Came home after work, turned on my computer and checked my own blog. I found this comment:
"Mr. Wang, for each person who made it to compete, let alone win, in the Olympics, there must be hundreds of thousands if not millions who aspire to that. It is wise for the average person to bear that in mind. Most champions are born and identified early in life. Goals must be realistic and commensurate with one's ability. Otherwise, many will end up with miserable lives."
The anonymous commentator went on to give various examples to show that success in life is mostly attributable to random chance and dumb luck. Of course I disagreed and in response, supplied a link to an old post of mine, back in May 2005, where I had previously written:
"... I have tremendous respect for human potential. I am usually quite easily convinced that most people can achieve many quite great things in their lives. I have even made public speeches where I tell the audience, "Hey, YOU can achieve great things."
Nevertheless, I am a realist. Although I believe that most people can achieve great things, I also believe that most people won't. The greatest reason is that THEY don't believe that they themselves can achieve great things.
And really - nobody ever wins an Olympic medal, or becomes CEO, by accident. Nobody ever writes a bestselling novel, or becomes a multimillionaire entrepreneur, or gets a PhD, by accident. Whatever your definition of a "great thing" may be, it just won't happen if you don't do it."
After that, I turned off my computer, and went to check my mail (not my email, but my hardcopy mail). Okay, let's see, bills, ads, flyers, bank statements ...... and hey, a new book. Its author had sent me a complimentary copy. Flipping through the pages, I found this passage:
The Dark Side of Pragmatism - Social Myopia
Programmed to Fail
In the year 1990, I was still studying in the Swiss Cottage Secondary School, a government school which was located in Dunearn Road ... In those bad old days, I could hardly spell "myopia". I was, however, a big fan of Rick Astley.
A group of lecturers from the polytechnics came down to our school. These wise guys sought to represent the interests of the polytechnics in Singapore. And their agenda was to come over to a government school to encourage us to forget our dreams to get into a good junior college and subsequently a university.
.... one of the lecturers said that based on statistics, fewer than 50% of students who had double digit aggregates for their O-levels would be able to make it to the local universities. The good lecturers then went on to reason that this makes polytechnics a pragmatic choice because by choosing a diploma over a degree, a student may save two years in a junior college and even begin to contribute to the economy at a much younger age.
That very same year I scored 11 points for my O-levels. It was one of the biggest heartbreaks in my life in a country which measures a person's worth by the number of distinctions he gets. Still I have never regretted fighting tooth and nail to get into National Junior College. The difference it made to my life and confidence was tremendous. Till this day, I wonder what would have happened had I taken the polytechnic lecturer's advice. Would I have even graduated from university? Would I even have been a writer and working hard to fulfil my aspirations this very day?"
I turned to the first few pages of the book, to the "About the Author" section. I found out that not only did he make it to NUS, he also obtained 1st Class Honours in Electrical Engineering.
He then went on to get a Masters of Science in Applied Finance, as well as a bunch of qualifications in the two separate fields of IT and Finance: the MCSE, MSCD, CISSP, CISA, PMP, FRM, CAIA and CMFAS qualifications, and now he's on his way to becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst.
In case you didn't know, the CFA is probably the most internationally recognised financial qualification in the world. Definitely much more widely recognised than my own humble little law degree from NUS.
Flipped back to page 33 of the book, where the author wrote:
Pragmatic Use of Statistics
The name of Pragmatism is often invoked along with statistics and figures. Pragmatism does what works, based on the statistical analysis - it never takes into consideration the power of the human spirit and our ability to often surprise ourselves. It never considers the possibility that someone would want to excel simply because he wants to show the world that someone from a government school can trounce a member of the super-elite gifted club in the universities.
In many ways, my batch of classmates from Swiss Cottage Secondary School that year were subtly programmed to fail by the policy makers. After all, the numbers say it all - if you ever succeed it is only because you are lucky.
In such a case, Pragmatism when wrongly applied can destroy your very dreams and aspirations."
The book I've been reading is Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity. It is the second book written by Christopher Ng Wai Chung (who happens to be a regular reader and faithful fan of my blog). And I'll be telling you more about his book in the near future. But for now, I'll just leave you this thought. Look at the anonymous comment again:
"Goals must be realistic and commensurate with one's ability. Otherwise, many will end up with miserable lives."
... and compare it to Mr Wang's words:
"Although I believe that most people can achieve great things, I also believe that most people won't. The greatest reason is that THEY don't believe that they themselves can achieve great things."
Then further consider both statements in light of Christopher's personal story. And ask yourself - which is the likelier path to a miserable life? (1) To dare to try to succeed, like Chris .... or (2) to water down your goals, blame your luck and just accept mediocrity?