"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.
I will be sitting the IGCSE this year and my parents keep pressuring me to study everyday. I know they want me to get good grades so that I can get a scholarship to go to a good university. But the more they tell me to study, the less interest I have in studying.
I have no idea what I want to do in the future or what course I want to take. I love to draw but I don't think I have the talent, so even if I took up art, I am not sure if I would be able to do well. My parents do not encourage me to pursue art because they think there are few job opportunities in the field of art. My parents and teachers have high expectations of me, and the pressure I feel is immense.
Recently, I started hating myself for not trying to live up to their expectations. Sometimes, I feel like I don't care about anything anymore. The thought of cutting myself has crossed my mind many times, and I have lost interest in some of the things I used to like. I feel like everything has lost its meaning. I just don't know what to do. -Empty
Feel assured that what you are going through is something many people your age experience. You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with you. What you need is some time to sit back and think about what you want, and look into some problem-solving skills.
Cutting or hurting yourself is not going to help the situation. Cutting is a serious matter. Some do it when they are going through intense periods of stress and feel trapped. There are also people who do it because the physical pain helps to distract them from the pain and agony of their actual situations.
Cutting is a dangerous and negative coping mechanism. You have to try and overcome the urge to hurt yourself. Diverting your attention could work. More importantly, you have to learn to express your thoughts and feelings in a constructive way.
Putting words to feelings help you understand what you are going through. When you have that kind of understanding, it is easier to have a proper perspective of your problems. If you cannot talk to someone about it, write it down. Keep a diary. Or, if you want to flex your creative muscles, keep a blog. Who cares if no one reads it? It is for you to express yourself.
Now back to the main issue in your problem. Why are you studying? Why are you working hard? Is it for someone else - your parents, your family? Or is it for yourself?
Sure, your parents want the best for you. They want you to be successful. Do you expect anything less for yourself? This is something that you may have lost sight of with all the focus on your parents' expectations.
What do you think you are capable of? If your parents eased off the pressure, would you want the same thing? Can you work just as hard if they weren't on your back? These are considerations you have to look into.
You say you have lost interest in studying. Have you really lost interest, or are you just tired of their pressuring you?
Obviously, you want to do well as it will open doors for you to pursue further studies. Keep that goal in mind. It doesn't matter what you want to do as a career in the future. Your goal at the moment is to do well enough to get a scholarship.
This is key: keeping small goals. Part of the stress you are facing now is due to the fact that you are trying to postulate about a future that no one is sure of. What you know for sure is, doing well in your upcoming exams is important for the short term. After that, you can start focusing on what you want to do. Be realistic. You don't have to make that decision as soon as your exams are over. Time will be needed to grade your exams. Then comes the period for application for scholarships. During that period, you can work part-time.
Working part-time will give you a taste of what to expect when you start working. Depending on the kind of work you do, you will be exposed to many aspects of working life. You can begin to identify your strengths and areas for growth. You can then decide on what you want to do for a career.
In deciding what you want to do, it is also important to separate hobbies from passion. You like to draw, but do you want to do that as a career? Are you choosing this because you fear there is nothing else you are good at? History tells us that it takes a truly great artist to be well off. Do you know enough of the art world and art industry to choose that as a career? If not, find out.
Next, don't limit yourself. You like to draw. If you enjoy being creative, you can make a career out of that. There are lots of fields that require that kind of creativity. Advertising, for one. Find out where you can apply your skills. Gone are the days when your degree defines the work you do. Now it's a new world of creativity where only the limits of your mind hold you back.
The main issue you face now is pressure from your parents. Consider the questions raised here. Talk to your parents about it. Do you want the same things that they do? Do you want it as bad as they do? That is all that matters, then. Tell them that they should trust you to do the right thing. You know you have to study. You know you have to do well. They don't need to keep reminding you of that.
You say that you don't even care about anything anymore. Well, do you care about yourself? None of this would matter if you didn't care about yourself. And you do. That is the most important thing. You have to see that. You have to acknowledge that it is important. You have to see things in perspective. Rarely are we faced with an issue so great that there is no way out. You just have to find the voice to speak up. -Thelma