Sunday, November 30, 2014

Farewell

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They say everything shall end in one way or the other. Unfortunately for this blog, the end is now. Seeing that my flair for writing blogs had died out or tamed due to some personal reason, I think it is finally the time to shut down this blog for good. Will I stop writing altogether? Nah, I'll keep on writing, just not in this blog. The personification of myself in this blog is one who is naive and fleeting. A facade that is neither truth or false. A mask to gain likes and share.

But that facade ends here.

In a journey to further discover myself, I shall rest this blog for good. I might open up a new one, just not now.

A lot has happened in this blog including one life changing event that nearly broke me.

But hey, you had a great life, friend.

Farewell
Adios
Selamat tinggal

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Something about Sanity

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It has been too long, but I won't go into the details. Let's jump to the topic at hand.

Sanity

It would be too much of a drama to say 'God, I'm going insane', or 'My sanity is slipping away from me'; so much so that they bear no significance to other words anymore. Life is not a tragic drama. Nothing happens. You are spouting hyperboles just to make life exciting and a little dramatic. You see things in a darker little and take every hit harder than it actually is because it is thrilling, no? Imagine watching NFL and you saw a 300 pounds blocker rammed a Quarterback with a resounding thud. Is it exciting? Hell yeah. Did the quarterback died? Nah, but he will almost always say "I felt my soul left my body a while when I was hit." That is a hyperbole, none of those happened but it makes life exciting, right?


But I digress

Would you believe if your close family and friends told you, "Hey, I think I'm going to be insane."?

Hardly. It is a hyperbole, a figure of speech, a convenient word play to generate hype, a cheap ploy to gain sympathy.

But what if he or she really is losing his/her mind? What if they really want to give you a signal for help because shit happens and they have too much shit to even give a shit anymore about the shit that happened? (Yes, let me have my fun here) But how would you know, right? Sanity is nothing but a mere placeholder and a convenient hyperbole to make life exciting

And these people who tried to call for help, they just kept quiet. Holding in all to themselves as they are left to their darkest self all alone

And be consumed by their own minds

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Me and Economics

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So as you guys may or may not know, I am an Economics major, which is weird if you know my background. I graduated from a Science magnet school, a school specialized in Science. So much so that it has Science in its name (Sekolah Menengah Sains Selangor or lit translated to Selangor Secondary School of Science) Back in high school, I love Science to the max. Not only that, I was actually good at it. I remembered that I was the only one who was ballsy enough to take on Biology, Chemistry and Physics as my subjects to tutor others.

And for god knows why, I took on Economics. Didn't have much clue on it; I just said yes over another offer to study Chemical Engineering (which was my course of choice in high school).

But did I regret it?

Meh, not really.

Wait. I don't regret it.

Heck, I love it.

You see, although if you go further back into the past, you could see that I have that engineering trait going now inside me. The typical engineer childhood stereotype, 'omg, I luv legossss' fits me. I love lego. I build enormous structures with my lego. I plan cities with my lego. Not only that, I was fond of computers too. I learned how to use (the then) Macromedia Flash including some programming language, Actionscript. I learned how to wield the computer with pride and expertise for a ten year old.

But that changed. I entered high school and although I love science, I found my passion which persist inside of me until now: people.

Observing people is my favorite past time. What makes them tick, what makes them motivated, what makes them sad, happy, angry, flustered. All of those question excites me to no end. And maybe that is why I chose Economics; I believe it serves as a middle ground between Science and people.

And I hope it was that simple.

You see, what you love back then may not be what you love now. Last year, I was head strong into Economics but now, I found myself second-guessing myself. What if this is not my true passion? Is there anything else I haven't discovered yet? True, between between becoming an economist and a motivational speaker, I would prefer the later. However, preferences change. In my ballsy, energetic youth time, maybe that is my preference but what if this circumstances change? Will I still retain my original preference?

In UMich where I am surround with people who are will soul-searching within themselves, and here I am saying "Wow, you guys are lucky." because frankly speaking, I don't have much choice. Unlike most of the students here, I am bonded with a contract: "Economics or GTFO" basically to speak. I signed that contract. I agreed to its terms and conditions. The past Nazran has no problem with that but why am I second guessing myself now?

Maybe I'm not doing enough. Maybe I became too complacent over my own passion. Love is a verb. You do love, you don't describe love. Maybe that is it. I need to do and work for my passion, which is why I started to listen economics podcasts, read economics articles, and apply economics theories into random daily life occurrences.

And I fell in love...again

Truly, love is a verb. Be it with your spouse, your friends, your family, your passion, your work. If you don't love it, you will never feel it

Friday, February 21, 2014

Business/Economics Lessons From The Renaissance

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The Renaissance. Oh, how that word resonates strongly with me. It was, at some point of my live, the single most important thing ever. It was not just a word. It was an organization. My high school orchestra to be exact but that was not just it. It was a family. It was a mission. It was a lifestyle.

Maybe it is weird for me to talk about “Business Lessons From The Renaissance” without providing some context. The Renaissance is the name of the Sekolah Menengah Sains Selangor (lit translation: Selangor Secondary School of Science) Wind Orchestra team. Formed way back in the 80’s as a marching and as a Wind Orchestra team in 2005. I joined this team in 2007 as a saxophone player. (I used to play the clarinet before changing because there are too many clarinet players and I didn’t get my own instrument).

When I joined, the team...well to be frank, sucks balls. The music room is shabby and looks like it will collapse any second. It reeked of brass polish and sweat and cockroach eggs. The carpet was stained by some liquid years ago and the AC was some AC from the 80’s. But despite that, I joined and stuck with them. Went to a competition in 2007. We got a Bronze Award (which is basically an euphemism for “Well, you guys are meh but hey, we are going to give you an award nonetheless.) Everyone cried and feel sad and stuff. We put it a lot of effort and yet, we suck.

But that changed rapidly after that. In 2008, we got a Gold award for Division Two (Yeah, the competition introduced the Division system that year). In 2009, we got another Gold AND was promoted to Division One. In 2010, we got yet another gold plus a ticket to the Grand Finale (To put into context, the Grand Finale is a big deal because your team will compete with 5-8 other teams at the Putrajaya International Convention Center which is an awesome place in front of 3000 people including sultans and high ranking government officials) AND we got Second Place. In 2011, still a ticket to the Grand Finale, Fourth Place. And finally, 2012, Champion of The Wind Orchestra Festival.

It took 5 years to change from a shabby sucky orchestra into a very well known unit that managed to immortalized its name as the Champion in 2012. That is very impressive. Now, imagine if this is a business. A start up company for example. What lessons can we learn from The Renaissance?

Swag intermission #1




1. Branding

Oh, the Renaissance took our branding very very VERY seriously. Although we were a small orchestra unit, we won’t settle down for that. So we figured out something that would make us stand out. If we couldn’t stand out because of our musical prowess, at least stand out because of our brand. Which is why, in 2008, we did a very rigorous brand building. I remembered vaguely that this was the structure of my band’s brand:




  • Orange
  • The Renaissance

In 2008, the name The Renaissance was given. I find it cool back then though many would find it cheesy. And we also decided that our team’s color is orange. Wait, what? Orange for a Wind Orchestra attire? Well screw white shirts and black ties, bring on the black shirts and ORANGE FLUORESCENT TIES THAT BURNS YOUR EYES. So yeah, that is our performance attire which didn’t change for three years. And every other team refer us as the ‘orange tie team’.

Why is this important? The brand? Well there are many importance of this move which I would like to separate into two: Internal and External effects.

Internal effects of the ‘Renaissance’ band was really apparent. By giving the band a name, its players could identify to it more and foster stronger connection and loyalty to the unit. Rather than just referring themselves as “A Band Member”, they refer themselves as “TheR”. And honestly speaking, it worked wonder. In every announcement, speeches, peptalks that we gave or were given, we use the word ‘TheR’ rather than band. Subconsciously, it forms the organization structure and cohesiveness. You are in this unit and this unit is different from the others. This is unit has a name and it is called TheR. More on that later.

The external effects would be the identity people associate with the Selangor School of Science Wind Orchestra (Oh god that is long) like you would associate McDonalds to burgers and fries, Burberry to expensive handbags, Facebook to pokes, blue background and annoying Facebook friends. The mental image that pops out when you say a unit’s name is important because at the very least, the unit will be known and associated with something rather than “Huh, who or what is that?” This is good for networking because TheR won’t be just an alien; it is a unit with an image (orange color attire) embed to it. With this, it is important to get the next point.

Swag intermission #2




2. Networks and Resources (This will be long)
Networks. It goes without saying that networks are important in the business world but in some high school orchestra competition? Not many would see that or think that it is an integral part of it. I mean, that is taking it much too seriously, no? Why would you network like a businessman for an orchestra? But then, this is one of the reason of TheR rapid progress and development.

See, in the business world, network gets you opportunities in form of jobs, promotions, self development platform and collaborations. All of these are resources that contributes to one’s growth. This doesn’t applies to just an individual; this applies to an organization too. Now, back to the orchestra. What is an orchestra without its players to make music? However, this orchestra is just a high school orchestra. The players are students whose main job is not to play music and they progress up higher in grades year by year. (Though they will be one or two person each year with innate talent or passion in music)  In other words, music is not their main motivation and they won’t stay forever after they graduated but still you want the orchestra to be good. This brings to an interesting economics problem: An orchestra needs good players to be good but to produce good players, the orchestra need to allocate resources in form of energy and time to train new players for them to reach a level up-to-par with the old players. Other than that, you also want the old players to be better than they were before. Realistically speaking, you can’t have both with maximum efficiency. It is either you train new players to be as good as the old players while sustaining the old levels or you train the old players to be better, forsaking the future where the old players will eventually leave and cause a huge gap in talents and skills.

This is where networking comes. As mentioned earlier, networking gets you connections to valuable resources. For the orchestra, networking nets us contacts to professional, semi-pro musicians for hire. If we hire these musicians to train the players, we remove some burden from the seniors to train new players and also provide an opportunity the whole orchestra to improve entirely as a unit. It is like killing two birds with one stone. However, notice that you would need ‘to hire’ these musician. It is not free. You would need resources in forms of money to achieve that.
And again, networking comes back. Another big move that TheR decided to do that is revolutionary during its time is to seek support from parents. You see, previously, a high school team rarely seek parental support, mostly because fully residential schools separate children and parents in the first place and also because these schools have so many fundings from the government. However, government fundings are not enough and often unreliable because the process takes ages. So, since 2007, TheR have been networking with parents to get donations. I remembered that we organized a ‘sneak peek’ event every time before a competition to showcase our songs to parents and to get donations. I was skeptical at first but the effects of parents seeing their children playing in an orchestra excite them. So much so that they form a ‘Parents Council’ which goal is to support their children and the orchestra as a whole in terms of moral, emotional and financial support. We will go about this later but the financial support is essential because it helps to hire these professional musician. The networking with parents worked wonders and it is until now.

Another miracle of networking is TheR’s access to opportunities to enrich the players outside of competitions. Because of the school’s strategic location near the city center, TheR often get the chance to perform in events. This performances aside from the annual competition, kept the players on their foots and ready to roll (hehehe). But is it just because it is located near the city center? Not really. It is more of the networks established. For example, in 2010, we were given an opportunity to travel 100 miles north to perform in a resort. Not only this excites the students and showing them that the orchestra is cool because you will get the chance to travel, but it is also a good platform to train the players to play and perform. The performance was no simple deal. 6-8 songs in a row will greatly challenge any subpar players in terms of stamina and skills and will definitely shape them up to be better players.
Swag Intermission #3 feat Nate



3. Loyalty
This point has to do with the above two points. Now, I mentioned earlier that once a player graduated, he or she can’t play in the orchestra anymore and thus, his or her skills are considered ‘sunk cost’, a cost that could not be returned or liquefied...or is it? See, a conventional trend for orchestra teams is to treat alumni as sunk cost. They are done with school and we should not pester them to ‘come back’ and serve. Orchestra alumni are only people who will come for competition to support; nothing more nothing less. But for TheR, alumni stayed to ‘serve’ the orchestra. So much so that they formed a group called ‘Orchestra Consultant’ to manage the band. So now with the existence of this other unit, they remove some management burden from the students so the students/players can focus on improving their music. Again, good call to allocate resources but for the Orchestra Consultant, it seems like a losing situation because they were needed to do a mountain load of work yet are not paid and solely voluntarily basis yet they still do it. Why? Loyalty.

See, loyalty is one heck of a driving force though it is not seen as a significant human force to begin with. For one, it is hard to measure loyalty but subtleties aside, loyalty drives the orchestra. Alumni were seen returning back to the orchestra after school to actually help via management or emotional support which is different for the usually ‘oh Imma gonna show ma face during comp. Good luck’ trend.

How TheR instill loyalty is really really subtle yet it works. One, it is the memory associated with the orchestra. The name ‘The Renaissance’ will resonates strongly in any orchestra members, mostly because hundreds even thousands of hours were invested into the orchestra, making it a very vivid memory to treasure and cherish. Another is the brand. The name ‘The Renaissance’ meant a very concrete image in the minds of the players. They were not in an orchestra, they are a part of The Renaissance. Added with a strong tradition of ‘The Orchestra is Family’, it adds to be sense of loyalty towards the orchestra. And with this loyalty, we can see less players becoming sunk cost and more players becoming revenue generating assets after they graduate.

Mega Swag Intermission #4




4. Specialization

I have no idea where to throw this point into the main three so I just make it a separate point. Specialization is something I encountered in Econ101. It is where to make a firm to specialize in produce one good over the other because it has higher returns in value thus more efficient. Specialization happens in TheR (Well, it occurs to me in a retrospect.) It goes without saying that everyone has different aptitude in music. It not really have to do with talent but it has to do with interest and passion. Some people are overly passionate (like me) in music while some are so-so at the very most. We can’t change it or it is very hard to do so. So, given the preferences of these two people, we can see that who do we want to specialize in where.

To run an orchestra effectively, you would need good players and good management. Without good players, a well managed orchestra will produce bad sounds. Without good management, a good sounding orchestra will collapse onto its own weight. So the decision for the previous problem is clear (again in retrospect), give the musically passionate people to focus on music. Give those who is not a management position. Hence, the organizational structure was split into two: Music department and Management Department. Music department is headed by the student conductor with family principles and section principles under him while the Management department is headed by the President along with other post such as Vice-Pres, Secretary, Treasurer etc etc. Both department works in tandem. The management will make sure that the Music department can proceed with their agendas without any obstacle and the Music Department is responsible to reach that agenda. By specializing players into these roles, you will have a not-perfect-but-good management and a not-perfect-but-good music department. It is not at the extreme of things but assuming that the preferences over these two are convex, the average of the two is much more prefered than the extremes.

A good example would be the huge leap in 2010 from a Division Two team into a Division One team who leaped into the finals and nabbed second place. During this year, the two upperclassmen classes (Form 4 and Form 5) has a pretty good synergy. Most of the Form Fivers took on a management role while Form Fours took on a music role. Both are allocating most of their resources into their own specific role. Though the Form Fivers may lacking in practice but the Form Fours are there to back them up in the orchestra. While Form Fours are scattered and disorganized, they have Form Fivers to help them manage and organize. It was a beautiful synergy that lead to an efficient year and a huge leap of success.

In 2011, however, taught a lesson to us about resources allocation. This year Form Fours were lacking in musical aspects. A huge chunk of the musical department roles were still given to the Form Fivers plus with their newly acquired management role. Since the Form Fivers in 2011 are deemed as ‘one of the best batch in terms of musical and management skills’, they were overexpecting the value of the class. These expectations overloaded their skills as they were now required to allocate resources to both management and music. And that year was not the most efficient year that we have. And after that year, thankfully, they have learned their lesson.

Break


So yeah, four business lessons  I learned from TheR. In retrospect, I was really shocked how business-like (with applied economics here and there) my orchestra was. And frankly speaking it worked! I have no idea how to end this article but let just say I was bored and nostalgic when I wrote this.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Malaysians Outside Malaysia

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Complementary picture

Let us get straight to the point: Today's topic is about that one place where most of my loved ones live and where my blood spilled on the ground (Tanah tumpahnya darahku much?), Malaysia

See, I noticed that, (and you might noticed too) I love Malaysia...ALOT. My American friends would know that. A question that goes along the lines of "Where do you came from?" or "How is your hometown" and there I go, talking about everything Malaysia from food, to people to my parents to school. I will go into a frenzy and gave my American friend's an info dump about Malaysia. I just can't help it. That love inside me is too strong that any prompt to let it out is given a chance to fly.

It is kinda hard to believe that I has already been half a year since I left Malaysian soil. Here in Michigan, where the weather is 50 degrees colder, the air is dry, the food not spicy enough and people do talk in proper English, it is a far cry from what I am used to experience back home. It is weird to wake up in the morning to see white snow blanketing the outside world while you shiver and curl into your blanket. It is weird to wear your socks inside your house. It is weird to be wearing a super thick jacket every single thing you want to open the door to the outside door. It is weird, I tell you. But as time passed, it became a habit, a lifestyle and its weirdness disappeared.

But that doesn't mean I'm American. Yeah sure, I caught myself referring to football as soccer (Am embarrassed of it) but my Malaysian heart is still in tact.

Then again, it is weird that one day I shall return back to Malaysia for good. I love Malaysia but seeing all the 'hu-ha' happening inside her borders saddens me. Religion conflict, racial tension, political tension, education deterioration, economic disparity. All of it is happening yet frankly speaking there is nothing I can do about it. I can only watch from 10 000 miles away as she falls sicker and sicker.

Yet, I talked highly of her. She is like a child and I am the parent; whenever there is a need to tell the world about her, I would tell good stories about her. How she once successful. How diverse she is. How she is the epitome of a foodie's paradise. Yet, you know that she is rebelling against you. She is doing drugs, illicit sex, and black market dealing. You know she is going down under, yet you still speaks highly of her despite your fears that one day she will fall, hard. You want to try to help but you can't and you just watch helplessly. That, ladies and gentleman, is how I feel about Malaysia now.

Even so, if you ask me, I would still love Malaysia. But the things I love: the unity, the peace, the people are disappearing, replaced with religious extremist, political fags and power hungry people. Stop it. I want to love you but give me a reason to.

Oh Malaysia. I promise, I shall come back and try to revive you into your former glory. If I die in the process, at least I tried.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Teacher Who Inspires

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Yes, we are talking about teachers. No, we are not talking about my long lost dream of becoming one nor the deep down feeling of frustration with teachers in general. Instead, I want to talk about a particular teacher; a teacher who inspires.

Soon, it will be the third anniversary of the Black February, the reason why this very blog shuts down for a year. For those who don't know what is Black February is, don't worry, a tribute post will be posted soon. Let's just go with the fact that I messed up big time.

After Black February, I was stripped off everything I worked hard for in school, most particularly, the respect from teachers. Most of the teachers abandoned me and send me looks of disgust. I have no idea what kind of stories they heard but that doesn't matter. The trip to the Staff Room is hell. I was...well, drowning in pure despair.

But noticed that I used the word 'most' rather than 'all'. There are teachers who stood by me, teacher who understood me and what I'm trying to do. There is a certain Indian Chemistry teacher who gave me a 99 on a Chemistry exam and spoke about my 'Highest Score in the History of SMSS' in almost every other class he taught though in reality, I didn't get 99. I flipped through my 60/60 Paper 2 two years after and saw 3 errors which he cross out and ignored. It was intentional. And there are several other and one of them is no one than my Form 5 Physics teacher.

Physics is not really my cup of tea, Chemistry was (But ironically, I took neither for my degree.) but the Physics lab was my favorite non-classroom spot next to the Band Room. The reason being is this particular Physics teacher. A little bit of background before she became my Physics teacher, she was the Team Manager for Team Vector Magnum, my Formula One in School Team. Working with her was an experience to behold and I had fun but I really got close to her after Black February.

She is not your run-of-the-mill teacher who teaches and go. She is the kind of teacher who sincerely wants to know her student. She seek a personal connection with the student because she believed that would help them and help her to teach better. She believes that every student is unique. Bright students should be allowed to explore their interest and fly above the syllabus and become the very best. Weak students should be assisted without discrimination from the bright students. She believes in batch politics (and was quite well-versed in it). She doesn't mind students flocking her lab because she loves talking and knowing her students beyond the book and whiteboard.

During Black February, I remembered she told me:

"Mereka mungkin tak faham pandangan awak, sebab tu mereka tak suka. Tapi tak mengapa, saya percaya awak punya pandangan boleh mengubah dunia. Awak kan ada otak gila-gila sikit. Tu la kekuatan awak. Patut guna elok-elok."

"They might not understand your views, that's why they don't like it. But that's alright because I believe that your views can change the world. You have a crazy mind. That's your strength. Utilize it properly."

As a student neck deep in the pits of despair and depression, do you know how valuable that advice was. Maybe she couldn't remember it but I did. Maybe the above quote is terribly misquoted but I won't forget how it feels. I feel...inspired as if there is hope despite the stares and slight. 

And I worked hard. I accepted the facts that my views are not the view of the world but my views are my views alone. I foster and cherish that. I accepted the fact that I am unique and I should not remove that from myself. True, I kept silent after Black February but in secret, I learn more and further improve my views and conviction. Soon, I was at a stage that I couldn't believe possible if Black February didn't happen. And now...here I am, writing this 10 000 miles away from Malaysia in a distant country.

She inspired me and I'm not the only one. She has a lot of fans, all for a positive reason. She is there for the student. She don't judge, she just listens. She will give advice when advice is needed, she will help when help is needed. She was seen as a popularist by other teachers because of her popularity but she wasn't. She was also not a favorite among the higher ups if I'm not mistaken. But see, she just cares...genuinely. And because of that, she is popular. Love given will get love in return.

Yesterday, she posted a tweet:

"Officially, I am no longer a teacher in SMSS"

I was shocked beyond words. I expected a controversy or something but it turns out that she got promoted to an Assistant Director in the Ministry of Education (Maybe be wrong. I don't get government departments)
And her twitter is flooded by her students, expressing sadness about her transfer. She has become such an important figure to them, what will they do without her?

And that, my readers, is the sign that you have changed someone's life. Dear teacher Aini, if you are reading this (which you most probably will), trust me, you have changed my life. Without you, I may not climb this high. Many other students will agree with me. You made a difference. You achieved what many other teachers tried but didn't succeed: You inspired us and you changed our life. YOU MADE A DIFFERENCE.

So yeah, maybe SMSS don't really deserve someone like you. Maybe a larger scope of people need you. SMSS can't be selfish, we may hold you back for much too long. So go on, teacher. Be great. Inspire. That is your strength. Utilize it. This is the same advice you gave me three years ago and here I am returning that advice back.

Good luck teacher and with all my knightly heart and soul,

I salute you

Thank you

Saturday, February 1, 2014

"Well sorry, I'm not born genius"

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Often we heard the above phrase in our daily lives especially if you are studying in a college or a university. It can come in many different forms such as

"I just can't do this. I am not even smart to begin with!"
"Weyh, aku memang bodoh math ar. Tak boleh doh"
"Tau ar pandai. Kesian ar aku yang tak pandai macam ko."

These people, as you may noticed, are saying that intelligence comes from birth. You are either smart or dumb. As simple as that, which brings us to a question, are their statements true? Does intelligence comes from genetics and heredity?

Research showed that it is not REALLY the case. Sure, genetics has something to do with intelligence. Some kids are really born smarter than others but we are forgetting an important fact: intelligence (meaning our brain) are in fact quite malleable. We can work hard to become smarter than we are before!

Let's take math for example, the most popular to this "Oh, I'm a math person/not a math person" problem. (See how many people complain about math on Twitter. Too many to count) In an article written by Noah Smith and Miles Kimball, they noticed a very peculiar patterns in high school mathematics students.

  1. Different kids with different levels of preparation come into a math class. Some of these kids have parents who have drilled them on math from a young age, while others never had that kind of parental input.
  2. On the first few tests, the well-prepared kids get perfect scores, while the unprepared kids get only what they could figure out by winging it—maybe 80 or 85%, a solid B.
  3. The unprepared kids, not realizing that the top scorers were well-prepared, assume that genetic ability was what determined the performance differences. Deciding that they “just aren’t math people,” they don’t try hard in future classes, and fall further behind.
  4. The well-prepared kids, not realizing that the B students were simply unprepared, assume that they are “math people,” and work hard in the future, cementing their advantage.
Source: Power of Myths, There is One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel In Math And Those Who Don't

As you can see, students who believe that they are 'not a math person' will really become 'not a math person' even though they actually are a 'math person' before. This self fulfilling prophecy is dangerous as you believe in a lie that you choose to believe, hence changing your fate and destiny. I, myself saw this during my high school years. A friend who believes that he can't do math to change his life choose to avoid math completely, refusing to do homework or put in time and effort to practice (an essential factor of mathematical success) thus he continue to fail in math. 

Here is a plot twist: he actually is an A math student in his previous school. What happened was the transition from primary to secondary was a shock to him and it led him to believe that he was not good at math. Believing in that, he became a student who is not good in math. It is true that what you believe can actually become truth if you believe in it hard enough. We can't really blame him. He is one of those many people who believe that intelligence are rigid and there is nothing you can do to change it. In his case, his drop in math score in secondary school pushed him to believe that he is not good in math. Even if he choose to work hard for it, he will still think it will be all for naught because he believes that intelligence is static. So, like many others, he choose not to work at all.

In a flip side, if he believe that intelligence is malleable, he will work harder in the face of failure because he knew that hard work is a determinant of intelligence. Richard Nisbett recalled something from his book 'Intelligence and How to Get It'

Dweck and her colleagues then tried to convince a group of poor minority junior high school students that intelligence is highly malleable and can be developed by hard work…that learning changes the brain by forming new…connections and that students are in charge of this change process. The results? Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic. (A control group, who were taught how memory works, showed no such gains.)

See? In simply believing that your hard work matters to your intelligence can really change your course during your academic years (or even in life). Isn't it sad to live your life believing that you are dumb and here is nothing you can do about it?

Going back to the Math story, I think this is why our Math scores are plunging in the international level. There is no one to tell these students that they NEED to work hard to be smart, not just to 'berserah and bersyukur'. And there is a trend in school where the divide between 'pandai and bodoh' is so apparent which worsen this situation. As you know, there is a trend of dividing up class to first class, second class etc. This is simply society's way of saying that "You are not smart. That is why we are putting you here". This will make the student believe that they are in fact not smart and hence stop working hard at all. And again, there is no one to tell them that they can improve their intelligence with hard work and so, it spiraled down from here.

Another factor which contributes to this is the abuse of the term "Bersyukur." Don't get me wrong, I absolutely support the said term and have nothing against it but it irks me to see that it is abused for all the wrong reasons. Bersyukur is basically to be grateful of whatever that you are given. True, but like most if not all terms that exist in this world, bersyukur is not something that is stand alone; there is another term to follow it up. Often, we think that by being bersyukur, everything is actually working out and there is nothing we can do about it. However, we forget that there is an 'usaha' component before the bersyukur part. I don't get it why you must be bersyukur of your subpar results when you didn't actually put in any effort into it. It is sadly nihilistic.

So, stop believing that you can't change your life. Intelligence, believed to be an important determinate of a fulfilling live, can be determined by the amount of hard work and effort you put into it. You are not smart unless you choose to believe that you are not smart. Therefore, stop lamenting and start working hard!
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