After passing only one subject in his O levels in 2001, Mr Mustafa Syed Ahmad, then 17, decided it was time to get a job - at McDonald's.
In between dishing out burgers and fries and earning $2.80 an hour for two years until 2003, he realised the service line was what he wanted to be in.
But with his poor qualifications, that seemed like a remote possibility.
That he realised his dream at 30 by getting both a diploma and his dream job at a hotel front desk is testament to his will to succeed.
Now, he has started working as a guest service officer at the five-star Crowne Plaza Hotel in Changi Airport. He impressed the hotel during an internship in his final semester at Republic Polytechnic (RP).
He graduated with a Diploma in Hotel and Hospitality Management on May 21 this year.
"My life is just getting started," a determined Mr Mustafa told The New Paper.
The same determination that has permeated his life from birth.
Mr Mustafa was born prematurely, leaving him with mild autism.
"He was so small at birth, only 900g," said his mother, Madam Siti Aifah Fadanie, 68, her voice cracking.
"When he was young, everyone said he was stupid and would never pass his PSLE or N levels. But I never believed that."
Because of his autism, Mr Mustafa was enrolled in a special school when he was six, but was transferred within a week to a mainstream primary school because he was found to be way ahead of the others at the special school.
He struggled through school with a PSLE score of 166.
At the O levels, he failed all his subjects except for Malay, scoring an aggregate of 35 points.
After completing his national service, he tried looking for a service job. But even after five months, he could not secure one.
Mr Mustafa decided he needed to "up-size" his qualifications.
Because of his O-level results, he could only enrol in Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East in April 2007, attaining a Nitec in Electronics in 2009.
He then pursued a Higher Nitec in Sport Management from 2009 to 2011.
He did well enough in ITE to get into RP in April 2011 and in a course that would lead him to the service line.
His school fees were paid for by his father. But he struggled through the early days of his poly education.
He stuck at it, even taking his financial accounting notes with him on holidays.
His mentor at RP, Mr Thomas Lazzerine, 35, attested to Mr Mustafa's perseverance and hard work.
"He is really where he is today because of his own doing," he said.
Perhaps these service qualities run in Mr Mustafa's family.
His father, Mr Syed Ahmad Syed Abdullah Baharun, 67, is a personal driver and his mother was a tour agent.
"When I was younger, I saw my father's five-star job appraisal. I wanted to be like him," said Mr Mustafa, who has a brother two years his senior.
His supervisor at Crowne Plaza Hotel, assistant front office manager Pauline Wong, 42, said he has "good attitude, which you cannot teach".
But Mr Mustafa only has one thing on his mind.
"All I really want to do is to tell my parents one day, 'You can stop working, I can support you'."
This article was first published on June 3, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.