How to lose well

iron fist


Are we afraid of competition? …are we, afraid to lose?

People are pretty vocal about this, be it in the workplace to “foreign talents” or in education to the “elites”.

Well, if there is something lacking in the new generation… it is the taste of failure, and then bouncing back from it. We have been riding on the coattails of success for way too long. Our aspirations have grown tremendously in the shadows of a national ability to meet them.

We’ve been protected from a lot of competition. Even with fiery words from nationalistic ministers of other countries, few seem to really step on this nation’s tail.

We have indeed been successful at shielding our people from competitoion— maybe too successful. Maybe now when we do fail, we forget the bitter taste of it!

Plenty of challenges await us. Countries north and south of us are growing at rates we can never beat. Indonesia has made no secret of its ambition to rival Singapore (an example: singapore.html), while Malaysia’s Iskandar Development Region could very well turn from a “cooperation zone” into a “rival” if we are not careful.

Failure is a toxic topic. So should we cushion failures?

My thought is this: no.

Everyone must have a taste failure in one form of another. Failure is subjective and comes in all forms. When one is younger, failure manifests itself as not being to get a desired course in university or not being able to win the heart of one’s “other half”. When older, some people may not be able to cope emotionally and seek professional help.

Yet, when I read about one NCMP (Lina Chiam actually) raising the question of “psychological comforting” (Parliament, 9th July 2014: “What measures has MOE put in place to deal with the potential psychological effoects of sportsmen/women losing to the Singapore Sports School) this raised to me a big question: can our children take failure?

Of course, we could take the populist stance and claim that everyone will get the best care needed. You might as well say we are wrapped in layers and layers of bubble wrap. Yet, no amount of bubble wrap will save anyone upon arriving at the workforce, business or indeed, even politics.

One can try to blame the G infinitely or kick up an enormously big fuss, but just blaming someone for the failure can solve nothing. The emotional consequence is real, but one must learn to manage it on ones own.

We need to get people to think about failure as a stepping stone and learning point.

Emerge braver, emerge smarter, emerge stronger about it and move on.

Not happy with the influx of foreign talent? Find a way to outwit them: always find a way to command a better salary and wield more power. Failed at a business venture? Welcome to the bloodthirsty world of capitalism. Failed at a relationship? Good riddance: there are many other fish in the pond.

We need to learn how to fail, and cushioning students through policies is the last thing this nation needs. Not everything can be solved by the work of others.








  1. Hi Donovan,
    I strongly agree with you. I came from your parents’ generation and in a world where the first thought on our mind after ROD(ORD Now), was to look for a job. I was not successful in getting a place in then University of Singapore and thought that then Nanyang University was not good enough. Better earned some money and go abroad and study.

    When I was doing my BMT in SAFTI, my platoon mates were crying because his straight As but could not get into Medicine. But he got over it after accepting Dentistry. We didn’t complain and cry foul because these guys came from elite schools and we didn’t ask for changes in the system. We just told ourselves, get our kids into the elite schools and benefit from the system in those schools.

    You are spot on where parents pressurize the G to give in to them, to leave 40 spaces for non related children to have a go at the system. Even to pressurize G to abolish the alumina system in these schools. Back then we used to tell ourselves, what was so great about these schools? We tried to beat them in other areas like games, ECA and so on. We didn’t cry-baby the G to level the playing field.

    Back them if everybody is equal, we only thought of one system that could do that- State run system in USSR and China and some smaller countries. We were scared stiff as in the army, they were our invisible opponents. Everybody just strive to be better than they were before and it snowballed till recently where we have this Mighty Red Dot that is a sore to many eyes. But we are not done yet. Last month while holidaying in Switzerland, the Swiss still think Singapore is a part of China!!! Imagine we are benchmarking them in so many things.

    We forget to count our blessings most time. In the past, my parents used to say I wished my son was like your son, so smart. Nobody complained when others were doing well. Instead we strive to equal or better each other. Worse still, it is not uncommon to hear, “must be some connections his parents have”.

    Last year, I freaked out when my son’s subject head told us that in order for our son to be a doctor, either myself or my wife must be a doctor, or someone in my family tree must be a doctor in order for my son to aspire to be one. I immediately wrote to the principal to complained about it. Wow from an educator’s mouth!!! And I believe this is not true our our education system. I believe.

    I still believe that people in my generation, those before 65s, have a strong belief that everything we want we will try to get it ourselves. We just missed the pioneer generation group, but it’s ok. We will manage it ourselves. As we believe in working hard, focus on what we want, and get it. Our G are meant for bigger things, like external threats, economic cycles and the such. Maybe because we think we have no real threats that’s why they are crying foul of everything, World Cup included.

    One last thing, remember during the SARS, we realized that our population of 3.8m was not large enough to support the economy. So G went full steam ahead to add head counts because we were not replacing ourselves enough. We were racing against the next epidemic or pandemic. We need to be able to sustain ourselves as an economy when people shut us out during the period of SARS. So foreign talents were enlisted or enticed to come ashore and call Singapore home. Next thing we know they were “taking away” jobs. Actually on a broader sense, these foreign talents are rising the level for us. Just like what MOE is trying to do now, “Every school is a good school.” These foreign talents showed us what we didn’t experience before, the real meaning of economy of scales, scaled down to our population size. As a sales and marketing person then, I got to think out of the box. Under the local “bosses”, they were so protective of their rice bowl. And we continue to survive within the rice bowl. But when I was exposed to foreign talents, the bowl immediately became a big pot and was turning golden. It was really good to learn from these people from huge countries with market size over 100 million. In teochew we have a saying, translated as “haven’t seen a big snake shits”. Sorry for that. But it’s true we haven’t seen the big picture and we are crying foul, not fair. It’s like the six blind men perception of an elephant.

    So I hope as we celebrate 49 and turning 50 next year, let’s count our blessings. Let’s not be suspicious of other people’s success. Let’s not step over people who experience failure rather give them a helping hand. It could be just words like, “I admire your guts in venturing into something like. You must have a reason for doing, try and see it from another perspective” or “maybe you have missed out something, try and look at it agin”. Let’s rejoice our fellow Singaporeans success and pray for them if they are going through a tough time. This way we will see an even stronger, wealthier, financially and spiritually, and more peaceful Singapore. Majullah Singapura!!!

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