Open Season

Published: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 8:34:19 AM

Take life one step at a time

BEING the first one to graduate in the family, I visualise my journey ahead to be nonchalantly blank. The only good thing out of this is that I am the youngest and hence less is expected from me.

I remember towards my recent graduation, despite feeling paradoxically like a tranquil sequoia tree and a disastrous earthquake, my mind went on a parade with banners blanketing the street of my physical brain, spelling “There Is A Way Out”.

That was what our parents optimistically thought when they decided to coalesce the egg and the squid-like fish.

“Oh, maybe our young can find a way out of this mess,” they thought.

So here we are. Lost as the egg and squid-like fish as I am, I realised the hieroglyphic and indecipherable meaning of “finding a way out” may not exist at all.

But the mind is beautiful. The mind, an abstract form of the human brain, is capable in its own ways of delivering ideas, feeding imaginations, sustaining beliefs and attributing trust to a range of impossibilities.

Even though there are things one cannot explain with logic and mathematical formulas, given all circumstances, one would at least try to find a way out.

So that was what I did by experimenting with a principle in Gestalt psychology called wholeness. Kurt Koffka, a German psychologist in the 1920s, was often quoted for the phrase: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

In simple terms, this means the mind considers every fragmented sense to be dynamic and part of our entire conscious experience.

It explains how people combine small, component information into larger pictures. The principles of Gestalt psychology have established many cognition and perception theories.

Before my final semester ended, I was juggling my thesis, Master’s degree applications, scholarship and internship applications, assignments, studies and exams. I was burned out like a wick reaching the end of a candle.

On top of it all, I broke my thumb drive, which contained the literature review for my thesis. I was deranged to the extent that I grabbed a guitar and serenaded the broken pieces.

We, like most species, are not given the privilege of living for centuries, unless you are talking about turtles.

I pieced everything in my life together – the smaller parts that Gestalt psychologists assured us would form the bigger units.

There are millions of people graduating every year around the globe; some sprint into employment or further their studies, and others melt into a gap year which could sometimes mean statutory idling.

There is a clandestine streak in us that treasures uniqueness, but at the end of my Bachelor’s degree, I have never felt so similar to everyone else. We are confining our lives into a set of norms.

Come to think about it, I have been in school since I was three years old. Graduates like me are driven by the compulsion to begin another journey. Maybe after a short vacation, we get our engines turned back on to full gear.

But we forget about the one thing we wish to cherish 30 years down the road.

A few days ago, my friend suggested to me that I should consider pursuing my PhD instead of a Master’s degree to skip a few years of education and save some money.

I smiled and replied: “I’m not ready to commit to a three-year programme right after stepping out of another programme. Plus, I really don’t mind learning more.”

Gestalt psychologists made their point. I have not finished piecing together the individual units but I am getting there.

Thirty years down the road, I want to see the people I love still in my life, share with them my journeys and stories and eventually part without regrets.

Hang on, do all these count as three things? The point is, one step back is one step forward. The human mind can adapt in surprisingly creative ways.


> Julia Khaw ( is a psychology graduate from Sunway University. She plans to pursue Neuropsychology for her Master’s degree if the opportunity arises. The views expressed are entirely her own.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Julia Khaw

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