Achieving Success By Not Focusing On Success

by Patrick Liew on August 20, 2019

Achieving Success By Not Focusing On Success

It may sound strange to a lot of my friends if they know that I did not start off in my working life wanting to be an entrepreneur or an investor.

After my graduation, I wanted to be a … (sound of drum roll) … social worker.

As someone who grew up in poverty and has experienced many hardships, I wanted to devote my life to helping others so that they could have a fair chance to do well in life.

I could not see myself doing many type of jobs other than being involved in serving the poor, the needy, and the disadvantaged.

Back in 1976, I was given the opportunity to intern at a youth organization in Hong Kong with a view of learning how to be a social worker.

At that point, my family was literally living hand to mouth and therefore, they could not afford the expenses for my trip.

Some of my friends offered to sell old newspapers, do odd jobs, and pool their savings to raise funds for me.

They believed in me and worked very hard to ensure that I could go on that life-changing trip.

Though they have moved on with their lives and the whereabouts of many of them are unbeknownst to me, I am eternally grateful to them.

Their sacrifices and contributions have given me the impetus to help others whenever it is possible to fulfill their dreams.

I was sent to understudy Mr. David Chu, the National Director of a youth organization.

Mr. Chu was an ex-teacher and a charismatic youth leader.

He gave up a relatively secure job because he was passionate about transforming young people and mentoring them for a good cause.

Learning from him and watching him in actions planted an inspirational seed in my mind.

That seed has continued to grow. It is a seed of belief in the potential of young people to change the world.

We used to say, “If we don’t win young people’s hearts today, they will break ours tomorrow.”

If we mould and shape their lives correctly, they will create a brighter future for all of us.

As our movement was not adequately funded, Mr. Chu and I had to sleep in the office.

At the end of every evening, we would each roll out a mattress and lay it on top of an office table and sleep on it for the night.

Although I came from a poor family and did not sleep in the most comfortable condition, that experience capped it all.

Sleeping on a small table almost felt like I was learning a special martial art from a legendary kung fu master.

I had to learn how to sleep lightly and in a controlled manner so that I would not fall off the table.

One evening, I did fall off the table. I hit the floor so hard that it woke Mr. Chu up.

The pain from the fall was soon forgotten because both of us could not help but burst out laughing.

Since then, I did not fall off the table again.

Perhaps, it was a sign that I have mastered the secret kung fu of internal energy (“Hi-yah!”)

Throughout the day, I would spend most of my time with Mr. Chu as he went about helping young people, teaching, counseling and guiding them.

Mr. Chu ran his operation like it was a life-or-death mission and that was why he worked with utmost commitment and discipline.

As I reflected on the internship, I realized it has influenced me more than my few years of formal education.

It secured my commitment to make something good out of my life and giving of myself to serve our Creator and help Him reclaim humanity.

Mr. Chu’s personal influence and impact on me lasted to this day. He inspired me to pour out my heart to transform lives and serve worthwhile missions.

That was why I have always made it a point to share my experience and expertise with different mentees.

Mentors like Mr. Chu and many others had helped me coined one of my organizing principles – “Anything worth doing is worth doing with passion and excellence.”

During my internship in Hong Kong, one of the highlights was immersing myself in deep meditation every morning.

Our organization operated from a rented space in the YMCA Building at Nathan Road.

Besides the building, there was a clump of trees that covered a small hill. I could see the first few steps of a concrete staircase that ran up a slope to the top of the hill.

I spent many a morning at the peak of the hill meditating about my life.

Reflecting, praying, and planning on how I could be a better leader; and how I could be used as an instrument to inspire more people to serve a higher calling.

After completing my studies, I applied and got a job as a social worker.

Subsequently, life played what I thought was a cruel joke on me till it turned out to be one of the best gifts in my life.

Just before I started work, the leader, who had employed me and promised to guide me, stepped down from the organization.

He left me feeling disappointed and lost.

After seeking wise counsel, I was advised to go out to the real world and chalk up real life experiences.

By undergoing some pain and sorrow, I would then earn my stripes and scars to help others with their challenges.

That was how I decided to experience what it meant to work in and what some would call, a “cold and cruel” business world.

Instead, the experience turned out to be a meaningful, exciting and fulfilling one.

Up till now, I’ve not lost the romance of working and the romance of making the most out of my work.

After walking into the business world, I thank God for helping me rise through ranks and files.

I eventually ran the regional office of a multi-billion dollar company that was listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

I also had a good run as an entrepreneur and an investor.

Along the way, I was given the privilege, capacity, and other resources to pioneer and participate in many charitable, humanitarian, civic, grassroots and philanthropic initiatives.

Interestingly, I am probably one of the few if not the only person that was involved in two different universities.

I helped students in their studies on entrepreneurship at an MBA level, and also students who are learning about management of non-profit organizations on a master degree level.

On 5 December 2013, 37 years after ending my internship in Hong Kong, a strange thing happened to me.

It happened a few months after I had sold most of my shares in a public-listed company and decided to “retire” from the business world.

I was invited to speak at a CEO Conference held at The Cityview hotel in Hong Kong.

After checking into my room, I drew the curtains.

Guess what I saw?

A clump of trees that covered a small hill.

I could see the first few steps of a concrete staircase that ran up a slope to the top of the hill.

I rang the receptionist and asked her, “What was on this site before the development of The Cityview hotel?”

She replied me casually without realizing the impact of her words in my heart, “The location of this hotel used to be that of the YMCA building.

“In fact, many of the taxi drivers still know this place as ‘the former YMCA’”.

After I hung up the phone, I broke down.

I never thought I would be back to that location again.

It brought back memories of my life-changing internship.

From 1976 to 2013, I felt like my life has gone one full circle.

I started my work life wanting to be a social worker.

However, I accidentally stumbled onto the path of entrepreneurship and investment.

For 37 years, I did not become a social worker, nor was I offered any possibility of becoming one.

However, as an entrepreneur and an investor, I was able to achieve similar objective of a social worker – to help others live a better life.

I was also able to give more to the society and achieve more through supporting worthwhile causes.

Looking at the hill again from the same location that had played such an important part in my life, I decided to re-dedicate my life to our Creator.

I endeavored to be His clay so that He could mould me into His image and help me make a positive difference to others and the environment.

On my journey in life, I seek to live for our Creator and to inspire others to greatness.

In doing so, I can inspire them to join me and make more positive and sustainable social impacts, and turn our world into a better home.

Now, isn’t that what good social workers seek to achieve through their work and contributions?


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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Life is FUNtastic!


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