Written by Adrian Tan, author of The Teenage Textbook (1988), was the guest-of-honour at a recent NTU convocation ceremony. This was his speech to the graduating class of 2008.
I must say thank you to the faculty and staff of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information for inviting me to give your convocation address. It’s a wonderful honour and a privilege for me to speak here for ten minutes without fear of contradiction, defamation or retaliation. I say this as a Singaporean and more so as a husband.
My wife is a wonderful person and perfect in every way except one. She is the editor of a magazine. She corrects people for a living. She has honed her expert skills over a quarter of a century, mostly by practising at home during conversations between her and me.
On the other hand, I am a litigator. Essentially, I spend my day telling people how wrong they are. I make my living being disagreeable.
Nevertheless, there is perfect harmony in our matrimonial home. That is because when an editor and a litigator have an argument, the one who triumphs is always the wife.
And so I want to start by giving one piece of advice to the men: when you’ve already won her heart, you don’t need to win every argument.
Marriage is considered one milestone of life. Some of you may already be married. Some of you may never be married. Some of you will be married. Some of you will enjoy the experience so much, you will be married many, many times. Good for you.
The next big milestone in your life is today: your graduation. The end of education. You’re done learning.
You’ve probably been told the big lie that “Learning is a lifelong process” and that therefore you will continue studying and taking masters’ degrees and doctorates and professorships and so on. You know the sort of people who tell you that? Teachers. Don’t you think there is some measure of conflict of interest? They are in the business of learning, after all. Where would they be without you? They need you to be repeat customers.
The good news is that they’re wrong.
The bad news is that you don’t need further education because your entire life is over. It is gone. That may come as a shock to some of you. You’re in your teens or early twenties. People may tell you that you will live to be 70, 80, 90 years old. That is your life expectancy.
I love that term: life expectancy. We all understand the term to mean the average life span of a group of people. But I’m here to talk about a bigger idea, which is what you expect from your life.
You may be very happy to know that Singapore is currently ranked as the country with the third highest life expectancy. We are behind Andorra and Japan, and tied with San Marino. It seems quite clear why people in those countries, and ours, live so long. We share one thing in common: our football teams are all hopeless. There’s very little danger of any of our citizens having their pulses raised by watching us play in the World Cup. Spectators are more likely to be lulled into a gentle and restful nap.
Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 81.8 years. Singapore men live to an average of 79.21 years, while Singapore women live more than five years longer, probably to take into account the additional time they need to spend in the bathroom.
So here you are, in your twenties, thinking that you’ll have another 40 years to go. Four decades in which to live long and prosper.
Bad news. Read the papers. There are people dropping dead when they’re 50, 40, 30 years old. Or quite possibly just after finishing their convocation. They would be very disappointed that they didn’t meet their life expectancy.
I’m here to tell you this. Forget about your life expectancy.
After all, it’s calculated based on an average. And you never, ever want to expect being average.
Revisit those expectations. You might be looking forward to working, falling in love, marrying, raising a family. You are told that, as graduates, you should expect to find a job paying so much, where your hours are so much, where your responsibilities are so much.
That is what is expected of you. And if you live up to it, it will be an awful waste.
If you expect that, you will be limiting yourself. You will be living your life according to boundaries set by average people. I have nothing against average people. But no one should aspire to be them. And you don’t need years of education by the best minds in Singapore to prepare you to be average.
What you should prepare for is mess. Life’s a mess. You are not entitled to expect anything from it. Life is not fair. Everything does not balance out in the end. Life happens, and you have no control over it. Good and bad things happen to you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Your degree is a poor armour against fate.
Don’t expect anything. Erase all life expectancies. Just live. Your life is over as of today. At this point in time, you have grown as tall as you will ever be, you are physically the fittest you will ever be in your entire life and you are probably looking the best that you will ever look. This is as good as it gets. It is all downhill from here. Or up. No one knows.
What does this mean for you? It is good that your life is over.
Since your life is over, you are free. Let me tell you the many wonderful things that you can do when you are free.
The most important is this: do not work.
Work is anything that you are compelled to do. By its very nature, it is undesirable.
Work kills. The Japanese have a term “Karoshi”, which means death from overwork. That’s the most dramatic form of how work can kill. But it can also kill you in more subtle ways. If you work, then day by day, bit by bit, your soul is chipped away, disintegrating until there’s nothing left. A rock has been ground into sand and dust.
There’s a common misconception that work is necessary. You will meet people working at miserable jobs. They tell you they are “making a living”. No, they’re not. They’re dying, frittering away their fast-extinguishing lives doing things which are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, harmful.
People will tell you that work ennobles you, that work lends you a certain dignity. Work makes you free. The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. Utter nonsense.
Do not waste the vast majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the small remainder sliver of your life in modest comfort. You may never reach that end anyway.
Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play. Find something you enjoy doing. Do it. Over and over again. You will become good at it for two reasons: you like it, and you do it often. Soon, that will have value in itself.
I like arguing, and I love language. So, I became a litigator. I enjoy it and I would do it for free. If I didn’t do that, I would’ve been in some other type of work that still involved writing fiction – probably a sports journalist.
So what should you do? You will find your own niche. I don’t imagine you will need to look very hard. By this time in your life, you will have a very good idea of what you will want to do. In fact, I’ll go further and say the ideal situation would be that you will not be able to stop yourself pursuing your passions. By this time you should know what your obsessions are. If you enjoy showing off your knowledge and feeling superior, you might become a teacher.
Find that pursuit that will energise you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm. If you don’t, you are working.
Most of you will end up in activities which involve communication. To those of you I have a second message: be wary of the truth. I’m not asking you to speak it, or write it, for there are times when it is dangerous or impossible to do those things. The truth has a great capacity to offend and injure, and you will find that the closer you are to someone, the more care you must take to disguise or even conceal the truth. Often, there is great virtue in being evasive, or equivocating. There is also great skill. Any child can blurt out the truth, without thought to the consequences. It takes great maturity to appreciate the value of silence.
In order to be wary of the truth, you must first know it. That requires great frankness to yourself. Never fool the person in the mirror.
I have told you that your life is over, that you should not work, and that you should avoid telling the truth. I now say this to you: be hated.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you know anyone who hates you? Yet every great figure who has contributed to the human race has been hated, not just by one person, but often by a great many. That hatred is so strong it has caused those great figures to be shunned, abused, murdered and in one famous instance, nailed to a cross.
One does not have to be evil to be hated. In fact, it’s often the case that one is hated precisely because one is trying to do right by one’s own convictions. It is far too easy to be liked, one merely has to be accommodating and hold no strong convictions. Then one will gravitate towards the centre and settle into the average. That cannot be your role. There are a great many bad people in the world, and if you are not offending them, you must be bad yourself. Popularity is a sure sign that you are doing something wrong.
The other side of the coin is this: fall in love.
I didn’t say “be loved”. That requires too much compromise. If one changes one’s looks, personality and values, one can be loved by anyone.
Rather, I exhort you to love another human being. It may seem odd for me to tell you this. You may expect it to happen naturally, without deliberation. That is false. Modern society is anti-love. We’ve taken a microscope to everyone to bring out their flaws and shortcomings. It far easier to find a reason not to love someone, than otherwise. Rejection requires only one reason. Love requires complete acceptance. It is hard work – the only kind of work that I find palatable.
Loving someone has great benefits. There is admiration, learning, attraction and something which, for the want of a better word, we call happiness. In loving someone, we become inspired to better ourselves in every way. We learn the truth worthlessness of material things. We celebrate being human. Loving is good for the soul.
Loving someone is therefore very important, and it is also important to choose the right person. Despite popular culture, love doesn’t happen by chance, at first sight, across a crowded dance floor. It grows slowly, sinking roots first before branching and blossoming. It is not a silly weed, but a mighty tree that weathers every storm.
You will find, that when you have someone to love, that the face is less important than the brain, and the body is less important than the heart.
You will also find that it is no great tragedy if your love is not reciprocated. You are not doing it to be loved back. Its value is to inspire you.
Finally, you will find that there is no half-measure when it comes to loving someone. You either don’t, or you do with every cell in your body, completely and utterly, without reservation or apology. It consumes you, and you are reborn, all the better for it.
Don’t work. Avoid telling the truth. Be hated. Love someone.
|| 8:13 AM
1. Love how this lady is wrapped around in her own world.
2. Really? Is time really nothing?
Thursday, February 23, 2012 || 7:10 AM
I'm currently watching the dvds i rented from the neighborhood library. It's called 'Human Planet'
Extracted a small clip out from youtube to share. This is more than amazing.
If you feel that you have explored the world, and have pretty much a widespread of general knowledge, this puts you into shame. I guess, in this entire lifetime, no matter how much we see, we can't know them all.
The salvaging of sunken treasure is it's owner. Not chests of diamonds, but migrating fishes. See how fortunate we are?
Their hardship also molds and gives a whole new meaning to the word - family.
which the rich would probably conveniently throw aside.
Literally, life on a dangling string (and perhaps some wires)
is autumn cruel for making the flowers die, or is it nature's way?
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 || 11:34 PM
Two different takes on elegance:
1) Fantasy (Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2012-2013)
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
If full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent then before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
2. Classic Feminine Luxurious (Valentino Couture)
Sweet stream that winds through yonder glade,
Apt emblem of a virtuous maid
Silent and chaste she steals along,
Far from the world's gay busy throng:
With gentle yet prevailing force,
Intent upon her destined course;
Graceful and useful all she does,
Blessing and blest where'er she goes;
Pure-bosom'd as that watery glass,
And Heaven reflected in her face.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012 || 6:15 AM
Jam packed in my playlist is a whole string of Michael Buble & The Kings Chamber Orchestra goodness (which I have Weilin to thank for) This particular marathon of classic melodies beckons appreciation and inner relaxation, tying them up in a neat little bow.
My dad is trying to prep me with as much exposure i need; he wants me to experience and see the bigger things out there in the business world. So.... he does that by giving me all his invitations to events... I was supposed to attend a particular land investment cocktail party (which i backed out last min) because of the intimidation i felt. I was only excited about the incentives i would be able to receive (vouchers yay!!! & hi tea double yay!!!!). Ended up forgoing those and stayed home watching big bang theory (I LOVE SHELDON!!!) because honestly... they aren't going to entertain teenagers, even when my dad rsvp-ed with 'My daughter is representing me to attend. I can't make it.' But honestly speaking, my inner curiosity is biting into me. I am wondering how they are going to market the land, how they are going to push guests to invest, how they communicate, their front line professionalism and what factors(if any) would potentially rope me in the trap as well (since i have a certain immunity to marketing & personal selling)
I have another chance since the people called my dad after noting none of us turned up.........
Also, i attended the course which I am supposed to, before working for my mum. It turned out that the course i am registered for are for key appointment holders, which also means that my 'classmates' are all directors, CEOS, COOS, CFOS, partners & sole props. It was a rule passed on from ministry of manpower that everybody had to take a refreshment course, because of some changes in the laws. If not, their postings would be taken out. And yes, the same question which the lecturer (who is also a lawyer; we were studying the laws/regulations of the particular venture's market) and my 'classmates' are : How old are you?
And i know the answer i give them are going to further confuse them of WHY a little girl is taking on a top management course.
But i gave them the answer anyways, 'I'm 20.'
And receive replies like 'Ooooh, sweet! You are my daughter's age!'
The only thing i was mentally praising myself was that i didn't rushed out of the house in fbts and tee shirts. I was pretty decently dressed. Thank god i didn't provide them with any other reason to be different.
The lecturer is a very funny man! He kept emphasizing that nobody should ask him silly questions as why this law works like this, and that the session shouldn't be a platform for anybody to discuss any grievances or to try to outsmart him. He went on, and made a conscious effort to constantly inject examples... He will always conclude with a resounding 'Because this is why the law is. Nothing you say can change it', and 'You don't have to understand why the law is like this. Just memorize it.'
There was break time, and i was one of the earliest to return (in fact, 60 mins early) because I don't have a car, nor driving license to zap around and have good food. But they have handmade noodles which is very homely there!!! Yay for that!
So when... the lecturer saw that i was alone, he came up to me and asked me the golden question (refer to top). During the class i was kinda agonizing over why he did what he did (refer to top) and after answering '20', i asked 'Did you present yourself to be so unapproachable because you were trying to suppress the student's egos?'
And there there, 21/2/2012, marks the first day when i received a compliment from a lawyer saying i'm smart. MUAHAHAHA. Yay!!!!!!
*inserts big wideeeeee grin* So my hypothesis was right. Yippie!
I went on to make friends with two ladies there, and one of them said
'In the near future, you will realize that you would be vying between making more money, and having a clear conscience. Just make sure that in the midst of getting richer, stay humble, and do not be overwhelmed with greed. Many decisions made will affect people's lives, and their family lives.'
Lookeeeeey!!! I made cards for every single RMT teacher. I am a pretty good card maker right? HEHEHEHEHEHE. I kinda like choosing out paper now, too ^_^ Simple joys of life. When i was at popular trying to decide between black or red glitter foam, i noticed this primary school boy who was figuring very hard which colors to buy as well. Me, being me, i striked a conversation with him. How many times would i be able to see a little boy picking out glitter foams?
'Hey there! Are you making cards?' 'Hey...Nope, i'm doing some stuff for school.' (And he very shyly, asked me back . 'You?' Nice!! At least he's making a conscious effort to be kind to a stranger, even though i know he probably can't be bothered.'
'Oh yes i am! So are you doing a project?'
And it turns out that he is doing up his class's noticeboard. Not bad, he must be in the noticeboard committee, or maybe he's the class chairman or something.
And then i went on to meet white, and pretty... uh,.... made a mess in SKCC (which i tried to clear up as much as possible), but somehow glitter traces are pretty obstinate...
But who knows, a little girl might find some joy in the sparkly pieces bouncing off sunlight, or maybe a delusional being might figure a unicorn peed there, or something.
'those of you in love, keep it kind. keep it good, keep it right'
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shakin' hands, sayin' "How do you do?"
They're really saying "I love you"
I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Thursday, February 16, 2012 || 9:59 AM
For the past 2 months or so, it has been a crazy hetic work rush to juggle FYP report deadlines, IJ submissions, presentations, & preparation of the end semester tests.
Now it's all cleared off the list, i should be feeling happy right? But i'm not.
Today, it'd be the unofficial last day of me (and the rest of the RMT cohort) stepping out of the gates, taking the bus from the TP bus-stop, eating from Biz Park (the last thing i bought was potato salad. Kaye bought kaya toast). I actually miss the rush of meeting packed schedules, stipulated deadlines, cramming of info into my brain - feeling empowered by knowledge.
Feeling empowered, and widening your mental capacity is very important.
I have already mentally marked down notes not to let myself float stale, I will continue to feed my brain food - be it through books, articles, or maybe reading up on relevant texts which I will need for my next course of studies (which will take place in either a year,or two's time)
And then there is another huge problem. Which school, and what course should I go into?!?!
I'm alternating around merchandising, marketing and public relations. My initial plan was to enter merchandising, but now... i'm thinking of marketing as well. Merchandising's more niche, and there is less competition. Maybe i shouldn't think that the competition would be any slacker there, because in the world of business there will NEVER be any lesser competition. In fact, little competition when brought into business, still kills.
For marketing, there's no need to mention how intense rivalry is. Porter's 5 might be drawn up based on the actual subject's positioning. Hah =.=
And then, where should i study? I initial thought of NYC, but now as i'm doing more and more research, i'm actually pretty open to other options such as Hong Kong, Canada and UK besides US.
Sigh, choices choices choices.
Which is the right choice? Why must we always live in the brink of uncertainty?
One thing i blame myself was being so short sighted when i was in Year 1 &2. Mostly fooled around in school, getting average marks, or maybe even below average. How could i turn up for exams and tests not understanding so many things? It was sheer luck i wheezed through papers, BY A THIN MARGIN.
If only i worked hard from the very beginning, i would have done so much better.
Bucked up in the final year, and so far, it has reaped so much positive results.
I got all As for presentation, 2 As for IJ, 1 B, & 1 B+. Not too bad for me, even though it could be written better. I'm pretty confident for the papers as well(unless if i sidetrack unknowingly, but i really do not think so...) However for my FYP, i'm not too sure. Hopefully, it won't go too bad...
(*please*!!!! *prays*) My group won a business concept award!!!
When i get back my final results, i'll start to mass apply for unis, & hopefully i'll get a positive answer. This time round, I will promise myself to be, and do my very best. I'm tired of being average already anyways... I know i might sound like my ego is inflated, but i really do think i am capable of being much better.
When i graduated from secondary school, peers who entered the same school is able to go to JCs like Hwa Chong, Raffles, National etc. And now, the same people who entered the same secondary school are also going into top unis in the world. Unis like London School Of Econs, Yale, Manchester...
I believe in my intellect level, it's just that i am too lazy. I'm going to change that.
Starting next week, I'd be taking up a 10 day course to obtain a cert which will then grant me official authorization to start working for my mum. I have already decided what portion of my paycheck would go to. Need to stick to it. 50% -> saving for overseas uni, 20% -> pocket money 20% -> put aside for investing - shares, 10% -> fuel.
Been researching, and decided that it's time for me to invest. Of course I'd approach my brother, & parents for advice. They are the ones who have experience, and have more analytical minds. It would be categorized as 'money which i can afford to lose' These 'assets' would stay stagnant.
Hopefully when i work for my mum, there would be minimal conflict. I must remember that if there are any instances which I would want to speak up, i must bear in mind what my dad loves to remind me 'Remember whose the boss, she's the one giving you your paycheck.'
Professionalism is key. Professionalism is key
Professionalism is key
Just thought this was something sweet to share.
When i first entered TP, my first group of friends consisted of Kaye, Weilin, Weijie & Kewei.
When i walked out of school just now, it was with them too :)
Watched Cleopatra just now, these keep getting stuck in my mind:
as lovers revive in kisses and the promises of spring
which will end the winter world with new nightingales calling
Change, is the only constant
might not be exactly what you thought it might be, but it might just be