I was recently engaged in a conversation that reinforced the ugly glaring fact of Singapore's stifling culture, and all the people who have fallen prey, become dead, and are spreading the zombie virus. I forget it often because of the amazing environment I'm immersed in in school, where people have started their own board game companies, national-scale NGOs funded by huge organisations, and more; where our debate and MUN teams go off for international events (and clinch awards) without any training from an external coach; where we organise and start whatever we want. Many of my close friends outside school are also doing what they love, whether it's financial consulting, game-coding or app-designing. They're loving what they're learning and forming opinions for themselves, rejecting some of what has been fed to them since young.
I believe a lot of this stifling culture will change with this generation, because we haven't seen the struggles of the country like the previous generations have; we grew up taking for granted the gifts of education, full stomachs and a bed. See, Singapore was a third-world island with no resources and no support; we struggled, but triumphed when we found the formula for success. Since then, we've been on a roll, but the country is still clinging to its formula in desperation. It is never enough. A family-sized government flat in the suburbs can cost half a million dollars. A car is a couple hundred grand. And the older generations run on the fear that if we were to ever loosen our grip, we would plummet back to poverty, high unemployment, and struggles. They are too afraid to take a risk; we already have the formula - why try to find another one, at the risk of a plummet?
I concluded, for now, that Singaporeans are blessed enough to have a foundation of stability in terms of relative material stability and security and educational access, but the curse is when we are mentally bound by the culture and mindsets of those around us.
I believe my generation will see that some things just aren't working like they used to anymore, and let in some fresh air. But we have to be brave enough to fight safe monotony. Do something we love and be great at it, instead of being content with secure mediocrity all our lives. This passion doesn't have to be the single focus from the start - you've got to have the money to pursue your passion sometimes - but we should never throw it away. If you have passion and dedication for something you will rise up in the field. Dive into whatever you feel passionate to build. I have extremely smart and talented friends who are utterly passionate about education and politics; they see the cogs in the machine that are now irrelevant, and they believe something bold should be done about it, and they are willing to invest their lives.
When I received my A Level results, I considered applying to law schools instead of Literature courses. My mum said I was being ridiculous, I would be a terrible lawyer, and that I should stop trying to be someone I'm not. My mum pursued pure biology and pure chemistry in university at a time when not all believed in the value of higher education for girls; they said she was being silly to choose her course, and that other than being a researcher, her career options were dead. Look at how far biochemistry and other related fields have come; look at how big companies chase after her qualifications, and the places she travels to to give talks. "Do what you're passionate enough to become excellent at," she says, "and the jobs will come after you."
Of course, another great hurdle is culture. Mindsets about pursuing something that might not be the most lucrative or stable. This place is barren ground. But with time, water and stimuli, the fruits of passion and excellence can grow again. I believe Singaporean youths can grow up to become bolder people, people who take initiative and pursue their careers not only for the priority of material security, but also to live life.
Unfortunately, we are still timid, aren't we? Playing it safe, letting the fear of authority form a path for us via elimination of doors, because that's the easy way. Letting others speak up in class because we're afraid of the humiliation of getting something wrong or saying something dumb. Preferring to follow instructions, because thinking is hard. I hope enough of us will be willing to take the front seat.
I posted this on The Online Citizen (not that I agree with the site and its readers/commenters - I just thought it was a relevant platform for the issue I wanted to address) and received some comments, some really nice and some sad but true, and I thought I'd post some few up here.