Hi, I am Benjamin.
I believe that I am quite a different individual as compared to many, both due to my innate character and the life journey that I have taken. I believe in making a difference, the importance of leaving things better than I found them, and sharing thoughts & perspectives in order to collectively progress. Born and bred in Singapore, I am a deep believer in some of the core values and ideologies that have brought us here today – Integrity, Courage, Openness, Service, and Pushing Boundaries.
My life experiences have made me very versatile, and I can adopt a very different style depending on the context and my mood state. I can communicate with people across a wide spectrum of social classes and educational levels, and I am also qualified in many disciplines.
In terms of interpersonal relationships, my approach has always been open communication, seeking common ground, and looking at the bigger picture. I can be very easy going and I can also be extremely difficult to work with depending on the message that I am trying to drive across. Mutual respect is a fundamental belief and it is the basis for me to approach any relationship, be it towards a janitor or a CEO.
I believe that for Singapore to continue to thrive, we must each put in our effort in shaping local culture and beliefs. And through Singapore, we can offer to the world our model for consideration, and hopefully, build a better world.
My Life Journey
I am a Singaporean, born and bred in a middle-income family. As a young boy, I aspired to do great things. I opted into EM1 despite not making the cut and scored the second lowest in class in PSLE. I entered Dunearn Secondary School, at a time when it was infested with secret societies and was targeted by gang members for some time. I later became a delinquent myself and was relegated to the Normal Academic stream after secondary two and had a few volatile years.
Scoring slightly better than my peers during N levels and seeing how some of my friends had to drop out due to bad results, I decided to work hard for my final year and graduated as the Top 5N student. I later entered Republic Polytechnic and did generally well despite some hiccups along the way. During NS, I became the best trainee in the platoon and commanded the Passing out Parade. I lost 16kgs and obtained IPPT Gold despite enlisting under the obese category. I was later posted into the 82/11 Officer Cadet Course.
During the first two weeks of the course, I started to question the meaning behind the officer course when one of my friends was thrown out of the course just because he mentioned that he felt that he is more suitable to be in the specialist school. I started to question whether this is truly important and if yes, why would someone be thrown out of course so easily? At the same time, I found deep differences between myself and other cadets, especially when I was a former delinquent while the others seemed to be polished and privileged. I left the course shortly after as I realised that my motivation for finishing the course has boiled down to selfish reasons, unlike how I genuinely wanted to serve and hence did well in basic military training. I committed then to return and serve if I can see things differently in the future, but at that time, I did not think that I will return.
I later entered one of the two top universities in Singapore, a milestone for me as it would seem impossible in my earlier days. I struggled academically as I have to juggle my finances, along with a highly demanding topic and the academic structure does not seem to leverage my strengths. I left midway and started a social enterprise, not wanting to return. After one year, I returned to university as I realised the value of my education, having spent one year in the working world armed with just a diploma. Business activities were also halted temporarily due to administrative issues and I had nothing meaningful going on for a while. After a few semesters of studying and continuing to work on the social enterprise, I left again due to financial reasons and spent some time in the private sector. I thought I had some breakthroughs, making it into the top four law firms in Singapore. However, that dream was shot down quickly as the relationship between my immediate superior and myself deteriorated due to inexperience on my part. I later joined DBS in a contract position before wanting to take another attempt at my degree, having secured a loan to sustain myself. This was when Outward Bound Singapore offered me a position as an Instructor. I had gone for the selection wanting to have a break away from reality, knowing that it is three days and two nights programme, expecting some “fun camps” and accidentally stumbled upon one of the most intensive recruitment processes in the world. I thought to myself that I can either try this career out and hopefully achieves something, or return to university and graduate like just any other person. I chose the former.
I spent some time in OBS and established myself as a worthy instructor after 8 months of training, passing my 5 days 4 nights assessment on the first attempt and resolving a significant operational incident barely 6 months operational. I also got married during this period and conducted the first-ever “paddle ceremony” for my wedding. Soon, NTU contacted me and asked me to return to my studies as I have reached the limit of my leave of absence. I was still bonded by an employment contract then and tried to appeal for an extension. All my appeals were rejected; I even cited my wife’s pregnancy. I decided to try something different after consulting my superiors – to attempt to finish my full-time degree while continuing working full-time as an OBS instructor. To cope, I took lesser modules per semester.
During a routine check-up, we discovered some abnormalities in my wife’s pregnancy. We were advised to induce birth immediately. My child later spent a few weeks in intensive care. We finally went home thinking that all was done. But a few months down the road, we discovered that there were some issues with her kidneys and both were eventually surgically removed, with chemotherapy to follow. We then spend many months in the hospital, taking turns staying over at the hospital. I was working, studying and coping with my child’s medical condition at the same time. Halfway through my final semester, I took unpaid leave to cope. I finally graduated, accumulating more academic credits than a double degree programme requirement.
Post graduation, the idea of a career transition floated up as I entered OBS with my diploma. Having the degree would not translate to any immediate change to my salary despite that I am doing the same job as my graduate peers and have the same qualification. Over the years, I have also pondered on the questions I had during National Service and gained a different understanding. It then became a moral obligation for me to return to the military service to pay my dues as I had said I would. I had a few competitive offers, but I decided to re-enlist, to whichever service is offered first, modelling NS where one does not have a choice.
I went through almost a year-long training, with periods staying in camp while my wife was pregnant with my second child and my first undergoing dialysis. There was strong support from my wife as she understood how much this has bothered me over the years. During training, I was offered to take my master’s by NIE. I knew it will be a stretch but took it up nonetheless as I felt that there will never be a good time to do my postgraduate studies. I was eventually appointed as a senior military expert and was nominated as one of the potential candidates for the Sword of Honour. I now serve as an Officer Commanding in one of the air bases in Singapore.
“The wind and tide may be against me,
but I am the helmsman.”
Quote on Indiana @ Outward Bound Singapore
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