Anyone who knows me knows that if I’m ever held at gunpoint, I will never be able to save my own life if I’m asked to say, “please don’t shoot me” in Mandarin. I’ve been a consistent F9-er all the way since I first learned how to write my name in those squiggly characters. My parents splurged on Chinese tuition with negligible effect. I knew the schoolteachers gave up on me because they didn’t even bat an eyelid when they caught me copying during Ting Xie.
It – was – that – effing – bad – I – shit – you – not.
I simply hated the subject. I blamed the teachers. I blamed the damned language. I blamed my heritage. I blamed my parents. At one point, I even wished that my tuition teacher would die a horrible death. I blamed him for my twice-a-week suffering. He died the following year to cancer. Later I learned that I was his only student and that he didn’t want to give up on me even as he was struggling with poor health on the side.
You – have – got – to – be – shitting – me.
No, it’s true. I didn’t make that up. I was just fourteen at that time and I remember the guilt ate me inside out for a whole year. Someone had wasted his life on me and died with nothing to show for. One would imagine if this were a Hollywood tearjerker, the protagonist would turn his life around with a series of montages and aced the exams that year, but it didn’t. I was still failing spectacularly. With the capricious nature of a teenage heart, guilt relented to despair and was threatening to consume my spirit. The only way I knew how to continue living with myself was to built a proverbial pillow fort around me and detached myself from emotions. It was an immature way of handling the situation but alas I was a stubborn teenager who wouldn’t listen to good counsel. Why should I? I was fourteen; I knew everything.
I didn’t just give up on Mandarin. I – gave – up – on – everything.
One night, the ghost of my tuition teacher came to visit me in my sleep. He was in the outfit I always remembered him in: Beige polo tee and brown pants worn too high up to be considered trendy even in afterlife. He pointed to his heart and then to his eyes. Though not a word was spoken, a deluge of emotions cascaded into my mind in a series of disjointed imagery. In that moment, I knew why I had been failing.
I – simply – did – not – believe.
That was it. I simply did not believe that I could do well in the subject. When faced with surmounting odds, I doubted my ability and discounted the efforts of those around me. I felt I’ve studied extremely hard and that there’s not a person in this world who could have understood what I was going through. I simply did not believe passing the Chinese exams was possible until I could somehow see that the results had miraculously caught up with my efforts. I was done trying. I felt too tired to even think about thinking. The only other person who believed in me died in vain. This was a doomed cause. I wanted to see results that I didn’t even believe in the first place; and since the shitty results did not justify the brobdingnagian efforts invested, sub-consciously I had already given up on myself.
Yeah, I deliberately picked that impossible-to-pronounce word for added emphasis.
The ghost faded along with the visions and in its last visage I saw him standing over me, looking despondent, shedding a single teardrop. That was when I woke up from my nightmare crying uncontrollably. In that single teardrop I saw everything that all the words in the world couldn’t have conveyed. An unfamiliar emotion started to stir within me – Conviction: An unshakable, steadfast belief that I will pass my Chinese O Level Exams.
Quite frankly, I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew right then that if I believed in myself and in what I set out to achieve, my subconscious mind would find a way to make things happen.
On the surface, life went on as usual. The difference, however, was from within. There was a distinct change in the way I approached and handled situations. When you believe in something, everything becomes a possibility. You are perfectly comfortable with the idea that there is no perfect plan cast in stone, and that answers and options will present itself along the way. You aren’t concerned with the impossible; impossibility is just an opinion, not a fact. The only thing that matters is putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on solving the issues directly in your way.
Despite the change in mindset, I was still nowhere near the passing standard, not by a long shot, but I wasn’t defeated by my negative self-limiting beliefs either. I allowed my conviction to lead me towards my goal and handled each obstacle as they came. I stopped cheating at Ting Xie.Instead of expending effort bitching about a situation I cannot change, I channeled that energy towards finding innovative ways to overcome my inability to memorize them damned strokes! I tried everything from meditation to interpretive dance. For the first time in my life, I was actually enjoying the process of learning Mandarin!
By the time O levels came around, I had managed to teach myself the language where others have tried and failed, and I think in that final moment as I sat for the paper, I found closure. I let go of the guilt that had hung over me for nearly two years. Maybe the ghost that visited me was just the personification of my guilt manifesting from my subconscious mind. Maybe the visions I had gotten weren’t supernatural in nature. It might have been all the good advise I had been getting but refused to acknowledge and they came pouring out in my darkest hour. Perhaps time has muddled up my memory and a large part of what I can remember now was made up. I don’t know.
I nailed a C6 for the O levels Chinese Exams in my first attempt. A feat so incredulous, my entire class erupted into pandemonium when my result was announced. Teachers and students from the neighbouring classrooms stopped lessons midway to join in the celebration.
No one could explain how I did it. Some felt it was pure luck, some were adamant it must be a glitch in the system. Maybe they were right. As Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist: when you want something badly enough, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Maybe there was a glitch but it doesn’t really matter does it? I passed the Chinese exam just as I believed I would.
There will be times in your life where you will meet people who can't believe in the things they have yet to see. Not all of them want to or can be helped. Don't let these naysayers demoralize you and drag you down to their level. They will call you names but don't take that to heart. It's nothing personal. Be firm in your belief. This is not a technique for everyone. If faith was that easy to come by I wouldn't have to write this article and Bon Jovi wouldn't have had a hit song. But life doesn’t work that way. You can only lead by example and hope that somewhere along the way others find inspiration from you.
Values & Mindset