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ownership is the key to planning for success.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent Monday afternoons at Dunearn Secondary School, together with a class of secondary one students. First and foremost, an honest confession – I know that my strength is with developing emerging leaders, so when KK told me that I had to stand-in for him for two sessions, I couldn’t help but to brace myself for the challenge of teaching 13 year olds. I like being around young people, but handling these especially restless students required a higher calling; I applaud KK as well as the school teachers, who have done it for years.

I took a gamble today and conducted an activity that I wasn’t really confident of pulling off or sure if it would succeed. I briefed the class on the six typical roles in a committee – chairperson, secretary, treasurer, publicity coordinator, logistics coordinator and programme coordinator – and got them to plan a fictitious event from scratch. The nominated chairperson in each group would choose from the following events to plan: rock concert, CCA open house, school excursion, iJourney camp, fun fair or sports day. They were given 25 minutes to nail this.

When I handed over the time to them, I was pleased to see how involved they were. I had expected the students to get rowdy and to lose interest but they were so engrossed in the planning and creative process; I had expected them to give up or ask a barrage of questions about the various roles but they grasp their functions pretty quickly. I had given each group an imaginary budget, but after seeing how absorbed they were, I upped their budget ten-fold to encourage them to dream even bigger and get even more creative; their budget calculations, though elementary, really caught me by surprise.

I was secretly delighted at their seriousness in accomplishing the given task. When it was time to present, each chairperson was given five minutes to describe everything the group had discussed; it was truly a sight to behold as every student listened attentively and responded enthusiastically to the wacky ideas tendered. I closed the session by sharing PK’s rags-to-riches story (founder of Nike) and drilled into them the importance of planning – especially if they desired to be successful. I drew parallels from the events-planning exercise and helped them to see that planning precedes success.

I sincerely hope that they caught it and would apply it into their lives. Frankly, I’ve never seen them paying such intense attention before. I gave them another five minutes to translate what they have learnt into fulfilling their childhood dreams. During this time of reflection, one (of the more serious) girls actually planned to move up from the normal technical to the normal academic stream by the end of the year to fulfill her dreams of becoming a rich businesswoman. My heart leaped for joy with her. Pardon the cliché, but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Today, these students taught me a lesson even as I shared my lesson with them – that if you instill belief in people by giving them the key to being responsible for their own planning for success (or failure), they might just surprise you by actually taking ownership of their lives and pilgrimage to success. I was even treated to a bonus exhibition of dandy ideas! I believe that if you empower a young person to dream, they will truly dare to dream along with you. The challenge then, for youth workers like me, is to give them a platform, some perimeters, and to help their see the picture that it takes a team to realise a dream.

This was, without a doubt, the iJourney session that left the greatest impression on me thus far.

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life lessons learnt from a game of musical chairs.

There’s nothing more rewarding than to see people know Christ. Since I’ve entered full-time ministry, my opportunities to interact with non-Christians have been greatly diminished. I’ve always seen myself as an evangelist because of how I came to know Christ and what He has done in my life, so I am thankful for the opportunities presented to me in iJourney – where I’m able to get to know youths who do not yet know Him, and therein lies the challenge to introduce Him to them.

KK conducted an activity for the students in today’s session and he asked if I had wanted to share anything at the end of his debrief. I declined initially, but when the Holy Spirit started to deposit lessons into my heart, I took it up; I’m always quite impressed by how quick the Spirit can impress lessons into me.

These are my observations from a modified version of musical chairs, where the participants’ difficulty of movement was introduced by tying a person’s arm to his or her leg with a short string to simulate aging:

In life, there are three facts; we will all:

  1. Get old – the most certain thing about life is death.
  2. Face new challenges – for that comes with age and changing environments.
  3. Experience suffering – in various intensities and variety.

And so there are three things we can do:

  1. Do not complain – for it doesn’t change our situation, solve our problem or make us feel any better about what we are going through.
  2. Help one another – assistance is always appreciated and it increases efficiency and reduces frustration. A word of encouragement goes a long way, even if it’s just a word. Learn to look out for each other.
  3. Walk together – competition is good, but it could be venomous. Everyone gets there safely when we walk at an agreed pace, without anyone lagging behind, speeding up or overtaking; don’t leave anyone behind.

I think that when students eventually leave the world of academia and enter what’s commonly known as the “real” world (as if life as students is an illusion) they will be thrown challenges from all directions simply because of how unnecessarily cruel meeting the world’s expectations can get. So instead of fight each other, why don’t we get on the same side, join hands and do battle together? I’m idealistic, but I’m not wrong.

the difference between a job and a career.

I spent some time deliberating this over the past couple of days. I found some interesting attempts at defining and differentiating the two. These definitions are amongst the first few to appear when I googled the above question:

“Your job is what you are doing today. Your career is what you’ve done over the past years and what you plan to do in the future… Your job feeds you and your family today. Your career will feed you and your family tomorrow and beyond.”

“The job pays your bills, and a career is a path you’ve taken (hopefully because you enjoy it) to attain or keep the ideal job for you.”

“A career is something that you build during your lifetime. Jobs are often times task-oriented positions to help meet the goals of an organisation or business. Jobs are often a means to an end… Sometimes jobs lead to careers.”

“A job is something you do simply to earn money; a career is a series of connected employment opportunities. A job has minimal impact on your future work life, while a career provides experience and learning to fuel your future. A job offers few networking opportunities, but a career is loaded with them. When you work at a job, you should do the minimum without annoying the boss. When you’re in a career, you should go the extra mile, doing tasks beyond your minimum job description.”

There’s an endless list of dichotomous definitions but they are largely synonymous.

I remember learning this from somewhere – maybe in one of KK’s workshop (?) – that in a career, people usually stay for a long time and “climb” up the organisational ladder; the good ones care about the welfare and well-being of the company and its employees. To a certain extent, they live for others. Whereas a job is just something people do from 9am to 5pm and remain indifferent to just about everything except for the accuracy and arrival of their paycheck. To another extent, they live for themselves.

Now, this gets me thinking about my own predicament – is it a job or a career? I know for sure that during my army days, it was a job – I did what I was expected to do; on good days, I go the extra mile and on bad days, I do the bare minimum. When I was in Shanghai, it felt a little different because I treated it like my own company. There wasn’t such a thing called “Official Working Hours” simply because at the management level, you work as hard and as long as you’re required to; my boss did not believe in overtime pay for the managers because it was expected of us to get the job done and the project(s) completed. AT’s an excellent boss, and although sometimes he’s quite a slave-driver, he has successfully imbued in us managers the all-important ownership of the company.

So this brings me back to me today as a youth minister with Grace Assembly of God. Is this my job? Not really, because I’d have been imparting my life into young people anyway even if I was an army officer or a marketing manager – I’m just doing it full-time on a more intensive level. Is this my career then? Not really too, because I do not even know if I will be doing this for the long run. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m committed to what I have signed on to do, but I’m keener to listen to God’s prompting. The last thing I want is to overstay – I think that would be absolutely meaningless. But if God tells me to go, I’d be gone in an instant – I’m not worried about transitions and to start out all over again in any industry because I have confidence in my ability to excel wherever I go.

Hence, my answer to the question above – the difference between a job and a career is to know your calling in life and to pursue that calling wholeheartedly in any given time or space instead of being in an occupation for a season of life. I’ve said this to quite a number of people – in my current “job”, while it’s slightly easier than the previous ones because my gifting and skills-set are tailor-made for it, I’ve also poured in double the work hours and emotional involvement. Yet I feel that since I’ve joined Grace in October 2009, I’ve not worked a single day at all simply because I am pursuing what I believe God has intended for me to pursue for this season of my life.

Have you found your calling? Are you stuck with a job? Or are you caught in a career?

please don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

I’ve always opined that one hallmark of a responsible youth speaker (i.e. a person who speaks to young people) is to be authentic. KK, RY and AY are good examples who exhibit this crucial quality. You should never tell a young person something for the mere sake of saying it because it inspires them; I think that motivational speakers should avoid telling their audience something that is beyond their reach or is statistically almost impossible for them to attain. That’s not inspiring – that’s just bluffing.

Recently, I heard a youth speaker’s sharing with a group of young people and the contents of his sharing really caused me to raise both my eyebrows at him. First and foremost, there are only a handful of us who are musically or athletically gifted enough to make a living out of it; and even so, it takes years of dedication and that one good break. I think it’s all well and good if such a person has found success with his skill and talent but honestly and realistically, the odds of that happening are extremely low. While speakers should encourage and inspire, I think they also need to be socially responsible by not raising young people to a pedestal that they’ll struggle to get on. At the day’s end, hopes are unrealistically raised and cruelly dashed, and this results in a disillusioned youth.

After his talk was over, I saw his autograph and note to one of the girls. He wrote something like, “I believe in you – that you will be successful in life – I need you to believe in yourself.” He also openly declared that he loved the young people there but come on! Did he really mean it? I know I’m quick to judge here, but there was nothing that felt right in my spirit that night. I mean, what do all the words really mean to these youths if it comes from a stranger who doesn’t even know them! I was disgusted.

He then proceeded to share his five figure salary with everyone and stopped short of saying that he made it without completing his ‘O’ levels. What a dangerously reckless thing to declare! I believe he had a good intention to inspire them and his lesson also had two words dear to my heart – passion and desire – but pragmatically speaking, one would struggle make a living out with just these two qualities alone. There must be commitment and discipline to complement your passion and desire.

I was scheduled to speak after him and initially I had only wanted to share a short anecdote about the choices I’ve made when I was 13 years old but I felt the Spirit prompting me to balance and mediate what he shared to present a clearer picture. Hence I proceeded to talk about choices, perspective and attitude instead. I don’t deny it – he was a charismatic speaker with excellent oration skills but I wasn’t comfortable at all with the contents and attitude of his lesson; it was good but it was severely inadequate. And I will even go as far to say that it was irresponsible teaching.

Let us never tell someone that we believe in them if we do not know who they are, where they’ve come from and what they can do. Let us never tell someone that we love them if we’re unable to follow it up with action, for love is a verb; I think that it was impetuous for him to come into a session, where he’d probably meet the group for the first and last time, and to tell them that he loves and believes in them. This doesn’t sit well with me. We are all different – everyone had a different past, have a different present and will have a different future. The question then, is, are you happy? My answer – I’ve probably said it a million times – I could always be happier but I am situationally contented.

The reason why I dare to say I believe in young people isn’t that I think they have the ability to fulfil their potential but that I believe in what God can and will do through them. Before I say those potentially empowering or devastating words, I would deliberate for a long time and ask God to first give me a heart for them.

“Oh Lord, give me the contentment to accept what I have and the peace to accept what I do not have. I pray that the Lord will do damage control in the hearts of these young people whose ears these words fell on. Their future is in Your hands alone so may I learn to trust in You alone – the beginning and the end. Deal with me. I love You, Lord.”

and the winner of the NKJV Bible is…

First and foremost, thank you for all your submissions! I didn’t receive as many as I had hoped for, but it was certainly more than I had expected! I’m happy either way. Of course, I lay the blame of the not-so-hot response on the laid-back Asian mentality and the aiya-don’t-want-lah-so-paiseh attitude. It’s never my own undoing, right? :P

Anyway, I have looked through and enjoyed reading all the submissions! I have already selected the winner and will announce the result in the coming days, together with the winning entry! Keep your eyes peeled on this blog because for the first time in my blogging history (do allow me to self-hype), I will publish someone else’s writing in its entirety! Nonetheless, since it’s my competition, I will bend my rules and declare that I still accept entries until 20th May, but the bar has been raised and any subsequent entries would have to better the existing ones by a mile!

On a more serious note, I humbly request that you keep a few of us in prayer, as the Spirit leads you, over the next few days. ET, SW, TT, NL, LS and KJ, together with KK and I, will be at a camp called iJourney, from Monday to Wednesday. This annual programme is conducted for the Secondary 1 Normal Technical students and selected Secondary 3 student leaders from Dunearn Secondary School. It’s a great opportunity for us to plant seeds in these young lives, as well as to be demonstrate Christ-like testimonies for them.

I have already written in advance and have scheduled daily posts to (still) be published at the stroke of every midnight. So if you keep reading and commenting, I will surely keep writing. I told LK that writing daily has become such a habit that this catharsis is turning into an obsession. And I think it’s a good one.

For now, I think it’s time to kill the monotony of words and to colour the blog. I took this picture of the magnificent birds’ eye view of the Seogwipo World Cup Stadium in Jeju, South Korea, when I was atop the hot-air balloon. I remember telling myself that this would be the closest that I’d ever get to any World Cup. This is the breathtaking scenery 150-metres above ground! Enjoy!

the big time and the small time.

During the peak of an event that I was a part of, some 30 minutes before it started, the organiser stormed into the room and blew her head off at all the seemingly inconsequential matters. She lost her cool and threw unnecessary tantrums to and in front of everyone. My colleague simply commented, “这种人,做不了大事” (direct translation – this kind of person, cannot accomplish big things). I couldn’t help but agree with his harsh and cruel but very accurate assessment!

Looking back at all the different people I’ve worked with, I realise that I can somehow tell how successful a person is and can be simply by observing how he handles his roles and responsibilities, or by how he responds to stress. To an extent, those who cannot undertake major events are usually those who will crumble when the going gets tough. One man whom I really admire is my uncle and former boss, AT. I cannot find a better word other than “Hero” to describe him; his problem-solving and stress-taking abilities are nonpareil and I really look up to him in that aspect.

Assessing a person based on his capacities to manage pressure is not a fatalistic way of evaluation, but it certainly is one way you could analyse him. Of course it’s always easier to just do what you’re comfortable with and prepared for, so naturally it’s the unexpected that truly tests a person’s competence to cope with the bigger things in life. At least for me it indicates the stage that one can operate on and how big it can get.

Don’t misunderstand me – there’s nothing wrong if you’re only able to handle a small platform at this point of your life. The question is, are you even able to handle that platform? I reckon that discontentment, disappointment and disillusionment will set in when a small-platform person desires and covets a big stage that he cannot handle (and vice versa). So, how aware are you of how and what you are built for?

I guess we’ll figure out the answer to this million-dollar question as we progress through life and figure out the answers while we discover how much we can actually manoeuvre. So remember that one sign of your threshold to handle big matters is simply how you complain about small matters. I remember the three key lessons from KK’s excellent lesson during the leaders’ retreat – do not complain (about your situation), do not justify (your actions) and take responsibility (for yourself).

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