Saturday, September 7, 2013

Creating a sense of self-propulsion

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I received an email that made me very sad. It gets to the heart of what I think we don’t answer in the Singapore Scholarship Guide: what are one’s options if you don’t take a scholarship? 

This Singaporean student is deciding whether or not to take a scholarship, and cannot afford to go overseas for college without one. This person wrote: 

"I think very few of us have any idea what taking charge of our own destiny means… Even if I do decide to study locally, I don’t see how it can be much different, i.e. choose degree - study - graduate - choose job in related field. Just an extension of the education system so far. There isn’t really much opportunity to ‘find myself’ in the sense that an overseas liberal arts education allows. So, in perhaps an over simplistic way, am I trapped?" 

When I think back to my high school self, I understand how this person feels. Up to that point, I don’t think I did anything that I would consider vaguely original or self-initiated in my life. I didn’t know how to start. (My high school self would probably be appalled that one day I would write a public blog that has become a platform for helping strangers break their bonds. !!)

It was in college that I was exposed to a dazzling range of opportunities. That is where my ability to invent possibilities for myself was born. But really, it was the bondbreaking that sealed it. I made one big decision to choose something I really wanted, that nobody else really wanted for me. From then on, the only perspective that made sense was that I can choose for myself. 

This got me thinking: can you achieve a similar effect by other means?

I don’t think the question is about whether local Singaporean universities are as good as overseas ones. I don’t even think the question is about the value of living overseas and all the changes in perspective it can bring. All students - from any country - should try to find a way to spend time abroad, and students in Singaporean universities have no shortage of such opportunities. 

I think it’s about creating a sense of self-propulsion. That you can take charge of your own destiny, as the student puts it. 

But how does one create a sense of possibilities? What are things you can do if you have no idea where to start? 

This got me thinking about the idea of a Self-Propulsion Project.

You need to do something that you want to do. You need to get used to the idea that you can craft your own outcomes. Choose a project that will give you a sense of doing something original for yourself. Don’t choose something that the system tells you is good to do, or that your parents think you should do, or that all your peers are doing. Pick something that is for you. 

So. What could you do? Ideas for starters: 

  1. Learn to code. There are so many resources for this. Build something.
  2. Take an online course in something that intrigues you. There are lots of MOOCs out there. Don’t pick something that you should know. Pick something you want to know. 
  3. Go on a round the world trip. Again, so much info out there! People have done it on anything from $12K to $30K (and of course, much more). But it can be done for less than 10% of the S$500K your bond would be worth. 
  4. Run a project that will earn you $1000. See SVA’s Entrepreneurial Design syllabus on their $1K project.
  5. Fundraise to sponsor a water project for charity:water
  6. Get inspiration from the things you could do to get yourself an arts education if you didn’t want to pay for art school.

"But all of that is so hard!" you say. Of course, it is. Leading an interesting, fulfilling life, in general, is hard. All this takes an incredible amount of discipline. It takes saying “no” to a lot of things that your peers or that the system might want you to do. It even takes saying “no” to things that you want to do that are easier - like wasting time on Facebook.

I have to admit that it never occurred to my high school self to attempt any of that. I lacked the knowledge that there might be other options. I couldn’t imagine the possibilities.

But things change, and one day very far down the line it became perfectly reasonable to do things like run a Kickstarter and teach a class and publish an ebook. On a larger scale, it becomes possible to go after interesting jobs that you believe would be engaging and fulfilling, even if from the outset you feel completely unqualified to do them. 

There is this quote that life is an exploration of one’s appetites. I think that’s the idea that Singaporean students (and Singaporeans and all other people) need to get used to. 

So here is my offer to you: 

If you are a Singaporean student or unhappy scholar who wants to try out a Self-Propulsion Project, email me your project plan. I will work on it with you and help hold you accountable. Set yourself a deadline to email me - a week from today whenever you are reading this post - and do it. 

Image via THQInsider.

Notes

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