I didn’t know. And I was fortunate.

Founder Desmond Hoo shares his thoughts on starting Basecamp Learning Centre this year:

I really mean it when I say I was fortunate.

See, the people closest to me would almost confirm in a heartbeat that I’m a worrywart. It wouldn’t take two weeks of working with me to see that. Certainty was something I craved, slogged, and even sacrificed for. Certainty was my sole rubric, my success indicator, my life goal. I breathe, eat and sometimes fart for certainty. The day I can buy stuff without looking at the price-tag, or have the confidence to tell my future in-laws that I will have enough financial resources to provide for their beloved daughter in future, is the day I know I arrived. I know that when I am certain of all aspects in my life, or having successfully built a proverbial plate of stability wherever I set foot on, I am successful. And to get there, it was pretty simple. My investment of time, money, and effort have to all be put through this Certainty Test scan (CT scan) where the ROI can be accounted for in X number of years or hours. No foreseeable certainty, no way.

Then, as life would have it, I co-founded a company. Well played, Desmond. *slow clap*

This decision set me up against every fibre of my being as you’d imagine. Like a cow would one day wake up and decided it had enough with moo-ing and chose to bark instead, or a cactus deciding it wanted to meet the expectations of a mirage and sprout palm leaves instead of thorns. It wasn’t natural. It was wrong. It was against everything I ever knew. Or at least, it felt that way. Yet somehow, as rash as it seemed, it was certainly not reckless. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know what, but I knew why. As counterintuitive as it looks, I plunged into an uncertain world in search for the contrary. I threw that CT scan that governed my entire decision-making life out of the window, and made the scariest yet most liberating decision till date. Just as I was wrapping my head around how YOLO I was,  turns out, I wasn’t as hippie as I thought. Our newfound company had to be in a familiar industry, doing familiar things. Same same but different. It was the least I could do to mitigate my much dreaded uncertainty. Or so I thought. I couldn’t be more wrong. 

One of the things we thought, or rather I thought, was important on the get-go, was the company’s identity. At the organisation where I left, they had such clarity on their identity and it was inspirational. I was so sure that that was the only way a company could ever succeed. So I got my co-founders to brainstorm and mull over what our fledgling learning centre’s identity is. My co-founders were brilliant people in their own field, both graduated from scheduled universities and they are people who can literally control what grades they’d like to have for each module. Now, that was some high level certainty. Even then, all we could muster was a murky, educated-sounding spiel that maybe at best, a desperate enough parent would buy into. In retrospect, we realised we got it all wrong. We got it the other way around. 

We were thinking long and hard about what we want our centre to stand for, and in turn translating to what our graduates would look like in years to come. Those may seem logical and sound lines to tread on, but not quite. Truth is, we didn’t know exactly what we want, but we were absolutely sure of what we didn’t want. We started off with not wanting to turn away any students no matter their standards – so no entrance diagnostic tests. Then, we didn’t want any students to be deprived of quality education because of financial difficulties – so we started up a Financial Assistance Scheme even though we are a startup and had no deep pockets. Then, we didn’t want students to feel like this was a place for only a specific type of learners – so we began studying and researching in depth about the different learning styles and how they best serve different student profiles even when they’re all in the same class. Some decisions we kept, some we dropped like boiling steel balls. Again, the irony of it all is that we found it easier to know what we stand for by realising what we stand against. Our identity is not yet found, but it’s definitely forming as we continue to sojourn in this ever-changing world. In Mark Manson’s words “We’ll never be right, only less wrong.” It has only been a year, and though I still find it strange to articulate, I’m excited to see what else unravel along our path. Even after one year, this list that defines the centre’s identity is not exhaustive, and never will be. This, I’m quite certain of.

By now, you should start seeing a pattern. Counter-intuitivity seems to work for me. Only when I’m willing to take the path less travelled, would I be able to see for myself if it was worth travelling at all. Here’s another one. Starting this company was tough, but fortunately, it gets tougher. Because only then will I be able to learn things that I otherwise wouldn’t have had a problem with. New problems help me see and appreciate new perspectives. New perspectives, with less wrong lenses help me empathise with a wider range of people. We’re all struggling everyday in our own ways, but what problems are you struggling with? Strangely enough, or maybe not so strange by now, as I continue to find new problems to contend with, I appreciate more problems that truly matter, either on a personal level or a big life-changing, seismic level, than petty problems like why people like to “blue-tick” me, or why can’t they honour my time and be punctual. By the way, those things still irk me, but less now, because I am now busy with changing the world, one struggling student at a time. If only they knew, that the fortunate one is me. My identity as a teacher, as a person, is slowly being formed by them. As much as I teach them the concepts of my academic subject, they’re teaching me the art of my teaching craft. Going into my fifth year teaching, I still maintain that teachers have to be the first learners in the classroom.

Recovering fresh out of an existential crisis, I was a somewhat depressed and neurotic person just three weeks ago suffering from a burnout, I’d say this post is life-changing. I’d like to credit Mark Manson, and his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Amazon Link). Yep, another counterintuitive moment from a churchgoer and teacher. But if you can reserve your mental judgements and see beyond cultural stigmas, I’d suggest you give it a read. It might change your life too.

Going into 2017, I look forward to more uncertainties. After all, what’s the worst that can happen, right? I am fortunate to be given this life filled with uncertainties thus far. I’m fortunate to be shown its value and place in life. Cheers to new perspectives, new challenges, and new meaning. For friends who are searching and contemplating, I hope this post encouraged you a little. Hit me up if you want a chat, I’m available this December.

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