Political sacrifices, political choices

A friend recently posed this question to me: If you were the managing director or country manager of your company, would you give it all up like Show Mao did? My answer: I didn’t wait to find out.

Many people were pleasantly surprised to learn about my Workers’ Party (WP) colleague Chen Show Mao’s announcement that he will be giving up this law firm partnership to focus on his duties as an MP. He was a partner of a major international law firm, Davis Polk, who has chosen instead to devote his time and energies to a noble endeavour that he believes in.

Show Mao has in one fell swoop demolished the PAP’s long-standing argument that you need to pay million dollar salaries to attract good people into politics. This was in addition to his pivotal role in demonstrating that the opposition–and the Workers’ Party in particular–is able to attract our country’s best into its ranks.

I applaud his move and I hope many more captains of industry and top professionals will follow his example and step forward to serve Singapore in the political arena.

A friend recently posed this question to me: If you were the managing director or country manager of your company, would you give it all up like Show Mao did?

My answer: I didn’t wait to find out.

Before I joined the WP and later stood for election, I had been advised by well-meaning loved ones to build up my career and raise my family first, and put politics on hold until later. I was 31 when I joined WP and 33 when I was fielded as a candidate in the General Election.

Indeed, I had many reasons not to enter politics at my age, especially as part of the opposition: A good job in a global consulting firm; a family with two young kids; and an outstanding home mortgage to pay off.

Despite these factors, I decided I should not to wait until I had ‘established’ my career by a later age, because I knew myself well enough to guess that by then, my career inertia and a lowered risk appetite would have likely gotten the better of me. To put it simply, once I reached 45 or so, I knew would likely be hesitant to take the plunge into politics because there would be too much to give up.

This, I believe, is the dilemma of many young professionals who are keen on politics: Should you wait until the ‘second half of your life’ (to paraphrase Show Mao) or should you take the plunge now?

Obviously every person’s circumstances are different. The good thing about politics is that there is no official retirement age. In many countries, it is quite normal for politicians to peak in their late 60s and 70s.

However, if you’re still in your 20s or 30s, my advice is not to wait too long to make your move, for the reasons mentioned earlier. It is best to plan ahead rather than simply deciding to cross the bridge when you get there. Here are just a few of my suggestions:

1. Don’t indulge yourself in a lifestyle that you won’t be able to afford on an MP’s allowance (less expenses, which can be quite high) or no allowance (if you decide to leave your job to focus on your campaign). Don’t rush to buy your dream condo only to discover that the mortgage payments prevent you from risking your high paying corporate job to enter politics.

2. Start talking to your spouse and family early about your aspirations. They will need a lot of time to get used to the idea. Don’t spring it on them at the last minute. That’s the easiest recipe for marital strife.

3. Start reading, writing and discussing with others about national issues and policies. You can’t be in politics if you know nuts about policies. Politicians don’t just shake hands and smile for the camera.

4. Sound out your employers early. Many will be supportive, if not quietly so. But some may not be comfortable with your political involvement, and it’s best to know this early, so that you can find a job in another company and have a reasonable length of time to establish career there, rather than having to resign on the eve of the elections.

The suggestions above are by no means exhaustive nor instructive. They are based on my personal observations and experiences, which I don’t suggest are fully applicable to everyone out there.

Ultimately, I think the most important thing to ask yourself is: Do you feel a calling into politics? If you do, then don’t hold back! Pursue your passions and don’t leave any room for regret later in your life.

I’m always happy to talk to people who are considering the political path seriously. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic further, do drop me an email at gerald.giam {at} wp.sg.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

2 thoughts on “Political sacrifices, political choices”

  1. Hi Gerald,

    These are sound advise. I will remember them when I return to SG some years down the track.


    Daniel Lee

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