By Benjamin Loh, Professional Speaker and Speaking Coach, and Alumnus of SMU School of Accountancy
To say COVID-19 has impacted many people in an unprecedented fashion is no overstatement.
The past 2 months in Singapore, we’ve seen businesses folding, workers being laid off, massive changes to how work and life have been organised and delivered, couples getting engaged live via Zoom to relationships coming to an end. It’s like someone hit the big “reset” button on life’s CPU.
And there’s this one group, the #Millennials and early Gen Z-ers, who are “graduating into a recession”.
Reading this article gave me mixed feelings.
On one end, it’s terribly unenviable to have to vie for jobs in such an “abysmal” market. And if you are fortunate enough to secure a job, the “business as usual” seems to be mechanical and “cold”—from virtual interviews to virtual onboarding to virtual work delivery and meetings.
I think “first days” at a lively workplace can not only be symbolic, but also memorable and humanising. But now, without the human and physical factor, I think we all agree we have to make do with this “new normal”
On the other end, I do think the pandemic has served on a platter to all of us (young or not), a wonderful space for introspection and deep personal review (while we are locked at home)—whether you manage to secure a “dream job” or “any job”, or are still waiting at the bay.
I first met Hal Gregersen (executive director of the MIT Leadership Center) in Vienna end 2018 and he shared about his book, Questions Are the Answer — A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life.
In his book, he also quoted Peter Drucker:
“The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers. It is to find the right question.” — Peter Drucker
I hope you don’t get a job like this 😅
In this spirit, I thought that if I’m a graduating student in the Class of 2020, it’s not my place or within my capability to provide answers (that’ll be too presumptuous of me).
But if I’m one of you, these are some golden questions I’d ask myself:
Q1 — Who am I? Who am I not?
I think this is such a fundamental question that we don’t ask ourselves enough. The two sides and faces of this question constantly unpeel deeper layers of our identity.
Doing so helps us to question if the “opportunities” that come our way are a good fit with who we are (or not).
Take, for example, I am (have not been) NOT someone who plays well under highly-structured environments and reporting lines. Instead, I knew I am someone who performs at my best when I am given the autonomy and ability to create. So I had rejected opportunities to work in a big-4 accounting firm (and took a 60 per cent pay-cut) to work at a small firm upon graduation.
Q2 — What are those moments in my life that has sparked my genius and flow?
Success leaves clues.
As you were growing up or even during your undergraduate years, ask yourself when were the moments you felt you were so “used” in the process but in a good way? The moments that the genius from within you was tapped and you were your “best self” producing your “best work”?
I’ve met people in their 40s and 50s who have told me (often in a tone of resignation and nonchalance):
“I’m in this job. It pays me well enough. It’s good but I don’t think I’m great at it.”
Behind and beneath this tone is a sense of “what if”. What if I had followed and pursued what I think I can be great at?
I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who rather pursues what I can be great at, even if I do fail at it.
I’d rather that than cruise through life not uncovering the true potential that lies within me and just be…“good enough”.
Q3 — Who has inspired me to be a better version of myself? How and why?
Do an audit of the people you’ve met in your life, thus far.
Who has lifted you up? Who has inspired you in one way or the other, to be a better version of yourself? Who is living the life you’re envisioning?
Our modern society sometimes puts celebrities and CEOs on the aspirational pedestal. But for me, I found inspiration in my professors, mentors and everyday people who choose to fiercely pursue their life in a bold and unyielding fashion.
Is it their ways of coping with the challenges in life? Is it the energy and presence they exude? Is it their unique world views and how they construct their lives?
All these resonate with me. But what about you?
These wonderful people appear in our lives to give us hints on what our next few steps could be like.
Q4 — What environments and conditions, do I thrive under?
Do you crave titles, glamour and recognition, or do you just want to get the work done?
Are you someone who thrives under structured processes with clearly defined goals and targets? Or are you someone who loves making sense within creative mess?
Do you perform well and at your best when you have accountabilities from the top and your team? Or can you be self-motivated enough to drive to your own success?
Which phases of a project excite you most? Starting out and hunting for opportunities, rallying team and resources, consolidation and growth, or creating stability and renewal?
I know, these questions may be overly dichotomous. But it does give a guide for you to find out where are the best places for you to discover and uncover your best self.
Q5 — What makes me happy?
Yes, the last question is not about money. Yet, it’s also about money.
I know you think I’m waxing lyrical but the truth is that money is a form of energy and currency exchange of value you can deliver. Psychologists have for the longest time, tried to find out what’s the “financial satiation” point (answer: US$84k, 2016 terms).
Simply put, earning beyond that won’t make you significantly happier and satisfied in life.
I think a better question is to ask yourself (since you are leading your life 24/7) is a question of ‘what makes you happy’.
Again, I think happiness is such an under-celebrated concept which modern-day people writing it off as being “naive”. But I think happiness shouldn’t be an uncertain end-point.
It is a necessary premise for you to do great work.
For example, I am happy when I can make a true difference as a teacher helping professionals be better at expressing themselves and helping organisations be more connected with the younger generation. That led me to pursue my work as a corporate coach and professional coach and earning about three to five times what my peers are earning now as finance professionals.
‘What if what makes me happy, doesn’t pay the bills?’
Yes, I get that too.
But while it’s a bliss only for some of us to find sheer happiness in the work we do and be financially rewarded for it, all I’m saying here is don’t neglect the reasons and space for you to seek and experience happiness. It still can be a passion as a side hustle or hobby, while you get paid on your “day job”.
Don’t let that die out or wait to arrive at happiness only after 20 or 30 years. Oftentimes, it may never come if you don’t seek and guard it.
Worse still, don’t make your waking hours a pursuit for and of money while every part of it just saps the life and happiness out of you.
These questions are not meant to be exhaustive or an end in itself. Great questions provoke deeper inquiry and clarification like they have done so for me and many others.
What other questions might you share with the Class of 2020 as they step into throes of this global recession?
Share them with us!👇🏻
Benjamin Loh is the youngest Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) in Asia, Executive Public Speaking Coach, TEDx Speaker and Regional Author on Millennial Matters. He has coached over 100 corporate executives and entrepreneurs individually with over 750 hours of direct coaching and trained over 45,500 clients in high impact mass training in public speaking, presentation skills and leading the multi-generational workforce and Millennials. His work in entrepreneurship and public speaking has been featured on over 60 occasions on both local and regional media platforms like Huffington Post, Inc ASEAN, Channel News Asia (CNA), Vietnam QKTV, BFM Malaysia, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Straits Times (ST), Business Times (BT) and News938 Live.
Listen to what some of his clients have to say about working with Ben as their Public Speaking Coach or Millennial Professional Speaker.
This article was originally published on Medium by Benjamin Loh and has been republished with permission.