I Scored 207 for PSLE; I Still Became a Lawyer.

You decide your future.

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I’ll never forget the day I went to collect my PSLE* results.

I walked up to my form teacher nervously. She looked at me with disappointment, shook her head and said,”You could have done so much better.”

Those words burned into my head.

(This is the same teacher who did nothing but tell my whole class that we girls were “so complacent and so conceited” throughout the year. Maybe we were, maybe we weren’t, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the right way to motivate a bunch of 12 year old girls. But I digress…)

Of course, there was the mass comparisons of PSLE results happening around the school hall, but not on a scale as large as now, what with the availability of social media.

I remembered feeling upset, thinking I was stupid.

And I felt worth less.

I carried these feelings with me for a long time. Always an invisible barrier to the success that I wanted.

Ok, let me first take responsibility for my results first. Did I study hard? No, I’ll be the first to admit. But I was busy enjoying my childhood. I was busy playing, learning, asking questions and laughing.

I had a happy childhood.

But my point is – it didn’t matter that I was doing so well in other areas. I was netball captain. I was a school prefect. I did all sorts of creative stuff like putting up the P6 concert and participating in our 150th anniversary concert.

All it came down to was 3 numbers at the end of my primary school endeavours.

I was placed in Express stream in St. Margaret’s Secondary School. Went to Nanyang Polytechnic to get my business diploma. Went to Curtin University and obtained my business degree with distinction. Then completed my education with a law degree from NUS. And finally, got called to the Singapore Bar.

I managed to achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer with sheer determination and my family’s support.

I am married to a wonderful man, and we have 3 beautiful children.

Standing where I am now, I really feel for the kids who are considered “low PSLE scorers” and labeled as such. I feel their own disappointment at their results, and even worse, their parents’ disappointment at their results.

As a kid, the worst thing to me was to disappoint my parents. (I actually don’t remember my parents saying anything, they probably felt sad with me. But I remember my grandmother’s disappointment.)

 

Why do we need to place kids in boxes and categorise them as “high achievers” and “low achievers” at such a young age?

Isn’t it more important to ignite curiosity in a child and to let him/her discover who they are and what they are good at? Isn’t it more important to equip children with the right tools to survive and thrive, which includes a strong sense of self-worth and self-confidence? Isn’t it more important to let the child know that he/she is loved completely whether they do well or badly in school?

Instead of crushing their confidence and dreams so early on and allowing them to think they are not as smart or as good as someone who did better than them when that is complete and utter bullshit.

My children are all under 5 years old at the moment. And I am dreading putting them through the local primary school system because it might not develop all my children to their fullest potentials. They are all different. Some might thrive under this system, some might not.

Don’t get me wrong, as a type A personality, I am all for the spirit of competition and doing well and I encourage it.

But not at the expense of my kid’s self belief in his/her own abilities because I have learnt without self-belief and confidence, there is nothing.

*For my non-Singaporean friends, PSLE stands for “Primary School Leaving Examination”. It’s a huge exam which streams kids into different categories for Secondary School/High School at 12 years old. And their academic talents are nurtured accordingly from then on.

The Cupcake Lawyer – My First Business While in Law School: Lise & Ebony

The biggest lesson was learning to trust myself, my creativity and my instincts. After that, hard work brought whatever I dreamed up into existence. And finally, the absolute belief in my products and the correct presentation brought it home for me.

I was still in law school and I decided I had to start making some money for myself.

This was at the cusp of the cupcake revolution (in Singapore at least) and they were the new in thing.

At the time I had just returned from Australia, fresh and full of creative ideas and this was the perfect outlet for it. I had lived off-campus while studying there and had gotten really good at hosting parties. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, dinners. I planned the menus, did the shopping, cooked up a storm and always ensured everything was appropriately presented and decorated.

The food had to be yummy delicious and satisfying. The decor had to be perfect. And everything was held together by warmth and heart. There was no half-past six nonsense presented at any of these gatherings.

Though it would get quite stressful mainly because I’m a stickler for every little detail, I enjoyed every moment of it.

It was through all that planning and dreaming up these events at my house that I found my love for beautiful things/creating beautiful things. I learned to trust my creative instincts and my gut.

To start my business off, I conjured up a short menu of desserts I was good at making to sell. Cupcakes with buttercream frosting, cream cheese frosting, chocolate frosting, chocolate cupcakes, THE bestselling Ebony Cake, carrot cake, tiramisu, and velvety dark chocolate truffles.

The next thing was the name. NAME. What to call my business?

I had been to Göteborg, Sweden when I was about 20 and my stepfather and mother brought me to Liseberg Amusement Park. (I hit all the amusement parks that trip. Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, Denmark’s Tivoli and Norway’s Tusenfryd. Nuts!). Anyway when we got to Liseberg, my stepdad told me that “Lise” is a variant of my name.

I didn’t really think much about it until I had to think about what to call my business and I thought it would be cute to include “Ebony” in my business.

Well who’s Ebony?

Ebony, was my trusty old black Honda Civic. I included her in the business name because she was the one who got me to places when I needed to make deliveries or set up at weddings. And yes, the Ebony cake is named after her.

So I brainstormed for names for awhile – Red & Ebony, Ebony’s Sweets blah blah… until I decided to use “Lise”. No hiding behind any other brand or even Ebony. This business was an expression of who I was at the time, and so I thought this was the best name.

I still needed a short description of what the business did but didn’t know how to phrase it. Bakery? Cake Artist? Cupcakes? Desserter?? (!!)  Nothing quite fit.  I decided to just let the question sit in my head while I got on with other preparations.

I was so excited to start this business and what made it even better was that I was gonna go to New York to visit my sister who was studying at NYU then. I would be visiting the famed Magnolia bakery (amazing energy and omg the banana pudding!), Serendipity cafe and all these other places New York has to offer that would be the sources of my inspiration.

And then it happened when we were standing outside one of the many froyo shops (I think it was Pinkberry).

I saw the word “artisan” on another shop and for some reason I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of using that word before. Dessert Artisan.

With that, everything fell into p l a c e.

Lise and Ebony Photogrid
Lise & Ebony Launch Party 2007

I had a little launch party and invited all my relatives and friends and I must say it was pretty successful. I meant for this to be a small homemaking business where I would bake/make chocolates to supplement my income and it worked out well. I made enough to cover my law books, buy new clothes and shoes and travel.

I didn’t know it yet but this experience would be a defining one. I learned so many practical business lessons that I would continue to use to this day.

The biggest lesson was learning to trust myself, my creativity and my instincts. After that, hard work brought whatever I dreamed up into existence. And finally, the absolute belief in my products and the correct presentation brought it home for me.

 

Years later, I’ve come full circle.

And I don’t know why but I’m thinking about Lee Kuan Yew and how he had decided that neither the Japanese nor the British had the right to push us around and that fuelled him to make Singapore into what it is today: Independent, prosperous and successful.

I am standing at the edge, looking at all my options, deciding.

I feel a certain rhythm in me and I’m waiting for

The.Right.Time.To.

Jump.

(Originally posted on lisechew.com on 9 June 2015)