My Education

...or the thorough lack of.

I get asked about this a lot during talks and meetups, but the main reason that had me writing this down was probably due to the mails I receive from students saying they were inspired to pursue photography, art, or something else less accepted by majority of the parents out there because of me.

It's flattering yes, and I'm probably expected to be supportive, but I can't brush off the feeling that sometimes I think my articles and interviews romanticize my experiences too much. So much so that when people read those they're given some sort of impression that leads them to think -- "She left school and became successful in no time, I don't feel like I'm learning anything at all in school either, I wanna quit too!" -- which then somehow helped them convince themselves that education is useless, and that it was fine to use it as an excuse to do something else for the sole purpose of using it as an escape.

Here's just a little something to better shed light on some stuff that led me to my decisions. It's just stuff that came to mind, so please do pardon the lack of coherence.

As a child, I always recalled my mother telling me a particular metaphor: if a fire were to break out in the house, the most important things to rescue would be books, for knowledge is power and the most valuable for one's survival.

It probably sounds a little far-stretched in the modern day context, but it puts the point across. Some of you will probably want to argue that it's money that one can't live without, practically speaking. Sure it's important, but then we have another metaphor, that, you can have a mountain of gold and silver and spend it all without knowing how to replenish what you have (due to the lack of knowledge). 

I was at the age where my parents' words were laws to abide by without questions, and I would always believe whatever I was told with absolute faith. My understanding then, at 4 or maybe 5, was that, knowledge was gained by learning, studying, and that's why we had to go to school. To learn.

As I grew older, I figured that studying didn't have to be confined into classrooms because we were all different. And that sometimes, the world itself was our best learning place, because certain things, I could only learn from actual experiences.

The thirst to simply find out more about what I liked was my drive, and only much later did I realize that learning was really a lifetime affair.

A lot of things happened throughout my schooldays outside of school.

To cut it short, I was made acutely aware of death at a young age. It led me to believe that I didn't have many years left. So despite making efforts to get in, I spent my days in a prestigious school not quite studying as I should have been, utterly convinced that my end was near and I had every right to spend the last few years the way I wanted.

I had various interests that weren't quite academical, and with every additional one I was made all the more aware of not wanting to be in a school studying things irrelevant for my needs. No, at that time, I didn't know what I wanted to be.

I was good in air rifle, but I felt that it would one day become dull if I stayed doing sports all my life (no offence to others in the line, it's just me).

I liked air rifle, but I liked difference, new and change even more. I wanted to do something that will make the next day fresh and challenging all at the same time. Air rifle was about hitting the barely 0.45mm bull's eye every single shot, about how many times I can repeat the same set of actions without mentally and emotionally wavering. But there's a limit set to it. You can only get 400/400 for 40 shots in a competition, and no matter how frigging perfect, may you get 109/109 for finals, it's as far it goes.

I didn't want something with a pre-set limit.

Along the way I met Yun (aka Arissa, aka Kagetsuki, aka minicloud, who still calls me by the nick I was using 7 years ago after everyone else has stopped), and thought that she was possibly the coolest girl I'd ever met in my life. Due to the fact that she was doing fashion design, I became somewhat interested, and decided to study fashion. 

I was on leave from school to train for the Olympics selections that year, and with all the extra free time on hand and interest in fashion, I selected a short course on makeup to learn. The knowledge in it played an important role in my photography later on.

I'm deviating a little from my original point here, but what I'm trying to say is, if you find something of interest, don't hesitate to learn it. An extra skill never hurts. (Although I don't know what reading The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space at Primary 4 was gonna help me with, but I guess at least it gave me a dream to live out there... in the future. Like I can do a photoshoot in space or something... Yeah yeah okay I'm having Gundam daydreams again. Hahahaha.)

After various events, with extreme reluctance on my mother's part, I managed to leave RGS for LASALLE with the blessings of my principal. (Gotta admit having a good standing of achievements in air rifle helped, seriously.)

I enjoyed my foundation year tremendously. It provided me with a variety of mediums and platforms I could learn about and experiment with, all in the realm of something I was interested in -- art. And from there, slowly but surely, sieved through was my interest for illustrative images.

My decision to leave school a second time grieved my mother to no end. She'd thought I really loved school and was enjoying it (which I was, till later, which I'll explain below), and couldn't understand why I wanted to quit a semester short of getting my diploma.

My ex-step-dad and pals would scorn at her, stressing her failure as a mother; my maternal family was extremely academic and they were taking turns to call my mum from the US and UK all over, repeating just how a degree was mandatory.

But really, attaining a piece of paper doesn't mean I'd retain the knowledge from school any better if I hadn't bothered to study at all. Without it, what I'd learnt was already mine, and wouldn't be taken away from me. Right?

Here's a quick summary on what happened:

We were starting on a semester in men's fashion. Admittedly, I was only interested in womenswear, however, the lack of interest was hardly enough to warrant my yearning to leave school.

That term started almost a month later than scheduled; we didn't have lecturers for some of the classes, we didn't have make up classes for the sessions that didn't take place; then an incident, a classmate cried and screamed at me in front of a roomful of people because of how unfair she felt it was that I got by well enough whilst missing school for rifle training trips and competitions, while the rest could barely catch up.

Traumatized on top of the disorganization of classes, I felt that it wasn't adding up to what I could get out of my own time if I did individual learning. Also, I was becoming obsessed with photography.

I had a little popularity growing on deviantART, I would receive notes telling me that I had inspired an individual to pick up photography every now and then. It made me feel both happy and appreciated because it was something I thoroughly enjoyed, which at the same time seemed to allow a complete stranger to benefit from.

Around the same time I started getting small jobs, it was then that I felt the unstoppable urge to better myself and my shoots. The want to do more, create more and improve more. Which all demanded more time and efforts than I was already giving, it was the moment for me to shed everything else to focus on photography only. Once that became clear, I knew no one was going to stop me. I wasn't going to live down a life that wasn't mine, that much I was certain of.

A dear friend once said to me:

when we are alive, we need to do things that make us feel right
things that give us that feeling that we are living our own lives, our own choices
and if we are honest with our own feelings
we ought not feel bad for making others sad
because lying is worse

It wasn't directed at my studies, but I think this quote applies (and to a lot of other things too, really).

Eventually, when I did leave school, I'd already shot a magazine cover, earned an average of at least roughly 800SGD per job with constant enough job offers. If we look only at the basic of 1200SGD a month of a fresh diploma graduate, I wasn't too badly off. (Okay so I don't really know the exact figure, maybe it's higher, maybe it's lower, I didn't really care anyway, it was just numbers conjured up to explain to my mum I wasn't gonna starve to death) It definitely wasn't much, but it was something.

So no, I didn't just make my decision based on thoughts and ideals alone.

I knew quite clearly what I needed and wanted, that my learning had to encompass experiences from a working environment which was within my reach, which the school did not and could not provide, which needed more time for than I could have afforded while still being in school.

I knew what I didn't have and had to work on, and very importantly the simple truth of having to support myself, my overheads, and the fact that I was ready with the ability to face them.

I left school, but I was not running away from learning.

Pursue your dreams and be brave, but don't use it as an excuse to escape.

So um, there. It got a bit longer than I expected. Sorry. XD

I contemplated about writing the pursuit of dreams, turning pro and experiences, but obviously, that would somewhat turn this entry into an autobiography and make everyone on this page fall asleep. So maybe next time.

PS: Despite the fact that I'd tried self-betaing 98124 times, I'm sure there're still errors and pointless sentences where I got carried away, please forgive me.

PPS: If you made it to the end, even if it doesn't help you in any way (since it's more addressed to a small group of people), I still hope you enjoyed reading it somehow... yeah. XD

PPPS: I just realized that this coincides with Obama's speech to students on education, just a note this was written quite sometime before, and thus is in no way a response or opinion towards his speech. ^^;