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Friday, December 09, 2016

Time for a New Way to Live

Over breakfast today, I found myself reading 2 things with seemingly contrasting ideas.

First, over my daily dose of Facebook news, I read an article about Singapore being the new Sick Man of Asia. The main points of the article were that Singapore's growth was slowing down and this was likely to be the 'new normal' for us, as other SEA countries played catch-up. We would not likely see the kind of growth that our parents experienced ever again and indeed, our millennials expressed more worry at their financial future.

Then, I switched to more analogue reading material, in the form of Thrive, by Arianna Huffington. (This is the Goodreads page on her book) Huffington's book talks about how stress and overwork are taking its toll on us and that it was time to redefine our life on metrics other than money and power. 

After reading the more pessimistic article though, you might think that Huffington's views seem to come from a privileged tower of wealth. She is already swimming in money and power, after all, by our humble standards. It's easy for her to be telling us that we shouldn't be working so hard and that we should take time off to spend on the things we love. She doesn't have to worry about falling growth, falling employment, and her CPF retirement fund possibly being locked away even after her death. 

I thought a bit more over my teh tarik and I had a startling idea: Maybe this period of slow growth is exactly the right time to put forward some of these ideas. It has been clear for a while now in Singapore that the old ways of success, namely money and status, have not been as easy to reach as in our grandparents' era. Where before you could be assured of both if you practically sold your soul and maybe even your firstborn, it is becomingly increasingly difficult to do so now. You could expend all your energy into your work till the day you die and when crisis strikes? Left without a word of thanks.

Our private sector has already seen rounds of layoffs and one of the hardest hit segments have been middle managers, who typically are already in their 40s, have families with young children and yet find it the hardest to secure employment. No honour among companies, it seems. 

So why do I think it is a good time for the Third Metric? If the old ways are not suiting us well in the new economy, then it could be time for a new way of living. The main reason: Money and Power are masters that do not reward. We have already seen that the more we pursue money and power, the more we do so at risk to our own well-being. Also, unlike the old days, Money and Power are fickle mistresses. They do not reward like they used to and are all too willing to dump us when it suits them. So is it time to ditch those goals and find others that do? 

We are already seeing this in various sectors. There are already people who have left high-powered jobs to open cafes or Carousell accounts to make a living off their hobbies. They readily admit that they do not make as much money as they used to, and some are even busier than they used to be, but most are satisfied that they took a step to fulfil a dream. 

See, here's the idea I'm trying to drive at: If by selling your soul to pursue Money and Power, you are not able to catch them anyway, why even bother? Instead, could it be more worth to pursue other goals like well-being and happiness and in the process, earn enough money to sustain yourself? 

For us Singaporeans, this might require several rounds of rewiring. For one, the idea about our BTO being our investment that we can sell off after 5 years has to change into it being our home that we can live in for a great many years. The idea that our children have to be in enrichment centres to 'keep up with the rest' has to change. The idea that we need to be in certain schools, certain jobs, have a certain level of high income has to change. Simply because that model is no longer the guarantee to success like it used to be. 

For us to survive in the New Normal Economy, we really have to ditch the old ways of thinking about success and redefine what it really means to live a successful life. 

[PS, the Internet being what it is nowadays, I am aware that there are some trolls who will sneer that I am only able to write these words because of my privileged class status and that I don't know what it really means to suffer like they are doing. If you hold such views, then this is not the blog for you.]

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