Work hard? Me? But I’m Gifted!

2014 summary: Used to be a minimum-effort student who was proud of how little effort I needed to get by. Now wish I had learnt to work hard instead.

I got full marks for pretty much everything before I got into the GEP, and I spent the first 20 years of my life with absolutely no sense of the value of hard work. I went to my exams and got by without studying, I played in a band that got by without practicing, I somehow managed to sustained a relationship and multiple friendships without any real conscious effort. I didn’t study for my O levels- I spent the time leading up to my O’s watching Friends. (On retrospect, I think spent the time leading up to my PSLEs playing basketball!) I retained a year in JC- (I wonder how many GEP students went on to retain in JC?). Throughout my entire JC life I only submitted about 5 to 10% of my tutorials, half of which were copied. I used to be proud of that. Really.

In a sense, then, I’ve been mediocre all this while because I never really saw a reason to be anything more, when I already received all the validation that I wanted without any effort. Even when I did below-average in JC, simply hearing my teachers go “you’re so smart, you’re able to grasp ideas and concepts before anyone else, if you only-” was good enough for me. “I’m awesome,” I thought. “I don’t need to jump through anybody’s hoops to feel good about myself.”

I often couldn’t be bothered to do anything because I’d always felt like I’d transcended the need to. I honestly didn’t feel like I needed a prestigious education or qualifications to validate my existence. I knew that I had worth, and immense unrealised potential, and that was good enough for me. I was and still am cerebrally quicker than most people I know- not the absolute quickest, but good enough to get me by. I’m expressive with my words, I can communicate my thoughts and ideas fairly effectively, I’m comfortable in all sorts of environments- especially new ones, where everyone starts from scratch. I have a fertile, flexible and agile mind. That is the source of my confidence. I am unfazed by mistakes and failures. From one perspective I could be described as stubbornly arrogant, but from another you could say that I’m a big picture kind of person, and my picture’s a lot bigger than most people’s.

I don’t believe or care for the idea of natural genius or talent. If it exists, it does, but it’s rare and unlikely and shouldn’t affect most of us. If you asked me ten years ago, “Visa, why are you so smart?” I’d shrug and smile and say, “I don’t know.” If you ask me now, I’d say “Me, smart? I don’t really think so! Perhaps I’m just more well-read, and spend more time and energy thinking in general. I’ve had lots of practice, that’s all. You would be just as “smart” if not “smarter” if you made a conscious and sustained effort, I’m sure!” And I would be completely sincere about it.

My mind is always wandering- and I think it might even have been inevitable that it eventually turned on itself, perhaps out of pure intellectual curiosity, but more likely as a response to a growing accumulation of ideas and knowledge- about self-knowledge, success, self-worth, discipline, self-deceit, philosophy and other fun stuff. I had to turn my criticism on myself eventually. What followed wasn’t very pretty, but it was empowering. What I ultimately distilled from it was something simple, but true- potential counts for nothing, and accomplishment counts for (almost) everything. The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is often simply that successful people Do things, and get things Done. On hindsight, I never really got much done with my life at all. And I realised, intuitively, that that didn’t satisfy me. I didn’t want to be remembered by posterity as “the really intelligent and witty and fun guy who never accomplished much.” That’s not enough for me anymore.

My life’s work lies ahead of me, and I intend to pursue it with intense drive and determination. I am consciously choosing not to define it just yet, but I have a clear vague idea. (There are such things as clear vague ideas.) I am going to work hard, harder than I’ve ever worked before, and push myself to my limits- if they even exist, because I’ve never encountered them before.