Monday, 7 May 2018

Project Django Unchained - Conceptualization

Long time readers will know that attaining freedom from the corporate world has been a particular favorite project of mine for the longest time.

It started way before I even joined the corporate world on a full-time basis. Talk about unhealthy obsessions :)

For years, I've been scrimping, saving, investing and busting my hump to achieve this elusive target, and over the past couple of years , like a ragged marathoner hitting the wall enroute to the finish line, I've struggled.

I've struggled with the below, and I have arrived at a stage where I feel like I've adequately addressed my key concerns with sufficient mitigants.

Get ready for a wall of text.

Dealing with key concerns and emotions

Greed

1) Desire for more: If S$[1.0]m AUM is fine, pretty damn sure S$[1.2]m is 20% better yes, and that means more money to drawdown when I finally leave for good? Maybe I'll ride the gravy train for another year and see how it goes..

Mitigant: Bro, there's a concept of enough, and records show that you've not been spending enough. Your passive income has covered your historical expenses by 1.93x, and that passive income was based on a more conservative safe withdrawal and AUM growth profile. Also, when was it your mission in life to get more stuff? You tried that for awhile and it didn't yield that much satisfaction, remember? 

2) Growing my AUM: Nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing your AUM increase by [10]% year or year, and throwing your savings into investments. A sweet analogy I like to use when work gets rough - I'm trading my time for a whole load of corporate robots who'll (a) never ever take a sick day, (b) never ever talk back, (c) always be hustling 24/7 for more money on my behalf, and that's comforting to know. The notion of having to actually use these bad boys to support a lifestyle when there's no salary didn't sound quite so appealing.

Mitigant: The major satisfaction from seeing your AUM grow is the illusion of safety. It might not really be an illusion but what are you? Space Boy? Come'on dude, too safe isn't fun, nor does it make you feel alive. In any case, you're already safe and spending more time accumulating the stockpile, while that would probably provide additional safety, the safety that comes with that accumulation would only be marginal. Do you really want to spend more time getting [1]% return on time? 

Also, you have cash reserves to last you for a minimum of 1.25 years before you even drawdown on AUM. If you really feel that this lifestyle isn't for you and you don't want to drawdown on AUM then, you could go back to the office. 

3) More stuff: Perhaps I might want to get a district 9, 10, 11 condominium in future? It might be nice to finally buy a BMW sports car or splash the cash on a nice Ducati sports bike eh. Man, will I actually feel like I've missed out when my peers get their hands on these babies?

Mitigant: Well, well, I didn't quite know that life was a dick measuring competition. Come'on mate, life is for living and you know where you derive happiness mostly from. Yes, that's right, it's from having copious amounts of freedom and developing yourself. Remember the most sustainable happy times weren't the times when you bought stuff (or maybe you just haven't bought any real stuff yet :p)? 

It's when you when you lived simply in meditation retreat, practiced yoga, or had a meaningful experience (regardless of whether that experience was hard or easy). Your main mode of transport is public transport; you have stayed in spartan accommodation, lived/visited public housing before and there wasn't quite a consideration of "this is not good enough" during those times. In any case, if you really want to get it in the future, you know you'll be able to afford it on the basis of trading more time for it... so why worry about this at present?

Fear

4) Fear of the unknown: What am I going to do with all that time? I put in at least 10 hours at work daily. That's a whole load of time to spend with myself. Am I going to waste my life watching TV, playing computer games and just generally dicking around? You've got to retire to something you know for sure you want to do yes?

Mitigant: Yes, you might not know how exactly you're going to spend your time, although you are already making the most out of your free time to develop yourself by reading, working out, doing yoga and developing your meditation practice. That could potentially be a route to take yourself down further as you have gained happiness and meaning from it.  

Also, uncertainty may not be a bad thing as you realign yourself and focus on the things that matter and bring happiness to you. Remember, the most uncertain times in your life have yielded the best results - dropping out of course during NS, failure to get into a particular CCA during university, etc. 

Lastly, would you rather a certain misery or an uncertain future where you have a good measure of confidence to effect happiness? It's challenging, no shit, but you dig challenges as a generally intellectually curious individual and you'll be more than just fine here. 

5) Fear of missing out: Am I going to miss out on all the corporate perks, the banter in the office, the colleagues, and perhaps a certain standard of lifestyle that I know will be attainable if I just plod on for a few more years? Similar to 3)

Mitigant: Hey dude, maybe you should count the amount of banter in the office that you actually enjoy, and contrast that with the stress that comes with it. Yep, doesn't sound like a nice exchange now isn't it? Also what is it and lifestyle inflation? You're happy with your simple lifestyle now and expenses level - do you really want to be eating CUT every weekend or staying in D9,10 and 11 and trading your life for that? Yep I guessed so, that's an empathetic now. 

You've also got your insurance policies squared away now, and besides that you won't really miss those corporate perks such as dinner allowances and cab rides home - it's not like you're milking all of that daily in any case.. Also, how many colleagues do you even see on the weekends or have progressed to friends outside of work over the last 8 years or so? Yea, I thought I was a couple digits of just 1 miserly hand. Maybe you'll miss the intellectual exchanges but that's where you've lucked out - your close group of friends have the same, if not ability to better that. 

6) Fear that this decision will be irreversible: I know I've got a sweet job - I have generally good bosses and colleagues, am paid well enough even by global industry standards, and the work is intellectually interesting (at least 25% of the time). What if I need to go back to work and I can't find another gig like that?

Mitigant: C'mon mate, the only few things that are factually irreversible at this point is contracting HIV, coming back from the dead, or you turning gay overnight. You have a core set of investment banker skills that you can always deploy if you need to. And you've got more than 8 years of experience, that puts you squarely in mid level execution banker which is something the industry lacks these day cos, millenials and their 2 year job changes hurr hurr :) 

You might not get a gig this sweet, but you'll definitely be able to get another gig if you wanted, or had to. 

7) Fear that I'm not making the best use of my life: Will I waste my life if I quit just like that? Will I be throwing whatever I've worked so hard for even before undergrad days by by leaving the workforce?

Mitigant:  Not making the best use of your life would be staying in the office to do something you don't quite feel for so as to accumulate more money to feel satisfied and safe that you have a nest egg. Remember dude, the sole purpose of undertaking this investment banking gig wasn't to go through 100 hour work weeks to end up delaying gratification forever. 

And look what you've got now. The privilege of choosing, of choosing to try something out for yourself that might yield more happiness, and ultimately choosing to undertake living a fulfilled life once you've left banking and not look back. In any case, see the point on life being irreversible. 

8) Fear of letting folks down: I feel obligated to address the concerns of my parents, and the suggestion of going without a full time job hasn't exactly garnered much support has it? Also, your team took a chance on you a couple years back and brought you in for the wilderness. They taught you how to do your job and now you're leaving the team?

Mitigant:  The great thing is that you've already fully addressed this with your parents by talking to them. Any they are supportive of your decision. Oh by the way, it's not like you're going to stop giving them allowances. You've already factored that into your annual expenses and passive income coverage ratio. 

And on the point on letting your team down - you've given a good part of your life to them too mate. It's a fair trade. You'll also volunteer to stay for an additional period of time to train up the new guy if it helps with staffing issues. What's not fair is having 2nd thoughts about your job and staying on, because your output probably has not been maximized. 

9) Fear of losing my identity: What would people think of me if I'm jobless?

Mitigant:  Come'on mate. that's not consistent with your current attitude, which can be summed up in your dressing where you don't dress like you give two fucks about people's impressions of you. Why would that change now that you're jobless. In fact it's even better because that cuts through all pretenses and folks will see through to the fundamental essence of you ASAP. You'll do better without any potential gold diggers. 

And in any situation, there'll always be nay-sayers. You've been through stuff like that before, and you actually enjoy it when you're underdog and underestimated. :) 

10) Fear of shit happening: What if the math does not work out? Or a catastrophe happens?

Mitigant:  Dude, "catastrophes" are part of life. You've already done what you can to insure and protect yourself against those, and you've got adequate reserves and a more than sufficient safety margin. You did the math, had some buddies look through the numbers and addressed those comments you've got from them.

It's time to trust, to trust in the math, to trust in the process, and trust in your ability to adapt and overcome if the situation becomes untenable.  

Pulling the Trigger 

If you've made it through the above regurgitation of emotional F.I.R.E baggage, please give yourself a pat on the back.

It has taken me sometime to address my reservations on pulling the trigger, and these thoughts and emotions were the main cause of concern, together with the absence of a lack of a push factor actually, as seen through my blog posts and recent exchanges.

However, recent events and meetings over the past month or so have inspired me to execute this trigger process.

I'll refrain from listing these events out (at least in this post), but the main thought that has crossed my mind is that I'll be letting myself down if I don't exercise this privilege of actually trying to go for it, trying to lead a more meaningful life when I have the chance to, and when I look back in life as I age, I know I'll regret that I did not pull the trigger.

A case could be made for pulling the trigger later, but it gets harder to do so with each year, and a confluence of factors have made this the opportune time to execute this experiment:

* The belief that I have enough financial resources to try sustaining this lifestyle in perpetuity
* Parents are still in good health but they are over 70 or on the wrong side of 65. They do not have much time left
* Am on the right side of 35, but am on the wrong side of 30, but the right time to try something new. Staying one more year would make it harder to leave and head down a new direction  
* Am out of a serious relationship without any financial liabilities
* AUM increase from staying another year, while it may be a sizable six figure sum, wouldn't drastically improve living conditions and options
* Stock compensation left on table, while in the six figure amount, is till manageable psychologically, but will get worse next year, and every year
* Work is only going to get worse and I've lost quite a bit of interest in it. The marginal utility from the effort involved isn't quite enough anymore. I would like to leave on a good note
* I have a more developed yoga and meditation practice and am confident this is something I'll like to dedicate more time to

So come hell or high water and barring any material adverse events, I'm going to go ahead to execute Project Django Unchained and free myself from the addiction of a monthly pay cheque by 30 June 2018.

Oh yes, did I mention execution is one of my key strengths? :p

Wish me strength and luck!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Being Happy and Finding Meaning

I've noticed that the closer I've gotten to my targeted "escape velocity", the stronger the rumination on the big picture narrative of "finding meaning" at work and how work doesn't provide much meaning to my lithe nondescript existence. 

Some days I just feel like deploying the FU card, but deploying it as a means to "retire from something" as opposed to "retire to something" just doesn't quite make sense to my rational mind, especially when there's no real strong push factor.

Cognizant that I actually enjoy the process of "suffering" that has yielded practical benefits (even if it in itself does contributes perhaps at maximum 10-20%  towards success) such as being able to accumulate this sizable amount at this stage in life - this makes it even harder to leave if there is nothing to leave to.

This constant rumination, while possibly helpful from a strategic standpoint, might not exactly be beneficial on a day to day basis. What I did find helpful in my particular situation is instead to be mindful that this is merely a thin slice of my existence, and I have many roles to play, that includes, in no particular order of importance and in a non-exhaustive manner:

* Being a Son;
* Being a Brother;
* Being a close confidante to a trusted group of friends;
* Being an investor;
* Being a lover;
* Being a human being;
* Being a colleague;
* Being a mentor at work and at my alma matter;
* Being a neighbor;
* Being a cousin / nephew / uncle;
* Being an acquaintance;
* Being perhaps an inspiration to a stranger;
* Being a consumer; and
* The list goes on

And while F.I.R.E could perhaps allow me to develop or find more meaning in the list of roles above, I could perhaps, in a more sensible fashion, not focus too much on a big picture narrative of "finding meaning in life" by leaving my job, but perhaps actually start to be a better [son / brother / friend / lover] right now.

That's not to say that I should put the F.I.R.E process on the back bench, but maybe let it run on auto-pilot like a good system should, and then observe and tweak it from time to time to let things run its course, and focus on the things that really matter, and focus on the overarching life goal to find and be happy, at the current moment, with each and every situation that life has to offer.

I truly believe that being happy is a choice, no matter what life throws at us, and while that notion is hard to practically adopt than to spout, I'm trying to make that work as a guiding philosophy in my life.

After all, it's easier for me to be a negative pessimist, but that's not going to help in real life. I choose happiness, and while I'm eager to see what the rest of 2018 will bring, I'm happy, and positively grateful, with what I'm currently experiencing right now, at this stage.

Dear Reader, do you reckon happiness is a choice or a circumstance?

Sunday, 29 October 2017

My Equanimous Mind - My 10 day silent retreat experience

Recently I had the opportunity to partake in a 10 day silent retreat organized by Dhamma Malaya (http://www.malaya.dhamma.org/), which was something that I had always wanted to do since I chanced across 'The Equanimous Mind' in 2015, a book that chronicled the experience of a McKinsey consultant in a similar silent retreat that took place in India.

I had dithered on my decision to attend the retreat but somehow ended up making a decision sometime back in July / August to go for it. Perhaps it was because taking 10 days off the crackberry / emails / calls isn't exactly modus operandi in my industry, and this could potentially be a bonus impacting event come year end. 

But even if I did get negatively affected from a bonus standpoint or ended up being made redundant because of this (which frankly I'll never know), this event has been a milestone moment in my short life so far, where you just instinctively know that you've found something that, if practiced regularly, could be potentially be worth more than my job. 

In short, that's how impactful it has been, and I'm forever thankful for this opportunity. 

Disclaimer

An important caveat - this is purely a summation of my practical experience during the 10 days, with my own interpretation of the teachings. I'm not here to debate the teachings, nor conduct a lesson - if it's not already obvious enough, I'm a beginner mediator and am in no way qualified to teach, more so "preach". If one is interested, I strongly suggest that one attends the course instead of trying to self-educate.

My self-education over the last couple of years in meditative techniques have resulted in certain habits that have not exactly been "best in class", leading to certain changes that were pretty tough to adopt over the 10 days.

As an example as you will later read, I had practiced on the basis that blissful sensations on the body while meditating was a good thing, and always thought that that was supposed to be the goal to help to body relax. I could have not been more wrong...

Program Details?

I won't go into the specifics behind the program and its schedule, as it's well documented through the link above and other blogs that have done a more comprehensive review, but the gist is that the 10 day retreat builds awareness and equanimity, and touches a little on developing love and compassion, through the practice of meditation based on the Dhamma. 

What is the Dhamma?

Dhamma. Oh gee is that Buddhism at work? Yes, the 10 day silent retreat is anchored on the basis of secular Buddhism, where the Dhamma involves the practice of Sila (morality), Samadhi (mastery of the mind) and Panna (Wisdom). Which from my perspective, is actually pretty much universal. 

Practice / Practice / Practice

For 10 days, it was pure silence, with 3 hours of daily mandatory group mediation, 1.5 hours of  daily discourses in the evenings where techniques and a summary of how the day went were clarified through a standardized video played across all centres (that did sound a little bit like doctrine to me before I attended, but each video did present certain gems of wisdom that I found really beneficial), and another 8 hours of daily DIY meditation either in the hall or in your individual rooms (that's more of a do it as you please, nobody would enforce if you really wanted to take a nap instead of meditate). 

Building Awareness and Focus - Anapanasati

The first 3.5 days were spent on developing the Anapanasati technique, which in my opinion, was translated to anchoring your attention on your breath, being in the present moment with only awareness of your breaths. Each session was spent being focused on the triangle area that includes your nostrils and the top of your lips, feeling how each breath came in, how each breath came out, and the sensations just above your lip. One would naturally have wandering thoughts, and I found out the monkey mind is REAL! The training basically espouses bringing aware of the attention wandering off, and returning the attention back to breath. 

Anapanasati develops Samadhi, increasing mastery of the mind. 

Building Equanimity - Vipassana

The remaining time was spent developing equanimity, based on the Buddhist notion of the impermanence of all things. This can only be done once a person has developed an increased awareness of the breath, and increased his ability to

First things first: What is equanimity? 

Equanimity was defined as "Having the balance of mind, to not react with craving or aversion to sensations on the body."

The principle behind this was the Buddhist notion of suffering, that arises as a result of either craving or aversion.

When you are experiencing a blissful state (say if big boss man gives you a 12 month bonus, oh yea money good, more money always good, yay), you want it more, you crave it. Not getting back that 12 month bonus next time round leaves you disappointed, angry, frustrated, hurt, [insert negative emotion], and you suffer.  

When you experience pain (big boss man drops 3 more "urgent" deals on you to close, more deals is no good cos more work, and "urgent" is bad, bad bad, pain is coming like winter is coming in game of thrones), you feel like this is a bad thing, you start wanting to avoid situations like that, and you get worried, anxious, [insert negative emotion], whenever an email from big boss man pops up in your inbox, or in my experience, whenever I refresh my email and I see the "syncing" sign going round in circles, like the circles of misery that is to come :) 

To develop equanimity, that is done through the practice of body scans, where you move your attention through each part of your body, from head to feet, and then feet to head, and observing sensations with the understanding of annica, where everything is impermanent. 

Sensations of bliss are meant to be observed, together with sensations of pain (well... erm gee, sitting in the same position for a certain amount of time does bring across cramps, numbness, sometimes searing waves of pain), and one should not start to crave blissful sensations, nor feel averse to the pain. You observe the sensations, and that's it.

With that, you start to develop equanimity.

Practical applications to life?

Viktor Frankl is widely reported to have said: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

My takeaway is that this essentially a combination of equanimity, developing the awareness of sensations arising on your body, and having the balance of mind to not react in an instinctive manner than either craves or is averse to that particular sensation, reducing or eliminating suffering.

This obviously sounds super straightforward, but my experience in dealing with practical situations on a day to day basis has been nothing along those lines of straightforward.

I do think that the 10 days have provided a technique that helps to increase awareness and develop equanimity, but like all techniques, one requires a load of practice day in and day out to improve.

I did find myself requiring less sleep (perhaps 4 to 5 hours instead of the usual 6 to 7) during the period of the course and this was probably because my mind was more in a state of natural rest when I managed to have some sense of equanimity during my meditation, so that could be one form of practical use on a day to day basis.

For approaching the same situations that caused craving or aversion previously, only time can tell whether there was any lasting practical effects. But I look forward to practicing and monitoring my progress :)

Last Thoughts - Gratitude

Loads of thoughts surfaced and ebbed, old memories came up and my senses were much sharpened, but I found a lasting source of gratitude that has gradually built up over the 10 days and stayed with me ever since (it's only been a couple of weeks, so there there...).

Grateful for everything (whether miserable or blissful) that has happened in my life, and that includes family and friends, my partners past present any future, my "enemies", colleagues, clients and bosses (I didn't ever think I could have felt that way), my job, and especially grateful for the chance to have attended this 10 day silent retreated taught by S.N. Goenka.

My heart is full of gratitude and joy for being alive and having the chance to improve myself with this technique, and in the practice of metta-sutta (loving kindness and compassion), I sincerely wish for all beings to be happy and be free from suffering.

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Monday night thoughts

Sitting in my garden, sitting alone with my thoughts;

Grappling with the prospects of taking a sabbatical and/or calling it quits for real;

Never thought it'll be that tough a decision calling it quits;

The six figure salary, the limited perks, the seeming "prestige" and job satisfaction; 

Are those real? They certainly seem like obstacles in the path to the promised land;

Oh well, what indeed is the promised land? 

After more than 10 years in the journey to F.I.R.E;

I realise that from my perspective, the monetary aspect, is perhaps the most simple problem of it all;

Managing one's fear, emotions, and desires is proving to be a much tougher problem to solve;

But with all problems or transitions which are tough;

Fruit will be borne out of thee; 

And with sufficient effort, these will eventually be, perhaps not resolved holistically, but managed effectively; 

I feel tremendous gratitude indeed, for having these problems at such a tender age of less than 32; 

But that shall not serve, in any way. as an excuse from shunting away from responsibility; 

The responsibility to provide, to live a better life, and to live true to my own values; 

My values, which do seem a bit muddled from the years spent waging battle in the investing banking trenches; 

With enough water and patience, perhaps true north could obtained once more? 

It's all in the journey RB35; 

Keep strong, and keep the faith and live progresses; 

And enjoy the ride while it lasts; 

Because at the end of it all;

We'll all turn to ashes and dust. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Monday Musings

Life! Monday feature
I like the Life! feature story that comes out every Monday, typically featuring someone that has achieved a certain measure of success in her life, doused with nuggets of wisdom and reasons behind that success, including her motivations and background.

Today's article is about the founder of The Projector, an indie film lifestyle operatorship based out of the top levels at Golden Mile Tower. Just 35 years young, Karen Tan has managed to establish what long time operators have failed to do - a sustainable indie arthouse filmhouse. While I have not watched a screening at The Projector before, I have been a customer and spent some time catching up with friends over a few drinks at the bar outside, and the vibe was pretty cool.

That aside, I think my takeaway point is that Karen has managed to find meaning in what she has done, contributing positively to the burgeoning arts scene in Singapore by providing a venue that will screen the films made by small and upcoming indie film producers. Seeing someone build something that contributes positively to society is always inspiring, especially if that someone is some one belonging to my age group. 

Some food for thought....

Joke of the Day
Was making small talk with a big swinging dick (Managing Director, or "BSD") while heading to a client meeting.

BSD: "Yo RB35 you look stronger and more defined these days. What do you do to get in shape?"
 
RB35: "Just a little mix of kettlebells and high intensity interval training. Nothing much."

BSD: "Shoot me the contact for your personal trainer man. Mine's not really good for advice, it's been 15 months and I don't feel too in shape."

RB35: "I'll shoot you the app for my gym timer, but I don't have a personal trainer boss."

BSD: "Dude, you're a fucking investment banker. You should go hire a personal trainer instead of formulating your own workouts."

RB35: "Erm, sure boss."


Gee, I guess I know why your personal trainer didn't work out there, Mr BSD. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Captain Fantastic

Was introduced to this show by a close buddy of mine. And it was totally fantastic.

It basically revolves around an American family led by a Dad that has a contrarian approach to life and raising his six children. Instead of going through the public education system, Dad has decided that the best way to raise his kids would be to foster education through both experiential and textbook learnings, in the forest where his children will learn to build up physicality, mental smarts and a thought process that provides for critical thinking, coupled with a strong resistance against the consumerism, organised religion and big government.

His children are raised to be able to build a fire, skin a deer, read Plato, critique the bill of rights, compare and contrast different governments, eat clean, function at a high physical level, plan, execute and refine missions (such as raiding a supermarket), play a musical instrument at a proficient level, engage in personal combat, and to perfect other skill sets that are necessary to not just survive, but thrive in a jungle environment with just a knife.

And of course, the main protagonist faces obstacles along the way. No struggle, no meaning yes?

Society comes crashing on him when he needs to take his kids out of his own version of Plato's Republic. Grandpa, in all good intent, throws down the gauntlet and insists grandkids go through the normal school system. Is Captain Fantastic going to yield, or is he going to hold his ground?

Certainly one of the top 5 films over the last decade that has made me think - how do I, and how should I raise my hypothetical children in the future? Put them through the Singapore educational system which is surely nothing less than a wringer, or to home school them in qualities that will be essential to be a good human being?

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Thoughts on Scholarships

Arrived home yesterday to find the annual "Scholarships" edition of tucked between the papers. It's the season of the year again when the GCE A Level results are announced and the scholarship application frenzy officially kicks off.

Just thought I'll provide my perspective on taking on scholarships, that might hopefully lend some use to the hopeful 18/19 year old folks out there who are considering taking on scholarships. My perspective is obviously shaped by my journey through the education system, and my employment as an investment banker for more than 8 years where I have had the opportunity to work alongside many ex-scholars, most of whom have broken their bonds. 

My Education

My educational certifications, are at best, "above average" when compared against the national standard, with an L1R5 score of 10 points for my O Levels and an A A B for my A Levels. Those scores were obtained in the first couple years after the Y2K celebrations, and if you account for grade inflation that seems to be the norm these days, they look downright "average". I was more focused on my "after-school" activities (such as my real CCA and chasing skirts) and playing bridge with friends in JC than my studies, and the only driving factor behind getting grades good enough for the next leg was my parents insisting that I will have to fund my own studies if I was not able to get into a local university. Pretty sure neither my parents nor I was aware of the "Ivy-League", else I might have turned out differently. LOL  one can only hope...  
 
With those grades, I managed to wiggle my way into a local university where I did a Business degree with a finance major. Things did change quite a bit during my national service days and it slowly dawned on me then that I had better put pedal to the metal when I went off to university, so as to attain maximum optionality. I hadn't quite figured out what I wanted to do before university, but I guessed that getting a top grade for my degree would keep maximum roads open, so I hit the ground running from day 1 and managed to squeeze out a first class honours / summa cum laude degree.

Except for a couple of study awards received for taking on exchange programs in university, I was never a recipient of a scholarship. My dream when I was in my teenage years, obviously unduly influenced by too many movies of the "Black Hawk Down" genre, was to receive a academic study award from the SAF and join up the SAF as a special forces soldier, but I ended up out of course during my army days, which put an end to that. I guess you can say I got pretty lucky to get kicked out of course... 

Optionality

If there is just one word of advice I can give to teenage scholar wannabes  it is optionality. Now receiving an invitation to take on a scholarship, at your stage in life, will perhaps be the culmination of your achievements then. Your parents and family will be proud of you, and will perhaps exert undue pressure for you to sign on the dotted line. It is however, your entire responsibility to ensure you know absolutely what you are getting into. 

And my humble suggestion is to look for something that will give you the maximum optionality in life. Ideally you will want an all expenses paid scholarship to an institution and country of your choice, that is bond free.

Prestige is something that is secondary at this stage in life. I have known many a PSC scholar who decided to break his bond and join banking to a tune of a S$250k bond breakage fee that Mom and Pop could probably have afforded to send him to university with, or even less (the breakage fee is subject to a interest rate that dissuades the scholar from breaking hid bond) and perhaps somewhat a bit of emotional baggage for depriving someone who could have really used the scholarship (I like to think that scholars in general have empathy and heart - isn't that what the scholarships board normally look for?).

When you are 18/19 years of age, there is quite a high chance you are not entirely sure of what interests and drives you, and what you think could be satisfy you from an intellectual standpoint. Thus, it doesn't really make sense for you to sign on a bond for 4 to 6 years, and then embark on your learning journey through university, where I dare say would be the most formative four years of your education from a personal development standpoint.

Well if you really desire to be an educator, work on defence policy in MINDEF  lead troops in exercises in the SAF, help fix the broken rail transport systems with LTA / SMRT  or bring in MNCs with EDB  go for it, but please know what you are signing up for. I would strongly suggest doing some internships in relevant positions to get a taste of what is to come before you pledge away the first 4 to 6 years right out of school.

I would even go as far as to suggest that taking on a local university scholarship that is bond free, would probably make more sense than taking on an all expenses paid [insert relevant ministry / stat board / company] scholarship that allows you to attend an Ivy-League college. Fact is although a local university degree isn't as marketable as an Ivy-College degree, you still need to be in the top tier of your class to get one of those top paying banking or consulting gigs. And another fact is that these top jobs have actually started to hire more local university kids than in the past.

So please put aside the beaming smiley faces (is it me or do those look less and less genuine these days?) that look up at you from the papers and those scholar interviews before you sign up. Think about whether you can really see yourself working for that organisation in that particular role for 6 years after university.


Keep your options open as much as you can, for the worst thing you can do is to commit to something that you don't have particular exposure to, in the prime of your life, and find yourself stuck, either financially (in debt from breaking your bond) or for the next six years right out of university.