I am writing this to you, my 23-year old self, prior to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. Have I changed? Do I have any regrets, being cooped up at home for the past two months?
Maybe I’m just upset that you’re getting more fresh air and sunlight more than I am, or I’m seeing things differently now that I have to put on a mask every time I leave the house. Now that I’m several CB-weeks wiser (I think!), I hope you learn a thing or two from this letter.
Right now the world’s in a bit of a limbo. You might have heard of this respiratory virus, Covid-19, that’s starting to spread worldwide. Spoiler alert: it gets worse.
Everything skyrockets in the blink of an eye. After months of keeping up with the World-o-meter Covid-19 update page three times a day, I’m already numb to the statistics. But you might be alarmed or even terrified when case numbers for countries enter the thousands.
At first, you will be worried about the worsening situation. But you don’t really start to grieve until it affects you directly.
All this time, we have put our faith in the narrative: As long as we follow the path laid out for us, we would be fine. Work hard, finish school, get a degree. We would have a roof over our heads and enough money to, at the very least, go out every once in a while.
Graduation signals the beginning of our adult life, and we would be somewhat prepared and assured of a livelihood.
The situation is bad enough that, at the time I am writing to you, the government has announced relief measures that amount to S$92.9 billion, or almost 20% of our GDP.
And I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I still live with our family—though it can get overwhelming, you know how small our house is—and I don’t have to worry about not being able to eat. Others have it much, much worse. Your friends, too, are struggling to find jobs. Your mum’s company has gone into a hiring freeze and retracted employment offers. People are getting their internships cancelled.
I know you’re probably rolling your eyes. You’re thinking that I should just take it easy and trust that things will work out.
But that’s easier said than done. Many people are having a much tougher time than I am, but that doesn’t erase the very real anxiety that I’m trying to grapple with.
I don’t know if I can get a job. Even if I do get a job, will it be one that adds value? Or do I have to settle for whatever random position that comes up on the SG United portal? Would I just end up wasting one year in an industry that I have no intention of pursuing? Or do I take a risk and wait it out, living without an income for a full year, at the end of which I have to compete with even more fresh grads?
I’m starting to realise how fragile our livelihoods really are. In the blink of an eye, I’m likely to be unemployed for up to a year. Others have trouble paying rent, or even just getting three meals a day.
Honestly, it’s terrifying.
I hope this letter helps you understand how easy it is for our lives to be upended by something that is biologically so much simpler than ourselves. Something that barely has any agency at all.
You are there right now, living before a pandemic happens, happy and content with your safety net of a Singapore education and a university degree. But, sometimes, life throws a nasty curveball, and it’s impossible to dodge it.
I can go on and on about what you should do to prepare yourself for this: take up more part-time gigs, do some online courses, start career networking so that you can get a headstart in your job search. However, to be completely frank with you, I don’t know how much help that will be. An economic downturn will be incredibly difficult to offset. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take whatever opportunities come our way and remain prepared.
Our anxieties right now are very different. You’re worried about submitting your assignments on time. I’m worried about getting hired. I’m worried about mum getting fired and dad’s business going bust.
But that’s all right. Enjoy the moments of peace while they last. Make sure to spend time with your friends and family, learn new skills, do the things you never had the time to do before, and go outdoors a little more often while you still can. We can support each other and head towards the ‘new normal’ with more confidence by staying strong together.
I don’t want to sound too pessimistic, but I just want you to keep in mind that whatever I’m experiencing now is what you will eventually experience too. The realisation that our livelihood might not be so certain after all. That we are never in complete control of our fate. That everything we’ve worked for can be so easily taken away.
On a more positive note, your friend’s father, who’s been unemployed for three months, just found a job. So maybe things aren’t completely apocalyptic.
Yes, our livelihoods are fragile. But if we make it through this storm and understand the fleeting nature yet tremendous value of whatever we have, maybe we’ll come out on the other side a little wiser.
Dear Covid-19 is a partnership between the National Youth Council (NYC) and DSTNCT. It is a nationwide youth memory project, to collect our experiences to preserve this historic moment in time that the world is going through. If you have your own Covid-19 story to tell, submit a letter at http://www.dearcovid19sg.com/.
If you’re a youth keen to upskill, head over to MehGoWhere where you can find resources on jobs & the economy, mental well-being, financial literacy as well as ideas to keep you engaged at home.