We live in a paradoxical country where everything, it seems is a contradiction in terms. I can list a thousand and one things that are contradictory of life in Singapore, and most of these things, have something to do with the government or "gahmen" as it is affectionately coined in Singlish. According to the Singlish-English dictionary in talkingcock.com, the term is "usually attributed to incensed taxi drivers offering unsolicited political opinions. Taxi driver: "The gahmen always charge for everything. Increase ERP, increase taxi rental, then go and cut CPF. Like that how can?")
With the gahmen so pervasive in our daily lives, through the various institutions (from the education system, the housing system, the transport system, the army, the media, the utilities...), that it's a wonder if we can really find ourselves. In most cases, we 're all so caught up in the Singaporean lifestyle - loosely defined as the need to do well academically so that we can find a good job, so as to achieve stability and prosperity so as to get married in order to own a subsidised HDB flat (which is getting smaller and without any balcony), so as to have children before the marriage breaks down, so as to have the comfort of children in old age, before passing on... In all matters that have political or economic value, the gahmen does well. In other areas, it does not do so well as there is no real insight, empathy, will or motivation.
So along the way, we need lots of distraction just to get out of these constraints. Going for dream holidays, hoping to touch lottery, indulging in branded goods, shopping, ... just to lose ourselves. It's no wonder that we feel lost most of the time. We can't really know where we're going if we don't ask questions of ourselves and our path. What is the purpose of our life? If we can't answer that question, we're lost. If we think the question is superfluous, we're probably running around in circles on the tiny island of the "Lost" TV series, manipulated one way or another by "invisible" forces. Truth is, the gahmen don't owe us anything and we don't owe them anyway. This life is yours and yours only. We always have the freedom to choose; we can either choose our own life or let someone else or the gahmen or some system choose for you.
Here're some relevant snippets taken from "Mr Wang Says so" blog, of a speech by Adrain Tan (a litigation lawyer at one of Singapore's leading law firms) for the graduating class of 2008, NTU convocation ceremony last week...
"You’ve probably been told the big lie that “Learning is a lifelong process” and that therefore you will continue studying and taking masters’ degrees and doctorates and professorships and so on. You know the sort of people who tell you that? Teachers. Don’t you think there is some measure of conflict of interest? They are in the business of learning, after all. Where would they be without you? They need you to be repeat customers.
The good news is that they’re wrong.
The bad news is that you don’t need further education because your entire life is over. It is gone. That may come as a shock to some of you. You’re in your teens or early twenties. People may tell you that you will live to be 70, 80, 90 years old. That is your life expectancy.
I love that term: life expectancy. We all understand the term to mean the average life span of a group of people. But I’m here to talk about a bigger idea, which is what you expect from your life.
You may be very happy to know that Singapore is currently ranked as the country with the third highest life expectancy. We are behind Andorra and Japan, and tied with San Marino. It seems quite clear why people in those countries, and ours, live so long. We share one thing in common: our football teams are all hopeless. There’s very little danger of any of our citizens having their pulses raised by watching us play in the World Cup. Spectators are more likely to be lulled into a gentle and restful nap.
Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 81.8 years. Singapore men live to an average of 79.21 years, while Singapore women live more than five years longer, probably to take into account the additional time they need to spend in the bathroom.
So here you are, in your twenties, thinking that you’ll have another 40 years to go. Four decades in which to live long and prosper.
Bad news. Read the papers. There are people dropping dead when they’re 50, 40, 30 years old. Or quite possibly just after finishing their convocation. They would be very disappointed that they didn’t meet their life expectancy.
I’m here to tell you this. Forget about your life expectancy.
After all, it’s calculated based on an average. And you never, ever want to expect being average.
Revisit those expectations. You might be looking forward to working, falling in love, marrying, raising a family. You are told that, as graduates, you should expect to find a job paying so much, where your hours are so much, where your responsibilities are so much.
That is what is expected of you. And if you live up to it, it will be an awful waste.
If you expect that, you will be limiting yourself. You will be living your life according to boundaries set by average people. I have nothing against average people. But no one should aspire to be them. And you don’t need years of education by the best minds in Singapore to prepare you to be average.
What you should prepare for is mess. Life’s a mess. You are not entitled to expect anything from it. Life is not fair. Everything does not balance out in the end. Life happens, and you have no control over it. Good and bad things happen to you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Your degree is a poor armour against fate.
Don’t expect anything. Erase all life expectancies. Just live. Your life is over as of today. At this point in time, you have grown as tall as you will ever be, you are physically the fittest you will ever be in your entire life and you are probably looking the best that you will ever look. This is as good as it gets. It is all downhill from here. Or up. No one knows.
What does this mean for you? It is good that your life is over.
Since your life is over, you are free. Let me tell you the many wonderful things that you can do when you are free...
The most important is this: do not work."
Before you head over to read his speech (which I encourage everyone to)... think about the last sentence. If you know what that means now and are practicing it, then you're already absolutely shioked or free. You already know your purpose in life. The next thing to do is to hold on to that purpose for dear life! It may change and morph and evolve, but it will be from the same source...