Today, we had the National Day rally speech given by our Prime Minister. He ended with a note:
Someone asked me recently, if I could choose 3 wishes for Singapore, what would I wish for. I was taken aback. I thought for a while. I would not choose material needs because we would consume it and forget about it. I wish that Singapore will never be satisfied. They always want to strive for more, and to be better.
I also wish that Singapore has the wisdom to be thankful for the things we have and appreciate it. With just these 2 wishes, I am sure it is enough to grow the nation and to keep Singapore unique.
As I travel, people always ask me about what “Singapore’s culture” is. If I could summarise it, it would be our PM’s first wish. Never satisfied and always wanting something better. No doubt, this vision or way of life is what made Singapore who we are today – successful, stable and unique. This culture is extremely evident, even from the start of childhood – education. This vision is inline with Steve Job’s “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. It reminds one to constantly improve, to strive for better, to never settle for status quo.
In short, Singapore’s culture is extremely competitive, risk adverse and long term focused.
But after experiencing life in Netherlands and really mingling with the locals in Spain, Portugal and Italy (sorry for the stereotype), I begin to wonder if this way of life is the best. What about work-life balance? And happiness? And quality of life?
I understand that if one is not satisfied, one continues to grow and strive for the perfection. However, perfection does not exist. If perfection is the way to be satisfied and perfection does not exist, can one ever be truly satisfied? Yes, there will be constant growth and progression. Economically and financially speaking, the nation will be achieve new heights every year. But when we look at the society level, we look at quality of life of people, we look at the fundamentals of life – happiness, I question if this is the way we should lead our lives.
In economics, we learn about diminishing rates of return. It means that each increment gives you less happiness (utility) than the increment before. Once you reach a certain limit, the effort to raise the growth by 1 gives a return that is smaller. Is it worth it? At what cost are we risking, to sustain this growth?
At 18 or 19 years old, Singaporeans generally have a rough idea of where they want to go in life. Usually somewhere in banking, finance, investment banking, port/logistic/supply chain or tourism. I have never met a Singaporean that focuses solely on grades. Everyone aims for A and A+. And at the same time, they are holding leadership roles, building up their resume, starting businesses, etc. Everyone is amazing, with a story to tell. It is good that no one ever aspires to be average. But it makes the society a tad scary. (No one rests.)
Kids are sent for tuition at a young age of 3-5 years old, to be ahead of their peers and education. Kids are also encouraged (or forced) to pick up musical instruments, dance, other languages and/or a sport. Since young, they are taught to give their 120%. Because somewhere in China or Vietnam, or Indonesia, someone can do it at 100% and be paid ay 50% of your salary. Thus, the culture emerges.
I love my country, and I am always proud to say that I am a Singaporean. It is my home, and no matter where I go in this world, I know this is my home. We are still a young nation and there is so much more progress that we have to make. I hope the culture in Singapore continues to strive for the best, but not forgetting to live their lives, to be satisfied and be happy.
TD;DR: If I could make a wish for Singapore, it is that the people are contented with their lives, yet continue to strive to become better tomorrow, than the day before.