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I am not going to talk about how I fared in my SPM examinations, how I qualified for the national levels in swimming, or how I obtained a scholarship from the Central Bank of Malaysia. Instead, I shall talk about a failure; one that I believe is most humbling.
I vividly remember the day failure came knocking. Even as I anticipated April 1, 2008 along with millions of other US university admission applicants, I did not expect it to be one of the most disappointing days of my life. When the time finally came, I nervously logged in to the decision websites of the respective universities to which I had applied. What I saw was rejection after rejection.
By the time I had reviewed the last of those decision pages, it was clear that no school had accepted me. It was then that I finally broke into tears. Watching my peers scream in joy about their acceptance into college was even more disheartening. Everything crumbled right before me. I was in despair.
However, I was fortunate to gain admission to the university I am currently enrolled in, but only after I spent weeks lingering anxiously on the waiting list. To be completely honest, it was not my top choice – in fact, it was my last – but beggars cannot be choosers, so I made do with the hand I was dealt.
And when you are out of options, you make do with what you have. I was not going to let a downfall hinder my goal to achieve the best possible college education I had always hoped for. I talked incessantly about getting a liberal arts education, and that was what I was going to get. I challenged myself with courses I thought were most appealing: Political Science, Economics, and Mathematics. I never stopped participating in extracurricular activities.
I travelled, attended social events, and managed to do everything I initially that had rejected me. Unfortunately, I am still unable to be thankful for what I went through on April 1, 2008. Sometimes I toss and turn in bed, thinking about life in the dormitory of another college that I had dreamt of attending. I constantly sigh in regret when thinking about the road I was never given an opportunity to traverse.
However, I have plenty to be thankful for. For one, I am satisfied with the holistic education I am currently pursuing. I am so grateful to be blessed with new friends who are willing to cherish my highest highs and endure my lowest lows. Most importantly, I look back and realise that I am actually very pleased with the person I have become thus far – a student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
I now share this with you because failure is the most relevant aspect in our race to get into the top-ranked universities, the most successful careers, or the best grades in school. The biggest failure is to not acknowledge the reality that you can be let down in many instances. The real answer to the question “What’s after SPM?” is: moving on despite the failures.
Prepare for the best and the worst. Perhaps you might be lucky enough to be offered three scholarships, or end up disappointed like the many well-qualified friends I know. You might also choose to put studying on hold and start working in a bank, or even at a car repair workshop.
Whatever your options may be, I implore you to make do with what you have. If you fail to obtain funding to study abroad and still want to further your education, study locally at our many prestigious universities. If you realise that you are most passionate about a field that many have not chosen (and sometimes look down upon), I urge you to pursue it anyway. If you choose to work immediately after you graduate from school, think of it as a head start.
And if you fail at something every once in a while, maybe write an essay about it, and laugh aloud when you are done.
Fu Han Liang is a sophomore at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, majoring in Business and minoring in Political Science, and possibly English! He is very passionate about international voluntary work, swimming, and writing. ‘To Fail’ was written as a reminder to himself and a note to others that we can fail. And when we do, we move forward.
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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