The season of graduation is upon us once again. I looked back to once upon a time two and half years ago, to a naive period where I was once again a freshman, but in the society, and ditching my books to build the possibility of a career, in a niche and unregulated industry; the lessons that I have learnt along the way through trial-and-errors. Most importantly, lessons that schools did not pre-empt or prepare us for. I hope that it gives you a glimpse of what could possibly happen if you do choose to embark on that path less traveled and join an industry or a company that is not amongst the norm of choices. They are personal life lessons that I have reflected upon and thought it to be important, no matter what path you have chosen.

1. Always be realistic about your expectations

I guess you could attribute this factor to many failed relationships, whether in work or personal. Parents’ expectations of their children, the society’s expectations of people in general, managers’ expectations of their team, your partner’s expectations of you, customers’ expectations of a product or a service; the list is endless.

Expectations aren’t all bad. When does it become a bad thing? When it is unrealistic, when it is uncalled for, when it is a one-sided affair. And why are they bad? I think the nature of expectations itself is selfish and greedy. They are things that you pile on other people, without the permission to do so, to fulfill your own needs/wants. Basically, ignoring who or what the person is about, and creating a mold for that person to fit in, and when it does not happen the way you want it to be, you feel disappointed, angry and etc.

I think it is one of the crucial steps to learning how to love yourself too. I often set such unrealistic expectations of myself that I drive myself into corners without any leeway, then I beat myself up because I am unable to reach that goal I have in my mind with those self-imposed expectations. And becoming so disappointed and unhappy with myself after that. Loving myself starts with setting the right expectations.

On a more technical aspect of things, I find this management tool exceptionally useful now – SMART goals. And a constant reminder to put the matching of expectations at the start of any partnership, friendship, relationship, in all scenarios, every single moment and interaction of every day. So this is my expectation of myself now: I expect that with this realization, I’d be able to play the different roles better.

2. You define your own version of success
I reconnected with some long-lost friends for the past half a year, most of which are old classmates or good friends from the good old school days. When they ask me what I am doing now as a living, I often find it very difficult to explain, partly, it is because of the fact that it is very different from what they have expected from me. And I have to admit that some parts of me actually felt a little inferior in comparison and I cared about how they looked at me. All of them has a fancy title and a corporate name following behind, a prestigious school name, accolades and credits, and well-manicured looks and increasing spending power along with the package, while I have none of the above. Heck, when we hang out, they pay my share of the bill!

But then I sat down one day and thought about what I have, which are probably important things that not all of them have; I have people whom I enjoy working with, a job that is mission-driven, great bosses, and most importantly, autonomy to make decisions, freedom to choose for myself where I want things to be and being able to be the catalyst of change.  I get to define my definition of success. I hate the goddamn title to begin with, I hate how the society tries to shape and impose their impressions on us, I hate bureaucracy, monotony, pleasing everybody and not living with a purpose, (but yes, I do want to look better), so why the hell am I even bothered?

It made me ask myself what I really want, and how I could achieve my definition of success. And that definition of success include helping others to succeed, include making a dent in the world, include being open to the possibilities of life, to the extent of what I could become, what I could achieve. I take pride in the fact that I chose a different path, and in turn, very grateful for what life has endowed me with, the good, the bad, the joy and the tears and each one of them a beautiful lesson that came out with it. It gave me inner peace; of being constant in an ever-changing surrounding.

3. Confidence and hard work are correlated 
Some people do not believe in it. They think that confidence is like a clothing that you could put on the next morning. Many self-help books and people tell you that. That it is not something that is acquired. Oh, you just wake up the next morning and you feel like you could take on the world.

On the contrary, I’d like to think that it is a process of attempts and failures, and finally recognizing the fact that with hard work, you could get better and even excel at it, so when you are task to do something totally new the next time, you know that you could handle this, even if you know shit about this arena. And that is how confidence is being acquired; it is the self-knowledge that you have the ability to become better at something with diligence, even if you are not, at this moment.

It is acquired from the days where I want to pull my hair out, those mistakes, those moments where I embarrassed myself with my ignorance, where I made premature judgments due to the lack of maturity and understanding, the oily-faced nights of dwelling into a subject, of making the wrong decisions and being fucked for it. Who said confidence need not come with hard work?

It is a process of diligence of working on oneself, leading to self-awareness and self-acceptance; where one is conscious of one’s limitations and potential, where I become a version of myself that is better than the day before.

4. Perfectionism does not exist and is a disability
The last scene of “Black Swan” really haunted me then. I did not quite comprehend it at that time; why the protagonist went to that extent, of destroying oneself to achieve that state of perfection, in her eyes, that is. Perfectionism , I think, after all, is just a mirage. It is that oasis you see in a desert, that you thought is so near, but it is just an image that gives you hope to move along, to move that one more extra inch today.

Perfectionism is a state of idealism that is not real, and can never be real. It is a form of over-expectation or unrealistic expectation of what reality actually is. When does it become a disability? It is a disability when it mars the reality and stops you from taking actions because you are afraid that it might not turn out the way you want it to. It has held me back from starting on projects, from forming new connections with new people, from trying new things, and a general dissatisfaction with my life.

One area where I realized that this is a problem is my relationships, where I always had this ideal person in my mind; he should be this and that and et cetera. I eventually realized that this person is only a figment of my idealism; he is not real. So I put myself through this whole entire process of imposing my unrealistic expectations I have configured in real life. And oh boy, was I disappointed every single time. When this barrier to the perception of reality is removed, I see everything and everyone for what and who they are and what a wonderful change it has been. I start on things and I do not get stuck when a problem arises, but understood that that is how it should be, and it should serve as another lesson for me.

5. Talent and intelligence are overrated
I used to admire people with talent and people who are extremely intelligent. I mean, that is what we have been taught in school right? They favor the intelligent and talented ones, and I understand why, but they failed to teach us that those are not the most important factors to happiness or success in life.

Nature versus nurture. I think talent and intelligence can be nurtured. Some people are lucky to be born in an environment with nurturing parents, thereby leading to a higher level of intelligence and talent along the way. So given these right climate and conditions while growing up, they seem to have it easier in life afterward. But we forgot that it is because they have put in the hard work necessary at a very early stage of life. And what led to the so-called talent and intelligence are perseverance, grit, and discipline to go through the process. Talent and intelligence, hence, are results that we see, not the factors that contribute to success.

This mindset that we grew up with, has cultivated a generation who gives up easily in the face of  difficulties, who do not understand the real value of hard work, who are not driven, who do not understand what is work ethics, what being responsible truly means and what commitment is.  And having the best conditions while growing up might not necessarily mean the best thing either. For those of us who has a hand of bad cards, we realized that this is probably the best that we are given, so we try our best to play the game with whatever cards we have. I am not talented, possess average intelligence and looks, and was born in a dysfunctional family with toxic parents and domestic violence, growing up was financially and emotionally tough, but that made me realize how important grit is to get what you want.

A personality characterized by grit is really what will get one to where they want to be. The rest are just by-products acquired along the way.

Working in a startup-like environment, it challenges you to go beyond what you are accustomed to. You are open to a very dynamic environment of uncharted terrains, and how you choose to view each difficulty determines how well you’d do eventually. It challenges you to look deeper within yourself to discover what you can become. As stimulating as it is, the package also comes with a label that shouts “WARNING! DANGER!”. The journey was made possible with an internship that set the directions of what is to come.