’m more interested in being employed to do the work (as much as possible) as a performer, as consistently as possible.
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What does your dream future look like to you?
Short answer: Getting paid doing what I truly love and coming home to my loved ones.
Long answer: My dream future is to be able to say that I am living a quality life, whatever that may be. Perhaps I am easily content. A life filled with satisfaction and fulfilment matters a lot to me.
Without exaggerating, I dream to be able to perform until I can no longer lift a muscle. Also lately, my teaching stint in an arts college has given me a liking and opportunity at empowering younger artists. I love to help others maximise their capabilities and skills. If that’s where my career leads me, while paying the bills and allowing me to lead a quality life, I’m happy with that.
My dream future is to be able to say that I am living a quality life, whatever that may be. Perhaps I am easily content. A life filled with satisfaction and fulfilment matters a lot to me… I dream to be able to perform until I can no longer lift a muscle.
What’s a habit, belief or behaviour that has positively impacted your life in recent years?
I have quoted this in many of my interviews: “You know you’ve got it right when working is more fun than not working.” I think I first said it in 2012 in a Straits Times Life! Interview.
I think I got my workaholic genes from my father and I’m completely okay with that. I enjoy being able to do many different things because I’m strangely eager to try new things, even if they are daunting. Since the start of 2021, I have turned my photography and videography hobby into another side hustle. While I’m still performing on stage and screen, I am also a part-time dance studio photographer and work on a project basis as a local videographer for a global company.
What advice do you wish you had been given earlier?
This is actually a hard one for me mainly because I never regret the choices I make in life. Also, in terms of money, I was always (and still am) thrifty. However, I do wish someone told me to buy Bitcoins ten years ago.
Where does your concept of money come from and how do you think that has impacted your relationship with finances?
I believe my father taught me well about money. He always reminded me that in order to have money, I’d need to work for it.
For most of my years working, I’ve been a freelancer which also meant there would be no income if I didn’t work. That immediately taught me to budget, to ensure that I am out of debt other than my interest-free student loan for acting school (which I’m still servicing – almost done – phew!), and to have an emergency fund on top of my savings. These three pivotal things have served me well.
For most of my years working, I’ve been a freelancer which also meant there would be no income if I didn’t work. That immediately taught me to budget, to ensure that I am out of debt and to have an emergency fund on top of my savings. These three pivotal things have served me well.
What do you find most complex about money?
They say you can make your money work for you through investments. They also say you should diversify your portfolio – never put all your eggs in one basket. There are always risks when it comes to stocks, ETFs, real estate, or starting your own business. That’s a lot to take in and a lot to risk if you don’t know what they mean or if you don’t spend time studying them. It’s not as easy as it seems.
Complete this sentence: “My favourite Autumn app feature is….”
A Finance Dashboard that allows me to see EVERYTHING.
What are some little steps our audience can take today to move towards their dream future?
Work towards being happy first; the money will follow.
Follow Erwin’s #DaretoDream journey on our socials. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Enjoyed this article? Take your little step today – write your dream pledge card for 2022 here.