Throw out checklist of what success is

I wonder why we have been pigeon-holed and socialised to think that there is only one definition of success ("Three shifts in education beliefs to become the future economy"; Feb 15).

I chatted with many Americans in my dormitory during my undergraduate days.

They were often articulate and idealistic. Many wanted to take a gap year to find themselves, drive across the country, backpack across Europe, join the Peace Corps, or even become president of the United States.

Couples overseas rent their first home to set up their families. Even after marriage, they encourage each other to pursue their dreams.

They give their children space and time to be. They take yearly holidays together, spend time together and live very fulfilling lives.

In Singapore, though, it is as if there is a checklist of things we have to have by a certain age.

We polish our resume to land our first job so that we will not miss out on the attendant trappings of career, marriage, flat, car, children and blissful retirement.

Once we are on the career ladder, everything is swept to the fringe.

We spend a disproportionate amount of time with people unrelated to us to meet punishing deadlines.

We validate our worth by what we own, and outsource all other roles to our ageing parents, maids and tutors.

We put our children into enrichment classes during weekends to give ourselves breathing space. Grades and streaming from a young age perpetuate this mindset.

Have we overlooked that what our children need most is not a large dwelling but our whole-hearted presence?

We should chuck the social checklist.

What counts may not always be measurable.

We should be less utilitarian in our values, and give our children space to stray from the mainstream.

We and our loved ones should not be "rushed" just because everyone is doing it.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Throw out checklist of what success is'. Print Edition | Subscribe