The Opposite of Success is Not Failure, it’s the Fear of It

It has been a long week. I’ve had rehearsals, assignments due, and assignments that I’ve fared badly in, coming in all at once. Responsibility doesn’t always get to you, but when it does, it happens all at once; multiple deadlines and test dates falling upon you simultaneously. The education system here has prepared us all for this, I am no stranger.

It has been a long day. I was scheduled to consult one of my professors after lessons, and I planned to talk to her about how my assignment went wrong. Though I sort of knew why it went wrong; I chose the creative option for the essay assignment, and attempted to rewrite some of my readings in a different voice. I thought it was ok, and it felt right as I was writing, but apparently it wasn’t what she was looking for. I scored abysmally, and to say the least I was discouraged. Perhaps I should have stuck with the conventional options.

I walked into her office and sat down to talk to her about this. I started off with the usual excuses; I may have read the question wrongly, didn’t understand what the question really wanted from me, was confused as to what I was supposed to do.

She listened to my concerns, patiently, and when I was done she said something along these lines:

If you’re only concerned about getting good grades all the time, you wouldn’t dare to try anything new. This is why I included the creative option in the first place. One of my teachers in the past would always tell me, that if you’re going to expect to do well all the time you wouldn’t be writing. Because this entire process of writing is about trying new things and learning from your mistakes. So I’m glad you didn’t score well, and in fact I’d rather you didn’t score well. Because it shows me that you tried, that you didn’t play it safe. I wouldn’t be so worried about this if I were you.

I remember these words clearly because I don’t think I’ve heard this from many teachers in my life, for it takes tremendous courage for a teacher to say something like this to a student. Most of my teachers I’ve had wouldn’t encourage too much creativity; there was always a safer option, a more straightforward, albeit more rigorous way of memorising, structuring and conceptualising everything that can make sentences look like math equations. It takes tremendous courage for a teacher to tell a student that it is ok to be creative, that it is ok to embrace failure and learn from it amidst a system that cruelly denies those that do.

In writing, as I believe is similar in the other arts, we all go through cycles of failure and discovery, where we explore our voices and fine tune the way we express ourselves. Sentence structures, rhetorical questions and management of emotions all go into the way our words turn out, and it is a nuanced act, not one that should be girdled by the fear of failure, or the imposition of structures. I think I’ve reiterated this before in another post.

More than that, it traps beauty. In math and science subjects, we are told that only a limited set of solutions exist for a single problem, and concepts exist within a fixed paradigm and this makes success or failure a straightforward affair. Arguably, math and science possesses beauty and is inextricably linked with philosophy as well, but our education system has made this point of compromise something very difficult and in fact almost impossible to see, solidifying these otherwise fluid ideas into concrete concepts. In a world where clear, concise curriculums have to be cooked up, this is not entirely surprising.

I believe that the arts is our last frontier for creative expression, and I hope more than being tolerant to failure, that teachers can actively encourage the chance of it. Encourage their students to attempt new styles, to delve out of their comfort zones and to find a true voice within cluttered minds pounded numb by a system only concerned with results.

Within government doctrines, “education” is but a passing down of knowledge from one generation to another, and whose effectiveness is fuelled by numbers and percentages. To me it means something much more. It is the interaction of one human and another, the passing down of essential values and our guide to finding our role in this world. A latent fear of failure should never be the backdrop in the way we approach this world.

And so I thank my professor for telling me it was ok to fare badly. I thank her for encouraging creativity, and I thank her for showing me that it was ok to keep trying in a world where trying seems so inconsequential. We need more teachers like that, for only then will education be a journey and not a destination.

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If You Haven’t Solved Your Problems By 2 AM, Go To Sleep

The first half of semester one has officially ended, and so has Recess Week, and so has our overseas vacations with tenuous links to education ‘learning across boundaries’ week. Seven weeks have passed just like that; and so this is officially the start of the rest of the semester!

I was taking a shower just now and for some strange reason decided to turn the tap to the coldest and just stood there in shivery contemplation. It was then that I realised that life was getting a bit out of hand the last few weeks, with the vacation mindset seeping in and how work just piled up so effortlessly that it all now sits precariously balanced on my desk. Things tend to spiral out of control very easily when you’re flustered, and so I knew I had to get typing if I wanted to keep it all in check and remind myself of a better tomorrow. So I’m just going to list out the things I need to constantly remind myself of for the upcoming term, and hope I don’t forget it all by Wednesday (though I probably will).

In every study environment, at least one thing/characteristic/aspect must be less than ideal to ensure optimal productivity. 

I’ve noticed that I cannot study in environments with an overly ideal setting. Good examples include my room, my house living room, libraries, cubicles and perhaps quiet classrooms. Such places with surroundings perfectly catered to information transfers from paper to brain just turn me off in all their productive entireties. I’ve come to notice that I need at least one flaw in my study environment to really focus. It could be the haze, or a comfortable buzz of the crowd, a hot mug of tea on a 32° day or simply a chair that I will try but eventually fail to mould my ass to. I just need a source of discomfort to focus my energy on so that I don’t get distracted by other more lethal disturbances like the new Voice of China episode or just the entire social media package in general. I thought I was pretty disciplined but the entire last term has proven me wrong. I just need that subtle irritation in my environment to keep me driven. I realise that this may not make any sense to you.

Moving on together is the best kind of moving on.

Having been through so many phases of life starting all the way from Primary School to University, there have been a lot of transitions, the next one being more heartfelt and complex than the previous. I guess as we mature we find more meaning in our relationships and it becomes harder to acknowledge that the bulk of time you used to spend with a certain group now has to be refocused on another. It is that mysterious “another” that we have to delve in fully and try to make sense of (like I am doing so right now). In the process of that it is tragic yet totally sensible to loosen our grip on our old friends from our previous life stages, and if you would allow, I would label this act as ‘moving on’.

So in the case of moving on, a lot of conflicts and disturbances do arise, and it is so because it is almost impossible to expect everyone to move on at the same pace, or for everyone to understand the gravity of change in relation to how it used to be in the past. People get annoyed and hurt when the past is incongruous with the future, or when the moments that seemed framed in eternity were but passing thoughts.

The friends that manage to stay are the ones that fully acknowledge this tragedy. They acknowledge that there will definitely be less time spent around the other, and that conversation topics would never be as relevant as they used to be. At the same time, they’ll have the ability to move on together, and put in the effort within the relevant pockets of time. These are the friends that don’t purely delve into past experiences, but also work alongside shared hypotheticals, loosely shared experiences of the new places they’ve been and rejoice in how their lives may have managed to coincide again, no matter how far fetched. Understanding personal differences and working to reconcile them is one of the hardest things to do, yet is an act of such high order. Perhaps there is no better framework than that, for true friendships to flourish.

You can’t solve your problems after 2 am.

Well, technically, you can. In pivotal moments of the previous term I have finished my assignments, completed my readings and wrote a lot on this space in the wee hours of the morning. But I want to stand by the above because I feel that this whole sleep issue is taking a huge toll on me. I never planned to leave everything till late but it’s the sort of tendency that arises in a hyped up social setting that every residential college seems to represent. It came with its consequences; in the day I feel hot under the collar and very restless, very sleepy, then suddenly just full-on restless again. It’s not the best state to exist in for sure. I just hope the next few weeks will come with it an active readjustment to daylight, where 2 am will find me cooped up in my room, shut eyed and snoring, dreaming of the day I actually find out what the purpose of (my) life is.

Where Did Creativity Go? (And What’s With All This Structure?)

Coming into this whole university thing, I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I’m working on a short story now, have two essays on philosophy and sociology to write, and have a news article due really soon. It’s immense, it’s nerve wrecking and it’s a bit too much at times.

But worst of all, it’s structured.

The whole thing is so damn structured you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Of course, it’s all supposed to be structured; if it wasn’t then what’s the whole point? It’d be like playing soccer without goals and with players just passing the ball around. Some skill would be evident, but no one would pay to watch. Structure remains a product of divinity, passed down by the academia Gods, a royal concept for generation after generation of student, scholar, professor, proofreader, editor. A lot of people out there love structure.

There’s really nothing wrong with structure. It keeps things in place, and keeps us from feeling insecure. It almost feels like a spillover from the sciences, with all their formulas and precision. As long as you have a template to constantly refer to you can be sure that a base level of quality will be assured. We were taught this from a young age. We have an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. One of your body paragraphs can be a counterargument, but a rebuttal has to lithely slip its way into the mix. That, they say, is a good essay structure. That, we have been told, will get us the A’s.

What all this structure has failed to teach us is creativity.

The saddest fact is not that most of us shut out creativity from our lives. The saddest thing is that many of us are ashamed of it. Back in secondary school we had five essay questions to choose from. Four of them would be either discursive or argumentative essays, while the fifth would have the creative writing component to it. You could write a story about a fireman saving cats, or just wax lyrical about your dreams to become the first man on the sun. If you had a teacher that actively promoted the last option, then good for you. Because in most cases, the teacher would warn the class against it, and proceed to train students specifically for the argumentative essays. If students did progress to JC, then they’d find the creative component to have disappeared altogether. It is no surprise, then, that we distance ourselves from creativity like the plague. We were subtly denied of it as we grew up.

Creativity, I believe, stems from human chaos. If you were to sit down and attempt to plot out the essence of creativity, I assure you, you’d fail. Creativity is an active rebellion; it does not like to be confined. We all have within us this huge, dark storeroom of dusty relics, antiques from our pasts, waiting to spill out violently when the door opens. Within all this chaos in our hearts and minds, something beautiful happens, and occasionally this beauty spills onto a film reel, from the tips of a paintbrush, the hem of a dress, onto the pages of a book. 

I wouldn’t go as far as to blame this society for it (that would be deliberately controversial), because ultimately, I feel that creativity is, and will always be, a personal choice. I think as humans we all have a duty to embrace this creativity, to go crazy every once in a while and show the world what we really want from this life.

Above all, we need not be ashamed of any inconsistencies, or any kink in our infallible armour. We are but the product of our failures and shortcomings. We do not need to disassociate ourselves from chaos or the fact that our lives have been, and will always be, far from perfect. All we need is the courage to try.

The world should not expect us to organise this mess because the mess is the whole point.

This mess makes us, us. We should always be proud of that.

Three Thoughts on Week One

The higher you live, the more opportunities you’d be exposed to.

Why is this so? It’s simple really, and you’ll have to step into the lifts to understand this. When you live on the higher floors, strange things happen in the lifts. Firstly, you’d be exposed to more human influx. Inevitable, because it takes more time, and way more floors are passed on the way up. So if you live on the 7th floor, you’d be meeting less people on a daily basis than if you live on the 17th. It may not make much of a difference if you look at each elevator ride individually vis-a-vis the entire day, but if you place it on a larger canvas, of say, an entire semester, you’d be talking about approximately a thousand elevator rides, and that would be a thousand chances of exposing yourself to more people being ever so subtly extinguished.

And also, living on a higher floor allows you more time to look through all the posters stuck on the walls of the lifts. They announce different CCA’s, events, and basically a throng of opportunities to place yourself out there. Miss these bulletins and you’d be missing out on a huge chunk of college life. Word of mouth and Facebook posts do make the cut sometimes, but there is a certain romantic notion behind chancing upon your passions during those leisurely elevator rides. Again, the chances of that are subtly narrowed the moment you live on a lower floor.

Of course, the moment a fire breaks out on campus, all the above arguments tend to burn spectacularly to the ground.

Say no to spicy food

To me, eating spicy food is like talking to the ex-girlfriend you thought you still had a chance with. It seems like a good idea and the food actually looks appetizing until you place it in your mouth and realize why you had avoided spicy food all along. The hurt isn’t worth the revisit, but somehow we put ourselves through it again and again.

Thought of this when I suggested Thai food for lunch with the folks. Man, it was quite the burn.

(Of course, I’m a sensitive little crackhead when it comes to chili, so this only applies to the likes of me.)

Always be contented with yourself, but never with your situation

Here comes the deeper end of this post. I’ve always thought that to improve you’d have to look down on yourself and constantly degrade your abilities. I did this a lot back in JC until it dawned on me that the whole idea of self-degradation is very exhausting.

Meeting a lot of cool and talented people for my first week of school has shown me that you can be out of your comfort zone but still be contented with the person you are and the abilities you carry around with you. It’s quite evident in the way a lot of them carry themselves around. It’s sort of an innate competency thing you have to believe you own; because let’s face it, if you don’t believe in yourself nothing will ever be done to the best. You’ll always cut yourself short and feel like you were never meant to be good enough. You either believe and achieve or look down on yourself and remain mediocre. There’s no third option for these things, I feel.

Of course, the part that makes more sense is the feeling that I’m nowhere near where I want to be. My current situation is something I’d never be fully contented with; a lot of my dreams are left unfulfilled; ideas are sill wedged deep in my mind waiting for some avenue of release. Sure, I’ve done some cool stuff but there’s so much more stuff I haven’t done that I’d like to do. I just don’t feel like I’m anywhere near what I want my future self to be like, but that’s ok (“I’m a work in progress, but that’s ok” is the quote that comes to mind).

It’s important that I don’t confuse the idea of “self” with the situation I’m in. I can be unhappy with my situation, but never, ever with the person I am. I’ve promised myself that many times, because you only have one life to be yourself, so to be unhappy with this person you are would be greatest disability one could harbour.

So yes, be happy with who you are, but never be contented with where you are.

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Also, this quote.

Ok. Week one is over, and honestly I’m still not sure what to expect from the coming weeks but here’s to hoping for a smooth ride (as if that will happen).

To New Beginnings

It took me 32 months to get here. There were two months of holiday after my ‘A’ Levels, 22 months of National Service and then 8 months of holiday before university. 2+22+8=32. Yes, it all adds up.

It still feels strange to look around and say that I’m finally here. I need to pinch my arm sometimes. I feel like a new mother introducing the age of her firstborn. “He’s 32 months old. We waited 32 months for him to grow up to who he is now.” Sure, she could have easily said “two and a half years”, and it would be easier to see it as that. But having lugged the burden of duty around through all this time, it is only reasonable that I put it all out in months. I sympathise with the mother and her newborn child all of a sudden. Every month held it’s unique stories and struggles. Stories of listlessness, fun, mindless endeavour, all the way down to the month where I injured my ankle, down to the month I decided to start this blog. 32 months. I cannot say anything more. It was a long time. It felt great at times, and sheer torture at others. I cannot say for sure where all that time went, and what good it did to my life. From a concave fishbowl, a goldfish knows not the actual form of the outside world. Regardless of what the outside world is like, all I know is that I’d never want to go back into the damn fishbowl. I hope you get my drift.

Orientation is over. My university life starts today, and I write this knowing full well that I may regret these statements a few months down the road. There is no such thing as an entirely positive change. Nothing in this world is absolute, and we all know that. It’s all about where the emphasis lies. I’m going to bet right now, at this very moment typing this out at 2 am, that the emphasis lies on positive territory.

I have expressed previously my high regard for my fellow batch mates in all their vibrancy and finesse in both thought and conversation. They have already paved the way for a contagiously chatty and utterly unforgettable (more alliteration for the record) time to come. A week into orientation we had tore down facades, ceased to be the people we were pretending to be and from there I hope we won’t have to look back.

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My OG mates!

In other more technical aspects, the entire campus is inspiringly new. If campuses were apples, this campus is still on it’s way down from the apple tree. Imagine catching this apple as it falls off the tree, and biting into it straight. It hasn’t had the time to touch the ground and you’re already greedily crewing the crunchy meat. That’s the sort of feeling I get when I think about my campus. Any fresher, you’d have to build it yourself. (Forgive the strange imagery, it gets me through the day.)

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The lawn is so new the grass is still growing.

On a more ambiguous note, that’s about all from the positive side of things. From what I’ve seen, the teaching staff seem eloquent and captivating, but that may be too early of an assumption to make. I’ll have to go along with the program and let each lesson seep into my brain. Not everything I learn will captivate me, and not every friendship will last, not every attempt at success will end in..well, success. It will sting like a bitch at the moment of impact but I will promise to draw the relevant lessons from my experiences.

And with that, here’s to new beginnings.

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And as a semi post script, a big thank you to my dad for coming down to witness this transition as well 🙂

Are You What You Want To Be?

I’m actually writing this in the middle of an extensively exhausting yet endlessly entertaining (whadduup with the alliteration) orientation camp for uni. My thoughts are constantly on overdrive with all the interaction. So after so much running about and talking and shouting, I’ve found a small pocket of time to write this; so here are my thoughts so far.

During the course of my orientation week, I’ve managed to take in a lot of positive  responses for the last three posts I’ve posted, which (in case you don’t know) is a story about the life of my friend. It took a while to write and I spent the entire week before my orientation writing it at random Starbucks cafes, editing it at home and reading it again in bed. It was challenging to get it all down, but I’m glad it all gelled together so well at the end. I even had some great responses; hearts were touched, tears were shed, and most of all my friend’s story was finally put out there.

I was happy about that, and as orientation went on, the themes behind the entire story sort of followed me along. What do I mean by that? You may ask.

Firstly, it takes a lot of courage to do the right thing for yourself, especially when you don’t know if it’s right for you yet. Is what I’m saying making sense? As I wrote the story, I was following him along his life and I kept thinking to myself, how did he make that choice when there was no real logical reason to ever pursue it? For example at the start of the story one of his teachers presented him the challenges of going to Normal (Academic), but he merely retorts that he wanted to go to Express eventually.

It just blows my mind that so many leaps of faith were taken within those few years, with no concrete reason to.

All he had was heart.

(Here comes the link to my situation…)

And so I want to look at my situation now. It is a situation so completely opposite of the events in the story that I’m slightly embarrassed to even use it as a point of comparison. However, I still believe there are things we can learn here.

To be very honest, these few days have been tiring not just because of the interactions, but the mere observation of people as well. After all the shallow ice breaker questions are out of the way, you begin to discover just how complex, intelligent and ambitious each person really is.

I’ve met an American guy who speaks so fluently in rapid philosophical terms that you’re always staring at him in admiration.

I’ve met a guy who saves animals, a girl who had started a business enterprise in India, a Dutch who is insanely in love with European economics and talks about it all the time.

I mean, in my defense, I have this blog which I try very hard to keep thriving, but hearing how these people were talking,  they could have done much greater things in this world than a simple blog.

Simply put, nobody sits in a Starbucks, twirling their index finger on the rim of their coffee mug and suddenly thinks to themselves, I’m going to start a business in India, or I’m going to delve into the depths of Chinese philosophy Or just suddenly goes crazy and grabs every economics magazine published in Europe and gobbles it down (that was an awfully long sentence).

They had to have some sort of drive. They had drive, and they dared to go against the current to get themselves these ideas, these business opportunities and alas it culminates to form this beautiful network of conceptual knowledge, and a great shot at changing the world.

We have to struggle and go against something in order to be our best and have that lead us to what we love.

That is my biggest takeaway for the first few days here in orientation. Just like my friend who had to challenge every last idea about his place in this world, we have to ask ourselves, what is our place in this world? Is it to just sit back and let the days pass by, or are we going to do something amazing with this one life (or one of the lives, for some religions) we’ve got? Are we going to be brave with our choices or shy away from them like a nervous first date?

Ask yourself this if you’ve read thus far, and have faith that you have some sort of higher purpose. Understand that just because you dont know your happy ending, doesn’t mean you won’t have one. Meeting so many different people has given me that faith, and I will spend the rest of my life working towards the ending I want.

But first, I’ll have to go to sleep. A new day awaits 🙂

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What About Sports Camp?

Sports camp was in full swing and a lot of things were happening in a very packed course of time. There were basically 14 hours of activity in a day, tightly scheduled, back to back with very little rest time.

The people you meet in such camps can come in all sorts because every faculty, every type of university student seemed to feature. It isn’t like science camp or Christian camp where a certain type of personality may be observed. I guess that was interesting, and what was more interesting to note was that the girls were all 2 years younger. Though people always say that “you can’t sense the age difference,” I’ll have to disagree on that. I just found the age disparity glaringly obvious from the start in the way I see my JC friends now as compared to the girls in my OG. I’m glad I can see such differences because it just shows I may have matured (albeit only slightly) while in national service.

Another thing I realised was that there was no way army was going to leave our system anytime soon. It’s the tragedy of shared experiences, that guys would invariably start talking about their army stories to ice break among themselves. It was a pity because it only did half the job of bonding everyone since the girls are always left out and generally nonplussed over such rhetoric.

To gel it all together, what made me think a little was a question I was asked by someone whilst we were night cycling. We were riding beside each other when he asked me whether I “had my eye on anyone”, and whether I had a “game plan”. It wasnt an entirely unexpected question but I had to think a while about it. I think this sort of theme is always at the back of everyone’s mind coming into the camps, and for all we know people actually head into these camps with the plan to find someone out there. But I guess I’m not that sort of person, and I’m confident enough to say that most people share my mindset. We come to these gatherings to merely make friends and have fun, to tire ourselves out and test our limits. The notion that camp is one giant matchmaking session has to be disassembled. You don’t need a matchmaking session for the best things in life. If it’s right then it’s right. I feel that things should happen naturally, and I’m old fashioned that way.

So how was camp for me in the end? It was great. I guess I was really quiet and pensive at times but that’s just me, taking my time to warm up to people and being way more talkative on alternative platforms like this one. I wouldn’t blame myself for anything, it’s just a preference. The times that I did get talking I realised that the people that I was about to share my Uni life with are just genuinely nice and ineffable people, both in talk and in action. They’d ask if I was thirsty, offer me help in many aspects and weren’t shy to speak up or stand up for each other.

The group leaders (our seniors) were a really charismatic and humorous bunch that did a good job in holding everything together. We established our identity in being the most lepak OG and just lazed through everything without protest from anyone. It was all cool and thats what I had to admire about the whole process.

So there we have it, my first experience of uni; fun, tiring but more fun than tiring. If this is the foreshadowing of my uni life for the next four years, then I’m more than happy to accept it.

Thank you, OG Rampage, for an insane 5 days and may we all keep in touch!

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