Speaking up in class

I wish I did that more; speaking up in class.

Unfortunately, the opportunity for that has gone, and my marks have been locked in.

Now, I’m facing an almost insurmountable hurdle in the final examinations to get the grade I so desire.

If I work hard now, will it happen?

But then again, should it happen? Maybe it’d be better if it didn’t.

Because it could be only then, faced with the disappointment of “the one that got away”, that I may start working on this weakness of mine I’ve had for so long, and finally eliminate the nagging doubts of whether I could or could not do it, and just do it anyway.

Does Jesus Really Save?

Imagine that you are going through one of the hardest times of your life. Your performance at work is much to be desired, and your relationship with your loved ones appear to be going down the drain. You turn to drinking to ease your troubles, but this habit only serves to make things worse.

One day, a colleague of yours comes up to you and starts talking to you about your recent listlessness, and asks you if you were “okay”. You start to tell him how life isn’t exactly going as planned, and that you just started binge drinking to “drown your sorrows”, “like they do on TV”, but that it wasn’t exactly helping.

This colleague of yours then tells you that “maybe you should try going to church”, and invites you to sit in one of these Sundays during mass. Though you tell your colleague you’re not much of a “God person”, and that “it won’t help”, he insists, and you agree if for no other reason than that you’re trying to get her off your back.

After the first church session, you feel a little strange. You’re feeling surprisingly refreshed, and you start to think if God had suddenly entered your life. You do not attribute this to your colleague’s church’s friends welcoming you, nor to the fact that this was the first time in ages you’ve had a decent conversation with anybody, but rather, to the healing effect of the church.

The next day, your boss tells you that he just managed to get a very important client, and apologises if he had been nasty these past few weeks toward you “and the rest of the guys” as he was feeling a little overwhelmed by the pressure getting this client was causing him.

At home, your wife, seeing that you looked a little happier than other days after work, smiles at you, and asks, like she did on all the other days, “and how was work?” Finally after weeks of saying “f***ed”, you reply, “it was great!”

Your reaction causes her to give you a hug and a kiss, and you feel the tension at home lifting already.

Before you go to bed, you start thinking about what changed to cause these events to occur. Then you realise that the only thing that changed was your going to church. You start to attribute all these good things to the church, to God finally saving you, and you decide to attend church more regularly.

Soon, you start going to church even after your bad patch is over, since you’ve made new friends there, and it’s now “part of your life”.

And then you “become Christian”.

But did Jesus really save you from your troubles? Would having conversations outside the church context have helped as much as attending church? Would your boss not have told you about the client even if you hadn’t attended church? and would your relationship not improve just because of that news, allowing you to go home and actually look happy, prompting your wife to hug and kiss you?

Because people tend to go to church when they need it the most, the church doesn’t have to do much to cause you to think that it helps. You could put a horseshoe on your door and your life would have improved, causing you to think that it brings luck.

This phenomenon is called a regression toward the mean, in that in life, there will always be ups and downs. If life appears to be going horribly wrong, chances are good that over time it will start to get better. But because one turns to church during the worst times, regression toward the mean will make it look as if it’s helping.

If we were to start going to church when everything in our lives were going extremely well, and suddenly troubles started to happen, we would think exactly the opposite.

So does Jesus really save? In terms of the church forming a healthy, supportive community, yes, definitely. But in terms of causing miracles and turning your life around through supernatural means, probably not.

The Intellectual Businessman

Businessmen, or businesspeople, are generally not considered the intellectual kind. You don’t have to go far to find a person who holds the belief that “to succeed in business, you don’t have to be really smart”.

I had never really thought about this until recently, when it was mentioned during one of the training sessions for my job, working as a solicitor of donations from alumni for the UWA Business School’s fund-raising campaign.

“Many businesspeople,” the trainer said, “find that though they lack not in money, they often feel they’re not given as much intellectual respect as they’d like.”

“Many alumni who are business people who return as mentors or guest lecturers find it a very rewarding experience.”

“Finally, they are able to feel respected for what they know; finally, they are able to feel respected for their intellect.”

I thought that it was a fantastic insight.

I like being intellectual

Personally, I like being considered intellectual. As much as I admire “plucky” businessmen and those who succeed due to their work ethic, it’s always nice to be thought of as smart — as intellectual.

But how does one combine the two?

Learning about what really matters

I would like to follow up a little on my previous post on sensitivity analysis. Writing on sensitivity analysis wasn’t quite my aim in writing that piece; I was actually hoping to get down on paper (or screen) something I’ve long felt but didn’t quite express before: the tug-of-war between striving for achievement and going with the flow.

Striving for achievement is something I picked up pretty late in life, somewhere between my last year of secondary school when I was 15, and my first year of junior college/polytechnic education (at the age of 16). Before then, I was a very happy-go-lucky person, and had, according to one teacher of mine, a “cheerful and pleasant disposition”.

That’s, of course, not to say that I’m no longer of a cheerful or pleasant disposition — I sure would like to think that I still am. But at the age of about 15, I read my first self-help book (it was, for the record, called “Talking to Ducks, by James Kitchens), and it ignited a fire in me that I never thought I had or would have had.

Throughout my polytechnic years, I had a decent amount of fire in me, though it was sputtering and did go out at least a couple of times. I remember in the first semester of the second year in TP (Temasek Polytechnic) I had purposely did badly on my exams so that others years would look better in comparison!

Still, this achievement-orientation never really took hold on me, and I didn’t really care much if I “succeeded” (whatever your definition of success) or not.

Enlisting into the Army

After going into the army, however, things changed. About a month into my BMT (basic military training phase), I suddenly had this burning desire to be an officer. I suppose it wasn’t helped by the fact that the bunk I was sleeping in was made up of mostly Type-A, achieve-at-most-costs type of people (about half of them made it to OCS (officer cadet school) — a lot higher than the average), and they often gave me quite a bit of stick for not being as gung-ho about the army as they were.

The Bunk I Should Have Been In

Although I was sleeping in the same bunk as these people, I was actually supposed to be in a different bunk. I belonged to a different “section” (sections, made up of ten people, are supposed to sleep in the same bunk), but due to some logistical hiccup I was placed in the bunk I was in as there weren’t enough cupboards in the one I was assigned to.

This section that I supposedly belonged to were made up mostly of Type-C, happy-go-lucky people. I do not believe anyone of them actually made it to be an officer, not that they’d cared anyways, and were a lot of fun to be with.

Type C or Type A; or Type B?

This example actually serves well to illustrate what was going on in my mind — I was being transformed from a type-C (well, sort of) into a type-A (again, sort of).

So, if I was a type-C transforming into a type-A, would I not be a type-B? Well, yes and no. I suppose I did achieve some sort of balance; but what I found was that I was more frequently jumping from a type-A to a type-C and vice-versa more than I ever was displaying personality traits that a type-B would have.

Examinations

Just the other day I was thinking about my examinations. I had just gotten back my results thus far (meaning my grades up till now without the final exam, which is in a couple of days). I realised that in order for me to get a high distinction (and average of 80% and above), I would be required to get a little above 82% in the final exam.

This bothered me a little, as most times I simply needed 70+ in the final examinations to secure a high distinction. My type-A personality came through, and I was put off studying for a while, as I contemplated what I had done wrong, and what I would have to do next semester in order not to be in such a predicament again.

But I realised that I had actually done just about all that I should have done, and that there really wasn’t much else I could have done. Sure, I might have done more practice questions, probably helping me a little in the mid-semester’s; or spoke up more in class, helping me gain a better class participation mark.

But that was about it.

Down the drain?

I started thinking about how one whole semester’s work was going to go down the drain just like that. I wanted this high distinction so bad, and had been expecting it for so long, that just the thought of losing it at the final hurdle got me horribly unmotivated.

Academia and the real world

But then it hit me: should I really be this concerned about these marks? What do these marks mean when I go out to get a job? How much do marks matter in the real world? And in the scheme of my life, would having a distinction really be that different from having a high distinction?

I wanted to know. I thought about it for a while, and realised that no, the difference in practical terms is not much, and in the bigger scheme of things it’s even less; and in terms of a job, it wouldn’t even matter if I decided to go out on my own and start my own business.

Thinking about my exams, I realised how odd it was for me — the cheerful boy with the pleasant disposition — to get so bogged down and overwhelmed by the thought of not achieving a high distinction, achieving instead, just a distinction.

I stopped my thoughts in its tracks, read some poetry, and got back to my studying.

With a smile on my face.

Why?

Because that’s what really matters.

Sensitivity Analysis

I’m currently taking a unit called decision making, and in it we get quite into the nitty-gritty of this thing called sensitivity analysis. Sensitivity analysis is, in a nutshell, the study on how sensitive an output is to variations of input. For example, is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration really needed for genius? How much can we take from perspiration to put into inspiration, and still maintain genius? The answer to that, of course, can be found through sensitivity analysis.

(A more detailed take on sensitivity analysis can be found here for those so inclined.)

Focusing on what Really Matters

One of the main purposes of sensitivity analysis is to find out what is important when it comes to making decisions.

For example, let’s say you had one hour of time and didn’t know where to spend it on. You’re really interested in making full use of that hour. You think for a moment, and decide that you want to spend that hour increasing your wealth.

You could choose to read a book on investing, or you could go rake your neighbour’s lawn for an hour and earn, say, $20. Let’s say you were a clairvoyant-in-training, and could predict roughly what consequences your actions would have. You look into your crystal ball and see that raking the lawn would bring you — lo-and-behold! — $20!

Not too impressed, you look again into your crystal ball and see that your reading the book on investing led you to enroll in an investing seminar, in which you met a man whom mentored you to become an extremely successful investor, consequently bringing you at least, as far as your limited clairvoyant abilities can tell, $20 million.

Where would you put your one hour’s worth of time now?

Making Decisions

I guess learning about this just makes me think more about where I spend my time (and money). It forces me to think about consequences as well: what impact does this activity (input) have on bringing me closer toward achieving my life goals (output)? Is there anything else I could be doing that would bring me even closer to the achievement of my life goals?