It has been almost six years since I sat for my last SPM paper, and it is depressing when I think about it. By this point in life, I was supposed to have two degrees, enough money to buy myself a Datukship, three kids and four wives. Alas, I do not have any of these.
After SPM, with acceptable results and an ability to form sentences in English, I received a scholarship to do Law in the UK; I spent two years doing my A-levels and was later shipped to the UK. I attended law school in the London School of Economics. At university, I learnt very little most of the year, and then a little too much the month before my exams. I would then return to Malaysia over the summer where I would meet up with family and friends and talk about my experiences overseas, about how I grew as an individual and a scholar, about meeting hundreds of brilliant people from around the world, and our intense discussions about philosophy and politics.
I would throw in stories about my voyages to beautiful ancient European cities where I learnt about art, architecture, music, and revolutions. I would lecture my willing listeners about the splendours of liberal western ideas, adding powerful quotes from Kant and Rousseau, criticising the state of ignorance we were in, and trying desperately to make a difference.
The truth was that I had forgotten most of what I studied, although the two quotes I had memorised were extremely useful. The only people I hung out with were Malaysians, and our conversations were usually limited to food, gossip, and movies. I did travel a lot, though if an entrance fee was charged, I found it sufficient to take pictures from the outside as evidence that I was there. I spent practically all my money on food; to me, there was no other point to travelling.
Oh, the hypocrisy.
I do suppose that at the time, I did sincerely think that I had become a new person. I did think that I was enlightened to the truths of the world, and that I knew better than everyone else. I look back now and realise that I was the ignorant one, trying to make a difference with my empty ideas. But I suppose such is life. You are wiser than you were yesterday, and there is always a lot more to learn.
Law as a subject interested me, but not so much as a profession. I wanted business and some experience abroad, so I joined a large accountancy firm in London as an auditor, and remained there today. There is no greater shock than the transition from school to work, and nine months in, I have yet to recover from it. I was used to doing things my way (which normally meant not doing things at all), but now there is a need to conform to certain professional standards, to keep clients happy, to keep managers happy, to meet deadlines, to comb my hair, and wear ties. I never had to work for anyone before and now I seem to be working for everyone.
In a city where everyone else seems to be getting fired, I am grateful to have this job. I have been learning a lot about how large organisations function and how to work with people. But I feel that there is more I can do. Joining an accounting firm was the safe, rational thing to do, and perhaps I did it for precisely those reasons. As clichéd as it sounds, life is short.
Seven years ago I was a small boy in uniform, and that was a very short seven years ago. I have been doing safe rational things my whole life, and it is about time for me to live (I am aware that this is also very clichéd). It is time to take risks and do what satisfies me. Maybe open a small restaurant on an island somewhere, or be an environmental activist. My plan changes every day. My mother calls these plans ‘escapism’. She says that I am unwilling to accept reality. Well, if reality means that I have to sacrifice my happiness, then yes, I would rather escape it. To me, not doing what I want is to accept failure, and that I will not do.
So there you go: my life after SPM. I am more lost than ever. I still do not know what I want to do. I still do not know what I want, but I do not think that is a problem. I am more driven than ever to find my calling, and to learn as much as I can on the way. I may not have achieved any of my plans after SPM, but I have new ones now, and different ones to look forward to.
Rashid Karim graduated from the London School of Economics in 2008. He is currently working far, far away from home, and is desperate to return to open a small restaurant in Penang, or something like that.
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.
Click here for more articles.