The Anxiety of Singapore’s Work Culture & In Praise of Idleness

I am increasingly unable to bear the crushing anxiety that bears down upon me nightly. It is the reason for the insomnia and daily nightmares. I am in a constant state of fear and guilt. Guilt arising from any form of idleness. In Singapore being hardworking is equivalent to being a saint and the opposite is equivalent to being the devil incarnate.

I have been the hardworking one, the workhorse, to the point where I became a workaholic and now I admit to getting a ‘high’ with the more punishing schedule I had. But that was when I had bosses who appreciated the work I did. When I had horrible work environments where this level of non-stop work was demanded, with dismal compensation it became equivalent to modern day slavery. I then decided that the bullying had gone too far and I quit. It was the last straw on the camel’s back when I was constantly being measured by whether I stayed in the office every day till 10pm and being afraid to leave the office any sooner than 7pm knowing that I was being watched. It was not a life that could be sustained. Even a machine would have broken down. On top of that, having to deal with the politics and bullying was more than I could take.

But people heard this story, they asked if I was crazy as it was the peak of the recession and they had the audacity to say that I was weak and should have been stronger as it is this way everywhere. So if everyone is getting bullied, you should just accept it? I find this line of argument very frustrating. And I knew of people (myself included) who were happy in their vocations, not only loving what they do, but having a healthy work environment, kind colleagues and bosses who motivated rather than demotivated them. So there was hope and no need to settle. I was lucky, as I could afford to do so at that point. Otherwise I honestly would have been heading towards a nervous breakdown.

Today, even not quite idle but unprofitable activities are condemned in my mind. I have been socialized to think this way, even though deep down I feel it is unfair. I know I’m being too hard on myself, but I can’t shake this feeling of guilt that I am an unproductive member of society, being unemployed and not earning the bucks.

I have been asked “Why are you so useless” by people I thought were my friends when they found out I was unemployed. It was when I found out who my real friends were. Others were not so cruel, but the looks they gave me were enough to wither me away. That has just made me increasingly withdraw from society and all the reminders of what a failure I am. In my mind I am constantly berating myself for being a failure.

You see, it’s been drummed into me since I was little that idleness was a bad thing. As a seven year old child in primary school, I was shamed for not being able to spell the word Eleven. The teacher made me stand up and berated me. “Didn’t you study hard enough” I stammered that “I forgot” and she cruelly replied “Do you forget to eat? Do you forget to bathe?” The intention was to shame and it worked.

Since then I have had many similar encounters in the education system. All these worked towards forming my current psyche.

My partner, seeing my distress, pointing out Betrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness. It’s amazing that this was written more than 80 years ago, but is so applicable today. Further enquiry led me to this haven of a blog which has adopted the same name. If you’re distressed, just looking at the pictures can be a form of relaxation.

From Bertrand Russell, below are some quotes that resonated with me and I wish our Singapore society would put the brakes on our accelerating need to produce more and more at the detriment of the mental health of the ordinary working person. It’s no wonder that I increasingly hear of people in Singapore committing suicide, just to end the pain. If society was not so judgemental and quick to condemn, they may not have felt as bad, and this is the very reason I write this post even though I hesitated and it makes me uncomfortable to lay everything bare. There is also a huge stigma against mental illness which makes the problem worse and results in people not wanting to seek help. I hope in a tiny way, writing this helps someone out there, to know they are not alone in their despair. The other day outside a church I saw a poster calling out to the stressed to seek refuge in god. In Singapore I think this would appeal to so many. I hope it raises awareness that Work Life Balance should not just be something nice for HR to spew and not actually implemented in our constantly being pushed and squeezed towards higher productivity and perfection. Being convinced that we have to as we have no natural resources and only people as resources. I am not convinced on that and would rather see us reach towards Gross National Happiness as Bhutan has done, than GDP. One day I hope they realise this truth – happy workers produce the best work. You just need to trust and respect them.

photo by bookjunkie


1. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.

2. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins… In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?

3. If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment — assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization.

4. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.

5….there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
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62 Responses to The Anxiety of Singapore’s Work Culture & In Praise of Idleness

  1. gweipo says:

    Perhaps read “the compassionate mind” and do some meditation. It may help you to be less harsh on yourself and to realize criticism on the part of others around you is to hide their own fear.

    • bookjunkie says:

      You’re a mind reader 🙂 I was actually thinking about meditation to quell thought anxious thoughts that keep running not stop through my head, and now you’ve confirmed for me that I should 🙂 Will check out the book you suggested as well. Thank you.

  2. R64 says:

    I am sorry to hear about your anxieties. It sounds like they can really grind you down sometimes. But kudos for stepping up and choosing for your own sanity and health, and for deciding to not dedicate your life for some faceless boss. It takes courage to step away from prestige-driven life, especially in Singapore’s culture.
    I don’t know much about your life besides from what I read on this blog, but you don’t seem to be a person who’s goal it is to burn herself up for a cause not believed in.

    Thanks for bringing Betrand Russell to my attention! I hope you may find a way to enjoy a little “social irresponsibility” too — even the greatest scientist of this era find value in it:

    Then there was John von Neumann, the great mathematician. We used to go for walks on Sunday. We’d walk in the canyons, often with Bethe and Bob Bacher. It was a great pleasure. And von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of von Neumann’s advice. It’s made me a very happy man ever since. But it was von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!

    (From “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”)

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thank you so much for responding to my post so kindly. I was very nervous about posting this and half expected to get a harsh response for being “lazy” or “not strong enough”. Your supportive words really do mean a lot.

      • R64 says:

        I bet you were nervous when posting this! It takes balls to post something so personal, and to admit to something that your peers might ridicule you about. I recognize some of my own experiences in what you wrote. I couldn’t simply “relax” because I always felt I should be doing something “constructive” instead: work, contribute, please other people, fix other people’s problems, etc. So I had to let you know you’re not alone in this.

        Since you like to read and seem to have an open mind, I am certain that you’ll find (or have already found) a kindred soul who has written/created that one thing you need to exchange some of that anxiety for happiness!

        • bookjunkie says:

          Thanks so much R64. You don’t know how much your kindness means to me. Thanks for taking the time to write this note.

          You’re so right – I was super nervous and fearful about letting myself be vulnerable but I was thinking there may be others out there with similar struggles and this might encourage them to feel like they are not alone. Yes, I too have that feeling of being unable to relax. Pleasing other people is a big problem too and a major source of stress. The guilt trips are the worse and something I wish I wouldn’t fall for but always do.

  3. sharon says:

    i really don’t like the aspects of singaporean culture that you’ve described in your post – in particular, the need to bash the weak, or worse condemn them outright because they simply “weren’t good enough”. a couple of famous singaporean bloggers come into mind…

    i see this as the flip-side of our supposedly meritocratic dogma – you’re only as useful as your results are.

    unfortunately, that’s not what life is about. life isn’t a test!! and even if you view it as a test, there’s as many tries as you like. stay strong and take care.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thanks so much Sharon. So glad you think that way too. Was feeling quite alone about it and wondered if I would get condemned for suggesting that leisure is a necessity and a good thing. Oh yes, I am quite put off by the bullying I see online.

      • lampoondish says:

        Industriousness can be quite meaningful, but like anything, it’s what and how we apply it. We know the standards used for judgement are usually completely subjective (10pm?) but the sting is definitely wearing after a time. It’s good you have a time-out blog to keep yourself balanced, n even better for the rest of us to read along 🙂

        • bookjunkie says:

          I loved that you call the blog a time-out blog. I couldn’t name it before, but it feels exactly that way to me…it’s my haven right now 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to leave a note. Much appreciated.

  4. Laura says:

    Whilst I do not know you personally your openness and honesty about your life experiences is what makes me come back to read your blog again and again. Your courage in sharing your thoughts, fears and feelings is to be admired.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thank you so much for the reassurance Laura….I was super nervous and feeling vulnerable about it. Hesitated quite a bit before hitting publish.

  5. borderlineg says:

    Cool postings…I literally stumbled upon your blog because of a random search on careers on early childhood education. I’ll be back.

  6. Pingback: Daily SG: 5 Oct 2011 « The Singapore Daily

  7. A helping hand says:

    Unlike the rest of the Singaporeans who are still trapped in their illusion, you, my friend, have experienced enough and seem ready for the next step.

    Go read Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” & more importantly “A New Earth”. Both books are available at our National Library.

    If you are truly ready, your life’s experience will resonate with the wisdom in those books. You’ll finally understand the source of suffering and be able to find your way out of suffering.

    Good luck.

    May you find peace and happiness from within.

    A fellow sojourner.

    • bookjunkie says:

      So so glad to hear from a fellow sojourner. Will definitely pick up those books. Been hearing so much about them. Great to know that the library has them. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I really do appreciate it 🙂

      • A helping hand says:

        I can empathise with the experiences that you’ve written about on this page as I’ve walked a similar path to that which you’re currently on many years ago.

        Take heart, for everything happens for a reason; Without going through enough pain in life, one will not be able to generate enough impetus to overcome the natural inertia to seek the change that will bring about TRUE happiness and liberation.

        While you may view you current life situation as undesirable (from a materialistic viewpoint), one day you’ll appreciate this as one of the best opportunities that could have ever be offered to you for personal growth.

        May you be able to lift the veil to be aware of this existence as it really is.

        A fellow sojourner.

        • bookjunkie says:

          I like that :)…. and hope to move towards true happiness and to stop viewing my current situation as a state of being condemned (due to what some in society think of me).

  8. Squarefaced says:

    I love this post.

    I think it voices out what many Singaporeans struggle with and sheds light on it to people who may not be as familiar with it. It takes courage to step away from the “prestige driven life” as R64 said, and even more to speak out about it.

    Take heart, you probably did the right thing for your sanity. 🙂 Thanks for this! Also glad that there are still many around who blog as a form of catharsis.

    • bookjunkie says:

      You have no idea how your kind words make me feel so much better…thank you 🙂 Yeah I really felt like I was going insane and felt so alone in sticking to my values. Just could not stand by and watch others getting bullied.

  9. raen says:

    I came across your post just after I had a conversation with a friend about exactly the same thing. I haven’t been working for that long, but I’m already feeling the pressure to stay in the office later than everyone else. Sometimes I even feel guilty for taking time out to have lunch! Eventually, I realised that ‘productivity’ is such a subjective concept. Google’s policy of letting employees spend 20% of their office hours as ‘free time’ to bounce ideas off each other and work on personal projects has resulted in so many wonderful (and profitable) ideas for the company. Surely this ‘free time’ was not unproductive in the slightest (:
    Btw, I shared this post on Facebook and it has already been shared and commented on by more than half a dozen people. You are not alone (:

    • bookjunkie says:

      Awww thank you Raen. It’s wonderful to not feel so alone. Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts.

      I think companies like Google have it right. I’ve noticed the pressure to stay late etc, but this as a measure of productivity is so subjective and wrong. Also it leads to burn out and can only be sustained for so long. I don’t think most of us are compensated enough to be motivated enough to do this to ourselves. Often leads to long term health problems.

      • Adam says:

        Exactly. Take a look at NUS High School, for instance. approximately half the school day is “break” period,and no one sees NUS high students performing any worse than students from other “top” schools.

  10. cck says:

    You done the right thing. Don’t bother about the comments from your ‘friends’. It has always puzzled me why do we mistake working long for working hard. Working long hours is the easy thing to do in the face of difficult problems. Working hard however takes analysis, skills, determination to seek out a innovative solutions to solve the difficult problem. Studies has already shown that for innovation to take place there must be a period of time for the brain to connect the dots and come up with a solution. (Maybe that’s why you don’t see innovative products being invented here)

    Take this time off to connect with yourself, find out what ‘you’ really want to do. I quit and went on sabbatical for 3 years. Did nothing but paint/stroll and figured out what I wanted to accomplish in this short time on earth. I’m all the better for it, it takes skill to learn about how to live a fulfilling life.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Wow that sounds amazing! Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful sabbatical experience.

      That’s so true. If our work culture was different we might just see more innovation. That goes for the culture in schools too. Don’t know how oppressive it is now, but it was terrible in the 70’s and 80’s. Kids were expected to shut up and listen.

  11. Lady J says:

    I can relate to what you shared and now that I’ve taken a break from work, I know when I head back to the workforce back in Singapore, I will be subjected to a lot of scrutiny. Not looking forward to that but I guess people like us will need to stand up for what we personally believe is right. That is taking a break from work when needed.

    • bookjunkie says:

      I would be proud of having lived as an expat in different cities. I think there’s a lot of insight to be gained from not just travel but immersing yourself in a totally different culture. I’m already learning so much from you. Yes but it’s true that in Singapore especially, there is no appreciation for being unconventional or taking a break.

  12. PL says:

    Don’t worry, you are not alone. I’ve suffered from insomnia for a decade, put myself through punishing 7 day work weeks and even 18 hour workdays in my past jobs. In return, I was loaded with more work, given no thanks and was on the verge of mental breakdown. I chose to leave but even now, I’m still battling insecurities and the inner voices that say I’m not working hard enough. I’ve seen people get miscarriages, heath problems and even die from high stress work conditions. It’s not worth it. You just have to learn to follow your own path and ignore naysayers. Good luck!
    P.s. I find open air pod cast by Cheri huber very helpful

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thanks PL. Definitely found my eyes taking a hit from having to stare at the computer non stop for hours on end. Besides the mental distress – when I found myself having crying jags and waking up every morning filled with dread & hopelessness, I knew something was very wrong. In some cases, after working for years and saving, all those savings could be wiped out due to the illness caused by the unrelenting stress. And we then realize it was not worth. Or all that time spent away from family, when the company thinks nothing of retrenching you when they need to.

      Thanks for the recommendation.

  13. TW says:

    6 years ago, my wife and I would see each other once a week for a stretch of time as both of us pursued crazy careers. One evening, I came back and fell asleep on the couch; I woke up at 2.30 in the morning hearing my wife calling out to me from outside the door – I had forgotten that she was working late and I latched the door. She’d been outside the door for quite some time…. We’re still married.

    She quit her job in 2007. Quite honestly, we loved it. Life’s too short. Now, I look forward to going home and one stressed person at home is plenty enough. She’s picked up a life since, and I live my social life through her.

    Don’t get depressed. Try writing a book. Paint. Or just watch the sea. Play bridge, get involved in the community.

    • bookjunkie says:

      What an interesting story. It’s wonderful that you are so supportive.

      Definitely working on the book (more like day dreaming at the moment than actual writing) and love watching the sea. The blog keeps me going and makes my otherwise humdrum life a whole lot more interesting. Especially when it allows me to connect with people with similar life philosophies 🙂

  14. Crystal says:

    I love this post.

    Ironically, I’ve downloaded but not watched the most recent episode of Glee, which is entitled “Asian F” (aka an A-). While I’ve observed Singaporean society, you have far better insight into this topic than I, as I’ve never worked here.

    However, I can say that in the US, Asians are considered the “model minority.” They’re (theoretically) good at school, industrious, play instruments, etc. They’re the kids you want your kids to be.

    But when you don’t fit that model, it can have devastating results. Many top universities, including MIT have at least one suicide annually from the pressure.

    While I admit to being a bit of a kiasu parent, I hope that my girls will also learn the value of doing nothing. Yes, hard work is important and gets you places….but you need to balance that with days where you lay around the house and watch 8 hours of tv whilst eating ice cream. You need to balance your professional goals with friendships, the occasional night with too much too drink, the complete abandonment of your body to the music of a dance club. Or the simple pleasures.

    It’s hard to quantify if Ravi works more hours here in Singapore. He certainly spends more time in the office. In the US, he worked fewer office hours, but then he’d bring his laptop home and keep working while we “watched” tv. Or he’d get inspired at 1am and stay up coding all night. So did he ever really separate from work? I don’t think so…and in a weird way having defined work and home spaces has been good for him, even as the long days are hard on our family.

    In his case the compensation is that he has a generous vacation package and we do not hesitate to use it fully. Weekends are for family time. And we are getting better at passing off things that aren’t really important to other people–laundry service, trusting our helper to do more of the grocery shopping, etc.

    And of course, I have to say that I feel lucky that he’s never gotten flack over disappearing from work when I’ve needed him for medical emergencies.

    • bookjunkie says:

      I haven’t watched it yet..but just the title alone Asian F…boy do I know what that means. So apt in Singapore – that unrelenting pressure. There was a boy in my primary school who was sobbing. When I asked him why, he said he would get caned for not doing well enough. He had a score of 92/100 for maths!! Abuse much??

      Although personally I don’t think being able to memorize stuff and perfect scores amount to much, although that was what I was made to do for years. I always felt there was no real organic learning there. No exploration. I always wanted to teach, but my own way and there is no room for that in our education system. My most inspiring teacher was suspended for not following the syllabus set out.

      Poor Ravi looks so tired in the last video. I can imagine what the IT Finance industry must be like…..terrible hours. I think the system of telecommuting/ working from home is good, but employers here don’t seem to trust us enough. I wish we could be measured in terms of what we produce rather than the hours we spent ‘showing our faces’ to the boss.

      • Crystal says:

        To be fair, he’s often tired because he tries to survive on too few hours of sleep per night. But some of that is his chasing the “do nothing” dragon…playing solitaire or some other stupid game on his phone, watching junk tv with me or just decompressing.

        we could really use an extra 4-5 hours in a day.

        • bookjunkie says:

          yeah I think I totally get that need to just do your thing, after doing the office thing for so many hours. When I was working long hours, even though I was very sleepy, I would be revived knowing I have loads of recorded TV shows to watch. I would sit in front of the TV, veg out and stuff my face with hotdogs….bliss 🙂 The only part of the day I really relaxed. I don’t miss those days at all. Just miss the $.

  15. Louse says:

    I admire your courage to write so openly about your feelings. I’m not, so I used a nickname here, but you should be able to figure out who I am from my email.

    I took a sabbatical last year. Some senior supervisors in the office were not happy about it at all, and what really irked me was that they didn’t tell me that they were unhappy, much less why they feel that way (I had to hear it from a third hand source). It’d have been better if we had an open dialogue about this and sort out how to achieve both the employer’s business objectives and the employee’s life aspirations. I’d have been happier if as a result of the dialogue I might have to resign, because at least we would have had a dialogue. But such is the dysfunctionality of the work culture; and whilst I have learned to live by – and around – the system, I remain a firm believer of trust, sincerity & openness in the work environment.

    Anyway I took my sabbatical & went to travel (which by itself generated enough butterflies in the stomach given my grand plans to travel solo)… one year on, all these anxieties are put behind me. Although now I face a whole new set of issues, hopefully my mind is clearer to deal with what I would now call, mundane annoyances.

    I applaud your “idleness” (not really idle if you read so voraciously as you do 🙂 ) I for one am always constantly on a quest to be a louse!

    • bookjunkie says:

      I am the same – I too doubt I’d be able to write this if I was not using a nickname. But I’m incredibly grateful and honoured that you shared your very personal experience here.

      It sure sounds like you were not treated with trust & respect. I think it’s so brave of you to venture out solo and it also sounds wonderfully educational and exciting. It’s something I would love to do as well but I am not as brave. I think it’s your philosophy of life that drew me to your blog. Loved your writing style as well.

      So glad there are people like you in Singapore.

  16. Lise says:

    Thank lovely one for being so refreshingly bravely honest, you are in a very small group of people, welcome!
    I never realised Singapore was so similar to Japan in its work world and I am glad you are released from it as I am!
    You are still young, life begins at 40 I say, not 30, you are still a kid then thinking you are an adult!
    I have never had the same pressure as you, but my own internal pressure from wanting to fit in and be like everyone else.
    Now not working (but being paid to stay at home and take care of it whilst I do my own thing) has been a breath of fresh air: my time, my decisions, when I want, where I want, how I want, no prying eyes, no timeframes, no phones going off, no people whingeing, no annoyances or feeling like I have to save the day and get paid a lousy $30 an hour for that!
    I applaud you for being willing to take a leap of faith and trust your gut that you were not happy and will not continue doing what most of the sheeple (follow the pack coz they don’t want to stick out, mostly asleep) do, as I have done, go it alone and be a risk taker … may be this webpage with video might open your eyes a little bit!
    I will follow your blog because I know you have woken up & I like that xxx

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thanks a million Lise xo 🙂

      Will definitely check out that video.

      I have to keep telling myself it’s ok to stick out like a sore thumb. I have to keep not listening to the naysayers. Or perhaps sometimes, sad though it may be, I have to cut myself off from the negative people.

      it’s so true…in my 30’s I was just a kid. It’s the hard life experiences that show us what our real priorities should be. I was too complacent in my 30’s and glad that I have woken up now.

      • Lise says:

        Thanks for the lovely reply. You are not alone I think most people on some level are going through very similar things, its just they don’t talk about it. How do I know? Because I talk and listen a lot and more and more people are saying the very same thing as you, and whilst they don’t live in Singapore, I can be assured that many people in Singapore are feeling the same way, in fact the whole planet is going through change and questioning everything and I think its wonderful. Imagine a world where we all do what we love after having the time to think it through, let it marinate, gestate, oh I’m loving that already! No more automaton world, one where we thrive, are prosperous, have oodles of time to play, enjoy and bliss out, sounds crazy? Guess what it might sound crazy but its happening right now, we just haven’t caught up with that reality! Hugs to you xxx

        • bookjunkie says:

          your note really lifted me up & there is a truth in it that gives me hope. I would love a world where everyone was happy and did what they loved and no one was mean to anyone 🙂 xo

  17. Anne says:

    this is an amazing post! thanks for sharing… i am so engrosed with your words. i see myself in most of what you have written, being pushed over to deliver sometimes the impossible. though i love my work a lot. i like the people around me…. sometimes, i feel like the need to be consistently creative, thinking out of the box, delivering beyond and setting the bar higher is tearing me into pieces 🙁

    i want to so badly leave behind my stress whenever i leave the office but ever since i moved here, i take it with me most of the time… that is why i have taken recluse on blogging again… i dwell on reading and make it my escape. i bask over other people’s seemingly exciting and relaxed life.

    hang in there, there are plenty still who are good and kind hearted in singapore. i have met a lot 😀

    • bookjunkie says:

      You have really given me hope….glad to know that kind hearted people like you exist 🙂 Yeah I wish we could take a pill that would allow us to leave the anxieties of the office behind and not let it intrude into the happiness of home life. I found it impossible too and my weekends always had a black cloud hanging over. Was not that way in my happier work places….I didn’t even want to be away from work…the people there were so lovely too 🙂

  18. stargazer says:

    i just stumbled upon your blog and read this post. it makes me nervous to come back to sg to live and work after being away for 10 years especially higher education. where i am, work-life-balance is a culture not only in the workforce but as a way of life…there are many things/people to go back to in sg, but the social pressure to conform to people around me makes me nervous….

    • bookjunkie says:

      for me I decided that to be happy and stick to my values I just gotto be true to myself. I hope the social pressures here don’t get to you too much. Some work environments can be good. In the earlier part of my career I absolutely love my job, bosses and colleagues.

      My problem was, when the recession hit I took the first job that came along. Big mistake. Go by your instinct when you go for a job interview. If your instinct tells you that it’s not the place for you then keep searching. That’s what I learnt, the hard way.

  19. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’m sure you will not stay idle for the rest of your life.You’ve worked so hard before and now is your time to enjoy what you’ve worked for. Just make sure to strike a balance in everything 🙂

  20. InSimilarBoat says:

    First off, you write really well for a singaporean (Are you?) I’m impressed and I really feel for your situation – maybe it’s because you write so well…. Well, I’m also struggling in my job and have been going through the some mental stress for a while so I sorta understand where you are coming from.

    Look at this as an opportunity to rest and relax and you are not idle. I’m sure in your mind, you might already be planning your next steps. It might be a good chance for you to think about where you are heading and how you are going to get there without compromising on a good work-life balance.

    I admire your courage to quit and those who think otherwise might be secretly envying the time you have now to really live life and do some things you really enjoy. Like they said, since you can’t please everyone, just please yourself. If your body says it needs a break, it really needs one.

    Take care friend…

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thank you so much. It was really kind of you to drop this note and made me feel a lot better. Sad to hear about the job causing you mental stress. I wish it wasn’t such a pressure cooker here. It seems like winning the lottery if you’re in a job where you’re happy especially with recent stats saying that 81% are unhappy about going to work. I used to dread it and fear it so much I knew there was something seriously wrong and toxic about the workplace I was in.

      you take care too 🙂

  21. Mukunt says:

    I have faced such a situation. once i started practicing yoga, everything changed and became positive. Try it. you will find yourself

  22. Crazyhorse says:

    Thanks bookjunkie for your honesty in expressing that anxiety which I think more people are suffering from than anyone would admit. Yes, I think somehow people here have confused productivity for long hours. Also, it is the employer or boss who demands that capability or productivity be measured in visible ways easy for him/her to measure as they are too lazy to actually use tools or getting to know staff to find out what they are good at or what they are really trained to do because the latter would take time and management skill which they do not have. It seems to me from experience in workplaces here that bosses expect from staff not commitment to a lofty higher goal to produce a better product or a better system but to make themselves look good. I noticed too that the kind of things bosses here perceive as being good for them are shiny trophies to line on their wall (literally). There seems to be an obsession here with collecting awards and achievement statuses and not on staff development or staff care. Bosses expect everyone to be workaholics with no benefits nor upsides.

  23. Intune says:

    Hi, I just chanced upon this post. Thank you very much for it, I used to face the same problem but now I’ve learnt the importance of idleness and turning a blind eye to those who discourage. Fight on! 🙂 (or idle on :P)

  24. BPatel says:

    I found your post to be very helpful and eye opening. I am someone who is looking into possibly moving to Singapore with my family (wife and a 6 month old daughter). The only thing I am somewhat worried about is the work life balance even in multinational companies. I am from US but was born and spend my teenage days in India. So somewhat exposed to the Asian cultures.

    My question to you is that does this post really represent the norm in the work culture even today? What about companies like IBM, Accenture and other big players?

    Any comments would be very much helpful.


  25. sos says:

    I agree with you and I am glad you refused to give into social pressure. I believe Asian work culture of staying late, productivity, no free time is terrible and this is the reason I cannot see my self working in Sg in 5 years time.

    Add to that poor salaries, longer working hours, work till you die mentality and high cost of living is no good.

    This is not a place for innovation or out of the box kind of people. ANd nobody can sit and do nothing for anytime here in Aisa

    • bookjunkie says:

      yeah there is no such thing as taking a sabbatical here. it’s frowned upon.

      • sos says:

        I think the real problem is the mentality and how expensive life is for an average Singaporean in terms of affordability of housing and a family’s cost of living.

        Seriously, where else in the world unless really poor, but in developed countries, do families live in one hdb room and rent out 2 other bedrooms?

        This drives people to work more to get a better life, apart from the Asian work ethics of come in early and stay in late, fake respect to bosses and zero sum mentality.

        But life has enough for everyone – food, success..

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