It felt just like yesterday when I had taken my UPSR exams (note: an exam one takes in Malaysia before entering secondary/ high school). I remember that teachers would oftentimes give prep talks before lessons regarding how important that exam would be. They would say that not only is this exam important to get into a good high school, but also in employee selection. If there are two candidates of equal standing to choose from, employers would then go back to as far as your UPSR exam results to make their pick.
Imagine being a 12 year old boy and believing that is true. The UPSR exams felt like a mountain to overcome. There were countless hours of studying, extra tuition, and even an overnight camp at school to prepare for this.
I remember a great deal of anxiety leading up to that event. When it was all done and the results announced, a big sigh of relief followed. Wow, I finally did it?
Life After The Exams
About 20 years has passed since that exam. Was it a life changing event? Not as much as I thought it would be. It now feels like a passing moment I had went through as a 12 year old boy. As much as the teachers believed in its importance, the exam results were never shown on my CV.
Since then, I had gone through similar events in my life. I went through a couple of important school examinations, a pre-university exam, completed my degree, completed a master’s degree, got my first job, started my first business… and the list goes on.
Each one of these events felt the same like when I was sitting for my UPSR examinations. In my mind, it was a big challenge that I had to overcome, and that it was really, really, important that I accomplish it well.
Did it matter in the end? It somewhat did, but not as much as I thought it would be. When I’m done with a challenge, I move on to the next. Each time, thinking that this next challenge to be more important the one preceding it. Each time, thinking that it will somehow make my life better than before.
A Dog and Its Tail
Have you seen a dog chasing its own tail?
I did. One fine day, I managed to catch a glimpse of this amusing occurrence. As the dog spots its tail at the corner of its eyes, round and round it goes, thinking it can outsmart the tail. Lo and behold, to both the dog and my surprise, it did manage to bite on it. A long pause followed, as it mentally processed through what had just happened.
All its life, it has chased the tail to no avail. And now that it has managed to do it, does not know what to do next. There was a look of confusion. It let go of its own tail. And then it walked away, as if nothing happened.
The Chase of Life
While it may seem amusing to watch this happen to a dog, this is what we do in our lives as well. We continuously chase after our own metaphorical tail, thinking that this upcoming accomplishment will significantly alter the course of our lives.
Most of the time, it doesn’t. We move on to the next thing.
Looking at things objectively, we will continuously achieve our goals, one presumably bigger than the one before it. It is in the very nature of a person’s development. As we develop more skills and resources with the passage of time, we develop competence over incrementally more challenging tasks. This is life.
But I think the important question to ponder on here is: What is the purpose to all of this?
Process > Outcome
Looking back at the time of my UPSR exams, what I remembered fondly of wasn’t the grades that I received. Instead, I smile when I think about discovering what a leaf is comprised of. There were also the long walks home with my friend while eating snacks under the scorching afternoon sun. And we played games using whatever we had, such as pencils, erasers, papers in between classes.
What I most valued out of working towards that goal was the time spent being a 12 year old boy.
Whether or not we are able to have great accomplishments in our lifetime remains uncertain. But what is certain is that we cannot relive a moment. And you’ll find that the best moments aren’t the times when you actually accomplish your goals, but the memories made working towards it.
A great poet once said that “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women are merely players”. I think wisdom comes in knowing that we’re all playing our roles in this show of life; and savoring the time that we have doing it makes all the difference.