Thursday, March 07, 2013

Alternate universe

Ever wondered what would have happened if you had chosen a different path in life? The idea of alternate universe(s) fascinates me from-time to-time.

"Sliding Doors" movie trailer

After I met L the lawyer, I guess I can put to rest one of my alternate universe(s).


You see, after my GCE 'A' levels (i.e. equivalent of high school in Canada), I queued up for career advice from our junior college lecturers. I wanted to pursue Engineering1 but while my result was good2, my Physics grade sucked for someone who wanted to enter Engineering.
Note 1: Yeah, those were the days when youths were told to be either a "doctor, lawyer or engineer". I never studied Biology beyond lower secondary school (i.e. aged 13 to 14) because I was not an "Ace" student, I hated memorizing those long Latin names for parts of plants/animals, and I did not have the heart to dissect live animals just to observe their hearts pumping or to see their nerves twitching their legs. Since I did not have a strong Biology foundation nor incredibly good grades (i.e. not straight 'A's which was the rumoured requirement for female medical school applicants, given the gender-based quota on medical school enrolment back then), "doctor" was out of the question. 
Note 2: My result was considered "good" in those days (late 1980's) when grade inflation was not that bad. With the exception of medical school, my teachers believed that I could pick any local university course that I wanted and I would stand a high chance of gaining entry into my course of choice. Privately though, I thought that they were being overly optimistic.
My assigned career advisor, Mr T, zoomed in on my 'A' grade and suggested that I pursue Computer Science since Mathematics was my strongest subject. I told him that I was clueless about computing, but he reassured me that with my strong mathematics foundation, I would make it.

My GCE 'A' level result

I was still somewhat doubtful. Mr T took a look at my other subjects, pausing at my General Paper grade (i.e. English). He suggested, "Or try law." Given my limited worldly exposure as a student, I equated lawyers to "people who quarrel in courts", as in criminal law. Back then, I had no idea of the other forms of law. At that age, I have had enough of a quarrelsome family background to know that I would probably dislike any job which involved bickering as part of its duties. Thus, I ruled out law school.

Obstinately, I asked Mr T if I should apply to enter Engineering. Mr T happens to be my Physics lecturer/tutor. He had first-hand experience of how I eschewed calculations and answered his tutorial questions based on my imagination of how objects would behave under the influence of various forces. [Note: I did not know about Theoretical Physics back then.] He bluntly pointed out that Physics was my worst grade and Engineering requires a strong foundation in Physics, and thus discouraged me from applying for it.
Looking back, I have to thank Mr T for steering me away from Engineering. I took an short engineering module for my Masters, and frankly, it bored me.
At that time, I was still unclear of what I would like to do for my career. For some strange reason, I had a vision that computing would become ubiquitous in the future, and thus no matter what career I choose, some computing skills would be required on-the-job. As such, it might be useful to equip myself with some computing skills with which to leverage myself into a different field should I discover my "true calling" later in life. Besides, I needed a course whose graduates had a high chance of landing a job quickly because I knew then that I would need a study loan for my university tuition. Thus, fascinating but "low employability" majors like Psychology, any language studies, etc, were out of the question. Thankfully, some areas of Computer Science turned out to be rather interesting. It also helped that we had some quirky and humorous lecturers too.


Years down the road, when I discovered that there was more to law than just the "quarrelsome" criminal law, I sometimes wondered what-if I had entered law school instead? Meeting L and listening to her career story, I suspect that my life would probably not be very much different from what it had been. No matter what career I chose, my nature/character is pretty much the same -- a unique combination of workaholic perfectionist (in areas of interests) and easy-going slacker (otherwise). My multiple interests would also probably drive me to explore more than one career anyway. What an interesting closure to an alternate universe!

Aside from the above, interestingly, L is the first Caucasian lady whom I've met personally who looks like she is in her 20's even when she is already in her 40's (just like me).

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