I was “sold”. Totally impressed by Michelle Obama’s speech, I began to reflect on how our values and beliefs determine our decisions in everything we do in life. It was never about the knowledge or data or figures. This was a recent struggle I had. When I had to reason with myself over what was right, and what was right for my pocket. The case was clear. I had to go with what was right, because I was brought up that way.
There’s no sob story about my life. Not from my point of view. I am considered relatively successful in a multitude of industries and a variety of roles. I’ve worked with some of the brightest minds I’ve known and had the pleasure of learning from some of the most wonderful people. I’ve trained hundreds of matured students and senior management staff to help them understand how social media can be integrated in businesses, worked with some of the best multi-national brands, worked with a most wonderful singer and friend and actualised about 8 out of 10 of my childhood dreams. To a certain extent, that’s quite a report card.
I’ve been asked if I studied in Yale or Havard (thank you, that’s a compliment). I’ve been asked if I have an first-class honors or even a double degree. But no, I’ve never gotten a University education, and I was retained for a year back in Polytechnic for failing my modules (so I ended up with 4 years instead of 3). I failed 2 subjects in my Cambridge O’levels. Certainly not the most impressive academic results I have to admit. But in my past 3 jobs, I’ve never been once doubted or asked by my employers for my qualification. Apparently the person, is more important than a piece of paper. I’ve managed staff with a far more astounding record of academic excellence than my own. But we worked together as one, never questioning the value of abilities from our education. Because the real education is in the values and beliefs of one.
The hero of my life, is really my father. And most of my values, beliefs and principles were built on the foundation of what this man believes. My dad was born in 1945, just after the World War II. It was a difficult time as a kid, but he was born into a middle-class family then, which was not too shabby. My dad’s family originated from South of China, and we used to own land (hey, which makes me the grand daughter of a warlord!). My grandfather, whom I’ve never met, was an English-educated accountant who migrated to Malaysia. He was considered very highly educated for his time. As he wanted to take in a second wife, he drove my grandmother back to China. My dad was supposed to be on that ship bound for China too. He was 9 then. However, he came down with high fever and couldn’t board the ship in case it was contagious. Hence, he was left in Malaysia with his elder brother, my uncle. Not long after, my grandfather was cheated of his business by a partner, in heavy debts and fled to Singapore, with his second wife. My dad and my uncle were left to fend for themselves, in the care of a neighbour. At 13, he travelled to Singapore on his own, in search of his father. When he finally found the family, his step-mother denied him and he was alone again. He went to find shelter with a relative who owns a provision shop, and worked for him in return food and shelter. My dad worked and supported himself through school. He never saw my grandfather again, until my grandfather passed on, when he collected his death certificate. My dad was only reunited with my grandmother after he married my mum, which was almost 30 years later. And he earned himself a diploma when I was born.
Our family is not wealthy in terms of material, but we are wealthy in terms of values and kinship. We stay in a comfortable flat unit that was fully paid the moment it was bought. Both me and my 2 other sisters received the best possible education and childhood. We travelled from a young age, and seen much of the world, much earlier than most of our peers. Our family always sits together for dinner, always. My dad did not insist on academic excellence if it was beyond our abilities or interest. However, he stressed strongly upon survival. The ability to be able to carve our own niche, path our own roads and curate a story of our own. He had never for once, forced his dreams or expectations upon us. He was in many ways… democratic. He was always realistic with what we are in for. If I wish to challenge my dad, I better make sure I have my facts right and I’m fully prepared with the pros and cons to make my point to get his approval. He believes strongly in justice, living morally upright, giving to the larger good and not to individual riches. He was always a man of high integrity and authority (sometimes autocratic!). Dad was always clear with his priorities in life. It was family, because he didn’t have one. I asked him in one occasion, “Dad, if you had a choice to choose whatever you wanted to do in life, what would you have done?” And his answer, was something that I will always remember. He said, “That question has never came to mind. Because the moment you ask yourself that question of ‘what if’, you will never be happy. Bringing the bread home for the family was what’s important to me.” And if you knew me well, you would realise by now, I’ve inherited a lot of my character from him. Surely not every trait is an advantage to me in this time and day. However, most have served me well. And those that have not, I learn from mistakes and experiences and tweak to make them my own. But nevertheless, how I think, what I do or why I do certain things fall back to the basis of the education I receive at home. And I pride myself to say I’ve lived a fulfilling, exciting and much rewarding life to date.
I learned to curate my own life
At 12, my dad included me in the decision making to the Secondary School I wanted to enter. So I picked the one I like, not the one he thinks I should go (I had to supply him supporting reasons. All the time). I decided which stream I prefer when we had to make the choice for my major in O’levels. When I was 17, I wanted to backpack to Europe on my own. Now it may seem like nothing, but 14 years ago, it was uncommon for an Asian girl, not in the kind of environment I was brought up in. I went to London for 10 days alone, not knowing a single soul, there were no mobile phones, and I planned the entire itinerary on my own, with absolutely no “reviews” or “approvals” from my parents. They do not know where I am and although I left the number of the bed and breakfast I would be residing in, I was almost unreachable. Yet they trusted my common sense. My mum was glad I came back in one piece. When I finished my diploma, I applied for a school in Beijing despite my dad’s disapproval. When the acceptance letter came, we discussed about my decision and he was supportive finally when he was assured I knew what I was doing. So I went. When I returned, I decided to work part-time in a cafe. My parents didn’t know what I was trying to do. But 3 months later, I sat my family down and told them about my plan to takeover the business. After assessing the plans and place and all, my dad took his life savings and gave it to me. It was a family decision that I’ve always been grateful about despite we lost everything. At the end of the 5 years, not only I hadn’t make enough to return my dad, I lost a 5-figure sum to the bank. My sister couldn’t go into University because we couldn’t afford it due to the losses in my business. Yet again, our family came together strongly and sailed the storms. We supported each other silently without grievances nor finger-pointing blames. And it is all because of our values and beliefs. So today, the same value lives on. I’ve repaid the bank on my own, supported my sister through University and tries to support my family the same way my parents supported us. It was this self-sacrificial spirit that bonds us together and despite many people couldn’t understand why. But I feel proud the same way I know my father does, to be responsible for this family.
Here’s Michelle Obama’s speech. It’s inspiring to watch. Watch and reflect on how your values and beliefs determined the person you are today. Be proud of who you are, and where you came from. We are all descendent of greater human stories.