“Get Busy Living”

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.” – Andy Dufresne

I have spent 25 years living a very predictable Singaporean life. I grew up in an upper-middle class home with parents who worked pretty regularly high-paying office jobs that paid for our shift from a condominium to a semi-detached private residence. My childhood was made up of taking the kindergarten bus and singing kindergarten songs, buying a huge cake and donning a pretty dress on my birthday to celebrate with the entire kindergarten, weekend breakfasts to A&W (the one that used to be at Ang Mo Kio), the community library, and my constant companion all the way up to Primary school was a domestic helper. In order to make sure their daughter had a secure place in a Secondary school, I was enrolled into a primary school with a secondary school affiliation. I always took the school bus until I discovered I could walk home and found enjoyment in that period of solitude. My secondary school was a girls’ mission school and taught us that it was “always better to the safe than sorry”. It comes as no surprise that we grew up with the mentality that our decisions have high stakes and we should usually just “go with the flow” to avoid incurring costs. So I “worked hard”, even though I did not quite understand Science and managed to clear my O Levels rather decently. I went to a very “safe” junior college because a junior college is where all able students go after their O Levels. In fact, the better the grade I received, the better a school I had to go to. We threshed about helplessly in the first three-quarters of a year or so in junior college, until we discovered our talents (or passions) in some areas. Then having done well enough at A Levels, I secured a scholarship to support my university education, and completed a degree in Singapore. Afterwhich I studied and obtained a post-graduate diploma and am now a teacher – a typical, predictable, “go with the flow”, “better to be safe than sorry” lifestyle. Which I find increasingly problematic.

Now you did not need to read all of the above in order to figure out that I want to create some change in my life and “get busy living”. It is not that I am dissatisfied with the life I am currently living, or even that I have some unspeakable regret which I need to confront. I simply feel that I have lived a life without question for 25 years. That fact alone throws me slightly off-balance.

Today (it is one of the many days I have thought of this) I finally recognized that I do not want to be a teacher for life. Now some people can say that with such confidence I respect them. But I cannot even bring myself to think about that possibility of being a teacher for life (haha). Again, it is not that I am dissatisfied with my present career or working environment. I just don’t think I will be teaching my entire life, and I definitely will not be working under M.OE my entire life – that would be just sad.

But today is also the day I realized I do not know what else I want to / could possible be if not an educator. (gasp.)

Horror of horrors I suddenly realized my identity as a being is tied so much to my job that I cannot imagine doing anything else but that! (It is not mutually exclusive to say that I cannot imagine doing anything else but teaching, and I cannot imagine teaching my entire life.) The very thought that I had no thoughts about how to “get busy living” other than teach, freaked me out. How can someone not have an opinion about such a matter, seriously? 

I tried to recall this: What did I want to do as a kid? One time I told the world (the world being the participants and mentor at this motivational workshop for primary school kids) that I wanted to be either a Mathematics teacher, or a counselor. (Wahh, my fate to work with young people have been sealed since then?) Then I dropped the idea of being a Mathematics teacher and moved towards the idea of a psychologist. In secondary school I found interest in art and visual design, and played with the possibility of pursuing a diploma in a polytechnic. (Of course it did not materialise.) In university I thought of becoming a social worker, a counselor, a tuition teacher with a specific skills set. All these I toyed with, until my scholarship grant from M.OE was offered me.

After that time, I am now a teacher. But is this all I want to try in my life?

What do I want to do with my life? And again, I find myself without a voice to answer. Maybe I should start with a bucket list, and not be afraid to share it.


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