Monday, September 05, 2016

The unbearable discomfort of exploratory learning.

Ok, I'm glad to be back.

For the next few days I will have to catch up with my schoolwork but this blog should be back on its regular schedule.

Just a quick update on my personal life....

For the past 3 weeks, I've been enrolled into one of the most challenging courses in SMU.

International moots is so challenging it is not really a course but a series of practice sessions where I can to present a public international law case to a mock court and be judged by extremely competent practitioners and getting grilled on my understanding of public international law.

So emotionally it was a dark period of my life. For one thing, I really sucked balls - right now my biggest fear is that taking this subject has permanently scarred my GPA. For another, I finally understood what it is like to be frustrated at every turn and to have my preparation found to be consistently not up to par by real practitioners.

But as every negative experience goes, the most intense learning occurs when you are feeling really uncomfortable. Never before have I been so motivated to just walk out and quit but I chose to stay on because my awkwardness and failure can be a learning experience for the folks who read this blog.

Here are some useful lessons :

a) Learning can be uncomfortable when you are on the losing side.

I used to think that folks at the bottom of the pyramid are lazy and unmotivated. For the past 3 weeks, I joined their ranks perhaps for the first time of my life. The helplessness and despair was nerve-wracking. You motivation can take a hit when your efforts don't yield any rewards.

Imagine what happens when being at the bottom of the pyramid envelopes your entire life. For me, it was only 3 weeks and I can recover from the experience.

I can't imagine what would happen if my kid gets demotivated by a PSLE score of 180.

b) Exploratory learning should come with some safety features or hedging mechanism.

While I can't really complain if I get bad grades, I would have taken a lot more risks and learnt more if the course employed a pass/fail grade. Some of my classmates like me have a borderline GPA and would lose a honours classification if we make a single mistake. If we are in this state, every move needs to be conservative.

The tactical thing I should have done is to take subjects which are really familiar with and avoid exploring new territory altogether. This remains the biggest fault and weakness of our education system which has not been rectified for decades. 15 years ago, as an engineering undergrad, I voided the prestigiously hard Digital Signal Processing module because it attracted the smartest guys in my cohort.

c) This problem extends to the entrepreneur-ship drive

I think the closest situation to my experience in International Moots is that of an start-up entrepreneur. After all, the best international mooters are celebrated as our most successful start-up exist.

An entrepreneur is in my situation for an extended period of time. They are always stacked against the best start-ups in Silicon Valley and VCs are notoriously harsh if they park some money with your company. I think it's worse because until the entrepreneur succeeds, they will always be the bottom of the heap because of their lack of financial security. And failure becomes your best friend once you run a company, because 95% of you won't be around in 5 years.

Anyway, I am glad that I survived this really challenging 3 weeks. The worst graduate in Ranger training still has a Ranger tab.

[ The most satisfying experience in my moots, is the my opponent telling me that he reads this blog. ]

More postings tomorrow...

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