Written by: Mr Charles Lim Sing Siong
General Council (Managing Director), Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC)
(The Chinese High School 1989 – 1992; Hwa Chong Junior College 1993 - 1994)
(L-R) Mr Pang Choon How (Principal), Mrs Rathi Parimalan (Superintendent, West 1 Cluster), SLTC Kenneth Lee, Dr Sia Nam Chie (Guest-of-Honour & Chairman, Board of Directors), Mr Charles Lim
Good afternoon, Dr Sia Nam Chie (Chairman of the Board of Directors of HCI), Mr Kenneth Lee, Principal Pang Choon How, teachers, parents, students and to all who are joining us virtually:
I am very happy to be back with the HCI family to celebrate our Founders’ Day and 103rd Anniversary. On this proud and joyous occasion, we fondly remember our roots 饮水思源 and pay tribute to our board members, school leaders, teachers, parents and alumni, both past and present - who have painstakingly built HCI into a leading, world class academy.
My elder brother and cousin both attended The Chinese High and Hwa Chong which made it natural for me to continue our proud family tradition. Like Principal Pang, I joined the Chinese High School in 1989 and graduated from Hwa Chong Junior College in 1994. I was delighted to reunite with Principal Pang last year, as course mates in the Senior Management Program conducted by the Civil Service College. Thank you Principal Pang for your gracious invitation for me to speak. It is my honour and utmost privilege to be back in my beloved second home. I have previously given talks to our students who were interested in pursuing law as a career and I was back for our 100th Anniversary celebrations.
I vividly remember celebrating our 70th Anniversary (七十大寿 ) when I was in Secondary One and we had many fundraising activities to further develop our campus. We had our traditional 万人宴 and it was on Founders’ Day then, that the statue of Mr Tan Kah Kee was first unveiled. Our sprawling school grounds were a lot more modest then as compared to what we have today but the same fierce bonds of pride, loyalty and the Hwa Chong spirit burnished and remains today with all of us.
The 6 years here, were among the best times of my life. I campaigned for votes to be elected as a Student Councillor, was a Patrol Leader in Scouts, the Scouts Drum Major, Class Chairman for two years and represented College in Softball. I spent way too much time and energy as our teachers will reprimand us then - playing basketball, soccer, sports and in our CCAs after school. There were also the socially awkward but nonetheless “interesting social events” we organized with our Nanyang sisters, which I am not sure left them very impressed with us!
It was a most happy, enriching and transformative period of my life. I had fearsome, dedicated and caring teachers who not just imparted knowledge but taught us values and principles for life. I made lifelong friends who continue to journey life’s ups and downs together with me.
School life was a carefree, nurturing and protective bubble where we had ample time and space to develop our minds, figure out our own values, priorities and principles of life, to learn, observe and explore the world around us, make silly but important mistakes, try, fail and try again amidst teenage angst and youthful exuberance. Please cherish and suck the marrow out of your school life as it shall anchor and transform you, and afford you the fondest memories when you look back in the future.
I hesitated when Principal Pang approached me to share as I told him there are a lot more distinguished HCI alumni than me.
I am a do-er by nature, focused on execution or living life as it is. I am not that introspective by nature but this occasion has forced me to reflect and take stock. What advice would I tell myself if I went back in time to your age now or to my two young daughters? How should one allocate our time, talents and energies to chart our future?
1. Pursue and nurture deep and meaningful friendships and family bonds
The relationships you have with your family and close friends are the most important and enduring sources of happiness in your life.
Now is the best and most opportune time in your life to make good and trusted friends, inside and out of school as well. It isn’t that you wouldn’t in the later stages of your life but friends you make at this special period of your life are uniquely different. Interests and motives are a lot purer/simpler as the competing demands and pressing priorities of life have not fully weighed in yet.
I only had my first mobile phone in University. I still prefer to talk or meet up with friends and family in person. I would fly overseas to meet my team members and business counterparts as face-to-face interactions are still the best way to build trust, rapport and confidence with another person. I hope for none of you that your best friend is your computer or mobile phone. I understand many of you prefer to text, or chat online and meet ups are more inconvenient now due to COVID, but I encourage all of you to have more in-person interactions as they are irreplaceable in helping us trust and bond with another.
One regret is I never had friends from a different race until I was in National Service. It is important we appreciate the differences in our social, cultural and family upbringing, yet we all share common core values. I made many good friends from China, the UK and Europe when I did my Masters in Oxford and today, I lead a department with my diverse local teams in the U.S., London and Beijing where win-win collaboration, 己立立人,己达达人 and trust are vital for success.
With globalization and advances in technology, the world is much smaller today, yet human relationships have become a lot more distant and fraught with tensions and misunderstandings. Bridge that gap by nurturing deep and meaningful friendships, which will anchor you when times are tough.
The trap that many people fall into is to devote their time to whoever screams the loudest or their talents to whatever offers them the fastest or greatest reward. I would urge all of you to resist such temptations. The danger for high-achieving folks like all of you is that you will unconsciously allocate your time, talents and energies to activities that yield the most immediate and tangible evidence of success – to top your class, winning a sports medal or some award. Later in life, these are replaced by that job promotion, raise or bigger bonus.
Investing time and energy in relationships doesn’t seem to offer that immediate sense of achievement or gratification. And our family and friends rarely shout the loudest to demand our attention. As such, we can all make the easy mistake that investing our time and energies into relationships can be “sequenced” or delayed for later when one finally has time. But if you neglect your friends and family, you are likely to find yourself miserably alone when you need them the most.
Your life goals should not just be about achieving the best exam results, clinching that prestigious scholarship and later getting a well-paying job. At our deathbeds, it isn’t the success we have achieved, the titles we carry or the money we have made that is important but the lives we have touched, relationships we have built and how we have treated others around us that truly matter.
Above all, the strength of your love and relationship with your parents and family is absolutely key. You may not always feel that’s the case now and I understand that. But trust me - their unconditional care, love and support for you will stand the rigors of time.
2. Excellence What is excellence? Many would consider excellence, as a tangible outcome, or an “A” result. But excellence at its core is an attitude and a mindset. Our HCI spirit of 自强不息 spurs us onward with the tireless drive for self-renewal, relentless improvement, creative innovation and lifelong learning.
To exert your maximum effort and drive to be the best you can be - consistently in every small task and responsibility (studying and otherwise) that is entrusted to you, even when no one is watching or there is no immediate reward waiting to be collected. Always put on your A-Game - when you are a faithful and diligent steward to the opportunities afforded to you, a senior or boss could be quietly observing you on the side, assessing your performance to see if you are worthy for that bigger responsibility, sponsorship or job promotion.
At the workplace, I remind my department that in the pursuit of excellence, the only easy day – was yesterday. One should aim for work-life integration instead of being frustrated at missing out on the ever-elusive work-life balance. There is no magic or easy formula to achieving success in life. It takes dedication, repetitive hard work and painful sacrifices. It will however be much easier if you execute your tasks or duties with passion and interest. I have found my calling in the Law – what it does and what it stands for. The Law is my lifelong interest, hobby and passion. This helps me enjoy rather than mindlessly endure the very long hours at work, stresses on the mind and demands on my body. In sacrificing for something worthwhile, I deeply strengthen my commitment to the Law.
The Japanese believe everyone has an “Ikigai” – a purpose for living. I wish for all of you to explore and find your own “Ikigai”, which is the wonderful culmination of: Mission (“What the world needs”), Passion (“What you love”), Profession (“What you are good at”) and Vocation (“What you can be paid for”). And I will add to the above, your integrity, moral values and religious beliefs to centre your purpose-driven life. When we throw ourselves into a mission for which we have passion, work actually becomes a hobby. Imagine, how nice it is to be paid, and recognized, for doing something worthwhile that you already love doing in the first place! Think about that. What will be your “Ikigai”?
“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it.”
– Steve Jobs
3. Having Grit and a Growth Mindset
Despite our best preparations and giving our all, life is full of punches, anxieties, heartbreaking disappointments and emotional setbacks. I have experienced countless of them and wished I had learnt to deal with them better and recover faster.
Focus on the journey, the process and less on the outcomes. Confront and learn from your mistakes to see how you can do better the next time. Adopt a Growth Mindset - embrace learning, experiment with different opportunities and be ready to adapt and pivot, to volunteer for more responsibilities and not avoid challenges, take considered risks, learn from criticisms/feedback and gain inspiration from the success of others, rather than feeling small or threatened.
Having the tenacity, courage, resilience and grit to not quit, but bounce back from adversity and our mistakes is to me, one of the greatest determinants of whether one will succeed. Our abilities are developed and shaped by the experiences we have in life. Everyone knows how to celebrate success but you should also celebrate failures and the learning you gain from them as they will make you stronger and better prepared for your next challenge. Rather than focusing on the grades or achievements of the new hires whom I am recruiting, I like to ask them to share with me their setbacks and how they overcame them.
4. Leading to Serve Others and Singapore – Above Self HCI’s mission is to nurture leaders in Research, Industry and Government to serve Singapore. All of you are the pillars and future of Singapore. Many of you will take up important positions of leadership and authority to resolve difficult and complex challenges for Singaporeans. These include but are not limited to the existential issue of climate change, economic uncertainties, future health pandemics and perhaps even war we might face as the ongoing Ukraine conflict has grimly reminded us. I quote from the Bible: “To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48)” All of you are blessed with immense talents, the will and the capacity to lead. I urge all of you to hold steadfast in your hearts that the highest calling of leadership is to serve others above self - with integrity, compassion, humility and gratitude. To uplift the weaker ones who may not be able to help themselves, so no one is left behind even as Singapore advances forward. It has been an utmost privilege and blessing for me to lead as General Counsel for GIC. GIC invests globally in order to enhance our national reserves. My team and I ensure that we abide by the laws and regulations of all the countries GIC invests in and to avoid or mitigate any reputational risk concerns for the Singapore Government. I remain highly engaged and passionate about my role in playing a small part in Singapore’s economic defence and protecting this country we call HOME.
Many of you have already started volunteering and doing community service as part of your curriculum, which is wonderful. Put yourselves deep in the shoes of your beneficiaries to further empathize but also to think of tangible ways you can lead and further support them. I started volunteering in earnest since 18, but with the wrong and arrogant mindset then. I thought I was there to benefit them but I quickly realize it is actually the other way around. I have made many incredible friends, learnt and benefitted so much more from these years of serving in the community. It has given me so much joy and much-needed balance in my life. Rather than a life merely full of secular achievements, think about how you can lead a life of purpose and significance.