Self-belief comes from facing adversity

I was delighted to read Mr Tong Hsien-Hui's letter ("Develop self-belief, can-do spirit"; last Wednesday).

As someone who has experienced incredible swings of fortune in the past decade, I believe that Singapore was built by people with a sense of self-belief and a can-do spirit.

Unfortunately, this is a spirit that seems to be lacking in many of our people.

The reason is simple: We are a people who do not know failure.

In our early years of development, our political leaders found a sure way of success. One merely had to do well in school and get a job in either the civil service or a multinational corporation.

This system provided stability and allowed us to prosper.

However, the world has become more complicated since then.

Greater globalisation means multinationals can choose the most cost-effective place to locate to, and they can choose the cheapest and hungriest workers from around the world.

While globalisation has generally been beneficial, it has created uncertainty.

In this situation, accepting failure and learning how to come back from failure become essential life skills, which too many Singaporeans I've met seem to lack.

I remember taking on a part-time job at a nearby restaurant a few years ago because I needed to supplement my income from freelance consultancy work.

While the job wasn't lucrative or glamorous, taking the job made sense because it gave me an income when projects didn't come in and it allowed me to save money when the projects came in.

I remember people were horrified that I would even entertain the thought of being seen to do manual work despite being a university graduate.

I persevered because I noticed that the people who were telling me how I had degraded myself through manual work were the same people who needed me to top up their MRT cards whenever we met.

These were people who were managers in big companies, who had lost their jobs and had simply given up because they couldn't handle their changing situation.

I now work in the financial district, in addition to working in the restaurant.

I am not getting rich but I am building up my savings.

My circumstances changed and I had to adapt. There was more pride in having a low-paying, manual job than no job at all.

Tang Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Self-belief comes from facing adversity'. Print Edition | Subscribe