The Demon All Singaporeans Fear

Most of us may not know we are hiding this demon in our closet.

It is a Singaporean culture to compare incessantly with everyone and anyone. We have an obsession with the best, the highest, the biggest, the greatest and the first to succeed.



There is one demon we like to point out in others, but not in ourselves. This demon makes us cry when we get a B grade, hurt or kill ourselves when we get a blemish tarring our reputation/ego, and bully others in a masked attempt to hide our own inferiority complexes.

This demon is our own failure to cope with our failures.

Since we started school, we were nudged towards achieving that A*, that L1R5 of 6 points or less, that Grade 8 piano certificate, that “Most Popular” student, that gold medal and that dream of earning big bucks, settling down in anyplace but a humble HDB, driving a car, wearing branded clothes and having perfect children to carry on our perfect genes, and live happily ever after.

You’ve actually been sold a total lie.

Life doesn’t end happily ever after when you finally become an adult (contrary to what many of us may have believed in, as kids suffering under a draconian education system).

We were ‘moulded’ to avoid making mistakes, to siam (disappear) at the first hint of failure, to take risks only if success is guaranteed, to develop into tame citizens, to confirm to societal norms, and to be so damn predictable.

It must have really really hurt you the first time you experienced failure in any aspect of your life (as if the absence of failure meant that you were actually doing something right).

Many small failures can make you feeling like a big dump, or a huge failure can derail you from the life path you envisioned yourself walking towards.

Is there actually something wrong with our perception of failure, that leads us to struggle with facing it?

In Singapore, failure is like a death sentence. Everyone doesn’t seem to forget. But it is inhuman not to fail.

When we were born, we started from zero. We learnt everything we knew, one step at a time, one percentage (sometimes less) at a time, with our effort. That’s how we grew up, that’s how we still grow as people.

Why do we unconsciously think that everyone starts from 100%? And every percentage less is a chip off our worth as a person/worker/husband/wife/father/mother/son/daughter/friend etc?

Do you know that there are people who think the above is the modus operandi, and take the shortfalls of others as emotional weapons to bind the others to their will?

Like the boyfriend who tells you that you aren’t pretty like other girls, so you should be thankful he still wants you?

Or the employer who knows it is more difficult for you to find a job elsewhere, and gives you a lot more work as you’re less likely to say no or resign?

Or the mother who looks at the number of marks her child failed to achieve in order to get 100%, and scolds him for being useless, although his grades have improved tremendously?

And what is worse, is that you believe you deserve these unfair treatments as punishment for your shortfalls.

Sometimes it’s we ourselves who bind our self-worth to every point we fall short of in life, forgetting all the other points we got right.

I knew a very capable and smart girl who committed suicide. It was said she jumped because she received a B grade for her mid year test and received negative remarks from her teacher and parents reprimanding her for not getting an A. She didn’t have many friends in school (her friends went to another school) and may have not known who to turn to. She may have thought that committing suicide was the best way to make things right again (read more here about why people commit suicide).

The strain of getting everything right is not healthy for our lives. What about changing our mindsets towards learning purposefully from these learning journeys towards success?

I read that in the US, the bigger the failure, the more it is ‘celebrated’ as a tribute to the person who dared to dream big.

I also need to clarify that not all failures should be celebrated. Some failures (especially those involving safety) should not even happen! Read more about the 6 types of failures and you will know what I mean.

Fear of failure = lack of innovation

We may have stuffed our dreams deep in the closets of our minds, guarded by the fear of failure. This is what makes us gravitate towards comfort zones and protect our inertia towards change at all costs.

We nibble at the bits that happen to float inside our comfort zone, without allowing ourselves the dream of capturing the big fish outside, to avoid adding any more criticism to the negative vibes of others that we are already struggling to manage.

Are you sanctioning your own victimisation?

You will continue to be a victim of society’s perfection-obsession as long as you sanction the right of others to hold your imperfections against you and use your virtues to handcuff you to their whims.

Read more about writer and philosopher Ayn Rand’s “sanction of the victim“, and if you haven’t already read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, you really should.

It is hard to not be scared of failure, but sometimes I think it’s because we are more afraid of what people may say when we fail, than about the act of failing itself.

The following links may be useful in helping you overcome your fear of failure, and removing the bondages you have been sanctioning upon yourself.

Strategies to conquer fear of failure

Quotes to help you overcome fear of failure

Tips for students to overcome fear of failure