Let’s Talk: Multi-hyphenates

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By Shermaine Lim (22S03N)

On the first day of the January Induction Programme, I sat in the middle of the lecture hall, amidst 200 restless students who were visibly reeling from the effects of the never ending series of perfunctory talks. 

However, there was one particular talk that piqued my attention, that being the one titled: How to Thrive in JC. Intrigued, I craned my neck and paid special attention to the Year Head, who introduced the concept of being a multi-hyphenate. 

For those unfamiliar with this term, a multi-hyphenate is described as a person with varied skills with a certain level of expertise. These are your Kylie Jenners, the actress-model-business owner-celebrity, of our society. They refer to a group of outstanding individuals who excel at a range of areas of expertise, with a multitude of titles under their belts. 

But what is all the hype surrounding this arbitrary term? Why is there a sudden push for us to become more skilled in various domains?

Well, firstly, it’s practical. 

On the surface, it seems like a good concept to promote to the youths of an ever-evolving society. With the inundation of technological advancements and increasing standards of education, being good at one thing just isn’t enough. The cut throat competition of the 21st century demands a higher standard from everyone—society favours dynamicity, and that’s where being a multi-hyphenate grants you a steeper advantage. 

By becoming more versatile, we are essentially increasing our pool of talents to encompass a wider range of skills, which can then be applied to various situations. With such requirements dictated in the natural order of our universe, it’s no wonder that the concept of multi-hyphenates should become espoused. On social media, micro influencers—or ‘content creators’—are increasingly flaunting many titles on their profiles, while schools are beginning to encourage a more well-rounded curriculum that includes sports, music, art, and community service on top of academics 

It promotes the idea of exploration and personal growth, elevating one’s life experience by diversifying possible journeys we can embark on. Beyond our fixed areas of specialisation, the process of learning a new skill allows us to build character, strengthen work ethic and bask in the wealth of experience that only exploring can offer. We may also meet new like-minded people in the process, and benefit by becoming a more well-rounded individual. 

This all sounds great, but multi-hyphenatism disguises a darker side. What happens when we begin to conflate our self worth with our titles? What happens when we define ourselves based on our titles and accomplishments? What happens when the line between achievements and ability becomes blurred in the foreground of competition? 

This focus on collecting “titles” may breed a fixation on constant hustling rather than growth that’s right for us. It can create heightened competition and accomplishment at the expense of true achievement.

As students, our time is already stretched across academics and curriculars, not to mention the social aspect that is quintessential of school life. We press ourselves so hard to extract the best of everything—the best school experience, the best friends, the best grades, the best CCA records—that there comes a point where we neglect to invest in our inner emotional bank. 

In the process of trying to be everything, we may lose sight of who we are, and as a direct consequence, we lose that essence of specialty when we spread ourselves too extensively. We may become the jack of trades and master of none. Our value proposition in any area of expertise becomes that of a superficial understanding that lacks content depth. And even if we end up miraculously mastering all that we seek to conquer, at what cost is this achieved?  

I remember when I first started out in JC everyone was rushing to apply for all the enrichment programmes and I got so stressed because I just wanted to mug through JC. I really don’t know how these people cope, but for me my grades suffered a lot when I tried overcommitting myself.


What starts out as a healthy narrative promoting versatility can easily become added pressure for already worn out students. 

It’s easy to fall in the endless trap of wanting more, to expect more from ourselves and continually strive to achieve an unattainable versatility with the precision of perfection. Amidst students who seem to master everything, striving to become a multihyphenate no longer becomes an aspiration but a need. This may morph into a desire to prove ourselves and validate our self worth by equating it to the list of accolades achieved. As a result, we tend to let our roles define us, rather than defining the roles ourselves. 

As students engulfed in the constant storm of studies and CCAs, perhaps becoming a multi-hyphenate shouldn’t be our main goal. Perhaps learning to inculcate a love of learning, a thirst for knowledge, and the discipline to strive is more important. Perhaps indulging in self care, honing a sense of self awareness for one’s capacity and building esteem should be prioritised. Or perhaps, we should just cherish the last of our schooling years alongside our friends and teachers, instead of isolating ourselves for the sake of achieving the impossible of becoming masters in all areas in our short two year JC journey.

We build our personal brands not by titles, but rather by the values that we hold. 

Because at heart, everyone is a multi-hyphenate. Before we are a student-leader-athlete-writer-performer, we are a friend-family-junior-senior. 

And above all, we are enough.

432241cookie-checkLet’s Talk: Multi-hyphenates


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