Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and recent experiences!

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How I start to pull myself up after O-level ‘failure’

imageMonday 13 January 2014 was the day where Secondary School graduating students in Singapore, of whom has sat for GCE O-level examinations last year go back to their alma mater to collect their much-awaited results slips.

Flashing back to 1998, I was somehow in a state of depression when I obtained my results and knew that I had to go to Institute of Technical Education (ITE).  Was unhappy and feeling withdrawn and inferior for 2 years before entering National Service. And later, my hearing impairement “disaster”. That’s a double whammy. Awww.

Back then, there was quite a big social stigma about students who studied at ITE. For some Singaporeans, they may perceive ITE students as “stupid”, “useless”. Especially those who come from elite schools.

This was because the O-level results crush has shaken my self-confidence badly. And even the way I looked at myself. Despite re-taking it again. The pressure to excel at the exams came from myself, not from my parents.

My parents just told me to do my very best. Thankfully, they did not exert any pressure on me.

As told my form teacher Sumathi R Krishna, I did a lot self reflections in my head: What and where did I go wrong? Why me? And I stupid or what? Did I adopt the wrong exam preparation strategy? Blah blah blah….

To think that I want to be the MOST OUTSTANDING student in my Normal Academic class especially the boys yet my results are…dismaying. And worst still, I was the class monitor somemore. What a big joke. >_<

To pull myself out of the shell, I signed up to volunteer with the Student Volunteer at a volunteer fair held at Fountain of Wealth, Suntec City in 1999. One  Saturday. I used volunteering to “regain my self-worth bit by bit”. That was my virgin volunteer experience with Singapore Children’s Society.

And that was how I actually begun my volunteering journey.

Upon completion of National Service in 2002, I pursued my interest enrolling in Mass Communications course at MDIS (Management Development Institute of Singapore), beginning from the foundation course. I started to wear hearing aid then. Being older and wiser, I took initiative to attend classes early and adopt a different studying method, with much thanks to the guidance and care from lecturers and fellow coursemates.

It worked. My grades were satisfactory. I proceeded onto the Diploma programme smoothly. And alas, I obtained the diploma. Now today, it is a “matter of decision” whether I want to further pursue an university education.

Ms Sumathi R Krishna said this to me before: “Who says one must be a degree holder in order to be successful?”

Anyway, every little achievement gained, my self-confidence grew abit. And I felt better about myself.

Said numerous times, I am a firm believer of positive peer influence. There is no way you can’t become someone outstanding if you have had developed a personal network of outstanding individuals. I am selective in choosing friends. I seeked outstanding individuals who are willing to teach me more. Talk to them. Gain new fresh insights from their experiences shared. Talking about the desire to further develop myself into becoming someone better.

Other than those profound scentific subjects, I usually read more about current social issues as well as communications/media management issues. I want to accumulate a wealth of knowledge before I dare say I am an expert. Up till today, I consider myself still not very intellectual. lol.

I took initiative to sign up for a corporate grooming course. Learnt how to take care of my own appearance from head to toe. What looks good on me, in terms of attire and hairstyle? How to create presence or positive first impressions? How to walk, sit, talk and behave with class, like a true-blue successful personality. Like a boss. Image branding.

Why am I doing all this?

I am my own life sculptor. I want to mould myself into the ideal shape which I envision myself. In short, I am not willing to settle for mediocrity. NO.

Having said so, I am honest to say that it somehow has a haunting effect on me such that if I am to stand beside a junior college (JC) or university graduate or even an influential figure today, I might still think: I feel small because I think he or she could be looking down on me as I come from ITE. =p

I can’t help thinking that way. Inferiority complex at play again?

Life is about choices. If you are now an ITE student, the ball is in your hands, giving you full autonomy to decide whether you want to lose or win in life. Only you can help yourself. Don’t bother about what naysayers say about you.

People including your parents might look down upon you but you should always tell yourself this: “Possibilities are infinite as long as I don’t give up on myself, willing to change for the better, to become the most outstanding person I can be.”

No matter what happens, love yourself. It is about personal motivation. Prove everyone wrong.

This is a recent status update which I saw on Facebook:

“I never tell my Normal stream students that ITE is “It’s The End”. Who in this world has the right to pre-judge and limit a person’s ability except the person herself/himself? 

Most societies around the world today including Singapore are pretty much blinded by the paper chase. A person’s worth is never measured by the number of certificate papers they possess. In my opinion, employers should remember that. 

But often, we usually tend to employ people who are suitably qualified with the right training. That being said, our public service sector values academic qualifications more.

The best things I give to my Normal Stream students are self-dignity and the firm belief in their possible greatness. Every single one of us needs someone who believes in ourselves. But when nobody believes in us, we will then have to believe in ourselves and our worth all the more.”

—- By a Secondary School Teacher.

My take: Education to me, as an educator, is all about training of the human mind and spirit. It is not just about imparting knowledge. The cert paper obtained is the end result but it should not be seen as the-be-all-and-end-all. The journey experienced is far more important than the end destination.

Editor’s Note: Just to get facts straight about my above blog entry post – I did NOT fail my GCE O-Level exams back in 1997. Just in case anyone thought that I really flunk the examinations. No. 

I personally call it a ‘failure’ mainly because my target was to earn more than 3 O-level passes. Unfortunately I did not think and plan the most suitable preparation strategy for some subjects. Everything is all just pure memorisation. And hence, the devastating outcome somehow made me feel like a loser in life. Booooo. Sighhhh. Anyway, I told myself: “move on”.


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Comfortable in own skin

Most of the time, people around us want to appear strong in front of others, hence they prefer hiding their own feelings and fears, so as not to appear weak.

But I would rather choose to do the opposite. Why? Because I am only a human being. I want you, my readers, to know what is going on in my mind.
I have my own internal struggles, just like anyone out there.

I want to express myself freely so that I can be comfortable in my own skin in anyone’s presence, without the need to pretend like somebody else. I don’t want to be hypocritical.

I like to observe people quietly, and take initiative to approach or interact with people whom I find more smarter and successful than myself so that I can do something on my own, hoping to emulate them. It can be the way how I conduct myself, the way how I should plan things or the way how I perceive certain matters. So that hopefully one day, I can daresay that I can benchmark myself against them. Yeah. To be the best version of myself.

But the weird thing is…the more I interact with these people, the more I am conscious about myself. Envy? Yes, maybe. “Oh gawd, they are all very smart people.” Then I would start to think “Maybe I don’t think I am good enough (to be like them). I wouldn’t be able to do this (task) as good as these uni undergrads.”

Despite the fact that I am a diploma holder from a local recognised private institution. It is not that I am looking down on myself but why?????

My hearing impairment? Definitely. So I keep quiet most of the time.
Another reason is possibly, my not-so-serious inferiority complex at play sometimes. “I was formerly from ITE so they are much better than me. I still need to think before I make a response in an intellectual dialogue, so perhaps it may be better for me to just shut up and listen.”

If you ever see me behaving in a quiet yet self-conscious manner, that is probably what these 2 things are playing in my mind.

Yes, I am well aware that it will always be a tug of war between the mind (devil) and the heart (angel), for as long as I live.

Hmm.. So that is my above confession. lol.

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My thoughts on GCE O Levels Exams 2011 Results Release

I was at my alma mater – Yishun Town Secondary School yesterday, witnessing another batch of graduands receiving their first major exam results slip, while I do new media coverage of the event via a Facebook Page. As a Singaporean youth, this is where one starts to experience a taste of failure or success. For the first time in his/her life.

As someone who has had taken the examination in 1997, I often emphasize this: “No doubt academic excellence is important, exam results are not everything in life. They don’t mean anything. It is not the end of the world if you don’t score well. If you buck up later, anything is possible – in terms of life achievements, you might even surpass that best student in school.”

That nasty feeling of failure can be very overwhelming, crushing one’s self-confidence. I knew it because it happened to me. I repeated once. It  took me 2 years to overcome that feeling when I was in ITE Bishan.

It is about strong will-power, I guess. You just have to pick yourself up, know your strength areas, keep on chanting to yourself, saying “I will not give up…I can do better than others the next time round.” Yes, for those who don’t score well, PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP. Reflect and learn from your mistakes, and start working on your weak areas. It is okay to take a longer time to reach your destination. Keep going. Don’t stop there. Ignore what naysayers said. Think positive.

As long as one is hungry for success, stay humble, help others as he/she perseveres, yes, he or she may not be the best performing student now during schooling years but that individual whom you perceived to be “stupid”, “lousy” or “failure for life” could become the next BIG boss or public figure some 20 years later. Nothing is absolute!

Look at Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Need I say more?

Standing from the perspective of a former ITE graduate, I am particularly concerned or worried about top performing students becoming snobbish and too elitist in their mindset and the way how they handle people or matters. I hope my worries are unfound.

Pardon me for saying this – To me, “elitism” is a dirty word.

Nevertheless, to students who score outstanding results, this is what I would like to say: “Congratulations. You have had worked hard to deserve such good results. But never ever look down or pre-judge someone who may not have scored very good academic results like yourself. For you may not know what he or she may become in future.”

Anything is possible in this world.
Many people among us could be hidden diamonds or late-bloomers..

Our mass media should highlight more inspiring stories of latebloomers who has beaten all odds to become who they want to be.

(P.S: By the way, I’ve obtained a diploma in Mass Communications, despite my hearing handicap. I am eligible to go for further studies anytime, to improve my social mobility. Yes, university education.)