For context, I am not the brightest student. I came from a normal academic background, had a great education at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and subsequently completed my Business Administration degree with NUS.
My parents were ‘no-collar’ workers (i.e., unemployed) for the most part and did not have a formal education. Though they imparted values that have helped carry me far in life, there wasn’t anyone I could turn to for life or career advice, nor was there any network I could rely on.
I did have plenty of luck though.
Securing a scholarship back then felt like a prerequisite for me to pursue higher education due to financial constraints. That pushed me to take this endeavor particularly seriously.
I was lucky to have teachers who cared and mentors who gave me pockets of great advice here and there. Also, with the internet, library, and a plethora of training provided by Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I was able to access a ton of helpful resources that funded my diploma, degree, and overseas exchanges.
While there was an incredible amount of luck involved, I thought about the practical advice that I could give someone starting out today to help create a similar set of opportunities.
Follow your interests and read widely. When you cultivate a love and habit for reading, it becomes a superpower. Reading allows you to pick the minds of the smartest and wisest folks, to learn from their experiences.
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.” —Charlie Munger
Reading widely fine-tunes your thinking and creates depth which becomes very helpful during interviews or when writing essays for scholarship applications.
Be Genuine when Networking
I prefer networking that allows me to (1) understand what drives a person and (2) form meaningful relationships.
At any networking event, focus on the quality of conversations and not the quantity.
There are real benefits to building a network around you. After all, most good opportunities in life comes through the ‘third-door’.
“To be interesting, be interested.”—Dale Carnegie
Be genuinely interested in others and ask what are they working on. You will be surprised how much you can learn from them and the relationships you can build by simply asking, “What are you working on?”.
If you balk at the idea of walking up to a stranger and introducing yourself, you can let others know your interests or what projects you are working on by writing online.
With the internet, distributing ideas, scaling up, and attracting opportunities cost next to nothing. This is one of the best ways to create ‘luck’ and many opportunities have presented themselves when I let the world know what I have been working on.
Master the Art of ‘Selling Yourself’
If there’s one skill that stood the test of time, it is the ability to sell.
During my schooling years, I signed up for public speaking and interviewing courses provided by my schools. The only way to get over my fear of speaking was to keep practicing.
I felt the proudest when I came in top for my Business Communications class.
Overcoming my fear of speaking was a long and painful process but it continues to pay dividends till today. You are short-changing yourself when you are unable to pitch effectively at your target audience, especially if you have great ideas.
You Are Enough
The biggest obstacle to most things worth pursuing is often yourself.
The voice of self-doubt will always linger in your head.
“How can I compete with those from elite schools?”
“My grades are not even as good as my peers.”
“I won’t do well with interviews.”
The truth is you are probably capable of more than you think you are. But the fear of failure is drowning you out.
If you often struggle with fear, and if it has inhibited you from chasing after your goals, list down what you are afraid of, the worst-case scenario and what solutions could be implemented to prevent or resolve the issue.
This exercise is called fear-setting and has been helpful with dispelling the doubtful voice in my head.
Don’t compare your day 1 to someone else’s day 100.
We often look at accomplished people with awe. The fact is that they had to start somewhere as well. What we don’t see is the amount of blood, sweat and tears they put in. When starting out, don’t judge yourself too harshly by comparing yourself to them.
The best time to start anything worth pursuing was yesterday. The next best time is today.
Some Final Words
I hope this has been helpful for all the students out there, especially for those who have difficulties affording an education. While our school fees are generously subsidized, getting a scholarship would significantly ease your family’s finances.
Start creating your own luck. Find out what resources your school is able to provide—interview training, letters of recommendation, or networking sessions.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article.
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