It wasn’t an easy decision. I was comfortable where I was.
Besides, I had spent more than half a decade in this environment. My workplace was basically the same university I had studied in—a leading educational institute of higher learning where there were many opportunities to develop myself. It was meaningful work too; my job scope involved engaging and developing youth to become future leaders. I was blessed with an amazing team of colleagues and bosses who cared greatly about the growth of each and every staff.
For the career-driven young Singaporean with aspirations and ambitions, this seemed to be the ideal place to be. It was the perfect resume filler that could open many future doors.
And yet, I kept having a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I guess the Community Involvement Programme* (CIP) system had made a big impact on me. Ever since my first volunteering stint at a day activity center for seniors, I had always felt a calling to do something for the community, especially the underprivileged. The subsequent years in college serving in many voluntary activities continued to fuel my passion, allowing me to see more and more of the “neglected” part of society. That discomforted me, yet the “rational” side of me told me that was not where one can make money. So I chose a comfortable job at my university doing what I had experience in. I chose what was convenient.
Somewhere between my work and the daily grind, however, I began to feel lost. (Perhaps this is the problem with us millennials—we’re always unsatisfied. The grass is always greener on the other side.) I felt like a cog in a big machine: I felt like I didn’t truly have a say, and that my work didn’t have any real impact on society. Sure, one could argue that the people I worked with would go on to be great leaders of the future. But I wanted to get my hands dirty rather than sit comfortably in an ivory tower with clean hands.
Many of us would probably prefer to be stuck in the rat race forever, than step out and face uncertainties. We hate uncertainty, we see no meaning in it, and we’re afraid of the regrets and sacrifices we might have to make if we pursue our dreams. We’re afraid that we might be naïve, and that we won’t be able to retire wealthy like our successful friends who didn’t make “stupid” decisions. This fear weighed heavily on my mind, as I was getting married the very same year. Weddings in Singapore can be expensive, not to mention housing loans for our future home. Chasing dreams don’t feed you.
As I struggled with my thoughts of stepping out of the rat race, I faced many well-meaning “advisors” along the way. “Why don’t you take the first few years to accumulate wealth? When you’re rich enough, you can give even more?” “Hoard grain! Tear down your barns and build bigger ones to store surpluses! Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry!” (Luke 12:18-19)
But my issue with such thinking was this: when is enough truly enough? Doesn’t the Lord feed even the sparrows that neither reap nor store away in barns (Matthew 6:26)? What happens if our lives are taken from us before we’ve stored sufficient grain (Luke 12:20)?
I spent a long time weighing the options. One day, my fiancée asked me, “Haven’t you always wanted to work in or start an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization)? How have you been moving towards that?” At that moment, it finally hit me. I was running away from my calling, and that was why the niggling doubt never went away.
We all know what happens when people run away from their calling. I, for one, got eaten by the giant fish of guilt. And like He did with Jonah, God was now calling me back to the road that I needed to take.
I am now almost into my third month at Habitat for Humanity—a non-profit Christian housing organization that aims to eliminate poverty housing worldwide—and it has been an eye-opening journey. I see a different side of Singapore almost every day; a side without the glitz and glamor. I witness people who were dealt a bad hand in their lives, finding dignity amid their difficulties. I see passionate people from all walks of life joining hands in giving hope to the disadvantaged.
Most of all, I am glad to finally be part of this, with my hands deep in the soil.
*The CIP is a compulsory programme for students of all levels in Singapore, where they have dedicate a stipulated number of hours to participate and be involved in community service.