Millennial Voices

Work To Live, Or Live To Work? Why So Many Singaporeans Feel Lost In Life

Singaporeans lost in life

If there’s one question I dread the most in a job interview, it’s “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I don’t even know what I want for lunch, let alone the next five years of my life. Sure, I’ve been taught model answers to impress employers, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s honestly a freaking scary commitment to make.

Recently, a Redditor posed this question to Singaporeans:

“Corporate slaves, how do you stop dreading going to work every day?”

To which the top reply began with “Welcome to work life bro.”

Top reply from Redditor aSingaporean: “I envy those who love their work and love what they’re doing.”

Indeed. Welcome to work life.

As a (relatively) young Singaporean who has come to realise the importance of money in modern day life, this is highly relatable. When I first graduated into the working world, I was on hindsight, naively idealistic. “Money isn’t everything,” I used to proudly proclaim. “I’d rather earn little doing what I like than be paid well doing something I hate.”

However the truth is, the moment you start becoming financially independent is the moment you realise that money is important.

Yet, the scariest part of this ‘welcome to the work life’ notion is how everyone of us relate to it. It is scary because there’s this sense of aimlessness and purposeless that is so pervasive in our society.

This concept of us having to work till we die just to survive in Singapore isn’t new.

All my life, I’ve heard people sigh over not knowing what they truly want in life (myself included). A lot of us end up just cruising through, hoping that someday, somehow, we will find a deeper purpose. And until we do, we will continue to put up with jobs that we convince ourselves to stay in, and we will continue to despair over having to spend nine hours a day, five days a week for the rest of our lives, selling our soul to work just to earn money to live.

We’re But A Nation Of Corporate Zombies

Image Credit: Yoga delle Stelle

It’s a problem of the privileged. For our previous generations and the poor, the need for survival far outweighs the luxury of achieving ideals in one’s career.

However, having grown up in an entirely different world where survival isn’t a concern, the many opportunities we have been given have inadvertently spoilt us. Where there isn’t that pressure of survival, what we face is a deep longing to chase something that fulfils us. And for many of us, we either don’t know what fulfils us, or we are too afraid to chase it.

Our perpetual state of mind
Image Credit: YourTango

Perhaps it’s our upbringing. We’re all moulded according to a default educational structure set out for the masses. Grades were everything and scoring well in school pretty much determines one’s journey ahead—score well and be rewarded a smooth-sailing journey ahead, else, be prepared to work extra hard in the future just to reach a level playing field.

And when there’s no more academic excellence to pursue, it is very easy for one to feel lost. We have never been taught to pursue excellence in non-academic interests, or rather, it is always not a priority compared to scoring well in our English, Math, and Sciences.

Having worked with batches of interns across the various jobs I’ve done, I can confidently say that a lot of JC, polytechnic, and university graduates don’t really know what they want to do or where to go after they graduate.

“Maybe I’ll travel first lor, see how.”

“Not sure leh, see what opportunities there are out there first.”

Everyone is just lost. There’s no clear direction in life. When we have reached that point of our life, no one’s there to tell us what to study or what to do anymore. And that can be very scary for a fresh graduate, because we want to prove our worth. Even our first job has to be ideal, because we know how important a first job is and how it is going to affect our resume and portfolio.

Many youths I’ve spoken to who has taken a gap year shared how they’ve had to convince their parents, because taking one year to ‘find yourself’ is a waste of time in their parents’ eyes. However, it is often this one year of exposure and experience in the ‘real world’ that matures us. For some, it is what helps them find purpose, or at least, it is what shows them what they absolutely do not want to do. But I believe there is also a large number of people who teeter on, just getting a job for sustenance and wishing for change to happen.

Nothing’s Going To Happen, Bro.

However, purpose is also a choice. And a lot of us end up never finding our purpose because we are too afraid to pursue what we want.

Most of the time, it is not that we don’t know what we want in life, but we are too afraid to acknowledge those dreams we have. Pursuing dreams is hard work and as with anything, a risk.

It could be that we are worried about finances—what if we lose money? It could be the self-doubt and fear that we aren’t good enough to ‘make it’ in Singapore’s ultra competitive landscape. Along with that, there’s the fear that we will be wasting time if our efforts go to nothing. Even with advice like ‘don’t be afraid to fail’, the possibility of failure and ‘losing face’ from failing is terrifying, and it deters a lot of us from dipping our toes into new territories.

We end up creating excuses to convince others and ourselves to stay within our comfort zone. At the end of the day, we just follow through the motions, waiting for something to happen. This will cause anyone to get jaded very easily and very quickly.

The only way to find purpose and be happy with our life is to figure out what we truly want and more importantly, to work for it. And it’s encouraging to see more and more Singaporeans quitting their corporate lives in their late twenties to thirties to pursue what they’ve always wanted to do: in starting their own fashion label, running their own hawker stall, and many more.

There’s no way to achieve perfection in all aspects of life because life is just that short. It really goes down to knowing what we want to prioritise.

It doesn’t matter if we are driven by money or if it’s a desire to do social work, because as long as we know what to work for, half the battle is won. Because only then will we be able to figure out what we can do in our everyday lives to fulfil ourselves. And nothing ever comes easy, so either we get busy living, or get busy complaining.

Also read: A Letter To The Singapore Government, From A Young Singaporean.
(Header Image Credit: Felezatonline)

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