SINGAPORE - In such challenging, extraordinary times brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, young Singaporeans would do well to embrace the most difficult experiences as crucibles that forge character as well as ability to do even better in future.
This was Finance Minister Lawrence Wong's advice at a forum on Tuesday (Aug 24) organised by the Nanyang Technological University's student union.
"Sometimes you hear people lament, 'I can't make it because I'm not as clever, I'm not as talented as the people around me'," he said during a speech on Singapore's response to Covid-19.
"But talent will only get you so far. In fact, talent may sometimes lull a person into complacency.
"More often, it's the application of drive and determination; of grit and willpower that really matters."
Mr Wong, who later engaged university students in a closed-door dialogue, urged those in attendance to be motivated by tough times to work even harder.
"There are indeed many opportunities out there for you," he added. "There's so much that's happening across a whole range of industries, with new opportunities opening up due to technological change or the push for greater sustainability."
Earlier in his speech, he emphasised that Singapore's step-by-step approach to opening up was to avoid the risk of huge outbreaks overwhelming the health system.
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, said the overriding objective was "to get to the end of this pandemic with as little death and damage as possible, even as we progressively resume most of our normal lives".
He acknowledged concerns over how Covid-19 has "closed off some doors" for young undergraduates and job seekers, with overseas trips deferred, industries impacted, fewer opportunities emerging and still more uncertainty to come.
"But it is not all gloom and doom," said Mr Wong, noting the adage of how one could deal with adversity by letting it either define, destroy or strengthen them.
He reminded the audience that Singapore's pioneer generation had lived through the Japanese Occupation and periods of communal and communist strife, and emerged stronger by confronting those challenges head-on.
Mr Wong spoke about how his father, who died last week, had left China's Hainan Island for Ipoh as a young boy, and juggled working in the Malayan railway with his studies. "He completed his secondary education, decided to come to Singapore, married my mum, set up a family here and eventually made good here."
His mother had a similar experience, starting work at the age of nine - helping to wash the neighbour's clothes and look after their babies - while pestering her initially reluctant parents to let her go to school, against the gender bias of the time. She eventually became a teacher and taught for more than 40 years.
"The spirit of our pioneers should motivate us to dig deep and overcome the challenges we face in this pandemic," Mr Wong said. "That never-say-die spirit, that ability to bounce back from setbacks, and that drive to keep on doing better is critical in anything you do.
"For all of us struggling through this pandemic, my hope is that we will emerge from this crisis with a stronger sense of group solidarity; a stronger feeling of duty and responsibility to one another; and a stronger conviction that we stand together as one Singapore," he added.
He stressed that this applied to the relationship between the Government and the people.
Instead of an "us versus them", antagonistic, even confrontational dynamic, Singaporeans must never forget that "we are all on the same side", said Mr Wong.
"It doesn't mean that we will always agree on the same thing. On the contrary, we fully expect and welcome a wide range of diverse views and opinions," he added.
"The Government has to deliberate carefully, and make a decision one way or the other. So each time the Government decides on a new policy, there are bound to be people who disagree or who may even be unhappy about it."
But the decision-making process is improved by getting more ideas and feedback, he said. "We see issues from different perspectives, we learn to better understand one another, to judge less and to listen more."
The bottom line, he said, is that all Singaporeans have to play their part and not just rely on government measures and policies.
Mr Wong encouraged young people to continue being changemakers - whether by championing causes they care about, initiating ground-up projects for the common good, designing innovative solutions or pursuing the next big start-up idea.
"As they say, the best way to predict the future is to create it," he said. "The Government will do our part to support you, and partner you in this exciting journey ahead."