The wandering tales...
Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.
— Margaret Thatcher
Share your awesome inner self today!
Don’t work. Avoid telling the truth. Be hated. Love someone.
Written by Adrian Tan, author of The Teenage Textbook (1988), was the guest-of-honour at a 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.
Across Africa, we have seen countless examples of people taking control of their destiny, and making change from the bottom up.
— President Obama in Ghana
daily dose of inspiration!
Someone once asked Eleanor Roosevelt, “How did you accomplish so much with your life?” She responded, “I never waste time with regrets.
The mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee
When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.
The sand is everything else—the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”
Give a hug!
Top 10 Books on the Economics of Poverty
The following post was written by Amy Lockwood over at the Stanford Social Innovation Review and reposted from http://twodollarchallenge.org/
The growing community of students and professionals who are turning their attention to social endeavors as careers is inspiring. As someone who made the career switch from strategy consulting to international development work, I remember all too well the anxiety of trying to understand the different theories, familiarize myself with the players, and become fluent in the languages of this community. In addition to listening more than speaking, cultivating curiosity, and abandoning the fear of looking stupid when asking, “What does [fill in the blank] mean?”—in my first years in this new space, I asked for recommendations of books that would provide a foundation for my understanding of development, aid, and poverty. I recently revisited these recommendations as a member of the Opportunity Collaboration, and the following is a suggested reading list to provide a foundation for your adventures.
The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (2006)
by William Easterly
Easterly, a celebrated economist, presents one side in what has become an ongoing debate with fellow star-economist Jeffrey Sachs about the role of international aid in global poverty. Easterly argues that existing aid strategies have not and will not reduce poverty, because they don’t seriously take into account feedback from those who need the aid and because they perpetuate western colonial tendencies.
The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (2006)
by Jeffrey Sachs
Taking an almost entirely diametrical approach than Easterly, Sachs outlines a detailed plan to help the poorest of the poor reach the first rung on the ladder of economic development. By increasing aid significantly to provide the basic infrastructure and human capital for markets to work effectively, Sachs argues such investment is not only economically sound but a moral imperative.
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (2007)
by Paul Collier
Economist and Africa expert Collier analyzes why a group of 50 nations, home to the poorest one billion people, are failing. Considering issues such as civil war, dependence on extractive industries, and bad governance, he argues that the strongest industrialized countries must enact a plan to help with international policies and standards.
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (2009)
by C.K. Prahalad
Prahalad, a business strategy professor, was among the first to argue that the fastest growing market in the world was made up of the world’s poorest people. He details the purchasing power of this segment, and advocates that big businesses should learn how to understand this population’s needs in order to develop products that address both economic mobility and corporate growth and profit.
Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (2009)
by Muhammad Yunus
Yunus, an economist and Nobel Prize Winner, was among the first to describe a social business as one that is modestly profitable but designed primarily to address a social objective. Using this approach, he argues that modern-day capitalism is too narrowly defined, particularly in its emphasis on profit maximization. By including social benefits in the equation, he believes that markets and the poor themselves can alleviate poverty.
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail (2009)
by Paul Polak
Polak, a psychiatrist, has applied a behavioral and anthropological approach to alleviating poverty, developed by studying people in their natural surroundings. He argues that there are three mythic solutions to poverty eradication: donations, national economic growth, and big businesses. Instead, he advocates helping the poor earn money through their own efforts of developing low-cost tools that are effective and profitable.
Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (2009) – TDC’s review of this book.
by Dambisa Moyo
Moyo, a Zambia-born economist, asserts that aid is not only ineffective—it’s harmful. Her argument packs a strong punch because she was born and raised in Africa. Moyo believes aid money promotes the corruption of governments and the dependence of citizens, and advocates that an investment approach will do more to help reduce poverty than aid ever could.
Poor Economics A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011)
by Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo
Using the framework of randomized control trials, which allow for large-scale data collection to evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention, these two development economists assess the impact of a wide range of development programs in alleviating poverty. They have found that most programs have not been designed with a rigorous understanding of the behaviors and needs of the poor or how aid effects them, they advocate that for programs to be successful they must be designed with evidence gathered from direct interaction with those who they are meant to benefit.
Development As Freedom (2000)
by Amartya Sen
A Nobel Prize winning economist, Sen examines the essential role that elementary freedoms, social and political, have in improving the prosperity of the society at large. Although his focus on human welfare as a central aspect of economic thought is not universally accepted among economists, this approach inserts elements of ethics into a field from which it is often not emphasized. Although this is a difficult read, the concepts included are important to the dialogue about the causes and remedies to the economics of poverty.
Good to Great and the Social Sectors (2005)
by Jim Collins
Meant to accompany the seminal business book Good to Great that examined why companies succeed or fail and found nine key aspects, including: leadership, simplicity, discipline and innovation, this work focuses on applying these lessons to the nonprofit sector. While more focused on management of organizations than macro economic issues, this short and easy to read monograph suggests a roadmap of how those interested in addressing issues of poverty should pursue these efforts.
Beauty isn’t just defined as how you look or what you wear - we must always remember how each of us can be beautiful from the inside as well.
Are women better leaders than men?
When I started my first job after undergraduate university I remember a new initiative called ”women in leadership” where two female partners at my firm were invited to share their career experiences with more junior females over lunch. This happened a few times throughout the year and I thought, “this is great! girl power!” Little did I know how diversity and womens initiatives would evolve. These days when I open my email inbox I can always count on a few girlfriends who send me stories about women leaders, women enterpreneurs, how to succeed as women in business, and all round ‘go girl power!’ inspirational articles.
HBR posted a blog entitled, “Are women better leaders than men?” showing that “women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership” and two traits women excel in over men are “taking initiative and driving for results.” Men outscoured women in “the ability to develop a strategic perspective.”
When queried about the differences, women responded saying: “We need to work harder than men to prove ourselves” and “We feel the constant pressure to never make a mistake, and to continually prove our value to the organization.” The list of reasons could go on but the article concludes that in the end, these leadership behaviours are what makes real leaders, regardless of gender.
So what can women do to build themselves up as leaders? Women 2.0 featured 10 Rules for Brilliant Women stating:
- Make a pact - To build the life you want
- Imagine it - Envision your ‘knock the ball out of the park’ life
- Gasp - Start doing things that make you gasp and get the adrenalin flowing
- Get a thick skin - Gused to wins and losses, praise and pands, getting a call back and being ignored. Work on letting go of needing to be liked and needing to be universally known as “a nice person”
- Be an arrogant idiot - Of course you won’t but we can learn a thing from those guys around the office who share their opinions without thinking, who rally everyone around their big, (often unformed) ideas? Be more like them. Even if just a bit.
- Question the voice that says “I’m not ready yet” - While you are waiting to be ready, gathering more experience, sitting on your ideas, our friends referenced in rule five are being anointed industry visionaries, getting raises, and seeing their ideas come to life in the world. They are no more ready than you, and perhaps less.
- Don’t wait for your Oscar - Don’t wait to be praised, anointed, or validated. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to lead. Don’t wait for someone to invite you to share your voice. No one is going to discover you.
- Filter advice - Interpret feedback carefully. Test advice and evaluate the results, rather than following it wholesale.
- Recover and restore - Watch your tank to see how much risk-taking juice you have available to you. When it’s running low, stop, recover and restore.
- Let other women know they are brilliant - Let them know what kind of brilliance you see, and why it’s so special. Call them into greater leadership and action. Let them know that they are ready. Watch out for that subtle, probably unconscious thought, “because I had to struggle and suffer on my way up…they should have to too.” Watch out for thinking this will “take” too much time – when the truth is it always has huge, often unexpected returns.
“Women aren’t the problem, they’re the solution”
If there’s one book I would encourage everyone to read this International Womens Day, it’s “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. This book candidly provides a platform for the voices of girls and women whose gender has resulted in restrictions from attaining basic human needs, violence, rape, death, abandonment and torture. Rape as a weapon, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation and fistulas as a result from violence are a few of the topics which recount the heartbreaking tales of the women who have suffered from them. Kristof and Wudunn conclude that empowering women and girls is the most effective way to fight poverty and extremism.
The book concludes with 4 ways we can help women worldwide:
1. Provide a loan directly to a woman in need through www.kiva.org or www.globalgiving.org
2. Sponsor a girl or a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service
3. Keep updated on global womens rights issues by signing up for email updates at www.womensnews.org and www.worldpulse.com
4. Join the CARE Action Network at www.can.care.org – to speak out, influence policy makers, and educate people against poverty and injustice.
Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity