When I was still a yuppie in Singapore, working as a Group Business Analyst for one of the multinational banks, I often travelled around the Asia Pacific. I remember visiting the office in India and meeting a lot of the local analysts there, who seem to be full of drive and intelligence. I remember the look of envy and admiration from a local counterpart as I was probably some years younger than he was. Somehow we discussed the reason why Indians seemed to be full of ambition and drive: the dogged obsession to reach success and prosperity. He mentioned that Indians realise that they must have the drive to excel, as they have to compete against millions of others who are as qualified as they are to succeed in life. They fight to catch the attention of their prospective employer, manager, or whoever placed in their firing line, so they can move on with their career path.
This situation is similar in Indonesia where there are millions of smart people fighting to reach to the top – it’s probably also similar in China. Such fight to be noticed and to excel is not an orderly one – it can be chaotic or even ugly. You need to be creative to come up with the best plans that your opponents have not considered; you need to think of opportunities that other people have not even contemplated. It’s a situation that is rarely seen in the western world, where a lot of people become so complacent with their life. It’s an orderly queue to reach the top of the line, rather than a mad rush of people who use any possible means to move forward.
As somebody who has lived in Australia for the past seven years, plus four years as a student, I have been acclimatised to appreciate an orderly life and the manner to conduct even the most mundane of things. In my current trip to Indonesia, however, I realise a sense of beauty in the chaos. Rather than seeing ‘uncivilised’, ‘ill-mannered’ locals, I see people who are fighting to have a better life. They study hard, work hard and think hard to be more creative, and try hard to come up with better plans than their competitors. This phenomenon is still prevalent even in Singapore, one of the most advanced countries in the world. However, even there the kiasu will probably be dulled in the long run when people start to adopt the more orderly way of life. In the future, I won’t be too surprised if the top executives in multinational companies are full of Indians, Chinese, and other Asians. Either you drive faster, or you move out of the way … 😎
On a more reflective and personal note, I have been on that journey before – living life as an ambitious yuppie who placed happiness in my career and money only to realise that I traded my character and integrity in the process. I didn’t like the monster who I had become. Maybe it’s my age, or just the realisation that career and money aren’t really what they are claimed to be. Now I know that life is fulfilling and beautiful only if you can appreciate every God-given day of your life – whether you choose to drive fast, or join the orderly queue – as long as you continue to move forward.