Two nights ago, I was lucky to find myself in the company of 40 odd other youths, each with a story of their own to tell. Packed a little more comfortably than sardines in the humble and cozy Barber Shop @ Timbre at The Arts House, we kicked off the first in a series of SG50 Conversations organised by the National Youth Council, titled YOUTHSPEAK. Gracing the occasion with their presence, we Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong, NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin and entrepreneur Edward Chia. If I had to put an adjective with to the conversation that lasted a tad over 2 hours, it would be nothing less than ‘insightful’, and I would definitely want to find myself in the next Conversation.
Themed “Youths- The Pioneers of Tomorrow”, the discussion centred around the aspiration, hopes, opportunities and challenges that filled the present in our growing up years, and the near-future where we take the lead. And here are the ideas that I made me wish time could slow down so we could play them out all night:
“The state of transparency, breakdown and learning”
Let’s begin from the ‘state of transparency’, this referred to the comfortable state we find ourselves in: where we are unchallenged in our perceptions of the world, where the problems are transparent and life is no less than a bed of roses. It is the convenient place to be, to believe that there’s nothing to do, because there’s nothing that’s wrong and there’s no problem to solve.
But this idea is accompanied with the ‘state of breakdown’, where somewhere down the road, life offers you a challenge that rips apart your idea of what your future looks like, or what kind of world you live in, where something makes you uncomfortable and you start to ask yourself questions. Everyone goes through some form of breakdown in their lives– but the critical point is where we go from here. And it is in my hopes that continuously from the ‘state of breakdown’ I experience, I would choose to proceed to the ‘state of learning’: the part where we plough through the truths to find the answers, no matter how terrifying they may be. And where necessary, stand up for what we believe in. That, is the second most difficult part.
The most difficult of all, is choosing to embrace ‘state of breakdown’– it takes the brave strides out of the almost Utopian view we may have of our lives or our society, and away from the comfortable strand of society we are used to living with. It is open our eyes real wide, and really listen.
“Let’s ditch the P-word”
Sitting beside me in the Conversation was a young man, with his hair combed neatly to the side, and the black-framed glasses that seem to be in style now. A University student, or so he identified himself. Taking notes on his handphone diligently, he raised refreshing points for discussion periodically. At one point, he brought the Conversation towards discussing the “advice given to youths to ‘follow their passion'”– it was a question about its pragmatism, its usefulness and its relevance.
My greatest takeaway from this segment of our Conversation, was to do away with the idea of ‘following your passion’ almost altogether. Not so much the idea of having something you’re passionate about, but rather, abandoning the false dichotomy created when we begin to regard ‘passion’ and ‘practicality’ as two extreme and opposite choices. In the words of NMP Shiao-Yin, we are all “a whole bunch of things– You are what you like, what you are capable of, and what you stand for”. And her advice was to, instead of figuring out “what you are passionate about”, to figure out “who we were”, the whole bunch of it.
“A question to ask yourself,” she said, “is how do you want to die?” At this point she paused, and there was pindrop silence. “Decide how you want to die, and reverse engineer it– that’s how you should want to live.”
“We are all playing a guessing game”
And as our Conversation shifted to revolve around the economic opportunity in Singapore, the “education system” was arrowed at more than a couple of times. The views of how our meritocracy was backfiring and how restrictive it was becoming were aired openly, only to be concluded as the Conversation got to its end, making us rethink our idea of economic opportunity.
The realisation that our speculation of which degree would be the ‘most-valued’ or which Diploma certificate could attain the ‘best job prospects’ was all but a guessing game, came timely to me as an A-level student. There’s a new take I have to this: that economic opportunity comes where there is a need to be met and someone willing to match a dollar to your meeting of the need. And it will become a question I intend to be pondering about for a while from now– “What is that need that I want to meet, and be really great at meeting?” Stop asking me ‘what I want to do with my future’: first let me think about this, and we’ll move on from there.
It’s been over a month since my previous piece and it feels like eons ago since the last time I’ve written something new: my heart flutters with excitement as I type. I realise that having moments like this to be completely preoccupied with my thoughts or Friday nights where I can immerse myself in the company of excited and like-minded youths will be one of the many on the ‘List of Things I will sacrifice in my A-level year’. So long, WordPress.