Life is as difficult as it’s meant to be.
For 10 years, I was taught in school that if I studied hard, I would one day become successful and lead a happy, comfortable life.
So I did — I would learn to find x, calculate how much hydrochloric acid it would take to create salt crystals and memorise historic moments.
Then, I figured that I was better at describing the mixed emotions of the driver as his car crashed into the onrushing traffic than calculating the scientific variables of his car.
“I don’t need to study hard if all I wanted was to pursue an arts degree.”
(To give some context, I studied at one of Singapore’s elite school, where most of my peers went on to become giants in finance, engineering, medicine. My thinking, at that point in time, was greatly frowned upon.
In retrospect, that was extremely naive and I am extremely thankful because if I were to be born one year later, my grades would not have made the cutoff for university entry.)
I wanted to create my own definition of success, not my parents’. I had chosen a path that was unpopular then, and I was prepared for it.
Here’s where it gets real.
Research reports that fresh graduates receive an average starting salary of $3,300/month. My first paycheck was close to $2,000.
I am pretty sure I’m not the only one who experienced such a dissonance between research and reality. And I think this is what makes life difficult.
Life is as difficult as it should be. It was never meant to be easy. But imagine being told for half your life that you live in a meritocratic world, that hard work would pay off, and that you are responsible for your own success.
That’s only half the truth. Being born in a particular country, to a particular family, and meeting particular people in your life — luck is a big contributing factor in life.
Mathematically, someone probably started with a salary of $4,600, and he probably thinks it’s all due to his hard work. But as a fresh graduate, isn’t it chance and perhaps social capital that made his resume land in the right hands, to be seen by the right eyes?
But when things are out of your hands, and sometimes they go to shits, are you supposed to condemn yourself to hell?
Once we acknowledge that life isn’t entirely in our control, and accept the fact that we can’t be happy 100% of the time, we can become more mindful of our emotional state.
I’m not suggesting we stop dreaming but perhaps we can dream with lead (Nike) shoes to keep us tethered to the ground.
Education provides us with the best opportunity for social mobility or some form of success.
Until the day when Singapore values (pays) a skilled car mechanic as much as an investment banker or a doctor, we must equip our citizens and students with the sociological imagination, to see the workings of society and their place in it.
Only then can we still find joy in shitty life situations. Only then can we learn to live more even if we are earning less.
P.S. I would like to thank my sociology professors for giving me a bigger perspective to life.