A Daring Adventure or Nothing At All

“On my count of 3, please shift the tassel on your mortar board from right to left”

“1, 2, 3…. congratulations, Class of 2012. We’ve finally made it to Accounting Heaven!”

This was the moment that marked the end of our four eventful years studying Accounting as undergraduates at the School of Accountancy of Singapore Management University (SMU). As the host of the Class of 2012 Commencement Ceremony, I glanced quietly at the faces of my peers as I stood there with my co-host on the stage.

It was quite a sight to behold.

Wild hugs of shared excitement and fist punches in the air. Shrills with life-threatening decibels. Gentle nods of self affirmation and validation. Sheer looks of relief and elation. Eager attempts to lock eyes with our parents who sat at the different ends of the auditorium to receive their congratulations and acknowledgements. And how can we possibly forget – posting a status update on Facebook with the most defining photo opportunity of our times.

To describe the moment as ‘cathartic’ was certainly not an overstatement. I don’t know if it was the case for you, but it was definitely for me.

We all know in life, there are moments when our minds and hearts skip in the same one beat and yet, there are times they are in a constant tussle. Let’s just say, in my stint as an undergraduate, the deep sense of conflict was almost second nature for me.

On the surface, I had every reason to be happy. After all, I was offered my first choice of study at one of the three main public universities. It was a no-brainer – study, pass all my modules and graduate with decent enough results. I have been doing this all my life, haven’t I?

People around told me that I was blessed to be studying a course of study that has tremendous business and technical value. Securing jobs will be at the back of my mind, making the right choice among the various offers will be the crux instead. Enter a Big 4 (accounting firm), work your butt off, become a Partner and then take on a CFO role at a corporate firm. By then, you’ll be laughing to the bank.

This was the golden promise and perhaps, the same promise that kept most of my peers and myself going. Certainly, not a laughing matter.

It was hardly difficult for me. The path of least resistance means that you just flow along. You needn’t think. You can’t afford to question because it casts doubt in your path and slows you down. You shouldn’t take leaps that run tangential from the norm for you may just lose yourself in the shadows of uncertainty.

Or, is it always so?

It didn’t take too long for me to realize that numbers could not excite me nor fill up that sense of fulfillment and curiosity for me that I had craved for all along. Perhaps I was overly fixated or idealistic, but I’ve always believed that you need to have a certain temperament to fully comprehend and appreciate accounting as a subject matter. And you will need more than that temperament to be passionate about it. I lacked both of that and I could only blame myself for that and not having that foresight.

In fact, it became all the more prominent for me in my life when I first met my two mentors in my life in March 2008 who were living extraordinary lives in every right. When I first met them at a public seminar, I said to myself,

“Wow, this is really refreshing. I have never seen people who are that alive, positive and passionate about what they do and stand for.”

What I didn’t know was that this chance encounter with my mentors at a nondescript public seminar marked the start of what was an amazing and thrilling 4 years journey of self-discovery.

Like how a young apprentice kneels down humbly and presents a cup of hot tea to his Shi-fu in hope of learning the art of the master, I did the equivalent and told one of my mentors,

“Soon, I am really inspired by the work you do and how you can be so successful and yet so willing to give. Tell me how I can be like you and I’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen”

He smiled and gave me a simple nod of affirmation. That, was all I needed.

It wasn’t long before I enrolled myself in a life-coaching program and Soon was assigned to me as my Life Coach. I must say the idea of understanding and discovering myself at the age of 20 years old first seemed like a paradox to me. After all, I wasn’t facing a life crisis of sorts or undergoing depression. Or at least that’s what I thought of people going through “life coaching” or visiting shrinks for that matter — they needed help with living their lives, right?

In retrospect, this gift of self-awareness has been the best one I’ve ever received. To be so acutely aware who I am as a person, what I stand for and why I consciously choose to do things I do and those I don’t. I realize all of these weren’t as commonplace as I thought it would be.

It became all the more obvious when I made the choice to become a Life Coach myself as a 20-something after undergoing through 9 months of rigorous training. When I started to take on coaching engagements with clients who were more senior, experienced, successful and wealthier than me — there was one denominator that remained. We all needed that listening because it’s becoming more and more scarce in this “noisy world” we live in. With that safe space, it gives us the faith to discover who we really are as individuals and what we truly desire.

As my repertoire of clients expanded, I naturally saw how my life experiences increase in breadth and depth. While my clients entrusted their lives within me, I was also vicariously learning through their world. I learnt about their struggles, the tradeoffs they had to face and the painful decisions that had to make at their different stages of life. One of which was the choice between a life of stability and certainty and that of leaping into the unknown to pursue one’s passion. I realized this choice becomes tougher and more painful to make, as one grows older and more comfortable and accustomed to their lifestyle and worldview.

At that time, I came across a quote that made so much sense to me and gave me the answer to the kind of life I wanted to live henceforth.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” (Helen Keller)

I knew that when I am in my twilight years, I want to have stories to share to my grandchildren. Stories that can inspire them to live their lives to their truest potential. Stories that can move them and open their eyes to their great possibilities rather than of their narrow limitations. Stories that will make them feel proud that their grandfather has lived a life that had not only made a great difference to his own life but also that of many others.

In June 2011, I took a personal leap into my life to found Speaker’s Flare Training & Consultancy where I took my pro-bono coaching and training efforts into a for-profit and commercial outfit. In the week I started my business, I was bowled over. People came to me telling me I should have started doing this so much earlier. They started to ask me how much fees I would like to command for my work and that was humbling and strangely exciting.

It was funny because at times, the people who approached me seem to have more faith in me than I did in myself. Everything else that ensued was history.

At the point of my graduation, I chose not to pursue the path of working in a multinational but instead, to work with a corporate training company that has a modest local presence as a learning stint to master the workings of the trade. At the same time, I continued servicing my clients with Speaker’s Flare to inspire them to be their better and truest selves on stage while I work to become a more skillful trainer and coach.

My dream is to be an international speaker, trainer and coach to share my experiences with individuals and corporations and empower people to express themselves freely and compellingly on stage. And I chose to hold true to it for this is what truly matters to me.

Amidst the jubilation, my co-host and I invited our Dean of the School of Accountancy to the podium for her speech. She congratulated the graduating batch and declared proudly,

“To the Class of 2012, your stint at the School of Accountancy may have just ended. But your life has just started with the 30 years of working life ahead of you!”

The parents in the crowd laughed somewhat nervously as if what our Dean said has struck a common chord with them. The graduates squirmed slightly at what sounded more of a premonition for what’s to come.

I smiled to myself and kept silent for that brief moment. That inner voice in me tells me that the 30 years ahead can only be a daring adventure that’s crazy and amazingly fulfilling.