Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Whatever decision you make in your life, assess whether it makes a good or unique story. You will be most remembered by your stories over your “successes”.

Everybody likes to hear a story or a personal testimony. To me, seeking first-hand experiences is the key to grow oneself quickly without being easily influenced by herding mentalities. It might be boring to hear someone having a smooth-sailing life versus someone who had failed but was resilient.

In whatever I do, as a guiding principle, I will decide which decision gives me a challenge and whether if it will become another worthy story in my life.

Here’s what I learned and gained by not herding with conventional wisdom in a modern society.

1. Winners are those who never give up, not those who never fail

I was a rebellious teenager was disinterested in my studies. I ended up as an academic failure and had to enter a technical institute which was publicly known “for school rejects”. Some of my friends and family members despised me as a failure in life. But instead of feeling beaten down, I was not broken. I never believed I was a stupid person (no one is!). I worked extra hard and was the first person in the entire history of my course to earn “Top Graduate” (Highest academic rank) in the entire institute. I was on local media because people wanted to hear a story of how a rebellious boy turned from his old ways.

My parents and I kept a secret from everyone including other family members about my enrolment into a “school reject” institute until I was featured on a television programme. What a way to come back from a school reject!

“it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” (Rocky Balboa)

2. Forget the prestige! Enjoy the learning!

Moving forward from point 1, I was accepted into a well-known local university. Received a scholarship which pays for my entire degree course. The only catch is I needed to maintain a cumulative grade score of 3.5. As a previous school reject, I was exposed to more practical training over theoretical training. In a local university, the courses are more theoretically structured and assessed. My first semester was a flop, managing only 2.56 score, I was given my first warning. The next semester, I managed a score of 3.08.

My scholarship was suspended as a second warning. By then, I told myself to forget about the scholarship and enjoy learning by taking modules I like. You need to know that many asians would take modules they are confident at to pull their cumulative scores.

The result of letting go of the scholarship and freeing myself of this “scrutiny”? A grade score of 3.59. My scholarship was reinstated. Why should I take modules just for a cosmetic score and actually learned a lot less?

After I gained that confidence managing my university studies, I begun my challenge to take on cross-faculty modules because I like to have different perspectives to my learning journey. Surprisingly, I scored no less than a B+ for these modules. Interest can really help in our learning process. No stress about exams, just apply what you learned. Why should there be even a right or wrong answer to a question?

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over. (Richard Branson)

3. Life experiences are more valuable than academic achievements

After reinstating my scholarship, I now can aim for a better degree classification (British’s classification). That would make a good story – “an undergraduate with a lowly grade score graduated with 2nd class upper division”

However, I failed to achieved that by 2%. What could have happened?

As an undergraduate, we all have opportunities to do student exchanges in universities overseas. However, any module you mapped over to that curricular system will only be seen as “Pass” or “Fail” with no impact to your own grade score. I did my math and found it very challenging to obtain 2nd class upper division if I were to go for a student exchange. I convinced myself that I can do it and always thought new experiences are more valuable in my life than paper grades.

I enjoyed myself in Sydney and learned a great deal about living alone overseas. When I interact people, I have stories to relate to if they ever talked about snow skiing, wild dolphins, marijuana, etc. Compared to achieving a 2nd class upper division, which do you think has a better story?

I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes. (Edna St. Vincent Millay)



Writing was first posted on LinkedIn:

Li, D. (2014, June 15). Challenging Conventional Wisdom. Retrieved September 9, 2015, from


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