The Pressure to Be Extraordinary

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By Deborah Lee (17A01D)

Every year, approximately half of the Year 6 cohort score distinctions for all 4 H2 A Level subjects, and a quarter achieve a perfect University Admission Score. It would be a lie to say that most students do not feel a pressure to be part of these annual statistics, to be contributors towards the exemplary results that are often associated with the Raffles name.

However, this pressure does not merely permeate the academic sphere alone, but extends much further into the future domain of career choices. This can particularly be seen through Career and Scholarship Days in Raffles usually boasting participating establishments that are mostly government organisations, ministries, and other prominent institutions.

While this is far from unexpected, given the number of notable alumni in distinguished public service positions, it does give rise to the question of whether the career paths suggested for Raffles students are wider in certain directions, and narrower in other diverging routes.

An informal poll with 63 respondents found that 89% believed that there exists a pressure for Raffles students to find a conventional and well-paying job in the future. This likely includes jobs in law, the medical field, business, as well as with other prestigious organisations.

The reason as to why this particular belief exists could perhaps be the extensive list of illustrious alumni, and the fact that year after year, many Guests of Honour that are invited to grace school occasions are also part of this list. All of this serves to affirm the presumption that there is a tendency for alumni to undertake impressive careers after graduation, thus placing expectations on younger batches to continue the trend.

But what about the students who wish to follow less conventional career paths? Do they receive the affirmation that they should follow their dreams, or do they become weighed down by the typical expectations that come from being in this school? 12 fellow Rafflesians were asked about their dream jobs, in a scenario where they would not have to worry about practicality and finances, and answers ranged from bartending to becoming a Taekwondo coach.


Upon first look at the above infographic, would you have associated the jobs with Raffles alumni? From a young age, we have been told that we should chase our dreams, but does that mean that once we become students of a prestigious school, our dreams should be tailored to fit a conventional mould that is deemed proper?

Of course, certain arguments against this might be put forth, most particularly that large sums of money have been invested in our holistic education and in turn we should go on to give back as much as we can to society.

The idea of this is usually fulfilled through taking up jobs in public service and other highly-skilled sectors that our quality education has enriched and equipped us for. Therein lies the pressure for Rafflesian students—given the amount of resources that have been allocated to our education, we then feel pressured to go into these jobs that are perceived as high-value added and fairly conventional.

We are definitely fortunate to be able to benefit from impressive campus facilities, dedicated staff, and various exchange and enrichment programmes. However, this does not mean that we, as a society at large as well as Rafflesians ourselves, should start viewing education as a transactional process: inputting resources and then churning out public service scholars and alumni with excellent credentials as the sole expected product.

To do this would reduce education to a mere factory line production and further place stress on students to perform well by feeding into the notion that the ways in which we give back to society must necessarily be extraordinary– Here, we’re giving you a good education, so you have to get good grades and a good job in future.”

This in turn perpetuates the impression that the only concern that matters to students should be the credentials and prestige that come with the Raffles name, which shall then be used to find a fairly conventional but successful job in future. The issue with this is the persistent sense of obligation that weighs on the shoulders of every Rafflesian to become accomplished, outstanding, impressive: the pressure to be extraordinary.

The quality education that we receive definitely should not be considered unconditional, since we should indeed be grateful for the opportunities offered to us and give back to society in one way or another. Giving back, however, should not be interpreted as an action only accomplishable by those in high-paying jobs and prominent government positions.

We can all give back in different ways, regardless of the jobs we do.

The bookshop owner provides a safe haven for bookworms; the guitarist thrills listeners with the enchantment of music; and the traveller brings glimpses of a larger world to those stuck in an unmoving place. Giving back isn’t only done by CEOs, Ministers and those in highly respected positions; it is something that everyone can do as long as they make a conscious effort. The prestige of a job shouldn’t and doesn’t define your success as a person, and while it might be important to some, you don’t have to prioritise it if you are in pursuit of other aspirations.

There are days when we look at our marks, our grades, and perhaps wonder if we will eventually be able to live up to the Raffles name. We wonder if we can ever catch up with the straight A’s that are synonymous with our school’s reputation and move on to bag scholarships and high-paying jobs. It’s a constant worry, an incessant nagging at the back of our minds whenever we are reminded that A Levels are not a distant concern, but an impending threat.

However, it’s all right if we don’t end up fitting in this mould. It’s all right if we don’t get an excellent set of grades, if we don’t move on to a job that we think is befitting of a Raffles alumni. Life is much bigger than the expectations placed on us during the few years of our teenage lives.

We don’t need an extraordinarily big house, an extraordinarily flashy car, or an extraordinarily prestigious job to be happy.

Yes, a conventional job does have its undeniable benefits, mainly the security that comes with a tested and stable career. However, a question we have to answer, is whether we are willing to trade our true passion for practicality.

Life will be full of risks that we have to take and it will admittedly be too short to regret the paths wanted, but not taken, because we feared impracticality and uncertainty. Perhaps, in order to pursue the passions close to our hearts, the risk is one that is worth taking.  

To all the prospective bartenders, backpackers, and hairdressers out there, don’t feel guilty about wanting to pursue your dreams. True, you may have been fortunate to receive a good education, but don’t let the pressure force you to become someone bigger than you want to be.

A small, energetic spirit is sometimes better than a large empty shell, and there can always be something extraordinary found in all things seemingly ordinary.

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6 thoughts on “The Pressure to Be Extraordinary”

  1. Hi Deborah, this is an excellent post! Being in university myself, I do feel the pressure to conform to society’s expectations on what is successful. Thank you for the timely reminder. :)

  2. As an old Rafflesian who is now starting out in my career, there is much in this article that I resonate with. Indeed as Rafflesians we have benefited from a lot of resources that have come our way thanks to our parents, teachers and society in general. I have had many opportunities to pursue my dreams, that were not afforded to others. Ultimately though a career is not only about being able to afford a big house, big car and putting the best food on the table. I think the proper response to all this opportunity that has come my way is to build a career that makes a positive difference in the lives of others. You can do this in almost any line of work and at any level of seniority.
    Many pressures will come your way over the next few years, and you will realise the value of a Rafflesian education in some unexpected situations. Whatever you choose to become, I hope you use you will be good at it and use it to do good to others.

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