In this essay, I have changed or left out the names of schools and people to protect their identities.
“Hey Tom! You scored so well! Only 1B!” With hardly a word, my form teacher had moved on from me to her next student, leaving me to deal with the tsunami of emotions washing over me.
It was hardly easy.
In the aftermath of the collection of my less than stellar results, it seemed as if the series of alphabets listed on my transcript had consigned me to a future without any hope.
Messaging my teacher regarding a request for a recommendation, it seemed as if my request had been delivered to the wrong inbox.
Passing a former teacher in school, I bowed respectfully, only to see her striding past, with nary a glance.
Perhaps the former teacher had missed my message amidst a torrent of similar requests.
Perhaps the latter teacher had failed to notice me.
But these incidents sought to reinforce the nagging suspicion of the failure I was in my mind.
In the months that followed, I retreated into an ever deeper recluse containing my worst emotions, emotions spelling hurt, anger, disappointment, amongst a host of many others.
With hindsight, such a failure to meet academic expectations was a blessing in disguise. As a student from a supposedly ‘elite’ school, the hallowed ranks of such a school seemed to disallow for failure of such sort. Reading about the achievements of the best cohort it had produced seemed to me like we were little more than beautiful products it could display on its storefront.
But to deal with the aftermath of my results meant that I had to first realise that my school had no right to tell me who I was, or who I was to be. Over the course of my two years in college, seeing so many of my friends get upset over the failure to get an ‘A’ for any test, no matter how small, should have alerted me to the perils of placing too much emphasis on results.
But this was X College (I have left out the name of the college to protect the identities of those mentioned).
Perhaps the biggest lesson was that failure was never an ends in itself, but instead a step, the surest step, towards greater things.
As students in elite schools, we were all too often used to a linear path to success. Any momentary blip caused enormous sorrow. We were so used to straight ‘A’s that we seemed to forget that any ‘A’ was a distant dream for many in Singapore.
But the non-linear path that I was forced upon did not seem that bad after all. For one, it prompted great reflection as to my purpose here on Earth. Was it merely to go on a never-ending chase in search of the elusive alphabet ‘A’?
Such a search for a deeper meaning to life brought me to serve at MINDS, an organization catering to the needs of the intellectually disabled, and my experiences there began to lead me away from the den of despair I had found myself in.
One of my most impactful moments came during one of our volunteer sessions.
Andrew and I are going through the alphabet ‘A’ for perhaps the umpteenth time in the short span of an hour. I’ve been trying to teach him how to write in block letters but we have made little headway. He bites his lips, looks at me, and says in Chinese, “I don’t know how to write this!” It is a heart-wrenching moment. Andrew looks like you and me, and is even bilingual. But even writing an ‘A’ has prompted so much difficulty for him.
In our searches for the ‘A’s in our lives, perhaps sometimes it would be good to take a step back, and remember what a blessing it is to even have the opportunity to search.
Of course grades are important. We should all work towards achieving the very best grades we can get. But when we don’t, they should never douse the flames of our hopes and dreams, of our passions and desires, and of our childlike naivety of the beauty of this world.
I’m thankful for the non-linear path I find myself on now, a path where I don’t seem to find many of my more distinguished friends. But some journeys in life can only be travelled alone.