The first Sunday of digital detox June had me privileged to speak before this year’s participants of the Asia Student Leadership Conference (ASLC). It is organized by The Smile Mission National Student Executive Committee in partnership with the various student chapters from 9 secondary and tertiary institutions in Singapore. The Smile Mission is a global independent charity with activities in 19 countries working together to treat children with facial deformities such as cleft palates. To date, the charity has had 87 completed missions in 13 Asian countries, with a total of 6,843 children benefitting from its operations.
The theme for this year’s ASLC is “INSIDE OUT”, which focuses on how a leaders’ journey intrinsically begins with themselves – from their values and intentions to the strengths and weaknesses that define them. It is only from the inside that they may find their passion, purpose and drive to serve.
Hoped to share my transcript for the sharing given the thoughtful reflections I put into them so here goes – the second in a series of three (find the first here), this one is a lesson I thank Room to Read Global Organisation for teaching me –
“While we are all influencers, just as everything else, there are ones who are more effective than others. I have observed carefully the one skill that make “more effective” influencers so. That one skill is consistency.
More challenging than it sounds, “consistency” here refers not to the achievement of excellent results, but to the consistency of our actions. This is difficult because you can only be truly consistent in your actions if you’re the same person at home and in school, at work or out with friends. These actions are built on beliefs that are based on the values we find close to our heart. To act with consistency means to stand by the same convictions and values regardless of environment and company.
About a year ago, I had been tutoring in a program called “Ulu Pandan Stars Program” (UPstars for short) – what happens is students from Junior Colleges or Secondary Schools are paired up one-to-one to low income children from the Buona Vista neighbourhood, and we provide tuition and social-emotional learning sessions for them based on cognitive ability. The mentor responsible for this elaborate ground-up initiative would bring us on fortnightly home visits to understand their family backgrounds and situations. Every week for one day, I would carry my tired self from school: take the train, then bus and then walk for a couple of minutes to arrive at the study centre. I would hurry myself to have dinner in 15 minutes before the tuition starts – the time that follows is completely dedicated to the child I’ve been assigned to. I listened to her stories about her day, watch her cry away her exhaustion and a fraction of the time would go to brushing up her almost non-existent English literacy. She was 14 years old and we were listening to “ABC songs” on Youtube for a long time.
Many times in the 8 months I was there, I had wanted to give up. Her progress was incredibly slow because we spent so much time releasing her emotional baggage rather than focusing on the academic improvement. I remember nights when I would be tempted to take the straight bus home rather than getting off. Every time I chose to turn up for the tuition class instead, I learned patience.
And yet, at home, I can be the one with the shortest of temperaments to my family members. There was little consistency. I would ask myself, “how is it that I can be so patient in teaching this girl, but not spare a fraction of this patience at home, with the family members who love me most.”
I am still learning, to be consistent. Over the years, just as anyone’s, my identity has been in flux – ever-changing. The values that I hold close to my heart evolve over time, some more lasting than others. To maintain this consistency then, I have learned to practice frequent introspection.
One of the most powerful forms of service from which I find this alignment of values is through advocacy, because one is as convincing advocating for a cause as one believes in it. That requires frequent introspection. Two years ago, I started an RGS Room to Read Chapter, a student interest group that advocates for the Room to Read Global Organisation. “World change starts with educated children,” was our mantra. My courage to advocate was inspired by my gratitude towards the privilege of a quality education that I was so blessed to receive. I wanted to talk to people and spread this awareness of our privilege, easily taken for granted. I wanted them to spend even a minute just thinking about that and appreciating. This is why as a Chapter, our first movement was called the Whiteboard Movement – where we shared our cause and provoked reflection.
This courage to advocate, mustered up over half a year, had to wait till I had aligned the value of gratitude to everything that I did – from showing appreciation for my teachers, taking my work and school attendance seriously, to developing a genuine love for the art of learning. Only then, was I ready to be speaking before anyone about Room to Read Global Organisation. Only then, was there alignment.
So often, the service that I have committed to has only left me only more aligned in my values and actions than before. When people ask me about why I serve, I would answer with the values that service amplifies for me – they are gratitude, humility and empathy. I have been very privileged to have grown up in an intact family, walk the path of a middle class citizen in a beautiful country and have access to opportunities some imagine not of. In my hopes of remaining grounded despite this privilege, these values have become the most important to me.
If you dig deep and think carefully – it may be difficult – but you should be able to come up with the 3 “most important values” for you in the way you lead your life. It could be family, friendship, love or courage; maybe determination, imagination, ambition or celebration. Decide that and then make the intention of every action, every behaviour to amplify these values.
Trust me, that will make any decision easier to make (deciding for yourself which values to live by would be the hardest part). So there, the second critical question is, “What kind of person do I want to be?”