As a student, studying was probably the activity that I least enjoyed (then again, I guess that pretty much applies to everyone too). The television was my best friend when I was in primary school. That black box of animation, movement and sound was my best friend in the house! We were practically inseparable. Well, I exaggerate. I did possess enough self control to peel my eyes of the television… but in most cases it was because the cartoons had ended, and I decided to play with my toys and transformers figures.
My abject indiscipline where studying was concerned often had Mum up in arms. Threats and shouting worked pretty much most of the time when I was younger. My mum even took to helping me with my revision for science and English to ensure that I was following my work. In retrospect, I think I’d been able to manage my studies mainly because I enjoyed studying Science and English in school. Back then, I’d really hated to study Mathematics and Mandarin, and it’d been disastrous had Mom needed to allocate time to supervise me for all for subjects!
With bated breath, Mum saw her time, effort and investment (aka tuition fees) pay off as I did well enough to top my class and go on to the express stream in secondary school.
My mother played a lesser role in my academic performance in secondary school. Indeed, I’d been left pretty much alone to work on my studies since the onset of secondary school. It was a natural progression – a rite of independence if you’d like to call it that – that a child start should take in handling his affairs. I did as much as I can for the 8 subjects that I was given – but I still hated math and mandarin. My mother’s participation during secondary school involved only getting me tutors for the subject, and paying for their fees.
Through it all, I did well enough in the initial years to get into the best class in my third year in secondary (woo! hoo!). Then complacency caught me… and faced with prospect of dipping grades, my abject disinterest in studying returned. My grades began to slip.
Faced with the increasing stress of work in school, and the prospect of failure… and shame (I’d be the only one in amongst my siblings to fail and shame my our family’s record of academic excellence), I was near desperation and bordering along depression. I was about to collapse in a heap… and give up.
Downcast and depressed, I dropped a hint of desperation to Mum that “I mightn’t do as well as I did last year”.
Fully expecting a full backlash and reproach for my lack of effort and disinterest, over the year, I was bracing myself for an earful, with my mum’s threats from yesteryears still fresh in my head.
Yet, the only reply she gave was a soft, “It’s okay. Just do your best.”
It was at that moment that I realised that I hadn’t been performing at full capacity – I was not even performing anywhere near it! My sense of self-pity and sympathy took a beating, and I realised I wasn’t letting anyone else down, except myself, and that I wouldn’t be able to face myself nor my mother had I simply given up the fight there and then.
The four words worked. I salvaged my ‘education’ and managed to do enough to get myself through to junior college.
My struggles with education did not end back there and then. I’ve continued to face challenges in both in work, life and academically. Yet, each time I turned to mum to share my struggles and my abject disappointment in results or progress, her words have always been consistent:
“Just do your best”
There came a point when I grew frustrated. I wanted achievements and instant results, mainly because I’d wanted to satisfy my larger than life ego, and make my mum proud of me.
Most times, I failed. And for awhile, I grew despondent with the setbacks in life. It was not until much later, prior to a major setback I had towards the end of 2005 that I began exploring and realise the wisdom of those 4 seemingly simple words.
I realised that our “best” isn’t a concept that stays stagnant – and that each time we work towards giving our best, it grows. With each try, grows – with knowledge, skill, experience and ultimately, wisdom.
My mum’s words has since become a guiding principle in life when it comes to pursuing my dreams.
Though I may not excel academically, or that I may not be numero uno for everything that I do, I know that I will learn, progress, and become better, stronger each time I give my best.
Those four words has been my guiding principle behind my journey in the Toastmasters movement and in school and in life. My life and journey is now a testament to those words. And to everyone who’s seeking to make a positive change to their lives, remember the golden rule:
“JUST DO YOUR BEST!”
Mom’s Lesson #1 – Family First
Mom’s Lesson #2 – More than Just a Thought
Mom’s Lesson #3 – Discipline – Respect for your Elders
Mom’s Lesson #4 – Just a Little Bit More
Mom’s Lesson #5 – Don’t Give Up – Just Do Your Best
Mom’s Lesson #6 – Go Forth and Explore
Mom’s Lesson #7 – Love & Sacrifice