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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nanyang Tech chapter.

This piece is dedicated to all those who are brave enough to pursue their dreams to study or work in a non-STEM sector.

In today’s ever-practical society, how does one make the choice between choosing something that seems to be a natural choice in the eyes of society, and what they are inherently drawn to but which faces a lot of disdain?

Choices. A great dilemma of our generation. Being caught in a web of desires and expectations, it’s challenging for one to make a choice between pursuing one’s natural interests and what one would deem as worthy of pursuing. 

For me, someone who is doing a major in one of the most esoteric subjects of the universe, Philosophy, must be so jarring to my pragmatic society which is inclined towards the more practical and material side of life; rather than the spiritual internal world, where one gets to cultivate their soul and character. (Albeit one often dismissed or secondary in our society).

Many of us face tremendous stress and pressure in trying to meet societal standards about what it means to have a stable income, or a progressive career – being part of STEM often gurantees that. The study of philosophy grants us access to most subjects as it is the foundation of all other studies. It teaches us how to think and consider other opinions contrary to our own, and challenge assumptions we often take for granted. 

In the field of humanities, one often faces the question of what our vocational prospects would turn out to be, just because of the uncertainty that comes with studying something that is not directly linked to a specific career. However, there is a kind of beauty in uncertainty. It just means that the possibilities are endless and more options might be open to us. This is not to say that taking a degree in STEM, which tends to be more specialised, would choke you into succumbing to a specific line of work, as we do see engineers becoming bankers and even foreign ambassadors. 

Maybe it is a matter of what our society values, or judges to be valuable which immediately places one in the line of fire as an outlier. Contrary, to what one would be expected to study if they were to desire a more reputable and distinguishing career. In retrospect, I would say that it is not us who are irrelevant but that our line of study isn’t what people would judge to be valuable as its contributions to Singapore’s society are less obvious. The general public in Singapore has yet to learn how to appreciate the field of the arts, where it requires one to have heightened sensitivity and appreciation of language, or even curiosity to explore beyond the physical realm. This kind of culture or understanding could perhaps be found most evidently in the past, where the ancient Greeks had some kind of reverence to philosophy and its different schools of thought. They even had a philosopher king, Marcus Aurelius, who was one of the prominent figures of Stoicism, which he practised religiously, as reflected in his Meditations, which served at the time as his personal journal. In comparison, Singapore society may still be a little backwards in that sense of appreciation of the arts. 

This brings me back to a quote made by the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on how, “Poetry is a luxury [Singapore] cannot afford”. But gone are those days where we have to live hand to mouth, and had to pick the career options which provide the most security and stability. Today, it takes more than just money to live a truly satisfying and fulfilling life. Sure, money can grant us access to experiences such as travelling overseas, or exploring the finer side of the culinary world, however how about things that can’t be bought with just money? Those things such as an itch to teach, think, and learn. To yearn to pluck the strings of some instrument as a career, to breathe in the smell of old books, and the pursuit of deeper knowledge? As his successor, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, would quote, on how “Man, cannot live on bread alone.” It is based on an article on appreciating Singapore Literature, which cited how “We do wish for the finer things in life, to appreciate beauty and love, and something uplifting for the spirit.” As such, it is not surprising that there are people who might study a law degree and give up a career in the legal field to pursue a more meaningful role in serving the community in the social sector.

There are many things in the world who could give meaning to a life, which varies across individuals. For me I’m currently on a journey of self-discovery, trying to find out what really matters to me in the long run and at the same time balancing my other goals such as wanting to achieve financial freedom as early as I can so that I can have the luxury of time and resources to travel around the world and lead my best life! I know deep down that I would always be thirsting for knowledge and the study of literature is something I fell in love with during my Junior College years. Hence, I’m at a point where I am deciding to first prioritise my financial goals, as well as doing well in academia, so that, if there is a need, I can have the resources to pursue further education overseas – which fulfils both my intellectual curiosities and wanderlust.

One thing is for sure: the future is uncertain. Each path we take comes with its own sacrifices, which leads us down to a certain course. As Robert Frost would say in his poem, The Road Not Taken, If we choose to take the one less travelled, perhaps that would make all the difference.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both…

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Aline Ang

Nanyang Tech '24

Hoping to be the change for a better world... Email: enilaangjialin@gmail.com Insta: @lovethyself.lin