How To Get Involved With Your Passions

A recent post on Ask MetaFilter asks:

How do you cope when you seem to be surrounded on all sides by ineffectiveness and apathy?

In his question, jmnugent talks about his frustration at seeing his work and ideas not coming to fruition due to the apathy around him. He feels that not many people “care about quality work” and only does the bare minimum, and is finding it hard to be passionate when it seems no one really cares.

There is quite an animated discussion over rewards for efforts, living on principle, and the value of ideas. In the middle of all this comes the true question: How does a passionate person get involved with other passionate groups and people?

The main answer is that you have to go and look for those groups and people – expecting them to look for you will not yield much. You may be lucky and get discovered, but – like being rich, being famous, or finding the love of your life – a lot of it requires effort. Along the way you’ll also need to earn trust, work on communications skills, and do the work without blame or worry on someone holding you back.

Fortunately it isn’t that difficult to get started. Here are some starting points (as posted by me to jmnugent’s question) on getting involved with other passionate people: (click on the More link)

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It’s been a while since I have written in here: I have been quite busy. There is definitely plenty to write about, but here are some snippets:

1. Part 2 of the Guide to Semester at Sea has been posted. In here, the author Tom Muller writes about his experience on board – taking classes, boat life, and the various opportunities he gained. It’s a great way to see this sort of educational experience on a first hand basis.

2. I and EducateDeviate are featured in the September 2006 issue of Off The Edge, a lifestyle magazine offshoot of Malaysian business paper The Edge – it’s part of the Malaysian Futures series of interviews. I will post up a transcript shortly.

3. The World Bank will post up all the entries of the 2006 Essay Competition shortly. Currently they have a report on the current competition, as well as the winning essays.

So what have I been up to? Plenty: I have just completed volunteering for the Brisbane Writers Festival and Straight Out Of Brisbane, an arts & ideas festival. These gave me hands-on experience in management, logistics, and events, as well as smaller stuff such as working a cash register and checking for ID! It was fun and quite rewarding.

I am also quite busy in university and in college. I have just been elected as International Students Director for the QUT Student Guild, which puts me directly in charge of the international students’ affairs from a student perspective (QUT has their own International Student Services office which is maintained by their own staff). Part of my plan for the coming year is to make more study-abroad options open for QUT students (especially multi-country and alternative types of educational travel) so this should prove interesting!

I’m also getting more and more involved with the college I live in, International House. I’ve participated in their main events such as Soiree (an annual international food & entertainment fiesta, their biggest event) and Dancefest (an inter-college dance competition) and even played squash once, though I’m not really any good! Apparently I made enough of an impact, because I recently received an Acheivement Award for “embodying the spirit of International House” – quite an honour, considering I just arrived here!

It’s by getting involved in activities such as these (and many more) that I really get my education – hands-on experience, interacting with people, learning about the world one on one. There is still the uni coursework and exams to be done (indeed, I am actually procrastinating from a big essay!) but I’d rather my entire degree be made up of experiences like these. At least through there I am really learning.

If you have any updates for me in the world of alternative education, please feel free to share!

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Blogathon: #31 – What I Strive For

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The Blogathon front page has this question now:

What do you most strive for in your life: accomplishment, security, love, power, excitement, knowledge, or something else?

Let me explain this by writing a little bit about how I got involved in alternative education.

School was a mixed bag of experiences for me. On the one hand, there were some good times. On the other hand, those “good times” were vastly overshadowed by the terrible experiences I had – being an ultimate minority, facing racism, being ostracised because this “lain-lain” (“other”; i.e. not Malay, Chinese, or Indian) somehow did better in exams than the rest of the school population. I started being apathetic towards academics – what’s the point in trying to score straight As if you get hated for it? I was scoring them anyway, without even trying.

I love to learn. Even now. I loved reading – I taught myself – I love computers, I love science museums, I love exploring and finding out things and learning things. However, I did not enjoy school’s idea of “learning” – rote, restricted, standardized. Barely room for creativity. Think out of the box and you get told off. No encouragement, only belittlement.

Secondary school was marginally better. There were a few teachers that recognized my potential and encouraged me to go further (I would like to acknowledge one here: Ms Navinder Kaur. Thank you so much for everything. You rock.) and I kept myself busy with various activities – debate, choral speaking, English club, etc etc. Things took a turn for the worse when, in my final year, I was diagnosed with panic disorder and depression. I had panic attacks at random and sometimes had to skip school. The headmistress was symphatetic, but not the other admins; they all thought I was making it up, that it as all “in my head”. No one really cared. All they wanted was grade cattle. I was top of the class, without taking extra tuition (useless, anyway) and I’m told that I’d be so much better if I showed up. Yeah right.

I was in the Humanities class in Form 4 and 5, and seeing how the Humanities students were treated made me even more cynical of the Malaysian school system. We were treated like nothing. Dunderheads. Too stupid for Science. (I was offered a place in the Science Stream but wanted Literature instead; I was told that I was “wasting my As”.) No one cared about us. One other girl was going through hysteria and had to move schools temporarily. ne teacher’s response? “I hope she doesn’t take her exam here, she’ll bring down our perfect score.”

All this over an exam that becomes immediately useless! I took a month off before the SPM exams – I would have taken the exams off too, but my parents insisted that I just get it done and over with. I got 5 As. Top of my class. Any honour? No. I’m not Miss Straight A, I’m not a Science student, who cares? Even my friends in the Science stream stopped talking to us as soon as they got their results. Strange and pathetic.

I knew I wasn’t in top condition to go straight to college – and I didn’t want to. The only reason I ever applied in college to begin with was to appease the parents. I initially got a half-year off; I wasn’t completely happy but what could I do? I took dance lessons and travelled to the US for an American Idol concert: it was there that my dad called, said that due to construction issues it may be better for me to defer to the next year. I wasn’t too happy at him (NOW you tell me) but eventually I was happy with the decision: I have my year! I travelled more, joined a young journalists’ group, did a radio DJ course, and basically relaxed for the first time in 11 years. I even came off medication too.

I entered college but spent a lot of my time and energy outside the classroom. I interviewed the Malaysian PM and the Leader of the Opposition Party, I volunteered with Amnesty International, I got highly involved with the Student Clubs. I was busy, busy, busy!

I also tried my luck at various auditions: Akademi Fantasia (Fame Academy). Malaysian Idol. Neither came to fruition. One audition I was hoping to pass was for Nescafe’s Kickstart, a TV show that provides seed money for your own projects. I wanted to be a travelling writer. I didn’t hear from anyone afterwards. I saw the finalists being filmed in my college. I knew then that I didn’t get in. I also was a semifinalist for a radio DJ competition, and was a strong contender…but was outvoted by the 3rd day.

I was feeling very frustrated. So many opportunities escaped from me (not just TV things). Will I ever pass an audition for once? I knew in my heart that I was looking for something extraordinary. Something out-of-the-box, creative, unusual, interesting, one-of-a-kind. I had long harbored a dream to be a exchange student (I applied to be one but got rejected at 16) and the dream was coming back. I needed to get out there. But I didn’t know where to start.

I asked around online for ideas of programs, activities, things I could look at and try. I was willing to consider anything and everything. One day I got this LJ comment in my mailbox…

I have friends who travelled with Up With People and they had the time of their life! It sounds just like your kind of thing!

So I clicked on the link…and everything changed.

Part 2 of this story is coming next post.

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Blogathon: #26 – Review: What Should I Do With My Life?

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The first time I read Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life?, I didn’t quite like it. I liked the Oprah special, such stories interest me, and thought the book would just be as interesting. However, I got fed up with Bronson continually inserting himself in the story and put the book away in the bookstore aisle where I found it.

About a year later I see the book again in Los Angeles airport, just before my flight back to Malaysia (from Denver). Somehow the book attracted me again. I picked it up, read a few pages…then bought it and read it all the way through the waiting time and through the flight. And read it again and again.

Why the sudden change in opinion? Did I change that much in that year? Was it because I was going through a strong case of figuring out what to do with my own life? Was it a sign? Was it just a different perspective?

I don’t know. What I do know is, this book takes a different perspective on how people tackle that question. Most other books dealing with the same topic (life changes) make it sound fairy tale like; they had a downtrodden life, suddenly their fairy godmother appears to make a change, and they live happily ever after.

The stories in this book, however, aren’t always ended with happiness. Many are struggling with the choices they have made. Some are still looking for their life calling. Some know their life calling but are afraid to pursue it. Some taint their life calling with the desire o prove yourself to somebody, to be better than someone else, to do it for someone else’s standards rather than yours. All the stories are lessons of learning; of learning from your circumstances, learning how to make the best of it, learning how to adapt, learning how to make your own opportunity.

Bronson’s self-insertions can be slightly annoying; sometimes you’re wondering whose story is he actually telling. It’s great when he’s relating a personal experience, not so much when it’s someone else’s story he’s telling. The ironic thing is, in the book he makes a point of not wanting to interfere with anyone’s decision. Besides that, though, the stories are thought-provoking; they make you reconsider your own life, and ultimately answer the question:

What should you do with your life?

What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson (ISBN: 0375758984) is available in stores and on Amazon.

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Blogathon: #4 – The “Now What” Feeling

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Right now I have a bit of the “now what” feeling.

Currently: I just posted a really poignant blog post, and now everything else doesn’t seem to come up right. I have a list of topics to go through, but after that post, it’s a little hard to tackle.

Long Run: Right now I’m in uni. I’m actually writing this from my dorm room (where I’m hoping my quota does not run out before 11pm tonight – it’s already past midnight here). Classes have started, and I’m not completely sure they were what I was expecting.

One class, a required introductory for one of my submajors, is a lot tougher than I bargained for – it has enough material to be a degree of their own. All the others (like this one) have major and continual writing assignments. It’s a lot of busy work, and I don’t know if I have the time. Add volunteering, and looking for a job, and other activities…how will I balance them all?

A lot of time and effort went into coming here, and now the “now what” feeling sinks in. OK, I’ve started classes. Now what? O-Week for IH is coming to a close. Now what? I have all these difficult classes to go through. Now what?

Even coming after a completely joyful experience can give that “Now what” feeling – especially so, really. I’ve just travelled around the world, and had the time of my life. Now what? I just performed to a large appreciative audience. Now what? I just had my dreams come true. Now what?

How do we battle the “now what”s? Do we start planning our nect actions step-by-step, so we never need to ask “now what”? Do we just go with the flow? Do we not care about the “now what” and just do it anyway?

What are the “now what”s indicators of? Fear? Uncertainty? Conflict? When do you get your “now what”s, and what do you do to find out what to do now? How do we find something that gives us the answers to “now what”s? Are “now what”s inevitable?

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Feeling The Thrill: Cast P for Passion

This blog has been silent for about two weeks – and with good reason. For the past couple of weeks, I have been in Denver, Colorado, USA, to volunteer for Up With People's Premiere of the new Global Education Program.

In that time span, I reconnected with my host family; caught up with some dear friends from my tour; made more new friends; intensely rehearsed nearly 15 songs, dances, and rhythm segments; volunteered at the Up With People office and at an elementary school; got elected to the Board of Governors for the Up With People Alumni Association as Era Rep (I am representing casts and crews from 2004 till 2010); and did many other things in between. It was a very packed fortnight, with barely a break, but it was also lots of fun and immensely relaxing.

The first thing that struck me about the whole experience was the atmosphere. In Denver, especially in the Up With People office, things are more laid-back and there is a greater sense of trust. People say "Please", "Excuse me", and "Thank you"; they hold doors for you; they chat with you in lines; they smile. I felt very safe and secure, and didn't need to worry about harassment or danger – whereas back home I have to arm myself with pepper spray and guard against the constant barrage of perverted truck drivers. Indeed, I could feel all my stress and anxiety melt away as soon as I landed in Los Angeles International, one flight away from Denver.

I spent a week volunteering at their office in the mornings, and it was a calm pleasant atmosphere; with fun rituals (ringing a bell whenever there's a new deposit payment), decorations (such as the very hilarious To-Do list on a whiteboard, which includes – amongst others "Party when we get the $$$" and "Make a witty remark"), freedom to talk and work, and general camaderie, there certainly was a warm family feel (especially since three non-profits are sharing the same space) and there is no notion of trying to out-do each other or putting each other down. Such a contrast from my current job, where there is a lot of back-biting but not much of looking out for each other.

The school we went to, Whiteman Elementary School, was also interesting to examine in terms of atmosphere; while it is in a pretty well-off residential community, most of the students were from refugee families. The class I helped co-manage (we were in teams) had people for whom English was not even a language, but they tried their best to get involved and get themselves heard. It was rather harrowing to hear some of the students talk about "beating each other up" or having family members in jail – it really reflects the tough family situations they live through every day. But yet somehow they manage to create this sense of camaderie and togetherness amongst themselves; that no matter what happens, we are in this together. And with our Stand For Peace lesson plans, about world peace and respect for each other, we hope we have made a difference. (The principal told us about the lessons the students have learnt thanks to us, and it really touched us all, especially DeeAnn who worked so hard almost singlehandedly on the project!)

A school with refugee children, who have seen the worst of humanity – and they manage to create the best situations for themselves. Yet there are schools with supposedly the "cream of the crop" as students, and the atmosphere is one of bullying, overcompetitiveness, stress, and narrow-mindedness. How strongly does atmosphere really reflect what they learn! It really does make a difference. You could have the best students in one room, but if it's not holistic or if no one considers welfare, not much can happen in terms of their education.

It was also very interesting to meet the rest of the cast (Cast P, as one member named us); most of them were alumni since before 2000, and had a different concept of the organization than the few of us who did the WorldSmart program in 2004 and 2005. A few people weren't directly related to Up With People; they were either from the Leader's Challenge program (a leadership program partnered with Up With People targeted to high school students) or were part of the theater scene in Denver. We had a very short time to get to know each other, learn all these numbers, and pull them off for a full-house audience, but somehow everything came together and we pulled it off (with flying colours and flying scarves and flying who knows what else.) The different perspectives, experiences, cultures, and skills of everyone – from absolute professionals, to absolute beginners like myself – as well as the collaboration with local cultural and arts groups like the Rocky Mountain Children's Choir and Words Can Heal, with the Denver Metro Boys & Girls Club, made for a very diverse, colourful, entertaining, and educational experience.

One thing I learnt from that experience was something repeated to us by one of our trainers, Michael Bowerman (active in music and theater): It's better to get a step wrong but with lots of energy, instead of getting the step right but being tentative about it. Especially in Up With People, but also for many other things in the world, passion is what counts; if you can convey the energy and passion you feel for something, your message will go through. There were people in the cast who were more nitpicky about getting the show "right", and that brought the energy down (at least for me); far more important than whether we were standing staggered or in a straight line was whether people would understand what we were trying to say – that we can bring the world together. It's all about being real, and about believing in yourself and your message. Everything else comes together from there.

Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I definitely felt that "thrill to your toes" feeling – not just in my toes but all over me. Unfortunately I was not selected to be part of the Road Staff this time round, but I did learn why (nothing personal, but a very enlightening conversation) and the whole experience has strengthened my resolve to be part of this organization in the near future, or at least look for more opportunities like these.

How else do you feel the thrill in your toes? And how does expressing your passion and being real get you to your goals and ambitions? Is it always better to be energetic even if you messed up rather than being right but unconvincing?

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The Thrill’s Just Starting

So plenty has happened ever since I thought about that thrill in my toes. It seems that the thrill is just about to begin.

My round of interviews for the World Bank Essay Competiton has started, and I’ve received some pretty good responses. I even managed to talk to Bob and DeeAnn over Skype (add me, I’m “divabat”) and ask them questions. I suppose I could have done it better (DeeAnn was a last-minute addition so I was completely underprepared) but I did get what I wanted – or at least know who to ask from now – and it was 7:30 in the morning outside a McDonalds.

Why am I doing a Skype interview at 7:30 in the morning outside a McDonalds?

The move to Petaling Jaya was a bit frustrating – the apartment wa a bit dilapitated, but worse of all, there was no Internet. There was a LAN line, but it was disconnected. This frustrated me greatly because the only reason I even took this apartment (besides my dad vetoing all my other choices out) was because the previous tenant had said there was a connection. And now I have to pay RM60 a month for at least six months, when I probably won’t live here that long. There is a Maxis WiFi connection, which I still have to pay for (RM33 monthly) but it’s not very strong on the 15th floor, especially not at odd hours of the day. Hence the early morning interview outdoors, where the signal is clearer. (Even as I’m writing this, the signal is coming and going, and I’m theoritically in the area with the best reception – nearest to the balcony.)

I have indeed started my job with Channel [V] International at their Petaling Jaya office. My job title is “Production Assistant”, and despite all the warnings from SoYouWanna.Com and other production websites about how menial the job is, I have yet to make anyone coffee or peel self-bought oranges or book manicures. Instead, in the past three days of work, I’ve been compiling Oscar trivia to be used by one of our VJs on the Red Carpet, writing scripts for the same VJ on a different TV show, standing in for another VJ for a light/camera test, making one of my colleagues (and new found friend) who sits diagonally across from me in awe of me as I keep coming up with quick and easy Internet solutions for everything he needs, and structuring & designing the first ever Channel [V] Oscars PreShow on the Red Carpet, featuring the trivia list I was working on, to be aired on [V] before the official Red Carpet Preshow.

I’m pretty surprised that they assigned me the Preshow-Preshow on only my third day, especially since I don’t have any actual television experience. As it is, they’ve never had the chance to do this sort of show before (this is the first time they’ve had access to something like this) so there isn’t a set sample structure, and I’m prety much working on this alone. I would have expected at least a team effort. I wonder if they have loads of confidence in me to trust me to such a major job (too much confidence, maybe?) or if this is really something really easy and I’m just too inexperienced to know better. In any case, I’d better work on pulling this off, because then it’ll give me leverage to apply for leave come April.

Yes, I’ve been confirmed to perform in the Premire of Up With People‘s new Show and Program. I’ve been accepted into the PreStaging. The thing that would have given me my biggest thrill. And I’ve got it.

It’s working out really well actually. Right about now Malaysia Airlines is holding a promotional Travel Fair, and I’m entitled to save up to RM400 on tickets (this is including taxes and fees and all – it would be a LOT cheaper if it wasn’t for the USD320 add-on taxes). I’ve been in touch with my ex-host family and they’ve agreed to host me again. I already have a US visa, so that isn’t a problem for me. All that’s standing in the way is the application for leave, which I can do at the latest by mid-March – besides, the boss already knows of my plan. Obviously, though, they would be more supportive of giving me time off if I’ve worked hard enough to deserve it, rather than if I’ve just been slacking off so far.

Which, to be honest, I have been. I should be working on the essay or the show structure but instead I’ve spent the whole day going online, catching up on my Bloglines subscriptions, and stalking my friends on Friendster to see if there’s anyone I know that I haven’t added in yet.

Technically, that’s a lie. I have been doing other things besides being glued to the computer. This morning I went to take the IELTS exam for use for entry into Malaysia (because claiming English as your first language, even if it really is your first language, doesn’t really cut it if your native language is Malay and your mother tongue is Bengali. Long story.) It’s not nearly as mindless as my sister made it out to be – for goodness sake, how am I to come up with off-the-cuff remarks about whether or not it’s a good idea to restrict air travel due to pollution if I don’t have time to do proper research?! – but it wasn’t too bad. It was interesting that my topic for the Speaking section was adult education…it was too bad that there was a time limit, I could have gone on further.

Tomorrow there should be a meeting with some of the other people in the Brick In The Wall project, a project to promote alternative education in Malaysia. If you’re reading this in Malaysia and you’re interested, join the YahooGroup or come by on Sunday 19th February 2006 at 2:30 PM at McDonalds Sec 14, next to Jaya Shopping Centre. We’ll be talking about how to simplify our plans and actually realize them – as well as drafting mini-proposals for projects like a youth group in Thailand that’s giving grant money for this sort of thing. Maybe we’ll get something worked out.

Tomorrow there was meant to be an article from me in The Star’s Education section – originally a letter written in response to all the letters sent in the past couple of weeks about getting As in exams. I was basically fed up with people who wrote in saying “if I miss a single A I am a failure” and “the only people who don’t care about As are underachievers or rich” and so on, so I wrote back detailing all the various experiences I had that had nothing to do with my exam results. The editor called me up the next day and asked if they could publish it as a feature, with accompanying photos. I agreed, and sent in some photos (and a slightly polished up version of the letter; I wrote the original close to midnight and was quite sleepy) – though unfortunately I heard soon after that my article would be postponed to the following Sunday due to space issues. Oh well! Keep an eye out on the Sunday Star and try to look for one of my articles. I’ll post it here with comments when it’s published.

When I was at the IDP Centre to take the IELTS test, I noticed a sign for their upcoming roadshows – “Aussie Fairs”. Their KL roadshow would be held on Saurday the 4th of March, at Pan Pacific Hotel. One day after my IELTS test results are released, on a weekend, and hopefully I’ll have time to get my certificates released from college too. Then I can show up at the roadshow with all my materials, and start applying – good thing the application fees are waived too. I could also probably see what sort of courses are out there that fit my new-found perspective and interests along with Oahu carpet cleaners.

That, though, is a post for another day. For now, let’s just mull over the different opportunities that have arisen, marvel at the gifts of the Universe, and feel that thrill in our toes again.

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