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Chang Wen: ITE, Is it really the End? (It's not)

Waiting for my ‘O’ Level result slip was a little like waiting for an acceptance letter from Hogwarts. Anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and fear. So when the day came and I found out that I did not do well enough for the Poly course I aspired to, I was really dejected. It felt like all the hard work was for nothing.

Suddenly, instead of being the ticket to the smooth sailing journey on the Hogwarts Express I had imagined, my results ended up tossing me in what felt like the front seat of a flying car, like that scene from The Chamber of Secrets. I had no idea where I was headed, everything was a blur and I felt like a mess.

I considered enrolling in ITE, but I could not shake off the notion from my friends and acquaintances that mockingly describing ITE as “It’s The End”. In order to avoid the stigma, I decided instead to pursue a diploma at SIM instead.

That did not turn out well – turns out, I could not fit with the curriculum. I soon found myself struggling to pass all my modules in the first year, a requirement which I had to meet in order to continue my studies at SIM. I ended up failing one module, and realized that SIM was definitely not the way for me.

However, I refused to let my journey end there. I was determined to further my studies and decided – stigma be damned – to enrol in ITE to pursue a Higher Nitec in Business Studies (Events Management). I was not going to let others’ perception limit my educational choices. I wanted to find out for myself what ITE was like through my own experience and make my studies there worthwhile.

After a semester there, I found my own truth about ITE. The bad reputation that ITE gets is based on its low cut-off point, but in truth, it is not very much different from any other educational institutions. I found myself thriving during my time in ITE, and I really love the more hands-on nature of the work as compared to the academic focus of secondary school. The fact that I was doing something directly related to work, working towards tangible goals that made me love my studies was my motivation everyday. Even my social skills improved, due to the practical nature of my studies and the projects I took on.

Most importantly, however, my time in ITE gave me my start as an entrepreneur. My friends and I came up with an idea for a social networking app which would combine aspects of Instagram and Facebook. Like ingredients coming together in a cauldron to form a magical concoction, the skills I gained in ITE proved invaluable in building the app. The networking skills involved in events management helped me to find investors and software developers for the app, and the knowledge of the fundamentals of business management from my education helped me manage the other technical aspects of the business.

Despite being constantly kept busy having to juggle my studies and running my business, my passion for business and my drive to succeed in my education seemed to feed off each other. From this arose a balance which was the key to making everything work. My passion for making my business work gave me the drive to study harder, and the knowledge I gained in school eventually fed back into helping me strengthen my business.

Before long, we managed to launch the app on the App Store, and I managed to enter a course at a local polytechnic. The midnight calls with our software developers based in India, and the many long trips from Ang Mo Kio to VivoCity to meet with investors had paid off. My friends and I were filled with a sense of pride as we launched the app we had poured blood, sweat, and tears into. The journey ahead looked to be smooth sailing.

However, as my friends and I all began new chapters in our lives – me in Polytechnic, and my friends enlisting for their National Service – we found that we were unable to keep the app and the business afloat. Eventually, we shuttered the app and found ourselves all heading in different ways, striving to mark new projects and bring new dreams to reality.

Was it a setback? Maybe. Yet, this new setback did not turn the story into a story about failure. In fact, in many ways, I would consider it to be a success story.

From a business standpoint, I learned a lot from my mistakes that have carried on with me into my new venture with another company. The problems we faced were definitely predictable, but it was only when it hit that we realised it was too much to handle. Therefore, it is important to plan for contingencies, rather than to be left high and dry when faced with difficulty.

Choosing your business partners is also a tough but important decision, especially if they are your friends. It can be fun and all to do these things with friends, but for a business to work, we need to make sure that the people we work with are fully committed to the project. That way, no matter the challenges, they are in it with you, and the time and effort put into the venture will not go down the drain easily.

No matter your background, and no matter where you are now, if there is something you are truly passionate about, go for it, put in the hours and the effort to work towards it. Saying you’ll do something some day, is just another day wasted. If you want to pursue something, take that leap of faith, and do it. Embrace the mistakes and failures which may come your way. They will only help you to grow and learn.

Life rarely goes according to plan, and things often turn out differently from what you imagine. Lean into the fears and failures you face along the way, and seek discomfort, because you have everything to gain in pursuing what you love.

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