One of Nathanael Tan's aspirations is to be the Chief Executive Officer of SMRT Corporation, Singapore's public transport operator.
The teenager, who is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, was not shy to state his ambition for the record in an interview with social enterprise Rebound with Resilience.
The platform also provided Tan the opportunity to share some of his experiences dealing with his condition and how people around him react to it and socialise with him.
Why aspire to become the CEO of SMRT?
Tan, who is done serving his National Service stint and undertaking a part-time diploma in rapid transit technology in Singapore Polytechnic, shared that he would want to improve SMRT as a company and Singapore's public transport network in general.
The young man said he was in secondary school when he developed an interest in public transport
He explained that there is a link between autism and interest in public transport, as people diagnosed with autism enjoy patterns and routines.
Tan's own interest in how public transport works stemmed from how the system is big and sophisticated, but at the same time it is "smooth-running" and "well-oiled".
The Singapore Polytechnic student is doing a diploma in Engineering (Rapid Transit Technology) and has a scholarship with SMRT.
Ambition is to be SMRT CEO
As he grew up, he came to realise that there were more problems with the public transport system, such as train breakdowns.
That was when he found his calling, he said.
"My goal is to become the SMRT CEO. Some may laugh, but that’s ok. I want to improve the system here, especially with the tarnishing reputation. I want to advocate for a culture not just of complaints, but set up systems where we feed accurate information to help each other," Tan shared.
He wanted to make things better, he added.
He also said if we just keep on complaining for the sake of complaining, without really giving suggestions and make contributions, according to him, we will not progress.
Tan's drive to be part of the SMRT team was evident, as recently, he sent an email to all public transport operators urging them to have a firmer grasp on their social media profiles.
Tan said his first task, should he become the CEO of SMRT, would be to take down the parody account SMRT Feedback.
What is Asperger's Syndrome?
Tan described his Asperger's Syndome as a "self-shut" syndrome, which is what the syndrome is called in Chinese.
He shared during the interview that he was diagnosed when he was in Primary Six.
He has always felt like a stranger in society, and would often shut himself out as interacting with others is difficult.
Tan also mentioned that he was not able to read social cues very well.
According to Singapore's Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Asperger's Syndrome is considered as a form of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
There are a range of developmental disorders characterised by difficulties in socialisation and communication, and restricted or repetitive pattern of behaviours and interest, according to IMH.
"Mental hell" journey in secondary school
Tan shared that when he was in Primary One, he was dragged out of class and brought to the principal's office.
He was threatened with the cane but he had no reaction.
"That should have been a sign, but no one picked it up, because no one's awareness was there."
His "mental hell" journey was especially tough in secondary school, as most of his classmates or teachers did not fully understand autism.
"I felt helpless and disconnected, and considered attempting suicide," he shared.
However, Tan said he was fortunate as he had counsellors to explain to his classmates about what he was going through and it helped.
Tan also shared that his friends knows of his interest in public transport.
"Though my friends teased me, they also asked for advice on bus routes. I memorised them all," he said and added that "they were thankful, and it made me feel a sense of value."
His teachers showed concern after his meltdown and guided him in his studies, and thanks to them, Tan eventually graduated after taking his N-level examinations.
Risky change in environment
Other than his goal of being the CEO of SMRT, Tan is also a mental health advocate.
He said there are still misconceptions about being autistic, such as how others imagine people diagnosed with autism to only screech or flap their hands.
There was even one time when someone, who confused autism with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), tried to stack notes just to irritate him.
Even though being himself might be alienating, he has to contend with dealing with others in polite society.
Moving to ITE was difficult, according to Tan, with cliques and a lack of interaction.
He then switched to a part-time course instead while serving his National Service -- which he is not exempted from.
Despite the added load of juggling studies with serving the nation, Tan found the switch to be rewarding.
"I found interacting with older people more conducive and rewarding, and I excelled," he shared.
The Rebound with Resilience platform is dedicated to raising mental health resilience in Singapore by featuring stories of those experiencing mental health conditions.
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top photo by Rebound with Resilience/Facebook