Since young, I have always aspired to do great things. I always believed that I have what it takes to do very well in life. Perhaps this is what drove me to try to punch above my own weight, which sometimes results in failures as well. I did not make it to EM1 and opted myself up for the class, and I completed PSLE with the second lowest score in the class. I had a few minor discipline cases in school, but I don’t really see myself as a bad kid. In fact, I was the one who got beaten up most of the time; but I never seem to be defeated, even when I really was. I seldom appear to be hurt, even when sometimes I was. People seldom stand up for me, since I always appear to be capable of doing so myself. I don’t like to rely on others as well. My primary school years seems to fluctuate between the good and bad. I remember getting a Singa award for being courteous. But I also remember that my parents were called to school for my conduct or some sort.
I later went on to secondary school and also got into some trouble in school. I wasn’t exactly bad, but I wasn’t exactly good either. I got caned during the first year in secondary school; it was so painful that I rolled on the ground crying. This was the prelude to two other years of caning, as I turned from someone being bullied to somewhat a notorious figure in the school. It was a rough period for me. For a secondary school infested with secret societies, it was hard to survive. Almost every week, I will have to participate in fights that I am not willing to, fair or unfair. It became a way of life for me soon, but I made it a point to not bully. In a world of sheeps, guard dogs and wolves, I see myself as the guard dog, even today. I was a student leader, just not the kind that society looks for. I count myself lucky that I did not leave any criminal record. This experience was what later drove me to youth-related work. I realised that these crucial years that could set the trajectory of life. I also had numerous relationships, one of which continued for 9 years and ended for good. One day, while selling ice cream door to door, I was attacked by four men. I didn’t expect the absence of talk at all, neither did I fought back. This experience reinforced my mentality for the need for everyone to learn self-defence and set the stage for my own martial arts journey. It is these interesting experiences that taught me a lot about life.
The volatile years started to calm down after the really bad ones either got sacked from school, jailed or left school. And for some reason, even as I did not really study for my N levels (relegated to Normal Academic in Year 3), I got a better score than most of my peers. I decided to work hard as I did not really want to leave school at this age. I topped my cohort with 2 best subject awards. It was what that gave me the confidence to strive for the next few years.
I later went to Republic Polytechnic. Not a popular choice at that time as it was new. I was told that I was crazy since I had other “better” options. I did well during my first year, suffered during my second due to interpersonal issues (which taught me a lot about managing people) and soared to my highest GPA in my last semester. I also won numerous awards during this period of time, even getting myself a silver medal in a sparring competition. Unfortunately, I missed my Certificate of Merit by 0.02 for my GPA. Academics was not my focus. I wanted to be exposed, to be an all-rounder, not a dean-lister. Then I enlisted in the army.
I was posted to an “obese” intake. Driven by the purpose of National Service and I strived hard. I wanted to serve. And I wanted to inspire. I dropped 16kg in 4 months, went from IPPT “Fail” to “Gold” and had a “six-pack”. I graduated as the best trainee and commanded my passing out parade of over 200 men. I was posted to OCS. But no one would have thought that my series of success would end abruptly in a couple of days. 2 weeks into the course, questions started popping up. I lost conviction that this is the right path for me to take. I had so many questions and no answers to them. I requested to drop out of the course as I cannot convince myself to put in my best for the course. I did not want to be a mediocre Officer, someone who just follow motion or serve for the sake of personal pride, especially when we are in charge of people’s lives. This is not a game of cards. This marks the start of a turbulent stage in my life. Officership means a lot to me, even today. I started questioning my own abilities as well. After much struggle, I only managed to pick myself up after 8 months, when I enter my second year of National Service. I had a better understanding from the Officers I interact with on what is the meaning of serving. I left NS with a record of “Excellent” for conduct and performance, a small consolation to me.
I later managed to secure a place in NTU. It was a strong affirmation for me. No one would have thought that someone like me in secondary school would have made it to NTU. I remember writing an essay claiming that I would. But it was just an attempt at cheering myself. I was given only one option of Computer Engineering. I grabbed the opportunity. During the course of my studies, which I did not enjoy, I took a gap year and started a social enterprise. I thought I will never return to University, but I did, only to take another leave of absence due to financial reasons. During my leave of absence, I also managed to secure a place in one of the top law firms in Singapore. It was yet another redemption for me. And I was prepared to slog for the next two years, saving up enough to return to University. But unexpectedly, things didn’t end up well. I left after 2 months. After some deliberation, I closed my company and isolated myself. During the few months, I focused on my self-development. I decided to take up a challenging role as a public servant. I applied for the role without considering much. But through the series of trials and selection, I realised that it is something that I can be competent in. Furthermore, many of its philosophies aligned deeply with me, so much that I get goosebumps when I read some of it. Still, my role remains very challenging and to be honest, I am nothing but an insignificant speck of dust in the midst of some very outstanding individuals. But I choose to have faith – I didn’t achieve what I did by believing that I am incapable of more.
Benjamin Alexander Cai Jianxiong 蔡剑雄