I come from a big family. My mother has eight siblings and my father has ten. You can imagine how many uncles, aunts, and cousins I have. Yet, there is not a single lawyer, doctor, or engineer in our whole family. Not many finished university and no one pursued a professional degree. And so, it was my father’s wish to have at least one doctor in the family. Since I was “smarter” than my elder two brothers, I was the one encouraged to enter the medical profession.
I was sure that my personal calling was to be a doctor, and that was exactly what I was going to be. My friends started calling me Dr. Jawad and I started watching ER and Doogie Howser. I planned my life. I was going to go to Johns Hopkins, get a medical degree, specialize in some difficult-to-pronounce discipline that involved surgery, and be set for life. Based on my research, I would be making six figures in six years.
And then in grade 11, when I was sweet 16, I sat for my O’ Level examinations. My parents were travelling, my two elder brothers were already studying abroad, and my younger brother was my younger brother—who cares about them. The point is, I was home alone for the very first time in my life. I started skipping school, and could not be bothered about preparing for the important examinations. I was too busy discovering life.
This was an epic disaster.
Here’s my result: I got an “A” in French, a “B” in English, a “C” in Physics, a “D” in chemistry, an “N” in math (to this day I don’t know what “N” stands for), and an “E” in biology. That’s right, Dr. Jawad got an “E” in O Level biology. My promising medical career was over. That was one of my first encounters with the “F” word. I was a big failure!
My parents could not believe their eyes when they saw my alphabet soup inspired report card. I had let them down—big time! To this day, there’s still not a doctor in the family. After a crisis meeting with my father and eldest brother, it was decided that I would become a lawyer now, “Barrister Jawad Mian.” Naturally, I started watching Ally McBeal.
Because of my colourful O level grades, I was not willing to repeat the experience with A’ Level examinations. So, England was off the list as a destination for further studies. I decided to go to Canada and study finance during the pre-law years. My first year at college was great socially, but pretty poor academically. There’s one particular experience that may explain the entire episode.
I had an exam in the morning for which I had not studied a word. I played cards all night with friends and chatted on MSN messenger. My older brother came online and we chatted. He asked what I was up to and I expressed great stress about an exam in the morning. I pretended to be working really hard. His next words to me have stayed with me ever since. He said, “May you get what you deserve.”
I immediately uttered the other “F” word. Based on my study ethic, I had no doubt I would fail my morning exam. I was right. That was a turning point for me. I thought about my parents, I thought about my O’ Level grades, I thought about my attitude to life.
I pulled my act together and got pretty decent grades after that. The highest score achieved in my final year was 93 on a politics class. I only boast of that grade to prove that I’m not really that stupid. I finished my 4-year finance degree in 3-years (perhaps the first sign of over-ambition). Looking for a change of scenery, I applied to England to study law and got in.
Now I faced a dilemma. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a lawyer anymore. After much deliberation, I decided to defer my law school acceptance for a year and look for a job in finance—just to try it out. I soon landed a position as a bank teller and just like that, my personal calling changed, again. From doctor, to lawyer, to… hedge fund manager? The personal legend continues.
Life is a journey, and we are all just travellers. It’s okay to fall down or not know where you’re going. Nature has marked out a path for each of us, and it won’t let us stray too far from our course. There is no shame in falling, only in failing to rise back up on our feet. As Paulo Coelho said, the secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times. Even success, it has been well said, is nothing more than moving from one failure to the next with undiminished enthusiasm.
Life is not without its challenges. The critical test of humanity is how we lead our life, and how we endure the challenges and trials that are inflicted upon us. As the perceptive 19th century author, Hannah Whitall Smith, wrote:
“The mother eagle teaches her little ones to fly by making their nest so uncomfortable that they are forced to leave it, and commit themselves to the unknown world of air outside. And just so does our God to us. He stirs up our comfortable nests, and pushes us over the edge of them, and we are forced to use our wings to save ourselves from fatal falling. Read your trials in this light, and see if you cannot begin to get a glimpse of their meaning. Your wings are being developed.”
So what if you fall?
How else will you learn to fly?