Life Lessons

7 Things I Wish They Taught us in School

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“Is this going to come in the exam?”

It’s a famous question the answer to which usually cues to whether somebody nods on or nods off.

There’s a lot of pressure on students nowadays to perform well academically and return home with perfect scores so they could get into good colleges. However, good degrees no longer guarantee great jobs, and great jobs no longer guarantee job security. Having experienced both the academic and corporate world, it’s easy to put together a list of necessary life lessons school syllabi tend to overlook;

7) Failing is good. To some extent. The academic system conditions us to hate red crosses on our papers so we try hard to stay within our comfort zone without attempting new things lest we fail in them. This realization hit me once during an acrylic painting class. We started with the background – a twilight scene – and then were instructed to be creative and draw whatever it was we were comfortable with. I wanted to copy my friend’s swan but stopped because I was too scared to ruin the whole painting so I ended up painting grass as it was well within my comfort zone. The world is filled with mottos such as “Fail Forward” for a reason. While failure is never fun, it’s sometimes necessary as a teaching tool. Of course, JK Rolwing says it best,

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” Tweet this

5) Ask a lot of questions. If you’ve been in a classroom setting then you’ve probably heard someone ask a question that others sniggered over. Maybe you were the one asking or the one sniggering. However, asking questions is another life skill that people need to master because how else would we learn?

6) Break a few rules. Have you ever been rebuked for coloring outside the lines? Innovators go against the norm when it comes to their work. If Steve Jobs had gone with the norm, we’d still be using phones that have a keypad. Breaking a few rules can be uncomfortable, disastrous, but it can also teach you a couple of lessons and it can give you a good story to tell. Just because I’m counting down doesn’t mean that the numbers need to be in order.

4) Daydream. During classes, teachers tend to pick on the daydreamers, with the question,

“Am I boring you?”

Now you can have a science-backed comeback.

“No, I’m just doing my best creative work.”

In a discussion about his book Imagine, Jonah Lehrer discusses the importance of dedicated daydreaming – letting your mind wander, while maintaining enough awareness to recognize insights as they come.

3) P.E. is not just a class. I hated Physical Education (P.E.) in school. I spent it mostly sitting down. Apparently sitting is the new smoking. It’s well known that walking for even thirty minutes every day can tremendously improve one’s health in the long-term, but physical activity is also important for the brain as it boosts memory and thinking skills.

2) It’s not about the grade. Okay, so maybe the grade is an important aspect of one’s academic life because higher education depends on it. But grades are not the be-all and end-all of school. What it is about is life-long learning and exercising your creative and cognitive skills to solve real life problems. Though that sentence might sound like it came from a glossy brochure, do ask yourself everyday – even if you’re out of school – ,

“What did I learn today that I didn’t know yesterday?”

“Am I thinking for myself or just acting as an echoing chamber?”

“Did I exercise my creativity?”

1) Not all dreams come with a syllabus. As students we’re conditioned to ‘stick to the syllabus’, but the well-defined syllabus of “Go to school, get one job and retire at 65” is outdated. The work landscape is changing so rapidly, careers are no longer linear; career changes – aka pivoting – have become the norm. There’s a whole new movement on the quarter-life crisis. The place to start is to know yourself, know where you are (A), know where you want to be (B), and find your path from A to B.

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7 Tips to Make Life After Graduation Awesome

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Right towards the end of any college semester, an underlying feeling of anxiety starts to wave its way under the feet of graduating students. You learn never to ask one of those what they’re planning to do after graduation…of course, despite knowing you shouldn’t do it, you end up doing it anyway. The typical answers are, “Get a job”, “Go to Grad School” and “Get married”.

While there’s nothing wrong with those options, they hint at something that’s very typical of us millennials — we like structure. We leave a structured system just to jump back into another structured system. We need runway edge lights in our lives, and that’s the way we’ve been raised. So until we get that job or get accepted into that grad school or get a suitable proposal on, we spend the nights playing PS3, we sleep in late and we fight with the family members in whose basement we live.

Get a job. Go to grad school. Get married.

There’s only a slight problem with these options. The only slight problem is it’s what most new graduates do, and if you want to know where you stand,China alone is expected to spew out 7.2 million graduates into the market. And that’s just one country. So if you’re graduating soon you’re just a droplet in a very wide ocean.

So what should you do to stand out and become awesome?

1. Wake up. A loafer’s life might be pretty appealing, but until you’re making one million dollars in your sleep, you can’t be a loafer just yet. Just because you don’t have school anymore doesn’t mean you should be glued to your bed. And since the automatic thing is to find yourself a new structure trough job or grad school, you would need to do some work like throwing your CV everywhere, and checking for companies on line in search for talent like yours. And for that, you really need to wake up – and get out of bed.

2. Find out what your unique gifts are. This transitory stage is the perfect time is to get to know yourself; your strengths, your weaknesses, your passions…basically, everything I’ve outlined before here, here and here.

3. Build your skill set and add value to the world around you (even when you’re not getting paid). It’s very hard for us to do something unless we’re getting something in return. Think of the feedback loop that exists when we go to school. We study and then the grades we get at the end of the semester closes the loop. We get into a job, then we get paid and that closes the feedback loop. But in a structure-less system, we have to close the feedback loop yourself since (surprise!) there’s no structure. So the best question to ask yourself every night is, “Am I better today than I was yesterday?” And the main areas you might want to focus on are; intellectual, spiritual, mental and social.

If you’re gaining so much weight and can feel your neurons fizzling away then you’ve got an obvious problem. Whether you watch inspirational TED talks or enroll in an online Coursera course, do not waste your transition period. And I say this because a time will come when you wish you had the energy and the time to actually pursue the things you want to pursue but because your time gets sold for money and by the time you return to your apartment your brain’s too fried to focus on anything but cat videos…make the best use of your post-commencement-ceremony-before-first-job period. 

And you never know. You might end up stumbling on a million dollar idea (read the story behind Whatever you do, with the technological advances, you have more opportunities now than before to tap into a hidden market.

4. Get a menial job. So that Fortune 500 company hasn’t called you back for that interview yet? What about helping your uncle deliver milk to his customers. Many university graduates look down at menial jobs, and of course let’s not even start talking about the social implications…”He got a Master’s degree and decided to work as a farmer?” But you know what, if you really think about it farming is a basic life skill and it does build your character by teaching you patience so it can’t be that bad. 

5. Read, read, and read some more. Not just comic books. Not just fiction. Read biographies and other nonfiction books. Universities are supposed to instill in us a love for life-long learning but between the eight o’clock powerpoint slide lectures and heavy textbooks, that becomes quite challenging. But pick up a book. Your brain cells will thank you for it.

6. Travel. This is not always possible because of the $$$ limitations. However, if you have a sense of adventure, you can google traveling hacks and plan for a trip without hurting your wallet too much. If you’re like me and lack that sense of adventure, then you can explore the area you already live in. Travel before you’re sucked into a job that binds you to a desk for a third of a day, inspires you to glue yourself to a couch the second third of the day, and puts you to sleep for the rest of the day.

7. Give back to society. Let’s take some time to appreciate the gift of education that has been bestowed upon us. As we speak, the war in Syria is keeping 2 million children out of school. It’s mind-boggling to multiply that by the number of troubled and poor countries where children just can’t afford to go to school. It’s quite heartbreaking to think that while the internet has made knowledge accessible…its access still doesn’t reach everybody. So give back to society, in whatever little way you can think of.

Whatever you do, make sure you’re sharing with the world your unique gifts, make sure you are adding value to the people around you, and work on paving your own path and remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson,

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Share on Twitter

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Should you Follow Your Passion or Not

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The good thing about living in our age is that the internet is filled with career advice. The bad thing about living in our age is that the internet is filled with contradicting career advice.

The economic crisis happened the year I graduated, which meant I didn’t have to look far and wide to discover that “Go to school, get into a good university, get a good job and you’re set for life” no longer applied. All I had to do was go to work one day and see the empty desks around me. Apparently our peers in the Western world had discovered that a bit earlier but living in the Middle East, someone seemed to have missed the memo. 

So at some point in your life, it’s 6abee3i jiddan (natural) to type into google, “I hate my job wh…” and google totally gets you. The trick is to somehow find your way through the 264,000,000 results that come up.


Some people will tell you to follow your passion, and again, if you live in the part of the world where you’re branded an engineer or a doctor from the day you’re born, then there’s a high chance your passion is very much different from what you’ve studied. However, the main risk connected with following your passion is you’ll be broke — for a very, very long time — and following your passion — or doing anything in fact — is pretty difficult when you’re broke and hungry.

“Following your passion – or doing anything in fact – is pretty difficult when you’re broke and hungry.” Tweet this

Then Cal Newport entered the scene with his message, “Why ‘Following your passion’ is bad advice,” in his book So Good they Can’t Ignore YouHis advice focuses on how passion comes after working really, really hard on something, and being really good at it.

Personally, I support the second message, because of a few truths:

  1. Not everybody knows what their passion is
  2. The world might not be willing to pay you for your passion

So let’s say you’re really passionate about counting baby coconuts. The most that someone might pay you for counting coconuts is a free baby coconut drink. But the world might not be ready for your counting-coconut-services, so following your passion happens to be really really really bad advice.

So let’s say you’re one of those people who doesn’t know what their passion is.It’s very easy to read all this stuff on the internet and get pretty pumped up about quitting your job and hitchhiking around the globe to discover what your passion is. It’s easy theoretically, but pretty hard practically (read $$$$).

But here’s one thing to know about those successful ‘follow your passion’ stories on the internet. To each one, there are probably five failure stories that don’t get reported.

So before quitting your job, find out exactly what’s bothering you. You might not be having a passion crisis. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you get intellectually challenged at your job?
  2. Are you building your skill set?
  3. Do you enter a state of flow while you’re working?
  4. Is the world ready to pay you for your services?

If the first three answers are no, then those might be your reasons for ‘hating your job’ not that you’re not passionate about it. Maybe if you find something else in the field that intellectually challenges you then you might throw those ‘Malaysia, truly Asia’ brochures out the window.

If you do know what your passion is, and really want to make money out of it, then work at monetizing it before you quit your day job. Ask the world if they are ready to pay for it and don’t be like that coconut-counter.

The trick is whatever you do, do not make rash emotional decisions based on one bad day at work. Even people who follow their passions will tell you it’s not always good in the ‘Living My Dream’ world. There are difficult clients, and tasks they hate doing but have to do it anyway. And if you’re not really convinced, read Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. He definitely does a better job convincing than I do.

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Unearthing Your Values

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So in the previous post, we spoke about defining our personal values so today we’re going to delve deeper into the topic. To figure out our personal values we need to answer the cliched question of who we were before the world told us who we should be? And that’s not easy. It requires taking a very deep look into our lives, rummaging through the closets in search of any hidden skeletons, opening doors we’d rather pretend they never existed. We’d need to look deep and search for two things in particular; the crossroads and the non-negotiables.

The crossroads 

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
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The crossroads are those life-altering moments where we chose one road instead of another. While there might be many crossroads in our lives-and some might be major mistakes we wish we could undo-there are others that felt right the moment we were taking that first step. Maybe society tried to tell us we were crazy to make the choice we did, and yet we knew deep in our hearts it was the right choice, and eventually things turned out all right. So look at those moments and try to unearth the values driving those decisions.

The non-negotiables

These are the little rules and regulations we’ve set for ourselves in our work, life, relationships…While some of them might be inherited from society and need to be modified or upgraded, there are some that resonate with our very cores. d regulations. We might not have explicitly written them down, but we have them lying somewhere in the back of our minds.

Maybe they sound something like,

“People come before things.”

“Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

And most importantly, “Thou shall eat a banana every day of your life.

The non-negotiables usually direct you towards the values you most likely embody, and if they don’t – like the banana one – maybe they need to be removed from the list.

Some people might want to do this hunting-for-personal-values with a friend or a family member, and that’s actually good as it helps create harmony between friends and family. However a couple of things that need to be noted are:

1) Your personal values must be yours, not theirs. Don’t put something on your list just because it’s on theirs. Also back every value with a personal story to show it’s something you care about.

2) Because it’s deeply personal, and it might require you to open up the deepest part of your soul, and be vulnerable with somebody else, don’t just trust anybody with this exercise. As Brene Brown advises, “Only share your stories with the people who earned the right to listen to them.”

I remember when I first heard that line, it baffled me. I wondered, “How does somebody earn the right to listen to your stories?”

After perusing a lot of Brene’s work, I came to realize the answer is simply, “Look at how they react to your not-so-important stories at first. If they react with judgement, sarcasm and apathy, then they probably do not deserve to listen to your deeper stories. The reaction you’re looking for from others is usually empathy; someone telling you, I have been in your shoes – or I can imaging being in your shoes – and I totally understand.”

Then there are others who might do this exercise alone using the writer’s best friend and worse enemy; a blank page. You might start unearthing your values using prompts such as answering the following questions:

  1. What did you enjoy doing as a child?
  2. Describe a person you really admire. Why do you admire them? What qualities do they exhibit?
  3. If you went to Hogwarts, which house would you have found yourself in and why? Alternatively, if you were in the fictional world of Divergent, which faction would you have been in?

Whether you’re doing this exercise alone or with a friend, the steps are simple;

    1. List down your value  – e.g. kindness 
    2. Explain why it’s important for you –e.g if people were more kind, the world would be a better place so I want to start with myself
    3. Back it up with experiences from your life that show you embodying the value – e.g. the last time I showed kindness was when I helped that person with something
    4. Brainstorm ways of exercising the value everyday – e.g. get ideas of doing kindness from websites like

Feel free to share your personal values in the comments section below. Like this article? Share it with your friends on Facebook

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