By Kames Narayanan
Life can be broken down into three defining stages — birth, life and death. Everything in between is further fragmented into a series of milestones. And on this timeline, certain years serve as markers.
Growing up in a structured society like Singapore, under the watchful eye of a traditional Indian mother, I quickly learnt that with age comes certain expectations.
The first two decades of the average Singaporean’s life is often guided by the steps laid out in the country’s education system, as we progress from kindergarten to college.
At 21, the law deems us as adults but by the standards of most parents in Singapore, our initiation into adulthood begins only from the day we convocate from university.
In our early to mid-twenties, most of us will advance from being undergraduates to being unemployed. The pressures of finding a full-time job and a life partner follow quickly.
It is around the mid-twenties when most of our life decisions begin to be steered by foresight. We expect ourselves to get employed within a few months of graduation, get married by the mid-thirties, secure a Build-to-Order (BTO), and all that follows – you know the drill. The life of the average Singaporean starts to turn mechanical.
According to an article published by Channel NewsAsia, a total of 213,400 Singaporeans left the country to live or work abroad in 2016, a 35 per cent increase from 157,800 in 2004. Among the reasons identified for the move was the city’s rapid pace of life.
This consensus by the wider society reaffirmed my own sentiments. I was not alone.
When the new year began, it dawned on me that I was only a few months shy of 25. My mother was pestering me about marriage; insurance agents who got my number from a friend of a friend were hounding me with saving plans; more than a handful of friends were getting hitched; dinner table conversations were about the future.
Life seemed to be falling into a pattern with little room for imagination.
For most, adhering to this pattern signals the desire to be “normal”, so that one may be accepted by everyone else.
God forbid if one should consider a career change at age 35 or hold off tertiary education as an 18-year-old. For many, going against the formula is a risk not worth taking.
That said, with age comes an inexplicable sense of bravado and a reassuring confidence. It becomes apparent that at its core, life really is what you make of it. The supposed milestones attached to an age become irrelevant.
I once spoke with a man in his mid-fifties who fondly remembered the years gone by. In his thirties, spurred by a simple need to get away, he moved from Singapore to California.
As he narrated two decades worth of stories from the time he spent away from home, working in a motel run by a family friend, there was a glimmer in his eye — perhaps the look of a man who had lived a life fulfilled. And it showed. He was the ”uncle” at the party with the most interesting stories to tell between shots of vodka. An average Singaporean no more privileged than you and I, his story gave me hope that I too could break out of the expected path and fulfill my own destiny.
As I turn 25, I dare say that I have attained a sense of clarity.
I do not have to live my life like a horse with blinders, and deviating from the typical life course does not warrant a disqualification from the race. Even though the generations before have moulded the template for how life should be lived, it is but a mere guideline.
In Singapore, the average age a women gets married at is 28. In the United Kingdom, the age increases to 30 and in India it dips down to 22. Evidently then, the expectations and pressures that come with age are tied entirely to societal conventions.
I can and should live my life on my own terms. At the end of the day, I am the only one accountable for my deeds.
Like with all things, age can be looked upon as debilitating or empowering. Which path are you going down?