Change is Instant

An intelligent 11-year-old boy had told me that his father suddenly changed. Out of the blue, his father had decided to quit his daily long commute to an office he’s been working for twenty years, with one that is closer to home.

I told the boy that change happens immediately. “When people change, it is not bound by time,” I said.

“I remember an old quote: if you want to know your past, look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future, look into your present actions,” I added.

“You see, most people are sleepwalkers,” I continued. “They wake-up in the morning going about their routine, commuting to work in the office, dreaming that someday they’ll get out of this mechanical life, and finally be free from it. Yet, they don’t realize what they are doing is not going to get them any closer to change. We can talk all day about change, but if nothing takes place within the individual, there is no change. For example, I would not tell you to sit down and listen carefully because if you’re not interested in what I have to say, then you won’t listen - period. I can condition you to behave for a while, but after a few moment, or when I leave, you’ll just revert back to how you were before, unless there is a change from within yourself. As your teacher, I can only guide you to awaken your awareness. I cannot change you, and neither can anyone else except yourself. If someone says otherwise, it is because they want to control you, or make money from you.”

“Similarly,” as I looked at him in the eye, “many parents asked me how they can improve their kids, and all I can say is to look at how they’re teaching the kids now. I can usually guess how a kid will turn up in two or three years time just by looking at their actions. Because their present actions will determine what will become of their future. So always remember that change must take place in an instant. When you think I will be different tomorrow, you are only modifying yourself from the day before - which is no different at all.”

The Function of Education

When we are young it is a delight to be alive.

To hear the birds sing, the water sparkling down the river.

To see the grand mountains, the rocks shining.

To feel the wind blowing fresh and cool.

To smell the sweet flowers.

To rejoice the beautiful morning with a full heart and a clear mind.


We lose this feeling when we grow up,

with worries,

anxieties,

quarrels,

jealousies,

fears,

and the everlasting struggle to earn a livelihood.


We spend our days in battle with each other,

liking and disliking,

with a little pleasure now and then.


We never hear the birds,

see the trees we once saw,

the dew on the grass,

the shiny rock on the mountainside...

We never see all that when we grow up.


Why?


We caught ourselves in habit; a pattern, a routine.

We go to college,

get married and have children,

responsibilities,

earn a livelihood,

and then grow old and die.


We have lost this extraordinary feeling of beauty.

We have lost the quality of fullness.

The feeling of being alive.

The quality of living.


We become self-concerned.

To be occupied with oneself,

with what the neighbors think of us,

whether we are someone important,

or be thrown aside by society.


We are always struggling at home,

in the office,

out in the fields...

Wherever we are,

whatever we do,

we are always in conflict.


In the effort to get out of conflict

we create the image of a perfect state,

of heaven,

of God,

of some imaginative deities.

Out of this confusion, one cries, prays, chants.

One may find an answer, but the answer is the echo of self-pity, in its separation.


We have become second-hand people.

Second-hand artists, learners, teachers...

Take the image of others, then copy it.

In other words, followers; conformers.


We are all in the same boat.

Some leave the boat and wander endlessly and die.

Some seek some peaceful corner of the earth and retire.

Some join monasteries, become monks of various kinds, taking desperate vows.

Some seek churches, gurus, philosophies, ideologies, religions.


Where is the religion without superstition?

Where is the religion without extremists?

Where is the religion without violence?


Is there a universal religion that is concerned with deep integrity and profound wholeness of life? Does such religion exist?


We lay ourselves to authority.

Governments,

politicians,

lawyers.

Does not dependence breed fear?

And does not fear cripple intelligence?


Where is the teacher who teaches the student to be free from all these trivialities?


Where is the teacher who helps the student find out what he loves to do instead of the petty bourgeois mentality?


Where is the teacher who is not concerned with competition, aggression, ambition, ideas, beliefs?


Where is the teacher who helps the student free himself intelligently from all these conditioning influences so that he will be able to meet life deeply and fully, without fear, without aggressive discontent?


What is the true function of a teacher?


Is it to impart knowledge to the student?

To be an example to the student?

Prepares student to earn a livelihood?

Help bring about a better social structure?

Or merely condition the student to get good grades?


The word teacher comes from the root word which means to guide.


To guide the students towards a better and nobler life.

To be a pointer to truth, not a giver of truth.

To help students discover and examine problems by awakening their awareness.

To teach “how” to think, not “what” to think.

To awaken the students to explore themselves, both internally and externally.


Really, to guide, one must know.


One must have a sensitive mind with great flexibility.

Without prejudice, conditioning, system.


Is there such a teacher?


If one is incapable of this, then why be a teacher?

This question has meaning only if teaching is a mere career, a job like any other.

For I feel that nothing is impossible for the true educator.

Thought is the Root Cause of Our Fear

FullSizeRender.jpg

Most of us rarely put any time to stop, think, and reflect about life. The majority are nothing more than skimmers, and before they realize the meaning of life, aging, sickness, and death suddenly creeps upon them. Likewise, when I read books, I like to pause, enquire, and reflect to how it relates to life, instead of merely leafing through the pages without any understanding whatsoever when finished with.

You know, I still don’t understand why people read Disney fairy tales and Harry Potter stories, since none of them have any relation to reality. Perhaps, the sole purpose of reading such useless books are merely to caught themselves with the habit of reading.

That said, I love books that teaches me about life, about reality. One of the books that still resonates in my life today is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. I read this book when I was fifteen. Now, I’m rereading this book again with many of my students as they enter their summer holiday.

The book is about a young shepherd boy named Santiago, traveling around the world in search of a treasure beyond his wildest dreams. During his journey, he met a strange wise man who claims he is a king from a far-off land. The man believes that the most important thing in a person’s life is to succeed in discovering his or her destiny. Santiago didn’t know what destiny was, so the wise man explained, “It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone when they are young, knows what their destiny is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their destiny. It’s a force that appears to be negative, but actually shows you how to realize your destiny. It prepares your spirit and your will, because there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth. To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation.”

At this point, I would usually ask learners to pause and think about the wise man’s words. Most learners didn’t really grasped wholly what he was talking about, but one did caught my attention. “It’s the unknown that people are afraid of - where they might go and where they may end up,” said an eleven-year-old boy. “Look, these artists, writers, movie stars, all risk everything. They quit school and just do what they believe in. Then you have someone like Lincoln who became president and was very successful. But a guy, like my father, who is just an average person, only wants to go through with what is safe. So I think the mysterious force is the fear of the unknown.”

“First of all, how does fear arise? How do you know what you call the unknown is something you should be fearful of?” I added.

“Well, maybe because we think about it. I suppose if we never think about fear, we’re not afraid of it,” said the boy.

“Precisely, so you have learned your first lesson. Now, why do you think about fear? Where does this idea of fear come about?”

“Umm...I don’t know,” sounding a bit unsure.

“Is it possible that fear comes from memory - something you remember? Whether from other people’s images and ideas, or from your own experiences?”

“Well, I’m still a kid, I don’t have a lot of experiences.”

“If I’m a primitive person, that is, I’m born at the time before books and technologies exist; the weather is harsh, and it’s snowing very very hard, and the wind is freezing. As I’m searching for shelter, I come upon the entrance to a dark cave. What is the first thing I would do? My instinct would tend me to enter the cave, right? Because in there, I would have 100% chance of survival. But if I’m born right in the middle of technological advancement, with all the information from books, the internet, society, and so forth - including experiences from that of your parents - how would I think when I encounter a bad weather during a forest expedition and I come upon a cave?”

“I would think a bear or snake might be inside. The cave may also get flooded while I’m inside.”

“Exactly right. All those information causes you to think over and over before entering the cave. This constant thinking causes a deep sense of fear, that you may end up sleeping out in the rain. You know, I remember a quote that said: the cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek. Somehow, I found that to be the irony of life. Similarly, a young child is still innocent and pure. But, after he grows up to become an adult, his mind gets filled with all kinds of mental pollution - experience, tradition, influence - so this mysterious force the author mentioned in the book is really our thought, our own thinking, fear of the unknown as you called it. And is it possible for you to not be bounded by these thoughts when you begin to walk your own life one day? Or will you always be bonded by these memories and experiences so you too will end being an average person?”

I have asked countless times to learners, “Why are you being educated?” but sadly, many do not have the slightest clue why. And I get it, parents have the obligation to put their children in schools, society demands them to do so. Otherwise, how would they face their pride and honor in the face of others?

There is a rather interesting story about a student asking his teacher: “Before I heard you, I was keen about my studies and making a good career for myself. But now it all seems so futile, and I have completely lost interest in my studies and in a career. All this has left me very confused. What am I to do?”

Here’s what the teacher said:

“Have I made you confused? Have I made you see that what you are doing is futile? If I have been the cause of your confusion, then you are not confused, because when I go away you will revert to your former confusion or your clarity. But if this questioner is serious, then what actually has taken place is that by listening to what has been said here he has awakened himself to his own activities; he now sees that what he is doing, studying to build up a career for the future, is rather empty, without much significance. So he says, ‘What am I to do?’ He is confused, not because I have made him confused, but because by listening he has become aware of the world situation and of his own condition and relationship with the world. He has become aware of the futility, the uselessness of all this business of building up a future career. He has become aware of it, I have not made him aware. 

I think this is the first thing to realize: that by listening, by watching, by observing your own activities, you have made this discovery for yourself; therefore it is yours, not mine. If it were mine, I would take it away with me when I go. But this is something that cannot be taken away by another because it has been realized by you. You have watched yourself in action, you have observed your own life, and you now see that to build up a career for the future is a futile thing. So, being confused, you say, ‘What am I to do?’

Well, you have to go on with your studies, have you not? That is obvious, because you have to have some kind of profession, a right means of livelihood. You have to find out for yourself what you really want to do, and not rely on your father, on your grandmother, on some professor, or on anybody else to tell you what to do. And what does it mean to find out what you really want to do? It means finding out what you love to do, does it not? When you love what you are doing, you are not ambitious, you are not greedy, you are not seeking fame, because that very love of what you are doing is totally sufficient in itself. In that love there is no frustration, because you are no longer seeking fulfilment.

But you see, all this demands a great deal of thinking, a great deal of inquiry, meditation, and unfortunately the pressure of the world is very strong - the world being your parents, your grandparents, the society around you. They all want you to be a successful man, they want you to fit into the established pattern, so they educate you to conform. But the whole structure of society is based on acquisitiveness, on envy, on ruthless self-assertion, on the aggressive activity of each one of us; and if you see for yourself, actually and not theoretically, that such a society must inevitably rot from within, then you will find your own way of action through doing what you love to do. It may produce a conflict with the present society - and why not? A true man, or the man who is seeking truth, is in revolt against the society that is based essentially on respectability, acquisitiveness, and the ambitious search for power. He is not in conflict with society, but society is in conflict with him. Society can never accept him.

So the student who has been listening is now confused. But if he does not escape from that confusion - by running off to a cinema, by going to a church, by reading a book, or by turning to a guru - and realizes how his confusion has arisen, if he faces that confusion and in the process of inquiry does not conform to the pattern of society, then he will be a man who knows his destiny. And such men are necessary for it is they who will bring about a new world.”

This circles back to the motto: find what you are good at and what you love to do, but more importantly, follow it. Once you do, your life will be fulfilled. After all, isn’t the basic function of education to help you find out what you really love to do? So that you can put your whole mind and heart to it - because it creates human dignity and sweeps away mediocrity? That is why it is important to have the right teachers, the right atmosphere so that an individual will grow up with the love that expresses itself in what he or she is doing.

Loving your work is the only thing that is causeless, that is free. It is beauty, it is skill, it is art. Without this love, there is no art. Without this love, your examinations, your knowledge, your reputation, and your possessions are just ashes, they have no meaning - nothing. Without this love, your actions are going to bring more violence, conflict, jealousy, envy, hatred, mischief, and destruction.

You may think this is a Utopian dream that can never be brought upon in life; but I’m not talking about Utopia, that would be nonsense.

All this may seem nothing to you now, but I hope this will mean something to you - and to your children, and to their children - someday.

Responsibility and Inward Revolution

FullSizeRender.jpg

“Your author has nothing to teach. He’s merely a signpost for a lost traveler. It is up to you to decide on the direction. He can offer an experience, but never a conclusion, so even what he has said needs to be thoroughly examined by you. Your mind stands by itself, unmoving. Everything which you call essential - wisdom or radiance or peace - is already present within yourself. When your understanding has passed the thicket of delusions, there is nothing you need to learn from anyone or anything.”


After being involved in the realm of education quite steadily, there are two important things which I’ve managed to pick up that are worth noting. First, parents generally place worldly expectations on their children. They feel a sense of failure or inadequacy if their children doesn't live up to them. Second, there is also a great emphasis on materialistic attainment and scoring points before their friends and neighbors. They feel it is their responsibility to prepare their children to face the world through competition.

Aside from the teachers at schools, aren't parents suppose to be responsible teachers to their children, not only academically, but also educate them on the problems of this terrible world - the violence and all the terrible things that are going on - not only factually, but psychologically as well?

Unfortunately, most parents think they are responsible for their children and their sense of responsibility takes the form of telling them what they should do and what they should not do, what they should become and what they should not become. The parents want their children to have a secure position in society. What they call responsibility is part of that respectability they worship; and it seems to me that where there is respectability there is no order; they are concerned only with becoming a perfect bourgeois. When they prepare their children to fit into society they are perpetuating violence, conflict and brutality. Do you call that responsibility?

Really to be responsible it to care. To care as you would for a tree or a plant, watering it, studying its needs, the best soil for it, looking after it with gentleness and tenderness - but when you prepare your children to fit into society you are preparing them to be violent. If you loved your children you would have no violence.

Of course, many are under the impression that success means the ability to conquer and quell opposition, ignoring the need to establish an inner harmony with oneself. And that responsibility means achieving comfort, security, a guarantee for the rest of their lives of continuous satisfaction. Then someone like me comes along and says, “Is that what you call responsibility?” and questions you and asks you to look deep inside yourself. And you try not to look because it is very disturbing, but when you are driven into a corner to look, you realize that what you have always thought of responsibility is not responsibility at all; it is a mutual gratification, a mutual exploitation.

Let’s discover this on a superficial examination.

A student once said, “My friend had told me her mother would punish her - physically - whenever she scores a C, or continuously yell at her when she scores a B. But she’ll buy my friend an ice cream and sometimes treats when she scores an A.” I don’t know about you - nor am I judging - but I think this parent is teaching violence. Doesn’t it seem obvious to you that one has to be violent in order to become competitive?

Are grades more important than developing moral and ethical values? Is the pursuit of wealth and success are far more important than the attainment of virtues such as gratitude, honesty, integrity, kindness, consideration, and tolerance? Alas, these children fall victim to constant psychological pressures from the powerful structure of society. Today, you’d be one successful parent to have raised a child who is without any psychological glitch.

Perhaps, we ought to blame outdated teaching methods, overcrowded classrooms and an unnaturally fast tempo of life. Maybe we should modify the schools rather than the kids? It is interesting to see how the arguments have evolved. People have been debating about education methods for thousands of years. Whether in the United States or China, everybody had his or her pet method, and strongly opposed all alternatives. Yet hitherto everybody still agreed on one thing: in order to improve education, we need to change the schools.

Personally, I never believe in large institutions - i.e. schools - with their domestic and foreign branches, affiliations, etc. To reach the masses, some sort of a system is required. As a result, the pupils are conditioned according to that system. I believe in teaching just a few, as it requires constant alert observations on each individual in order to establish a true, direct relationship. Because teaching, in itself, is a direct relationship.

A teacher, a good teacher that is, does not depend on any method and drill a systematic routine. Instead, he functions as a pointer of truth, but not the giver of truth. The teacher studies each individual student and awakens him to explore himself, both inwardly and outwardly, and ultimately integrate himself with his being. Furthermore, this teacher, points out the importance of principles without being bounded by them.

Alas, sincere and serious learners are difficult to come by. Many of them are short-term enthusiasts, some of them come with ill-intentions. Nevertheless, most of them are second-hand pupils; basically conformers.

Today, society places a greater need for computer engineers, scientists, businessmen, analysts, because that is where growth, wealth, and power lies. But would society demand for people who are not concerned with aggression, violence, drugs; who are deeply integrated, having integrity and profound wholeness in their lives; will society demand such people? Obviously not.

There are people who confess themselves to be kind and non-violent. They attend sermons in churches or rituals in temples. On the inside, they may bring peace from their communal order. But on the outside, they are no different that any other violent person. Take your neighbor, for instance, you may claim to be at peace with them, but during difficult times, both of you would relish to be selfish and violent against one another for the sake of survival. Similarly, you can say one thing to your children at home - don't smoke, drink, and take drugs, but if you do these things yourself outside, they won't believe you. Indeed, hypocrisy is another huge moral issue these days.

Through centuries of biological as well as psychological inheritance mankind has evolved into being violent. Society demands such behavior from us.

That said, can parents educate themselves as well as their children? That is, by breaking up the pattern in which they have been living the same old habit and amusement of past generations? Can one be a light to oneself and to those around?

Someone once said, “The world is hard. Why should I be soft to my children? If I teach them softness, they won't survive.” Do you see the attitude? How do you expect your children to be kind and compassionate people if you yourself are violent?

Indeed, the influence of the home is more important than that of the school. And I think your author has mentioned that several times in the past.

There is an old Chinese Proverb that said, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.” You decide which lines and streaks to put on.

I Wish School Taught Me That Careers Are Non-Linear

FullSizeRender.jpg

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, died at the age of fifty-six. During the early part of his career, Jobs was extremely reluctant to discuss his family background in public. But the commencement address he made on June 12, 2005 to Standford University graduates, gave the public a rare insight into his personal life. I must say, after listening to a recorded version the other day, I was intrigued, because this is destined to be regarded as a classic.

Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College after the first six months. Two years later, Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak, started Apple in his parents’ garage. In ten years, the company had grown from just the two of them in a garage, into a $2bn company with over 4,000 employees. And then he got fired. What the heck? How can someone get fired by the same company he helped found? It turns out Jobs hired John Sculley, who had been CEO of Pepsi, the drinks company, in the mistaken belief that having an experienced chief executive would free him to do what he really loved doing – which was creating great products. His pitch to Sculley to persuade him to leave Pepsi was:  “John, do you really want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water?” Later, when their visions of the future began to diverge, eventually, they had a falling-out. When they did, the board of directors didn’t side with Jobs. He was out, publicly.

In the short term, appointing Sculley looked like the defining, catastrophic error of Jobs's life. But later on, he came to see it differently. The idea that getting fired might be a bracing idea to start something new. “The heaviness of being successful,” he said, was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

During the next five years, Jobs started the company NeXT, and another called Pixar. In an unprecedented turn of event, Apple bought NeXT, and Jobs was back with Apple. He then became Apple’s CEO until his death.

Life takes us to many places, and I’m certain that Jobs didn’t plan on quitting college to start Apple, nor did he plan on getting fired by the very company he found, only to become the CEO again later on in his life. Of course it’s impossible to connect where life will take you looking forward. But it will be very clear looking backwards years later. So it seems to me that the journey is truly more important than the destination.

Not many of us are as bright and lucky as Steve Jobs. But perhaps, there are a few things we should be aware about life and career that no schools would teach. Let me explain.


The Linear Myth  

FullSizeRender.jpg

The traditional career path is commonly referred to as the linear ladder. It is a series of continuous promotions in title and salary, in a specified industry over a period to time. You’ll feel an immense feeling of satisfaction and achievement when you reach some sort of career pinnacle. Plus, you’ll earn the prestige and high salary of course. However, people who’ve reached their peak, or close to it, seems to be unsatisfied with many aspects of their work.

I know people who love consultancy and adventure but are unhappy spending their working hours writing drudging letters and proposals, because a promotion in their organization means prioritizing their employer’s needs.

I know people who love research and problem solving but are now stuck managing people, because a promotion in their field means taking on a senior management role.

I know people who love writing and community building but are busy editing and sitting on committees, because a promotion in their line of work means they are now responsible for the company’s fiscal health.

Improving your career is important. Don’t get me wrong. But when we climb the linear ladder, we often end far from the actual work we love doing.

Contrary to the people I mentioned above, I’ve also met people who are able to improve their careers and enjoy their work at the same time.

Before my friend John launched his writing career, he hustled two jobs: nurse by day, copywriter by night. Fast forward, today he is a firefighter during the summer, and when winter comes, he retires in his cabin and writes full-time.

Dr. Chen was once a bored General Practitioner. In less than five years, she transformed her career by learning the techniques of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and combining it with her Western Medicine craft. Now, she practices in Shanghai from March to August, and would move to Australia during the months of September to February.

And how can I forget my mentor Ben - who’s taught me a lot. Before his family immigrated to Singapore, he had to build a new client base, spending time and energy traveling back and forth between Boston and Singapore every weekend. It took him three years before he could finally close his chapter in Boston. Today, he manages his own business.

Very few people are able to manage themselves, and importantly, their careers. Those who do will always be a minority. The majority will keep what they are doing now, that is, retire on the job, continue being bored, mindlessly following their routine, and counting the years until retirement.

 

Mobility: Carving Your Horizontal Path 

FullSizeRender.jpg

I believe a job that teaches you nothing, is just a job. And because it teaches you nothing, you’ll remain there. And soon, you’ll get bored - unless you do something to change it.

You know, many employers don’t give a damn about what you think. They only care about your energy. Your manual labor. The truth is, you’ll be a more valuable asset when people care about your intellectual thought. If all you’re selling is your labor, you’re selling yourself short. The modern economy is built upon knowledge.

“There is a change in the nature of economy from a material-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. The main assets in the past were materials like gold mines or wheat fields,” said history professor and best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari. “These are the types of things you can conquer through violence.” So the only way you can invest for your future is to invest in yourself.

Fortunately, we’re not holding back by the lack of ideas, rather the lack of execution. We tend to wait for someone to give us permission. Well, it’s time to give yourself permission. Learn to love yourself before realizing your employer stopped caring about you a long time ago.

There are two types of workers in the job market: manual workers and knowledge workers. Taxi drivers, nurses, and construction workers for instance, represent the manual workforce. They are the physical and mentally tired workers who are capable of functioning despite all kinds of minor complaints.

Lawyers, doctors, and business executives would constitute the other half of the spectrum: the knowledge workforce. They are good at what they do because they possess valuable skills for their organizations. Some of them are regular contributors to the community. But the most common thread: they love challenge and the pursuit of satisfaction.

In the current state of the global economy, machines are slowly taking over the manual and knowledge workers’ monotonous and laborious duties. Not to mention, everyone is dying to escape from day to day boredom and end their working life expectancy, then move on, that is, reach retirement and spend the next ten or fifteen years doing nothing, playing golf, going fishing, engaging in a new hobby, and so on. It won’t be far in the distant future until we see self-driving vehicles roaming the streets of Manhattan or Shanghai.

Because of this issue, there is a greater need for people to prepare and have mobility over their careers. Now, it would be easy for knowledge workers in their mid-thirties to explore other avenues and reinvent themselves into a completely different individual. It is another story for a taxi driver in his fifties.

Luckily, there are ways for any individual to mobilize into a new career:

First, is to actually start a totally new and different career. Typically this would mean moving from one line of work or organization to another.

There is a substantial number of middle-aged women in the United States who have worked for twenty years as a middle-level management position, and now, at age forty-five and with the children grown, enter law school. Three or four years later, they then establish themselves as small-time lawyers in their local communities.

Your author can also attest the effectiveness of this concept because he has done it. Before pursuing my passion for education, I was in an entirely different profession. As an Optometrist, I got bored really quick. It didn’t take a decade for me to realize that Optometry wasn’t my life’s calling. After a two-week visit to China, I immediately fell in love with the country. In less than a month - and armed with three teaching credentials - I then landed a job educating children.

Second, is to develop a parallel career.

There is a growing number of successful people in their forties or fifties moving from working full-time to being part-time employees and become consultants in their field of interest. One example is Dr. Mehmet Oz - the notable cardiothoracic surgeon - better known as Dr. Oz, has turned himself from attending his full-time surgical practice to a media mogul and author of many bestselling books.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Finally, the third, is to do philanthropic work.

People who are very successful in their first career as attorneys, as business executives, as university professors, and love their work, but it no longer challenges them, may start something new, and usually a nonprofit activity. In other words, they’ve turned themselves into social entrepreneurs.

Most social entrepreneurs began working on their chosen second enterprise long before reaching their peak careers. One university professor, for example, began to do volunteer consulting work in local schools when he was thirty-five. He got elected to a school board at age forty. When he reached fifty, he started his own enterprise to build and run model schools. He is, however, still working nearly full-time as senior professor in the same university he had worked since a young age.

It all boils down to this: if you work hard at your job, you make a living. If you work hard on yourself, you make a fortune. What is the reason for this truth? Success is not something you pursue. Success is something you attract by becoming an attractive person. The way you become rich is not by wishing your life were easier, but instead focusing on making yourself better.


Credentials Don’t Matter; Reputation Does 

IMG_6937.JPG

My high school English teacher, Mr. Sidlecki, once addressed the class: “Why don’t people put their degree initials after their name? I mean, should people put 'MA' after their names?” At first, I thought he was joking because the initials meant these people were from Massachusetts.

Then I learned that the initials signified “masters of arts,” and I have never seen that degree used after someone’s name in any other milieu. I can string a few initials after my name from racking up three degrees and half-dozen certifications and licensures. Meanwhile, I still encourage my students to call me William, not teacher. I don’t even like being called mister.

The truth is, there is a plethora of degrees beyond the scope of your imagination: BBS (bachelor of bakery science), BAP (bachelor of arts in puppetry), MSW (master of social work). There is also the alphabet of certifications, memberships, and strange relationships that I think is nothing more than a desperate attempt to engage in the bizarre ritual of ACBAI (adding credibility by adding initials).

Of course there are people who will tell you that “credentialing” is the credibility statement of the future. However, it seems to me that they are empirically wrong. There are so many of these loony honorifics today that someone with a brain should be skeptical. Perhaps, my former mentor was right all along when he said, “You know what BS stands for? Bullshit! When you have an MS, it stands for more shit! And a PhD is actually short for piles high deep.”

We spoil ourselves all the time, especially when we’re privileged. Take a stroll into any private doctor’s office in Singapore, and you’ll be amazed by the graceful plaque degree assembly on the wall that should speak for itself. You wouldn't even consider consulting before thoroughly googling the good doctor's credential. But would you enquire prior to being admitted into the emergency room? Would you ask, “Hey Doc, where did you go to school?” You wouldn’t care whether or not the doctor is a resident who nearly dropped out of medical school, because you’re being put in a life threatening situation.

Similarly, don't expect to find a single credential hanging on the wall inside a Michelin Star Tokyo sushi joint which meticulously states who mentored the sushi chef and which academy he attended. You’d be stupid enough to ask. Sushi creation and presentation are the “masters of art” no word nor degree could describe.

Before I could start teaching in China, I had to pass three teaching certifications. The school I worked for didn’t even care about my previous degrees. And when I finally quit slaving for the school and began working for myself, those credentials became a thing in the past. I never had to use any of them, even when taking on a new client, because my organic relationship is built on trust.

What does matter is a track record, which cumulatively, assembles as one’s reputation. If you’ve been doing what you’re suppose to, you should have established your name as a brand, or brands. The bottom line: if your client or customer doesn’t recognize the credential, it’s worthless.


Adventure is Worth More than Money 

FullSizeRender.jpg

Throughout my career, I pursued jobs that I enjoyed doing. Love of work was my number one priority. In fact, it was more important than the job title or salary. As I discovered new challenges, I switched jobs every two years on average.

Like many American teenager, my first high school summer job was flipping burgers. By the time I finished my three months probation period, I wanted a more challenging job with greater responsibility, so I quit the burger flipping business. In less than a week, I landed a new job as a museum tour guide. But that didn’t kept me busy enough. As a result, I also picked up a volunteer position at the prestigious Boston Medical Center.

The two jobs kept me busy into the first two years of high school. In my junior year, I became interested in becoming an eye doctor, and luckily, I got an internship position with an Ophthalmologist. She taught me a lot.

After graduating from high school, I had more freedom during my college years, and was able to pursue other avenues. I became a strength coach for a division one football team to rack-up extra cash. I’ve also worked with my uncle as a dental intern. I even became a teacher’s assistant for the veteran’s science program at my university. All that job hopping made my parents worried, to the point where they’ve assured me to pursue a more “stable” career. I’d still pondered about that old interest of becoming an eye doctor, so I went to Optometry school - which makes perfect sense to me at the time because my parents gave me the privilege to continue the family’s eye clinic business. Unfortunately, my pursuit for the “perfect” job turned out to be a big mistake.

Two years going into the job, I realized the many boredoms that surrounded me every day. I had no passion. I felt that I worked to fulfill my parents’ need, and the fact that I was living someone else's life. What can I do?

I began my journey with a backward glance. I scouted around my childhood. What were the things that I liked to do? What makes me happy? Then I remembered that I used to fantasize about being a teacher. When I was eight, I'd bring my dad's old briefcase and filled it with books, papers, and pencils. I'd have a small blackboard with colored chalks and I'd have my bears and dolls as the students in my class. I got even more excited when I remembered I had some volunteer and teaching experience with both children and adults back in my school days.

Today, I live and work in Shanghai, China’s busiest metropolitan city. Looking from the hilltop, many of those jobs had even a hope of any practical future in my life. They were the typical mechanical jobs people often pursue on a short-term basis; Optometry being the exception. If I had never taught kids and adults back then, it would be almost impossible for me to have the slightest idea about being an educator. If I didn’t quit Optometry and took that two-week trip to China, I would have never discovered what I truly love doing.

Just as the expired taxi driver must learn to reinvent himself, we too have a responsibility to manage our lives and our careers before it’s too late.

As Bill Gates once said, “Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping - they called it opportunity.” And personally, for me, opportunity comes when I savor the adventure. Life is a pathless land. The most important thing is to set sail and ride the course. Because in the end, the destination is irrelevant. The point is to enjoy the journey, not predicting the correct outcome in the future.