Cookie Cutter Life

In secondary school, we were taught to first create an outline before writing an essay: Introduction, Two-Three Main Points, Refute, Conclusion. And then as a blogger, find that we really just write. Spill words on our screen and organise later. Or maybe not at all.

In junior college we had an art project as part of my year-end exams: Gather ideas, analyse the prominent ones and further refine using techniques such as cropping, enlarging, repetition, colour, etc to bring out the message that you want to convey. It was a one year project and one day, my teacher mentioned that artists do not work this way.

What if you couldn’t write well using the above method in school and for a large part of your life thought you sucked at writing. What if in your art project, you only needed to wait for an inspiration for a completed work (like real artists) and then develop the project backwards, but the stress of having to meet the teacher week after week and having “progress” killed off ideas prematurely?

And then after years of schooling, you graduate into corporate life.

Someone asked a Zen Master, “How do you practice Zen?”
The master said, “When you are hungry, eat; when you are tired, sleep. 

– From Buddhist Story,’re_Hungry

The corporate master says to eat between noon to 1pm everyday; no earlier and no later because these are the corporate rules befitting the company’s employees. So even if you are so hungry that you could eat a mule, either try to steal a snack at your desk (without people noticing; you know like making a snack bar appear in your hands and then disappear into your stomach in a sec) or discipline yourself till you eat your mule at noon. And if you try to have 5 small meals a day instead of taking a full hour lunch, you are seen as slacking off because these breaks eat into your productivity and value as a work churning machine. And then the corporate master hints that you need to sacrifice your sleep to complete deadlines. It doesn’t matter how high your consciousness is or how much positive energy you bring into your surroundings as long as you complete it, for these are your performance indicators which are visible and measurable. Try measuring the amount of soul someone puts into his or her work… And then, even if you love creating Excel spreadsheets all day but do badly at writing meeting minutes, the corporate master focuses on your minutes, like rubbing salt into an open wound. He would politely hint again to have you spend more time working on writing decent minutes because it is part of your given job scope. Maybe take more courses – Introduction to Minutes Taking, Intermediate Minutes and would be exhilarated if you could eventually move on to Professional Minute Taker (complete with a nice signed-off certificate), not knowing that each time you step into the class you cringe and a knot forms in your stomach that doesn’t get untied till the end of class. 

Is it any wonder that some people might balk at the education system or corporate system for that matter? That the needs of each individual is so vastly different yet due to economic, social or political reasons we are given the same rules to follow and be judged on because it is the only fair way to do so?

There are people who are happy and perfectly contented to be cookies. School, graduate then work at a 9-6 job until retirement (It’s at least 9 hours of work for the norm in Singapore.) But for those who want to step out of the system, it takes a lot of self-discipline, courage and self-awareness of what you really need and want. Not to mention uncertainty of survival. What really remains after the cookie cutter has done its job, are the bits of dough leftover at the edges, who are really too small to fit into the shape of the mould, seemingly too weird in shape to disguise itself as a cookie. All it can do is lay by the side beside those grand cookies, who have a shape, designation, flavour and a certain development process laid out for them (add flavour, toppings, bake, package).

Perhaps, when enough bits of dough gather, they can create a niche for themselves that even cookies will start to take notice. That these bits realise they are not alone and there are many others like them and that it is possible to create another kind of life. But for now, the cookie cutter has its place firmly in society. Do you find yourself being the cookie or dough bits? Whichever it is, you would have felt it long ago from inner turmoil as an isolated dough bit or leading the safe, standard life as a cookie. Or perhaps you find yourself as a new dough bit after life cuts the cookie away into another shape and you no longer fit.

I have yet to have an answer as a struggling dough bit in society, but what I have learnt that if you have a genuine urge to do something, try it because you only have one life. And if you need the extra motivation, Steve Pavlina‘s site does a pretty good job at it.


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