Are you the sort of person who lives to meet others’ expectations of you, or do you simply do whatever you’re passionate about?
I used to teach private tuition in Singapore and I’ve met many typical Asian parents who, out of love, dictate their children’s little lives. One of the parents was a tiger mum who ferried her 13 year old son to and from school daily, decided which co-curriculum activity he could participate in, how many worksheets he had to complete per week and even his nap time. For goodness sake, he was already 13! Regulating nap time? He was an extremely smart kid who attended one of the top schools in Singapore. However he never had any opinion whatsoever of his own. That was a shame, really.
On the contrary, my first and last student (taught her for 8 long years) who wasn’t the brightest, turned out to be such a fine lady. When she first came to my home for tuition, she could barely string together a sentence in proper English. Her head was always bowed low, almost kissing my white study table. Week after week, she was draining my energy because she just wasn’t improving much. I had absolutely no idea what to do with her. I wondered how that poor soul could survive in a competitive society like Singapore. She was bound to lose to the rest.
One evening, I decided to not teach her anything but instead have a chat with her. I asked her what she really wanted to do in life, anything that she was interested in. Much to my surprise, she said she wanted to own an old folks’ home to look after the elderly. Apparently, she was told by others that it wouldn’t be a high paying job and that it involved menial tasks. Worst of all, she was told that since she wasn’t that intelligent, she wouldn’t be able to do it.
I changed my opinion of her from that day on. For a 10 or 11 year old girl to say that she wanted to care for the less fortunate, I reckoned she must have a heart of gold. Although she couldn’t do maths or spell to save her life, I told her she shouldn’t give up on owning her own old folks’ home. I then had a chat with her parents (since I didn’t know if they knew about her dream). Deep down within, I think they were proud of their daughter.
She then went on to join St John Ambulance Singapore as a co-curriculum activity in secondary school. That changed her life dramatically and I witnessed with my own eyes how that transformed her into who she is today. She climbed through the ranks (at times at the expense of her academic results!) and became more confident. Occasionally, I found myself speaking up for her to her parents who didn’t want her grades to suffer. As a tutor, I guess I should have focused on producing results. However, I thought “Why stop a girl who dares follow her dreams from achieving her goal just because she doesn’t live up to the norms of what society expects of her?”
She went on to get a diploma in Nursing and is now working as a nurse in the A&E department of a public hospital in Singapore. The job is tough, doesn’t pay her well, and can get stressful. However, she seems to be enjoying it. She’s passionate about it (although I wish she would save the graphic details about injuries when I’m eating next time!). Even though she still calls me “lao shi” (Chinese for teacher), I think she’s more of the role model who I should look up to. This young lady had a dream and she worked hard towards achieving it because she’s passionate about helping others.