The Burden of Belief

Happy New Year to all of my friends in Asia, America, Africa and around the world!

Allow me to break the silence between this and my last post with a story. As you know, I came to Singapore almost 6 months ago, wide eyed and bushy tailed, with larger than life dreams of making it as an entrepreneur in the noble field of renewable energy. I was betrayed by people I placed my trust in, but more painfully, I was betrayed by own naivete. Society fills us with confusing mixed messages; we are told to believe in our dreams, to never give up, to sacrifice and risk everything, and ultimately we will be rewarded. A former boss of mine whom I have utmost respect for once shared with me some sage advice, “Lawrence,” he said. “Whenever you try hard, you gain something. You either gain what you wanted, or you gain experience.” So what I have gained is experience, I know this psychologically, but emotionally I remain skeptical.

On Thanksgiving day I attended a large dining event for the Distinguished University Alumni League of Singapore. Imagine a very large wedding, nothing at all like the cozy Thanksgiving’s I have come to know and cherish. I sat down beside a loquacious African-American wealth manager, a Stanford graduate who had been living in Singapore for over 9 years and made a convincing case for why Singapore was the new Switzerland, and would be the first choice for storing wealth for the world in the upcoming decades. To my right was a plump Chinese Hong Konger with a pronounced British accent and a fully waxed and twisted Dali mustache protruding easily 3 inches from his upper lip on either side. Two Indian girls sat across the large circular table and tried to make polite conversation. I attempted to respond amicably, but felt so tired. In my mind’s eye I saw myself merely walking from table to table intrusively interrogating each person on what they did for a living and whether they were in a position to offer me a job, or introduce me to someone who could.

A woman came around and asked me if I would like to purchase raffle tickets. They were 1 for $5 or 3 for $10, she said. In an attempt to remain positive and channel an abundance mentality, I purchased 3 tickets for $10 and immediately regretted it. I got up and walked over to the buffet line where a typically sized American was glaring at a Vietnamese server who was slicing strips of turkey so thin he could’ve been a human deli slicer. Another American behind him finally spoke up, “listen, this is Thanksgiving, you need to cut the turkey thicker than that. If you served someone a piece of turkey like that in my family you could be killed.” I scooped up some mashed potatoes and waited for my Asian sized portion of turkey, which was just hilariously tiny, but I was too tired to argue.

I sat back down on my table and people were eating and chatting awkwardly. I felt like I had a sign on my forehead that said “failure”. Or maybe I was wearing a t-shirt that said “I have an MBA from Cornell and I make less now than I did the year I graduated from college.” The Stanford wealth manager turned towards me and remarked on how nice the raffle prizes were. Teasing, I told him that he shouldn’t keep his hopes high on the top prize, as I will be winning it. He laughed and this seemed to take, so I carried on with it. The Chinese Dali, playing along beautifully, asked me how I knew I would win. I explained that I have a tendency to win games of luck, and that certainly there must be some people that are luckier than others, and I was just one of them. My arrogant speech juxtaposed with my meek and depressed body language must’ve amused my table because I spent much of the rest of the evening explaining in various pseudo-scientific ways why my winning of the grand prize was a near certainty.

As the raffle began and the lower prizes began being given away, the talk silenced a bit. I thought about my life, my dreams, and how maybe it was all a big joke.

Maybe it’s still a joke. Maybe I will win a huge victory in 2013 and suffer major losses in 2014. Maybe that’s just how life goes. Friends come and go, so does money, and status and so do lovers. But on Thanksgiving day I won the top prize. When I returned to my seat, the entire table gazed at me in wide eyed amazement. I think they expected me to express more surprise than I showed, and maybe the idea that the raffle had been fixed crossed their mind. It wasn’t that I was unsurprised, but rather that this small victory had not brought me into elation, but only back to normal. So I sat among this eclectic group of highly successful professionals and for a few moments felt normal. It was enough.

As I walked home, a scary thought crept into my head. Perhaps, I thought, it was not over. Perhaps my dreams would still come true. Perhaps it was time to believe again.

It is a happy burden.

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