by Ajay Govinda Menon
At 16, I was diagnosed with a rare lung disease that reduced my lung capacity. It cut short my athletics journey and shattered my commando dreams, but it didn’t stop me from living life to the fullest.
A strange twist of fate
As a teenager, I was winning medals as a runner and my dream was to be a commando – jumping out of helicopters, charging through the jungle. After discovering my lung condition, everything screeched to a halt.
At first, I was in denial: The doctors had to be wrong. But by JC2 the reality of my condition hit me. My lung capacity had dropped to 50% and my body was struggling to cope.
Even with an IPPT Silver, the doctor at the NS medical review took one look at my X-ray and gave me a PES F. I was crushed. I wasn’t allowed to serve.
After two appeals, I was granted PES E and enlisted as a clerk in the Air Force. It wasn’t the situation I had hoped for, but it was the closest I could be to my dream and I decided to give it my all.
I don’t know if it will get better or worse. So how do I make the most of the time I have now?
In my first year, I won my unit’s Outstanding Serviceman of the Month. In my second, I was runner-up for Outstanding Serviceman of the Year in the Air Force at the Command Level.
And by some strange twist of fate, winning this award gave me a chance to ride in a chinook carrying the Singapore flag at NDP. The universe has a funny sense of humour.
Living on borrowed time
My lung capacity continued to decline, stabilising at around 30%. Through yoga and regular exercise I was able to condition my body and get through my day without trouble. That is, unless I was facing my mortal enemy, the stairs.
But at the back of my head, I kept thinking, “Is it going to stay at 30%? I don’t know if it will get better or worse. So how do I make the most of the time I have now?”
My fulltime job gives me the capital to pursue things I'm passionate about.
And to me it came down to one word – experiences. Life is the experiences you create.
So I started to look for opportunities to experience new things, grabbing every opportunity that came my way. I’ve never looked back on this philosophy ever since.
My job as an enabler
I work as the operations manager at Bukit Panjang LRT. It’s an amazing job that engages and challenges me, and my work has a real impact on the lives of commuters. But I also believe there is more to life than work.
I see my fulltime job as a stable base, an enabler, which gives me the capital and financial ‘peace of mind’ to pursue things I’m passionate about and dedicate my time to causes I feel are important.
I make time, even when it’s inconvenient. Like my mind says, ‘Hey, you should check out this gig tonight,’ and my body is like, ‘SLEEEEEEEP’. It’s a tough fight but I manage okay with a good cup of coffee.
Mic check, one, two
Emceeing is a passion of mine. I’ve been hosting events in sports, engineering, education and the arts for over seven years. Because I have a fulltime job, I’m able to take on projects I believe in even when they don’t have the budget for an emcee.
An important project I’m a part of is the Singapore Poetry Slam, which I host and help organise. This year, we held the first-ever Asia Pacific Poetry Slam – bringing together poets from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Life will throw you curveballs. But I think it's so important to try and make the best of it.
Hearing diverse voices sharing unique perspectives on various issues is a beautiful experience that grounds me and helps me grow as a person. Plus I meet so many amazing people!
Not a one-way street
Since my NS days, I’ve been volunteering with West End (under MINDS MYG). What I’ve learnt is that volunteering is not a one-way street. The beneficiaries enrich my life as much as I try to enrich theirs.
I realised that it’s not always about how well or quickly tasks are finished. It’s OK to colour outside the lines, and clouds can be orange. Sure, it’ll be faster if you tied their shoes for them, but what’s the rush?
To them, what matters is enjoying the time we spend together. It doesn’t matter if I have to stop dancing to catch my breath. They just smile, give me a high-five and carry on dancing to Waka Waka by Shakira.
When you’re in a space like that, you learn to lose your inhibitions and live in the moment. And accept yourself – flaws and all.
Feet off the floor
Life will throw you curveballs. Your plans may fail by no fault of your own. But I think it's so important, no matter where you find yourself, to try and make the best of it.
My favourite quote is something David Bowie said in an interview:
If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.
Sometimes, your job gives you a sense of security that keeps you from going after other opportunities. But I urge you to try. Colour outside the lines, focusing on the experience and not the result. Your life will be so much richer for it.
Every day I get the chance to work with engineers, poets and volunteers with heart. I’m not sure what else I’m going to do next, but right now, life’s not too bad.
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