What Drives You?

I am friggin' bored out of my skin trying to study and work on my multitude of projects, essays, quizzes as the NUS academic semester roars to an end. Its always during this period that college students engage in activities they logically should not do:

  • like catch an ENTIRE SEASON of a new television drama series (like Desperate Housewives or CSI) like what my friend did last sem,
  • watch AS MUCH Youtube videos as possible like the indian chick opposite me in this study room is doing (plus guffawing uncontrollably, to her neighbors' furious glares),
  • click on ALL their friends and friends' friends on Friendster, Hi5,
  • run crazy distances (like i did who ran 12km 2 nights ago)…

So i am officially hating school, 3 months after returning from Silicon Valley where studies and work and play just fused together in such a unitary symbiotic fashion there was artistic beauty in it all. None so in Singapore. And where does all this schooling and education go towards? I question that because I dun see any of my peers enjoying what they study nor applying what they learnt in a more linear fashion, e.g. engineering, life science, arts, law, business grads flocking to i-banking and converging in one big orgy.

Another big rhetorical question, why do i keep feeling Stanford students seem to enjoy their studies so much more compared to NUS students? NUS students are so much more hardworking based on the hordes of eyebrow-furrowed students in the study rooms at all times of the semester while most US students have all the football tailgating parties, the frats and sororities parties, the no-reason-we-just-want-to-drink parties and still end up working at cool companies when they graduate and getting appreciated in their jobs and enjoying it at the same time. Making quite a general statement here, but my point is if education equates career success (and maybe satisfaction), why do Singaporeans' fanatically dilligent attitude towards education not translate into high career satisfaction?

Is it a lack of career choice in Singapore? Many graduates-to-be rely on the college career services to find them jobs and in NUS, there is a voracious supply of companies pounding on our doors and they all seem to be coming from the financial sectors, a lot of the investment banks. There's the consultancies as well, and consumer product giant P & G… and i dun really recall the rest cos they do not come to do recruitment talks. (Sidetracking: Ok, only cool company talk i went to this year was Google) Does Singapore only have these sectors? What happened to the media industry, TV, radio, advertising, newspaper, fashion, airline (budget airlines), telcos? Fair enough, there are graduates who join these companies but are less publicized but a fair amount of top graduates join the financial sectors for the money and social standing and that is my main gripe.

Yes, money is very important. I love money too and could think of a gadzillion ways to spend a billion bucks. But here's the thing, there's also at least a million ways to make money but many pple think it can only be through banking. And the thing is, many people dun really like banking at all. At least pple i know who has started working and complain to me. They reluctantly accepted it after graduating because over-enthusiastic recruiting agents made the banking sector the lowest-hanging fruit to pick for a career. And when they have started, they grudgingly willed themselves to like it before getting their senses so numbed 5 years down the road they no longer complain abt banking and return to their alma maters to evangelize their cool "sweatshop" jobs that pride materialism above quality of life.

Can a lucrative career exist outside of banking? Can young graduates actually find jobs that are aligned to their passions? Instead of choosing the jobs they dun like but are easier to get due to abundance? I believe so. What they have to do is ignore the obvious and search.

To all the patient and open-minded ones who read thus far, this is the type of post i write after too much Red Bull. Disagree all you want, if you have violent objections, maybe it means u haven't heard too many contrarian thoughts lately. Then you should. IF you really love banking, forgive what i say please. Cos I will need you to charge me cheap underwriting fees when my hypothetical startup goes IPO on NasDaq in Year 2011. Anyhow, good night and good luck.

Update: for those who enjoyed this, or are bored and wants a follow-up read, click here for a view on overseas Singaporeans.

Related Article: Thoughts about Life in Singapore

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21 thoughts on “What Drives You?

  1. despite its risks starting up sounds so exciting in comparison right? i think stanford students suffer from the same questions too… should they startup or join some big company to pay back those exhorbitant school fees.

    maybe those exhorbitant school fees drive them harder?

    i think the culture of fun just isn't present here in singapore. everyone seems to be working and working and working and working. even myself. after coming back to singapore, i've been working and working and working endlessly. but i do enjoy what i've been doing at least.

    i miss fri night frat parties and techcrunch parties!

  2. groovy post. i know a ton of NUS ppl all aiming for careers in e financial sector, and i think it’s a lack of ambition, unless that’s what they really love. we’re stuck in a system where we’re not even given the opportunity to discover what we’re passionate about. good thing u found urs. 🙂

    oh, n i watched e entire season of desperate housewives during this time last sem. heh. if e third season was out now, i’d being doing the same thing.

  3. i have 4 seasons of “24” untouched on my comp. I hope it doesn’t come to that.. haha

  4. I could not agree more! I’ve observed this career shift among a lot of undergrads in NUS – especially Engineers! The reason behind it all is because of the funny educational system in NUS. People study electronics, math, communications without being passionate about it. Bombarded with a lot of theory and exam-focused teaching, we rarely see how all of this applies in real life. The end result is confused engineers who feel that they are more suited for finance or the business sector. I guess you can’t expect much from the professors here or in any uni, for that matter. In that case, the interest and passion have to come from one-self. We just need a little more flexibility in the choice of courses.

  5. yea, Ajay, its a pity man, since you are in Engineering, help spread the love of it among your peers

  6. nice topic.

    regarding engineering in NUS, i wish i could go back to my year 1 of engineering and work my way from there. i just slacked my ass off for my first three years in NUS.exams were just a mere formality.start studying a couple of weeks before exams and scrape through. i don’t think there was any *passion*/*whatever* in doing what i did, which leads me to believe i don’t want to do engineering any more. again the NUS system sucks ass. i tried doing things myself..ala not copying lab reports or projects but as a result of that my marks in the labs/projects were considerably lower than the others which kinda effected the final grade. and when you have a scholarship you gotta maintain…well, lets just say you gotta compromise. now thats one thing. secondly, NUS system is good in the sense that it gives you the freedom to take up projects, learn something new and build something useful (UROPs/ISPs). now this is useful only when you have the drive to get something done. in my case, nah..fuck the drive..all i cared about was getting through the exams.i don’t attend lectures because most of them are pretty hopeless. the ones that i do attend are because the lecturer goes by the basics and can drill the concepts into your mind (it doesn’t matter if the guy is smart or geeky..as long as he’s good at lecturing i attend the lectures religiously).but thats a rarity..hardly 1 out of 15 maybe.heh.so that left me with slogging for exams, passing them and yeah another sem of engg done.i don’t think it should have been this way.

    now coming to ibanking/finance.i wanted a couple of years of finance experience before doing what i think i’ll be good at.that thing being product management in a hi-tech company. in addition to the basic finance courses i don’t have any knowledge in that field. so i thought a couple of years of finance experience would do me good. i was not doing it for the money. yes. its true. coz frankly if you’re willing to put in the effort into doing something and if you know your way around, money will come to you, right? or so i’ve been told. and hey, i’m just starting off, i don’t think a couple of hundred bucks here and there would make so much of a difference to me. i think the reason why banking and consulting jobs are so popular is the glamour associated with it.money yeah but its the whole idea of working in a bank or a consulting firm that make it so lucrative. i’ve asked a lot of ppl regarding their reasons for joining a consulting firm. most of the answers veer towards – ‘you get to work with the CEOs and VPs of a lot of big companies’..good for them.this doesn’t quite excite me. but you know, most of the ppl that the banks and consulting firms hire are smart ppl.and i mean smart ppl. ppl who can communicate well and have an opinion on pretty much everything.i think its a general human tendency to associate yourself with the best.hence, the tans and chuas and the lees and a lot of indians in NUS apply to a lot of banks and consulting firms.

    its funny how people actually relate a good job to the compensation that you get. as long as you’re doing something you like, its fine. i don’t understand this concept of “best jobs” or “good jobs”. weisheng will more than concur with me on this. haha.then again, if you think a good job is one where you get paid a lot then the analogy is valid.libertarian ideology.hahaha 😛

  7. Dude, take a chill pill.
    Anyway, I enjoy very much, what I am studying, primarily because at this stage (honours year), I pretty much determine what I want to study or research upon.
    These days, students have more choice than they think possible.
    The only way is to keep challenging the limits. One such person who often does that is Mr Lawrence Lao, though he sometimes gets a bit too agitated along the way. hehe….

    Anyway, you have the intellect to explore what you like. go for it….

  8. As for Arpit,
    When is the last time you actually exhibit great passion in a particular project (of considerable proportion, i.e. takes ore than a month or 3 to accomplish)? If you cannot find an answer for that, then you may have to rethink and reexamine your inner self instead of complaining about the systems here, there, everywhere.

    And before you start defending yourself, pause, stop, and think…..

    I know, a can of coke has dropped out of you, and I am enjoying drinking it….haha!

  9. well the answer is 42.

  10. weisheng, you’re turning this into another inane conversation.

    read my post in full *before* you hit the reply button.

    PS: post any other comments your have abt me related to this issue on the lvl3 blog. i would hate to see this thread be abt me, me and only me.mwahahahaa.

  11. hey i spent some great time reading all the three blogs, the one you set up with few others, yours and your friend’s…

    i guess the US system, values and everything are so different from those of yours in Singaopre, and that makes all the difference…it sounds bullshit, but what i meant is that the US and Singapore are intrinsically different and it may not be good to simply compare and make a generalized conclusion… i’ve many friends in the US/UK too, from big name colleges, you name it… from what i know, a good number of the native americans or europeans don’t give a shit to the education system… they’re encouraged to do what they like ever since they were young… but that is not happening here… in addition, in the states, you are not paid based on your academic qualifications, for example, it does not make a difference to your boss that whether you are a f***ing first class honors student or a third class or one that is without honors… what matters is that you can deliver… however sadly speaking, the local government does believe in the paper qualifications… yeah there are people who can perform but also good at doing exams; but not everyone is… and these who do not look so good on their paper qualifications, will be greatly disadvantaged while applying for the majority of jobs locally… hence, people in nus are generally more hard working because they are “fighting” for those few hundred dollars difference in their starting pay…and those few fucking hundred bucks do make a big difference in the eyes of a typical fresh graduate… it is not their fault, but money is the basis means to survival… and you’ve to understand, many of them are in DEBTS…

    perhaps you are right that most of your countrymen strive to find a job related to banking or consultancy, for whatsoever reasons they may have… but it really sucks to me that you find a job, which you don’t really like… for example, many of your future doctors in nus medicine school, are not sure what they want to do in the future; thus taking up medicine to be their profession… i hate those people because they are not only irresponsble to themselves but also their patients… but you can’t blame them as well, because you can’t expect everyone in singaopre or in the world to be like you… yes you may be highly motivated; but many others are more contented to live a simple quiet life… they’ve their right to do so and to live the life they want to have… my friend was right when he told me that hey suhao, not everyone is like you and we’re all different… the world DOES NEED a mix of all different kinds of people to do different things; otherwise, the order of the nature will be disturbed…

    hey sorry dude, i don’t think that i’ve any logic in my comments but hope that you get some of the points that i want to raise here…(by the way, the term “you” does not literally refer to you”)

    like reading your blogs and cheers man

  12. i love your passionate reply, could feel you really strongly with the issue which is great!

  13. many singaporeans cannot visually imagine what they can possibly achieve. In order to not fall short of expectations, they rather not give it a shot. Statistics may have proven that you’ll fail 99% of time venturing out on ur own but when 99% of the pple are in the finance industry, that’s where the competition is and where u’ll get killed esp if u’re not passionate abt it.

    An outsider view of Stanford’s life is different from an insider perspective but the culture in Stanford definitely breeds the entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps that’s what we want to instil in Singaporeans. To believe that there is not one model answer, one standard path or route to success and when your mind opens up to all the possibilities out there, you might just find one that truly drives you.

  14. Hey…you know you can put YouTube vids straight onto your site…it’s pretty cool feature!

  15. Great post Bjorn. I concur with many of your points.

    When we were about to graduate, many of my peers wanted to get into either i-banking or consultancy. I gathered that it basically boiled down to 2 main factors: the relatively high pay, and the prestige that is associated with the industry (due to the high pay, of course). The thing that fascinated my most was that most of my peers had hardly any idea what i-banking was all about. All they knew was that they wanted to get in.

    I think there’s a general sentiment amongst undergraduate these days that the most coveted job to land after graduation is that in an i-bank. The recent news of Barclays Capital paying record salaries for IIM (the prestigious Indian business school) grads only makes things worse.

    You posed a good question: “Can a lucrative career exist outside of banking?” The way I see it, if we’re talking about money alone (which, sadly, is the only consideration for many people in S’pore), then I would say “not really”. I-banks and many other financial institutions seem to be paying one of the best salaries around these days, at least from what I know…which is not that much really.

    I think in S’pore there’s a certain social status being attached to a person which is directly proportional to the salary he/she is drawing every month. And industries like media, advertising, retail, etc which do not pay as much as the i-banks would thus seem like a much less attractive career path, irregardless of what you really would like to pursue as a career. I think we still have a way to go before we cultivate the kind of mindset where people actually go out and pursue their dreams and do things they truly love. The social stigma associated with such things at the moment in S’pore is too large to ignore.

    Great blog you have here. Just discovered it recently actually. I like the kind of stuff that you write about, espcially on the Internet and Web 2.0 and stuff.

    Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts. Cheers.

  16. To say the truth, i’ve a couple of friends who graduate from U & their job does not correspond to what they studied for. They wanted to have a stepping stone to gain experience in this society so they grasp hold of any job that comes their way.

    I graduated from ITE Clementi & to say the truth, I felt inferior to talk abt it. But then my friends gave me word of encouragement that there’s no need to feel inferior at all, as long as I like what i’m doing in my job now. I believe that is true, it doesn’t matter where I graduate from, is the drive & enthusiassium (ithinkigotthespelling wrong :p) that i put in the job that counts.

    Of course, I don’t want to restrict myself & stop upgrading. I would love to be able to interact with different ppl & to further improve myself.

    Well, keep up with the good articles, Bjorn. They really set me thinking aloud. Thanks for that! =D

  17. Singapore is small yet very structured society. This sets tight constraints for career mobility and also increases the cost/risk of trying something different. Everyone knows this, but no one can change it because we (who talk about the problems) aren’t in the position to change things. I offer the alternative view of taking a deeper look into Singapore government policy, which I think will help us all see our place more clearly.

    The government sets the rules, my friends, and we play the game. When the rules suck, the game becomes boring. The national initiative on life science is a good example – I am pretty sure bright decision makers see the importance of staying nimble and planning ahead, unfortunately that only means more stress for some people since they have to change their focus in life to catch this “new trend”. My mechanical engineering professor will tell me that he cannot focus on manufacturing projects (which he has passion in) since funds are available only if projects have a life science focus.

    We all must change in response to a changing world, but sadly in Singapore we need to change too quickly, often finding ourselves constantly reinventing yet never consolidating. Consequently, we respond with short-cuts like focusing on grades, job-hopping to higher pay and don’t take the time to bulid our fundamentals. Very importantly, we become more pragmatic as well, which I strongly feel is a respond to even more pragmatic government policies.

    I have been wondering if we can ever over come social pressures to pursue our own goals instead of being constantly swept by changes in our environment. Can we stand as entrepreneurs in a country where state entrepreneurship dominates? I guess we can but its going to extremely tough and take extrememly long. Maybe that’s why Singaporeans always seem to be worker harder?

    Like what my HR tutor and Sharon (NCBV) once told me – never underestimate the influence of the environment. Environment, in my context, is planned and not random. The question then becomes if this the game you want to play.

  18. this is all pretty good info, but you know that successfully negotiating a pay raise with your employer is the most profitable way you can spend a few minutes.

  19. since i am giving my 6th semester exams in electronics & communication engineering. so i want to ask for how can i apply in your firm and in which field u will be requiring specialisation from me. please tell in detail.

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