“the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

(image credits to Peter Gowesky)

13th march, 2014:

it’s been exactly ten days since I’ve received my ‘A’ Level results. ten days of wondering where I should go, what I should really immerse myself in for the rest of my life, and I’m regretting some of the choices I made two years ago.

by now, my grades probably aren’t a secret to most people within my social circles— and why should they be? I’m rather content with them— and I’ve been able to accept them with half (or less of) a heavy heart. given the circumstances of which I’d taken my exams, I can’t say I am unhappy and deserve to complain. allow me to digress:
after entering junior college, I’ve questioned myself on multiple occasions and found that I didn’t really like where I was, but couldn’t find any place better. I lost all semblance of passion I had for science, and studying in general. maybe it was the feeling of greater freedom, or the feeling of adapting to a new environment, or something else altogether. either way, I just couldn’t be bothered to study any more.

things picked up a little in my second year, and I found myself having dreams of being left in the gutter and having a bleak future. maybe that was the trigger I needed to set things off and get my gears going. but that’s besides the point.

studying henceforth was done not with a sincere interest in learning, but with the idea of “I don’t want to be a failure; I’m meant for better things, and I need to get through this” and dragged my feet for the remaining six months before the big ‘A’. studying was a half-assed attempt for me to finally end the twelfth year of mandatory education with a bang.

reflecting on this made me feel bad for the past ten days. I felt terrible and undeserving of the grades I’d gotten, because others had truly worked their butts off hoping for miracles to happen and all I did was ‘get by’.

but I guess it’s enough with the circumlocution— there’s probably only one question on your mind and I guess I’ll answer it— I’d attained a mixture of ‘A’s and ‘B’s, along with one ‘D’. pretty decent for someone who expected straight ‘E’s for the actual exams. I was truly content with what I’d gotten, until those around me decided to start comparing their grades or ask me what I’d gotten.

everyone’s reaction to the ‘D’ grade was the same— what’s with the great disparity between your other subjects and this? aren’t you one of those smart asses who usually do well for everything?

…well that left a bitter taste in my mouth. but life goes on.

so I went back to work and had a few discussions with my bosses, and in these discussions an extremely interesting conclusion was reached:
“(Clarissa) I really think you’re more of a humanities person.”

and now I really had something to ponder over.

I was brought back to my scared, impish self two years ago— standing in line and waiting to submit my choice of my subject combination. I remember mentally beating myself up whilst choosing my subject combination and probably made one of the worst decisions of my academic life.

so, I’m set on taking four H2s and will definitely take chemistry, math, and english literature. what should my last H2 be? should I choose H2 geography or H2 physics? I kind of really like geography but physics is more practical to take. what should I do?

today, I am ashamed to say that I followed my head instead of my heart— I chose the more practical thing simply because it was practical.
it didn’t help that I was rather limited in my choices— I did seven ‘O’ levels while others around me probably did nine or ten and were spoilt for choice, I didn’t meet the cut for the subjects I really wanted to take (i.e. english language and linguistics), AND I’d missed the evaluation test for knowledge and inquiry— and wasn’t exactly very open to doing something new like history or (heaven forbid) economics. therefore, physics was my number one choice…

…and how I hated it.

I hated physics with a burning passion rivalled only by the white hot intensity of the sun. I hated how there were so many ridiculous formulas that didn’t even seem to make sense. I hated the ridiculous theories and terminologies (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle/ electrons and ‘holes’/ Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics… say what?) and how I didn’t manage to catch ANY of it when I tried to (and well it snowballed), and worst of all, my hatred for the subject made me hate even the teacher(s), who warranted no such ill treatment or feelings on my part. I hated anything and everything remotely related to physics, and drifted off into my dream world of essays and philosophical arguments during physics lessons. (oh how I wished I took KI. the subject AND people seemed so much cooler.)

(from that lovely anecdote I shared, it’s probably glaringly obvious which subject I’d attained a ‘D’ grade in, eh?)

I guess my gloomy disposition on being a physics student influenced my work and study ethic— from hating the study of one subject, I began to hate studying in general and hence the terrible attitudes and actions described earlier on. funny how everything comes full circle, no?

looking back, I’d realised that this was the start of all the bad decisions I’d made in junior college pertaining to academic matters. the result was a rippling/domino effect which caused the bad things to snowball and culminate with the bad grade received at the ‘A’ Levels. only heaven knows what was running through my head when I decided to downgrade H2 literature in english even though the school recommended that I downgrade physics instead. I dropped the (other) subject I loved, in order to make do with a subject I could barely tolerate, all for practicality’s sake.

these series of incidents taught me one important thing: I have to make the right choices or I will really regret the wrong ones in the future. not to say that I would’ve done well if I’d decided to take geography or art instead of physics, but to know that the possibility is there will always hurt. nobody likes the ‘what if?’s and I am no different.

I’ve also realised that we cannot limit ourselves simply because of the circumstances we have found ourselves in. my number one mistake was in choosing something I did not like, but my number two mistake was in letting myself be controlled by my circumstances instead of chiseling my own path and creating new circumstances to find myself in. constant post-results introspection and berating from my bosses made me realise that I cannot blame my circumstances forever, and that if opportunities aren’t exactly available, I have to make them available.

undergraduate studies begin in August and I welcome them with open arms. however, I’m extremely wary of the academic choices I make this time round and probably will give everything some sincere thought, and time, before really coming to decisions. life is way too short to make bad decisions and accede to others’ perceptions of practicality and success instead of following one’s own beliefs.

I am my own person, and life is waiting. I’m not going to twist myself to fit others’ ideals of ‘successful’ and ‘practical’ again. it is too tiring and entirely not worth it in the end.

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”
― Letter to Mercy Warren (1789), Martha Washington

2 thoughts on ““the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

  1. Allow me to share some insights, Clarissa.

    One thing I learnt about life is that no matter how hard you try, you will still end up making bad choices. Does that mean we regret? No. We just have to accept that we often do not know any better at that point in time. We needed to go through all those experiences to become the person we are today.

    It may not always be that simple to understand, especially when you think your decision resulted in your getting a ‘D’. But think about this for a second.

    Picture yourself getting that ‘A’ for Physics. If you did, chances are you will pick something that’s “realistic” and “practical” again in university, especially with your new-found confidence in nailing an ‘A’ even when it’s a subject you dislike. You will please everyone and do what society expects of you, even if you hate the subjects to the core. Then you will graduate and go on to a 9-5 grind, only because the “practicality” is there. Hell knows, you might even hate that job.

    When the time comes where you realise you should stop pleasing people and just do what you love to do, you might be 30 or 40.

    Life is too short to be trying to please everyone and doing what society expects of you. Life is too short to be doing anything but the things that make you come alive. And life is too short to be just “practical” and “realistic”. People who have achieved great things were never those 2 things.

    So if I were you, I would be grateful. As Steve Jobs says, you can only connect the dots backwards, not forwards. Trust that the “bad” decision you made was meant to bring out something great in you in future. And make no mistake, it’s not about settling for the ‘D,’ it’s about reappraising and reconstructing a positive outcome from it.

    Lastly, know that the ‘D’ is hardly going to have any profound effect on your future.

    “I’m not going to twist myself to fit others’ ideals of ‘successful’ and ‘practical’ again. it is too tiring and entirely not worth it in the end.” ==> Well said.

    Thanks for writing this post and sharing your thoughts, Clarissa. I felt compelled to write this long comment because something about it really resonates with me. And great introspection there. Part of striving to become the best version of ourselves includes a lot of reflection.

    Jeremy

    1. thank you very much, Jeremy. I’m glad that whatever I’ve written has managed to compel you to write a long comment (I don’t think I’ve managed to do that to my friends before haha) and I’m glad to see that I’m probably not the only one who’s felt this way before. 🙂

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