If I had to pinpoint a specific time period in my life where I had the most growth, it would most definitely be my high school days.

When I say "growth", I'm not just referring to physical growth. I'm referring to a more holistic growth. Physical, yes. Though a few inches shorter than what I would've preferred. (That came out wrong but you get what I mean.) The mental, emotional and social aspects of my growth in high school were the ones that shaped my thought processes and they have such a big impact on the way I conduct myself to this day.

In this article, I will be listing down 3 life lessons I picked up from High School. Below each individual lesson, I include a few paragraphs that gives a little bit of context on how I came across it. As a self-professed "Productivity Blogger", I've also included a Table of Contents at the top of this post so you don't have to go through the lessons that are already obvious to you. Feel free to skip to whichever lesson(s) that interests you, especially if its something you're actively working on yourself or want to learn more about.

With that said, here are the 3 life lessons I picked up from High School.

1. Gratitude

Throughout my time in school, there were many instances where my friends asked me why was I doing so much for the Prefectorial Board, or why did I care so much that I would go to such great lengths to better things within the Board.

Initially, many of them tied the work I was putting in to my eagerness to secure one of the top posts within the Board. However, even while the stakes were not present, the work I was putting in remained consistent.

Looking back, I think a large part of what drove me was gratitude. During the initial stages, I was just performing my duties as a Prefect to get through the day without being reprimanded by my seniors. However, I picked up many valuable skills along the way and there is this sense of gratitude towards the Board. I was, and still am, certain that I couldn't have developed my work ethic and discipline that I have today in any other circumstances. With that sense of gratitude, I did what I could to repay the board, and in the best way that I know how to : By rendering my services to the Prefectorial Board.

The way I think about this is what I call a "Gratitude Cycle". Firstly, we have to put in the work for a body. Along the way, we'll gain some form of indirect benefit such as : skill, knowledge, contacts, memories etc. When we gain these indirect benefit, we should remind ourselves to be grateful; and to contribute back to the body. As we contribute, the indirect benefits compound and we remind ourselves to be grateful.

If we adopt this mindset, we not only compound the indirect benefits we gained from putting in the work; we also become more appreciative of the life that we lead and hence feel more fulfilled as an individual.


2. Your words have to be consistent with your actions

This line gets thrown around a lot, I know. Yet, it wasn't until high school where I could truly see it in action and understand the true magnitude of it.

In my final year in high school, I was elected as the Senior Assistant Head Prefect of the Prefectorial Board, which carried the role of a disciplinarian. I came down very hard on the Juniors and was in hindsight, probably a little too harsh.

This is where it gets interesting. I expected a strong reaction from the juniors. I expected complaints. I expected people absolutely despising me. Despite knowing/expecting resistance, I continued with my way of doing things because I thought that was what was required. However, things seemed to take a turn for the better. The juniors were performing better, there weren't much resistance and I'd even go to the extent of saying I gained their respect.(to the best of my knowledge)

After my tenure, one of my juniors came to me for advice and I saw the opportunity to ask him why didn't they resist or go against me and my harsh ways. His response was one I would not have expected in a million years. Here's a paraphrase of what he said, based on my recollection :

"Initially, many of us disagreed with your ways. We did not see the rationale behind your reprimands. However, while you expected a lot from us, we slowly came to realise that you expect no less from yourself. Even with your position within the Prefectorial Board, you're willing to do the groundwork. You still pick up rubbish from the drains and focused on your duty even when celebrations were going on. It was from then on that we understood and recognized that you were doing all those for the board's and our benefits, because there were no benefits to be gained when you did what you did."

It's just amazing to think that it wasn't some big changes I brought to the board that gained people's respect. It was me going back to the basics and doing what I expected of others and what was required of me. That was it. Your words have to match your actions.

3. Be brave enough to chase your dreams, and even braver in the face of failure

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

When I came to know about the most coveted award in school - the Franciscan of the Year award, I thought it was beyond my reach but something told me to go for it. I gave it everything I got, making sure all the requirements were met and I did all that I could to present myself as the "Perfect Candidate". I prepared extensively for the interviews and got all the signatures from the necessary teachers. To my delight, I got into the Final Interview.

Weeks passed before the results were announced. I was constantly anxious in those weeks and there wasn't a waking moment that I wasn't thinking about the results. Many friends constantly assured me, telling me that amongst the final candidates, I was the only one that ticked off all the boxes that were required and match the competence of the previous award recipients.

Just like any good story would have it, there's a plot twist and the Awarding Board deemed me unfit to be the award recipient. I was crushed.

Crushed, not because I didn't win the award. Crushed, because of the white-hot guilt that seared a void into my chest. Crushed, because I was the first candidate in years, if not decades, to break the chain of Prefects receiving the award. Crushed, because after all the things I've done in the name of my passion for the Board, I was the one candidate who had to go ahead, underperform, and break the chain. Crushed.

It took a long time to recover and gain confidence in my abilities again. I was used to my 100% being enough. This was my 120%, and I was told it was not enough. I doubted my abilities. Were all my past successes, as I told people when they praised me, mere luck?

What it took to pick myself up from the rubbles was tying my identity to other things and diversifying myself. At times, the main reason we get hurt is because we tie our identity, and by default our ego, to something in particular. For instance, if you were to try and insult a chef who took pride in his/her cooking skills by saying his/her writing sucks, it wouldn't have as much of an impact as saying his/her food is inedible. Simply because he/she ties his/her identity to his/her food, not writing.

This is why I came up with a term called "The Identity Pile-Up" which I'll be writing on soon.

The reason I'm writing this is not to dramatize the situation or to "breathe a word about my loss". I wrote this with the sole intention of telling students who have failed in something and are going through a hard time to hang in there and take your time to heal and come out stronger on the other side. Find value in other things that you do and soon you'll regain the confidence you need to go out there and crush it.

P.S - If you haven't failed in anything, do more. The only person who doesn't fail is the one that hasn't done enough.

That's a wrap on the 3 salient lessons I picked up from high school. It is quite a lengthy read and I appreciate you taking your time if you've read all of them. I hope you found some value in this post.

If you're a student in SFI, thinking to join the Prefectorial Board, I would highly recommend you to join. Unless there are issues with your academics or health, I honestly think there isn't anyone who wouldn't gain anything at all from joining the Board.

I understand how hard it is to live with the failure but I also understand how valuable it is to have someone who has no stakes in your life to hear you out and let you vent before providing advice. So here's an offer. If any of you out there have faced similar situations or are going through them right now and you need help, feel free to email me at hi@jia-shing.com. I would love to hear from you.