I always lost at the video games I played with my brother. In Street Fighter, I'd furiously jam the ‘attack' button only to see him patiently handle his controls in a lethal combination of blows. In Sonic the Hedgehog, I'd fervently collect gold coins only to have my brother beat me because of some hidden gem he had found and decided to pick up. How did he know where to look or to pick up that gem?
Recently, I got my butt kicked again playing Worms with him. I asked how he always knew what moves to make. Somewhat amused, he remarked that he didn't. But while I had been so riled up playing simply to win, he had a curiosity for how the game universe worked. He'd explore and try different manoeuvres, uncertain if they led anywhere. My brother is that way in daily life too - picking up different hobbies and connecting with people from those respective communities. He doesn't feel like he has to be good at something in order to try it.
The last time I took that approach was when I was homeschooled. I had the space and time to be curious, and with my parents' encouragement, I could explore where that curiosity took me. What were the catacombs for? Who were the Egyptians? We would find books and read up on that. What does perspective mean? I would climb a tree to find out. How do I write an exciting story? My ma and her friends got us kids together and had us watch videos on creative writing, complete with exercises.
Not everything important is entertaining, you need to learn to deal with being bored.
It wasn't all fun and games - I still had to meet a certain standard. Many times, I got very bored and didn't want to study for tests. My dad responded to my complaints and tantrums by counselling, "Not everything important is entertaining, you need to learn to deal with being bored". That was sound advice: I learnt to focus on the vast world out there. My desire to learn gave me the confidence to explore and participate in the world. This mindset got me through the worst of the boredom and tedium.
When I switched to the public school system, however, I realised that the need to learn in order to perform well was slowly changing me. Like how I now play video games, I started furiously collecting gold coins - 'right' answers - in order to score. I lost my curiosity for the wider world. What was important to me gradually shrank to what was relevant to pass my exams. Knowledge was valuable only if it translated to some sort of recognisable merit - CCA points, leadership points, or a higher grade. I also started being afraid of pursuing things I had an interest in but felt I wasn't good enough at. My grades and success became the centre of my universe.
I didn't like the person I was becoming: afraid of failure, defensive, and impatient. I tried to remember a time when I wasn't like that, and my mind went back to when I was homeschooled. I’ve been trying to unlearn some of the habits I picked up in the public school system - it's been a balancing act between achieving ‘recognisable’ qualifications for myself and pursuing/participating in the wider world around me. Sometimes the two line up nicely, at other times they don't.
When I was in-between jobs recently, I felt pressured to find full-time work and earn a steady salary. I thought it would give me a better sense of security because that's what everybody else seems to be pursuing. Also, isn’t it my responsibility to work hard, earn money, and save? But how can I be holistically responsible for myself without compromising my responsibilities as a citizen? How do I pursue meaningful goals that might not necessarily pay in monetary terms?
For me, the first step is simply to slow down. Not being obsessed with getting into the next job as soon as possible freed me to develop myself and contribute to projects I found meaningful. I took time to journal and write songs; spent more time mentoring my juniors; read books; helped a friend translate recipes for her cookbook; attended a course on emotional healing; went fishing with my dad; helped a baby bird that fell from a tree. I would like to think of some of these experiences and hobbies as the hidden gems I discovered along my journey of life. They may not have the apparent value of a gold coin but they are the seeds and fruits of my wonder at the world.
What are some issues in your life or in the world that you’re curious about, care for, or want to contribute to? Perhaps they don't seem valuable from a practical standpoint. Perhaps they will never count as a ‘recognisable’ qualifications. Perhaps you're bad at it. I invite you to pause and take the time to nurture them all the same because - without these life-giving pursuits of wonderment - our world loses colour, shrinks, and dries up. Without them, your income stability and job security become empty ends in themselves.
What hidden gems will you uncover today?
I'd like to share about some of the gems I picked up over the last 20 years.
The cup was part of a tea-set I begged my ma for to host my imaginary guests. I imagined opening a cafe where anybody could rest and dine for free. I still have that dream.
I learnt the yoyo to play with my brother so that he'd think I was cool.
A stranger gave me the toy figurine of a man. The stranger was an old man fishing at a pond.
I sewed the almost-heart-shaped plush using the sewing kit - a pillow for my friend's doll.
"Blue Dobby-looking dude in a yellow car"is a gift from a girl I mentored.
The sea-shell is from a beach we stayed at when we went deep-sea fishing. I learnt to boulder, build fires, open a coconut with a spade, and tell campfire stories there.
I bought the no. 2 pool ball with the first quarter I saved.
My dad gave me the rubber seed, along with his wonder and curiosity for nature.
My brother gave me the snowflake voice recorder. "You can record your singing for people" he said. I sounded terrible but was glad for the affirmation. I would like to record an album someday.