This letter was sent to those who subscribed to my weekly letters a couple of days ago. My current stand is to not upload these letters on my main site to make it more personal, but alhamdulillah this current letter resonated with a number of subscribers who republished and shared it online with their friends. So, I thought, why not just put it up here so more can benefit? :)
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The truth about me is that I am constantly living in self-doubt and fear.
When I graduated as the top Malay student in primary school with a PSLE score high enough to get me into the best school in Singapore, I chose to go to a neighbourhood (albeit autonomous) school.
When I went through secondary school surrounded by classmates who were the crème de la crème, I chose to hang out with those who were in a lower stream than I was.
When I went to college, I spent most of my days skipping classes, changing out of my uniform and heading to the nearest dodgy basement-shop with pool tables and weird smells wafting from the couches lining the walls.
In all of those decisions I made, I realize now that it was because I wanted to remain in a safe place. In my mind, I told myself over and over that my PSLE score meant that I am intelligent, and it is only out of my own personal choice that I am living an average life. I could have been a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, but I choose to be average because I prefer the simple life.
I’m calling your bluff, Fadhilah.
I made all the decisions above because I was afraid that being in an environment where everyone was ‘the same’ as I was would eventually mean that I would no longer be the best. I wanted to be the best. But the only way I thought I could remain being the best, is to be elsewhere where there was no competition. By default, I would be the winner since I would be the only one in that category. When I no longer had a choice to be in a different environment, I then chose not to compete. I sat by the tracks and watched everyone run by, thinking, “I could win if I wanted to, but I would prefer not to.”
A few months back, a sister sent me an e-mail asking for my opinion on where she should pursue her degree. I told her that it would be better if she went to University X instead of University Y, because University X had a better programme, a better faculty, and a better reputation generally. A few days later she replied that she had chosen to go to University Y, because if University Y was so bad, that would mean it would be easier for her to sail through the programme and be the best student there.
I was upset with the way she was thinking; how could she improve and be better if she chose to remain where she was? Why did she want to fool herself into thinking she’s the best when in reality it is only the circumstance that gives her the illusion of being the best? Why didn’t she think that perhaps, if she enrolled into University X and work hard, she could still be the best student biiznillah? Then it would mean that she truly is the best!
Then it dawned on me that perhaps that e-mail was delivered by Allah SWT straight to my heart to get me thinking about my life.
Allahuakbar. He SWT sure works in mysterious ways.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because I know there are many others who are like me; People who can be brilliant in their own way, but choose to remain average out of the fear of failing, the fear of success, the fear of the unknown, or even the fear of discovering who we really are.
What if it turns out that I am not really intelligent after all? What if I actually can’t cook although I want to be a chef? What if the only reason my relatives bought my artwork is because they love me? What if I step out of my bubble and the world out there hurts too much?
The truth is that no one gets to become the first in the race by sitting next to the tracks. The truth is that we need to learn to walk, and then fall, and then pick ourselves up again, and keep on running and falling, until one day we actually enjoy the run itself. It does not matter if we come in first, second, or way behind, because the fact that we are running is already a win compared to just watching the world go by.
This semester I finally forced myself to do a couple of things I’ve wanted to for a long while but resisted out of fear. Some days I laugh because I know I am just making it up as I go along, and most days I have to use all of my willpower to just tell myself to stop fearing and self-doubting. It’s tough, it’s painful, and I am still crawling at best. But I am finally moving, and the air is fresh.
I am alive.