Just saying, Random, Survivalguide
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Is Singapore really a place for locals to fulfil their dreams? (If yes, exactly how can you do it?)

Recently I read with interest this article “Six in 10 young Singaporeans have considered leaving the country to pursue their dreams“.

My interest was piqued because recently I wrote a viral article on Joseph Schooling which sought clarification on the role of the Singaporean government in his Olympics gold medal win. I recommend you go through the comments section too, because it is even more interesting than what I wrote.

Some commentators were saying things like:

  • “Oh, real change start from us within–why blame the government?”; or
  • “Come on, people who criticise the government’s perceived lack of support don’t even give a shit about sports–they are just angry with the government”; or
  • “Look–Singapore is a small country, we got to be smart with how we spend money or allocate resources. Why is the government always blamed?”

Essentially, the most fascinating aspect of the above three comments section is this:

People who use the “why blame the government” argument actually do generally agree that if you are a local who want to do sports competitively and ambitiously (in that post’s context), Singapore is not the place for you.

Because the argument is not “should we do sports or not?” The discourse instead is about “Is Singapore a good place to do sports competitively, or should sports just be done as a hobby?”

Don’t believe me? Read the three comments above again. They are all written in support for the Singaporean government and the Singaporean system. Which are excellent by any global standard, no matter how you look at it.

One of the challenges of the Singaporean system is simply that because we are obsessed with return-on-investment (ROI) as a small nation. So we pay keen attention to financials and -optimize-, therefore having a tendency to allocate more state resources to something certain, non-risky and fast rather than something abstract, statistically-improbable or risky.

And I personally think this strategy makes complete sense although this “ROI-centred mentality” might simply not be favourable to a young Singaporean who wants to pursue his interests in the creative/ sports/ entrepreneurial sector.

And let me tell you the fundamental reason why that post went viral.

It went viral because Singapore-born Singaporeans want to know if Singapore is really a place for them to fulfil their dreams.

Joseph Schoolings is merely ONE stellar and inspiring example for our own references as “local Singaporeans”. This is because Schooling was born in Singapore, spent his childhood here, grew up the same way we all did, speaks Singlish, hearts chai tao kuay, and basically is subjected to the same societal pressures as all of us Singaporeans.

His life resonates with all locally-born Singaporeans. That is to say, Singaporeans fascinated and inspired by Joseph Schooling must have somehow thought one or more of the following thoughts:

  • “If I want to pursue a career ambitiously in the arts/ music/ sports, or start my own company in Singapore, do I get government support?”
  • “If I want to pursue a career ambitiously in the arts/ music/ sports or start my own company in Singapore, do I get the support of my friends’ and families?
  • How exactly should I pursue a career in the arts/ music/ sports in Singapore?”
  • Do I even know what I want? How does Joseph Schooling even know what he wants and have the ability to pursue that goal with the utmost conviction?”

Let’s head back to the Straits Times article on “six in 10 young Singaporeans have considered leaving the country to pursue their dreams“.

As I have written about the idea of “market validation” in my previous post, the Singaporean system rewards anything that is already “market validated”. That is to say, I personally believe that you have to somehow prove that you are successful and have even more potential to be successful, before the state and fellow Singaporeans will give you their fullest attention and support.

Quite a handful of high profile Singaporeans in the creative/sports industry did exactly that. They went overseas to train and hone their creative skills, found an overseas market first, and subsequently returned to Singapore to win the hearts of the locals. Some examples are Stefanie Sun, Kit Chan, JJ Lin, and now even Joseph Schoolings who went to USA to train competitively.

So the question I would like to pose now is– Can “market validation” of local talent in the arts, entrepreneurship or sports be done completely in Singapore?

Or as locals, do we lack certain attributes? For example, not hungry enough, no clarity, no prior role models, problem with local education system, etcetc?

To the comment of “aiyah don’t blame the government, look within/ start with your own family”–is it that simple? If it is that easy, why isn’t it done more? If not, what could be the reasons why we don’t “look within ourselves” more?

Haha, I do have my personal answers to this question, but I am very sleepy right now so I’d continue some other time.

Good morning! 😀 I’d love to hear from you–Leave a comment if you’re interested in this topic! ^^


  1. Raymond says

    Interesting question. My short answer to that would be that Singapore is a place where dreams can begin and be cultivated, but we would almost have to involve some form of global input or exposure to see it through. As for market validation, I am less optimistic on that in many areas. It would be hard to achieve it completely for many aspects.

    Since we were on sports, we could look at running and swimming. We won the last 2 marathon golds at the SEA games. Jo Schooling just won an olympic gold. We have the up and coming Quah Zheng Wen, whom people are now touting as the next potential champion, if and only if he is given the support. Yet most people see support only as giving money, hiring top coaches and deferring NS. We could do that easily once we have the political will and finances to back it up. But there are things we simply cannot replicate for the moment. We may not be short on talent and potential, but we are definitely a fish pond, short on competition and the testing environment needed to mould a champion. If Quah Zheng Wen simply remains here to be trained, he would be beating everyone hands down. In the process, those weaker than him would improve over time, but he would have lost valuable opportunity to hone his competitive instinct and mental strength against top swimmers from overseas. For our marathoners, if they were to simply remain here their entire careers, they would miss out on opportunities like high altitude training and likewise also have less competitive experience against the top american or african runners. This is why both Mok Ying Ren and Soh Rui Yong have moved overseas to train, not different from what Schooling did.

    Complete market validation is less likely. For the music scene it is perhaps easier now. The likes of JJ Stefanie and Kit have paved the way and now, if an up and coming star is touted as the “next JJ”, he or she is likely to be given that bit more attention than before. But for some sports, it is easier to develop a single athlete than to have the entire scene develop together with him or her so as for market validation to occur here. There is only so much our local running scene here can develop, for instance. We do not have world famous landmarks, grueling courses to develop renowned running events. There is only so many times one can run round Gardens by the Bay. Even our weather is not conducive. The standard chartered marathon has been iconic in its stature but there is only so many other events one can organize and publicize. Without the key interest in the competitive nature of the sport, and with most people signing up for recreation and basic fitness purposes, the athletes do not gain sufficient celebrity from them.

    So while the beginnings of a dream and the foundations of one can definitely be laid here, IMHO, Singaporeans will always have to spread their wings beyond our shores to fully realise what they want.

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