Ah, ‘tis the end of the last subject reflect and review again; the time when the school collectively lets out a sigh of relief as it wraps up a hectic school year. As we look forward to the arrival of the much-anticipated school holidays, let us not forget to reflect on our roller-coaster journey of the past few months. For me at least, this year has been a watershed moment; it has challenged many of my preconceived notions about school and life, and pushed my boundaries to limits I had thought was impossible. For the first time, I experienced the bitter taste of failure, the notion of true friendship, the importance of time management and the necessary juggling act that most of us still struggle to master. Joy, disappointment, anxiety, they were all meshed into one year, known as 2021. As I ponder on the “What-ifs”, brood over the disappointments and celebrate the achievements, I cannot help but think about the many lessons Year 3 has taught me.
1. Failure is not fatal (it really isn’t)
We all know Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal”, among many other motivational quotes, that encourages us to be resilient in the face of adversity. However, when the time comes, and it inevitably will, do we really know how to apply what we have learnt?
Pun unintended, I was put to the test after failing a Math test on Trigonometry. I can still remember how my eyes stung as I realised I was bottom in my class for that test. For the first time, I had failed a test. Please do not get me wrong, I have failed my own expectations many times before but the sorrow felt failing this test was like being trapped in a black hole, threatening to be swallowed up forever. I felt ashamed, ashamed that I was below my class average, ashamed that I had disappointed my Math teacher and my parents.
Fortunately for me, my Math teacher helped me analyse my mistakes, pointing out my weaknesses, and encouraged me to try harder for the upcoming exams. One of my closest friends cheered me up and offered to help in any way he could. These acts, though they seemed ordinary, helped me get back on my feet. After the initial wave of emotions had passed, through the encouragement of my friends and teacher, I reflected honestly on what had taken place and re-calibrated my learning methods. I am happy to report that my results improved after this watershed test and it has imparted on me a greater understanding of the concept of failure. Previously, the idea of failure and resilience seemed quite distant and confined to motivation talks and slogans. However, after this turning point, failure and resilience became personal. The preaching of resilience and CLE lessons that I honestly had not taken seriously before became very helpful in overcoming my obstacles. All of us would encounter failures in our own time, so let us be prepared to bounce back when the time comes.
2. Start work early
The number of academic subjects in Year 3 is a huge jump from Year 2, drastically increasing the academic workload. Coupled with longer school hours, this jump was significant for me, as it was for my peers. Similarly, like some of my classmates, my results dipped during the first term in Year 3. However, do take comfort that if you had studied the Year 2 content well, the learning curve would be much gentler. To mitigate this problem, I scoured the internet for productivity tips and tried a few. This included waking up at 5a.m. to study (didn’t work for me since instead, I found myself drained even before school), or using some apps that were supposed to reward me while I studied (but instead I found loopholes and earned rewards regardless of my activity).
Eventually, I did find one that is very useful and surprisingly it is also quite simple: Start work early. By starting work early, I do not mean waking up at an ungodly hour to study but rather, starting to work on a task way before its deadline. I know how difficult it is to overcome the inertia and procrastination when starting work (I do struggle with that too). Personally, I have found using the fear factor usually motivates me to start work. I also force myself to carve out buffer time for each task since unexpected delays do crop up every now and then. Whether it is preparing for an upcoming exam, managing the admin of your CCA, or conducting literature review for your Research Education Project, it never hurts to start early or be a little “try-hard”. This would definitely go a long way in cushioning the transition to Year 3.
3. To Lead or not to lead? (That is the question)
Year 3 will be the time for you to step up to the leadership challenge. Regardless of whether you are appointed/elected to an actual leadership role, you will generally be expected to take charge, whether it is your CCA, your house, your class or even yourself. For me, as part of the CEC Level Committee, I was involved in the planning and execution of the Teachers’ Day celebration. While all these opportunities have taught me certain planning and organisational skill sets, I think the more important insight I have gleaned is the importance of humility and balance. No doubt some of us may be very enthusiastic to lead, but I believe it is also paramount we realise and understand when it is a more appropriate time for us to be a follower. Similarly, for those of us who are more inclined to let someone else take charge, we should also ensure we continue taking initiative and be ready to take the steering wheel if the project is heading on a crash course. Ultimately, even though there is nothing wrong with being an enthusiastic or passive leader, it comes down to a balance between being a follower and being a leader.
Another lesson Year 3 has taught me about leadership is it is never easy or glamorous. Having a leadership role will look good on your future resume when you apply for a place in any university, and certain leadership roles are prestigious. Yet, few remember that every leadership role requires sacrifice: be it time, effort or brainpower; preparing for the next CCA session when everyone is resting, or putting in extra effort to teach your juniors. Being a leader is like being a candle – setting yourself alight to light the way for others. For example, in my case, even though I do not hold a position in my CCA, Raffles Voices, as a senior, I have to guide and teach my juniors. As such, I need to spend some hours after CCA guiding my juniors in order to ensure that they are on the right track.
“Leadership is like being a candle — setting yourself alight to light the way for others.”
It is thus important that before you take on a leadership role, you should consider if you have the ability and passion to see through your leadership responsibilities.
Go for it
Year 3 will be the year to remember for years to come, provided you are brave enough to take on the opportunities that come with it. No doubt, opportunities will come attached with challenges and great responsibilities. But what Year 3 has taught me is that you have nothing to lose when you take on well-considered roles. Sure, you may feel stretched but if you never leave your comfort zone, you will never know your true potential.
In my case, one of my most memorable experiences that truly stretched me would be the Science Mentorship Programme. In SMP, my group mates and I had the privilege of working with a Professor from Nanyang Technological University of Singapore on our research project. However, our research project involved using software outside the syllabus. At the onset, we faced many teething issues with the software due to our lack of experience. To compound the problem, we also had certain communication issues within the group that prevented us from working together to solve the problem. Fortunately, with the guidance and support of our teacher mentor, we learnt how to use the software right from the basics, and gradually, we completed the project. This project forced us to step out of our comfort zone by venturing into the previously foreign field of computer modelling. Despite the difficulties that came with stepping out of our comfort zone, I can say that we have emerged much more resilient, knowledgeable and stronger than before.
To the incoming Year 3s, I would encourage you to utilise the coming year to develop yourself, academic and character-wise. Get out of your comfort zone and take the many opportunities that come your way by their horns. As Meg Cabot said, “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.” Go for it!
“The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.”