For the past 6 months, I have had the privilege of serving patients in the capacity of a “Patient Service Assistant” at the Raffles Hospital Rehabilitation Centre through the Frontline Service Experience Program. Tomorrow as I step into the workplace once more, I would be counting down the last two days in the space that has now become comfortable, familiar and filled with countless memories. The ‘normal’ will begin to evolve from the (upcoming) Tuesday evening when I step out of the Rehabilitation Centre, changing out from uniform for the last time. Henceforth, I plunge into a month of uncertainty – attempts at driving tests, attendance at scholarship commitments and a series of talks, plays, workshops and museum visits to enrich myself. The ‘normal’ that lies ahead holds surprises and prized experiences valuable for me. And yet, I am slightly nervous amidst my excitement.
The anxiety finds its origins in the uncertainty. This uncertainty is one that years of formal education have made me uncomfortable with. I wish someone told me this before. This time last year, with the end of Common Test 2, there was celebration and contained happiness. ‘Contained’ because we were all aware of how short-lived this break would be – just a time to catch a breather before proceeding towards months of closed-door studying, endless practice and mastery of exam skills. Then, one of my biggest motivations had been the ‘freedom’ that would necessarily follow this ‘‘A’ Levels episode’. “Things would be different then,” I had promised myself. Perhaps it was the desperate hope for space, for rest, to be away from the routine that had made us naïve and clouded our judgment. To my juniors who are treading the path I had trodden a year ago, the ‘freedom’ and ‘change’ is real, I still promise. But be careful to associate only negative feelings to your current mundane routine and only positive feelings to what the future may hold – this narrative you tell yourself may translate into disappointment. Nothing is only good or only bad.
I have seen the past half a year of uncertainty incite very real fear and anxiety; in myself and in my peers. It seems some have spent more time worrying than enjoying. Granted, there are those who thrive in this context but fact remains that our years of formal education have dished out ‘Scheme of Works’ and ‘Syllabus Outcomes’ as checklists to determine ‘success’. Additionally, formal education has paved the way with assessments and lecture tests to ensure timely milestones of ‘progress’. Thrown into this uncertainty, the meters of ‘success’ and ‘progress’ are to be determined by ourselves. I wish someone told me this before. The reminder that in every challenge we can discover some form beauty came this time last year as I was struggling to prepare myself for the ‘A’ Levels – I was reminded to appreciate the protection of a school environment, to be thankful for the community of learners I could find effortlessly in a school I call home and to savour the uphill battle of challenging my own academic limits. Today, the weekend before I welcome a new wave of uncertainty, this same idea is revisited.
One of the best movies I have watched in the preceding month for Digital Detox was Finding Dory. Pixar does it again, encapsulating important lessons in animation. A recurring line in the script was “what would Dory do?” which (in my opinion) represented a two-fold message. One was the intended lessons to be taken away from Dory’s character – the sense of adventure, the fearless risk-taking and the willingness to take chances. After all, “the best things happen by chance, because that’s life.” Coming to terms with uncertainty is not easy because we have to acknowledge that little we do today can guarantee us something tomorrow, as much as we wish that these promises can be kept. Mistakes can be made, people can be forgotten, memories can slip past us and words can be empty. A university graduate could very well be jobless and we could change our minds about what we hope to study in the middle of our degree programs. The uncertainties are endless and it is the presence of them that is the only promise that can absolutely be kept. How ironic, that our only certainty is the lack of. The sooner that we embrace this uncertain adventure, the earlier might we discover ourselves truly and forgive ourselves for what we cannot achieve in society’s definition of ‘success’.
Second to that, in this two-fold message is the idea that there is value in seeing things differently. In the movie, Dory’s fearlessness as a result of her ‘disability’ (short-term memory) is applauded. There are debates within the online community about Dory’s predicament representing that of persons with disabilities in society – that her ‘difference’ by birth leaves her in a disadvantaged position in the community, even considered ‘less valuable’ than others. This explains the intuitive anger and irritation towards her from Marlin, during their search for Dory’s parents. Parallel to our society, these are common perceptions of persons with disabilities that form the basis for society’s general sympathy or ostracism towards this community. We think them so different because their productivity to society is compromised. Similarly, we put greater emphasis on applauding the achievements of people with disabilities when they do productive things “despite disability”. Recall the articles about students with disabilities completing the ‘A’ Level examinations and think about the celebrity motivational speaker Nick Vujicic. Our conversations have, for so long, been about how persons with disabilities can ‘overcome’ their disabilities as if they were a problem because they hindered their productivity to society. I reckon it might be time to shift the conversation to answer questions about why it is so difficult for persons with disabilities to be valued in society. What does that show about how we value ourselves and each other? And are we okay with that?
An inspiring role model to me recently reminded me that we should not base our worth on our productivity to society and rather, recognize that we all have inherent value as human beings solely based on the persons that we are. Hoping that embracing this understanding will allow me to accept the uncertainty of what lies ahead, here’s to a hell of ride from this Tuesday on.