In Search of Stress

I realised that I have been doing things so much more slowly than in the past; while that means I savour the words of the books I read, it also mean that I am absorbing the knowledge more slowly. As I work on some simple HTML with some of the sub-sites of this domain, I once again feel that I am not working fast enough. A day is sometimes lost with me just doing 2 activity – reading a book (not even completing it) and chatting online. These are real unproductive times. I suspect that it’s the lost of a very structured stress system (ie. the education system and the rat race in action) that has to do with my decline in productive activity. It is scary how we may actually be tempted into this sort of comfort. I suspect it is the same sort of virus that inflicts the civil servants of the past and the teachers who taught us when we were kids. They are not directly faced with the rat race in the society, protected by the job security and income stability – the only threat was probably inflation, which is alas, well controlled by wage-restraints in the days of economy-building of Singapore.

Nevertheless the rat race must have some effect on everyone involved as long as one is connected to the rest of society and for me, it has influenced me through the fretting of university choices and courses to study. Actually course is more clear-cut to me, university is not because of my ability to pay and whether I even qualify for admission. In some universities, I am competing on the basis of my brains and excellence in demonstrable fields (with the rest of the world) because all applicants are such. Other universities would force me to compete on basis on my brains with a select bunch who are as poor as me and admission will lead me on to compete with those who are rich but not necessarily capable. You may have notice that I don’t seem to be looking out for university based on branding or quality of courses. However, my search for ‘competitive spaces’ would naturally fulfill those requirements.

If I am not wrong, Jack Welch once mentioned in some university’s commencement address that if you have no idea what organization to work for, just go for the branded ones. In the same vein, if you don’t know what university to get into, just go for the best that you can possibly afford. In the society, stuff like universities and organizations have positive network effects from name and by joining them, you benefit from an established social network, a ready pool of already successful people (often by ability but sometimes also because of the organization brand name). By searching for ‘competitive spaces’ or choosing who you want to compete with in the environment you are heading into, you naturally seek out that kind of brand that best suits you.

For those who wants to study local, I have an argument for going overseas, and to me, it is a powerful argument. In fact, I rather use another perspective and reduce the arguments for studying local. Yup, I’m going to say that convenience, security and safety are ‘pros’ only for the weak-willed and weak-minded. Nevertheless, I want to point out something in relation to ‘competitive spaces’ that local universities are unable to provide. Having been in the asian-styled examination based competitive system, I do not think that at tertiary level we should be continuing with that – we need a chance to be engaged in other levels of challenges and emphasize other platforms at which we complete. On top of the system that serves to structure the rat race, there’s the type of people as partners or competitors, which we will have to look out for when selecting the ‘competitive spaces’. Ask yourself whether you want to compete in a cohort made up of more or less the same people whom you have been fighting with the past 15 or so years. Yes, there is a change in composition of the entire cohort but remember that the experience of those around you if you study local would very much be the same as yours.

No doubt a decade or even less time down the road, Singapore may be cosmopolitan enough to support a diverse mix of people with different educational experience in the local universities – I do not question that, but I am thinking about here and now. Right now in selecting ‘competitive spaces’, one need not even look at local-foreign distinction – one simply have to select the sort of competition he hopes to be in for. Of course, due consideration still have to be given to the ability to pay and so on.

I seem to have diverged from my point about searching for stress to motivate myself, but that’s actually what I just did. I was exploring something that was simmering inside my mind too slowly. I had to write them out to get them clear. I have been trapped in my stream of thoughts about these issues sometimes because I either digressed into some self-discussion about the ethical dilemma schools may have if they are solely need-blind to students of their own country and not international students, or that I throw myself into a downward spiral of negative thoughts, questioning my ability to even compete against brilliant minds around the world. Right now, I just have to be more logical and rational with my approach and then force myself to work faster with the decision-making and research. Oh yes, and through this thinking as I write, I just introduced a new structured stress system to myself.

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