This is the “Singapore DNA” that makes us work and study like robots every day

By Low Kay Hwa

“Study hard, find a good job and retire.”

Whether you’re eight or eighty, if you live in Singapore, you would have heard of this before. This is the formula for Singaporeans. Yes, it seems harmless (and useful, in fact), but could it be that this sentence has also indirectly made us unhappy?

It has been engrained in our mind since we were young that should we study hard and get a nice, general degree like business or engineering, our future is more or less certain. We’ll work in a MNC, get annual increments and finally, retire happily with our CPF funds. Having said that, we should not do anything else—just follow this formula. It has worked for others, so it will work for you.

Imagine a Singaporean as a person walking towards his destination with that formula. During the journey, there might be obstacles. What would he do? Seek advice from his parents, for in the formula, it says, “Don’t take unnecessary risks. Follow the authority’s advice.” What if his parents cannot solve the problem? His parents would seek advice from the Government. After all, all problems will be solved. Just don’t be silly and take risk. Rule #1: Seek for certainty. Rule #2: Follow #1.

Do you see what has happened? If not, let me spell it out for you: Because so many of us follow this formula, Singaporeans has become robots. After all, robots are programmed with a certain formula (coding), right?

Have you seen a robot inventing something? Nope.

Have you seen a robot taking risk? Nope.

Have you seen a robot enjoying itself? Nope.

In the US, there are many people who quit their full-time job to write full-time. While this leads to an influx of new and unskilled writers in the market, making it a competitive market, it shows one thing: They dare to take the risk. As I do my due diligence on that market, I realize most of them are just worried about one thing: health care (their policy is quite different—just that someone who is employed will have better benefits).

Here in Singapore? Try telling your friends you want to quit your job or school to start a business, and they’ll refer a psychiatrist to you.

What exactly has happened that made us so fearful of change? I’ve read a book—and it says that change is always necessary for growth. It’s hard to be voluntary, but if you don’t change voluntarily, it’s difficult to grow. In Singapore, we seem to undergo change only when we are forced to: from primary school to secondary school. Even these changes are part of our formula.

What do you think? That Singaporean DNA—do you have it, and do you intend to change it?

This article first appeared on It is reproduced with permission.


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