I gave up pharmacy to become Miss South Africa
Kerishnie Naiker, 33, Miss South Africa 1997 and television anchor. From the age of 13 Kerishnie dreamed of becoming Miss South Africa. "It was because of ethnic pride," she explains, "there'd never been an Indian Miss South Africa before and I was determined to enter. My parents challenged me to finish my pharmacy degree and then enter the pageant the following year, but my Dad passed away in my final year of studies."

Three years later Kerishnie was working as a pharmacist, both in retail and in hospital pharmacy, and studying for her Masters when she suddenly realised she had reached the age limit of the contest – 24 was the cut-off age – and it was now or never. So she gave up her Masters and despite reservations about losing her job – she actually didn't have to worry as her boss was highly supportive – she entered the competition "without any expectations", and won the title!

"It truly was the realisation of a dream and the year of my reign afforded me the platform to realise other dreams which completely changed my life."

Nine years down the line Kerishnie has moved a long way off her chosen career path and is involved in corporate social responsibility in the fields of malaria, HIV/Aids, cancer and TB. Becoming Miss South Africa opened up another door which enables her to live yet another of her childhood ambitions: being a television anchor.

She's worked in television broadcasting in LA and New York, as well as on TV here at home, and enjoys every minute of being on the small screen. "I've always believed in the importance of embracing the dialectical nature of life", she says, "knowing that by harnessing the power of your mind you can have anything you are passionate about – including your dreams!"

I gave up corporate management to open a spa
Thabang Molefi, 30, owner of The Roots Health and Beauty Spas in Soweto, Vosloorus, Welkom and QwaQwa. Life was good for Thabang in June 2001. She was living in London where she had it all. A qualified beauty therapist, she had moved up the ladder and had a lucrative job in management at Steiner International, together with all the rewards: the clothes, the shoes, the travel. She thought she was where she wanted to be until she came home to South Africa on a visit and went for a massage at a spa.

"Instead of feeling relaxed on my way back home, I got more and more tense and uptight as I sat stuck in Johannesburg's traffic, undoing all the relaxing pampering that my body had just enjoyed. And suddenly I realised there was a huge gap in the market. There were no spas in the townships – in fact very few people even knew what a massage was!" Back in London she no longer felt at peace. "Africa was calling me: I had to come home. That was where I belonged: my work was to serve my community, to focus on upliftment."

Six months later she quit her job in London and came back to Soweto to follow her dream, even though she couldn't get backing from the banks. "I had a high risk business plan for an upmarket spa in Soweto, but because I was totally committed I opened up anyway on a smaller scale." And she hasn't looked back.

She's never yearned for her previous life in London, even during the tough times. "I was trying to educate the community about the spa concept, trying to reach the medium and lower income groups by selling them the theory of the importance of servicing – not pampering – our bodies while living from hand-to-mouth and not knowing what the next day would bring."

She believes that returning to South Africa and following her heart was the best decision she's ever made. "There's nothing more exciting than living your dream and that's exactly what I'm doing right now. I've expanded and opened up other branches, and am planning on franchising my company to empower other women like me to also reach for their dreams.

I've discovered that there's nothing more exciting than embracing your vision, no matter where it leads!"

I gave up teaching to become a singer
Matshediso Mholo, 30, member of Malaika, the singing sensation that has taken the South African music scene by storm.

In 2003 Tshedi was loving teaching arts and culture to high school students, when she met her two colleagues and friends Bongani Nchang and Jabulani Ndaba in a church choir. They then asked her to join their group which they later called Malaika and she grabbed the opportunity despite enjoying her chosen career.

"Music has always been close to my heart. I was involved in music at home, school and church. I also did music and drama at Mabana Cultural Centre in Mmabatho."

"When I was spotted by a talent scout I had to make a decision between teaching and following my dream of being on stage," she says. "Obviously I had fears of how things would work out. How was I going to survive financially – I was used to a monthly teaching salary. But I went ahead and resigned. I believed that we were going to make it work, that we were going to succeed and I put my heart and soul into it."

Tshedi maintains that becoming a professional singer was the best thing she's ever done and she's enjoying every aspect of the path she has chosen to follow. Every time she gets on stage, she says she feels like a little girl, totally ecstatic. "Sometimes I don't believe it is real, many times I have to pinch myself to make sure that it is!" Teaching remains very much on her future agenda: it also fulfils her but in different ways to singing.

"I cannot compare the two. I am still young and have a lifetime to satisfy both my dreams of singing and teaching. In the meantime I am extremely busy with my music and loving every minute of living my dream."

I gave up information technology to go into broadcasting
Mapaseka Mokwele, 30, television and radio voice-over artist, and owner of Bashumi Consulting, a recruitment company.

"My first job in IT was in sales and I was there long enough to know it was not for me," says Mapaseka. "My dream has always been to work in entertainment – particularly in broadcasting – speaking to and informing the masses, and since the IT industry was not able to offer me this, I never felt fulfilled."

Mapaseka knew what she wanted and was determined not to let anything stand in her way, despite her fears. "It's tough out there; there is no security in television and radio." She decided to take the plunge and left her job. "Taking the risk early in my life when I had no responsibilities seemed to make sense. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was already moonlighting in the broadcasting world when I was offered a full-time job as a newsreader and had to decide then and there.

Making that decision was the hardest part of my career, but since this had always been my dream, I resigned from my IT job straight away." And she hasn't looked back. The radio and TV newsreader and presenter admits she really does have the best of both worlds, as the flexibility of broadcasting gives her the freedom to successfully juggle two careers while her recruitment business, gives her a free reign to live her dream by ensuring that she also has financial peace of mind, something which is often very precarious in the fickle world of entertainment.

"I'm very happy that I decided to follow my heart because this is exactly where I always wanted to be. The only down side is that I hate the attention and how your personal life becomes public property... but hey, that's part and parcel of it all – right now I'm just glad to be living my dream!"

Photograph: Antonia Steyn