I meant to write this post long time ago but somehow it didn’t happen. A lot of people would tell you that Singapore is a boring place to live in and I partly agree with them. People would tell you that if you live in Singapore, you become a robot, just wake up go to work, then come back home late at night, day in day out. I did feel very bored myself in the past, after about 8 years in Singapore.
Looking back now, I have to thank Singapore for many good things happened in my life.
A kid playing in a big University
I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life before coming to Singapore. Like many students in high school in my generation, all I knew back then was to study hard. I was much more immature compared to others because I didn’t even know what I liked to do and had no ideas how important university time was. I didn’t appreciate the importance of being fluent in foreign languages, of life long learning, or passion etc… I just simply followed my parents’ guidance of studying hard and going overseas for my higher education. I didn’t know how to plan for my life even at the age of 18 and didn’t appreciate the terms “wealth”, “money” among many things. I didn’t consciously choose Engineering for university either, rather it chose me.
Well I hope you got the picture. I was very immature back then even after high school, young in many ways. I had no inner voice, no conviction about what I wanted to do in life. I used to think that lawyer or fortune teller would be suitable for me simply because I saw some cool characters on TV.
For the first year in Singapore I remained “young”. I played online games all day and didn’t pay much attention to school. All I knew was that school was boring and engineering was not something I wanted to do later on. I had no idea how college could help me figuring out what I wanted to do in life.
I continued watching different TV series during day time and played online games with friends at night. We got pretty competitive and joined a couple of games competitions in school. We even went as far as convincing the university to allow us organising games competition at University level between teams from different countries.
Miraculously I didn’t fail any subjects and managed to keep my full scholarship throughout. Looking back I still couldn’t believe how that could happen. Before exams, my friends were very scared for me! because they knew I didn’t study at all. If you happened to be my lab partners during those days, you would be very frustrated because I often skipped labs!
Connecting the dots
The whole thing changed because of a series of events before graduation:
- I stumbled upon “friends” the TV series and love it so much that I literally completed watching 10 seasons non stop in 1 week. I started everyday at 6-7 am and watched all the way until 11pm or 12am. I ordered take aways to save time at school canteen. Then over the next few years, I continued re-watching “friends” again for almost like 10 times (10 times, the whole 10 seasons each time) until the point I could know exactly what was being said and turned off the sound while watching. I started using the English name “Chandler” because I love that character so much! and that was how I am now known to many of you as Chandler. Moreover, “friends” dramatically improved my English level because I could listen much better and my comprehension improve.
- For an “unknown” reason, again I chanced upon a movie called “What the Bleep!?: Down the rabbit hole“. I watched and then re-watched this movie a number of times as well. While watching the movie, I could see that what I learned in high school about Quantum physics actually played a role here because it helped me to understand from a scientific point of view of what was said in the movie. I like this movie a lot. It opened my mind on what life could mean to me.
A couple of years later, there was another movie called “the secret“. The secret movie is like the simplified version of “What the Bleep Down the Rabbit hole”
- The book “7 habits of highly effective people“: this is a classic book I know, so I won’t go too much into that. What it deeply touched me was the exercise of imagining your own funeral. It was so profound, something that no one ever put it like that to me before. I knew from that moment what criteria/guidance I should use to make difficult decision. Looking back at life from your own funeral point of view is both liberating and overwhelming! You know exactly what is important and what is not. You found your inner self!
- Last but not least Steve Jobs Commencement Speech at Standford! It was transformational, beautiful and made a huge impression on me. I would still remember clearly his three stories on that day about “Connecting the dots”, “Love and Loss” and “Death”. From his speech: “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and 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’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.“
I literally followed his advice and started working on what I loved to do after graduation instead of trying to get a high pay engineering job.
A friend of mine introduced me to Google Adwords during my third year in college. At that time Adwords system was no where near what it is today. I still remember one of the very first ebooks that I read, it was “Definite Guide to Google Adwords” by Perry Marshall.
Adwords was all new back then, back in 2003, 2004. When you talked to people, most of them didn’t know what it was. May be that was part of the reasons why I love it, the feeling of being a pioneer in something.
So you could imagine my parents’ horror when I told them that I was going to join an agency, specialising in Search Engine Marketing after graduation with a salary that was only half of what my friends were making. They had no idea what it was but they told me if I liked it, they would support it. I didn’t know at the time display media, email marketing or digital marketing. All I knew was that Search Engine Marketing seemed fun and I enjoyed doing it. And if I love it, it would be enough.
I don’t know how but I owe the way I am thinking, my approach to life, my international outlook and many things that I have now personally to Singapore. I could see things both from a traditional Vietnamese mindset and from a western mindset. There is a huge difference between the two mindsets. However, by understanding both, I find it is much easier to communicate and do things.
With a more international outlook, I find that life long learning is not only possible but getting easier and easier to do. A lot of things you could find on iTunes U nowadays. Apple has done a fantastic job regarding education and now while being at the leisure of my home, I could still watch lectures from Standford, Harvard or follow courses from other universities. Stanford has excellent support for entrepreneurship with their Entrepreneurship corner, regular talk with world famous entrepreneurs from various fields. Courses on iTunes U come with lecture notes, homework, and many other course materials so if you really want to study something, there are more than enough materials in various formats for you.
In summary, I am truly grateful that Singapore has brought me so many great things in my life. I am pretty sure that if i didn’t go to Singapore and spend about 8 years there, I would not be who I am today. I would not be working in Digital marketing and so forth.