I was 17 years old. Sat in my Biology class that Saturday afternoon when I received the worst news in my life.
Along with 11 other classmates, I waited for the results of my second Biology test in my first year of A-levels. A few students were called first. Then my lecturer turned to me and called my name.
I stood up and walked to the front. I was getting anxious but tried to calm myself. It was a hard test, I thought, but I don’t think I would get less than 80.
The seconds to the front felt like an hour but I finally reached. There on the table, I could see my grade, scribbled in my lecturer’s red pen.
I was horrified.
‘You got a 65,’ my lecturer told me as I took my paper from him. Then, in a softer voice, he said, ‘What happened to you?’
I forced a small smile then walked back to my seat.
65? I thought. There must be some mistake. I sat quietly to examine all the crosses on my paper. Perhaps there was a marking mistake somewhere?
There was none.
As my lecturer went through the paper, all the mistakes I made stayed mistakes.
My heart beat quickly as I confirmed… I had gotten my very first C- in my high school life. I checked around me. Even students who were normally worse than me scored 20 marks higher.
I looked over at the students sitting next to me. Each of them scored more than 20 marks above me.
I felt embarrassed. I was the good student – the ‘top’ student-, but yet I scored 20 marks lower than everyone else.
Does this mean I am not actually smart? I asked myself.
For the next couple of weeks, I walked around school with my head down. Have they heard? Maybe they know. Maybe they are talking me. I thought.
My failure replayed in my head all day long. I could not even concentrate in class. At one point I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why should I even pay attention anymore? Not like it matters.’
The visions continued at night, haunting me. I only managed a few hours of sleep every night.
For those couple of weeks, I did nothing but agonize over the test result. I could not get it out of my head.
I branded myself a failure.
Then it hit me
After three weeks of doing almost nothing, it hit me. If I were to continue to sulk this way, I would most definitely get an even worse grade.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more I think of myself as incapable the more that will reflect in real life, I thought to myself.
I looked at my calendar and realized that the next exam was only three weeks away.
‘Shit, I have not prepared for it!’ I cursed.
The next day I told myself: every day is a chance at getting better. If I spend even one minute on being sorry for myself, I rob myself of that chance.
I planned my remaining three weeks for success. I gathered my courage to ask my lecturer what I did wrong in my last test. I promised myself to correct them in time for my next one.
The hardest part, if I were to be honest with you, was not studying for the test itself. It was starting to believe in myself again.
For three weeks, I forced myself to push away every single thought of my last result. As soon as a doubt came up, I told myself: ‘This thought it not useful. Action is.’
And I would spring into action, revising everything I could find.
Suffice to say, with this combination of practice and mind shift, my grades improved. At the end of my A-levels one and a half years later, I got an A for Biology.
The worst way to think of yourself
This experience taught me that you are most definitely what you put your mind to.
More important, you are as good or as bad as you think you are. Getting bad results for one event does not mean you will always be that way.
Using your past failures to think about your future self is the worst way to think of yourself.
Even if you are poor today,
if you cannot read or write,
if you have failed at everything you have done up to today,
if you are working in a job you hate,
if you are fat…
It does not mean you will always be that way.
No matter if your teachers tell you that.
Or your parents tell you that.
Or your best friend or boyfriend tells you that.
Or someone who you respect tells you that.
They are wrong.
The truth is: the past is irrelevant.
It is so important I want to say it again: YOUR PAST IS IRRELEVANT.
The only thing that is relevant
is what you are doing right now.
Now – the present – is exactly where you create your future. What you do today will most definitely become you tomorrow.
If you spend your present beating yourself up, you will become your best critic. In this case, is it any surprise that you will end up a worse version of yourself five years from now?
But what if you start believing in yourself? What if you remove all your criticisms about yourself and start doing? Small steps along the way…
Five years from today, do you see yourself in a better position than today?
I knew a girl…
In 2013, I met a 17-year-old girl in National Service (I delayed mine. I was 24 at the time).
She told me that she had failed everything in high school. But for some strange reason, she wanted to continue her diploma.
I never discouraged her. By then I had a strong belief about the past being irrelevant in future success.
I encouraged her.
When we finished NS, she told me she had signed up for a diploma course.
I was happy for her but a few months into the course, she told me she had failed 80% of her subjects.
I asked her why.
She told me there was some bullying in school. I told her to persevere.
She quit. And found a job instead.
A few months later, she told me she was in the hospital. There was some problem with her blood. She could not work for months.
In the hospital, she decided that she must achieve her dream. Get a degree.
She texted me to ask for a loan of RM1,000 to continue her studies. Her parents no longer wanted to support her since she failed the last time.
I said fine. I believe in you. Work hard and you will get what you want.
Six months after that, she sent me her first results slip.
For the next semesters until today she got straights A’s. The best part? She will be graduating next June.
For this girl, her past failures were irrelevant because she worked hard in the present. She believed in herself even when everyone around her did not.
So here’s how to ruin your life forever
Use your past failures as justification for why you will continue to fail now and forever.
Believe in people who don’t believe in you. Doubt people who believe in you.
Spend all your days in worry and doubt. Believe that action is pointless. You can’t change your future by doing.
Allow yourself to be the receiver of your own self-fulfilling prophecy. Believe that you are not good enough and you will become not good enough. See it happen and say, ‘Yup, I was right about myself.’
Continue in this vicious cycle until death.
Then, congrats, you will have successfully ruined your entire life.