Reconciling with Uncomfortable Situations & Facing Military Conscription

October 28th 2021, I went for a medical examination at a military base in Singapore, in preparation for my enlistment in about a year’s time, toward the end of 2022, after my graduation from high school. In Singapore, it’s mandatory for all male permanent residents, citizens, and passport holders spend 2 years in the military, police or civil defence force, serving the nation.

To me, this has become a defining feature of my life, as it restricts me over the next 2 years in regards to how much control I have over where I spend my time. For me, one of my core driving philosophies is that anything is possible, and if there’s a will there’s a way, as cliche as it might sound. This has been key to much of the work I’ve done, from the business I started when I was 13, to the sponsored trip to New York City I managed to pull off in less than a week at 17. The army, however, is not something I can control, no matter how much will I might have. Just to be clear, I’m not opposed to serving and I know it’ll present a unique opportunity for growth (in fact, I’m kind of looking forward to see how it is), but it’s the lack of control and choice with which I’m still reconciling.

If you’re wondering what options there are to get out of national service, there are essentially none. I’m not allowed to opt out, or renounce my permanent residency (it’s too late, because I’m 17 and have done my medical), even if I were to be disabled, injured, or incompetent in some capacity, they will simply assign me a simpler job I’d still be able to do, and I’d still need to serve the 2 years. I could run away from the country, take a flight with my things and never come back, but that would make me a fugitive at the ripe age of 18, which I’m not sure is something I want. Should I become a fugitive, if I ever stepped foot in Singapore again, even just for a flight layover, I would be arrested and imprisoned for more than 2 years.

I didn’t imagine the medical would be a particularly interesting or remarkable experience, much less something I would take time to reflect on and dissect, but to my surprise, it did give me quite a bit to think about. For context, when I went for the checkup, it was the day after I had just found out I made the money for the trip to NYC, so I was literally over the moon from the moment I got out of bed, until I stepped foot on the military base. In pretty much seconds that happiness was nowhere to be seen, instead replaced with an awkward anxiety and nervousness — not great fun.

I was there with a couple other young students, who I imagine were around my age, all of whom were also there for their medical, and as we got started, initially with a photo, then a full body scan (for which we had to stand shirtless in a small box), and so forth, I noticed I felt completely vulnerable, uncomfortable & defenceless.

From almost start to finish no student spoke a word, we just followed various doctor’s and officer’s orders, and there was an almost tangible, stale air that settled in. It didn’t seem like anyone wanted to be there, and many of the other students looked really insecure too — I don’t think I was in alone in my feelings of discomfort. While I didn’t think this particularly contributed to anything, I was notably the only white kid in virtually the entire facility, and I’m not sure if I was judged because of it, but at the very least I wasn’t treated any differently which was a relief.

It made me feel wholly exposed to the subjugation of the officers, and made me feel powerless. I sometimes noticed my head was completely out of control, overthinking to ridiculous extents and I found myself needing to go to my phone to distract myself because it was really hard to not let my thinking completely spiral. At some points, I did make a serious, and deliberate effort, albeit not a particularly successful one, to be more mindful and present, rather than let my mind wreak havoc, but to little avail.

Later, once I had left, alone, I reflected a little bit on the experience and thought a little bit about some ideas from a podcast I’d recently heard (The Knowledge Project: Naval Ravikant | the Angel Philosopher), brought about by Naval Ravikant, on mindfulness, and stillness. It also made me notice just how powerful mindfulness can be as a hedge against anxiety and insecurity.

Mindfulness to me means being present, grounded, and entirely tethered to reality; focusing completely on the task at hand, ignoring past or future, just living in the moment. I knew the context of why things were happening, and I was familiar with almost all of the procedures that were done to me, so if I were genuinely mindful in those moments, there would be no reasons to experience discomfort; I know why I’m there, I know what they’re doing to me, instructions are simple to follow, I have nothing to be worried about.

Despite this I still found myself deeply uncomfortable with much of what was happening. I’ve had this similar nervous/anxious feeling in other situations where I may objectively know everything is fine, but I get nervous nonetheless. To me, the ability to be deliberately mindful to detach myself from the emotional stress is something I’m still learning, and I feel, one of the most important tools against unwarranted, irrational discomfort & anxiety.

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