It seems strange that you would take advice on how to finish National Service (NS) well from someone who wasted much of his two years.

But I really want to help you learn from my regrets, and the people who have inspired me along the way and ever since.

I don’t want to tell you a grandfather story, so I will simply say that a lot of my motivation fell off a cliff once I passed a very difficult and prestigious course. This would be around half a year or so since I enlisted.

Having secured a senang (easy) posting, I believed I was all set to coast for the remainder of my time in the Armed Forces. This suspicion was all but confirmed on my first day at my new posting.

I entered my new staff office only to find that no one was in. A closer investigation revealed that my seniors were actually upstairs in the hall, and they welcomed me with a badminton game — a positive sign of the life to come.

Or so I thought.

As it turns out, too much of a good thing — rest — can be a bad thing.

Once the discipline left, so did the other things, like my fitness regime.

Purpose and striving in training were replaced by the monotonous routine of being the first to buy the vegetarian stall’s food (while the beancurd skin dish was piping hot) and levelling up on Pokémon during our free time.

This was what life looked like on the daily for most of us. Well, except for one guy in office.

Let’s call him Steve. Now, Steve would join in on our shenanigans, and was a pretty happy-go-lucky guy as they come, but one thing about Steve really stood out to me.

Besides being the only one to stick to his fitness routines, Steve also always made time for his self-taught Japanese lessons, writing kanji characters faithfully in his jotter book whenever he had a spare moment.

Steve was my senior, and I had about half a year with him before he left. But by the time he did, Steve had become fluent in Japanese.

If I could turn back time and do things differently, I definitely would.

Looking back, Steve had gained something valuable while I had lost a few good things in the same time.

In retrospect, it probably boiled down to a few things he did.

  1. Steve didn’t give up on good disciplines.
  2. Steve set new goals for himself in an environment where there were hardly any.
  3. Steve was not swayed by peer pressure.
  4. Steve made use of the time, while keeping an eye on the future.

I wish I had learned a little better from such a great senior. 

If I could turn back time and do things differently, I definitely would.

I probably would have started on German earlier or began my financial literacy journey sooner.

All I can do is make the most of my time now and pray for God to redeem what I have.

Oh, and warn other people. Like you, dear reader. And also my mentee.

Which is why I got him to consider well before his ORD struck him like a rock: What does finishing well in NS look like to you?

… do not buy into the lie that these two years are a waste of time.

Here was his three-fold answer.

  1. To continue performing his job dutifully with a spirit of excellence, all the way until the final day.
  2. To hand over responsibilities to his understudies in a gracious manner and not throw all the work to them.
    To guide them through the process and ensure that they know what to do, before fully handing over the reins and remaining available to lend support when necessary.
  3. To do these things with a spirit of humility, that his confidence may not be found in his own abilities but in God alone.
    To be intentional in relying on Him, recognising His hand in his life and giving thanks every day.

Hearing this, I told him that I felt confident God would honour these wonderful desires in his heart and guide him in finishing well.

I started this off by saying I didn’t want to tell you a grandfather story and well, we’re in territory that looks dangerously close to grandfather story land. So I guess here’s where I’ll land the plane.

Between Steve’s tips and my mentee’s aspirations, I hope there was something in there to challenge you and spur you on.

The “wait to rush, rush to wait” mentality that pervades NS life can quickly breed a sense of ennui if we aren’t careful.

But absolutely do not buy into the lie that these two years are a waste of time.

They are what you make of it. More so what God makes of it. And God is interested in all the moments of your life.

So choose discipline. Set goals. Bless others. Remain humble. Stay hungry!

Rely on God. Be faithful in your work. Stay true to the path. Keep an eye on your heavenward future.

Do all, or even just some of that, and I promise you’ll use your time in NS well.

  1. Is there an area of your life you could use more discipline in?
  2. What does living with purpose mean to you — no matter what season of your life you’re in?
  3. If you’re currently serving NS, what does finishing well look like to you? 
  4. Know someone who’s going through NS right now? Reach out and send some encouragement their way!