I thought about killing myself for the first time when I was nine. I was getting sick of being picked on by a few kids in school. It felt like a hole I couldn’t come out of.
‘Can I stop going to school?’ I asked my mother.
She said I couldn’t, but she could try to make things better by talking to my teacher.
The kids did stop picking on me, but things returned to normal after a while. I gave up on trying to make things better and accepted this as the status quo, going home crying on most days.
At the time, our family was staying in a two-story house my father built. My parents were hoarders and on the ground floor were rooms full of things.
Whenever I felt bored, I would go down to one of these rooms and explored the things inside after school. It provided a nice distraction and escape for me.
I liked opening up my old school books and look at how my handwriting had improved, among other things.
Sometimes, I found broken toys I used to play with, and if I got lucky, a lost toy, which I would later restore in my room.
One of the best treasures though, were my brother’s school yearbooks. He was four years older than me and I liked finding photos of my teachers in them just to see how they used to look.
After that, I’d find the section where some of the best student writings were published. I wondered what it took to have your writing published in a yearbook. It seemed like a pretty big deal.
The stories were usually casual and school oriented, so my interest was piqued when I found an unusually dark one.
It was about a girl who had committed suicide after learning about an African tribe that believed that unlucky people could try again for a new life by being burned alive.
I read and re-read that story. I wondered if it was true.
Because if it were, I’d want to trade my unlucky self for a luckier one too.
I laid down in a pile of papers, closed my eyes and held my breath for a while, imagining what it might feel like to get out of my ugly body and trade it for a beautiful one.
Would I finally be popular? Would kids stop bullying me?
I wished I was like one of my pretty, popular, smart and wealthy friends. But I was just the opposite.
‘Why am I so unlucky?’ I wondered.
Almost a decade later, I found myself receiving one of the most bitter-sweet news in my life. I had gotten straight A’s for my A levels, but wasn’t eligible for any scholarships in the country I grew up in because I wasn’t a local.
This wasn’t anyone’s fault, merely the circumstance a lot of children of overseas Malaysians were in.
Even though I was used to passing up opportunities because of my nationality, it still hurt to see classmates who got the same results as I did get scholarships to some of the most prestigious universities in the world.
My parents couldn’t afford to send me to the school I wanted and suggested I go to the new university that had just been set up in nearby Miri.
I felt embarrassed.
What would my friends think? I was one of the top ten students in my cohort and felt eyes on me.
On top of the embarrassment, I started wondering about my job prospects. I had been brought up with the idea that you needed a prestigious sounding university to your name to get a good-paying job. Would I still get a good job without one?
I wished I could be like my friends who got a scholarship, or like my other friends whose parents could send them to any school they wanted.
Again, I wished I was luckier.
A million dollar dream with no legs
A few years after that, I was a third-year engineering student looking for an internship to complete my degree program. To help me with my applications, my brother lends me the first business book I would read in my life.
‘If you understand how businesses think and how to network, you’ll have a better chance of getting an internship position,’ he told me.
It was a small book and I was pretty excited, so I read the book from cover to cover in less than a week.
Once I was done, I was not only ready to proceed with my internship applications, I had a new goal in life: I wanted to become a millionaire by the time I was 26, the age which the author of the book became one.
The only difference between me and the author was that the author had a pretty well-to-do father who gave him a good education and some money.
My family, on the other hand, lived for years from pay check to pay check, with my mother often using various credit cards just to buy groceries to get by.
We were deep in debt with almost no way out.
I wished my parents were better connected or had more money to help me get a good degree and start a business like him.
Or at least, not have so much debt that it crippled the entire family.
Again, I wished I was luckier.
These days, people say ‘it’s because you’re lucky’
I was seated next to a business associate a few years ago when he said to me, ‘You know, you’re very lucky.’
I was 27.
‘Why’s that?’ I asked him, curious what made him blurt that out of the blue.
‘Your parents support you so much in your life. Unlike me, I have to pay for my uni education myself and worked for my expenses. No pocket money,’ he replied.
‘That’s what makes me different from privileged kids like you. I’m tougher,’ he continued, ‘you are too soft and that’s why most people like you can’t endure much.’
I almost spit out the water I was drinking.
It might have been my fair-skin and baby-face that gave him the misconception. In reality, my parents never paid my uni tuition fees. I relied on a full-waiver scholarship to do that.
And my parents were never the type to give out pocket money, even when I was in primary school and high school. In uni, I paid for my expenses by working 1 or 2 jobs.
I didn’t correct him.
I just smiled and said, ‘I’m happy for you.’
What people mean when they say they are unlucky
I remember precisely the moment when I stopped thinking I was ‘unlucky’ in life.
I was in my second semester (or third) of my university and strolling along the vast gardens inside.
It was a beautiful garden but I was too engrossed with my own angry thoughts to have noticed how beautiful the garden was.
I thought about the time I was wasting in a third-tier university; myself being a big fish in a small pond. It made me angry.
I believed I was better than everyone else in school. I thought I was hanging around people who were ‘below’ me intellectually.
As some students passed by me, I looked away. I didn’t feel like interacting with them. I kept doing this all the way, my anger growing.
Then, I snapped out of it and realised there was actually nothing wrong with this university, with these people. The garden was beautiful, why hadn’t I noticed it before?
It was me and I was too entitled and egoistic.
In reality, I was lucky, and have always been. Most people are.
That day, I told myself, if I continued this way, I’ll end up with even fewer opportunities, fewer friends and a poor experience overall.
Was this really what I wanted?
I smiled to the next student I saw, and the next one, and the next one.
I started becoming more and more motivated to be involved in activities in school.
I graduated university with a lot of friends, and many happy memories.
Later, I managed to get a job in a time where some of my friends from better universities were struggling to.
With business and negotiation skills I learned throughout the years, I moved my family out of the urgent financial situation.
Being unlucky, I learned, was all in my head. I was using it as a crutch to excuse myself from growing myself internally to achieve what I wanted.
Instead of working hard to improve myself, I preferred to just say: I can’t, because I don’t have the same privileges as other people do.
In reality, we all have it in us to go where we want, but first, we need to accept that we alone are responsible for our progress.
Not our parents, not our country. It’s mainly us.
A forever four-leaf clover
In high school, one of my good friends gave me a four leaf clover keychain. I asked her why.
She said, who doesn’t want to be a little luckier?
I thought I did and put the clover keychain in my bag. I carried it around for a long time after that, hoping for something to change.
Nothing much did, so I kept it in a drawer instead.
Over the years, I thought about this four leaf clover keychain and wondered if there was one that actually worked.
Today, I realised that there was one and every one of us could carry it everywhere we go. And that is our own mindset.
A mindset that relies on paradigms of lucky vs unlucky will always end up with some unlucky instances, whereas a mindset that does away with the concept of luck is always ‘lucky’ in some way by being able to see opportunities where others might miss them.