The power of your inner voice

Last week, I was almost late to an important meeting, so I rushed to my car, got inside, but realised the engine wouldn’t start!

In a moment of agitation, I thought to myself:

“I can’t believe this is happening now!”

“I have so many issues to deal with, now I have to deal with my car!”

“I need the car this weekend!”

This went on for about a minute.  But my conscious mind quickly caught myself spiraling into a negative state. That’s when I decided to change my mind’s voice. I decided to practice gratefulness instead of feeling like a victim.

“I’m so lucky that I can grab a taxi so quickly using an app. Now I’m not going to be late.”

“It’s a good thing that I have a second car at home, not everyone is as lucky to have a second car.”

“I’m grateful that I can call my family for help, so I can focus on my work.”

I immediately created a positive emotional state, and was back in a productive mood, ready to take on challenges again.

We have more power over our emotional state than we realise, and can choose how our inner voice speaks to us. Had I stayed in a “victim” state, it would have had a negative impact on my work for the rest of the day. But I chose gratefulness, and you can too.

I promise this choice will encourage the world to react positively to you too.

My 10 Rules for Life

Was thinking recently about whether there are certain guiding principles that have brought me to where I am today. And took me a while to summarise them into this list. Here are my Top 10!

1) Treat your loved ones like it may be the last time you’ll see them

Most people will leave this world unexpectedly or with very little warning. Be kind to your loved ones, don’t assume you will have time to tell them you love them. And don’t live with regret only when it’s too late to do anything about it.

2) Only spend time with people you like

Life’s too short to be socially polite. And stay away from those who like complaining. They are sucking energy from you to keep themselves going.

3) Think with your head, act with your heart

In modern society, sometimes being emotional is portrayed as a weakness, but realise it is a great driver of action. Nothing is more formidable than someone who can make decisions using their mind, but is obsessed and driven by their heart.

4) Realise that you’re wrong about many things, especially about yourself

Self-awareness is a gift, and even those that remind themselves to be self-aware know so little about their biases and own personality. Understanding this helps you listen to others better, develop empathy, and opens up your mind to have a deeper understanding of yourself.

5) If you want to grow, don’t get offended when someone criticizes you

“When a student is ready, the teacher will appear”.

Too often I see those that get easily offended or defensive when others criticise them or their work, and at the same time, start complaining that others do not want to mentor them. We need to respond to feedback well, in order to encourage others to continuously want to help you grow.

6) Remind yourself that the world owes you nothing

Do not fall into the entitlement trap. You’re not a victim. And life is not fair. While you envy others, realise that there are those that envy you too. This understanding helps you live life happier, with more gratitude, and encourages everyone to work hard to pursue what they want.

7) Speak less, ask more

It’s always better to learn what someone else knows rather than trying to impress them with what you know.

8) Don’t try to fit in and be normal

Normal usually means average. Be extraordinary.

9) Know that it’s a privilege to have the responsibility to tackle big problems

The bigger the problem, the bigger the hero. If you feel overwhelmed by your problems, remember that it’s a privilege to have the responsibility to take on big problems. Who is in a bigger position, the Prime Minister of a country who is facing problems that will affect the lives of millions of people, or a university student whose biggest problem is trying to hand in their homework on time?

So don’t feel overwhelmed. Take on your problems knowing that you’re lucky to be facing it because you’re doing something important.

10) Be as curious as a toddler

Look at new ideas like how a toddler looks at a new toy. With intense curiosity and excitement, and be willing to experiment. A closed mind will lead to a life of stagnation.

 

Happiness

Happiness = Reality – Expectation

If reality is worse than your expectation, you’re unhappy. If reality is better than your expectation, you’re happy. And guess what? You can’t control reality but you can control your expectations.

People who are constantly unhappy probably imposed some expectation on themselves or on others that are not aligned with the reality of life.  I always find the easiest way to get through a rough patch is to tell yourself “It’s supposed to be like this, it’s not about easy or hard, it just is like this.”

And you can accept this, find ways to improve and be happy. Or you can constantly fight an emotional battle that you will not win.

Adjusting our expectations changes our emotional state.

It’s not about giving up and not doing anything to make your life better. In fact, it’s the opposite. You can’t improve your life if you’re not seeing clearly and burdened by unhelpful emotions.

How cheating as a student taught me a lesson that I carry with me today

I heard a familiar voice whispering my name. I was in the middle of an exam. And my friend Joe, who was seated behind me, kept trying to get my attention.

“Shhhh… can you pass me your answers?”, said Joe, quietly.

I was a naive, 13 year old student then, not aware of the lesson I was about to be taught. Joe sits beside me in class, and was always chatty and playful. I knew he was not the academic type.

Being a good friend

“What?”, I replied to Joe, even though I knew exactly what he was asking for.

“Help me out man. Look, the teacher isn’t looking now, pass me your answers, quick!” Joe spoke with haste.

Should I give him my answer sheet? That’s cheating, so surely this can’t be the right thing to do. But I didn’t want Joe to fail his exam, perhaps loyalty and friendship was more important.

As our class teacher looked away, without thinking further, I quickly handed my answer sheet to Joe.

I didn’t want Joe to fail his exam, perhaps loyalty and friendship was more important

But what I did not realise, was that my Math teacher, Mrs Nora, was standing right outside our class, silently looking in from the back.

I did not see her when I passed Joe my papers.

I continued working on my exams. Ten minutes later, Joe tried to slip my answer sheet back to me.

As I turned to take my paper back, I caught a glimpse of Mrs Nora, still standing outside the class… and caught her looking right back at me!

My heart dropped. My first thought was that she would walk in screaming and tried to interrupt the exam.

But no. Instead, she gave me a disappointed look, smiled and walked away.

The conversation with Mrs Nora

I didn’t hear from Mrs Nora for the next few days. Maybe I got away with it?

That did not last long, as Mrs Nora walked into my class one day and asked me to follow her to her office. Without Joe.

I thought, “Oh no, what will she do? Will she call my parents? What do I tell them? And…. wait, why didn’t she ask Joe to come along, isn’t he also part of this?”

We stepped into her office, and she looked up at me.

“Derek, I saw you passing your answers to Joe. Why did you do that?” Mrs Nora said. “You’re a good kid. Did you know that you scored an A for this paper?”

I was nervous, and looked at her quietly without a response. I have always been a shy boy, following the rules, and never liked conflict.

“I am going to give you a C to teach you a lesson”, she continued.

Tears started flowing down my face. I felt a deep sense of fear and regret. And before long I started sobbing.

In an introverted fashion, no words would come out of my mouth, but my mind started racing, “WHY? Why are you punishing me? I didn’t cheat, I was only helping out a friend! Why isn’t he also getting punished??”

Almost as though she could hear the voice in my mind, Mrs Nora said “Did you know that Joe failed anyway? Even though he copied some of your answers. In the end, after helping him cheat, you didn’t manage to help him at all, and instead did something that makes me think that you do not have any integrity.”

Mrs Nora said, “Did you know that Joe failed anyway?”

“Even if you succeeded to help him pass his exams by cheating, how many times can you do this for him? Eventually he will still fail, because he didn’t actually get better. If you really cared for him as a friend, you should have encouraged him to learn to do the hard work in order to pass his exams. I want you to remember this.”

Still crying, I remained silent and accepted my punishment.

The lessons I carry with me

Joe knew what had happened. But he never stepped in to take responsibility, because why should he? He failed anyway. And needless to say, we stopped being friends after that. In fact, he eventually left the school without finishing, and I never knew if it was by choice.

It’s been 25 years since this happened, but it’s left such an impact on my life. Even though Mrs Nora said it in a way a 13 year old could understand, these are lessons even many working adults could use.

  1. If you really want to help a friend, sometimes you need to say to their face what is hard but true. Even if they don’t want to hear it, they need to learn to succeed themselves. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
  1. If you want to progress in your career, you have to work hard and be genuinely good at your job. You can get away with shortcuts by playing politics to get promoted, or taking credit for other peoples’ work, but over a long period of time, you’ll eventually be found out and the market (invisible forces) will adjust you to your true value. The reverse is also true – if you feel you are not progressing fast enough compared to your peers, as long as you have a great attitude to work, time will adjust you to your true value, so keep going.
  1. If you’re a boss that thinks being nice to your team is being a good leader, you’re much likelier to hurt their long term career. Teach them the value of hard work, or they will go through their career thinking they are better than they actually are, and struggle in the long term.

And perhaps the most important lesson of all:

“Good intentions” can never justify cheating.

 

It’s not about you. It’s never about you.

The phone rang at 6am.

“Your dad has passed away”. I hear the voice of my mother, slightly confused and afraid yet strangely calm.

I will never forget picking up that phone call. Or the image of my father’s pale face sitting still on the sofa.

We were two weeks away from our first child, his first grandchild, and my father left us unexpectedly.

WOBB was going through fundraising at that time. The business was growing, but we were still burning money, and so we needed money to survive.

I remember joking to my team how crazy the timing of our fundraising coincided with my first child. I was expecting an overwhelming time. But nothing like this.

And as I looked at my father, I forgot about me. Forgot about my struggles. I saw only him, at the end of his.

I thought about how I never told him I love him. Or said sorry for all the times I said things that hurt him. I never got to say goodbye.

A few weeks on, I welcomed our daughter Danielle, pushed through a successful fundraise, almost as though nothing sad had happened. I never had time to grieve. Never had time to stop and take a breath to see all the weight I was carrying on my shoulders.

I just pushed on. Pick yourself up. It’s not about you, it’s never about you. No excuses, I said.

“The world doesn’t care about your feelings.”

“Your daughter needs her father. Your wife needs her husband. Your brother needs his brother. Your mother needs her son. Your team needs their CEO. They all need you to be at your 110%.”

And so we carry on. We don’t complain it’s hard. We don’t blame other people for why things are challenging.

So what if it’s tough. Many people have it worse. We just try to focus on what I can do move life forward, one step at a time. We are all climbing our own mountains.

And I hope you find the strength to take one small step everyday to climb yours.

Birth of Danielle Toh An Ya

The doctor arrived exactly at 6am. This is our first child. How will the delivery go? Will my wife be in a lot of pain?

“Alright, push”, the doctor calmly said, “just one more push!”. I was nervous. Is there something I can do?

“What time is it?”, asked the doctor.

“It’s 6.03am”, said the nurse.

Then suddenly we heard crying. The cries of a baby. Our baby Danielle was here! Wait, what? 3 minutes?

She only cried for a short while, and as they cleaned and wrapped her up, I stood there beside her, looking at her. She looked calm, curious and probably wondering what is going on. And then something magical happened.

She looked at me and smiled.

We are blessed to welcome Danielle Toh An Ya to this world and into our hearts.