On Community

Thoughts

I’m writing this with the weirdest mixture of disappointment and determination, tinged by a hint of deliria that comes as a result of the 3.5 hours of sleep I got last night. If things had gone according to plan, which I had stubbornly refused to abandon until the last possible moment, I’d be at Changi Airport right now, settling into the first of several Fontainebleau-based Zoom classes I’d be taking before boarding my flight to Paris for a final MBA semester on our France campus.

Instead, I’m sitting at a cafe in one of my favorite places in Singapore, the Flower Dome, occasionally glancing up at Marina Bay Sands as I try to sort out this mixture of emotions running through my mind. Last night, I stayed up until 4AM to listen to Macron’s announcement of the France lockdown, as if hearing it myself would somehow make the resulting measures seem less formidable. All month, I had administratively prepared for the move: securing my visa, finalizing housing, booking a flight. All week, I had mentally prepared for the move: scheduling the farewells, packing my belongings, doubling down on my plans to move even if there was a lockdown. And all day yesterday, I had emotionally prepared myself for the move: savoring my “last” day, memorizing my favorite memories, reflecting on Singapore and all it’s meant to me through one last cable car ride.

And then, last night, I finally gave up.

People keep asking me what finally changed my mind, and I can actually tell you very clearly what it was: immediately after closing the Youtube stream of Macron’s announcement, I opened my Telegram to multiple messages from my friends and classmates in France, all with the same message: “Don’t come.” I had been talking to people all week about the imminent lockdown, trying to visualize life in French lockdown and preparing for the worst. Through the past several days, I had been continuously blown away by the generosity of my classmates and friends: the offers to call and talk through what life would be like, the honest opinions given with my best interests in mind, the consistent trickle of real-time intel for every rumor that was heard about details on the restrictions. What I appreciated the most, though, was the space people gave me to make the decision that was right for me: as I stated my priorities and my goals for moving to France, my friends didn’t try to convince me to stay. Instead, they told me that they respected and understood my decision. Despite the teasing “Are you still going today?” that I got almost every hour, I never once felt judged for pursuing what, by all means, might have been considered an unwise move.

I’ve thought a lot this year about community, about what it means to build one, be a part one, to desire one. One conclusion I’ve had is that, while we constantly roll our eyes at FOMO – both those of others and of our own – maybe…just maybe, we actually need FOMO. In fact, I believe community and FOMO are two sides of the same coin; like Harry and Voldemort, you can’t have one without the other. The fear of missing out is driven by a need to belong, and a collective need to belong is what creates a community. Imagine, instead, a world where no one cared about belonging: you might have a group of independent individuals all of whom are immune to FOMO, but, as a result, lack a strong need for community – in which case, a community might never be built.

It’s this community that led me to where I am right now: yes, so very, very, very disappointed that I’m no longer headed to France, but also determined to stay resilient, confident that I’ll bounce back after this one day I’m giving myself to wallow. It’s the community that helped me to think through my decision, patiently listening to me ping pong back and forth for weeks and weeks. It’s the community that supported my choices, delicately stepping back once my mind was made up. It’s the community that gave me the strength to admit defeat, clearly nudging me to recognize that after a certain point, I was just being stubborn and maybe even foolish. And it’s the community that’s risen up today to catch me in my disappointment: I’m overwhelmed by everyone who’s checked in, offering up everything from being a wallowing buddy to providing a listening ear to places to to stay to encouragement about my new decision. My community has done the best job of expressing empathy – “I’m sorry you can’t go” – while cheering me up – “…but I’m happy you’re staying.”

I had my heart set on doing both campuses as part of the INSEAD experience, and until last night I was convinced that I could still salvage my 2020 MBA. I wasn’t able to maximize the campus exchange part of this program, but I genuinely feel like I’ve hit the jackpot in finding this gem of a community both here in Singapore and in France – and, after graduation, all over the world.. For all the times I felt FOMO, it has been more than worth it to have built this network of friends, friends whom I can rely on – sometimes even before I realize I might need help. Even though this year has been strife with changes, emotions, and quite frankly, disappointment, I’m incredibly thankful for the relationships I’ve made this year and the community we’ve built together.

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