Changing Your Response To Change Your Life

by Patrick Liew on June 18, 2011

“I’ve got bad news for you.
I hope you’ll take it well.”

That was what my brother told me on 3 May 1976. He had placed an overseas call for the first time in his life and it was a very expensive call to him.

I was in Hong Kong then to serve as a short-term social worker. My friends had helped to raise money by selling old newspapers to send me to work in a youth organisation.

 My brother went on to break one of the saddest news in my life,

“Patrick, you failed your examinations.
You have a chance to either repeat your studies or leave the school”.

After hearing the news, I collapsed on my seat – totally dazed. I was given a Hopson’s choice, one that I believed would lead me through a dark corridor of misery.

To repeat my studies is one of the most shameful failures in the Asian culture. On the hand, leaving school would mean that I might not be able to find a decent job or even a job at all.

My reaction at that point in time was to lay blame, give lots of excuses, and justify for my failure. In My HSR Family, we call them telling “stories”.

I have many such “stories” about why I should not be responsible for my failure. I supposed I could even prove it and outargue anybody on why I don’t deserve to fail.

I might even be able to blame our Creator for the failure.

Afterall that year, I was spending alot of time helping a voluntary organisation, co-ordinating a full-time secretariat, and helping to manage a fully-equipped office. I was devoting my youth to run programmes for a good cause.

I was helping students in more than 17 schools. My dream was to help them become better leaders and live a more abundant life.

How could our Creator allow me to fail? Why did He not wrought a miracle – maybe cover the examiner’s eyes – and helped me pass and pass with flying colour?

You can imagine I went through a period of intense anguish and anxiety. I could not think my way out of the ‘I am a victim’ box.

Meanwhile, many questions crossed my mind.

What would people think of me as a failure?

Would this ’branding’ condemn me to a life of shame and remorse, and lead me to more failures?

                Would my current and new friends play with me and be my friend?

Even if I repeat, would I fail again and waste more time and maybe, be condemned for life?

Despite all these questions, I decided to repeat my studies – but these questions continued to haunt me for a long time.

When the new term started, I joined the new class with fear and trepidation. I sat at the back of the class, like an outcast in a lepers colony.

If my new classmates felt uneasy in my presence, they did not show it. However, every slightest negative move made by them – real or unreal – was amplified by many times in my mind.

Somehow, I felt they were giving me strange looks. There was a lingering feeling they were sharing my dark secrets behind my back.

While struggling through this emotional storm, I had to cope with my studies. I had to anchor my sanity and live a normal life at the same time.

By the way, there is a fairy tale–ending to this story. Please read till the end to find out about my life–changing experience.

The wake up call came when I realised I must take responsibility for my life. And it must be a full, conscientious and wholehearted responsibility.

I realised I have to stop telling “stories”. It will not lead me to change and take any action to improve my life.

For me to change anything, I must change myself. If I could not manage my life, I could not manage anything that would lead me to success.

It was not the situation that limited me or held me back from success, it was me. To resolve any challenge, it began with…


The wonderful breakthrough was that our Creator had given me one of the most precious gifts in life –


I was totally free to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I was free to change my thoughts, plans, behaviour and actions.

The destiny of my life could even be changed when I was committed to and implemented a wise decision.

I was reminded of the maxim: ’I am the result of yesterday’s decision. What I will be tomorrow depends on the choices I made today.’

Truth be told, consciously or unconsciously, I have already exercised my freedom to choose my fate in life. That’s why I failed my examination. The ultimate fault must lie with me.

I had to face the situation that I was in. I could not pretend it did not exist or run away from the fact I needed to confront and resolve it.

The good news was, I might not be able to change the situation. However, I could change my response to it. I could rise about it and determine its meaning and significance to my life.

Whatever happened in my life may not be the best. However, I can make the best of whatever happened.

In the same way, I might not be able to change my past. However, the past did not have to shape or condemn my future. I was free to decide what I wanted to do about my life ahead.

Let me illustrate by sharing with you what happened to me when I repeated my studies and why it turned out to be one of the best things that happened in my life.

The failure forced me to think and to decide what I wanted the outcomes to be. I could continue to grumble, grouse and gripe about why ‘Life is so unfair’. It would only lead me down the slippery road of misery and depression.

On the other hand, I could go and grow through the challenge. It did not have to be a millstone around my neck, it could be a cornerstone for my success.

From believing I was a victim, I could rise to become a victor in the journey of life.

As I reflected on my failure, it became a fantastic feedback and learning experience. I realised I have not set my priorities correctly. I have not lived a balanced life.

I have not been a disciplined and diligent person and therefore, I deserved to fail. If I had passed my examination, I would never have learned how to focus on the important things in my life.

I had to ask for forgiveness from our Creator and my parents. I must change my lifestyle, the root cause of my failure if I wanted to change the results.

The failure also made me more humble and more of a human. I could better understand and feel for another human when they go through problems in life. It certainly made me more empathetic and approachable.

When I decided to resolve the fears, anguish, sorrows, anxieties, embarrassments and all the cascading effects of the failure bravely and wisely, I developed a more resilient character. I learned how to persevere in pursuing the best things in life.

This failure was one of the best gifts that the Ministry of Education has given to me. When I started to respond positively, it started to change me and the situation.

It made me a better person and helped me inculcate many positive values. These values stayed with me long after I have forgotten many lessons I learned in the classroom. They helped me achieve better results in life.

That’s why, every time I face a challenge, my first reaction is to say, “Chin Chia Ho!” (Very Good). Then, I will look for the good, take massive action, and turn it into a platform for success.

In closing, I am happy to share with you that on Friday, 21 May 2010; 34 years after the failure, the principal and management staff at that point in time invited me to address the graduation class of students.

They published my achievements on their website and in other marketing collaterals. The worst failure became virtually one of their model graduates.

At the graduation ceremony, I shared with students, parents, and staff about the failure and how it turned my life around. This failure became one of the most beautiful experiences in my life.



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