Living your parents’ dreams

March 6, 2006 at 8:38 pm 5 comments

I was reading these and I do not really agree that it is the society’s expectations of you. Rather, most of the time it comes from the parents. Not so much from your teachers or peers.

Sometimes I look back and wonder if what I was doing all along (prior to Grad School) is because of what my parents want me to do, and not because of what I myself want to do.

Friend: well, if that is the case, you would be in Singapore, or on some (govt) research scholarship and looking for a wife.

Me: which is NOT what I am doing now.

Friend: Exactly. You have broken free.

I remember undergrad was such a chore because of the not insignificant sum of money my folks shelled out for me for tuition. All I wanted to do then was to graduate ASAP. So there was overloading of courses during the regular semesters (I avoided taking summer terms because I didn’t want to pay tuition for those) and completed everything in 5 semesters. Commencement took on a special significance as it was more for them to see their eldest child graduate from university (and be proud of it), considering that both are non-graduates, than it was for me.

While googling this: “What can you do with a chemistry degree in S’pore?” (of the previous entry), three interesting links came up. Ah, the vagaries of the internet, and google. They are about the suicide of a MP’s son in Oxford (in 1993).

Actually I find Grad school so much more relaxed than undergrad. Maybe because
1. I don’t need to care anymore about tuition and grades,
2. I kinda enjoy what I am doing now.
Although writing papers is still a bitch, and the social life here isn’t er, that great.

From: Tan Chong Kee – view profile
Date: Mon, May 24 1993 11:30 pm
Email: Tan Chong Kee
Groups: soc.culture.singapore

I am reminded of the time I spent in Cambridge when I was the only
Singaporean freshman reading Maths for that year. Upon arrival, I met the other Singaporean mathematicians there (who all got Firsts, by the way) and was welcomed by “We are so glad you came. For a moment, we thought our Singaporean tradition was going to be broken.” I did my best putting up a brave and nonchalant front. They were all very helpful and friendly and during the course of the year had helped me through quite a few impossible tutorials. You see, the pressure did not come so much
from the University or fellow Singaporeans but from oneself. You go to an institution like Oxford or Cambridge with enormous expectations heaped upon you. That year, I got
a third in the tripos and felt such a failure that the thought of killing myself did flash through my mind. NOT because fellow Singaporeans were too kiasu or because my tutor pushed me too hard, simply because I felt that if I do not excel, I am worthless.

A lot has been said of the pressure felt by the lower percentile students in our rat race society. I am not trying to trivialize the issue, but at least for them, if they do not make it, psychologically, they still have the “well, I am not good at studying” to fall back on. For someone who has straight As, not making it is humiliating. You are either a mugger (ie. in reality quite thick and hence do not
belong in this elite club) or lazy (in which case, you have to face your disappointed parents, and having one of them as a MP certainly does not help).
Perhaps we should stop making heros out of straight As students and let them know that it is OK to fail sometimes. We are all human after all, and getting firsts really isn’t all that big a deal despite what it might seem then or, for some of us, even now. Our socity and family have too unforgiving an attitude towards failures and mistakes, be it academically, politically or career wise. It is counterproductive to expect yourself to be perfect, and to expect that of others is simply cruel. Such an inhuman attitude has wrought many misery and tragidies in the past. What we see now is but a more sensational incident. It is time we start facing and accepting
occasional human failure, not just in the Universities for straight As students, but across all spectrum of our lives.

As an epilogue, I have since given up trying to please my parents and am now researching Chinese Literature in Taiwan – something I have always wanted to do since secondary school. There will be those who see me as a drop out or simply wasting my ‘good’ education, but at least I am happy.

Perhaps sometimes, for some of us, there is a time when we have to say hack to society and just get on with our lives. Flame if you want, I only telling my story and most importantly, I am still alive.

BTW, Tan Chong Kee was the founder of Sintercom.

Edit (Mar 8) – Blogs that link here:
1. Mr Wang
2. Tomorrow (Eh, I thought I put clearly in my sidebar Tomorrow not free?)
3. gecko


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

General degree holders Pursuing my own dreams…

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kevin  |  March 7, 2006 at 1:33 am

    I just happen to read MrWang’s entry on the 5Cs as well. I must say you got me at the part where you mentioned parents… it is literally what drove me all the way here.

    Like you, I finished my undergrad really fast and was looking forward to going back to Singapore. As the story goes, I soon discovered how fun grad school was and so I kept going. Parents were all the more happy and so it went on all the way into doctoral. Now comes a point for me where I am quite tired of it… then I remind myself, who isn’t?

    I think it’s ok to live your parent’s dream so long as you can sustain it. It does give you a purpose in life unless you have a stronger sense of yourself to pursue other things. If I do feel completely out of it, I may choose to stop what I am doing, head home, find work, and live like the rest of Singapore does. Who knows, I’m in that phase where I’m done but not done yet. Gotta keep pushing…

  • 2. takchek  |  March 7, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Eh, I wasn’t really looking forward to going back to Singapore after undergrad.

  • 3. kite  |  March 7, 2006 at 11:32 am

    Yes and no, I guess. I think sometimes us asian kids do somewhat imagine our parents’ expectations. They might be disappointed if we don’t do well, but it’s surely not life and death. These people are so smart already!

    Such sad reads, those links. And the scary thing is, it could have been anyone of us. I’ve ever thought of suicide when I was younger and depressed, even though I’m nowhere near grad school or Cambridge calibre. It’s feeling like a failure that’s hard to swallow, whether the expectations were imagined or real.

    Terribly sad.

  • 4. Gilbert Koh  |  March 7, 2006 at 8:16 pm

    Something for you, Tak Chek. Click here. Don’t study too hard now. 😛

  • 5. BL  |  March 13, 2006 at 11:09 am

    Well, for me, I am lucky that my parents let me pursue my own dreams. My relatives wanted me to do law but I insisted that I wanted to do science which was viewed as no future ten years back. Ten years later, suddenly sciences become hot and I got the PhD which allows me to employed in many places. I am able to prove them wrong. In life, it takes a dream to make that difference, and I would not want my kids to live my dreams.


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