A Creative person’s Survival Guide to Singapore



Contributed by Kornelius

Do people complain you don’t make sense sometimes?

Do you wear turtle shell spectacles?

Do you sometimes wonder how your office plant feels?

Then you may be a creative person. And like what a particular “Stephanie” said – many people think us arty-farty types will have trouble to grow personally or to “make it”.

Personally, as an artist, creative writer and vocalist, I’m inclined to agree. The overall environment and circumstances have proven to be rather *cough* undesirable for creative development *cough*.

However, we Singaporeans are pretty notorious for one other thing: Complaining.

And no. This blog post isn’t an admonishment on anyone. I would be one heck of a hypocrite if it was.

Rather, it’s simply this: None of us choose where we are born. None of us choose circumstance. However, we do have the ability to choose and the freedom to make our own choices on how we RESPOND to circumstance.

So, here’s a quick guide on how to survive in Singapore as a creative individual!


1.    You Have a Dream? Great!

That’s a great thing to hear. Whatever it is, it must be something precious or valuable to you if it can even be considered something desirable enough to be a “dream”.

It is YOUR dream.

Grab it by the horns.

Lead it.

Own it.


2.    Know Who You Are.

I’m talking about YOU.

Who are YOU?

What do you believe in?

What do you believe in so strongly that it makes your heart pump and your pulse race in excitement?

What do you believe in so strongly that would be worth dying for?

Most of us have grown up in Singapore and, as children, have been told to shut up and just listen to our elders. We haven’t had the opportunity to have people who would want to listen to our opinions. To explore concepts and shape our beliefs.

All around, people want to take our identities and tell us who we are supposed to be. We’re told that we need the 5 ‘C’s to be successful. We have family and relatives telling us to pursue Business, Law and Science because those are the huge money-makers.

We have well-meaning people showing us “the route to success”.

But guess what?

It’s your life. You are going to be the one living it and reaping the consequences, good or bad.

Take hold over your identity. Shape it to what truly resonates with you rather than chase what others are telling you to.

Take personal responsibility over yourself.


3.    No One Owes You a Living.

When we enter this world, we enter with nothing. When we leave this world, we leave with nothing.

No one owes us a living. Rather, we perhaps owe our parents (or parent for some of us) a debt of love and gratitude for having given us a chance at living; at existing. A large portion of us living in Singapore are blessed to live in (at least) relatively stable families. If we have a weekly income of, at least, $100 a week (that makes it $400/month), we’re probably richer than 70% of the world.

That’s something to be grateful for compared to a lot of the other hungry and starving creative folk out there.

I’ll admit, again, that given Singapore’s emphasis on sports and science, and the way it pervades the culture, it’s not easy being a creative individual. You’re probably not going to have the most supportive friends and family around you.

But remember this: This is your dream. If you believe that this creative individual is truly who you are, you will fight for it.

You might say that I’m some over-privileged brat who’s had everything laid out for me to achieve my dreams. Quite the contrary. I come from a broken family. Ever since I’ve stepped out of secondary school, I’ve had to work three jobs to finance myself through my poly course. It wasn’t easy at all but it was completely worth doing something I believed in and felt for.


4.    Know Your Net Worth. Don’t Undersell Yourself.

Who doesn’t love cheap stuff? Who doesn’t love bargains? Who doesn’t love free stuff?

Here’s the reality: Most people are not gonna appreciate your work and ask you to do free stuff for them or call your works and services expensive. People are gonna try to wrangle freebies out of you no matter how kickass you are. Some are even gonna call you and your (awesome) stuff a manner of unsavoury things.



Maybe it’s true. Your stuff’s over-priced.

Maybe not.

If you plan on selling your works, do your market research. Google™ and DeviantArt™ are your best friends in finding out what are the current rates and to provide comparison. If you need help, drop me a comment and we’ll talk. Just sayin’

So… yeah. You can do cheaper stuff but, ya know, don’t do it free.


5.    Network. Network! NETWORK!

Go for events. Go for conventions. Always have a portable version of your portfolio and namecard on hand. You never know when a potential employer or rabid fangirl will come across your path.

Keep in contact with your friends.

Network even with people who aren’t related to your industry (but don’t forget your own industry people).

You never know when any of those people will come in handy…

…or turn up to calm you down when you’re having a mental meltdown over looming deadlines.


6.    Practice. Practice! PRACTICE!

You know how they say Rome wasn’t made in one day? (Unless it’s Assassin’s Creed but I digress.)

Let’s be honest. When you start out, you’re probably gonna start out creating crap stuff. We’ve all been there. Been there done that. I’m probably still doing crap stuff so woe to me but anyways… let’s just pretend we did not read the small text. Kay?

You may or may not have the talent but keep working at it. Keep asking for feedback. Keep improving. One day, you’ll get where you need to be.


7.    Work on your portfolio!

Your portfolio is physical evidence of what you can do – no matter what your grades say. I get that certificate-chasing is the in thing in Singapore but never neglect your portfolio.

It could be the very thing that sets you apart from everyone else with the same or better qualifications.

Think your stuff sucks? Put it in anyway (for now). No one said that you can’t revisit it and replace it or improve it.


8.    Always stay a kid. Never lose your sense of wonder. Always stay curious.


Childhood is a pretty magical time for most of us. Never lose that inner kid in you. The kid that reminds you to have fun. The kid that reminds you that there are more things in life than work. The kid that doesn’t demand that everything be perfect or done “correctly”.

Feeling uninspired?

Try out something new. Meet new people. Ask for perspectives.
Play with that kid you thought was freakin’ obnoxious. Revisit old creations.

Be humble. You never know what you’ll learn or when inspiration will strike.


9.    There are no shortcuts and, sometimes, lots of detours.


When one door closes, another opens. Usually.

My previous points have been kind of idealistic. Let’s throw a little reality into the mix.

We all have our dreams. Like I said, great! We also live in Singapore with a rapidly rising cost of living. For most of us, we’re probably not going to have the finances, grades or opportunity to pursue further studies.

We might be university certificate holders or diploma holders with one heck of a difficult time finding a job. Singapore’s job climate now is pretty competitive, after all.

Low/minimal wage is better than no wage at all.

Get a job that’s as close to your dream job as possible. Have an income to support yourself with. Keep working at that portfolio – maybe even save up for university. Keep an eye out for potential job openings.

It’s not gonna kill you to wait a little longer, ya know.


10. NEVER GIVE UP. (Certificates aren’t everything)






  1. I don’t live in Singapore (but I work for a company that’s based there) but everything you said is 1 million per cent true > even up to the relatives who tell you what to major in in order to “succeed in life” > in the Southeast Asian country I live in. Everything you said is so spot on. It doesn’t seem fair that us creative types have to live this way but that’s just how it is.

    No. 8 and No. 10 really resonated with me. You’ve given me hope and reminded me WHY I choose to live the way I do (work for the Singaporeans during the day and cram my paintings at night). I’m down (as in exhausted) but not out. Thank you, madmonk ~ don’t you give up, too ^__^ d

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