Alefiyah Joeb: The Art of Balance

Alefiyah Joeb: The Art of Balance

“Girls, always aim for the best so that in the future, you’ll be able to do anything you want to.”

This was something my sister and I heard very often, be it from my mum, uncle, or any adult who had even the slightest interest in our lives. I heard it especially when we drove past Victoria Junior College (one of the best Junior Colleges in Singapore) every other time my whole family decided to squeeze into the back of my uncle’s Hyundai and cruise to Changi Beach. I knew that was the school everyone hoped my sister and I would enroll in. 

It made sense though. In a country where meritocracy is still valued to a mysteriously high extent, it made sense to me to “do my best” and “get the best results” so that I would ultimately be able to choose whichever career path I desired. However, even though this was something I knew I was meant to do, I preferred to play rather than study (just as every other child does). I never really had the discipline to actually sit down and get things done, and having a working mother (mother who was working full-time), I was never properly forced to; I was brought up mostly by my grandfather who allowed me to do whatever I wanted. But it was this very freedom that gave me the opportunity to explore. 

When I was studying in primary school, it was compulsory to sign up for non-academic activities. I switched from table tennis to Chinese orchestra to Chinese dance and eventually, to badminton. I tried my hand at each before moving onto something I thought would suit me better, until I found the perfect fit. The same cycle happened when I was in secondary school: I traded Track-and-Field for AV Media. I just wanted to give everything a go. I believe that by giving myself the chance to explore, I would be able to deviate from the norm. Thus, in secondary 4, I decided that instead of going to Victoria Junior College (only if I made it in, of course… ), I would apply for a place in St Joseph’s Institution and work towards an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma instead. 

I thought I worked really hard to enrol into the IB Programme. Admittedly, I knew other students were working harder than me. Still, I never let that bother me –  we were all different. Fortunately for me, I attended a school that encouraged collaboration – everyone helped everyone because examinations were never a source of competition. This meant that I never had to approach them with fear. With the support of my teachers and peers, I managed to get into the IB Programme and then, Singapore Management University. 

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University life, however, was very different from anything I’d experienced before. In Singapore, it feels less like school, and more like a race to the starting line of one’s working life. Yes, it is a ‘race to the starting line’. While this may be the case in many other countries as well, to me, the difference was so pronounced I began to wonder if I was cut out for university after all. Still, a degree in Psychology was what I wanted. So, instead of attempting to “do my best” at attaining academic excellence (where I was relatively certain I would not be able to surpass my peers), I decided to do what I knew best – keep trying. However, I also wanted to earn money; instead of embarking on a host of extra-curriculars, this time I took a number of odd jobs. (I admit that I was rather ambitious). My CV consisted of the most random jobs out there: waitress, usher, consultant, teacher, barista… the list goes on. 

Throughout university, I was asked about how I juggled work, school and my social life, but the only ‘secret’ I can tell you is that I was just happy with whatever it was that I was doing. Having a range of activities lined up was a form of escapism – from the rigour of academia, and even the workplace. Working throughout university allowed me to indulge in instant gratification – I could simply decide to take a holiday each semester break. It also allowed me to get out of social situations which I was hoping to avoid: I could just say, “Sorry guys, I have to work!” I had the ability to pick where I wanted to be, and therefore the satisfaction in knowing that my circumstances were always a result of choice rather than by compulsion. I was able to relax because I found joy in what I was doing. 

All in all, would I say that there’s a one-size-fits-all method to being happy and successful in life, a way to properly balance all the responsibilities you  have on your shoulders? Definitely not. Being a student of psychology, I am aware of the fact that people’s personalities and goals determine how they can best strike a balance in their lives. However, the best advice I can offer is to be fully conscious of what you want, and then slowly make your way towards that goal, rather than aiming to be perfectionistic and learning very little along the way. 

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