As I age, the birthday remains an occasion for celebration, but increasingly it is also an occasion for reflection, of the past year in particular.
And in the past year – after years of internships and figuring out the best personal match for the future – my academic endeavours and my professional aspirations finally converged. Academically, it was one of the most rigorous and the most productive periods of my life, and for that I credit the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) and my professors, and the many charities which supported my dissertation. Professor Ronald John Shadbegian and his applied econometrics module, especially, shaped my research methods and my approach to policy problems. Professionally, the stint at the Asia Philanthropy Circle not only confirmed my interest in the non-profit and philanthropy sector, but also opened doors to so many (research) opportunities I could only dream of.
The attachment to the university may seem peculiar, given my general aversion to institutions and the consequent preference to distance myself from the school, yet this two-year stint in the LKYSPP has been quite special. The benefits of diversity (which is really quite something) and of academic productivity have been well-articulated, though personally the other gains are no less significant. I used to view the classroom – and by extension, class discussions, group projects or presentations, and written assignments – as a space for competition, where relative performance matters. It still does. But for the first time I have been nudged to partake in the social interactions beyond the classroom, and to also see the classroom, more constructively, as a space for collaboration, for learning.
It has not been all smooth-sailing though, this 25th year. A relationship did not quite work out, my grandfather passed on, and the insecurities of the past never quite went away. They never do. The difference – with a little more maturity and a little more insight, in retrospect – is giving yourself time to mourn (even if the moments of grief linger), to make amends (even if that demands much more time and effort), and to look forward (even if the risks persist). And at this point, somehow, that Matthew McConaughey quip always comes back: “Every day, every week, every month, and every year of my life, my hero’s always ten years away … I’m never going to be my hero. I’m not going to attain that. I know I’m not. And that’s just fine with me, because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing”.
And the chase continues.