Every unvaccinated and non-exempted worker in Singapore is barred from returning to the workplace.
Two weeks from now, every partially-unvaccinated worker who refuses to take the second shot will be barred from returning to the workplace.
Employers are supposed to redeploy these workers to remote positions wherever possible, or allow them to work from home. Termination is supposed to be a last resort. The reality is that termination is a first resort for too many employers. Every other day, I read a fresh story of the tricks unscrupulous employers play to ditch their unvaccinated workers. Placement on long-term no-pay leave in preparation for termination. Redeployment to frontline positions that require vaccination or termination. Or outright termination with notice.
The Great Termination is here. The first wave has hit. The second wave will hit in a fortnight. And then the Great Resignation will come.
If you’ve chosen termination over vaccination, this post is for you.
The New Reality
If you’ve been fired for refusing the vaccine, it will extremely difficult for you to find salaried employment ever again. Most certainly not in this time period. You represent a significant liability to most employers, and there are many people out there with similar skills and experience as you—and are also vaccinated.
Further, there is no guarantee that there will always be remote work positions. Singapore’s work culture prizes face time. In the most extreme cases, physical presence in the workplace is prioritized over productivity. Should the government allow more workers to return to the office, expect remote work positions to be converted to office positions, in the process shutting out even more unvaccinated workers.
Even if you’ve kept your job, your job isn’t safe. By withstanding so much pressure to get vaccinated, you have committed the greatest sin in Singapore: the sin of non-conformance.
Singapore prizes conformity and obedience in the name of social harmony. Anyone who ‘makes trouble’ is viewed in a negative light. It doesn’t matter why they did what they did, how they did it, or what they want. The simple act of going against the grain signals a rejection of this core social norm—and therefore society itself. Be prepared for employers and colleagues to be prejudiced against unvaccinated workers—especially if unvaccinated workers are seen as having special privileges or being assigned less work for the same pay. Even if you’re medically exempted from vaccination, expect to face discrimination anyway, simply because you are not like everyone else. It doesn’t matter if the unvaccinated workers work only from home: they are different, they do not conform, and that makes them outcasts.
This is not to say all employers and managers are horrible or unreasonable people. I do know of bosses who do support their unvaccinated workers and do not discriminate against them. If this is not your boss, however, you must assume that you are on borrowed time.
One day, the pandemic will end. The stigma of being unvaccinated will remain—especially if you were terminated or placed on no pay leave for not taking the vaccine. This is a sign that you have created trouble for your previous employer, and will do so again under the right conditions. There is little reason for a Singaporean employer to hire you when there are tens of thousands of other workers who’ve shown that they will not make trouble.
Your struggle is not with your boss, or employers in general. Your struggle is with Singapore’s work culture.
Society has rejected you. Do not hope that society will one day embrace you again. Do not hope that one day you will again be treated as a complete human being, worthy of the dignities and respect accorded to all people. Do not hope that things will ever return to the way they used to be.
You must live as if you will always be an outcast. You must accept the new reality, no matter how unpleasant or painful it may feel to you, and act appropriately. You must develop secure streams of income that no one can take from you.
You must become unemployable.
The Barbarian and the Outlaw
Let me rephrase the previous line:
You are already unemployable.
You are already outcast.
You are already a second-class citizen.
You must accept this. Take however much time you need to recover from any shock or trauma from the loss of employment, income, and friends. But in the end, you must recognize this fundamental fact: most employers will never employ you again.
In one of the world’s most expensive cities, this question looms over everyone’s heads: How can you continue to support your family and lifestyle?
Let’s look at the contrast between the Roman and the barbarian. Marc MacYoung first described this concept in terms of self-defense and social rules. But there is a key passage that stands out:
In ‘civilized circles,’ the civilized person has the upper hand in interactions because the ‘barbarian’ is the outsider. An outsider, who doesn’t exactly understand the rules of the circle he has found himself in. Simply stated, in Roman circles there are often two sets of rules: that which is stated and obvious and what’s really going on. These secondary rules are subtle, unspoken and not immediately obvious … as are the repercussions of violating them (e.g. a promotion goes to someone else or someone is subtly ‘excluded’ from events)…
But here’s a little reality break … the barbarians don’t care about what passes as power and status among Romans. They don’t want to become Romans, they don’t want to rule Rome. The barbarian have come to Rome not to invade, but to work. And when they are done, they want to go home again. Therefore, while they’ll follow the obvious rules, they do not adopt the subtleties of Roman ways and thought.
You are the barbarian now.
The obvious rule in Singapore is that the unvaccinated (and soon, the partially-vaccinated) will be excluded from the workplace. The unspoken rules are that employers are free to fire the unvaccinated and that society is free to treat the unvaccinated as second-class citizens.
You may not have wanted this. But society has now marked you with the label of ‘barbarian’. You are part of the foolish unwashed masses who spread disease and pose a grave risk to public health and order, and will not be allowed be part of civilization again.
Set aside any thoughts of gaining power or status. Do not entertain the idea of returning to the fold. Focus only on this: go to work so you can provide for your family, obey whatever laws you are required to obey, but live your life on your terms.
In this regard, the barbarian is remarkably similar to the modern Western outlaw. The outlaw is not necessarily a bad guy. He does not prey on the innocent for kicks. He does not go out of his way to cause trouble for others. He does, however, hold himself to a higher law, to a code of honour, and he holds that code above the laws of Rome.
The outlaw obeys the rules only to the extent that allows him to function in civilized society. This means getting a driver’s license, wearing a helmet when riding a motorbike, sticking to agreed-upon working hours when working for someone else, and other such niceties. Beyond that, however, he lives life on his own terms. Instead of formal contracts and bank transfers, he may choose to do business with cash and a handshake. When he runs into trouble, he handles it himself instead of running to the nearest authority figure. He is prepared to cut ties with people who don’t meet his standards instead of sucking up to them for some temporary gain.
This idea can be seen in China, too, in the wuxia genre. The wandering martial artist inhabits the world of the rivers and lakes, a community of misfits and outcasts. He lives not by the norms of society, but by a code of martial ethics. He is fiercely independent and goes where he pleases, but when the innocent need help, he is ready to assist.
This is the romance of the barbarian and the outlaw. Living by an iron code, forging strong ties with like-minded people, staying at arm’s length from stifling bureaucracies, totally unaffected by norms and customs. It is why this archetype lasts through the ages.
Of course, real life outlaws don’t always live up to this romantic image. The ones I’ve known, for example, violate weapons laws at their pleasure (and at their risk). They settle disputes with violence, which naturally brings many hassles. Their criminal histories mean they can’t ever live a normal life, such as landing a stable job and securing a housing loan. Those who are still alive bear many scars, and suffer from chronic injuries.
I’m not saying you should live like that, much less live like a professional criminal. But to survive what’s coming, you must learn from the experiences, the mistakes and the downfalls of those who have been in a similar position.
The most important lesson is this: if you wish to be free, then you must take personal responsibility for everything.
The Buck Stops With You
The outlaw does not have access to the conveniences and the privileges of civilization. If something untoward happens to him, he must take care of himself. No one outside of his circles is obliged to help him. He cannot place his fate in the hands of anyone else. He must take charge of his own life. It is him and his tribe against the world. Take this mindset and apply this to all things.
Here’s an example: the Singapore government says it will no longer cover the medical bills for Covid patients who are unvaccinated by choice. What does this mean for you?
Obesity and Vitamin D deficiency is correlated with severe Covid symptoms. These are preventable conditions. Regular exercise, soaking in the sun, and a healthy diet will go a long way towards preventing hospitalisation—for Covid and for a host of preventable lifestyle diseases.
Insurance companies provide coverage for medical bills, which may also include Covid treatment. Check in with your insurance provider and consider upgrading your coverage for the duration of the pandemic.
Take sensible precautions wherever you can. Get plenty of fresh air and sunlight, uphold hand hygiene, maintain social distancing, get enough sleep, and minimize stress. By boosting your immune system and reducing your risk of exposure, you mitigate your chances of catching Covid in the first place.
All this demands personal responsibility. No one is going to force you to do any of this, no one is able to do any of this for you. Whatever practices you adopt or reject is your choice. Whatever risk remains is on you. Whatever happens to you is also on you.
Recognize and accept all this, and act accordingly.
The same goes for work and income. You must take responsibility for your income, especially if you have dependents. By your choices, you have rendered yourself unemployable. Do not regret what is already done. Instead, commit yourself to this new way of life, and create a better life for you and your loved ones.
If you choose to work for someone, recognize that it is on you to ensure that you have a steady income stream. Your employer isn’t obliged to keep you in that position in the long term. It is on you to identify an employer who won’t discriminate against you, who won’t discard you when you are no longer convenient, who will advocate for you when needed. It is also on you to develop backup income streams to guard against the possibility of sudden job loss.
If you choose to be an entrepreneur, your entire life is on you. Yours and your dependents. Customers aren’t obliged to buy stuff from you. Suppliers and vendors aren’t obliged to do business with you. It is on you to identify market needs, create a viable business strategy, and keep your business running.
The buck stops with you. Every decision you make is on you. You do not have a choice now.
You must sink or swim.
If you have lost your primary income stream, your first task is survival. You must develop stable streams of income that will not be affected by Covid measures. My previous blog post goes into that in greater detail. This article is about the mindset you need to survive and thrive in these trying times.
Your greatest obstacle is NUTS: No U-Turn Syndrome. The hallmark of Singapore’s work culture, it is the mindset of constantly seeking approval from the authorities before doing something. Sim Wong Hoo, founder of Creative Technologies, explains this concept in greater detail in this letter.
All your life, you’ve been surrounded by NUTS. Be it in school or the workplace, NUTS is the default mindset. It is the mindset of a society that prioritizes conformity with the rules. Now that the rules state that you are the barbarian and the outcast, you cannot live by NUTS any more.
Here’s the secret to NUTS: the rules apply only to those who are part of society. Now that society has kicked you out, the rules don’t apply.
By that, I am referring to the second set of rules Marc MacYoung mentioned above. The subtle, unspoken rules, the second set of rules that only insiders know and live by—and the the rules that define them. You are no longer an insider, and no matter how hard you try, you will never become an insider again. You must live by your own rules. This is what you must do:
Don’t ask for permission. The answer will always be no. There may not even be any authorities to ask permission from. Exercise your wisdom and your judgment, and act. Don’t wait for the herd to act or for the authorities to formally approve of something before you act too. This is extremely important if you choose to be an entrepreneur. To seek advantage in the market, you must do what everybody else is not doing. If you wait for someone else to take the risk and just follow the herd, you lose the prime mover advantage. Success becomes that much harder. Once you have a plan, act.
Embrace uncertainty. Rules and policies keep changing. Employment contracts can be dissolved in the blink of an eye. Do not fear uncertainty. Become comfortable with it. With uncertainty comes opportunities—especially opportunities to reduce uncertainty. These opportunities allow you to secure your position.
Seek growth, abundance and gratitude. Never be satisfied with where you are now. Always learn new skills, new technologies, new ways of doing things. In so doing, you create more and more value for yourself, and those you help. Remind yourself that there will always be an abundance of opportunities. All you need do is find them. Whenever you lose an opportunity—such as being terminated for being unvaccinated—learn from the experience and seek another opportunity. When you do capitalize on an opportunity—like retaining your job or finding a new one—express gratitude for it. This process creates options for you, and trains you to see and act on opportunities that present themselves.
Go where you are celebrated. To get through these trying times, you need a network. Clients, allies, fellow travelers, people who are willing and able to assist you because of who you are. Staying in a society that rejects you will only pile on stress and negativity. By going where you are celebrated, you will find the network you need to survive. They are already predisposed to helping you. Find them, help them, and create a mutual aid network to survive the days ahead.
Secure multiple redundant income sources. For someone in your position, this isn’t optional any more. When creating a side gig, seek something that is low-effort and high-value. It offers outsized returns on the time and energy you put into it. Look at your talent stack and see how you can monetize your skills and experiences at lowest cost to yourself. Passive income is the best source of income: you invest money in it, then it automatically generates income with minimal effort or oversight. You could consider buying a vending machine, or investing in a staking pool, or some other endeavour that doesn’t require much time and energy. This allows you to focus on what is important while still earning a decent income.
Be adaptable. A side gig may suddenly become your primary source of income. New opportunities may appear, but require a major lifestyle change. New policies or events may shake up your life. No matter what comes your way, accept it. Do not flee from it. Do not cling to what is lost. Instead, recognize your new situation and act appropriately.
Remember: only you are responsible for your life.
Do Whatever It Takes
Society sees you as unemployable, so you must live up to their expectations—just in a way that allows you to fulfil your full potential and live the best life possible. It is no longer a dream, but an imperative. Until you reach this state, nothing else matters.
If you are an employee, you must become so valuable that your employer cannot afford to lose you. Thus he treats you not as just another employee, but as an indispensable partner. This creates a win-win situation for all parties involved.
If you are an entrepreneur, you must become so successful that you can never go back to being an employee. Your business should bring you greater happiness, success and meaning than working a regular life.
Not too long ago, this was an aspiration. It was a dream that many people who seek financial freedom aspire to achieve. But back then, if things didn’t work out, they always had a safety net to fall upon. If they failed, they could get a job, live the conventional lifestyle once again, and marshal their resources for another attempt.
Not any more.
You don’t have a choice. You don’t have a safety net. You don’t have any organisations looking out for you. Society will not care if you fail—if anything, they will just point and laugh and kick you when you are down. You are the barbarian, the outcast, the pariah everyone is allowed to hate. The only people who will help you are your fellow unemployables and those who sympathize with you—a tiny minority, who will themselves be treated as pariahs. You have only one option left to you.
You must do whatever it takes. You must set aside the NUTS and embrace the mindset of the barbarian and the outlaw. You must survive the pandemic period and lay the foundations for future glory. You must take charge of your destiny and create the best life for you and your loved ones. No one will do this for you. Therefore, you must.
When the world treats you as an affront to civilization, there is only one thing left to do:
Be all that you are, and more.
Become the barbarian. Become the hero of your story. Become so successful and so free that no one can impose their will on you again.
The mindset of the wandering martial hero is remarkably similar to the mindset so necessary to survive in the coming days. To learn how such a man would think, back Saga of the Swordbreaker here!