It’s January. You are in the mood to talk about the future, about plans for this year, and if you’re a student, plans after graduation. If the crowd during the career fair in NUS can be of any indication, you are not alone.
Most of us in the Gen Y batch are job-searching now. No, we don’t want a ‘job’. We want to love our work. We don’t want to think of work as boring ol’ job. But, this desire to put meaning in our work can sometimes be a struggle. Partly, it is due to corporations’ focus on efficiency and productivity. Employees get assigned to specialized tasks and thus, get very good in them. But, sometimes, the roles are so specialized, employees are left wondering on the impact of their work to the corporation, and whatever motivation to work… well, the enthusiasm just fades away. They become unhappy.
And, what of those whose interests sway towards the radical, or towards work with lower or inconsistent income? Often, they have to displace their passion for practical purposes (e.g. responsibilities to family, debt etc.), and I find this sad. But, the sadder but more frequent truth, is when I hear of friends with no liabilities whatsoever, nothing to clip their wings from pursuing their passion, choose careers based on pay and remuneration benefits, instead of what they really want because they believe that money will bring them happiness. But, will it? I’ll wait a few more years to find out. I pray that I will be proven wrong.
Anyway, here’s a question: If you have to define yourself, what would you say? Give yourself a few seconds to ponder on it. What did you say about yourself?
In a meritocratic society like Singapore, it’s so easy to define ourselves from the things we do, the grades we get, the pay we earn, and the stuff we have. But, according to Ms. Melissa Aratani Kwee in her talk just yesterday, “The most important definition is relational”. My interpretation of her words is that, in the end, we all want to belong, whether it is to someone or a community. Between “I am a sister” and “I am a travel-addict”, the first inspires a sense of connection while the other is replaceable. Life is made meaningful (or miserable) by our relationships and not through transactions (stuff, money, more stuff).
Part of Ms. Kwee’s speech reminded me of a passage mentioned in Henry E. Sigerist‘s book, ‘Civilization and Disease’ published in 1943. The passage was from a prize-winning essay written by Benjamin McCread in 1837. Sigerist fully quoted it as he found it pertinent to society in 1943. The interesting thing is, I find that it still applies to today’s world, so I think it deserves to be quoted in full as well.
The population of the United States is beyond that of other countries, an anxious one. All classes are either striving after wealth, or endeavouring to keep up its appearance. From the principle of imitation which is implanted in all of us, sharpened perhaps by the existing equality of conditions, the poor follow as closely as they are able the habits and manner of living of the rich. From the lower prices of provisions, and from the cheaper rates of house rent, families could formerly be supported much more comfortably and abundantly, on the same means, than they can be at present; and the artizan compares the ease which he formerly enjoyed with his present condition. Every one has seen immense fortunes made in a short time by successful speculation, and a rage for such speculation has infected all classes of the community. From these causes, and perhaps from the nature of our political institutions, and the effects arising from them, we are an anxious, care-worn people. Now, however favorable this may be to our industry and enterprize, it cannot but be deleterious to health. How far these injuries effects may extend, it is impossible to determine; but we may observe that when causes act thus generally, however trifling their consequences may seem with respect to individuals, when they regard the mass, they cannot fail to be very considerable; and when we reflect that in all probability every deterioration of the general health of the parents is transmitted to their offspring, the subject becomes one of great importance. For my own part I have little doubt that the pale and unhealthy appearance of our population, is in a measure owing to the very causes which have contributed to the rapid rise and unexampled prosperity of our country.
In short, the dash towards wealth has a harmful effect on the well-being of society. Don’t get me wrong: Wealth has its benefits. It has improve our quality of life and life expectancy among others. But, getting stuck in the selfish rat race to achieve wealth, without a work-life-relationship balance, never did make anyone happy (unless you really love money. The smell of money, the touch of money and the sight of money give you a joy like no other).
One last thing: Have you played Bomberman before? Ms. Kwee mentioned that accidents shaped her life to what it is today, thus the theme of her talk: ‘The Accidental Artist’*. I like to think of these accidents, or “acts of synchronicity” coined by Julia Cameron in her book, ‘The Artist’s Way‘, as the little bombs used by the Bomberman. These bombs are rare (you need to put yourself in the correct roads to collect them) and difficult to deal with, but if used the right way, these bombs can pave a new path to get something you really want.
On a personal note, as an artist of my life, I will stop fearing of the consequences and just do what my heart sings out to. I will not stop myself because of unnecessary worrying of the unpredictable future. And, when the little accidental bombs do appear, I am prepared to use them to explore a whole new world.
Using relationships and ‘bombs’ to define us, these will make life a little more exciting, no?
*Curious on how accidents shaped our lives? Look at how these 19 accidental discoveries changed the world.
- A Child’s Legacy Is More Than Money (nytimes.com)
- The Meaning of Wealth (opentabernacle.wordpress.com)