As the year draws to a close, I reflect on some of the lessons that I have learnt from the mentors during the SMC Hiking Library sessions in the last quarter of 2022.
Enough may not be Enough
A key point which particularly resonated with me from Ms. Kala’s sharing was the notion that enough may not be enough. This is closely link with my alma mater’s school motto of “ceaseless quest for excellence” (自强不息). Given the vicissitudes of life, it is easy to succumb to the temptation of being satisfied with one’s current progress. But there are circumstances when one’s best may not be enough, and in this I see the opportunity for metamorphosis – to grow better as a person. This is in terms of both professional competencies, as well as character development.
The underlying assumption for the point above is one must have the gumption of accepting a “no” as an answer. In our pursuit of success, defined in every possible way, there may be external voices that dissuade us, or internal doubts that prevent us from following what our heart leads us. But many a times, it is having that bravery to embrace setbacks, or even taking that leap of faith that brings us further.
Dr. Bicky Bhangu shared similar experiences. He started his sharing with anecdote that since young, many have told him that he’s not the best at his studies. Despite these doubts, Dr. Bicky did not let the extrinsic opinions shape his ambitions; he continued on with his masters and doctorate degrees. Indeed, there are many times in life where our goals, motivations and achievements become doubted by others. Importantly, as Dr. Bicky puts it, we reflect and make the decision based on the framework of aims which we have set for ourselves. Passion lies in the center stage of such decisions.
The Value of Feeling Scared
Coincidentally, an analogous point came up in the sharing by Wong Su-Yen, Chairperson of the Singapore Institute of Directors.
She encouraged the notion of risk-taking, which brings opportunities. Telling a notoriously risk-adverse population – myself included – to take risk and even embrace the feeling scaredness seems challenging. Indeed, having being borned as an accidental nation, there are good reasons why Singaporeans prefer the most tried-and-tested pathways as compared to diving head in to unorthodox routes.
However, Su-Yen contended that there is a value to taking risks, as we often hear from innovators, and in the mean time, feeling scared, which is something that we often see as a negative emotion. Sometimes, such emotion stems from the uncertainty of the decision; it may not yield a desirable outcome. Other times it may be because we aren’t sure if we can cope; what we are attempting may be something that is completely new to us.
But feeling scared shows that we are stretching ourselves, that we are exploring other possibilities and not settling for things we are comfortable doing.
This reminds me of a quote by the American Professor, Brene Brown’s quote: “Learning is inherently vulnerable. No vulnerability, no learning.” When we learn, we could be right, or wrong. Rejecting vulnerability and only hoping to get things right hinder the learning process, as we learn from our mistakes as much as successes.
Pain, Discomfort, Fatigue and Laziness
Further, Su-Yen drew a distinction between pain, discomfort, fatigue and laziness. In this spectrum, when one objectively feels pain, something is wrong and it is prudent to stop to find out the cause of pain – perhaps we are over-exerting ourselves. However, discomfort tends deter people from trying out new things, or taking measured risks. Fatigue could be resolved with more rest, and laziness often is the barrier that prevents us from ushering changes to our lives.
Clearly understanding the roots of your feelings is a necessary condition for making further progress.
Feeling scared, when taken to the extreme, can turn into too much of a good thing. I thought that this framework is a nice way to help ourselves distinguish what we are feeling, thereby facilitating the decision making process.
Not a Marathon, but Multiple Sprints
Aphorism goes that life is a marathon, not a sprint. I guess the key idea behind this saying is a caution of burning out too early in life.
This seems especially relevant for a generation characterised by “burn-outs”, and aptly termed as “The Burnout Generation”. To counter the constant pressure to work, we’ve seen trends such as the “lying flat” movement in China which advocates for people to do the bare minimum.
However, Ms. Kala drew a very nice distinction and proposed that life is not just a marathon; it consists of multiple sprints. After all, can we run – even if at a slow pace – for all our life? Rather, doesn’t it make more sense to give our best during certain time, and completely rest to recuperate in others? When and how we sprint depend on the stage of life that we’re in, and every phase in life has its priorities. It may be work when we just entered the workforce, but family later on.
I find this distinction more nuanced and applicable. In similar veins: work hard and play hard.
Work-life Balance and Career Progression
Worklife balance has become a hotly discussed topic in recent times. As a student yet to set foot in the corporate world, I thought a point shared by Dr. Bicky particularly stood out to me. He emphasised the importance of values. In a society where prestige and monetary rewards are key criteria that people look at in finding a suitable job, Dr. Bicky’s reminder to focus on value of the firm is timely and crucial.
A significant drawback to having misaligned values with one’s firm is that one might bring that value back home and into other spheres of life. Indeed, as work becomes a greater proportion of our lives, the key to work-life balance is to first understand the values in the companies which we wish to join.
The SMC Spirit
Having attended several of SMC’s hikes, it never fails to amaze me how the hikes nicely combine breadth of exposure to different industries( Dr. Ong would call it the the multi-domain ecosystem) with depth of interactions with mentors.
Throughout the hikes which I have attended, I interacted with lawyers (from a myriad of specialisations), professors, startup founders, graphic designers and many other mentors from finance, civil service, hospitality industries etc.
This amazing breadth is balanced with one-to-one interaction with each mentor, which is unique to SMC. Such format enables me to ask questions and foster an organic relationship with the people I meet.
Every hiking session takes time and effort to put together, and my heartfelt gratitude goes to Dr. Ong and Ms. Zoe from SMC for organising so many of these hiking sessions that I have tremendously benefitted from. I look forward to meeting more mentors from diverse background, as well as like-minded peers during the hikes in 2023!