I started as a playful youth. I opted into EM1 but eventually scored the second-lowest in class for PSLE, entering a school infested with secret societies. Being outspoken, I was singled out and had a rough start. Later, I became an at-risk youth myself. After scoring the last out of my entire cohort of 205 students, the school relegated me to the Normal Academic stream. Out of five years, my school caned me for three, and I seemed destined for failure. To the surprise of many, I eventually became the top 5N graduate and got the best score for D&T and Combined Humanities for my GCE ‘O’ Levels.
I later went to Republic Polytechnic despite having a score sufficient for junior colleges. Many advised against it, but it turned out to be a good decision as PBL suited me. I went on three overseas study trips, took on 10% more academic load, won a couple of competitions and still have a GPA good enough for one of the two comprehensive state universities in Singapore. It was not without hurdles, but generally, it was a successful phase for me. RP shortlisted me as a potential valedictorian.
Post diploma, I enlisted for NS as an obese recruit. I lost 16kg, down to 58kg over 19 weeks and achieved IPPT Gold under the more demanding old standards. I was the second-highest scorer for the situational test and also the “Platoon Best”. I commanded the passing out parade for my company comprising over two hundred recruits and later went to OCS. What I did not expect, however, was to request to be taken out of course shortly. A series of events convinced me to seek an alternate path, even as I was confident of passing the course. The last thing I want to be is a substandard officer.
I told myself that I would return one day, but not without being convinced that I should. I became even more lost during NS after dropping out. Thankfully, I picked myself up under the leadership of some exemplary leaders. I continue to hold myself to high standards even though I am no longer on the officer track. Eventually, I finished NS with conduct and performance of “Outstanding”.
Post NS, I entered NTU, a long way since my delinquency days. I struggled due to the rigour and the need to self-finance. My 9-year long relationship also ended. I met my wife-to-be later, and she supported my decision to start a business. I returned to university after a year but left again to work, wanting to save up. As her first boyfriend, there were much resistance and scrutiny. I thought I got a lucky break when I managed to join one of the top Singapore law firms. But this dream ended within months. Stuck, I planned to return to school once again when OBS offered me a contract. I went for a selection camp earlier, wanting a break and expecting camp songs and such. The selection hit me like a brick. Not wanting to fail again and again, I pushed through. Out of approximately forty candidates, only half completed. OBS recruited ten post-interview, and I was one of the nine that successfully graduated.
Passing out as an Instructor was an affirmation after the series of setbacks. During training, I was doubted until opportunities came for me to prove myself. My relationship with my colleagues blossomed to a beautiful one despite a rocky start, a norm for me as people get to know me. That year, I got married. I conceptualised and held the first-ever “paddle ceremony” together with my wife’s sword ceremony during our wedding with the help of my colleagues.
During my second year with OBS, NTU gave an ultimatum: Return or drop out. My superiors gave their support, and I attempted rarely done: Working full time and simultaneously studying full time. My wife was also expecting. To cope, I took three modules instead of five each semester. During my third year with OBS, my child was diagnosed with cancer. We spent seven months with her in the hospital, sleeping on the cold ICU floor to keep her company at times. I took a six months unpaid leave to cope. Finally, after nine years, I graduated with a double minor and more credits than a double degree. My child came home after removing both her kidneys and continues to receive dialysis daily at home today.
Despite having ORD-ed for a long time, the questions that I had during NS still bother me. Many answers only came later, some during my stint as an instructor, where I got to see things from another perspective. And with answers came the obligation for me to return and pay my dues. I eventually returned to OCS and paid my dues.
I am no longer an Outward Bound Instructor today, serving the public in a different capacity. But the Outward Bound spirit remains in me as I embark on a different endeavour.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
― Mark Twain
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