Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (February 9, 2013)
I remember the time when I studied in London in primary school very fondly – my caring teachers, my interesting friends, and my active school life all made it a wonderful experience. In those 2 years, I think nearly all my experiences were positive except one painful incident that made me learn a lifelong lesson.
In my second year at the school when I was just 9 years old, I remember having done very well during the school year. So when it came to exam time, my conclusion was that I could get away with not studying. I had worked hard throughout the year so I was sure it meant that I could get by doing my exams with no work involved. I remember my mum asking me during the pre-exam period whether I had studied for my exams because she saw me playing more than working, and I brushed her off with an ‘of course’. My mum was not one to micromanage my studies so she trusted what I said and left it at that.
And you can probably guess what happened next. I did my exams and when the results came back, I was shocked. I did terribly! All my teachers were shocked and disappointed and I felt so embarrassed. I would hide my exam papers so my classmates wouldn’t see. But what I was most afraid of was telling my mum. It’s not that my mum was a tiger mum at all, but I was fearful of her response. After all, she had seen my studying behaviours and most certainly couldn’t tell her that I had tried my best!
That day, after school, I sheepishly crept up to my mother in trepidation. I then finally mustered up the courage to tell my mother how badly I had done the exams. And I will never forget what she said and how she looked as she responded to me whilst sitting on the kitchen chair. She looked at me with disappointment in her eyes and in a calm voice said ‘I hope you will do better next time’.
You might think that I felt relieved that she had let me off so easily but in fact, I was shocked and didn’t know how to respond. You see, I wanted her to shout at me and to tell me how irresponsible I was. I wanted her to punish and ground me for not trying my best. I knew that I deserved to be punished and I would probably have felt better if she had; but she just showed me grace. So my ultimate response was that I felt so bad for disappointing her that I vowed to myself that I would work hard from that day forward.
But what I realized much later was this: in letting her down, I realized that she wasn’t disappointed because I received a poor mark, nor was she disappointed because I made her lose face with her friends when they talked about their children’s grades. She was disappointed because she believed in me and that I could do better. She believed that I could be independent and responsible, she believed I could be capable of more. And it was that power of belief in me, even when I couldn’t believe in myself, that made me propel forward.
I truly believe in the impartation of confidence. That if parents, the people who know their children best, are confident in their child’s ability and believe that they are capable of what is set in front of them, that children will embrace that sense of belief in themselves and self-confidence. So many parents come to me asking how they can make their child more confident – I think one of the keys is truly believing in your child.
I truly believe that each child is like a gem stone – beautifully unique and ready to shine in this world. But we mustn’t forget that gemstones come from the rubble of the ground. We need to identify the rock and believe that there is something precious inside that can be shone into the world.
If we can see the gem that each child is and empower them, anything is possible for them. My mother believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and it changed how I lived. I hope that with our words and actions, we can show young people just how much we believe in them – that they are responsible, independent, compassionate, caring, hard working individuals capable of making a difference in this world – and then see how they shine.