The painful process of passion-finding – stories of struggling teens.

Finding one’s passion can be a long and painful process, because it doesn’t just fall on your lap and be embraced in delightful ecstasy. You need to try and search and fail and get up and try again and fail again, and repeat that process over and over again until you finally are sure that you have found it – your element, your passion. This painful process is what I would like to highlight in my following stories I shall endeavor to tell here. Hopefully, we will be able to learn from them and to better understand how we might be of better help to our children in discovering and nurturing their passions to successful maturity.

Behind the story of Sam

Sam turned 17 on January 21st this year, and I have to admit, my baby has grown up! Her early years of tantrum-filled, emotional roller-coaster days are over – much to our relief! Her story is one that proves the power of unconditional love and the wisdom in allowing children space and freedom to discover their passion and to nurture it to the maximum capacity.  The story of Sam is rarely told but when it does, it gets onto TV (8tv Showdown 2012), magazine (Readers’ Digest 2008 June issue) and book (How to Find Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson).

Here is the long process Sam went through in finding her element.


Dealing with growing up issues

As I reflect on how far my Sam has come, looking back to 10 years ago, when she was seven, I am grateful for many things. At 7, she had refused to go to school, after spending 2 needless and probably damaging, years at kindergarten, she had had enough of schooling. At that time, it did not occur to me that she was having a rough time at kindy. Kids like Sam, who are a little different, who see what others do not see, who hears what others do not hear, who feels what others do not feel – these kids tend to become casualties in a system that does not recognize geniuses. I use the word “genius” to describe kids who have unique talents and who learn differently from others. But most experts prefer to use labels such as dyslexic, autistic, ADHD, slow learner etc. Sam was mildly dyslexic. Reading and writing were her foes, while music and art were her close friends. But she was punished for things she could not understand why. Was it for not doing her homework? Was it for using the wrong colors? Or for not coloring in the line? We will never know. But that could have resulted in her other condition that I have only recently learned about – selective mutism. We could not understand why she would be the most talkative person at home, yet with other people outside the family circle, her mouth would be clamped tight and impossible to pry open!

So from a carefree, loud and often impulsive little girl, she grew into a silent and self-conscious teenager, constantly in doubt about her self and her abilities. Her emotions were often explosive and I found myself losing something I had always thought I had unreserved supply of – patience. It was the most challenging period of our lives and the only saving grace was our unconditional love for her. And the discovery of her passion……


Discovering her passion

Sam loved swimming. When she joined competitive swimming with a local swimming club a few years ago, she was obsessed. She trained the hardest. She never missed a day of training. She’d even train at home doing all the stretching and strengthening exercises recommended by her coach. Her improvement graph was looking great, and her timing at competitions was encouraging. Everyone said Sam had a natural talent! We were immensely hopeful! Sam had found her thing and her thing was swimming. Then she hit a plateau. Her timing improved marginally at best. But mostly they were getting worse. She was sad but she kept on training relentlessly. We thought that perhaps it was her lack of communication skills that had affected her performance. It was a tough period for her. We felt her frustrations. The saddest part of it all was that her coaches did not seem to care. It was easier to focus on the few very young and potentially medal-material swimmers than trying to groom someone who falls in between an age group that is not to her favour. So poor Sam got sidelined.

As parents, we would do anything to help our child be the best that she can potentially be. And talent alone is not enough – one’s talent needs to be recognized, groomed and nurtured to fruition. We felt that it wasn’t the case here. So we decided to switch club. She joined her state swimmer cousin’s club. The only hitch was, it was in a different state. The upside was, her grandparents lived there. So we packed her off to stay with her grandma and grandpa, together with her 10 cats! (That is another story to be told later!).

She trained under a foreign coach who was a strict and no-nonsense lady. But it was not going anywhere for Sam because the focus was again, on a small group of medal-material swimmers. It was another disappointment. Then one day, another coach at the club approached Sam and said he was keen to take her in. He had spotted her strengths and her weaknesses and offered to help her overcome them. We were more than happy for that! Finally someone was genuinely interested to help Sam with her swimming!

But by now, Sam was reaching the end of her enthusiasm – she was feeling tired and homesick. She wanted to come home. And we could not stop her. To cut the long story short, we had to finally accept the fact that alas, it was not meant to be. She had to decide whether to stick with swimming, or switch to something else. It was not an easy decision because we had all invested heavily in it in terms of time, effort and money. To abandon it now was like having wasted 3-4 years of effort. But to stick with it without seeing any possible light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be pointless effort. Sam had reached a crossroad. And she needed to make a decision, quick.


Changing her passion

Sam had her first dose of hip hop music around the age 12, which subsequently led her to hip hop dancing. Her interest led her to discover the dance on YouTube and she had requested to take dance classes. She had taken ballet classes together with her sister since she was 5 years old, but eventually quit after a few years (because “it wasn’t me”, she said). But the moment she stepped into the dance studio for hip hop classes, she knew this was it – this was what she had been searching for! Initially we had just registered for a once-a-week class but it was evident soon after, that Sam wanted to join every class available! “But mom, I want to go EVERYDAY!” she kept on pestering. And finally we talked to her teacher, (whom we found out was also homeschooled!) and she said she could come for classes everyday! And within 3 months Sam progressed from beginner level to intermediate and then to advance level.


Finding the right teacher/mentor

Why didn’t she achieve this kind of progress in swimming even though she was said to have a lot of potential? What was the key factor in making the difference for her? I believe it was getting the right teacher or mentor – someone who not only recognizes her potential, but has the interest and motivation to guide her through to be the best that she can be. Eventually Sam worked her way up to be trained by the founder of Urban Groove Street Dance Academy himself – Joel Tan.
“Sam doesn’t realize how good she is – with continued training and exposure, she will soon be the best hip hop dancer in the country!” so says the Sifu of street dancing in Malaysia.


Finding her tribe

In pursuing one’s passion, not only is finding the right teacher of great importance, so is finding the right “tribe”. A tribe is defined as “a group of people who share the same interests and passions…..which can exist virtually, through social media or in person.” (Finding Your Passion – Ken Robinson). “Connecting with people who share your Element can have tremendous benefits for you and for them. They include affirmation, guidance, collaborations and inspiration.”

With her new-found tribe, Sam has gone on to do various public and private performances as well as competitions. She and her crew emerged Top 12 in 8TV’s Showdown 2012 – a highly popular national dance competition aired live on 8TV. Recently she participated in
an international dance competition held in Singapore, and although she did not win anything, the experience was truly inspiring for her as she got to see so many international dancers from around the world – that provided a rich and educational dancing platform for her. She is even more motivated now to work hard towards reaching the pinnacle of her dance form to be the best that she can be – and that is what the pursuit of one’s passion is all about!

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