I won't choose working late over spending time with my kids, because why would I?

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership | October 27, 2019, 10:17 AM

Mothership and The Birthday Collective are in collaboration to share a selection of essays from the 2017 edition of The Birthday Book.

The Birthday Book (which you can buy here) is a collection of essays about Singapore by 52 authors from various walks of life. These essays reflect on the narratives of their lives, that define them as well as Singapore's collective future.

"Savouring the best in life" is an essay contributed by Steven Chia, a Presenter and Senior Editor at CNA. He is also a proud father to two young children.

Chia's essay is reproduced in full here:

By Steven Chia

What should we never forget?

That life is like a box of chocolates… and it can expire. That is unless you freeze it, but nobody wants frozen chocolates.

So why not eat it, share it and enjoy it before it expires?

You are probably wondering why I’m talking about chocolates. Well, because when I started writing this article, there was a box next to me.

I thought to myself, should I eat the ones I like best first or save them till the end? What would you do? If the caramel is your favourite, would you eat it first or are you the type to save it till the end?

By the time you get to this part of the story, two pieces of my favourite caramel chocolate are well into my system. I like to eat the best first. Why wait till later when you might be too full?

Why do we put off the "best" parts till later?

The way I see it, life is short, so why put off the “best” parts till later when you can indulge in them right now.

And you know what? The best parts about life are the people in it, the relationships.

Whether we are at work, at play, or at home, we are always communicating with others, and life without all those “other” people would really be quite sad and dull.

But all too often, we spend much of our time worrying about all the other things.

For instance, we worry about the schools our kids go to because certain schools are deemed better.

Once our kids are in, we worry about how they will do because grades are all that seem to matter. We spend time finding extra tutors for our kids, we start our kids on swimming or tennis lessons early, not because they like it but because it may come in handy when trying the Direct School Admissions (DSA) route.

We spend time on all these peripheral issues instead of focusing on the child himself.

People are made to live, not work

Yes, as parents, we do all that is needed to help nurture, protect and enhance the value of that box of chocolates (our children).

But we forget that while doing all that, we may miss the best part of it all: actually opening that box of chocolates and spending time to enjoy it.

Instead of another math class, what about a trip to the zoo? Instead of another Chinese tutor, how about a scoot around Marina Bay with Dad?

I feel that we’ve forgotten about the most important aspect of life, and that is living itself.

We are distracted by all the other “stuff” around us. Our work is no longer a means to an end but a means to get more stuff. But that is a problem because you will always want more stuff, so when does it stop?

We’ve forgotten that people were made for living.

Living consists of work and play, but work was actually created to support play. To give you the means to play. When work takes over play, then we have missed the point of it all.

When work becomes the “play” then you’re in big trouble because it means you love work more than you love life!

For kids, the quantity of time matters

I have often been told by busy career-minded friends that it’s about the quality of the time they spend with their kids. I beg to differ. For any kid out there, I believe it is all about the quantity of time.

Any time with their parents is quality time. A child cannot differentiate between quality time and non-quality time.

To them, they just know whether you are there or not there! What would your kids say if you asked them that today? Are you a “there” or “not there” parent?

I have been very fortunate to be in a job that allows me to be “there” most of the time. And I have found that in order to achieve this, I have to be quite disciplined about my time and planning.

So, for instance, it’s your daughter’s birthday and your boss asks that you join him at a client event that same night.

Will you be able to say, “Sorry boss, I can’t because I promised my daughter I would take her out tonight as it’s her birthday” or will you bail on your daughter and attend the work event? What do we put as a priority?

Some may say, “But it’s my boss!” Honestly speaking, if I were the boss, an employee who puts family first would have actually earned some brownie points from me.

Because with that, it’s clear where their priorities lie and what is important to them.

We must find a way to put family first

And family must always come first.

But what if you were the boss? How would you have reacted if your staff had told you that? A slight disclaimer—needing time off for a two-week anniversary with your boyfriend isn’t as valid!

So, as any true blooded Singaporean would put it, ”So how?” Yes, what can we do? Well, we just live.

Sure, these things do happen. But if we really, really wanted to be around, could we not find a way?

When you wanted to learn how to snowboard, did you not find time somehow? When you wanted to learn how to brew your own beer, did you not find time?

When we want to do something badly enough, we find time and a way. We make time. We create pockets of time.

It is the relationships and memories we forge that matter

All else may come and go. But the relationships we have with others will follow us as we grow older. These are the ones who will follow us through the different stages of life, the good, the bad, the painful… We will grow and change together.

At the end of the day, what do you value in life?

When all the businesses of life disappear, what will you do? Will there be friends around to share life with? Will there be children around for you to tell your stories to? Did you make time for them years ago? Will they now have time for you?

My box of chocolates is empty. I ate the best first and I shared it with my kids too. I don’t have a box of chocolates anymore, but instead I have memories.

Memories that were created as I shared that box of chocolates. Memories that taught me how to, and because I learnt to, live my life.

If you happen to be in the education space and think this essay may be suitable as a resource (e.g. for English Language, General Paper or Social Studies lessons), The Birthday Collective has an initiative, "The Birthday Workbook", that includes discussion questions and learning activities based on The Birthday Book essays. You can sign up for its newsletter at bit.ly/TBBeduresource.

Top photo via FB/Steven Chia.