Life’s a StrugglePosted: January 9, 2011
Do you remember when we were kids in primary school, every now and then the class teacher would distribute a form or a small booklet asking us students what we wanted to be when we grow up? I remembered looking around at my friends’ ambitions and saw that the popular occupations were always chosen first -‘doktor’, ‘akauntan’, ‘peguam’, ‘jurutera’.. Those who didn’t really know what they wanted to be yet often sees the role model in front of them as convenient, so ‘cikgu’ is usually a popular second.
As for me, like most children who look up to their parents, I tend to want to be what my parents were at the time. So I always wrote ‘kerani’ after my mom’s job at the school where I was attending because I didn’t really know or understood what it was that my dad was doing. Upon submission to the teacher, she would go through the answers and nod approvingly at each student’s ambition but when it came to my form, or small booklet, the teacher would look slightly surprised and glanced at me with a teeny bit of sympathy. Perhaps she was asking herself, “Is this the poor girl’s highest goal in life?” or “Does she really know what a clerk is?” or “Alah kesiannye..”. My gut feeling years down the road strongly thinks it is the last one. It was no surprise that after every parent-teacher meeting, my dad will talk to me about my progress (which was usually alright and at most times, above average) and ends our talk with “Akak tak nak kerja lain ke?” Being the naive kid that I was, I never fully understood his question. After all, what was wrong with being a clerk? My mom was a clerk.. and so were many of the aunties in the school and in our family. Of course, at the time, I didn’t realize that it was only natural for parents to want their kids to have a much better occupation, and hence, life than them. Even if it was only a small deal like writing their ambition on a piece of paper.
Over the years, I modified my ambition from wanting to be a teacher (see above reason as being a convenient answer), a lawyer, an accountant and back to being a teacher again. Thing is, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grow up. I was OK with numbers but not so much till I want to live with it for the rest of my life, I enjoyed science but the thought of blood and creepy crawlies totally put me off anything related to the science department. I was never good at drawing or in anything creative/artistic, I like to sing but being ‘alright’ doesn’t really guarantee a singing career (besides, you have to be gorgeous to make it in the entertainment biz). I hated and sucked at sports.. I just liked to stay indoors and curl up with a nice storybook. And as geeky as it sounds, I do enjoy taking notes, highlighting important details and when the Internet became popular, I liked to surf for information. Any information. So by the time I was doing my A-Level, I had an idea of what I wanted to do as a working adult -to sit in my own room, facing a computer and with loads of books or reading materials on my large desk at the side. I didn’t know what kind of job it is but the vision was that in my head. Unfortunately, a few years later fate had it that I was majoring in Accountancy for my first degree. I wasn’t doing that bad in my subjects, but deep down I knew that this wasn’t the job that I had envisioned in mind. But I kept on going with my studies just because I was a sponsored student and knew that if I backed out now, my dad will be so disappointed (i.e. he’ll kill me).
Luckily, I did graduate and obtained a pretty good CGPA at that.. and since I finished my studies half a year earlier than my peers, I had slightly lesser competition if I wanted to apply to one of the big 5 accounting firms (haha.. What a naive thought I had back then!). Anyway, I knew right then, I had a chocie to make -to proceed in accounting or do something totally different. At 23, it sounded pretty risky. I struggled with my own thoughts for days, ignoring my dad who was pestering me to apply for a job asap. One day, I finally mustered all my courage and sat down with him. I told him I didn’t want to be an accountant, that I’ve always found it boring, that the past three years was only enjoyable as it was theoretical but I don’t think it’ll be as enjoyable if applied in real life and that I was sorry for letting him down.
Naturally, he was in shock but he didn’t say much. He kept quite for a long time (that really spooked me out!) until he finally asked me, “Then what do you want to do now?” I know he’d be disappointed even more but I had to let it out and told him that I wasn’t sure. All I know is that I can’t see myself being an accountant for the rest of my life. Then he injected, “You could always teach accounting to others when you want to retire from the practical world. You have all that knowledge. Don’t waste them.” That’s when it hit me. It wasn’t just being an accountant that puts me off.. it was also accounting, the subject itself. I know I could do it if I push myself hard like the past 3 years in uni, but I don’t think I have the heart, or will, to do it anymore. And suddenly, the thought of teaching to others brought in floods of memories of me in primary school. How I scribbled that occupation in the form (or small booklet) and made my dad feel better that I had upgraded from wanting to be a clerk. Besides, teaching isn’t that foreign to me. I’ve taught my cousin and was a tutor to some friends before. I remembered feeling great being able to help others understand their subjects. I could do this! In the next couple of days, I thought deeper. Yeah, why not teach? I know there’s this nasty saying of “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” But seriously, whoever came up with that had no idea that in the real world, there are people who can do but wishes not to! I sat down with my dad again and told him that I’d like to be a teacher. I think it’s a noble occupation and that I’d like to share my knowledge with others. Surprisingly, my dad agreed but gave me a condition. “If you want to teach, try to go a step higher. Teach at the university.”
The rest, they say, is history. After our talk, I drew my career chart all over again. I knew I had to have a Masters before I can qualify to be a lecturer, and of course, being a lecturer isn’t enough without the desire of wanting to do research, so I knew that I had to a PhD too one day. And since I know that accounting was my ‘allergy’, I had to focus on something else, something that I (thought I) excelled better at in my college days.. and so, I chose economics. I had no strong foundations of economics then, just simple basics that I learnt in A-Level and two electives that I took in university. But I willed myself to learn it and somehow, my heart never felt so sure. It’s funny really, being sure of something so uncertain. Almost like a paradox.
So there you have it. A brief account of how I ended up doing what I’m doing today. Of course, the third writing challenge is to actually share with you guys the thing that I struggle with -as in, a present tense. But to be honest, I do struggle, everyday, to be a better lecturer. It is different teaching university kids from younger children. For one, they talk back. Two, some are not afraid to make, or attempt to make, you look stupid in front of the class. So I always have to be prepared, to know my thing, when I teach them. I believe the university is not only a place to gain knowledge but also for one to ‘train’ themselves be better persons -a place where one can prepare themselves for the working world. So I make it a point for my students to be independent in learning, to minimize spoon-feeding (though admittedly, it can be difficult especially in our country where the kids are used to having things fed to them) and above all, I hope to encourage them to have an opinion and to take responsibility for their actions. Not necessarily in academics but in other daily things like coming to class on time, submitting assignments right on the deadline or giving valid excuses when they miss class. I think these things are challenging because at times, even adults forget to be responsible. As for being a researcher, ho-boy, I honestly have not been making any new research since I completed my studies. And now that I’m expecting, it has also slowed me down a bit emotionally and physically. Hopefully I’ll be able to do something fruitful during my 90 days of confinement.
After all, life is a struggle in itself, isn’t it?