Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sharing Nugget #19

#19: Rebirth tastes like a breath of cool fresh air.

This evening, I announced my decision to step down as Chairperson of SCD.

It has gotten so ugly, that the only way for SCD to move on is to take myself out of the equation. I pray that such dark forces at work will not happen to SCD again.

I will remain as a SCD member, and continue to serve the school.

My only regret is that I do not have the chance to make things right as a chairperson, and it might affect my opportunities to do work for the school in the future. My credibility has been affected. And I do understand that no matter how much I have given to the school, all it takes is one such fall to take it all away.

But at least, I stepped down from leadership, but not from grace. I still have my dignity.

And now, I can really serve the school, without the heavy burden of politics. It will feel pure again. And yes, although I cannot leave a strong legacy as I would have wanted, I still have the chance to make a difference.

On reflection, I realize that I have over-stretched myself. I did too much, and burnt out. And when I went into hiding, the consequences were grave because of my leadership positions. Next time, I will be focused on my selected commitments.

Also, I did not create an environment where there are friendships in the council. There was not enough face time with everyone, and thus, communication, understanding and trust was lacking.

In the end, I took home 2 big lessons. I feel a sense of regret. But I have to take it like a man. I screwed up, I pay for it.

I would like to thank the Social Science Society members, who were more forgiving about my disappearance as vice-president. They were understanding as friends, and they even paved the way for me to gain my legitimacy to be back by entrusting me with work. I had so much fun designing the posters, mailers etc, and giving ideas in the meetings.

Looking back, this is not the first time I failed. I failed in SAF before. But because of that failure, I grew so much. Now, my challenge is to make use of this failure to help myself grow. I have already tasted the first blossom after the winter – that of the difference the summer made in my life.

I remember this story where someone said that an entrepreneur would be thought of as a loser if he had been a bankrupt. But in the US, an entrepreneur would be thought of as a loser if they hadn’t been bankrupt before!

Yes, there will be pointing, and there will be gossips. But this is something I have to come to terms with, and let myself grow from this failure.

Because it is from adversities that we really build our character, not while in our comfort zones.

I have two more years in SMU. Perhaps this milestone marks a new phase of my life. A new phase where I am more focused because I am clearer about my priorities, a new phase where I can dedicate more much needed time to my wife,

and a new phase where I am reborn.

I have to start from scratch, from ground up again - but I am now armed with 2 intense years of experience in SMU where I gain lots of explosure, an understanding of experiential learning and importance of reflection, new friends whom I really trust, and a renewed passion in my belly to serve the community.

I will still have history, but I have lost a lot of baggage.

Now, I feel light. I feel relieved. I feel like the foul air I am breathing these few dark days have passed.

I held up my arms, faced the sky, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.

And then I taste it. So this is how it tastes like.

Rebirth tastes like a breath of cool fresh air. And I felt so free.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sharing Nugget #18

#18: The value of true friends

I am going through and even tougher stage right now.

Apparently, the new lease of life is not to be.

I am in deep deep cesspool.

But what I can take comfort in is that I have friends who are willing to listen, help me sort my thoughts out, and be brutally honest with me. It forces me to tear my ego, pride, narrow-mindedness apart, because if not for true friends, who can we trust? If I stick to my ego, I will lose these friends.

So thank you, for those who listened.

One of them made me think about how I am using this blog.

It reminded me that this blog is an online learning journal of sorts, which I can print out and keep it as a paper journal after I leave SMU, and read it constantly to remind myself of the lessons I learnt in SMU.

This is what sharing in experiential learning is about. It is not about going around teaching people and belting out advice for everyone. Rather, it is about personal growth. And by sharing it here, if someone else can learn something from it too, it will be a bonus! Thank you for your reminder.

End of the day, I am glad I have friends who dares to be honest with me, even though I am down in difficult times. This is the value of true friends.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sharing Nugget #17

#17: Embrace the Grace of a new lease of life.

It has been an emotionally traumatic week. But “hell week” is finally over.

After deep reflection that lasted a few days, I can now tell the story.

Before this summer, I was going through a very bad phase. I was recovering from a burnt out term where my CCAs took a severe toll on my grades. Thus, I neglected my work in my CCAs. I slept through the term.

But when I started summer, I feel that I was aroused from my slumber. Facilitation woke me up. I saw so much, learned so much. I saw for myself what a high performing team is, how to achieve high task high relationships, how building bonds and friendships is so important, and how we can change lives, including our own.

During this week, the consequences of my slumber came back to haunt me. My legitimacy as a leader is challenged. I know I screwed up. I know I have to accept full responsibility. But on the other hand, I know that I have been reborn, I have woken up, I know what to do now, and I have the confidence to do it.

I want to do it. I want to apply my learnings. I want to give back what I take.

Thus, I ask for a new lease of life.

During tonight’s session, the unhappy ones poured their feelings. They were angry, and they showed it. It was courageous of them to do so. I respect them for that. If it were me, I do not know whether I have the guts to be brutally honest in the face of the accused. I feel sad that I made them have to do this.

I listened.

Then I told my story.

Then I asked for a chance to prove myself. And thanks to a skillfully conducted mediation session by Tim, my boss, it came to an amicable conclusion.

I am given a chance to set things right.

Thank you.

It felt a ray of sunlight shining through the carpet of dark clouds. I was totally drained before tonight’s session. I was emotionally squeezed. Now, I am so relieved of the emotional burden. I caused so much trouble. I am so guilty. I want to make up for it.

I will set things right.

I will work hard for it.

I will use everything in my arsenal.

I will give everything I have.

I will do it.

Because I will tightly embrace the grace of a new lease of life.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sharing Nugget #16

#16: How I have grown over one summer.

A summer reflection.

Today is the last day of my 2nd summer vacation. And what a summer it has been.

I started the summer deciding to dedicate it to personal development.

What did I do this summer?

1) AELC (Steven’s sessions for all facis): 5 weeks
2) Faci Workshops: 3 weeks
3) Loola Retreat for Senior Faci and Train the trainers: 1 week
4) Kuo Chuan Camp: 1 week
5) FTB Mock Camp: 3 days
6) FTB Camp: 9 days
7) Matric: 3 days
8) OCS talks: 3 days
9) SS Camp: 3 days

Now I began to see actually how much time I dedicated to Experiential Learning! Although that’s a tedious few months, I do not regret a second of it.

Attending Steven’s sessions, observing how he influences people, the kinds of values he preaches, and the stories he told – basically, how he touches lives – made me reflect and think a lot.

Steven impacted me in 2 ways. Firstly, he showed me how we can make a difference in other’s lives as he did in mine. He showed me how to do it through his process of experiential learning, debriefings, the importance of reflection, his dedication, the foundation that is theory, and lastly, the relationship touch.

Secondly, he made me ask the question of what I want to do in life. I do not want to go or big bucks, powerful position, glamour, fame etc. I want to make a difference by doing service for my family, friends, community, and country – in any way I can best do it, however minute it might be. While doing that, I want to lead a moral life, do charity, share merits, and show the importance of values by example.

Also, I have decided that I will dedicate the next 2 years in SMU to hone my capabilities - to build my brand of been able to deliver results as a leader, facilitator or a mentor / trainer. “Walk the talk” will be my guide.

In the process of reflection, I found some short-comings in me. Thus, I made a resolution to 1) Listen more; 2) think positively (especially of people I don’t like) and talk less of negative things, 3) be almost completely (un)self-centered, and 4) have a “wider” heart.

Thank you for touching my life, Steven.

From my involvement with fellow SMU students, I also learn a lot from them. They taught me what I did right, (thank you for your kind words), and what I could improve on (thank you for your honesty. It takes courage to be frank and risk spoiling friendship).

Along these 4 months, I made a lot of friends - and quite a few ones that I can really trust and relate to. I always believe that one should have a lot of friends, but keep a few close. I love being around you guys.

This has been a summer of experiential learning, reflection, friends, walking the talk; of passion and commitment, belonging, and making a difference.

I started the summer deciding to dedicate it to personal development. And how I have grown.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sharing Nugget #15

#15: How we all can make a difference in the most unexpected ways.

I read an email today which was sent to me last night by a fellow facilitator. I will let it speak for itself:

"Tonight, I came across your blog. It started as an ordinary sleepless night, I searched for guan ren, stopped at your blog and read.

#14 nugget was the first entry. It made me think and reflect. The first thought was a regret, it was a deep sense of a regret that I didn't realize I felt. I realized I hadn't set aside a time to sit, to think and to internalize what I could have learnt from my own experience as a faci.

The thought evolved and the regret lessened as I reflected how I could have facilitated my group better. Regret became guilt instead, I thought I could have added more value to my group than I did. I told myself I would do better the next time, if any.

Then I read on.

"CONVICTION" struck me, "making a difference" struck me, "not by length of time but by influence" struck me.

Echoing your sentiments, it has been a long time since I have been so deeply moved. Moved into self-reflection.

The spectrum of thoughts pondered struck me; the width: how little I know, the depth: how narrow I feel and, most importantly, the insight: how insufficient the time I spend on internal reflection was.

Yes, experiential learning rocks and perhaps the greatest lesson we can bring back from experiential learning is debrief. Our daily life is an experience. Thank you for a poignant reminder to do self-debriefs.

Then I read on.

"making a difference in other lives makes a difference in ours", "a single person at the right place, with right heart, makes a huge difference."

I don't remember setting out to truly make a difference in others' lives. Those instances I can recall, I stumbled into their lives.

I recall a time in OCS. I was surrounded with peers, they who spent the same exact eighteen years that I did. I was awestruck by their maturity, amazed by their leadership (amongst peers no less) and overwhelmed. There were people who held measured views, well thought-out opinions and determined stands on issues, on events and on affiliations that I hadn't even known about, much less thought deeply about them.

And these people were my peers.

I made a decision then, that I'll seek growth. I acknowledge that I have much to catch up with my peers. I may never do catch up but personal growth became enjoyable overnight for me. It became a kind of hunger. Perhaps you too may recall I being ever curious, always hungry for some tidbit. Yea, perhaps I became curious overnight.


I don't remember setting out to truly make a difference in others' lives. Perhaps that decision for pure personal growth was little selfish. Because of what I've read tonight, I believe I'll work harder to bring light to others' lives. Thank you for making a little difference in mine. In time, I believe it'd become a huge one...

Then I read on.

And I kept reading. And reading.

Then I realize what you meant by a channel of reflection and learning. Thank you for sharing your insights. You became just like those peers I had then when I was still in OCS. It was the same bittersweet dual-edged feeling. It was the sweetness of having someone stronger, at a higher level to learn and emulate from. It bitter because it comes with the realization that you're also another peer, what then had I spent my time on? But then it was sweet all over again seeing someone else leading others by example.

Sweetest of all, is the realization that there do exist people to look up to, that it is possible to grow into them one day and that these people do sometimes look over your shoulder such that you can go our there and do it, learning in the best way.

And perhaps the most unlikely manner I was looked over was through a blog! Thank you for a magical way to spend a sleepless night!

(Name excluded by Renjie)

Maybe I'd likely spend a few more of those future nights sleepless but I'm sure I'll be thinking of some of those things I should have been thinking about for sometime...


Friend, thank you for your kind words. I share a quote by Confucious with you: "By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest. Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is bitterest."

Those of us who were touched by the FTB experience, we will know how true this quote is.

Friend, as Gandhi said, "Be the change you want in the world". You showed us how we should start with ourselves first.

Thank you for allowing me to make a difference in your life. You taught me that we all can make a difference in the most unexpected ways.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Sharing Nugget #14

#14: The power of conviction.

This is a tribute to all those who believed in FTB Camp and made it happen.

As I sat on the canteen bench during the last day (Day 9) of the FTB Camp, I already started to feel nostalgic.

I saw the freshmen losing themselves in the heat of the final challenge. But surreally, some helpers from the logistic com were quietly keeping the stores amidst the fever. As the final challenge ended, I saw genuine joy in the faces of some programs committee members.

That moment, a smile came on my face. I am heartened by the quiet commitment by the people who sacrificed their summer to make FTB Camp happen. These people walked the talk.

As I shifted my bum from the bench to the table, (better position to think about things), I tried to find a word that can summarize the power that brought everyone together to play this beautiful orchestra for the freshmen. I believe that word is “Conviction”.

It is the conviction that it is worth sacrificing personal time and efforts to do something (or serve) the school, that every little effort counts, that everyone can play a part and make a difference, that we can show the freshmen what SMU is about; that gave everyone the motivation to walk on.

Kudos to the organizing committee. I will always remember how Nuha and Rash manning the log counter with masking tape quotes all over the place, how Steve and his gang ran the programs and improve it so much over the few days, how Don make his “presence” felt and cared for everyone, how Wanzhen tirelessly manned the CCC without a single word of complain, how BoonKiat still have so much energy and enthusiasm right up to last day, how Susu always scold people, then apologizes for it (you are forgiven), but always gets things done, how Kenneth, Andrew, helpers, facis, SFs, and everyone else gave up sleep to ensure the job is done.

Well people, the job is done. We believed in it. We got it through. I’m sure we made a difference. Not just in the freshmen’s lives, but ours as well.

I am a better person after this experience. Does Experiential learning rocks? You bet.

In the end, we did what we believed is our duty as SMU students. And what conviction we SMU students showed.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sharing Nugget #13 (Part II)

Here are the people who made a difference to my life.
The run 2 helpers gang.
(After this shot, all of us partied away. Man, you should have seen some of them dance!)

How many people does it take to find Wally?

They forced me to pose.

Happy National Day!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sharing Nugget #13

#13: We never know how much we can learn by opening up our eyes and minds for just 3 days.

Just came back from Run 2 yesterday.

I did not help much (cos so many people facis came down to help - thank you), but I sure saw a lot of things for myself in just 3 days.

For one, I saw how big an improvement the 2nd run is over the 1st. I though long and hard about it. I figured that it is sound to assume that the characteristics of the freshies and the facis are the same. So what cause the difference?

1) Could be that the run 1 freshies came in with a mindset that the FTB sucks. (As I found out was told to them by people who ran other camps outside the FTB). But word got out from run 1 people to run 2 people that it is not so bad after all.

2) It is obvious that the programs were well twigged according to the learnings from run 1. Kudos to the com. The flow was tightened, processes more fluid, campfire more happening.

3) Also, I noticed that many facis from run 2 came down for run 1. So they had a good idea of what to expect, and can address those issues from the start.

I found out that a few facis from run 1 were quite disappointed that the energy level for run 2 was much better. I hope that they understand it is not that they did not do a good job. But rather, it is just natural that we learn and improve.
In this run 2, I learnt a few other things too.

a) The joy of being with friends and making new ones. I got to know a few people better. And some of them amaze me with their detachment from their physical stereotype. (frivolous looking but has good heart).

b) That there are people who want to join SCD! I was pleasantly surprised that a few of my friends actually are interested in joining us. I though all along that our reputation was not very attractive!

c) A few of them showed me that while we may get tired, our passions that drives us are hard to extinguish. Some of them slog on even thou they are on medication or lacked sleep. Kudos to you people.
Now, looking ahead for run 3 tomorrow, I was pondering: how involved should I be for my new section? (especially when I did not take them personally for the training) This question is critical cos I discovered in both previous runs that if we are involved too much, we are stealing the facis’ show. But if we too detached, we would not be able to prevent some of the problems a few of them might face – (like resistance to learning, negative influence by freshie to freshie, and uttering vulgarities at female facis).

I think the answer lies in a book by Robert Baer, (See no Evil), where he said, “the best way for someone to learn is to go out there and do it, with somebody looking over their shoulder”. This is such a great insight. Just let the facis go out there and do their stuff, if they do well, they have acquired valuable life skills and experience. If not, we will intervene and coach them if they run into trouble.

So, Run 3 facis, this is your show. Give everything you have. We never know how much we can learn by opening up our eyes and minds for just 3 days. And only you can do that for the freshies.

Go out there and make a difference.

P.S. I heard that ExPLOR is here to stay! YES!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sharing Nugget #12

#12: How making a difference in other’s lives makes a difference in ours.

Just came back from Run 1 of the Freshmen Teambuilding Camp. The camp was a climatic conclusion to months of work over the summer for both us, the senior facilitators, and of course, my dear facilitators. I can see that the facis went through a truly intense 3 days.

Here is what I learn from them:

1) There are people out there who “do not just talk, but actually DO it”.

I use to think that in SMU, we only have very few people who have the true heart to serve in SMU. Now I realize that, there are many of them out there – who are just waiting to be directed to the right places where they can change lives.

During the camp, I was very tired. But seeing the dedication of the facis, it stroked the fire in me. It gave me energy to wake up both mornings just after 3 hours of sleep. They gave their all. Facis, I salute you. You do the talk, not just talk the do.

2) Teamwork is beautiful.

How else do you run a camp for 400 freshies? From the main com, to the SF, to the Facis, to the helpers, the OSL staffs and FIT instructors, everyone worked with ONE intention in mind – to make this camp a success. And what a beautiful job it is.

3) We can be serious and have fun at the same time.

The facis showed me that we can both be people and task oriented at the same time. We all had fun! And we all got the job done. Simple as that.

4) Strong bonds are hard to break

When me and Mel boarded the bus home, after waving our facis goodbye, we felt a deep sadness. We talked about how we have influenced them. We smiled when we remember that they adopted some of our methods and put it to good use.

We realize that we were sad because it is over for the run 1 people. Our times spent the common ground we built, the experiences we share, and the trust, friendship and respect we had, runs deep in our hearts.



I will miss everyone.

Also, during the camp, I keep thinking: I am crazy to have volunteered for Run 3. But now as I am writing, I can feel that I am ready for run 3. In fact, I am going down to help out in Run 2 later. The com has sent out a distress signal for helpers. The few of us decided to help with a single second of hesitation.

This is our show. This is what SMU students can do. The camp is not perfect. (No camp is) But the spirit is. To me, this display of the SMU spirit is the best initiation that freshies can have. We have showed them where passion can bring them, how teamwork is so beautiful, and how action speaks louder than works.

For these 3 Runs, we put aside our differences, and we work as ONE. I feel a sense of belonging. I feel a sense of pride. I feel touched.

2 more runs to go people. Hang in there. Cos making a difference in other’s lives makes a difference in ours too.

People, you changed my life. Thank you.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sharing Nugget #11

#11: Life is fragile.

Today, I found that one of our SMU year 2 accountancy student, Chow Guan Ren, has passed away last night due to a traffic accident. I do not know him personally. But some friends of mine are in the circle of friends. I heard that Guan Ren’s close friends are distraught.

My condolences go to all who know him. I have seen first hand how hard it is to lose a son or brother. I have experienced how hard it is to lose a friend. Nobody deserves to go through this pain.

This incident comes a few weeks after my mum told me about a distant family friend who died in a motorcycle accident. His death was horrific - so bad that the wife was only allowed to see the face of her husband.

I always think of all the things that these deceased left behind… the pain of their loved ones, their plans for the next week, the overseas trip they were planning for, the email from friends left unread, or the dreams left unfulfilled.

Imagine that Guan Ren’s name is still recorded under BOSS where he has successfully bidded his modules. It makes me sad. So young. So wasted.

Take care of yourself friends. Before you decide to risk it to dash across the road, or step on that bike accelerator, think of the people and future you might leave behind should you run into trouble. Because, friends, life is fragile.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sharing Nugget #10

#10: Friendship is not judged by time spent, but by the influence the friend had in our lives.

Today, I received sad news. Emily, a Social Science girl, who was in my orientation group, received a phone call in one of our seminars telling her she has been accepted by NUS Law. Of course, like most students will, she accepted.

That concluded her brief time spent in SMU.

Here is the msn conversation I had with her tonight:

Me: You accepted NUS Law liao?

Emily: yah…

Me: good luck to you my fren. we are sad that u left us! but all the best.

Emily: yes me too… i dun really want to leave you all

Me: we understand la. dun worry... study hard k? i sad for SMU that we lost a bright mind to NUS!

Emily: thanks… been really touched by the smu and sess spirit… will always be an smu citizen at heart

Me: awww..... so nice... haha... all the best fren.

Emily: thanks… and i really mean it…

Her words made my heart skip a beat.

“Will always be an SMU Citizen at heart”. Wow. I did not expect that our efforts in building a proud SMU culture and identity will have such an impact.

I am truly touched by it. I will use this as a motivation to continue leading the SCD team to work with the SMU student community to foster the culture and identity of SMU Citizenship. Our SMU branding is at stake, and I will fight to maintain the integrity of our SMU brand and value of our degrees.

For the past 2 days, I have had great privilege to officially declare almost the entire freshmen cohort – SMU Citizens. I hope this small part I have played will be a baby step towards the birth of a deep SMU culture and identity. I hope I have left my mark in SMU history by declaring the first of many more batches of SMU citizens to come.

Thank you SMU, for giving me this great honor. And thank you Emily, for touching our lives in that brief but heart-felt time. You have taught me that friendship is not judged by time spent, but by the influence the friend had in our lives.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sharing Nugget #9

#9: A single person, at the right place, with the right heart, can also make a huge difference.

This is a story told by my younger sister.

She works in an architectural firm which epitomizes the type of companies that value bottom-lines more than employees. There is almost no welfare and appreciation for employees. The turn over rate is high. And staff loyalty is non-existence.

The company is owned by 6 directors. To whom most of the profits that the company makes go to. Very limited percentage actually goes back to the company – for staff bonuses etc. The staff has not had any bonuses for years. And the only raise in that time is a token $200 per month increase.

My impression is that the directors have no regards for employees. The latter are merely tools to earn that bit of cash for the directors to spend on. The company is unable to hold on to talented people – thus trapping it in a vicious cycle: no talented staff leads to poor designs, which leads to less projects, which causes the inability to pay for good architects, which loses the company more projects…

Almost anywhere else pays better. So managers cannot hold on to their staff. Managers leave because they cannot do their jobs. The only thing sustaining the company is the “guan xi” the directors have that pulls in the projects.

What can we learn from this story?

I imagined a scenario that summarizes what we can take out of this sad case.

If I one day, fate should allow me to build a successful company, this is what I will do. I will first declare legally that only, say, 10% of the profits goes to me and my family. Say 40% will go to adopted community organizations and charities, and the rest to the employees and company expenses.

I will make staff welfare a major core value of the company. Emphasis will be put on grooming employees. They will be empowered to make decisions, since they all have a stake in the profits. There are many other ways to do it, but my key intent will be to create a place where employees are taken care of.

This is not possible if the boss is motivated by money. Then the boss will be doing his best to suck the employees for all they are worth and then discard them. To me, that is disgusting. I believe that taking care of the employees gives then a motivation to work, which will bring in more profits, which will increase their earnings, which will motivate them more – not just because they are greedy, but remember, 40% goes back to the community. So who’s benefiting most?

This is a positive cycle as opposed to the one at my sister’s company. There is more motivation and meaning to come to work.

Sure, some people will say that this might not work and it is too unrealistic. But hey, instead of saying it doesn’t work, why not think of how to make it work? Every great accomplishment starts with a dream in someone’s head.

What if someone is able to accomplish this dream?

If so, a single person, at the right place, with the right heart, can also make a huge difference.

In fact, there are 2 persons who are making a difference right now - Bill and Melinda Gates. Their foundation’s aid to foreign countries is outweighed by only a dozen or so COUNTRIES. Kudos to you, Gates family.