Thursday, May 27, 2004

Warning: food for thought ahead. Ingest in small chunks.

We're pretty much at the half-way point of our 2nd year. The final stretch looms just up ahead, but the hard thing is, as always, the end is the beginning of something new. For some, it means moving on to National Service, for others to work and to most everyone else, further studies. It's meaningless not to be able to see beyond the finish line, for the effort expended in the race then has no purpose other than to finish. People thrive when they can continue looking forward to the future with hope and anticipation. To put it simply, Nintendo says, "Welcome to the next level!" As long as we focus on "welcome" we will do ok at the "next level."

We're showing our students the next leg of their lives with our annual Career Seminar for Year 2s. We've led up to this point with an excruciating programme on preparing resumes and gearing up for job interviews so that they might see that what they are working now has a function in their lives and in their futures. The reality of working life for the Year 2s is so close now. It wasn't long ago that people started looking for jobs at the age of 12 (PSLE), 16 ('O' Levels) and 18 ('A' Levels) and today jobs still exist for holders of these qualifications. Gwyn, alumnus from 2002, is already working full-time -- gainfully employed, as they say -- and the hours she works is no joke: 9-11 because in the workplace there is no timetable. It's do until done, by specified deadline, or if you can't do it, someone else will elbow you aside for the opportunity. The nonsense that students do and will try to get away with in College will not be met with understanding and forgiveness in the real world. That's because people are an expendable resource; there will always be a constant supply of people, especially as Colleges and Universities now churn out qualified personnel en masse. Education was once a privilege, now it's standard issue.

How are we to approach "The Job" in such a nasty environment? Is all we have to live for meaningless drudgery for the rest of our lives? The staff's usual comment, "College is hard work but it's nothing like working life!" doesn't seem to promise much for our students. In a world that's become 24/7 can only Animal Farm's Boxer survive? If our students think they are being groomed to be Boxers, it's timely to remind them that Boxer was turned into glue when he became a liability due to age and fatigue. Boxer was no survivor. He focused on a solitary goal and refused to learn more than what was required of him to fulfil his task. When his task was done, so was he.

The survivors were the pigs. Smart, constantly learning, experimenting with their knowledge, teaching skills to others whom they could exploit later, forging links with others in the larger world (including the enemy!); they did it all and they stayed on top. The only thing the pigs lacked was a set of scruples, a moral code and a sense of value for their own community. So we try to teach our students to be like the pigs: work smart, thrive, survive; but we also balance the survival instinct with community spirit and a sense of compassion for the less privileged so that everyone can live and be happy. Well, ideally speaking anyway.

Oh, "The Job." If you're going to be working 24/7 at something, it makes sense to enjoy what you are doing else it won't be long before you're knackered, literally. If at the moment you don't enjoy any particular activity take every opportunity to try something new (within your moral limits, of course), or forever remain in ennui. Go, seek out and develop your passions. Whatever it takes.

At the same time, remember that when you are starting out, you really are nobody, so be prepared to do stuff that nobody is expected to do. The late William Teo's policy is for new actors to step onto the stage only to sweep it clean for the more experienced actors to perform on. When you've learned to sweep the stage well enough, you might land an extra's role. And so on. When employing your passions in a profession, first learn to sweep the floor.

Wow. What a bunch of conflicting messages. Congrats if you are still reading. Take whatever truth you want from this mess, but that's quite enough for one day.

No comments: