Today’s the day many will receive their O Level results. Many might think that it is one of the most important national exams for a teenager. I am anxious too, for an ex-student will be receiving the results this year.
But here are some thoughts that I have for my student:
Rules of the game
So far your life had largely been defined by how well you do within the education system. There might have been positive changes in the education system. There are definitely attempts to help every student go as far as they can.
But it’s still a system that fundamentally remained unchanged since the beginning of formal education.
The rules of the game are simple.
Do the best you can academically. Take the ‘best’ path that your grades could bring you to. Oh, and make sure you don’t neglect your non-academic talents too by participating in co-curricular activities, etc.
Rinse and repeat.
The underlying assumption is always the same.
There are winners and losers. Or maybe the conversation nowadays has shifted. That all can be winners but there will be those who win more.
Change the rules
I used to have an architecture project in school where we had to use styrofoam for model-making. The problem was, I couldn’t figure out how to use the foam cutter properly.
But I know I could use the penknife quite well. So I chose to work with another type of styrofoam that allowed me to use the penknife instead. That decision was one of the best decisions I’ve made in that project. It played to my strengths, and I had a breakthrough in my own design for that project because of the different medium I worked with.
Therefore, what I want you to know is this. From this day forward, no matter which educational pathway you are going to walk on afterwards, there will come a day when you feel like the rules of the game are stacked against you. It will likely bring you lots of frustration.
If you are going to let the system dictate who you are, then you might feel like a failure. That day might even be today if your results are not up to your expectations. But you have to stand up and continue walking. Resilience is more important than a temporary success in this national exam.
They will tell you that if your results are not good enough, you will not be able to get into a good school after. And if you don’t do well enough, you will not be able to get a good job when you venture into the workforce.
But what I want to suggest to you is to learn to change the rules of the game. To think of it as winning or losing just doesn’t make sense. If you can’t find a good job, you can always create one yourself.
If you walked away today feeling happy about your results, great. Do take the time to celebrate. But after that figure out what your next move will be. It’s easy to coast through school. Trust me, because I did that.
But I want you to continue seeking excellence in your work. There is no end to doing better work. Learn to do life like what Benjamin Zander describes as the ‘one-buttock‘ piano player. Play like you care.
Learn to dream
Whatever your results were today, what’s more important is to learn how to dream again. Not the dreams your parents have for you, but your own dreams. For yourself and maybe for the people you care about. You probably have forgotten how to dream because you’ve only learnt to constantly aim for the next exam. You might even have lost touch with who you are.
Like it or not, you are going to be the leaders of another generation. And they don’t need another generation of leaders who are just focusing on surviving. What they need is a generation of leaders who can inspire them to greater heights – to aim for the joy and beauty that we so desperately need.
If you don’t learn to dream, you are not going to be able to teach them how to dream. And if that happens, we might just continue with the status quo. Always fearing for our survival, but never learning how to truly live.