The first film I watched in 2020-just a few days after the New Year, in what already seems like a different time-was Jojo Rabbit. The film, about a young boy coming of age in Nazi Germany, concludes with these lines by the poet R. M. Rilke: Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.
I’ve thought a lot about these lines in the months since, and how we survive the things we think will overwhelm us.
So far, 2020 has been a Commando-level exercise in endurance, like the product of a demented scriptwriter determined to find inventive ways of putting their characters through hell. Every month has seemed to bring some new loss: dreams derailed or delayed, waves of business closures, families buckling under the strain.
There is no set of instructions for surviving tragedy, whether a personal crisis or a global pandemic. Nor is it as simple as walking towards the light, when you can make all the right moves and still lose. Sometimes, there’s nothing to be done except hold on tight and wait for the worst to be over-and to be surprised by your own strength.
In the time I’ve been alive, Singapore’s been through the Asian financial crisis and the dot-com crash, post-9/11 uncertainty, SARS, the 2009 global financial crash, and now, Covid-19. These are just the largest, history-textbook events, to say nothing of the personal crises which form the in-between moments of everyday life-the ones you think you won’t survive, until, somehow, you do.
We spoke with three Singaporeans about what they’ve learned from life’s twists and turns, and how they came to learn, in their own time, that no feeling is final.
Like most precocious graduates, I left university thinking the world would roll out a red carpet for me. But it was the year 2000, Singapore’s economy had just recovered from the Asian financial crisis, and jobs were still scant. If any jobs were available, they weren’t in the media sector -that was starting to decline -and I was a journalism major.
When you’re rejected from job after job, no matter how talented or skilled you are, you quickly learn that the world doesn’t revolve around you. I finally landed a job as a Librarian at the National Library Board, doing research at the then National Library on Stamford Road.
From there, I joined the National Heritage Board at what was-unbeknownst to me- probably the worst possible time. Mere months after I joined, SARS ravaged Singapore. Travel was effectively shut down, which meant there were very few visitors to the various museums under NHB’s care. I remember many friends in the travel and hospitality industries losing their jobs. Even the public sector was hard-pressed; there were pay cuts across the board, and bonuses that year, if there any, were very paltry.
For me, the turning point came in 2010, when I was retrenched from a gaming company. The management had decided on a restructuring that didn’t include me and a few other colleagues in its future.
It was a very harsh and painful lesson, but it opened my eyes to the fact that there’s so much I cannot control in my own destiny. Or could I?
The interesting thing about entrepreneurship is that your work defines you. Unlike a corporate job where you can generally hide behind a faceless corporation, when you’re an entrepreneur, people equate what you do with who you are.
There’s nothing to hide behind. If you succeed, the credit is yours. If you fail, well, it’s your fault. It forces you to do your best work, and be the best that you can be.
In this, I think it’s interesting to consider the differences between resilience and repentance, which are concepts I’ve thought a lot about over the years.
People generally think of repentance as a form of expressing remorse or regret. But in Classical Greek, repentance, or metanoia (μετάνοια), means “change of mind”. My faith has taught me that repentance sometimes comes simply from a change of mind about things.
Resilience, on the other hand, is being tenacious, and being able to pull yourself up and continue. But the problem with resilience is that you can be tenacious to the point of stubbornness; that can lead …