What Does The Singaporean Dream Mean To People Today?
7 November 2017
One generation ago, when our parents were in their prime, the ultimate Singapore dream revolved around the infamous Five Cs – Car, Cash, Condo, Credit card and Country club membership.
If chasing the Five Cs sounds like a nightmare rather than a dream to you, you are not alone.
To many young Singaporeans, the thought of working industriously in a perfectly stable, perfectly boring job just so they can purchase that condo with a swimming pool and play golf on weekends seems daunting.
But what exactly has changed in the space of one generation? Why do the desires of our parents diverge so wildly from our own?
Baby boomer bosses love complaining about how they just can’t understand or control millennials. And you can’t really blame them. Millennial employees are a different kettle of fish altogether.
Whereas their parents craved stability and a steady paycheck, the average millennial is more likely to crave flexibility, autonomy at work and the room to grow and pick up new skills. They are less likely to be accepting of the strict hierarchy that’s traditionally governed Singapore workplaces.
But most perplexingly for the older generation, Singaporean millennials are starting to care a lot more about whether their jobs are aligned with their interests.
And while millennials are working longer hours than their parents, there is an increasing focus on work-life balance, and a growing concern on jobs being compatible with one’s desired lifestyle. For instance, three quarters of Singaporean millennials want to become their own boss, which explains why there is now a growing number of freelancers who don’t want to be tied down to the 9 to 5.
But the changes extend beyond the career domain. Some millennials are bucking the trend by rolling their eyes at stuffy country clubs and status symbol cars.
These people prefer to spend their money on experiences, most notably, travel, which has made Singaporeans some of the world’s most frequent travellers, or their hobbies, which explains the number of young professionals who are members of MMA and yoga studios.
Why have these goals changed?
Older Singaporeans are quick to dismiss the “strawberry generation” as spoilt brats who grew up in relative affluence, and have never had to experience the feeling of sharing a small bedroom with 10 siblings, or had to help out at their family’s struggling provision shop from the age of 8.
It is true that many young Singaporeans grew up in relative comfort. The fact that it is totally acceptable to continue living with parents until marriage (and even after, for some) also means that young Singaporeans can delay the pressure of having to pay rent or home loans until much later in life, freeing up their time and money to pursue dream jobs and hobbies.
But despite the dismissiveness with which the older generation might regard their younger, more privileged counterparts, come on guys, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What’s happened is that Singapore has moved up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and younger Singaporeans are starting to focus on the higher-order need of self-actualisation, over basic needs such as food, housing and shelter.
Isn’t that the whole benefit of living in a developed country? Singapore cannot really boast about having transitioned from “third world to first” unless its citizens are able to focus on satisfying higher order needs. So the changing priorities of young Singaporeans can be regarded as a sign of progress.
A plurality of dreams
Despite all this talk about the changing Singaporean Dream, young Singaporeans who eschew the old hankering after the Five Cs aren’t transitioning into a homogenous future, where everyone wants the same things that just happen to be different from what the previous generation wanted.
In fact, the desires and lifestyle choices of Singaporeans are more pluralistic than ever before. Thanks to globalisation, we are now seeing that there are more lifestyle choices available to us.
In spite of everything above, there are some young Singaporeans whose goal in life is still that Raffles Place corner office, to drive a Porsche, spend their weekends shopping in Paris and post pictures of their extravagant exploits on Instagram.
The difference is that there are now a myriad of alternatives to the above.
How do you plan to make your dreams come true in 2017?
So what can young Singaporeans do? Well, the first thing is to not succumb to groupthink. While our parents might have been able to gain fufilment by treading the beaten path, things are less straightforward now.
So go ahead and carve your own path in life, making sure to plan ahead financially so you can support your big dreams.
[Read also: The 5-Step Salary Budgeting Guide for 1st Jobbers]
Let’s say your goal in life is to retire early so you can drop out of the rat race altogether. In that case, supercharging your savings and investments right now is the way to go. Your friends might call you crazy for forgoing those Instagram-worthy visits to hipster cafes and hip restaurants, but you know better.
If your goal is to start your own business, you’ll be treating your day job very differently from someone whose goal is to just remain in employment for the rest of their lives.
You’ll want to be like a sponge, learn as much as possible, and possibly even take some detours in your career to achieve your goal. A friend of mine who is determined to start her own restaurant has been working 70 hour weeks in a restaurant for an entire year to learn how things work, picking up knowledge she never gained at school while completing her business degree.
On the other hand, let’s say your goal is to travel the world.
Then you might want to work towards becoming a digital nomad of sorts, working remotely on your computer, thus freeing up your time and resources to travel and live anywhere in the world. In that case, skills like programming, graphic design and web development might be more useful to you than learning how to suck up to your boss at the office.
Or maybe you have no problem with the Build-To-Order (BTO), get married and have kids model.
The difference is that you want to actually have the time to watch your kids grow up, rather than rush home from the office at 9pm just to put them to bed.
You’ll then want to pursue a career that affords you flexibility, or choose employers that enable you to telecommute.
As a case in point, my friend’s husband is an insurance agent who, now in his forties, is able to spend his entire day with his two young sons. Having done most of the grunt work early on, he no longer has to pack his day with as many appointments as before.
For a great number of Singaporeans today, there is no tried-and-tested template for achieving their dreams. Thinking outside the box is therefore mandatory.
A note of caution before you go forth and chase your dreams
Thanks to the Internet, there is now more information than ever at your fingertips. Those who are determined to make their dreams come true can get a heads up by turning to the Internet, and to networks of people who can give advice, whether online or off.
Perhaps the biggest tip, especially for younger Singaporeans, is to ensure that you pay attention to financial sustainability.
It’s all too easy to throw caution to the wind and then throw yourself into your endeavours without ensuring your finances are taken care of.
Our parents chose the beaten path simply because it was the safest road to take, financially speaking.
For the rest of us, doing otherwise often involves a higher degree of financial risk.
That’s why it is so important to ensure that you live within your means, have an emergency fund and adequate savings and begin to plan for retirement. You have to make sacrifices to achieve your dream, often by living a more modest lifestyle, but it’s worth it.
What do you think is the Singaporean Dream today? Share your opinions in the comments!