Context: the 10-year-challenge campaign started by Facebook .

The craze for this 10-year challenge among my friend circle became evident as I scroll through Facebook or Instagram wall. The vicarious fun of entertaining oneself of the contrast between numerous pairs of before-and-after photos almost attracted me to join the squad, only to be held back by my self-conscience of preventing myself from being to obsessed with being present unnecessarily on social media. Nevertheless, in this writing space that’s more personal, it’s worth reflecting what had happened to me over the last 10 years.

Perhaps it’s such a coincidence, Jan 2009 was also the time I entered my middle school: the so-called elite high school in my hometown. This ‘status upgrade’ and the simplistic mindset in me gave me an illusion that the value of “following parents’ order” that Chinese have held sacrosanct doesn’t have to be followed closely; I should be now entitled with my own thoughts. While puberty gave me the audacity to speak out my thoughts, disagreements and demands, it failed to install me the skills to professionally voice them and to exercise my discretion on knowing what to do. This explains why I thought it’s okay to relentlessly query people about their marks: for the purpose to gauge my class ranking under the competitive (and somewhat toxic) environment, without knowing that these numbers could be privacy or taboo to people. Fast forward to college, I became way more well-received among my classmates. Being in the cohort of like-minded folks definitely helped; other than that, it’s only because I only learned how to interact with people at the age of 18. Perhaps that’s also why Prof. Arsmah (the former Malaysian IMO chairperson) texted me “You have grown up” along with a reunion photo in 2016, as compared to 2011 when she insisted me to tell her myself on how did the IMO go — “to improve your communication skills”, she said.

One lucky thing happening to me in the first half of the 10 years was the discovery of who I am: someone who loves math. If not because of the opportunity to get into the IMO training camp, I wouldn’t realize that I can spend my thoughts on a single math problem for a few hours just to taste the sense of accomplishment after solving it. Amid my practice of math problems and following the IMO training regime, alchemy happened as I advanced into the IMO team: something my parents and I thought it was impossible given the fierce competition in the selection process. That’s when math problem solving, turned from merely an exploration to a commitment and a habit. This habit perpetuated beyond the 2011 IMO despite being severely hit by the failure, even though it wasn’t clear if the hard work and sacrifice was worth it. Fortunately, achievements came along with my continuous practice, and my IMO career ended with the pinnacle: one and the only gold medal in IMO 2014. My full scholarships from Waterloo and HKUST, and the acceptances into other elite universities definitely served as great rewards and ramification to my achievements before, but what’s more heartening was the immense comfort before most pure math courses in Waterloo — simply because I have the motivation to deal with them.

The second half of the 10 years saw me entering the A-Levels programme, which also saw how my dreams were shaped. As glamorous as it sounds, the Malaysian IMO ‘ancestors’ often ended up in great colleges like Oxbridge and the Ivies, so I thought I would be the same as them one day. But it’s not until the college application period did I realize that I had to earn the respect of the admission officers through means other than the IMO. Luckily, my bursary from the SPM (Malaysian Education Certificate) also placed me to mix closely with people with the similar mind, sharing the similar dream: to get into one of the top 20 universities. For the first time, my motivation to work hard came from something other than merely to make my transcript look beautiful. For the first time, I became able to think of what I wanted to pursue in the future, and what were my areas of interest (and not-so-interest). The admission offers from 11 universities justified my hard work, eventually. But what’s matter was how the process shaped me into someone who’s dare to be more productive to chase for his dream.

The last quarter of the 10 years span was spent in the university, which was what I called the pivotal point of my life. In September 2016, I left behind people around me to embrace a new environment, in a new country, with new set of people around me. It’s this environment that I picked up programming and tuned myself towards a better self when comes to the WaterlooWorks Hunger Games period. It’s this place that I saw the weather around me turning from green to red to white, before turning green again. As I braved through the unprecedented challenge of job hunting season, I started realized what differentiates myself as a student and as a person: someone who doesn’t vs does care about skills other than those needed to get the good grades. The struggle to mould myself to someone who’s ready to contribute to the industry while still maintaining the other aspect of my life (school and work-life balance) gradually prepared me for the challenges I may face upon the adulthood, which is also a step towards maturity.

With that, what would happen in the next 10 years?

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