Written by: Joseph Koh (Photo by: Zann Lee)
A Life Plagued by Inadequacy
For a couple of weeks in recent months, the CNA Insider video featuring students from different school streams was the only constant on my Facebook Newsfeed. Touching on the sensitive (and often swept aside) topic of class and privilege, I had never witnessed so many people sharing the same video and chiming in — it became evident that this was a deeply personal concern for most Singaporeans.
As I dug deeper to postulate why it had struck a chord with the mass populace — beyond the pronounced class differences in our country — I realised that the video orbited on the axis of our human tendency to compare. We pit ourselves incessantly against others in almost any imaginable scenario, both overtly or covertly. Within a world avalanched by an aching sense of lack, our heart wanders and grows discontent easily.
During the formative years of my life, I subconsciously grew up in the shadows of my brothers. My elder brother did significantly better than the rest of the family at the PSLE and eventually carved a side gig as a debate coach through his schooling days. My younger brother was earmarked for the Singapore Sports School early on due to his mastery in badminton.
I, on the other hand, didn’t have a specific talent to profess, much less own. When it came to writing, I disqualified myself during junior college, as I found a long line of friends who were much better writers — they were eloquent and well-versed with the literary world; I merely had a diminutive interest that stood for nothing, bereft of cultural capital. In a nutshell, I felt inept and voiceless when I was younger, trapped within the presumptions of mediocrity and self-pity.
Even today, I have a proclivity to compare all the time: those who have it all together and those who own what I covet. Differences in Singapore society could be more striking, given that our definitions of success are quite narrowly defined, thereby making our life trajectory in this city punishingly linear. If we fall out of line, we immediately feel the taint of difference from our peers, and would eventually denigrate ourselves.
Recently, during a particular cell group session, it hit me that comparison is an issue that plagues most (if not all) of us. Everyone had their own story to share — from asymmetries with their past lovers to discrepancies in career progression. Undergirding these feelings of anxiety and frustration is a belief that we aren’t enough.
More days than not, the critic in me towers high above, bellowing, nitpicking the piercing fragments in my life that require fixing and attention. This is made worse by the fact that the mantra in Singapore society is: more, more, more. Akin to a marketing campaign, your life constantly needs to be bigger, better, bolder.
Inadequacy often feels like a chesty cough that I can’t shake off — it irritates with dogged persistence, yet it feels almost impossible to eradicate. I have also glanced sideways at people’s “big moments” — promotion, publishing deal, wedding — and craved for the same, pushing me closer to the hinge in which I would choose to trade my life for theirs in a heartbeat.
Having struggled with adequacy for a good part of my life, I’ve begun to see that it cannot be attained by stature, power, wealth, or any form of accomplishment. If our worth is built on something that could be taken away in an instant — like the morning mist — we will never find the centred-ness, confidence, and quietude we seek. It is a quivering, ephemeral shadow you can’t quite catch. We clamour to clasp onto something that will only collapse.
In our haste, we forget this truth: our worth is inherent, bestowed by a loving God who made us with every careful intention and attention. We’re made enough — all we need is to open our hearts to Him, and allow His Word/words to define us.
The Bible exhorts us that we were born at the time and place he determined (Acts 17:26). We are a product of His grace, and this very grace encounters us and keeps us, again and again. John 15:16 divulges that Jesus has chosen and appointed us: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.”
Whenever we seethe in envy, clambering for things which are out of our reach, it is a manifestation of how our heart has turned away from our true love — Jesus. We’ve been created to look to Him in all things, yet we succumb to the devil’s gambit, gambling our lives in pursuit of this world’s inferior pleasures.
I’ve found that I’m most susceptible to forget my sense of worth when my life is focused on everything but God. It is scary to think how easy it is for our gaze to be affixed on the multitudinous distractions this world offers — often when I grasp for the skies, head strained towards eternity, I cannot help but feel my feet are made of clay, crumbling into fine flour.
Many of my best friends entered marriagehood this year, and accompanying this new transition was a sudden assuredness and stability in them. Peculiarly, for a split second, I started to hanker the same for my life. I managed to snap out of this mirage when it struck me that our lives aren’t meant to be one and the same — I have my own journey and calling. Through this simple anecdote, I saw through the spell of how we can be caught up in the things not meant for you. We need to live a life that follows Christ rather what the world conjures and brandishes.
If we were to ruminate and cross-examine our lives today, can we truly say that we’re allowing Him to lead us to the way everlasting? I’ve leant upon my performance way more than I’ve leant into my Perfector.
I haven’t gotten it all together, whereby ditching the act of comparison is much easier said than done, but I’m learning that adequacy can only be found in a Person. I’m finding the rhythm of stepping outside the shadows of my past and dwelling in the bell-jar of God’s perspective and word. May you find the faith and conviction to anchor your heart in the Constant One — He not only created you, His love for you never changes.