In peninsular Southeast Asia there is a word of Malay origin, bastardized by Chinese pronunciation that perhaps best describes the prevalent mindset of the middle class in everything from career to politics: lugi.
More than the losing of face and the losing of status, our collective great fear is the fear of losing out. What of? Anything and everything. A recent history of imperialism, colonialism, authoritarianism and other forms of oppression have perhaps conditioned our brains into a state of perpetual loss. And need for perpetual validation.
Our toddlers go for a dozen classes, academic and non-academic, before they even learn to independently put on their pants. Other people’s kids may win, you see.
It is not enough to get a perfect score at the “O” Levels, scoring a total of 6 points (the fewer the better, 6 being the lowest); to qualify for the top three schools one must have enough point deductions from higher second language, sports and activities, and alumni affiliation, so you’re really aiming for 0 points.
To what end, paper pushers and PowerPoint warriors?
The most successful people I know who have emerged from this Matrix ask a different set of questions.
They do not ask, “what can I lose by doing this?”
They ask, “what can I gain?” Then proceed to minimize the risks through calculated steps and methodologies.
They do not ask, “how can this help me be seen to be more successful by my peers?”
They ask, “how does this help me learn, build, make a life I want for myself, help others, and can it also afford the life that I want such that my peers can see economic success attained through healthy, self-deterministic ways?”
They do not understand the politics of lugi and perhaps it is because some of us do not understand fear; every challenge is a learning curve to be conquered.
Of course this is a privilege of a certain socio-economic class, perhaps an indulgence, but for anyone of an aspirational mindset the fear of losing out is the biggest death knell you can sound. It’s not a competition, but even if it was you’d better be competing because you love it, not because you’re trapped in a race whose rules you don’t understand and whose finish line offers an indeterminate prize you’ll figure out later. Life’s too short to be afraid.