Sunday, March 10, 2013
If Singapore were run by foreigners, would you be happy?
BY DANIEL WONG (The title of this article isn't a rhetorical question. And it's definitely not a spiteful one either! Please read the entire article to see the point I'm driving at.) Imagine a Singapore where every CEO, director and senior management staff was a foreigner. How would that make you feel? Please don’t misunderstand; I don’t have anything against foreigners, and I don’t hate them. In fact, I have plenty of friends who are foreigners. Furthermore, I spent four years living in the U.S. (I’m a Singaporean), so I know what it’s like to be a foreigner. I understand why some Singaporeans have negative sentiments toward foreigners, but I empathize with them. I also think that foreigners have many admirable traits. Many foreigners have an excellent work ethic Through the work I do, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to and interacting with thousands of students. One thing has become clear to me: Foreign students tend to be more motivated, driven, focused and hardworking than Singaporean students. Foreign students set goals for themselves and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve those goals. They spend less time socializing, watching TV, and surfing the Internet. They spend more time in the library and with their study groups. On the other hand, Singaporean students aren’t as determined. They also tend to complain a lot: “There’s too much homework.” “My teacher is too boring.” “The exams are too difficult.” “School is too stressful.” “My classroom isn’t air-conditioned, so I can’t pay attention.” “I don’t have enough time to relax.” A lot of Singaporeans want an easy life In contrast, I don’t hear any of these complaints from foreign students. Singaporean students expect things to be easy. They want a comfortable life that’s not too demanding, not too stressful, not too competitive. Once again, please don’t get me wrong. I think we need an Education Revolution that will make learning more fun and meaningful. But given the way the education system is today, students will need to take full responsibility for their own education. Moreover, they’ll need to realize that no one is entitled to a comfortable life. Is this the natural result of a meritocratic society? Coming back to the differences between foreign and Singaporean students, I think that it won’t be unexpected if ambitious, hungry and determined foreigners occupy the majority of influential positions in Singapore. We pride ourselves on being a meritocracy, so this outcome would simply be a reflection of the principles that Singapore operates by. Climbing to the top of the ladder isn’t for everyone I want to present a more holistic view on this issue. I’m not recommending that you give up leisure activities, family time and sleep so that you can spend more time at work. It’s important to lead a balanced life. Relationships are especially critical if you want to find meaning and fulfillment. After all, it’s largely the quality of your relationships that determines the quality of your life. Fact of life vs. way of life And, yes, it’s true that stress is a fact of life. But it shouldn’t become a way of life. It’s also true that we live in a competitive society where talented and hardworking people get rewarded. Given the fact that foreigners in Singapore are so driven, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re getting ahead in terms of career and material wealth. Solutions don’t exist, but tradeoffs do The question that we Singaporeans need to ask ourselves is this: What are we willing to give up in order to keep up with the competition? In life, we like to imagine that solutions exist. But there aren’t any true solutions. There are only tradeoffs. For example, when the government subsidizes public housing, this isn’t a solution to the high cost of living. The taxpayers’ money used for the subsidies could have been used for another purpose, which might have helped to make life better for residents in a different way. When you send your children for private tuition classes, that’s not a solution to their academic challenges. You’ve spent precious money to address the issue, and you’ve taken time away from your children—time that could have been spent exploring non-academic subjects and boosting their overall development. Similarly, there are tradeoffs if you decide to climb the corporate ladder faster. You’ll work longer hours, sacrifice sleep, and spend less time with your family and friends. If you choose not to participate in the rat race, there are tradeoffs too. You’ll have more time to relax, but you’ll enjoy fewer luxuries in life, and you may also find yourself becoming jealous of people who are wealthier than you. What would really make you happy? Given this explanation, I’ll clarify that the title of this article isn’t meant to be a rhetorical question. It’s a genuine question that you need to answer from a holistic perspective. You might actually be happier if Singapore was run by foreigners, if this is a result of your conscious choice to take it easy, while foreigners put in extra effort to attain career success. So, in this article, I’m not encouraging you to focus solely on your career, or to achieve success at all costs, or to make sure that foreigners aren’t given influential positions in society. Far from it! Instead, I’m encouraging you to think about what kind of life you want for yourself. Ask yourself these questions: How do I define success? How important is it to me to be wealthy? What values and principles do I want to live by? What do I want my life to count for, when it’s all said and done? Am I satisfied with my work ethic? Do I spend more time complaining rather than taking action to improve the situation? The keys to your long-term happiness lie within those answers. In closing… Life was never meant to be easy, so let’s not act as if we’re entitled to the comforts and luxuries of life. We all need to work for what we want, so let’s embrace the challenges that come our way. As Joshua J. Marine once said, “Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” I wish you all the best as you build a meaningful life filled with meaningful challenges.