It was the end of the semester and I only had 2 more papers left to go, before I decided I had enough. I was nearing a mental breakdown and the pain was too much to explain to my peers and family. I used to be a go-getter and cream of the crop throughout my academic life, but look at what I have gotten myself into? Loser. Yes, I felt like a loser who’d lost track of herself, all my dreams and motivations down the drain.
This may sound like I was being overly dramatic, but I am sure that any other analogies would not do my feelings of self-worthlessness justice.
The day I broke down and cried while talking to my parents still feels like it just happened yesterday. Being the good and supportive parents they are, they drove down the next day and brought me out for lunch. The entire car ride was silent and suffocating, like no one even dared to breathe until my mom popped the question, “What is your next move? How many more papers to go?”
What is my next move? This was the very first time I was completely speechless on how to tackle this question. After pondering for a while, I realised that I did not have an answer because I was unsure of what I should do. Withdrawal from University was definitely not an option for me because my parents do their best to support my education and it would be a direct blow to my pride, as I would be walking away from past credentials and overthrowing all my hard work to get this far.
The only option left for me would be taking a semester off from University to get myself sorted out and hitting the road again once I am ready.
Many people claim tertiary education is a total waste of time and money, because tackling the real world would be a totally different issue. For me, I feel that higher education is equivalent to an admission ticket to the real world. Before applying for any job interview, a company would first look at your Education and Past Job Experiences to assess if you are the right candidate. Again, there could be many ‘right candidates’ fighting for the same position. To say that tertiary education would be a total waste would be slightly unjustifiable in my opinion because it would open many more windows of opportunities.
This is ever the case when you are in Singapore, which is notorious for an extremely competitive education system and being overly results-focused. Unless you are extremely talented. Unless you are determined and know exactly what you want. Otherwise, gaining a tertiary education is no longer an option but a necessity to gain a head-start in the real world.
What if I told you that taking a semester off from University was the most adventurous and enriching part of my life?
It’s true. I was never an adventurous soul. I am never one to ever step out of my comfort zone despite how much I desire to do so. I often find myself envying those who constantly stray away from the norms, never allowing anyone to dictate them. It’s really refreshing to be able to go with your heart and it takes a lot of courage and inner strength to do. After all, our society can be critically judgmental and there are unspoken standards to live up to.
I am currently interning as a Technical Writer in a software solutions company, which allows me to realise where my passion lies and the type of environment best suited for my learning and growth. I get the chance to put myself first, get my priorities right and re-evaluate myself properly.
When you are constantly juggling classes, endless assignments and group projects, you would eventually lose track of yourself and what it is really important: Your current state of mind. It could cause detrimental to your soul and remember this: No matter how stressful education can be, you should not consistently feel that you are on the verge on a mental breakdown. Personal growth is as important as learning the technical expertise/hard skills, which is something I value a lot.
Taking a break from University is about putting yourself first, even though not many would agree.
What really matters is your feelings about the entire process. Taking a break is not escaping or running away from your problems, though many people would say so. I have received countless comments about how I should not take a break and instead, should just suck it up and complete my tertiary education once and for all.
However, what they forget is how we aren’t in the same situation — so there is no way they would be able to understand completely. It is very important to stick with your own decision and not be easily affected by others. If you portray yourself as fickle-minded, constantly changing your views, you won’t be able to convince yourself or anyone else at all.
The most valuable part of University isn’t always the education, it’s also the experience and whether you have grown as an Individual.
Prior to my leave, I was all about increasing my GPA and was always finding ways to do well. I was not able to see the bigger picture and realise the distinct differences between education, experience and personal growth.
It’s the University’s responsibility to provide you with the necessary resources for learning, but it’s definitely not their job to ensure that you have grown as an Individual. So never put your hopes too high that after tertiary education, you will be a well-versed and all-rounder individual with everything all sorted out in your life. Grow through experiences and do not be afraid to fall down.
What have I realised during this period of being a member of the real world?
Nobody really cares about where you came from and your bosses would not be interested about what you did for your Final Year Project or Overseas Immersion Program, although they may ask those questions during your job interview.
What they are really concerned about is if you will be able to contribute to the company and if you are able to deliver. I faced a hard time in my company, initially, due to lack of experience and technical knowledge. I was even chided once, “Are you sure you didn’t learn all those in Uni?”
It hit me hard that I may not be as adequate as I perceived and in their eyes, I was not fulfilling expectations. That comment criticised me most where I would have criticised myself. However, I remembered all my motivations and intended outcomes from this internship. If I want to get anything done, I need to keep pushing forward and against all odds, without second guessing myself.
Would I ever regret this decision?
Definitely not. I would choose this route all over again. Passion is an essential ingredient for attaining career success and people who love their job have a certain kind of glow to them, as compared to someone who is always complaining about it. They are always enthusiastic about what they are doing and never stop talking about their work even during lunch breaks. This was what I observed during my internship. Enthusiasm is essential to mastery than sheer diligence because we would feel even more eager to practice it and it is important to enjoy what we are doing.
If you are not doing what you enjoy, failure would be particularly painful due to investing time but not getting anything in return. Failure while doing what you love is the reward itself and you would never regret the process, even though you may not get what you want in the end.