Unconventional: Grades, Journeys and the Big S Word

Do grades really matter? Can Success really be defined by how well we do in school? Join JAVEN KONG  as he explores how everybody’s journey will be different.



Javen Kong   

Social Media Lead

Hype Issue #59

Published on
May 24, 2024

In Singapore, we live with the constant pressures of ensuring our academic success, both to do well for ourselves as well as to avoid the familiar searing sensation of parental disappointment. 

We take our first trial at PSLE, and the next hoop we jump through is the tribulation of O/N Levels, or for our more academically inclined friends, IP/IB. We move on to polytechnic/junior college and then face the biggest hoop of all: scraping it into university, before eventually battling for a job in the workforce. 

Grades and academic results are important in getting through these hoops. However, emphasis is also placed on out-of-classroom activities. For example, charity work and events, CCA participation and for some, leadership activities.

Meet Aaron. School dropout. Sorry, successful  school dropout. Aaron Alden David, business owner, crypto trader, and yes, school dropout, has made his own way in the world straying from the conventional path. 

The Answer

So you must be wondering, why exactly did Aaron drop out? Aaron was a student in the Psychology diploma at Temasek Polytechnic, a course with only 70 spots available yearly.  To casual observers, dropping out would somewhat seem to be passing up a coveted opportunity.

Money played a huge factor in Aaron’s decision to drop out. “Not every Singaporean starts off from the same place. Some guys can come out of university with no debt, but if you’re like me, poly gets expensive after a while, and uni is just another bomb.” Aaron mentions the potential debt he would have incurred, and decided that that life was just not for him. He recalls thinking, “If I want to be successful, I’ve got to drop out.” 

According to Aaron, if he were to have financial security, it would be one less thing for him to have to worry about.  As a young man navigating his parents’ divorce, he took it upon himself to be independent and not worry his parents. “What if I just drop out, divert myself, and come back when I’ve accomplished my mission?”

Pet Sitter

Aaron walking the unconventional path has paid off, as he’s enjoyed success. Photo courtesy of: Aaron David

Dealing with Stress

Having such a volatile income stream brings about stress. “That’s my head on the line, I could potentially lose everything I’ve been working on,” quips the 19 year old. “I got to do my research, and it’s that pressure to be perfect.” His activities definitely take a toll on him, and to take the edge off, he has a few coping methods.

Firstly, a strong support group is key. Aaron has found that surrounding himself with like-minded friends who share his goals has been vital to keeping him on track. “Having reliable people in a circle can help me cope with stress, as I’ve got these guys looking out for me, it keeps people in check.”

Keep Moving Forward

Next, Aaron mentions that dwelling on an issue when you’re faced with one is not helpful. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. It was a process.” He believes that the toughest challenge is staying put. Aaron gives himself a pep talk, and reminds himself that the game isn’t over until he stops playing.

What does that mean? Just keep moving forward. The main point is to not let adversities strike you down and to stay focused on your goals. “Thomas Edison failed 99 times before creating the lightbulb. No matter how many times you fail, keep trying,” Aaron says. This means walking through fire, jumping through hoops and not letting anything stop you.

Lion Dancing

Aaron’s advice is to keep moving forward, despite the challenges of life. Photo courtesy of: Aaron David

The Unconventional Path

Going back to academics, many of us are afraid of failure (author personally relates). In fact, so many of us are, that a 2019 study revealed that 72% of Singaporean students reported feeling this way. The main thing to remember is to keep moving forward. Fear is not a reason to stop pursuing goals.

Take Haidilao CEO Zhang Yong for example. According to AsiaOne, Mr Zhang dropped out of school and became a welder. He went on to start his first restaurant with only four tables in 1994, a far cry from the hotpot chain we love today. 

Mr Zhang admitted to Forbes that when he started, he didn’t even know how to prepare the signature hotpot dish his company is famous for. However, that didn’t stop him from expanding Haidilao, to have billions in revenue and over 300 locations worldwide

Don’t Try This At Home

It’s clear that Aaron’s journey is so unlike what we’re used to; mugging for exams, late nights revising and buckets of tears and sweat spilled over studying.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, “My toxic trait is thinking – I can do that.” However, Aaron’s success doesn’t come easy. Choosing to take charge of his life was not an easy decision, and it’s something we can learn from.

The thing is, everyone has their own journey, so remember to enjoy what comes. Adversity is a huge part of life so just keep moving! Don’t overthink it, after all, it’s not that deep…