“I have not failed,” Thomas Edison once said, “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This way of looking at failure is highly optimistic, and it also paints a beautiful story of perseverance. I have heard of this quote before some time back, but I never consciously thought about it in my moment of distress at the start of 2014 when I was Primary Five.
In February that year, at one of my first Chinese classes, my teacher flashed on the projector screen a list with the grades for each and every student. My name was right at the bottom of the 34 names. My grade: B. The marks: 60 percent. The top scorer, whom I shall call Cool Kid, was glowing with A* at 95 percent. How he gloated, lording over everyone else in class! Even that student from China couldn’t touch him with his 92 percent.
Imagine the humiliation, right there at the bottom. The sinking, lousy feeling stayed with me the whole day into the next few weeks. “Why am I so stupid?” the question kept floating in my mind. But I knew that nothing would happen if I kept thinking this way. The stress of being at the bottom made me see things anew. I made up my mind. What I needed was a makeover: a new perspective, a new study plan, a new me.
I launched my own Sun Tzu’s Art of War shortly after, which must have been mid-February. The study regime was as meticulous as it was precise. Roughly, it looked like this: Monday, 3PM to 6PM, Chinese composition tuition; Wednesday and Friday, 3PM to 6PM, assessment exercises and all things comprehension and grammar.
And every weekday evening, I have vocabulary intensives with my eldest sister. From 7.30PM, once dinner is over, we get down to our word power routine, where she’d give me an English word, and I’d supply the English equivalent. For instance, she’d go, “to show off before an expert,” and I’d respond: banmennongfu, which literally refers to the smart aleck who fashions an axe right in front of the home of a master axe-maker. We’d go on like this for exactly half an hour, covering at least 25 words; one time, even 30.
I wasn’t sure if my dogged regime would yield any results, but I just went for it. What did I have to lose, anyway? Close to nine hours of sheer hard work per week—with my tutor for six hours; and my sister, two-and-a-half hours. I had even skipped recess everyday.
By the time I sat for the mid-year examination, I had a score of 98 percent—a 38-percent improvement from the 60 percent in February. From the bottom of class, I shot up to the first position, beating Cool Kid, who wasn’t second but third.
I gloated in my heart, but was careful not to give him that smug look. I tried to keep it as low key as possible, especially since I bagged the golden ticket to Shanghai for a one-week immersion trip. It was glorious not to feel weighed down by that stupid, dumpy feeling. Who ever knew that perseverance would take me to such a dizzying, delirious universe?
T.L. Ng, Secondary One
This essay was written in response to the question:
Write about a time when perseverance played an important role in your life.