10 Ls and 1 Epic Selfie

I’ve had a few people asking if there’s a copy of that speech I gave at NUS. Actually yes, but I left the script somewhere in the changing room. Thankfully, there’s a copy I saved on Evernote. So… here it is. (If you’re not one for reading, the video is available here – look for the 8 July afternoon session. Not mac-friendly.)


Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, NUS President, Distinguished Guests, Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was seated where you are, looking up at your lecturers who are today dressed unlike any other time you’ve seen them. Welcome to Hogwarts for a day, and yes, there is that magic in the air.

I’m extremely honoured to be the first Communications & New Media alumnus to be invited back to stand up here to rally the troops before you go forth and conquer the world.

But after the initial thrill of being invited to give this speech, I did some intense soul searching. So intense that I ended up with 2 days of MC at home, wondering what sagely advice I could possible give. For those of you who’ve continually aced it through your academic lives and have jobs lined up after graduation, maybe you can tune out, go shopping on Gmarket, or whatever it is that overachievers like you do in your spare time. My speech is for everyone else that is somewhereabouts average, to tell you that there is hope for being in the bulge of the Bell curve.

For the record, I scored 2 A*s, 2As with an aggregate of 255 for my PSLE, a smattering of As and Bs for my O levels, and a B, E and D for my A-levels. Finished off with a second lower honours in 2003 with the economy is in the dumps. So after my decent start, I barely scraped into NUS by the skin of my teeth. Then, through a combination of hard work, smart work and some good fortune in the last 15 years, I’ve managed to do well enough to be deemed worthy of standing before you. So let me share with you the ingredients of my secret sauce in a series of 10 “L”s


With NUS constantly ranked amongst the world’s top universities, it looks like you guys have everything you need to go out there and succeed. But that can’t be farther from the truth. Kudos to your lecturers who’ve given you the solid foundation on which to build on, but really, there’s much more that you’re not going to learn in a classroom or lecturer theatre. Henceforth, cherish every scolding, failure, bad experience, because there’s nothing like learning first hand for something to be seared into your memory.

Case in point: When I started in my stint at AsiaOne, i clearly recall the first story I wrote being ripped to shreds by a very senior writer named Philip Lee. This was just after I had left as manager/editor of a website called Youth.SG where I called the shots. Now I felt less qualified than some of the interns around me. I had to swallow my pride and try again. And again. And again. Until one day, one of the stories that I filed came back from Philip untouched, with just 2 words on it – “Good story”. That’s when I knew that there was hope for me.


In the classes you’ve attended, or for the guys who’ve been through NS, what’s the standard reaction when someone asks for a volunteer? Everyone looks down and pretends they have something better to do.

When I was offered the role of Head of New Media at the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, I felt unsure of myself, and really didn’t know if I had the chops to do it. I eventually took the plunge, and I think I did pretty well, leading more than 100 staff and volunteers during the Games. Not something I would have thought I’d be able to do.

If you’re offered a job that requires that you do exactly what you’ve been comfortable doing before, then maybe it’s not worth your while. I’ve been lucky because each of my jobs has been a progression upward, where I’ve been given new responsibilities beyond what I’m used to doing, thus forcing me out of my comfort zone.

Too often, we think we’re inadequate for some of the mammoth tasks that are thrust upon us. Sometimes, the opportunity stares us in the face but we are too scared to even try. Why? Maybe we’ve been told we’re not good enough. Stop being afraid. Stop being the chao recruit and look up.


Sometimes it’s not guts that we lack, but we doubt ourselves because of the naysayers around who whisper doubts in our ears. You know what “trolls” are, right? The people who live online with nothing better to do in life apart from declaring that everything sucks. Don’t feed the trolls, online and offline – Don’t entertain them, don’t give them more attention. They are the ones who will tell you it can’t be done, that it’s better to be mediocre. “Haters gonna hate”. Leave them, or else you’ll end up being one of them.


Like that song from Frozen that you’ve probably heard a million times, learn to let go. Too often we are held back by our the past. Whether it’s the boss who unfairly blamed you for something, or that boyfriend/girlfriend who tells you “It’s not you, it’s me”, you need to let go. If you keep holding on to the past, you won’t have the hands to grab on to what’s coming.


As Asians, maybe we were brought up as kids to not speak until spoken to. Then we came to university and the lecturers tried to get us to speak up. After that, some of us just won’t shut up. It’s confusing, right? Well I’m telling you today that it helps to “listen” more. You don’t need to take a vow of silence or anything, but when you listen more, people are more likely to want to listen when you have something to say. And to those of you who can’t stop talking, you’ll eventually be treated like background noise and filtered out. There’s a reason why we’ve been given 2 ears and only 1 mouth – Listen twice as much as you speak.

Also, as Singapore gets more crowded, it’s important that you learn to be comfortable in your own skin, comfortable sitting in silence detached from Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and whatever it is that has you perpetually plugged into your mobile phone. Take time to sit with your thoughts, to achieve clarity. You’ll be amazed at how many people are uncomfortable with this. They may just talk so they don’t have to sit in silence, and that’s when you can find out some interesting insights.


It’s a very powerful tool in your arsenal if you can put a smile on someone’s face. Even more powerful if you can make them laugh. This doesn’t mean you should always be the clown because then nobody will take you seriously, but it’s an important social skill to be able to read a room and know how to get them on your side with a self-depracating comment or witticism. And for all the single guys, you’ll see that most ladies will always say they want someone who can make them laugh. So yes, it’s important.


I have had colleagues who may have decided to marry their jobs. It’s not uncommon to hear of people working insane hours at work, and then posting their “humble brags” on Facebook. Is it really that cool to be working 12-16 hours every day? Sometimes we say we don’t have a choice, but often we do. It’s a matter of prioritising, and it really helps if you can find something else to focus on outside of work.

It could be a hobby, a sport, a new language, a love interest. Anything that takes you away from your work emails and your desk. As I’ve told some of my younger colleagues, “if nobody dies or loses their job because you haven’t done it, it’s really not that important.” For me, shooting pool has always been a good way to unwind. Recently I’ve also taken to swimming, cycling and running and lost more than 10 kg in the process. Looking forward to my first triathlon in a couple of months too, so wish me luck.


Here’s one very practical tip from me today. Go start your LinkedIn profile if you don’t have one already. If you do have one, keep it updated and differentiated. Go kaypo and see what your peers have in their profiles, and improve on yours. Make sure you have a decent photo up there too. I’ve LinkedIn to thank for my current job, and I still get calls every once in awhile from headhunters. Nowadays, when people ask me for my CV, I just send them the link to my LinkedIn profile.


Parents, great job getting your kids here and I think you can rest easy now. Now’s the time for them to find their path and thrive.

Lecturers, I hope you continue to leave your doors open to your ex-students. I’ve had the benefit of good counsel from Professors like Dr Lim Sun Sun, and Dr Millie Rivera who went from being my teachers to being my friends after graduation. Thank you for all the good advice!

Graduates, give thanks to your parents and your teachers. Go give them a hug right after this. Know that some of you are going to find your feet quickly, while some of you may take longer to what you want out of life, which brings me to the last “L”.


Support each other, be there for each other. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And certainly don’t be afraid to offer it. One of my most important mentors, Dr Francis Chong, former Dy CEO at the Youth Olympic Games once shared that in the event that we find ourselves in despair and helpless situations, go look for someone to help. And it doesn’t need to be a Noble prize winning act, just something simple. Could be the cleaning lady, your neighbour, or even a stranger. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel afterward.

So, in summary, keep LEARNing, don’t be afraid to LEAD, stay away from LOSERS, learn to LET IT GO, remember to LISTEN, it helps if you can make people LAUGH, find LOVE outside of work, get on LINKEDIN, LIVE YOUR OWN LIFE, and LEAN ON ME.

Congratulations, Class of 2014.

Time to go out there and find your own secret sauce…. but first, let me take a selfie.

Where's Wally?
Eat your heart out, Ellen!

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