As a language tutor and software trainer, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with many kinds of students, all varying in age, gender and walks of life. While marking through some English essays, I came across a student’s essay that reflected many questions about purpose and dreams, and living in Singapore. The following is, perhaps, more of a heart-to-heart response of my own rather than a how-to guide on doing things.
Growing up in Singapore, I’d always been told that the way to go was to be a businessman, a banker, lawyer or doctor. Study hard and I’d be set for life. I’d be successful, rich and happy… right?
As a child, I always found myself gravitating towards pen and paper, to pencil and paper. I’d spend my days drawing and creating. Stories, worlds and characters would come forth. They would come alive in a world that only I could see.
I never did understand why it was a world only I could see though. The 1990s was a time when everyone was pretty big on rigorous studying, memorising and exams. It was all about numbers. A genuine career in art, writing and games in Singapore was unheard of. It was the thing left to hippies, hobbies and irresponsible people with no career-mindedness.
My art and writing were things done in secrecy. I had no role model and no one to talk to about it. Any mentions of it were brushed aside as childish and stupid. After all, what did a child know about dreams and aspirations?
I knew what I wanted though. I hungered and thirsted to create.
As I moved on to secondary school, I joined the Express stream, onward to more rigorous studying and weekly tests. Week in and week out, it was drilled into us that Junior College was the way to go. Studying hard and scoring ‘A’ in everything was the way to go. Joining polytechnic was for people of lower intelligence.
I wasn’t happy though. I never felt like I was where I was meant to be. My only respite from my studies were the lower secondary art classes and choir sessions that I attended. With all the constant studying, with no chance to speak to anyone about what I wanted to do with my life, it all felt like a mindless existence of constant studying.
Wake up. Breakfast. Assembly. Study. Lunch. Study. Dinner. Sleep. Rise and Repeat.
After my ‘O’ levels, I’d decided that I had had enough. I was sick of the rat race to score the highest points. I wanted to pursue and study something that I’d actually enjoy. I chose a polytechnic course, “Games Design and Development”, in hopes of actually being able to pursue something I felt for.
I got in.
At this point, most of us would have cheered. I know I did. I’d finally gotten into something I thought I’d enjoy. I was, however, not prepared for the immense pressure and hard knocks that would come my way.
I was not prepared for how competitive the course would be. I was not prepared for the lack of moral support from my family and friends. I’d thought that the people closest to my heart would’ve understood me and stood by me.
It ranged from pressure from certain groups I was in to conform in a certain way to uphold “moral standards” (which wasn’t beneficial to creativity) to the constant questioning as to why games and LAN gaming were contributing to the decline of society’s morals. I had constant accusations, from my family, thrown at me about “playing constantly and not doing work” when I was rushing out school project deadlines at 3AM in the morning and skipping days of sleep at a time.
My family was not well-to-do either. I had to constantly juggle part-time work as a salesperson and my schoolwork. I was fortunate, in this instance, that I had an uncle who supported me financially when I needed it. It helped to ease the burden I was facing.
My grades suffered from the mandatory programming modules and I went from being one of the better few in my cohort to a near fail. Fortunately, I graduated from my course with a decent grade. All the extra work on the creative modules had paid off.
When I got out of National Service, it was a constant struggle to source for projects and find relevant jobs. I was also pressured by family to follow the usual path to take a university course because “no one involved in games or art can make it in Singapore”.
So where I am now?
I’m up at 3AM, again, typing this out while juggling multiple jobs and projects on a daily basis. It’s tricky managing my time and eking out a proper living. Getting to this point in my life, in spite of all the obstacles thrown my way, wasn’t easy. It still isn’t.
Perhaps, this isn’t the ideal for most of us. I don’t get to work normal hours. I don’t get to live comfortably. I have to work hard.
But guess what?
I’m happy and I’ve found where I’m meant to be.
Read part 2 here.