Ah, sixteen years old. The good ole’ ‘O’ Levels. I almost miss the days, where your only goal was to study hard and score good marks. Here are some of the things I wish I knew at that point in time. It is also limited to Singapore and my situation. They are also not listed according to any sort of order. It is also in no way a regret of how I spent my last few years.
- If you are good in English, go for JC.
I was best in elective literature when I graduated from secondary school. I thought I was ready to go into scriptwriting and journalism, and eventually become a published writer. Boy was I wrong. At that age, I was very young and lacked the awareness to understand the themes that resound with people of different age groups. I’m still learning about it as the world and people change. Going into JC would have given me two more years of learning the ways of the world and understanding myself. I would also have been around classmates and friends, which would have made a world of a difference to my social life.
- Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Having to choose between either JC or polytechnic is a very stressful thing. There are so many different charts, opinions to point you in the ‘right’ direction. Your friends, relatives, siblings and parents will feel the need to push you to one or the other. Teachers will point out the pay gap between an ‘O’ Level graduate, ‘A’ Level graduate, a polytechnic diploma graduate, and a university graduate.From what I have learned, this is what I would have asked myself.
Do you like group projects, and ungraded subjects like civics morals, health ed, P.E. and music? Can you follow your schedule 90% of the time, and remember to study even when you are not at school? Can you learn just by listening to the teacher? Then go for polytechnic studies. Because otherwise you are not making full use of the study format of polytechnics. It is not that they are bad. You are just not going to succeed there, because you do not fit the ‘ideal’ of students who can do it.
Do you need to be motivated to do your job? Do you sit at home often and/or like to have a schedule done for you by someone else, preferably one who knows you and how you study (which may or may not be not at all)? Can you complete work when a deadline is set by a person of authority? Can you memorize, regurgitate and rephrase what is taught? Then go for JC. You are not yet ready for full self study, which is the sum of polytechnic school life. You might also be a bit sheltered, and naive. IT IS NOT A BAD THING. You are still young.
- Don’t just sit there, go find a job.
The gap between secondary school and JC/poly school is crucial. It’s time for you to spread your wings a little and see the outside world. F&B, retail or sales jobs are a good start. Discuss with your parents and make sure they allow and understand why. It’s also good for those soft feathers – you will toughen up a bit and learn stuff along the way. Don’t start looking after you’ve gotten your ‘O’ Levels – there will be a lot of people fighting for the same jobs against you. Keep an eye out for part time work and start applying during the first few weeks of orals. Tell them that you can start after you finish your exams. You will have a new experience, and pocket money for a rainy day. You also will not be lounging around in the house doing nothing, and have nothing to show for.
- Start bookkeeping. And save.
Irregardless of which direction you go, start to keep notes about how you are spending. You can do it old school by writing it down, or use one of the huge numbers of apps that are coming up each month. Do it for one month. What are you spending on? What aren’t you spending on? Do you spend too much on something? Should you cut it out? It will also show you how much an average student will spend, and how much you can actually save. Ask an adult for advice on this. There is always something they know about money that you don’t.
- Work on your hobby.
This gap of time after getting your O Levels is the perfect time for you to work on something you like, and if you don’t, find something that you like. Writing? Do a workshop, or write something and submit it for a contest, or upload onto story sharing websites. Drawing? Practice and create works for your portfolio. Basketball? Ask friends out and make it a weekly thing, so you have something to look forward to, and also you keep in touch with old friends.
- Meditate and think first.
16 is a time of hormonal imbalances and act before you think moments. You can also expect life to get more stressful as time passes. Yes, meditation sounds stupid and something only boring and adult people do. You might even fall asleep a few times. But it helps to center your mind and gather your thoughts, allowing you to sort through things that are necessary from other thoughts. Keeping calm will also allow you to make less stupid mistakes, and more right ones, because you thought it through.
- You are not stupid for asking.
This applies not just to being 16. It applies to anything. If you don’t understand, keep asking until you do. There are only two things lost in this – your ‘face’ and your learning. Forget your pride and remember your hunger for knowledge. Never stop asking. You will only benefit. But don’t be obnoxious about it – let others ask as well. Find the right number for you to ask in class. If you finished the number, but still do not understand, wait until class is over, or even school is over, and go and approach your teacher. They will never mind you asking. In fact, it will help them in teaching, because they will know that there are parts of what they teach that they could add more explanations about.
- Ask yourself, where do you wanna be?
Now is the time for future planning, if you haven’t done it already. Talk to your friends, family, siblings, relatives. Talk to career guidance counsellors and strangers even. You never know where good advice comes from. Do a one year plan? Where do you see yourself in one year? Do you want to score a certain grade for a subject? Is there a place you want to go, but cannot afford? Do you want to make more friends? Set the goal, and keep adjusting as you go. It may sound weird, but as time goes by, things change, and your goal may have to change with it.
- Listen and keep in contact.
Open your ears and hear what is going on around you. The chatter between working ladies. The jokes between old friends. The discussions from people in suits. The food complaints of housewives and mothers. They are all a part of your life, and give you the day to day knowledge that could help you. Of course you must pay attention to the news and social media – who doesn’t these days? But also remember that there are people around you, and they can be not strangers, if you are willing to listen. They have lives, and they have struggles, and they could become your friends. Friendship has no number. But an untended boat will rust and sink. So keep in contact with them. It can be all of them, or just the ones you know very well. You will never know which boat will save you when you’re drowning.
- Breathe. The bad will pass.
Hormones makes everything feel like the end of the world. I know I thought Twilight was the apex of all romance, and that a sparkling vampire was the most dangerous thing that went bump in the night. I used to argue with my mom and aunt about it – they grew up on Anne Rice – until I found better bookshelves to raid. Twilight served a purpose in my life, and it passed. I’ve learned not to regret it, because I could have been obsessed with worse things. I was also horrible at Math, and hated the lesson and tuition I had to have, and all the extra assessment books that I needed to complete. I didn’t hate the 10pm curfew, but it’s not ideal for many of my peers at the time.So take a deep breath. You failed Math. So what? There will be another lesson – and there is always lesson 7 – and another chance to do better. Don’t become afraid of failure, when failure is a part of life, and a part of success.
- Don’t study – learn
Studying is acquiring and collecting knowledge via reading, memorizing, attending classes. That is why a person who studies is a student. To learn is to gain knowledge – not just to have the knowledge – by practicing, studying and applying said knowledge until it is understood. A person who learns is a learner. It is much better to be a learner than a student. A learner understands what he or she has learned. A student studies but may not understand what is taught.If you do not understand what is taught – ask. Singaporean studies require a huge amount of rote learning – repeating and repeating the same answers until you can spit it out without a moment’s thought. But that is only if the answers are correct, and questions are always changing.
When you understand what is taught, no matter what question is thrown to you, your answer means the same, but you can phrase it according to what the question asks of you.
If you still do not understand, remember this:
Be the copywriter, not the printer.
- Believe in yourself
Everyone will feel the right to tell you what to do. Some will come in well-meaning advice, others through bullying, and others because they think they know better (you can tell which group they fall into). Even I’m telling you what to do. But you know who can make you do anything? YOU. This is a quote my mom told me recently,
“Time changes everything, but only if YOU make the change.”
You still have the power. You still hold the majority vote for what goes next. You decide whether you want to walk out naked in the streets because it’s too hot for clothes, or if you pass your test. You are the key to everything. So believe in yourself. Keep working hard even when you don’t score very well, and get teachers and family to help, because you still are only one person, and they usually know what they’re doing when asked.
I can promise that you will cry and fall down hard, but I can also promise you that you can and will get up. You are too smart, too strong, too wise and loved not to. I can promise you that you will find a way, even when you can’t see one.
- Remember sunscreen, and learn to put on makeup.
Singapore is sunny. UVA and UVB rays will get in anywhere as long as you are not living in a cave with blackout curtains. You may not see the dark spots or hyperpigmentation now, but you will in 10 years. And also, you will get tanner in the water than on land – but don’t skimp on it. A 50 cent coin size is good for the face, and another one for the neck – you don’t want to be one of those young looking adults who wear scarves everywhere to hid the neck lines and sagging.
Nothing below SPF 30, and PA +++ will do. You will thank yourself once the wrinkles hit.
So what if it’s hot and humid? Slap it on. You can’t wear black eyeshadow and lipstick when you’re 35. You’ll have other stuff to worry about. Fall asleep in it a few times. You’ll get pimples and realize that that raccoon look needs to be put away before you sleep – no better way to learn than to wake up with mini volcanoes on your face. Experiment. Wear red lipstick, pink, brown, orange and anything else. Practice a wing liner, blend out a smokey eye, and play with coloured liner, mascara, eyeshadow. Find what makes you happy and what works for you.
And when you make a mistake? Wipe it off and try again! The fun part is when you succeed, you see a difference, instead of just mixing stuff in Chemistry class and creating weird gooey tubs of gunk. Or blowing the lab up ( please don’t do this on purpose!!). Play. And this is not just for girls. GUYS! Concealer is not an enemy – it’s a confidence booster in interviews and dates! We are okay with it. Personally, I don’t mind if a guy wears eyeliner or smokey eye – just do it well. I can give pointers:D
- Start a skincare regimen. IMMEDIATELY.
If you haven’t gotten your first pimple yet, lucky you!!! I was an early bloomer, so this is old news. But for those who just got the Whatsapp about it, congrats! You are on the same page as the rest of us! If you are lucky, you won’t get adult acne as well.Like what I said above, experiment. Start with the milder stuff – look for milk, apple, tea tree, green tea. Things that occur in nature. DON’T use any scrubs that contains actual seed granules (meaning actual small pieces of seed shells) because they will be very harsh for young skin. If you must try it, only do it after you have tried the gentler products, because you could make yourself age faster. Figure out what skin type you are, and find products that work with what your skin needs. And don’t just take care of your face – the rest of your body matters as well. Moisturize, because if you don’t you might just give your crush a static shock when you pass them by due to dry skin ( it collects static electricity. Don’t ask me why; it just does.)
Find what is right for you now, and keep using it. You might think your skin is okay now, but when you find the right stuff for your face, you will learn that there is more to being okay when it comes to skin quality.
- Sleep properly and regularly. Your hair and skin will thank you.
This related to number 2. When your second and/or third year hits, you will forgo sleep to finish the project, hit the deadline and mug through the night. Learn to take naps throughout the day for such a situation. You will feel better. Trust me. And girl, if you wear makeup, bring wipes and your makeup with you. Don’t nap with your makeup on – it will look bad. If you have problems sleeping, there are things to try that will make your sleep better. For me, I find that I need my sleeping mask – which I found out recently – and soft white noise. I cannot fall asleep when someone nearby is snoring. Your synapses, hair scalp, skin, dark eye circles and bags will thank you. If not, there’s always coffee and concealer.
- Eat healthily and regularly. Your stomach will love you.
Same issue as the one above. You get busy, and fast food becomes your stomach’s annoying best friend. It’s also not a good habit to keep, because fast food often means high oil, salt and sugar unless you are willing or able to spend $8 and above. If you can and want to put in the effort, learn to make your own meals. It’s cheaper and your parents will rest easy knowing you can tell the difference between food and poison when the apocalypse (leaving the nest) comes. Eat your veggies, drink your water, and munch on fruits (not excessively, because they are still sugar heavy – especially bananas).
That’s everything I wish I knew at 16. Some of them I might have known to do, some I wish there had been a helpful, non-intrusive adult to tell me. Hope everyone has learned something, and had a few chuckles over it. Til we meet again.