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Κάθαρσις, or the Failings of the So-Called Successful July 17, 2008

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen.

I belong to the so-called class of people whom aunties wish their children would become.  Scholarship in a non-English country, doing a double-major which is half-useless but very intriguing, and half-useful in that it gives you an economic edge, a loving girlfriend, and so on, and so forth.  But something is lacking, and i probably wouldn’t have seen it if I wasn’t surrounded by friends from another cultural background, which has forced me to take a step back and reflect on my very own.

Singapore is a rich country, with a high material standard of living.  But are you happy?  It’s worth asking yourself this question every once in a while.

Are you happy?  Asking this question and reflecting on it has made me think twice about the country i was brought up in.  Do i want to settle there after my bond is over?  If i was once doubtful, it is now again in doubt.

I am not happy.  I am defined by my work, and i am always working.  I am very demanding of myself, because i have an intrinsic fear of failure (probably instilled when i was in Primary school by canings for every mark below 85), partly because of my commitments, and because i have this typical Singaporean idiosyncracy of working now in the hope of a better future where things are more relaxed.

I have an exam coming up next week and have been cramming for it.  Girlfriend suggests that we take tomorrow off and go somewhere to sightsee, since i’ve been working all day for the past two days or such, and also because it’s the holidays.  I’ve done well consistently, and she believes that i’ll do well this time.  I am much more cautious about such things because i have a deep-seated fear that things can go wrong, deus ex machina, and you only have yourself to blame for not preparing enough.

Sounds Singaporean enough for you?  When you’ve been fed with the truism or the so-called ‘wisdom’ that success can go down in just one day, you tend to start to believe it, especially if it’s been pressed into your psyche from the very first day of school.  I am now under stress, not just because of the exams, but i’m also concerned that i’m being a lousy boyfriend, and also because This Is The Life I Don’t Want to Lead.

Am i happy?  No, admittedly not.  If this goes on, i’ll be a person who is defined by their work – always working now and hoping for the day when you can enjoy the fruits of your labour, but you end up getting caught up in the rat-race and you don’t see the end anymore, because there is always More.  The successful seem happy because they are materially rich?  I would beg to differ (although i am by no means successful, just that i happen to fulfill the social criteria for being so.)  Mens sana in corpore sano? The healthy body part probably would be okay.  But a healthy mind?  Few and far between in Singapore.

But wait, this is elitist shit.  But no, it’s not.  Who isn’t defined by their job in Singapore?  Who doesn’t just go to work from 8am to God-knows-when, come home to the wife (or to an empty house, or to children who are busily studying)?  Politicians aside, this is something which affects everyone.  University students spend all their time cramming, and the fact that i can throw Tuesday nights out to go drinking with the philosophers (that is the useless, but oh-so-tantalising subject) already means something.  Singapore’s ideal workers have been caught up in the material rat-race, and it doesn’t help that the costs of living are going nowhere but up.  There is always more.

And this is perhaps time for you to stop, and breathe.  Are you happy?  I have a sickening feeling that this ‘more’ is something no one can ever reach.  I’ve set a goal for myself: PhD in Philosophy, and then i’ll take what life throws my way.  Teach, or do research.  But i wonder if i can reach this goal.  Prudentia, mihi vim dat, ut temptationem vincat!



1. sb - July 17, 2008

what is this REALLY about? you have expectations of yourself- you work hard to achieve your goals. and when you do, you will be happy with yourself. whats wrong with that? as long as you dont lose sight of other important things, i dont see why this is so terrible and how you’re going to wind up miserable.

2. sb - July 17, 2008

its just the stress at the moment cos your exam is next week. normally you lead a perfectly dandy life. i know working all day really sucks but its just for these couple of weeks. its not going to be like this all the time, so stop being melodramatic.

good luck for ur test ( though not that you need it, you know you’re brilliant 😉

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