Life Choices

May 18, 2005 at 9:30 pm 5 comments

Have you ever taken management classes? Especially those based on the Harvard School of Business case study method? (Most reputable business schools worldwide now teach using this method) I find it interesting, for sometimes what I deemed as rational solutions are considered weird/unorthodox by my classmates. Likewise for me on theirs.

I guess it all boils down to the fact that different people are, well, different. They have different needs/wants/priorities in life. Things get a little complicated when you have competing desires within yourself. Like career versus marriage for example.

So, how would you make a choice?

Traditional economic theory assumes that human beings behave rationally. That is, that they understand their own preferences, make perfectly consistent choices over time, and try to maximize their own well-being. This peculiar assumption has its roots in dusty essays like “Exposition of a New Theory on the Measurement of Risk” (from 1738) by Daniel Bernoulli and scholarly tomes like Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern (published in 1944). The idea has some validity: traditional economic theory is good at predicting some market behaviors, such as how the demand for products like gasoline will change after a tax hike. But it’s not very good at describing more-complex phenomena like stock-price fluctuations or why people gamble against the odds. – taken from The Economics of Brains, Technology Review May 2005 pp 74.

I guess this can be best illustrated by a case study. Something which I believe is very common, like his case.

Another Scenario:

Say a couple is in a stable and long term relationship. They started dating in their JC days and both have now graduated from the same US university. (Because of NS, the girl graduated two years earlier)

She has a rather good job (decent pay and working hours/location) in Singapore while the guy received offers of admission for graduate school. The two of them have planned long enough and are about to get married in a couple more years but this issue starts to become a thorny one for both sides.

The girl is rather attached to Singapore as her job and family is here and she doesn’t want to quit. She wants the guy to try to find a job here in Singapore.

To complicate things further, she was previously one of the GLC overseas scholars and is bonded to work in a government stat board for 6 years. She has about another 4 years of her bond left. She is a very career-driven woman too.

From the guy’s viewpoint, to give up this offer is a big waste as they do not come by easily. It is also a school that he had always wanted to enroll and it has one of the leading research centers in his field. For a fresh graduate, it will be one which could potentially give you a leg up in your career prospects. Unlike the girl, he is not a scholar although they both graduated from the same university.

The guy’s family fully supports him going and do not see any equivalent opportunities in Singapore. On the other hand, he values the relationship he has with his gf. They had been together for ~8 years and both parties know the each other’s personality very well. Sure, they had quarrels and arguments before but none had been as serious as this. Both sides are unwilling to consider a long distance relationship (the previous one during his NS period was…tough). Both are in their mid 20s.

If you are the guy, what will you do? Vice versa, what will you do if you are the girl?


I envy people who can find their other halves. Even more so if they can stay together/find economic opportunities in the same city/country. Many a times, one side has to give up his/her job and migrate with their partner. Those who don’t hardly survive the long periods of time apart.

Absence makes the heart fonder you say? If only t

Life is hard.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Philosophy Rankings Reviewed (Chronicle of Higher Ed & Philosophical Gourmet Report); Academia rankings Online attachment; Happiness

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. -ben  |  May 19, 2005 at 5:28 am

    This post has been removed by the author.

  • 2. -ben  |  May 19, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    Reposting this with a small clarification and a typo correction (I can’t tolerate typos).

    Your post’s hypothetical example brought back painful memories. So, FWIW, here is my take and address to the hypothetical graduate student.

    People do drift apart, given enough time. Learning to live without each other around is the first step apart. And then, there is the issue of hybridization. The party remaining in the foreign country continues being interpellated into a hybrid, while the other half remains in Singapore, re-integrating into society, remaining Singaporean (whatever that means). It is more than a matter of distance and time; culture and experience play a huge part as well. You are talking about two individuals who are going about their daily lives in different cultures. Change is inevitable (except from vending machines. hah). People are different people at different points in time. The nature of the relationship will change, as the parties that make it up change. The reasons that brought the relationship together–and held it together–will also change. (The reasons may cease to exist altogether.) It is not easy. It will not be easy.

    That said, I will never give up academic pursuits for a Significant Other (SO). There are two reasons for this that I can think of at this moment (2:30 AM): there is no guarantee the relationship would last your lifetime; and, it is unfair to place such a burden on your SO’s conscience by sacrificing your prospects of academic advancement for her. Also, can your marriage withstand the additional pressure brought on by such a sacrifice? Can you say with absolute confidence that you will never state, “Remember what I sacrificed for you!” during domestic quarrels to score points at an especially heated moment?

    Yes, there are no guarantees you will get the PhD either. But, once you get it, it is yours forever–unlike a marriage. (To those who think I am a wet blanket, please check the statistics for marriages, annulments, and divorces).

    Ultimately, I retreat with my cop out that you, and you alone, have to be able to live with your decision.

    Do you want to wake up 5 years from now, lonely and regretful in a cheap rented apartment in a college town, 2/3 through your doctoral program, and wondering how your ex-SO in Singapore is doing?

    Or, do you want to be woken up by 2 screaming brats in the nursery in 5 years’ time, and, as you curse and grumble, and stumble towards their room to dispense some midnight lashing, wonder if you made a mistake in missing out on graduate school for this?

    At the end of the day, if you can sleep well, you have made the correct decision. I don’t envy you, but I wish you well.

  • 3. Oikono  |  May 21, 2005 at 11:24 am

    I agree with Ben largely on the conscience argument.

    I also agree with regards to the possiblity of a breakup but it often seems irrelevant when you are in a relationship as most will assume everlasting love.

    Your lover will have to bear the guilt of making you give up your hopes, and IF you breakup, the regret at the lost opportunity will only be more bitter.

  • 4. KnightofPentacles  |  May 25, 2005 at 9:27 am

    This is your case study speaking..

    Your thoughtful post made me think – hence inflicting on my readers the lengthy post titled Thinking Toolkit.

  • 5. FelinesAreDivine  |  June 8, 2005 at 11:37 am

    sounds like in the short term, it’s more of the guy deciding? Since the girl has no choice but to serve her bond?

    If i were the girl, I would support him in pursuing his studies, and perhaps I’ll join him one day after my bond. Well, that’s assuming that they’re already on marriage terms.


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