I messed up my GCE O levels but it’s okay

By January 18, 2020Current, People, The Dive

TL;DR – It’s not the end.

Dear Son,

There are a lot of things about myself that I hope you will grow up to be. I might not have great PSLE results or even O levels result that I can be proud of but I would not want my life written any other way. I might have taken a little longer than my peers to get to where I am today but every step I’ve taken made me who I am. I might not be the most successful person in any room but there are things that I hope you will understand and trust me when you are of age. And that is to be brave.

I messed up my O levels with an L1R5 “high score” of 32 but it does not matter anymore in this day and age. I am not saying that education is not important, I am saying that we are being measured by more than just school results.

Success is no longer just about school results.

The route to success is more than just about studying hard, we have many other ways and options. Learning is not just about what you learn in school but it is about lifelong learning where you continue to learn even after school. Formal education can only prepare us so much for life.

What matters is our attitude towards life itself.

Our world has changed and it is getting more competitive but with that also comes more opportunities. Your grandmother grew up in an era when Singapore was still a developing country with very little variation of job offers. The growth sectors were limited. In fact, were there even any growth sectors at that time? Education meant almost everything to move up the social ladder. She saw the vast difference in employability and earnings between herself and her sisters. And the major difference between them was education.

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Fast forward some decades later when it was my turn to step into society. Life was different. Justin Bieber got famous because of YouTube, people were becoming rich and powerful not just because of education but because of how brave they were. They took the leap of faith in creating something new. They were brave to explore green fields that were never tapped. They did things that were said to be impossible years ago. They dared to dream. They were brave enough to made dreams happen.

The famous dog whisperer that your mother loves watching on TV, he was a nobody. In fact, he was an illegal immigrant when he first went into the USA. He had no education, no money, and speaks no English. Can you imagine me waking up one day, telling your grand-mother that I am going to stop studying and focus on playing with dogs so I can have my own TV program one day? You would probably have never been born. The boomers can never wrap around their heads around these kinds of new career paths. They are unheard of, and in their words, impossible, and have “no future”.

2011 – Running my own events company at the age of 27. It was one of my first few ventures which did not last. Oops.

I started my very first job in an industry which I was not even formally trained in.

All I got then was a diploma in Computer Engineering. It was one of the very few diplomas that I could try to get with my less than ideal O level result. That did not stop me from entering the events and marketing industry. I took a job and was badly underpaid in terms of money but I was compensated with great knowledge. I did all I could to not just serve my customers but also to build a positive reputation within the industry for myself. Was it scary doing something that I was never taught to do? Sure it was. I was in a situation where I knew I had no advantage. I had to play catch up. It was not easy but I enjoy every bit of its outcome.

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One thing that I think I said it one time too many to my students or mentees is, “Success does not come easy. if it is so easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Sure there would be some paths in your life that are safer, more typical, and seem more acceptable to the society. However, why be the rest when you can be the one that stands out from the rest? Take some risks. The fruit of success is sweeter this way, I say.

I would say I am a lucky man. One good thing led to another at work and before I knew it I was starting up various businesses with different respectable people in their own field. I learned a lot from each and every one of these experiences and it taught me many valuable lessons.

That was you in my arms in 2017 when we first published our book together with Uncle Dan.

The year is now 2020.

I am currently 35 years old. I might not be a high achiever like Johnathon Kim who was not just a doctor, but also an American Navy Seal and now he is also a NASA astronaut. I think nobody is like him. But I have my own set of experiences that made me who I am today. The 4 year-old you might not get it, but I hope that the 16-year-old you reading this might.

I might not be Justin Bieber either, but I dare say that I have led a life worth living, a life I can look back and say that I have made some good choices and have no regrets.

Be brave, always.

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Your Father.


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Smith Leong

Author Smith Leong

Social Media Trainer @ NTUC | Youth Mentor | Labour Champion | Photographer | Content Creator |

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