What makes you think you can be a…

As mentioned in my last posting, one of the best things about being picked up by TREmeritus, is the fact that one is inevitably bound to pick up people who can’t help but comment on the things you’ve ranted about. I’ve always found that the guys making comments on my rantings to be a valuable source of material and one of my more regular commentators did not disappoint with this comment:

The commentator asked me a valuable question, which was “what makes me think that I can be a writer?” She complained that I was a “ugly” and “inferior” specimen” of the male species and couldn’t quite understand why I would have the confidence to bash out the “awful” drivel that I bash out.

My personal answer is that I never imagined that I’d be a writer. I merely found things I wanted to rant about and did so on paper. Eventually, I found someone who was willing to publish and pay me for my rants and eventually my byline became a regular enough feature both in Singapore and Saudi Arabia. Then I started blogging and a few larger sites picked me up and someone from Reuters offered to quote me for a piece. So, the answer to her question is that there was nothing in particular that made me think I could be a writer, I just wrote and somehow a few people decided to read whatever I wrote.

The second point about that question is that it actually goes beyond me and whatever I’ve done. With employment cycles becoming shorter and technological disruptions being a fact of life, an increasing number of us will need to ask ourselves the question “What makes you think you can be……..”

Singapore’s early formula for success was fairly simple. The place was positioned as a stable haven for multinationals looking for cheaper labour than what they had at home. Lee Kuan Yew, our prominent founding father, made it a point to tell the likes of Texas Instruments that he would never allow strikes to take place. Our education policy, which everyone outside of Singapore gushes over, was geared towards training people for lifetime employment in either a multinational, the civil service or the government-linked sector. We excelled in process driven subjects like engineering and subjects that trained you to question but didn’t qualify you directly for anything (things like philosophy) were encouraged to die a natural death. Philip Yeo, A-Star’s former chairman famously derided the teaching of English Literature as useless.

However, the multinationals discovered outsourcing and AI and the civil service and government-linked sector followed suite. The concept of the “iron rice bowl” is becoming an increasingly distant memory. Singaporeans, like or not, need to make career decisions for themselves, even if it means choosing “self-employment,” or in an industry that is unproven (start-ups or unproven technologies) or famously unstable (anything creative). These are often paths that contradict conventional wisdom and the wisdom that “well oiled” Singapore has been trained to except as gospel. Anyone entering the job market in the post Covid normal needs to ask “What makes me think I can be a x,y or z,” and inevitably “Can I succeed in x,y or z industry.”

My personal take is that the best way to answer these questions is to follow Nike’s famous “Just do it” slogan. Most of us don’t really know what we can do when we’re starting out or where are strengths and weaknesses are. However, as we do more things, we’ll get an inkling about what we can and cannot do. So, the best point is to actually start being whatever you think you can do.

Me, Myself and I

The second point is probably to get an inkling of your limitations and talents. My family is filled with creative people. Yet, nobody has made it to Hollywood or dare I say the Hong Kong silver screen. However, the creative people that I grew up with found a way of making a living from their passion in the advertising agency. I have an uncle by marriage who writes great ad copy, my stepdad had a lengthy career as an art and creative director and my dad made advertising films. So, the point is that if you go ahead and do something, there are ways of making a living from what you choose to do even if the expected paths are blocked.

It’s this simple, if you think you can do something, just do it. Sooner or later, you’re going to find out if you can do it and if you can get someone else to pay you to do it. Don’t worry about not being qualified. You can get qualified along the way. When someone ask you – what qualifications do you have to be a x,y or z or what makes you think that you can be an x,y or z – just remember that Steven Spielberg spent 35 years making blockbuster films for 35-years before he decided to get his degree in Film Production from the California State University, Long Beach. I wonder what made him think he could be a film maker all those years ago?


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




6 Responses to “What makes you think you can be a…”


    Singaporeans want to be assured of success before they do something. That’s why it’s the get degree, work at stable jobs route.

    It’s the same at hawker centers. No one wants to try a stall until they see other queuing. Risk takers, NOT.

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  • 啊丽芭芭碧:

    “ if you think you can do something, just do it!”



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  • Tracey Ching:

    Another idiotic mistake you made. Lky is not the prominent founding father of Singapore. You are an ass kissing possible IB sycophant. He is merely the first pm of the independent sovereign state of Singapore in 1965. You are lousy on so many fronts. Active euthanasia is something you should consider for yourself.

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  • obedient soldier:

    Hi Tang Li, I enjoy reading your articles. I like your fresh perspective and writing style. I am also thinking about blogging after listening to you. Will Reuter and AP really pay me if they pick up my articles ? I’m in between jobs; don’t mind some alternate incomes. Keep writing, Thanks !

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  • Advert: I like me myself!:

    I used to be an arrogant narcissist …. Now I’m just perfect ….. almost like our prominent founding father.

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    “the civil service or the government-linked sector. We excelled in process driven subjects like engineering and subjects that trained you to question but didn’t qualify you directly for anything (things like philosophy) were encouraged to die a natural death. Philip Yeo, A-Star’s former chairman famously derided the teaching of English Literature as useless.” Quote from article.

    That’s why Singapore has no soul. A lot of people are just practical louts. Why spend so much on building Esplanade and running the Singapore Arts Festival then? All these pretentious bid for culture, when people cannot tolerate differences in opinions or even have basic respect for people who are different. Aren’t they all branded under the useless arts umbrella?

    Why do we run courtesy campaigns? Why do we have to aim to be a “gracious” society? Because a lot of people cannot handle differences in a mature manner or even respect others’ rights to disagree.

    Even nowadays, 1st class engineering cut no ice with employers who prefer cheap inferior FTs.

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