If you missed the first part of this post, click here.
I will admit that this post was supposed to be up months ago before the university phase of my life started. But because things were busier than I expected, I put it off. And as much as I want to write about the first semester of school, I want to finish what I started with my last post.
In a way, putting off this post has allowed me to include some new developments over the past couple of months. So I guess it all works out.
The victories I have mentioned so far come from the first six months of my National Service journey.
That is only a quarter way through the whole two years.
The rest of my two years were spent at my unit. And even though I spent one and a half years at the same place, there were changes in the people around me as newer batches would replace the older batches as they reached their operationally ready date (ORD).
- Doing my own thing Pt. 2.
When I first arrived at my unit, I felt very out of place. I felt like I found a group of people that I could be myself around back at the Signal Institute (SI) and now I had to start over.
The people at my unit seemed to bond over mobile games – back then it was Mobile Legends and Clash of Clans. I chose not to participate because I was not interested and I was not about to do something just to fit in either.
It was challenging… Not having many people to talk to in the office or bunk because everyone was focused on their games. And other times, I was tasked with doing something just because everyone else was in the middle of their game.
Plus, I was one of the ‘new guys’ anyway. It was expected that the newbies take on the responsibilities of the batch approaching their ORD.
So accepting that that was the way it was going to be and taking on the work thrown my way in stride – instead of complaining about it – definitely made the first month or two more tolerable.
- Making an effort.
I could only survive on ‘lone-wolf’ mode for so long. Not having a go-to person gradually took its toll on me emotionally.
I was hopeful that things would change as the older batches left and newer batches came in. But this ‘hope’ was the root of a lot of frustration and disappointment for about the next eight months.
From the moment a new batch came in, I made an effort to get to know them – my batch was in charge of their ‘orientation’ activities so I used the time during and in-between these activities, to talk to them.
This was partly because my batch had to figure out which of the newbies we wanted to keep in our department and which ones would be better suited for the other departments. So I wanted to do my field research.
But even after the decisions were finalised and as time passed, I tried to get to know them beyond the surface of dirty jokes and mobile games. I feel like I know things about them that they probably have not shared with each other.
Just to be clear, it is really nothing scandalous. I do not mean to make it sound like ammunition I have against them. They are just things they shared with me because I bothered to ask. For example, their relationship history, crushes, school and family backgrounds.
You would think someone would appreciate an attempt at a genuine connection in the middle of all the fluff but that was not the case. Despite all that effort, they chose – what appeared to me as – surface level relationships and cultivated them further.
Fast forward a few months and they all seemed to follow the charge of one individual which made it even harder to make and strengthen connections with them one-on-one.
This is the part where I contradict the ‘doing my own thing’ victories. Because I went out of my way and tried to make adjustments to fit in.
I would choose to have dinner with them instead of going home to spend a couple of hours during our ‘nights out’ only to end up sitting at the table bored, as they end up playing mobile games together. I would consider paying to watch movies at the cinema twice – once with them and again with friends or family I already made plans with beforehand – just because I wanted to involve myself in whatever they were doing. I would filter my jokes and comments and be silent at times because I felt misunderstood.
At first, I looked back and felt ashamed of myself. I felt like such a hypocrite for priding myself on being okay with not fitting in yet still making so much of an effort to be a part of something.
But I want to acknowledge the fact that I was not too quick to judge and rule out any possibility of a relationship with these people. It does not change the fact that I really tried to make it work – harder than I should have.
However, the reasons I have now for why it will never be an ‘us’ but rather just a ‘me’ and ‘them’ stem from that effort I made. Because I have tested the waters.
So in line with celebrating victories, I want to look at that mistake as something I did right. And I really do not think it is much of a stretch either.
- 49 Days Away.
I am so glad I agreed to participate in Exercise Wallaby. You can read my post on that experience for all the details.
As much as going out of my comfort zone and being away from family and friends for a little less than two months is a victory in itself, I want to recognise the things that led up to it.
When it was time to choose two people to go on this exercise, this time around, I was hesitant because I just wanted to lay low.
But the senior that had gone the previous year – who also happened to be the senior who I was closest to because he took me under his wing – told me all the benefits of going. The incentives included being compensated for our time overseas in both, money and off days. And of course, the experience itself was supposed to be fun and purposeful.
And it made sense to me because of how my relationships in camp – or lack thereof -were bothering me.
And even before I was fully comfortable with going, it was official. I remember thinking of ‘fixing’ the situation when my name was first thrown in the mix. But I tried to keep my hesitation to myself.
I want to acknowledge the victory in crossing the first hurdle which is to not say ‘no’ to spending 49 days away from friends and family – something I never would have thought I would willingly do during my national service – instead of opting out when I had the chance.
Ever since the week after I returned to Singapore, last October, I took it upon myself to run at least three times a week.
It probably started with me wanting to lose weight, after overindulging in Australia – portions were a lot bigger there. But somewhere along the way, it became about me wanting to be healthy.
Even in camp, I would run in the early evenings right before we ended our day. And one or two people would join me from time to time.
I would think I am an average runner despite how often I have been running. My timing still fluctuates every now and then. And it can be demotivating but I try not to be too hard on myself.
Now, it has been over a year and I am proud to be able to say that I have continued running at least two times a week since then with the only exception being the week of my 4D3N freshmen orientation camp.
I should also explain the reason for me cutting down to two runs per week from three is because school has been taking up significant time and energy over the past three months.
So this victory has transcended my time in the National Service but I still credit it to the determination I had during my time in Unit.
- Doing my own thing Pt. 3
Returning to my unit after spending slightly less than two months away helped put things into perspective. I returned not wanting to put in as much effort as I used to with the people around me.
While I was away, the person I was closest to had also realised the group dynamics back at camp – the same group dynamics that I noticed long ago and was frustrated by.
I felt vindicated.
Things seemed better. Mostly because I became less invested in the people around me that I could not connect with. I actively tried to do my own thing: “If they go left, I go right, just because.”
And towards the end of my two years, I felt a connection to the newer guys that came in. It took a lot less effort and energy to get to know them and bond with them especially because they reciprocated the effort.
This victory is about self-redemption and reassurance. Knowing that everything I observed and felt was valid. Knowing that it is okay to make an effort to find the right people. Knowing that I was not the problem all this while.
I was the only one from my batch to ORD on the 17th of May 2018. And I would say it was a pretty poetic ending to my National Service.
I started this journey on my own and I ended it on my own.
I recently realised that it has been half a year since I ended my National Service journey.
Since then, I have kept in touch with the people that have made an effort to keep in touch with me.
I have also initiated the effort in some situations – for old times’ sake – and dropped a couple of ‘truth bombs’ along the way. I would say being honest about how I felt back then and now, has helped me get closure.
Nope, I am not talking about the people I could not connect with. I have not made an effort to reach out to them.
I left any group chats I was in with them because it is still ambiguous how they feel about me. I have remained cordial whenever I have seen some of them around – I was even questioned about leaving the group chat, three months after I left the group chat when I saw one of them in school. But I always remind myself that they had my number if they wanted to reach out and check in on me. But if they are not reaching out then perhaps, in another life – we might be friends.
On to better things, I met up with my batch mates once for dinner and we plan on meeting again soon. The batch of new guys I bonded with have also included me when watching movies, having dinner or celebrating one of their birthdays. The bonds I forged with them over the six months mean more to me than some of the relationships that had close to a year and a half to develop.
I am by no means close to them. I mean, they see each other five days a week while they see me once in two months. But it is still somewhat the type of relationship that I was hoping for in the first place. The low-maintenance-fun when we meet occasionally- nothing too deep friendships that serve as something I can look to when I look back at my time during my National Service.
I have definitely grown over the two years but I stand firm that I do not and will not ‘miss’ the experience.
I am now around people on a similar wavelength, studying and taking steps towards pursuing what I am passionate about.
I know it is not going to be an easy journey ahead but hey, whenever the times get tough, I remind myself that I rather be doing whatever I am doing now than back in National Service.
Until next time,