Cassie Lim (right, in photo above) is the founder of BE Movement – a movement to inspire and connect people to be who they are meant to be. They publish a socially conscious bi-annual magazine and they have a physical store stocked with unique products from social and independent enterprises.
On 11 March 2011, the Japanese earthquake happened. I was in Japan at the time for work, interviewing business leaders. I was on a call with one of my clients when I felt the ground shake below me.
I ran down the nearest stairwell. But guess what? It was not the correct one. I missed the fire exit. I was in a state of panic. I didn’t read the signs and I rushed down just wanting to get out. I reached the ground floor and I tried to push the door open. It was locked. I was stuck in a shaking building.
I couldn’t get out and I thought to myself, this was it, this was how it’s all going to end. All I could think of at that point was that I hadn’t done anything. I hadn’t contributed to anything or anybody. My life was meaningless.
It was the worst moment of my whole life. There was no comfort. All the travelling I was doing and the ‘high life’ I was leading, just didn’t make any sense at that moment. Since young, it was always about having fun. I had never given much thought about the meaning behind my work. As long as it was something I could do and it paid well and included travelling, it was fine by me. I was doing very well at my job at the time of the earthquake. I was meeting powerful people. Travelling a lot.
But none of that mattered now. In a moment, I was going to be a pile of dust.
I survived though. And after that, I tried to forget. I drank, I partied. But I also chanced upon a silent retreat. I signed up for a very mundane reason – I just wanted to find a way for my company to not contact me during a period of time. A retreat seemed like the perfect excuse and on the retreat, things suddenly became clear.
I didn’t want to do things simply for profit anymore as I know I can’t bring anything with me when I die. I wanted to use my skills for something else. When I told my boss I wanted to quit, he thought I was crazy. He counter-offered and said he’d give me six months to think about it.
I knew I wanted to write as that was how I express myself best and from this, the idea of a publication came about. If I was going to do something new, it had to be something I was naturally good at.
It took me half a year to do the first issue. It was difficult but when you are doing something to celebrate others and not yourself, it gives you strength. I even wrote to my hero Noam Chomsky and asked him to support the magazine. He actually wrote back the next day.
Money was an issue though. I wanted the magazines to be ad-free but hardly anyone goes to bookshops anymore. I kept thinking if I did a great piece of work, it’ll magically sell-off the shelf. But it doesn’t work that way. People get so much free content, they hardly pay for it anymore. For the Bali issue (second issue), we were struggling. I just didn’t know what to do. We weren’t a charity. I needed to find a way for the business to be sustainable.
I went to another retreat. I realized I was getting back to the whole ‘getting’ and ‘achieving’ mindset. Life is actually very simple but we humans make it very difficult. Our desires make us want to achieve and get.
So instead I tried to shift focus. From ‘how to get money’ to ‘following what my heart says.’ I travelled and while travelling met many people and suddenly we got a grant and a group of mentors.
And from there, we figured out the revenue model. It took us awhile but we finally hit upon relying on a mixture of crowd funding, government funds and corporate sponsorships. The Japanese issue for us was a turning point. We got a grant and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry was so supportive. And now, we are still evolving – trying to find alternative platforms to share BE Movement’s values. We’re venturing into pop-up stores, looking into online content, connecting organisations and events.
The best thing I ever did was to just do what I wanted to do and ignore the noise around me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t do this.
I’m a huge believer of gut instinct. I know it’s hard to access what your gut is telling you. The way for me is silence. It’s where I remove all the external masks and what I want or feel becomes really apparent. A lot of my mentors at that time were saying just focus on Singapore but my gut was telling me to focus on a different country for every issue and I’m glad I followed my gut.
Irfan Alam, an internationally acclaimed entrepreneur, told me once that he wished someone told him to clone himself earlier. When you run your own business, you do everything yourself and you burn out quickly. You really need to find the right people early. And it has to be the ‘right’ person. Early in the business, I hired a friend who wasn’t suitable for the role and that harmed both her and us. It taught me that hiring someone is something you need to get right. You can’t hire someone based on the sole criteria that he / she is a good friend of yours.
I made a huge change in my life when I just quit but I did have enough savings for salary for a year. That gave me the strength to quit as well. I think it’s better to have some buffer when you decide to make a big change as things may not go as planned.
We cannot escape despair and failures. The important thing is to recognise failure as an important lesson and just keep walking. This is where you see what you are made of. There’s no point taking things too hard. Life goes on.
When you run your own business, the sky is the limit. I’ve never known myself as such a resourceful, capable person. Everyday I am learning. I know there’s so many things I can do and so many opportunities out there.
Now I work for so little and I’ve never worked harder. It’s the first time I’m working for meaning instead of money. It’s as difficult as it is rewarding. I’ve discovered deep resources within myself that I never thought I had.
Your work is your life. How you want to live your life is largely determined by how you work. So if you want to love your life, you need to do something you love (which doesn’t harm others).
Today more than half the people in my team are people I’ve never known before. I hear from people who say things such as your stories and photography have moved me so much. This is priceless – to be able to say that my work has such an effect. I’ve met so many incredible people. Some even cried when they read their stories in the magazine. And now I have companies coming in, who want to be part of this.
It feels a long way from where I was on the dark stairwell. Now it feels like if I die, I will be content.
The Hong Kong issue of BE Movement is out this month. To find out where you can grab an issue, visit be-movement.com | facebook/com/bemovement | instagram.com/bemovementsg
Also, check out BE Movement’s pop-up store at Liang Court Singapore (#01-20).