Conform Or Perform? Singapore’s Dilemma

THE MILLENNIALS are certainly wired differently to previous generations. And they may reshape how things work.

When more than 1,000 affluent Americans were asked about the top priorities in their lives, millennials were significantly more likely than their older counterparts to focus on personal milestones, such as working their dream job (42%, compared with 23%) and travelling the world (37%, compared with 21%).

The survey consisted of 1,023 mass affluent respondents throughout the US with investable assets upwards of US$20,000. Most were aged between 18 and 34 years.

Conducted by Merrill Edge, an investment service of Merrill Lynch, it was also found that the majority of millennials say they are more likely to spend money travelling (81%), dining out (65%) and exercising (55%), than saving for the future.

According to Merrill Edge, young adults say they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve freedom and flexibility, even if it means working for the rest of their lives.

Shift In Emphasis

The findings are interesting from a Singapore perspective because it makes you wonder if young Singaporeans will have similar objectives. There seems to be a greater emphasis on family and contributing to society rather than focusing on the self in the long run in this part of the world.

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Connecting The Varied Dots

Conformity is etched into the fabric of Singapore society. This was reiterated in a recent address at the Methodist Girls School’s Strategic Planning Retreat for senior education administrators and teachers by prominent MGS alumni Dr Linda Lim Yuen-Ching. She highlighted Singaporeans inclination to conformity, citing an essay by an Indonesian who started studying in Singapore at the age of 15 years, before moving onto the Singapore Management University where the essay was written.

The Indonesian noted that the Singapore journey to meaning is one of a clear path—defined by good grades, good schools and eventually, a good job. This, he added, results in a society that he found “myopic”, “monotonic” and “monochromatic” compared to his home, which he acknowledged was chaotic but also colorful, exciting, stimulating, and much more entrepreneurial.

It hard for Singaporeans to know whether this is a compliment or an insult, especially as the path cited has driven Singapore’s success in the last few decades.

But can a “monochromatic” way of life drive progress in a world of many colours now?

In Singapore, it seems that millennials are more likely to have families and work for as long as they can to ensure that their families are well provided for. They are also more likely to consign their personal milestones to the backseat.

Conform Or Perform?

In the lead-up to the last general elections in 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of how the pioneer generations had worked with the ruling People’s Action Party to transform the country and uplift the lot of its people. He added that for Singapore to continue to move forward, younger generations would need the same pioneering spirIt.

Singapore’s pioneer generations were conforming and fully invested in what the government was doing. Their commitment to Singapore Inc was monochromatic, but total. But, is this the pioneering spirit Singapore can afford going forward?

Dr Lim noted in her address that for Singapore to progress, there is a need to “challenge all the orthodoxies which govern our lives and work, which is required to spur the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that Singapore needs in the decades ahead”.

In order to challenge orthodoxies, more millennials in Singapore should try to break away from their join-the-dot existence. Maybe becoming more selfish and focusing more on personal goals than older Singaporeans might be the new way forward, forging a new pioneering spirit.

To this end, it would be interesting to see the results of a similar survey conducted in Singapore of the mass affluent. It would give some insights into whether younger Singaporeans are like their parents, and whether Singapore can continue to look towards a monochromatic future, or a multi-coloured, multi-faceted one instead.

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