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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Tips on Building Self-Confidence

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I know I haven’t been blogging much lately, but it’s just that I’ve been trying to live offline more than online this year, adding new experiences to my list, and opting to meet people face-to-face instead of hiding behind usernames and passwords. But it’s quite interesting how during my visit to Kenya this year, I met a lot of people who brought up my blog over and over again discussing possible topics I could write about.

So today I’m going to address one of those topics. One of my closest friends told me that her problem in life was with self-confidence. She said she didn’t even have the self-confidence to talk to customer service people on the phone, and the topic made me laugh because if I had enough self-confidence in my life, I’m not so sure I would have ever become a writer. It was because I found it difficult to connect with people and express myself that actually made me pick up a pen as a child.  So how was I to teach her on self-confidence, when I obviously needed a few lessons in that area myself?

But I’ll try.

My advice to her was to take risks and expose yourself to an experience over and over again regardless of how you feel about it. For instance, I personally have an issue talking to customer service myself, and until recently, I used to delegate that task every chance I got. But picking up the phone to talk to them, I realized that we avoid tasks like that because we dread we’d sound so stupid in front of these people, or we’re scared they’re going to judge us. And I suppose many people in my community would relate to that, because we grew up listening to people being judged all the time. Dialogues got dissected, behaviors got misinterpreted, lifestyles got judged…it was no wonder we were always scared of making a wrong move lest we step on a verbal land mine.

But it gets easier when you tell yourself to accept that feeling as normal, whether it is the fear of being judged or being seen as stupid, or deaf (which sometimes happens when you can’t understand what that customer service woman is actually saying). Accept that feeling uncomfortable is normal, and accept that you’re not perfect, so there’s no point in pretending to be perfect all the time.

Accept that you will make mistakes and you will be judged so be prepared for it and don’t sweat it. Whatever it is, you don’t have to lose sleep over it. People make mistakes. People learn from their mistakes. People move on. Again, taking into consideration our society, unfortunately, the communal memory of our people can astound you. You’ll hear people recalling someone else’s mistakes decades after they’ve made them.Why? In the decades you’ve been holding on to a grudge on whoever it was, Pluto got demoted so it’s no longer a planet, Japan’s coast moved 8 feet after the 2011 earthquake and over 30 new countries came into being (since 1990 at least). My point is, the world changes, and so do people. So cut others some slack.

 Empower yourself with knowledge and be more competent. The main thing that makes us lose self-confidence is when we don’t know. In some scenarios we don’t know what to say, how to behave, how the other person will perceive what we say. Not knowing makes us think, “Oh God, they’re going to think I’m so stupid.” So in order to negate this, learn. Sometimes learning is simply done by spending time with a self-confident person and seeing how they do it, how they deal with different scenarios.

Practice in low-risk scenarios. This is very useful advice for people who struggle with public speaking. To some, speaking in public can be quite a terrifying experience, especially when the audience consists of high-calibre people in your field. Just the idea of presenting something can make you sick to the stomach. So step number one is to know your stuff (previous point), and step number two is practice in front of your friends and family; people who won’t judge you so much and exist in your life to be supportive. Of course, shifting from a low-risk environment to a high-risk one is not going to be easy, but at least with practice you manage certain aspects like your nerves, or how you present the material…

Fake it until you make it. This deals with your body language. I personally struggle with this because I tend to act small, disappear into the wall every chance I get. But people who fake self-confidence feel that self-doubt rise inside them and yet they never fail to stride through the room, walk tall and speak loudly even if they knew that they’re not so sure about what they’re saying and even if they knew you knew they’re not sure about what they’re saying.

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Start with a list

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So a blogger friend of mine sent me a message the other day saying, “I’ve lost my writing mojo.”

I replied back with, “You’re not the only one,” considering I haven’t been as consistent on my blog as I usually am.

But then she said she had to write an important report and couldn’t even get that done. So my suggestion was to start with a list. Just bullet points. Incomplete sentences. Grammarless English. Or Sheng.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of lists. Whether you’re trying to break out of writer’s block or a prolonged procrastination period, lists usually do the trick because they’re so simple.  My personal favorite list is one I saw spreading on social media. It fools you into thinking you’re so productive.



Joking aside, there’s no rule of where to write your list or how it should look like. You may write it on a post-it note and stick it on your laptop screen to increase its visibility (though that doesn’t always work because your mind gets trained to ignore it).

However, the single best advice I’ve heard about daily to-do lists is “Limit your to-do list to three tasks.” No less, no more. Having more than three items on your list can be a bit overwhelming especially when the tasks take hours. Also, finishing the day without crossing out everything on the list makes your mind think it’s okay to put off today’s work until tomorrow and that enables the procrastinator in you.

So what type of lists are you used to writing? Leave your comments below and feel free to share.

What To Do With Rejection Slips?

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So someone I know is waiting for a response from some place, and they said that if it came back with “Rejected” stamped all over it, they’ll laminate it for the future. I found the idea amusing and remembered a piece I read where the writer kept a “Failure Journal”. They wrote in it whenever they got a rejection with a “Wuhooo! I got rejected again!” Maybe they consider each rejection as a hurdle to jump over as they sprint towards their goal, so the more rejections they get, the closer they are to achieving their goal.

Rejection may come in many forms; termination letters, divorce papers, “I’m sorry to inform you” written on legal paper or drafted in an email. But what if these papers do not signify the end of something but also the beginning of someone new. Because we are human beings, rejection stumps us. How can those people refuse us when we are so “supposedly” so great? But as much as it stumps us, it humbles us, makes us rethink of what we are doing, and helps us take inventory of what we have.

The problem with us is when we look at successful people, we see the end results and may think that they’ve got it easy. However, we are not always privy to the hurdles they had to jump over, to the blood, sweat and tears their successes cost. We don’t usually see the hurdles they’ve had to jump over, let alone the stumbling, off-balance landing and other mishaps.

I am more poetic when it comes to rejection slips. I personally imagine every rejection letter to represent a seam between two square patches so that the more rejections you get, the bigger the imaginary patchwork cloth. I think if I could sew I would actually like to physically make something like that to have a physical canvas of my own failures.

In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “By the time I was fourteen … the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”

Michael Jordon said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

So don’t be stumped. Just keep on working!