8 Life Experiences

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And then, we convince ourselves that what we want aren't really what we want. We rewrite the stories, paint over the partially coloured canvases and pretend that we don't have those dreams. 

Those dreams that we believe in and hope for and hanker after, they're no longer. 

It's one of those quirks about failing. Once, we consider it an experience. Twice, a trial. And, if it happens too many times, we accept that it isn't meant to be, that we aren't good enough. 

We tell ourselves that what we've are sufficient, that we should be contented. 

This way, we soothe our envy. This way, we stop imagining.  We allow some part within to fester and die. In sacrificing the possibilities - the what-ifs and what-may-bes - we become at peace.

A professor reminded me of this post recently. We were talking about the nature of dreams - how to find the courage to strive for what we want and believe in. He noted that some Singaporeans gave up too easily.

Our chat was informal and insightful. There were no power relations; this professor didn't talk down to me. He was older, more experienced, a Cambridge PhD holder, more accomplished in the arts and my lecturer. I was (and still am) woefully younger, inexperienced, an NUS undergraduate and his student. On any of these grounds, he could have made a patronising speech. He didn't; for this, I'm grateful.

This professor has received awards in international arts festivals. He shared with me his life experiences:

1) Don't over-rationalise away your ideas/ aspirations

Far too often, we find reasons for ourselves not to do something. We convince ourselves that our parents would be upset, that there are no ways we can make a living out of it. We believe others when they trivialise our aspirations.

Don't do that.

It's often easy to explain away our hopes - but how do we live with this state of denial? Please just try. Sometimes, the barriers you've built in your mind are far more formidable than the ones you'll actually encounter.

2) Learn to be comfortable with who you are

Sit down, XY, and stop fidgeting. It's really okay. I know that showing people your art is always a nerve-wrecking event. Up till now, whenever I show my films, I'll cover my eyes with cupped hands and peep from the cracks between my fingers.

I've learnt, over time, to be more comfortable with who I am.

And you'll have to learn as well. Don't be so critical of yourself such that even you find it difficult to live with yourself.

3) Care for your efforts (even when others don't)

Sometimes, people just don't care about what you do. Back when I was in university, I was so excited after my one-year exchange and wanted to share my experiences with my friends. Then, I realised that they didn't really want to know that much:

Friend: "How was the exchange?"
Me: "It was great and I -"
Friend: "So glad to hear that you had an awesome time! Let's go and club now?"

You'd want to share your overseas adventures or the sweetness of success with people. You'd want to share an artwork, a program, an essay with your closed ones. These products, crystallised from hours of effort and thought.

But not all of them will appreciate or want that. You've to recognise that what's important to you may not carry the same importance to the people around you and you've got to respect that. It's critical that you appreciate your art, even when people around you just don't care.

4) Lose yourself in your efforts

You need momentum in your art. You need to pour more individuality within. I can't sense the person you're in your art.

Most people who succeed in a brilliant manner, they lose themselves in their endeavors. It's what they live for. They get all excited and hyped up over it. Is what you're doing now what you're living for?

5) Have confidence in failing repeatedly

It's one thing to taste success, but quite another to taste failure. It feels that there is a social stigma attached with failing in Singapore. Look, failing is not a disease.

Learn to expect and accept failures. You'll probably fail so often that it no longer matters.

True, failing hurts and, to some people, it hurts badly. But please don't let the fear of failing stop you from trying.

6) Speak up

Speak up more. Fight for what you believe in. Singapore has this aura which makes days blend into one murk. I'll wake up and think about what happened yesterday and I won't remember it.

The country has this very comfortable, numbing environment that conditions people to be less aware of their surroundings. We walk to the pedestrian crossing, look at the traffic lights, wait for the green man. Cross. It was never like that when I was overseas. When I was in the Middle East, I could remember the stucco walls that I passed by daily, the nooks and crannies of every streets.

This comfortable environment in Singapore has allowed many citizens to take their privileges for granted. In many ways, there're top-notch policies that citizens fail to appreciate. This comfortable environment has also allowed Singaporeans to become less questioning, less probing. More willing to accept the status quo and the associated problems.

Don't passively accept the truths that are handed to you. Question it, examine it. Understand it. Learn more about the nuances of issues. It's okay that you are for or against certain policies. Just don't do it blindly. And learn to speak up for what you have faith in.

7) Be open-minded to possibilities

People are so focused on pursuing the ideal job, so bent on the end results. They are so focused that they no longer see other possibilities.

In yesterday's class, I asked, "who knows why you're majoring in what you're majoring now. Come on, raise your hands, don't be shy." Only one person raised her hand. I've done this with many classes before and many young people just don't know what they want. It's such a waste. I wish that NUS has a policy of allowing modules taken in the first year to be ungraded so that students can explore their interests.

I once had another student. Fantastic designer. On an overseas field trip, she showed us sketchbooks worth of fashion designs. And, can you guess her major?

She's in Engineering. What's a pity about such cases is that you people tend to do well in the system - straight As and all. There's no need to be risk the safe and proven, for the unexplored, uncharted grounds.

8) Pursue your dreams when you're young

I'm glad that you found what you want to do. Have the courage to do it, especially since you're still young.

When you get older, you accumulate duties. You accumulate responsibilities and become tied down by them. I wish I've discovered what I now want to do when I was younger. It'd have been a lot easier.


And, above all, why do you wish to work? What're you striving for? You need a compelling reason to push forth. Can you find one? Do you have one? Is this going to be a part of your life?

I hope that you'll find the answers. Please try harder. And, all the best.

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