“Dinner? 7pm,” He messaged.
“Ok, but Jasmine went back already,” I replied while sweating profusely assimilating the thought that I will be feasting with the arguably most intimidating yet friendly mathematics lecturer.
“Me and u lar (sei Loh),” he replied. At this point, I screamed inaudibly. Face slumped onto the table. Here we go again, another “much” anticipated counseling session.
I have always had an issue facing my own problems or fear. If given a choice, I would opt to disregard them as I dread failure. I am a perfectionist, in certain aspects anyway. The essence of failure and defeat is never a thing that I have truly grasped and relished. Hence why I have never branched out into wild exploration or anything that is not remotely within my comfort zone, cause I know I will not receive any commendation in exchange. They are the primary incentives that get me to strive.
I have experienced being publicly humiliated for failing and not being able to do anything else, losing the trust of others, just to name a few. Consequently, my philosophy in life was altered to – “if that’s what it takes to try new things, I better not”.
Just after a short nap, it was already 7. I packed my books for the night and proceeded to Rock Cafe. Shortly after, He arrived with this heartwarming smile, we then ordered our food.
“So why are you so scared of me huh?” he asked.
“I don’t know, maybe cause I missed your class twice that I felt extremely guilty to face you,” I confessed. I think no words could describe the fear that swallowed me when I woke up that day just to find out that I had missed his morning class, TWICE, especially after learning how he treats the late-comers. I remember that I had an immediate breakdown upon waking up to his phone call in the morning while trying to remain calm to make up a story of having morning diarrhea. When I met him afterward, I swear I had no idea how I managed to contain those tears that struggled desperately to spill out from my eyes. I believed that he saw those teary eyes so he gave me a chance of redemption. To my surprise, I received no reprimands from him, which I was BEYOND grateful for.
He stared at me for a while, then nonchalantly replied: “oh, then just do your best in the upcoming exam.”
I was flabbergasted by his response. I expected a volcanic eruption akin to that of Mt Vesuvius, or at least a verbal reproach. I got none.
“See, I didn’t ask you to get top in the world or anything, just merely do your best, because we as lecturer hope that you understand what we taught, the knowledge that we conveyed. So what if you get top in the world, yes people will look up to you in two or three years time, afterward, nobody’s gonna remember your achievement except you yourself. Top in the world is not what we want, your understanding is what we long for.” He continued.
Well, it was not astonishing news that teachers seek students’ understandings as a form of validation and feedback for their work. From my years of fortunate encounters with these beyond dedicated teachers, it’s always the upper echelons in the education industry that exert pressure on teachers by representing students’ grades as a form of their KPI. Thus, to be “successful”, they are coerced to push their students as far as possible which alas steered some teachers to “cheat” the system. As fortunate as I am, I was once a victim of this, learned absolutely nothing but earned 10/10.
However, what stood out to me was his way of conveying a message. He does not equivocate nor does he appear to be pretentious in his speech what so ever. He speaks the truth and is always backed with his experience. One thing that he taught me that is permanently carved onto my chamber of thoughts is that never talk about something which you do not know the context of, as it will only make you appear less intelligent. Till this day, I still have a hard time implementing this as I will often subconsciously chime in with a shocking headline which I do not know the context of, just to grab the attention of whoever I am speaking to. Yes, my thirst for attention is absolutely disgusting.
Moving along, we talked about other topics before landing on this particular problem that I abhorred but had to address anyway—my excruciatingly scarce self-esteem. This has been a perennial problem with no panacea for me. It has slowly evolved into inferior complexity and mild depression. Every time I failed to speak fluently, I feel so diminished and ignominious that I dare not lift my head to look at the person I’m talking to, and then proceed to contemplate why I cannot think fast enough just like those who can. I decided to open up to him as I felt this close rapport between us and that he might be able to advise me on this with his past experience with his students. Never have I once thought that I would open up this vulnerable side to my lecturer, ever.
He ended up giving me a free 30-minutes TED talk where he shared his journey and how he garnered the confidence that he once lacked too. Albeit pretty generic advice, but maybe generic is the way to go. Maybe it is the default way to do it. Maybe I just need to for once step out of my comfort zone for a prolonged period rather than being afraid of commitment. My problem is that I have always been building my self-esteem from the exultation of seeing my peers fail. It might sound harsh but that’s the way it is. That’s just the absolute truth, as much as my altruistic side hates it, there’s no denying it. Now, I come to realize how shallow minded I have been, equating validation to success. But at the same time, is this just another excuse that I subconsciously created to justify my lack of success? I just don’t know what to think anymore.