When Neang Sovathana, popularly known as DJ Nana, took to the stage at TEDxRUPP 2022, hundreds in the audience roared. One among 11 speakers lined up at this year's event, known for “Ideas worth spreading,” DJ Nana took on the standard 20-minutes to talk about “I don’t have a plan,” in which she shared how she shouldered her parents huge debt.
DJ Nana said that in general everyone sees her living with clarity, foresight, and forecasts, however, she said she does not have a plan for her life and business.
When Sovathana was a child, she wanted to be a flight attendant because it looked appealing and was regarded as a good profession. Then she grew up, volunteered in the community and at an non-governmental organization (NGO), and studied International Relations for her Bachelor degree.
In early adolescence, Sovathana told people that she wanted to become a prime minister because she associates life with an experience that can develop a great country. Currently, DJ Nana is an influencer, advertiser, and content creator on social media, as well as the owner of a small business.
“It is small that it is unplanned because during the Covid-19 pandemic there were less contracts for work. All things are unexpected and unplanned so I decided to do it without a plan.”
It has been a long experience that DJ Nana decided to carry on without plans. However, there is some form of plan in place for scheduled tasks and reminders that need to be done next week or at the end of the year, and if customers have paid, but a plan is rare.
In 2004, DJ Nana's salary was about $180 a month working at a NGO. This amount was enough to pay for the cost of living, but when payday came, her mother always borrowed money and promised to pay it back weekly.
“I do not know what my mother borrowed the money for. It made her play tongtin, [take out] illegal loans, borrow money from her boyfriend, and cheat friends because of the family's needs,” she said.
One day, Sovathana visited her hometown for Khmer New Year as she was curious about how the family handled finances because her parents did not have to spend much money every month. She was still young and surprised that her parents owed $400,000.
“When I was only 18-years-old, I found out that my parents had $400,000 in debt, and I was so shocked that I wondered how and on what the money was spent.”
She then made the decision to look into it, and her parents were ashamed. Her family launched a business without a strategy or conventional structure and borrowed money without a financial plan or legal justification. The debt was in informal loans totaling $400,000, with extremely high-interest rates.
“I just know that my job is to cut costs, so I don't waste time trying to find something that doesn't make sense. They used to rent a house but moved to a leased room to increase income. It doesn't matter what kind of business or job performance, as long as it's legal, I'll do it.”
DJ Nana said she started each day troubled by thoughts on money. Due to being under pressure, she had to graduate from university in six years instead of the typical four years. She also sacrificed herself for her four siblings, who also took six years to graduate from university.
"There is pressure on us. I made the decision to make a lot of money rather than planning."
Fortunately, working at an NGO for eight hours a day and choosing an additional job as a radio host without skills saw her make an hourly wage of $3 in extra income.
“I'm not sure whether I have the skill or not, but given the circumstances, I don't care if I know how to do it or not. I just do my best, and even if I can't, I still do it since it gives me a solution.”
Wading through the crisis until now, the job that gave her the name DJ Nana has seen her radio listeners become her fans and help her to manage the family's debt.
“For seven years, every night I listened to people with family issues, which became my career. One night, there were at least four to five issues when I wanted to become a content creator, since I want to do it whenever I want. Yes, but it improves my life, such as today,” she said.
“So the question is, do you have a plan?,” she asked a 500-strong audience at Angkor-Kizuna Hall of Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Center, the venue of TEDxRUPP 2022.
“If everyone has a clear plan it is helpful because it saves time, it lets us know what achievements and mistakes have occurred, and allows individuals to know where they are going.”
When life is unplanned, DJ Nana believes that young people place too much blame and pressure on themselves for not having a clear plan for the next five years.
“Many people ask me if he or she worked with the wrong degree or position, it is fine unless the company pays a salary there is nothing to be upset about. Don't put too much pressure on yourself when life is unplanned. If we have a clear plan, we follow our plan and it is great, but there are many people who do not follow the plan, which is not a bad thing,” she said.
“It depends on how people define success. I live a happy life and have a job without skills unless I become an expert. A wrong degree does not mean I have no skills. Everyone forgets that having no plan does not imply that we are failures, but if we do nothing, we should not be too hard on ourselves.”
Sovathana has written a book with no plans, no writing skills, and no history. However, she harbors a passion for reading novels, including stories of people in distress that touch her heart.
"Every day, I have no idea what I'm writing since I don't think about it ahead of time; all I know is how the characters I'm writing will be presented, and how they will handle problems. Therefore there is no plan for me,"
During her talk, Sovathana gave four pieces of advice. First, whether you are happy or not, if you do it, try your best. Second, is time waste; frequently question yourself if what you are doing now is a waste of time or not, and then change the time to do something valuable for yourself; third, do your best, and fourth, don't be too lazy.
“If I give it my all and it still doesn't work out, I don't mind since I did my best. Allow yourself some time to unwind, and enjoy yourself. The important thing is to not be too concerned about the future, but also not to be too lazy.”