More than a decade from sixteen, I wonder on hindsight, how different my life would be should I have done or not done certain things.
Sixteen was the age after my Cambridge examinations. I was at the crossroads of my life. Would my life be different now if I’d made some decisions? What would I tell my sixteen year old self if I meet her?
The choices at sixteen include selecting a major or a course which might determine one’s career. At that time, I was asking my parents to let me go to a foundation college in Australia where I could progress into University.
Understandably, trust in a fun-loving teenager ranked low at that time. On hindsight, that might have been due to budget considerations too. Assuming that this option is out of the equation, my note to ‘younger me’ would most likely be:
1. Volunteer for a cause
Be it for the environment, animals or children. Take the chance to grow and develop yourself. This is the time when energy is more abundant and experiences can help shape one’s career too. Enrich your life, throw yourself into useful activities, meet other positive individuals.
Cultivate a passion which makes you feel good and also benefit others. Learn a skill like growing edible gardens, signing up at the museum and learn how to be a guide or ambassador for a part of heritage (students usually get privileges on fees or may be free), be part of policy making (joining Grassroots or community centres as a start towards nation building).
2. Give it more than a 100-percent
Given my propensity to spend more time playing or hanging out with friends, without doing anything constructive, I’d spent less time on my projects which I should have.
I made up for this during my Masters programme in Melbourne Australia but I feel that I should have made more effort for my Diploma in Mass Communication.
3. Embrace your family and you’ll be pleasantly surprised
I was at a more rebellious stage, breaking curfews and hanging with company which might not all be good.
I come from a strict Asian household with authoritarian values, much like Singapore during the founding years. Being brought up by parents with similar values can sometimes cause some friction especially when the teenager wishes to be heard and has been exposed to some Western culture. My mom used to make me do assessment books which were at least two or three grades in advance. Her temper was quick when I was growing up. She worked 5.5 days at a leading Japanese bank in Singapore back then, as the Head of Bills and Settlements and also led the dealing room operations. Stress level was probably higher and that was expressed in managing a playful daughter.
Spend more time with your family, get to know your parents as people and friends besides them being providers and disciplinarians. This will be difficult. However, you will not regret this. Your family will be the foundation of your life’s journey. They love you unconditionally and you will see it in time (if you don’t already).
I did not know my mom was a hippie until I had some closure with her when I returned from my overseas study. I missed my family and I communicated a lot more with them when I was overseas. I grew closer to them after I returned.
My mom was a fan of woodstock and Creedence Clearwater Revival among others like Three Dog Night and Beatles of course. I was so surprised to learn that only after so many years with my parents.
My father was a boy scout and an avid photographer who used to have his own darkroom. I hardly communicated with my father when I was growing up as he was working hard and also at a bank. He was Head of Card Operations at HSBC Bank for most part of his career in addition to American Express and Standard Chartered. He was posted overseas and after his stint at HSBC, he joined Bank Danamon in Jakarta which meant not seeing my dad until the weekends or sometimes fortnightly. I’d always thought of him as stubborn, unwilling to listen and too traditional.
Now, I wish I have not wasted all that time resenting my parents. My father is the best father in the world (for me). I would not ask for a better father and the only man who cares for me unconditionally. My sister and I would joke now that my father has made it difficult for our boyfriends to live up to that standard.
4. Take your time in dating or love
I was only allowed to date officially at the age of seventeen. Even so, my parents were strict and there were many limitations.
Right so too. I had my heart broken with my second boyfriend. The worst heart I could ever imagined. I sobbed so hard at midnight in my mom’s arms. I couldn’t breathe and it was probably the first time I felt a physical pain in my heart. I thought I would break.
However, a pilgrimage trip with my family to Sikkim not long after refreshed my system and I was over the hurt.
Falling in love and enjoying the attention was like a sport. I could have discovered so many other things about myself if I weren’t dating in a long-term relationship at the age of 20 to 25 years old.
Instead of running headlog into a relationship and feeling insecure about physical beauty, learn to love yourself first. Understand what motivates you, inspires you and energises you. Volunteer for an overseas experience with other young folks. Take the chance to build lives for others while developing your character. That is what makes one beautiful.
Not your dress size or whether you compare with other girls. Chase after your passion instead of the attention of boys.
Have a relationship with yourself and the environment.
5. Save money for that big travel trip
Yes, this was probably one of my biggest mistakes. Not saving my money for a big trip before working.
Instead of spending your money on useful TV media products for slimming and on those Roxy jeans and apparel, save up for that big backpacking trip around the world. It will be difficult to take a long journey when you’re working.
Moreover, the independence and experience of travelling alone or in a small group can be liberating. I made my first solo trip only when I was in Australia at the age of 26 years old, after my 5-year relationship ended.
Take a long trip, go hiking and learn about other cultures, environment, learn to appreciate and count your blessings. Feel richer in experience albeit poorer in your bank. You’ll earn your money again when you start working. You’ll also find that your contribution towards the team at work may also be different when you have experienced more in life.
6. Stick to your sport
I used to play tennis at school. I am now rusty, having stopped the game for close to a decade. However, staying active and knowing that you still have game or coordination builds confidence and also in your movement.
It is also a good way to build a strong body and mind. With tennis, you will also get to meet others in the game or socialise in a sport setting.
Take up dance or gymnastics like what you have always wanted. Talk to your parents if piano isn’t your thing and you prefer to express yourself through movement. Don’t wait on it and give up piano at Grade 6 when the passion isn’t driving you anymore.
7. Above all, own your life and do not feel that anyone owes it to you. Be thankful for what you have, do what you can to improve your life and help others grow too. Put aside any resentment and it grows into a monster when you are older, which can be more difficult to eradicate. Learn to love others and respect the views of others instead of being right all the time. Remember that the universe is large and some things we feel which are important are actually really insignificant in the scheme of things. Let it go and be happy instead of being right all the time.
These are the top few things I would tell my sixteen year old self if I had the chance. Since I don’t, I hope this will be useful if I do have a daughter or a child.