Photo credit : Sir Mildred Pierce | Flickr
I have always been averse to conforming to conventions and norms, even if I am not innately rebellious. I do not fancy emulating something just because everyone else does – at least, not without first understanding how and why it was propelled to such stature. Many a time, when I was hard-pressed between making a safe conventional choice or taking my chances on what I yearned for, I would be predisposed to the latter.
Indeed, I have not quite trailed the typical path. I spent the better part of my formative life as a minority in the small town of Sitiawan, Perak. I am a kindergarten dropout thanks to my nanny, with whom I colluded. My parents found out after my teacher complained that I had been playing truant. However, there was a valid justification; it was boring to learn the alphabets when I could already read a book. So we struck a deal: I dropped out from the kindergarten to be home tutored after my mother finished work at school.
Another unpopular decision was when I declined an offer from a premier my dad wanted me to accept it, whilst my mom stood on the contrary. Fortunately, we were governed by simple yet profound household rules: you are free to choose, but others are equally free to influence your thought process through reasoned discussions. However, once you have decided, you must assume full responsibility of your choice, action, and any ensuing consequences. My parents made their case but I knew what I wanted – diversity with quality education. So I decided to stay in my alma mater, Methodist ACS School.
Despite my decisiveness, the dilemma after SPM remained intense because any ‘mistake’ would have too high an opportunity cost on my future. As a science student with straight A1’s, the community’s perceived logical direction for me was to read medicine in the UK and spend the rest of my life in the service of the weak, the ill, and the dying. Do not get me wrong – serving the community is undoubtedly noble, but it is not the monopoly of medical professionals. There are many career tracks that provide one with ample opportunities to do the same, if not more.
More importantly, it was not what I wanted to do. I turned down what many considered a prized opportunity, and joined the MoE Science Matriculation Programme instead. However, it did not take me long to realize that it was Law that could speak to my inquisitive mind and heart. And it was not just the Common Law – I was extremely curious about the Shariah, given what I had heard of it.
However, I wanted to form an opinion about it from my own investigations, not from the stereotypes of a distorted prism. Thus, I left the programme for the International Islamic University of Malaysia where I had every opportunity to examine, compare, and integrate the Common Law with the Shariah in all dimensions.
I enjoyed my days at the university, graduated, and was admitted to the Bar after completing pupillage at Skrine. Yet, I longed to quench my thirst for knowledge and rerouted myself to Harvard Law School for Master of Laws. Interestingly, the beauty of knowledge lies in its dynamic nature. Much can be discovered outside the classroom through observations, interactions, and experimentations.
Hence, during the US Presidential Primaries, I seized every occasion to campaign and attend rallies. I remember weathering the blistering cold in New Hampshire and knocking from door to door to distribute literature, explain how the healthcare system would be fixed, and convince them on why they should vote.
As a Fulbright scholar, I benefited from a brief stay with my foster family in Albuquerque, away from the seemingly perfect life in Boston. Similarly, when I was in the IIUM, rigorous debating and mooting activities blew my mind away.
I finally returned home to honour my scholarship obligation with Khazanah and ended up working in investment, not law. At first, everything was alien, and sometimes frustrating. Nonetheless, when I looked beyond the surface, I realised that there is a striking similarity between the two: fundamentally, both require strong analytical and inquisitive construct. If you have this, you will be versatile for any transition in your career. The rest, you will learn on the job.
In hindsight, I have no regrets with the decisions I have made, as they are humbling yet enriching. In particular, I would like to share two key lessons. First, pursue your dreams and take full responsibility for your choices. Second, selecting the ‘right’ career is important, but it is even more important to arm yourself with an inquisitive mind that will take you through the unpredictable turns in life. In this context, perhaps curiosity did not kill the cat after all.
Nani Abdul Rahman read Law at Harvard University and International Islamic University of Malaysia. She’s proud to be a neo nerd, political junkie, and cat aficionado.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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