The Thirst for Knowledge

(I initially titled this post “The Pursuit of Knowledge”, but on second thought, that sounds a bit weird. It sounds as if Knowledge is running away from us like a thief runs away from the police :P)

Now that I’ve officially completed my first year of university (got my exam results back a while ago), it’s time to share a very important lesson that I learned this year. I think this might be helpful to my juniors who are in the midst of preparing their university applications.

As you deliberate over different university degree options, I strongly urge you to consider these few questions. What captivates you to the extent of voracious reading and incessant discussion? What captures your attention for hours and hours on end? Is there any academic field/subject that you long to explore and eventually master (even if you don’t feel confident that you can)?

If you have identified an academic discipline or subject area that fits this description, how willing are you to pursue it? How badly do you want what you want?

These questions have nothing to do with your current knowledge, or even your perception of your future competence. They are about passion, love for learning and the inner satisfaction of acquiring new knowledge and skills. What I’m trying to say is this – if you have a passion for a subject that you have little or no competence in, go for it.

Don’t worry about what your exam results or test scores will be. Your passion will drive you towards success. Of course, passion alone will not guarantee academic excellence, and even with many hours of hard work, you may still not achieve the stellar results that you want. But one thing’s for sure – no matter what grades you get, nothing can replace the joy of accomplishment that you attain by choosing a new path and sticking to it till the end. Think of Rocky Balboa jumping up and down at the top of the stairs after completing his training regime (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NubH5BDOaD8).

Back in secondary school and junior college (a.k.a. Years 1 to 6 in RI), I stayed within my comfort zone – the Science stream. My A-level subjects were Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Geography (which really includes a lot of Science even though it’s considered a Humanities subject). And yet today, I am studying in LSE, which is an arts and social science university. I jumped ship – from the Sciences to the Humanities.

But why the sudden change? I developed a slight interest in political studies in my final year of education in Singapore. The operative word here is “slight”, because compared to a lot of my friends, I don’t think I had any right at that point in time to count myself amongst the “current affairs enthusiasts” in my batch. But nonetheless, a spark of curiosity was kindled within me, and I found greater joy in reading the biographies of great historical figures than learning about hydrocarbons, bacterial conjugation, and geological landforms and phenomena that I could never hope to see in Singapore.

When I prepared my university applications, I had to decide if I was willing to go through a drastic change of course – from chemical equations to lots and lots of essay-writing. Eventually, I decided to take a leap of faith. I don’t mean to over-dramatise this, but my first 3 months in university were really quite a challenging adjustment period for me. I wasn’t used to writing long essays. I wasn’t used to reading social science journal articles. I was the only one in my History class who had never taken History as a subject, so I spent quite some time catching up on world history. I often felt inadequate, ignorant and naïve.

But learning is not supposed to be a comfortable process. Stretching the mind is like stretching your leg muscles – it hurts, but it’s highly beneficial. To add to my frustration, I realised that the more I know, the more I don’t; I became aware of how much I don’t know and probably never will know (hence, the name of my blog). But I soon learned to appreciate the confusion of my education. Even when revision was tough, I took pride in the fact that I had learned so much about the world that I didn’t know before. Shedding ignorance is like shedding weight – you feel enlightened 😛

I didn’t get amazing results for my exams – like I said, hard work will not guarantee stellar results – but I did well. More importantly, I feel satisfied with my results. I feel content. I feel like I’ve achieved success – one that cannot be quantified in an exam score. And now, I can share my story in the hope that I can encourage others who are contemplating a significant change in their studies.