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 - people have started their own board game companies, national-scale NGOs and more; our debate and MUN teams clinch awards at international events even though we have no external coaches; we organise and start any club or event we want. Many of my friends outside school are doing what they love, whether it's financial consulting, game-coding or app-designing. They love what they learn and are forming opinions for themselves, rejecting some of what has been fed to them since young.
I believe the stifling culture in Singapore will change with the young, because we haven't seen the struggles of the country like the previous generations have. We grew up with the gifts of education, full stomachs and a bed. See, Singapore was a third-world island with no resources or support, and we struggled, but soon found the formula for success, and triumphed. Since then, we've been on a roll, but the country is still clinging to this 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. After all, we already have the formula - why look for another one at the risk of plummeting?
Maybe Singaporeans are blessed enough to have a foundation of relative material stability, security and educational access, but we're cursed when we are mentally bound by the culture and mindsets so prevalent now.
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. 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 are willing to invest their lives to change it. It's only when you do what you love that you will easily find the drive to be excellent.
When 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 took pure biology and pure chemistry in university when people felt higher education for girls was a waste of money. They said her course choice was silly, and that other than being a researcher, her career options were dead. Well, look at how far biochemistry and other related fields have come. Look at the companies that 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 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 by eliminating doors, because that's the easy way. Letting others speak up in class because we fear 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.