I love my father. But he was absent during most of my upbringing. Growing up, I learned very few lessons from him. Instead, I aspired to be like my uncle.
My uncle worked hard during his younger years and became very successful. He had floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed full of books and loved watching movies in his home office. But above all, he was a devout family man.
Uncle suffered from health issues, which meant he was no stranger to the hospital. Despite this, he would always put on a brave face for the ones he loved.
There’s a picture of him in the hospital bed, posing with the family. He had so many tubes going into his body, but he just lay there with a wide grin on his face, throwing peace signs. That was my uncle. Sadly, he passed away some years ago now.
There’s a memory I have with him that I will never forget. A seemingly meaningless conversation in the grand scheme of things, yet significant enough to stick. I was telling him how I had decided to study Mechanical Engineering and was due to start my bachelor degree the following year.
He was surprised when he heard this. He explained that he always thought of my younger sister and I as “free birds”. I think what he meant, was that my sister and I were very creative kids from the start; we played music, we liked to sketch, and I was into my martial arts – what can I say, I was your stereotypical asian boy.
In retrospect, those things I used to do were my strengths – the creativity of it all.
Maths and Physics: the foundation of any esteemed engineer, did not actually suit me very well. I was mediocre at best and managed to get by just fine, but only because I powered through it all. It didn’t come naturally to me. I still suck at math.
That moment with my uncle has always stuck with me, and I never gave it any real thought until recently. It only resonates with me now because I realise if I could go back in time I would probably have done things differently. I would have chosen to stick to my strengths; I would have dived into things I had real passion for, instead of pursuing things I had no deep interest in.
Playing to your strengths, in anything that you do, in your career, in life, is so important. It’s funny how I’ve been influenced so heavily by friends, teachers, family – especially family.
To think that I had to choose a career in something I could be stuck in for the rest of my life, based on what would earn me the most money, or deemed respectful to society, is absurd.
I think only when I started to figure myself out, and reached a certain level of self awareness, did I realise I was headed down a path I did not want for myself.
All of this was so easy to ignore before, and to just ‘go with the flow’ because it was nice to plough through life, without aspiring to achieve anything meaningful to myself. But choosing to do, based on what everybody else does, without questioning whether or not it was right for me, seems wrong now.
So I didn’t follow through with my promising career in engineering, in the end, despite grinding out 4 years worth of course material and earning a fancy piece of paper with my name on it.
It’s an important life decision to make, I feel. It’s difficult for me to admit that it was a pretty scary one too, but it was.
I’m here now though. I may not be a mechanical engineer, but I’m clear on what I have to do, of what I want to achieve, and the life I want to have. And I’m going to get it.