Elite Reover

Why Singaporeans are successful but not fulfilled

6 February 2024
Why Singaporeans are successful but not fulfilled

What you will learn from this blog:

  • 3 common psychological factors that influence Singaporeans’ idea of “success”
  • How to break out and create a truly fulfilling life

As therapists offering emotional therapy and wellness coaching, we (K&K) see many clients who have achieved external success but still struggle. They have climbed the corporate ladder; they earn more than their peers; they have scholarships, awards, promotions, etc – but they are deeply unhappy; they feel empty and find no meaning in life.

In this blog, we highlight 3 common root causes of this, that we have seen in our emotional therapy and wellness coaching sessions at Intracresco. The intention is to inspire those in similar situations to break out and live more authentically.

Reason 1: Success that is driven by the need to prove oneself

For those who experience this, the underlying drive for working so hard is to show others that they are worthy and good enough. Their subconscious beliefs may be:

  • “My self-worth is based on how much I achieve”
  • “I will only be loved if I am successful”

Their greatest fear may be to be looked down upon, and to feel “less than” others. However, when they eventually achieve success, they realise the feeling of unworthiness remains.

These beliefs and fears usually come from individual and collective trauma. Common childhood experiences of people who feel the need to prove themselves include:

  1. Being compared to others
    This may come from our collective trauma of fear of losing out (‘kiasu’ culture) and fear of losing “face” if we are perceived to be less than or behind others. This makes us compare everything – from grades to house size to salary to physical looks.
  1. Being judged for your flaws
    This may come from our collective trauma of fear of social rejection if we appear too proud, and our fear of failure if we become complacent. For this reason, parents tend to focus more on children’s weaknesses than strengths.

Reason 2: Fear of scarcity at the expense of one’s natural gifts and interests

Fear of scarcity remains a big motivating factor here. This fear is deep and may be traced back to the time when our ancestors suffered in poverty and war.

From a young age, we are taught to:

  • Focus on academic subjects that help you get a well-paying job (e.g. math, science, engineering, medicine, law, computing)
  • Focus on grades and preparing for exams
  • Focus on secure high-paying jobs (e.g. big firms, government)

While practicality is important, when driven by fear, it can cause us to lose touch with our natural strengths and interests. We assess our value based on academic qualifications; the kind of schools we got into; scholarships and awards; how much money we can make; and work experience in particular roles and sectors. Based on these, we determine what careers are possible for us, and what are not.

However, when we work with clients to identify their natural strengths through emotional therapy, they realise there are no exams and grades for these strengths in school, for example – creativity; leadership; empathy; communication; street smart-ness, etc.

Because we do not see our natural strengths, we do not actively find opportunities to use them. We end up in jobs where we might do well because we know how to “prepare for exams”, but do not feel we are expressing our highest potential.

Reason 3: Fear of authority at the expense of building trust in oneself

We are conditioned from a young age to see our self-worth as tied to our seniors’ approval:

  • At home, we strive to make our parents happy
  • In school, we strive to make our teachers happy
  • At work, we strive to make our bosses happy

The subconscious beliefs are:

  • “I am good only if someone older, more experienced, and in a position of authority says I am good”
  • “Something is right only if someone older, more experienced, and in a position of authority says it is right”

Our happiness is dependent on superiors and authority. We feel good when our boss praises us but feel lousy when they criticise us. We are happy when our boss is in a good mood but unhappy when they are in a bad mood.

We are not encouraged to develop our own judgement and our ability to trust ourselves.

As a result, we may gain success in our careers because we are very good at pleasing our superiors, but we do not feel a sense of autonomy and self-directed purpose.

How to find fulfilment

Here are three reflection questions that may guide you to find fulfilment:

  • “What matters most to you in life? How can you do more of what matters?”
  • “What comes naturally to you that can benefit others?”
  • “What would you do even if there was no guarantee of success?”

As a Singaporean, my (Kester) life has been characterised by constant competition and comparison.

Even before primary one, parents are fighting to get us into the best school. In school, we are competing with others to get into the best classes. When we graduate, we are competing to get into the best jobs. When we are working, we are competing to get promotions and recognition.

We measure our success based on where we are in comparison to others. When we beat others, it might bring some satisfaction, but it is short-lived. Soon after, we get back into hustling to get on top and earn more and more.

Does it have to be this way? We choose to think not.

Many clients who come to us for emotional therapy and wellness coaching ask us: “Won’t I earn less than others if I follow my passions and take life slower?”

We point out that that is a belief system. Beliefs are neither true nor false. We can choose what we want to believe to determine our reality.

We counter-propose believing instead: “I will attract more abundance and fullness when I follow my passions and take care of my wellbeing. The more I enjoy doing something, the better I get at it. The better I get at it, the more people will want what I have to offer.”

Think of it this way: Would you rather eat food from a chef who dislikes his job and feels unfulfilled, or eat food from a chef who is passionate about creating the most delicious meal for others to enjoy?

How to work with us

Our work is grounded in our own life experiences overcoming trauma and emptiness, and finding ourselves again after feeling lost chasing external ideas of “success”.

Learn more about how you can work with us through our mental wellness and emotional coaching services. We at Intracresco are here to support you through your journey of rediscovering yourself through our curated emotional coaching and therapy services.

Learn more about how you can work with us through our mental wellness and emotional coaching services. We at Intracresco are here to support you through your journey of rediscovering yourself through our curated emotional coaching and therapy services.

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