It’s a new year and you do not have to go to school anymore (yeah!) as you have just completed your School Certificate Examinations (SPM). Meandering through the house, against the backdrop of an unchallenging day with seemingly no purpose, here’s what you should think about.
Choices and challenges
“It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
The wisdom of Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, from the magical kingdom of Harry Potter also rings true in real life.
Your future career, area of study, maybe even the countries you may be lucky enough to travel to and the choices you make now, whether small or large are going to determine to a large extent the satisfaction you will derive from life.
Too scary for a 16- or 17-year-old, even scarier than Conjuring? Yet it is such a thrilling time too!
Dr Seuss in his poem Oh, The Places You Will Go describes it so well when he says that as you have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you already have all the equipment you need to steer yourself in any direction you choose.
Ready to be SMART?
The public and corporate sectors use S.M.A.R.T. objectives (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based) to determine and improve efficiency in their organisations. It may also help you make the right choices in your life right now as you see that you have come to a place where there are many forks in the road and you cannot see around the corner.
Do try to write one simple sentence on what you wish to achieve in say, three years’ time and what you must accomplish now to get there.
You must be realistic with regards your abilities and finances within this timeline. Sounds simple, but try to get your parents or other adults to give their opinions as well.
Still, do not entirely base your idea of success and happiness on other people’s opinions and expectations.
Companies may take their entire staff away for three days to do this sort of planning, so understand that it can be difficult.
Don’t forget to have fun as well. Nothing’s more amusing than doing what people say you can’t do. Now, if only you could somehow combine both and help make the world a better place all at the same time!
This is what is often called the work–life balance. As smart as we try to be, sometimes Life has a way of eluding nice, neat little definitions as “everything that can be counted does not necessarily count and everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted” (Albert Einstein).
Passion or perseverance?
Some of your lucky friends are already enrolled in courses, and going to classes this week. You are not sure what to do.
Perhaps you would like to try a temporary job now, or an internship. Unfortunately, the one you managed to get was not to your liking.
Try to hang in there and pick up generic and soft skills like communicating the right message and working in teams with people of different age groups while you are counting change at the cash register or washing the dishes in a kopitiam (coffee shop).
In a study titled Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) researchers found that perseverance may be as essential as talent, to high accomplishment.
They encouraged children to work with intensity and stamina, cautioning that young people should anticipate failure and misfortune before reaching their goals.
Excellence in any discipline requires time, and even Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill does not fulfill all the criteria required to be an expert.
Universities, Scholarships, Community Colleges or MOOC
I have been fortunate to have followed the lives of some of my students over the years.
One student had 10 A’s and was one of a 3-student team that had made the school proud by winning the Creative and Innovative design awarded by F1 in Schools in England that year. Despite all efforts, none managed to get local scholarships.
Most of the community was aghast, but the boys did not miss a beat.
Getting another string of A’s for the A-levels at a nearby college, he won a scholarship for Engineering sponsored partly by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States (US). He has now graduated, was a member of “Engineers without Borders” and is currently working as a mechanical design engineer in New York.
Another student tried locally for a training programme for teachers. At that time she was unable to gain entrance.
She persuaded her parents to send her to the US for a 4-year programme in mathematics and a Masters degree, following which she joined the Teach for America programme as a Fellow serving in an underperforming school in Kansas.
Many would have stayed in America.
“My heart is in Malaysia and I want to help the children here,” she said.
She is currently with Teach for Malaysia as a leadership development officer in Miri, mentoring several new teachers there.
If you still cannot make up your mind, as Dr Seuss says there is The Waiting Place… for people just waiting.
So, while waiting, give the Massively Open Online Courses a try.
Just about any field of interest is covered in EdX, Coursera, MIT open courseware and try http://www.mooc-list.com/ for the rest.
For a nominal sum, certificates of completion are awarded and may be useful in college or job applications.
In self-paced learning, you set your own goals (SMART) and you customise your learning. Do try to learn some unusual subjects just for fun (remember always insert fun as a short-term goal).
Beyond SMART – The magic goal poster
In Forbes magazine, Amy Rees Anderson an entrepreneur and philanthropist wrote on how by using just a bulletin board, a pair of scissors, and glue stick she put together pictures that represented exactly what she wanted.
As the difficult part was to figure out what was important, she asked, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”
She was careful to include some short-range, intermediate and long-range goals.
Ten years later, she was stunned to see that every single item on that poster had been accomplished.
As the founder and managing partner of REES Capital with 1,000 employees, she also led her company to make $377mil in 2012.
Perhaps using this type of vision board would be easier for you than writing SMART goals as Professor Tony Buzan (of mind-mapping fame) says the language of the brain is images.
SMART, success and spirituality
In his Stanford commencement speech in June 2005, Steve Jobs said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.”
Do leave a breath and a space for what may be called luck, chance, being in the right place at the right time, karma, the grace of God or serendipity.
You just never know what life may have in store for you. All the patience, time and skills acquired in the time spent fruitfully might just be utilised when providence allows you the opportunity to “connect the dots”.
Or as Daniel Gilbert (2005), Professor of Psychology at Harvard University put it, find yourself Stumbling on Happiness.
Parimala is a lecturer and trainer at a government institute and believes that in a gentle way, you can change the world. Post your comments in the box provided, or send us a line or two at firstname.lastname@example.org