National Service (NS) has always been a hot topic amongst the male demographic in Singapore. There may be grievances towards the whole programme and its lingering after-effects even after our two years serving the nation, but the necessity of it outweighs every proposed alternative we have heard throughout the years.
No matter what is heard through the grapevine, one thing is for sure: this rite of passage for males in Singapore changes us. Either for the better or for the worse.
So what exactly is life like after NS?
When the date creeps closer, feelings tend to be mixed. Nostalgia? Joy? On one hand, you’re finally done with the dreaded programme and on the other, you’ll be tossed into the real world.
The unprepared will feel lost without a place in society, but the prepared will feel a sense of liberation unlike any other, where you can shake off the shackles of a rigid schedule and system of hierarchy that you’ve become accustomed to.
You’ll start thinking about the immediate future, the following days after your discharge date. Your ideas do bear a semblance to what really needs to be done, however, you put those on the back burner, and instead, welcome all the things you’ve wanted to do with those extra hours of sleep you can finally get after waking up to an alarm at five in the morning.
Friends. For us guys serving NS, they usually comprise the same group of peeps that we’ve spent the better part of two years with but, honestly, we’d rather catch up with the friends who we couldn’t get a hold of during our time in the army. The pals who were there for us in school, or even our childhood friends.
So, if you’ve just ORD-ed, you’ll probably find yourself setting up dinner after dinner dates with remnants of your last National Service pay to reconnect and catch up. There is a pattern that you’ll soon notice; your guy friends are either still serving or have been freed much earlier. Your dinner dates are filled with female companions and they are more than willing to catch up but… with objectives, that you wouldn’t have thought about.
They’ve become career-minded and individualistic, for reasons you just can’t wrap around your militant mind. When the dinner comes around, you listen to them yapping on about travel plans, their fat bank accounts and how much they’re earning.
You connect the dots and realise you’re way further than a step back compared to them. In the years that you were screaming “Yes Sir!”, they were in universities working on their degrees in hopes of landing a job with a big paycheck at the end of every month.
The change in psyche is a big part of the whole experience in national service. Although there tends to be a few glitches in the NS experience, guys usually come out of it with a changed mindset.
Meeting people from all walks of life causes you to learn how to deal with things better. Instead of challenging decisions, we learn to accept them for the way they are, gaining clarity and viewing things in a worldlier manner. It all sounds good but there is a disadvantage to all of this.
In exchange for a humbler perspective on things, you’ll lose the hope of youth and the reality grounds you to become more realistic. No more glittery pictures of the future, we must scrub that shine away. That comes with age as well but the inflexible routine pounded that out of us daily.
Finishing NS meant that it was truly the time to grow up.
At the end of the day, we must decide on our futures. It’s quite damning to have to make another huge decision right after we’ve rotted for the past two years. Deteriorating skills and a lacklustre work ethic have dimmed us, ill-equipping us for the rigours of the real world. We are older now, less skilled as compared to our female counterparts and have heightened pay expectations.
Maybe we do need that degree? A free pass for a seemingly better pay but what is a piece of paper compared to the thousands of other degrees that’ve been given out in the two years.
Your prowess, combined with the state of your industry, should dictate your choice. Mentors with their vast knowledge and experience could be looking to pass on their expertise in hopes of grooming the next big thing. There are some diplomas that allow you to hustle and work with a bright career trajectory that you could make happen with your own two hands.
Sometimes, it’s better to go head first into it. True realisation only comes when you’re in the mix of things. You have to accept the fact that you’ll be a step back compared to your female colleagues and accept it for what it really is. This, if anything, should come as an incentive to graft even harder than ever before.
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