Bao Huei is a recent graduate from NUS Law, where he organised student activities and took part in moots. He is a recreational reader, tennis player and a full-time cat
Dear Bao Huei,
You’ve just lost the Grand Finals of the LAWASIA Moot for your team – a moot that you spent 7 months preparing for. There’s no twisting the truth – you know it’s wholly your fault. One judge had questioned you for 10 minutes straight before giving a wry smile. The scores reflected a 15-point difference between you and the other 3 speakers. A well-intentioned observer suggested that maybe, maybe you shouldn’t have spoken for the Finals.
I’ll like to say that this is the fabled rock bottom which everything gets better from. But it’s not. You will take a few more uppercuts to the chin. Having stretched yourself thin over multiple commitments except academic ones, you bomb your Year 2 Semester 1 grades. That sinking feeling of wondering “what went wrong” will strike again when you receive your Year 2 Semester 2 grades. You will feel despondent and discouraged, spiralling into a vicious cycle of neglecting your academics in fear of failing again.
But things weren’t always like this, right? You got by in Secondary School and Junior College burning the midnight oil. Part of you prided yourself on being able to pull through last-minute every time. Coming into University, you felt like by virtue of how far you’ve come through the system, you have what it takes to conquer it all.
So this is my first, but most crucial piece of advice to you. Drop the arrogance and humble yourself. Accept that there will always be people who are better than you at certain things. When you do that, you will stop being scared to fail and face your fears head-on. Adopt a mentality that embraces learning and growing as a person – pay less attention to the result and more at how much you have grown throughout it.
Your willingness to learn will bless you with mentors willing to guide. When you look back – it is certain conversations with them that will subtly but surely alter your trajectory. Be it the first one to believe in you when you wouldn’t even believe in yourself. Or the one who tells you that the illustrious mooting legends that we all look up to have had their fair shares of ups and downs. Or the one that implants the idea in your head that every single person, without exception, has something special to bring to the table.
Of course, from time to time, you will feel anxious. That creeping “imposter syndrome” or as the legendary drag queen Rupaul terms: “your inner saboteur” will always lurk somewhere in the background. When you feel like this, remind yourself: all you can do is do your best and the rest is outside of your control.
But learning to be humble doesn’t mean you discard everything you know about yourself. While you aren’t great at everything, you are good at some things. So, identify and play to your strengths. You’ve always enjoyed research – you’ve always viewed it like a treasure hunt. Through your excessive number of co-curricular activities, you will also realise you enjoy working as part of a team. This will guide you towards picking modules that are more hands-on and allow you to directly apply what you’ve learnt. These modules and your performance in them will help build confidence in yourself and convince you that you and legal practice were not as incompatible as you had thought.
A related piece of advice is not to compare yourself with others. Sure, you will have friends who pick up concepts more easily. Others are better blessed with the gift of the gab. But comparing yourself with others does nothing but make you feel inadequate. Rather, celebrate your achievements, no matter how small or how easily you think your peers might have achieved them. Start to develop a good understanding of yourself and an idea of what matters to you in life. That way, you are able to hold yourself to standards that matter to you alone.
Finally, don’t forget to smell the flowers along your journey, but also remember that these flowers will only grow where you water them. Spend time with the people who matter and who encourage you to be better versions of yourself. Four years will breeze by – it would seem only yesterday when you were sitting in the Auditorium listening to the briefing for incoming freshmen. Yet, when you look back on the past four years – it will not be the seminar sheets, exam content or the achievements attained that stand out. It will be the laughs shared with friends, the late-night soccer sessions in school and the grueling moot sessions spent debating with one another.
Yes, there will also be the feelings of being utterly crushed after losing a moot; of despondence when you see your Year 2 grades. But after everything, there is a sense of assurance. Despite every setback you’ve faced, you’ve gotten up and moved forward. And for that, you can and should be proud of yourself.
Yours, Bao Huei