Achieving a good life in Singapore — earning professional recognition and a degree of material wealth — is supposed to define success by any standard. But is there another way to look at it? “How do we define success?” That was the question put to Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong by DBS Group CEO and Director Piyush Gupta yesterday, while Wong interacted with the audience at the 35th anniversary conference of the Institute of Policy Studies.
Wong, who is also the Singapore Finance Minister, indicated at the conference that single-minded focus on material wealth would be detrimental for Singapore society.
“We’re just going to be caught in a rat race, in an arms race, and everyone will be worse off,” he said. “If we keep pushing in that direction — ‘My house must be bigger than your house, my pay cheque must be bigger than your pay cheque, and my status in life must be higher than your status in life’ — are we going to be happier? I seriously doubt so,” he said at the conference’s panel talk.
“This is not about not being able to deliver on housing and all those other good things… but let’s also reflect on beyond a certain point — what do we want for ourselves, for our children?” he asked.
Posting a few images on Instagram from his panel talk at the conference, Wong outlined the thoughts and contents of his speech. He wrote: “What is the ‘good life’ we aspire towards? What does the Singapore Story mean to all of us?
“I’m sure there will be a range of views on these questions. But through the #ForwardSG conversations, we see some common threads. We need a more inclusive definition of success — to embrace diverse pathways of excellence, all deserving of equal respect in our society.”
The Instagram post focused on purpose, not just profit; on the community, not just the economy. “Success is less about means and more about meaning — finding purpose and fulfilment in all that we do.
“Success is not about grades and academic qualifications; it’s about a journey of lifelong learning, which the government will support fully through SkillsFuture.”
Deputy PM Wong highlighted that personal success was not enough; contribution to the community was also important. “Success is not just about the individual; it’s about the collective,” he wrote. “Every success story is a shared story. So we must give back to the community, support our fellow citizens, and strengthen our sense of solidarity as a people.
“We can all do our part to equip and empower every citizen to write their own Singapore Story!”
In his speech at the conference, Wong highlighted these ideas, talking about a new social structure for the people of Singapore, a structure that would be more inclusive.
Gupta asked Wong how to redefine success beyond material wealth, and do it within a short time frame. He added that any attempt to “reorganise society” would not be easy.
The Deputy PM replied that this process of redefining success had to start with changing mindsets; people needed to look at different pathways to success, looking beyond career paths alone. “It’s not easy to do, but I think corporate leaders, business leaders or community leaders can help and we should try to move in that direction. If we make the effort, things can shift,” he said.
There will be inevitable struggles for some people, no matter how open and equal a society is. Accepting that, Wong said that society had to focus on helping the disadvantaged, enabling them to again find their path to success.