Struggling to find his place in school, writer Lim Jun Kang was unsure of where his studies would lead. But his parents’ permission for him to play before running led to a moment of clarity. He shares how success now looks for him, someone who was once an “average student”.
I’ve always been an average student.
It’s not that I performed poorly in school. My performance reports have been strewn with Cs, Ds and Random B, making me never the worst student in the class, but not to the top.
Some of my peers seemed to achieve exceptional marks without sweating. Others, at least, realized their goals early. They had a clear direction and knew what they wanted to do in life – and what subjects they needed to take to reach them.
But not me. I had many questions about my goals and objectives, but few answers. All I knew was to follow in the footsteps of society and the people around me, including my cousins and friends. Then ask any student in my circle what success is, and their answers probably won’t go away with “achieving good grades in school and going to university”.
It is a pragmatic path where good grades open the door to qualifications that lead to good work. But I remember a significant part of my student life asking, “What if it’s not for me? If we are all different, is there no other path I can make for myself? ”
Teenager, self-doubt and fears
However, for my rhetoric to work, it helps to be extremely good at something. Not just good, but exceptional. If I were talented in sports, music, science, math, or the arts, there were schools and courses for these things, and I would aim to get a place there.
But I wasn’t. I also didn’t have any hobbies or talents that I could do a great show and tell.
What I loved, and still love, is reading and writing. I knew English better and had an active imagination. Maybe I could be a journalist, a screenwriter, even a novelist – it all looked like an exciting and believable career. But who shouts about what they love to read and write? Isn’t that the same thing as saying, “I watch TV well”?
At some point when I entered adolescence, doubts began to creep in.
What am I good at?
Am I as good as I think?
Am I really good at anything?
I carried these questions with me throughout my days in high school and junior college (JC), accepting the fact that if I wasn’t going to be unusual, I would have to just follow all the steps and hope for the best.
Looking back, these were unfounded fears that existed beyond my control. There was no point in chasing after shadows or worrying about whether I would eventually succeed, whatever that meant.
I don’t know at what point after my adolescence I could say with confidence that as individuals, we are all born with different abilities, so everyone’s picture of personal success must be determined by how we use our own unique and inherent potential and work towards our goals.
Success doesn’t have to be a formula or code that we all have to crack.
Giving me space to study and grow
At first glance, my family is just as simple. But my parents are far from typical.
First, they never hovered.
To this day, to 20 years, I still don’t know how, but they just knew I could be trusted to become the best person in everything I did. They allowed me to set my own best standards, never comparing myself to anyone else, and gave me the breathing space I needed with such a degree of freedom.
Good character was important; I never felt that my value to them was measured by how well I studied in school and in which schools I studied.
It sounds easy, but it’s not. There were years when I probably looked lost or brought home test papers with one too many red marks. When I was enrolled in private education, it was emphasized that it was for me to be able to find out any doubts in school, rather than chasing the highest grades.
Looking back, I am glad to trust them. They were realistic in their own expectations and gave me time to find my way. At the heart of all this generosity lay only one strong question: there is room for failure, but only if I tried my best.
As for me, I just had to be sure that no matter what path in life I go, it will be the one I was sure of.
New clarity and perspective
How did I land with all this youthful search for the soul? Not good.
During the previous exams for the 4th grade O-Level I scored a little less than 40 points for my L1R5 score. Not a failure brought me clarity, it was the thought that my choices in my studies might be so limited that I might have to spend the next few years doing things that didn’t interest me.
This fear made me work harder. In addition to living up to my parents ’expectations that I will always do my best, I told myself what I live for today – that if I have to do something, even if it’s not very enjoyable, I have to do it right .
This checkpoint in my educational journey was a necessary alarm bell. I chose an arts course at JC because I really enjoyed the humanities, and met enthusiastic teachers who helped me find purpose and joy in learning, even when it was hard for me at times.
When I majored in Communication at university, I took the opportunity to take classes in sociology, art history, and philosophy – simply because they were interesting to me. Where will these items take me? At the time, I had no idea, but my vision of the future became clear after graduation: I wanted to create meaningful stories in any form and form.
So at the end of 14 years I found something I wanted to do. I went the traditional way to university with some doubts in my head. But I found that my first love of words and stories was what I really did. It meant something to me and became a career in which I would gladly put my efforts. Was I still average? I would say I am personal.
What is success for you?
I also learned firsthand that things we can dismiss as hobbies or foolish interests may actually turn out to be undiscovered strengths. Of course, in achieving your goal you need to make the right effort and diligence, but believe me, you will be much easier if you like what you do.
The beauty of what you do that you enjoy also means that you will most likely be together with like-minded people. Going to work for me is now more fun because my colleagues are the same botanists in words as I am; many also did not know what would come of their simple pleasures when they were young.
Even now, I may not see clearly what my future holds, but I’m fine with that. I would like to continue this process of self-knowledge, constantly be inspired by my experience and work on being a better version of myself.
After all, to me it sounds like a busy life.
To see a parent’s view of what success means to her child, check out Tae Hong Chin’s comment https://www.schoolbag.edu.sg/story/the-upside-of-being-average
Lim Jun Kang is a writer in the Emergency Communication and Interaction Group.