This is it…?

On being stuck somewhere between graduating, unemployment, and figuring out my direction in life

Chun Aik
17 min readMay 29, 2017

Yes the photo was a little over-dramatic; but I think after four years in university and finally closing the curtains on sixteen years of education, we all deserve to be a little more dramatic, no?

Good job to myself, and to the Class of 2017, we’ve made it after four long years! (or however long you took)

The past four years, aside from how long they seemed, had been a lot of other things as well.
Fun, tiring, exciting, uncertain, disappointing, routine, and the list goes on.
(pardon my limited pool of vocabulary as I hide my face in shame being a FASS graduate)

And after these four years full of emotions and ups and downs and just everything all around, it is with much confidence that I dare claim that, I am not prepared to move on to whatever the next phase of life is for me.

It is true that I learned a lot in my four years.

I learned about how sleep cycles work, how memory works, and how my brain makes sense of the world through perception and attention.

I learned that our brain consists of the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the temporal lobe, and the occipital lobe, which all contributes to how we think, how we see things, how we hear, and stuff like that.

I learned that the right temporoparietal junction, the right side of an area where the temporal and parietal lobes meet, is involved in the disengagement of attention and plays an important role in how we observe and process information, impacting social interaction blah blah blah…

And I also learned to do cheers, play games, and run around school collecting pieces of papers from people as if they were the most important thing ever.

But what do all these have to do with what I am about to do next?
What am I even going to do next?

I just don’t feel prepared to move on, to whatever I am moving on to.

When we have to, we have to

Uni taught us a lot.
A lot of knowledge that I’m sure will be useful later on in one way or another in our lives.

And thinking back at this point, when were we ever prepared?
No matter how much you study and try to cram 462 pages of your textbooks and 13 weeks worth of readings into your brain, when was there a time that you can dare say to be fully prepared for a paper?
And that’s just for ONE module…

When were we ever prepared for anything?

When did we let it stop us from carrying on?

And that led to my first realization since graduating.

We are never fully prepared for something, but when we have to, we have to.

The power of “having no choice” is a very strong one.
Or at least, the perception of “having no choice”; which can translate to it being a “need” or “necessity”.

After all, it’s been said that “necessity is the mother of invention”.
And that says a lot about the power of “necessity”.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

I’m sure you would have encountered it many times yourself in school.
Having procrastinated your way through six weeks and finally getting down to typing the first word of your 4000 words essay two days before your deadline.

Well at least that happened to me.
And not just once.

Yes I did not get any A’s for those papers rushed through the nights.
But the point is not about excelling, it’s about how necessity can push you through doing what you might have thought was next to impossible.

And now, it’s necessary that you graduate from university, move on in life, earn a living, and feed yourselves to stay alive.

Four years in university might not have prepared us enough for that.
And we might never be ready.

But when we have to, we have to.

Hope is more powerful than fear

Uni taught us a lot.
Okay I just realized the quote regarding hope and fear came from The Hunger Games which I didn’t even read/watch but having came to the same realization in uni as they did in The Hunger Games… I guess that really says a lot on how uni life can be like.

Let me bring you back to my procrastination last-minute burn midnight oil rushing essay example once more to illustrate the second thing I wish to touch on.
I did manage to submit all my papers without fail, not even once did I submit late.
I managed to get pretty decent marks for some, and less so for some others.

But despite my consistent effort in trying to finish my essays just before the deadlines, I never did get a consistently high score for them.
And I look at my peers, whom some had never scored below an A- for their essays, and I wonder to myself, “wow, what magic do they really use to craft each of their essays?”

For starters, these people probably already finished their papers before I even started on them.
That’s not the point though. Not exactly.

Just because you are able to get started and be done with something much earlier than I did, does not mean that you will be rewarded a better grade.
The reason you were able to do so though, is probably what made the difference.

You see, I was able to rush out 500 words in an hour.
4000 words in two days.
10 pages in a week.

I did all these with the deadline in my face.
Right in my face, staring at me with bulging eyes, howling non-stop, snickering at times, partially revealing the razor-sharp fangs that can’t wait to munch on me and swallow me down once I missed the deadline, even if it’s by milliseconds.
Yes it is that scary. I know it, because I’ve seen it more than I should have.

Me, obviously not wanting that to happen, had to work my ass off and that’s how I managed to finish all my papers on time and force the monster back to its own cave, only for it to reappear once more each time a new deadline approaches.

I was motivated by necessity.
A necessity to survive.
By fear.

Seeing how the “A- people” (for ease of referencing them) never got any up-close experience with the “deadline monster”, I find it hard to believe that they too, were motivated the way I was.
That was the difference between them and me.

But what was it exactly that motivated them?
It’s time to put my psychology knowledge into work and that’s when I realized that it can only be due to one thing:

You will always do better at something you want to do than something you have to do


Sounds commonsensical, but that’s what a lot of psychology is about anyway.
Well more about finding the science behind the common sense though.

It is believed that intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from within) are more powerful and lasting as compared to extrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from external sources). There are undoubtedly much more to learn about these two types of motivation but this forms the basis of my point here.
Compare people who seeks to finish a paper because they enjoy reading up and writing about a certain topic, and me, who does so in order to not fail the module, and you can see the very obvious difference in the source of motivation.

If that’s not enough psychology to convince you, try comparing our goals of doing the paper.
They did the paper because they possibly want to learn more about the topic and culminate their knowledge gained in a paper, I did the paper because I definitely do not want to fail the module.
I can’t be so sure about the way they perceive the task of doing the paper, but I am absolutely certain about how I looked at it.

Want vs do not want.

Goal types is another area that psychology studied on, claiming that avoidance-oriented goals are related to a number of negative outcomes as compared to approach goals.
While they didn’t include a lower essay grade as an outcome, I’m pretty sure there will be significant results if you conduct a study on it.
How you frame your goal does actually matters, much more than you would have expected.

So yes, if you still do not get it, doing something because you want to will lead to a much better outcome than if it is because you have to.

The question is what can we make out of that understanding.

As we graduate, and move on in life, there’s a lot of things we have to do.
But that doesn’t mean we should simply drift on with the currents of life, going as we are dictated and ignore what we want to do.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” — Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela had many memorable quotes.
So if even Nelson Mandela spoke about this, it must be damn true. Right?

It’s been weeks since the last day of school.
I have friends who went on a trip.
Friends who are still on a trip.
Friends who have been on two trips.
Friends like me, who haven’t been on any trip.

But the common thing in all of us?
We are all trying to get employed.
Because we have to.

I hardly hear of anyone claiming that they are excited to start working because they manage to land their dream job and they are so ready to take on the world and make a change and things like that.
We all have dreams.
Possible more so when we were younger.
Before four years of university got us all jaded and broken.

Or maybe we are just start to see how real and practical the society actually is.

But why? Why do we have to get a job? Why must we work so hard to pay off our loans, to feed ourselves, to contribute to the economy etc?
No it’s not because of where we are living at.
Okay, maybe partially.

Why can’t we just chase our dreams, follow our passion, fulfill our sense of purpose, and live an ideal life of remote working and freelancing, typing on our laptops while away on a relaxing trip at Bali or something?


That’s what we’re meant to do right?
Just look at what people are saying around the Internet now.
Okay that was just around Medium, but I’m sure you have at least seen one article about how to quit your job, follow your passion, and discover the meaning of life or something. Thoughtcatalog or elitedaily would probably be more than happy to give some good advice on those.
Our parents’ generation had to work hard just to ensure they have a roof over their heads and food to eat everyday, but with that given to us already, doesn’t it make sense to go beyond an achieve some form of self-actualization?

Just kidding. Well, sort of.

Of course there are practical concerns.
Living in what people consider as the most expensive city in the world, and you still want to go chase your dreams with a shitload of debts on your back?
No thanks. What are the chances your dreams are gonna give you tons of money, buy you a house, and give you food to eat everyday?

This is where we have to attempt to marry reality and dreams as much as possible.
And it is up to you, and only you, to bridge the gap between them.

We have to understand that there are practical issues we have to deal with in our lives. All the time.
We also understand that we have dreams we hope to fulfill.

Just because there is currently a gap between where we are now and where we want to be, doesn’t mean that we should give up the idea of getting there someday. No matter how big the gap may be.

Be motivated not by the fact that you need to do something (get a job and earn money) because you have an issue to deal with (loans and expenditure), but by the fact that you can do something to get yourself closer to your dream, while at the same time deal with the issues you face.

By motivating yourself through hopes and dreams, rather than fear and necessity, you will be able to have a stronger drive, to accomplish much more, and end up a much happier person overall.

It won’t be easy.
Nothing is ever easy.
This is not the same as asking your to simply chase your passion and abandon whatever logical concerns you should be having; it’s about having the right source of motivation.

Work towards your dreams.
Work realistically.

Work until your dreams become reality.

No regrets

This is so cliche and I really hope by now I don’t sound like another of those typical life-lesson inspirational encouraging article.

But it is something I’ve realized in my past four years.
Like I’ve been saying, uni did taught us a lot.

I’ve always thought of regret as a very strong and intense emotion.
So powerful the moment you let it creep into your mind it will swarm all over you, almost instantly holding you down and preventing you from doing anything at all. And you are just helplessly letting it take control of you without being able to summon even an ounce of strength to fight against it. As much as you may struggle to.

The other emotion I’m very interested in is nostalgia.
Both of which provide a fascinating thesis topic to work on. If I had wanted to write one.

Both of which got to deal with the past.

I frequently live in the past.
I like to think about what had already happened, play out “what-ifs” scenarios in my head, and just let my thoughts run wild while at the same time end up tossing and turning the entire night and not getting much sleep.
It’s as if my mind has built a prison using pieces of my memories to trap myself and every now and then I get locked inside without an idea of how to break free, until it decides to let me go.

For someone who tends to live in the past almost as much as he lives in the present, I think I have reached quite a level of understanding on the idea of regret. Even if not exactly psychologically and scientifically.

Regret, to me, is simply the “present you” not getting over the “past you”.

Most of the time, regrets got to do a lot with your decisions.

I should have woken up earlier to catch the bus…
Maybe I shouldn’t have bought this…
Why did I not learn about this sooner…
If only I tried harder…
I should have spent more time with her…

Ranging from little things in everyday life, to more important issues such as work and health, and even to relationships and people.
When you regret about something, it’s either something you did or did not do.
It’s always about your decisions.
Your very own decisions made at a certain point of time in the past which you now hoped you would have made otherwise.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do” — Mark Twain

I heard that including famous quotes in your writing enforces its credibility and persuasiveness.

Hey, but Mark Twain was talking about “disappointment”, not “regret”!
Well exactly.
I’m sure most of you would have read this quote somewhere, or a variation such as “you will only regret the things you didn’t do, not the things you did”.

Regret is about the “present you” being disappointed with the “past you”.

And here I am just telling you that whatever has happened, has happened and there is no point crying over spilled milk so just live without regrets do not dwell upon the past and move on in life.

If only life is as simple as that.

How did I come up with this realization that, we shouldn’t regret then?
It’s really not about YOLO and things like that.

Breaking it down once more in case you’ve forgotten, regrets are about the “present you” being upset with the “past you”.
Firstly, if both are “you”, what’s the point in constantly getting upset over yourself?
I do understand that people do get upset over themselves in various circumstances.
I personally do. Relatively often.
But why get upset with yourself, about something from so long ago, over and over again?
While this is not a very strong argument but if you really think about it, it does sound a bit stupid to constantly get upset with yourself over and over again at the same thing even after years right?

But here’s the thing.
The “past you” do not have any knowledge and experiences that the “present you” have.
I believe that everytime I make a decision, at that point of time, I made the best decision I could for myself considering what I know and the situation I was in at that point of time.
Whatever happens from then on leading to the current point in time that makes me regret that very decision, I wouldn’t have known any of those then.
So why get upset over my “past self” in making that decision?

It’s just as good as scolding a kid for doing something wrong even before he or she is being educated on what’s right or wrong.

It’s not that I don’t regret at all.
Of course I do get upset at different things all the time, I just don’t let them affect me more than they should.

To me, no regrets is also not about YOLO and just doing whatever I feel like I should do.
That is about the future.
You are attempting to look into the future and hypothesize if the “future you” will be upset with the “present you” for any decisions you are about to make.
It may help to think that way. It is really considerate of you to think for your “future you” before making any decisions, even if it is just to avoid the “present you” potentially disappointing the “future you”.

But we can never know what the future holds.
And I believe that everything happens for a reason.

You may not.
You may not buy anything I’m saying now, but this is what I’ve come up with through my own experiences and thoughts.
This is just how I choose deal with regrets.

It’s not that you just have to live with whatever regrets you have made, but more that you shouldn’t let it affect you so much, understanding that you have made the best decision you could at that time.

As for things that happened which are totally out of your control (unlikely to be totally but possible), I’m sorry.
I cannot help you with that because it’s not something I’ve thoroughly figured out yet.

We are all bound to have regrets.
We don’t always take the right path in life, moving forward gracefully and constantly getting nearer to the goal we are striving for.
We stumble too. And we fall.
We just learn to get up and carry on.

I’m sure looking back at the past four years, all of you have some form of regrets or another, big or small.

I probably should have prepared for and studied harder in my first two years.
I might have even done better in another major, or even another school.
I wonder what would have happened if I accepted Seoul National University in the first semester instead of applying again and finally getting National Taiwan University in the second semester.
I should have join a CCA or even CCAs so that I can learn more things, pursue my interest, or just expand my social circle.
What if I put in more effort to mingle and make friends with the people in my residential college? Or even in tutorials? What if I had stayed hall instead? What if I had decided to join organizing committees for orientation camps? What if I had manage to take up a higher leadership position? What if I had done more internships? What if I thought more about what I want to do in the future and worked harder on it? What if I had decided to join my friends on grad trips?

These are just some things I used to think about.
Some affect me more than the other, but I always try not to let them affect me more than they should.
More than they should is rather ambiguous, but sometimes things are just not definitive.

Things could have gone very different had I made a slightly different decision anytime in the past four years.

But did I have any knowledge of what would happened?

Do I have any knowledge of what could have happened?
No. Not real knowledge at least, nothing aside from my own powerful imagination.

Am I content with what happened?
With no real knowledge of what could have happened, it is a resounding
yes for me.

I think about what could have happened, and a lot of awesome things could have happened. I just had to make a slightly different decision compared to the one I did.
But am I willing to give up all that I have from then till now for a chance of that happening?
No way.

Imagine you have a $100 note in your hand, and you are presented with a chance to pick a note out of a pool of fifty notes while blindfolded, of which consists of a $1000 note and forty-nine $2 notes, you don’t think you will be so lucky to end up with ten-times more the money you had, than fifty-times less right?

This analogy may not be the most accurate one.
But what I’m saying is that, since you are never able to fully know what-could-have-been, being contented and thankful for what-have-been would make so much more sense.

And that is another reason why I choose to not regret.
Well, so-called not regret.

So get over whatever bad decisions the “past you” may have made to upset you, and start practicing gratitude on what you currently have.

Now… what?

It took me weeks to write this post.
Well, the actual writing time is probably not even 24 hours, but you know, procrastination strikes and productivity hit an all-time low and things just happen.
Or rather, not happen.

It’s been a good three weeks since I was done with school.
Some things changed, some haven’t.

And I’m still stuck somewhere between graduating, unemployment, and figuring out my direction in life.

But that’s okay.
In writing this, at least I’ve learned that my four years weren’t wasted.
Of course there are so much more than whatever I’ve written.
I couldn’t possibly fit four years into an essay, because so much happened and if I were really to reflect on them, I can possibly draw out hundreds and even thousands of lessons learned in my time in NUS.

I am just really thankful, for all that has happened in the past four years, good or bad.
Really thankful, for everyone who has walked into my life, those who stayed, those who walked with me, even those who were barely alongside me for more than a while.

I believe everything happens for a reason.
And I believe everything that happened to me, everyone whom I’ve met, helped shape me as the person I am now.

The four years have been great.
But they are over now.
I’m halfway through my 20s, and I still got a long way to go.

It’s a really long way and tons of things waiting for me to accomplish, dreams for me to chase, and decisions for me to make.
And I know that I will do something if I really have to, I will keep my dreams in mind and always be working towards them, and I’ll make the best decision I can at any point of time and not let it affect myself too much in the future.

Among all the lessons I’ve gained though, the biggest takeaway from university has to be the friendships forged through various moments in my four years.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

The road is long, and it is comforting to know that I’m not alone.

Thank you, NUS.
Thank you, every single one of you who were part of my life in these four years.

For the last time (before commencement),