I’d Rather Be Tough

I wonder how many people in my generation have consciously thought about roughing it out in life. I think it’s more common for people to have goals like “I want to make my first million by 30”, or “I want to marry a rich guy” or “I just want a comfortable life”.

I’ve set some of these goals myself: Get married before I’m 30, buy a HDB flat, enjoy life as a couple for a few years, have a kid, and lead a happy and comfortable life with my family.

But PM Lee said something during his National Day Rally that made me question myself. He said, “We are here now because our parents had it tougher and built this for us. For us to say let’s be comfortable and let our kids take care of themselves. I think that’s irresponsible. We must pass on to our children a better Singapore than the one we inherited and we owe it to them to do so”.

I asked myself: Am I prepared to be tough? Am I strong enough, like my parents were, to rough it out through difficult times just so my kids or the future generations can see better days?

And our parents had their fair share of difficult times. The financial crisis in 1997 for instance. I remember my mother telling me she would alight two bus stops earlier and walk to work just to save 20 cents and she would limit her lunch to a simple $2 caifan (rice and vegetables). Her motto: every little bit goes a long way. Her thrifty habits allowed me to attend the supplementary classes at our Residents’ Committee.

Mum had a tough life. Her family never had enough. My grandparents had to find a way to feed a family of 11 on one income. My mother ended up paying for her own school fees and textbooks. When she earned her first salary, it was a mere $600. She gave some to her parents, spent on necessities and saved the rest. For me. She was in her 20s, the prime of her life, yet she never thought of spending the money to “enjoy life”.

She was tough.

But what she didn’t have, she gave freely to me. What she wasn’t willing to spend on herself, she thought nothing when she had to give me twice as much. Have I developed a sense of entitlement all these years because of her love for me? Have I become so self-centered that all I can think about is how to make money so I can maintain the level of comfort in life my parents has given to me?

In my many conversations about the National Day Rally with my friends and colleagues, someone brought up the point that PM Lee’s calculation for the affordability of HDB flats did not take into account other daily expenses. I agree.

Some of my friends even asked how they were going to renovate their house with the calculations he presented. I disagree.

Have we become a generation so unclear and undiscerning? Can we no longer make a clear distinction between a “want” and a “need”? (For sanity’s sake, I will not be quoting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.) I ask myself the same question. Now before I pull out another card for the cashier to swipe, I ask myself: is this enjoyment or is this a necessity?

Some of you might say, “Well then if that’s the case, Singaporeans will never have it easy because we are always trying to make things better.” But I don’t think life was supposed to be easy. Maybe when we’re 60 and our children are filial enough to look after us, life would be easy. But I’m certain our Chinese ancestors didn’t cross the sea to look for an easy life. They came over for a better life and they were prepared to work for it.

I don’t want to exchange my enjoyment for my child’s burden. If my government wants and can help me, thank you very much. If not, I’ll depend on myself. I’d rather be tough.

This article was first published on ConnexionSG.

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