I have the honor of an appointment as Consulting Professor National University of Singapore (NUS).  In this role I mentor a number of exceptionally talented students who spend a year in the USA as interns in early stage companies.  Each class of students has a nice graduation party where one of them gives a short speech.  This past December the talk was by Yau Luong Koh.  I have been thinking about it since I heard him deliver it with great passion.

Generally in this blog I share some of my thoughts on something I’ve noticed or been thinking about that I believe will lead to improving the skills of executives and managers.  After contemplating the words of Yau Luong Koh for several months, I’ve decided to share his thoughts with you.  Sometimes a young person just entering the world after college has wisdom well beyond their years, wisdom that their elders would do well to ponder.  Read and think hard on the words of Yau Luong Koh.

“When Kelvin asked me to do this speech, I refused initially. I wasn’t going to volunteer myself because I had nothing to say. But that same night, it suddenly struck me why I had said no. It wasn’t because I had nothing to say. I just didn’t dare to do something I wasn’t comfortable with.
 I had to give this a try. It’s why I’m here.  After all what’s the worst that could happen. I’m a student; we’re allowed to embarrass ourselves. 

And guess what? From that conversation with myself, I found something to talk about.  Getting out of your comfort zone, it’s the reason I’m standing here.

Getting out of your comfort zone. A very subjective phrase. What does it mean? Who started saying it? So like any good student, I used the most reliable method ever known to students.  I typed it into Google and Wikipedia.

Surprisingly, I didn’t get a satisfactory answer from the search result. But I did notice something; the Google images that popped up caught my eye. They were images of partying, bungee jumping, driving fast cars and people doing crazy things.

Now that got me thinking. Is that all there is to pushing your comfort zone?

I didn’t agree. So I came up with my own, basing it on my year here. It means to rebel. Our brain is hardwired to seek familiarity. Pushing your comfort zone means doing things that your brain wouldn’t want you to do. Rebel against your mind.

Rebel against yourself. That’s what it means. If you find yourself shy and hanging out with the same people all too often, Rebel, step out and make yourself some new friends. try talking to the person sitting next to you on the train to gain some courage. I’ve tried it. The networking events organized by SPIN, entrepreneurship talks by Rob Webber and Mentor gatherings are the first steps. But they are not enough. You need to really go out even farther and take your own initiative. There’s lots more out there.

If you find yourself bored and doing monotonous things over and over again at work or frustrated with school. Rebel. Not by doing something else, but by asking yourself what other ways can you approach the same problem. At school, try letting go of the obsession that you have been taught to place on academics and explore out of the classroom. You will find that there are so many things you never seen and want to learn about. A new way of thinking, a new skill, a new hobby and you will find that you are wiser than when you first came.

If you find yourself unsatisfied with the way that things are being done, challenge it, change things. Be the crazy one. It’s never easy to do this, but observe, listen and be patient. It can happen. I have seen it.

Because in the country we come from, a country of many boundaries, without such a mind-set all you can do is walk down the paths chosen for you, not by you. To the graduating batch, go back with this mind-set, don’t leave it here, don’t lose it back home either. This is not the end of your NOC (NUS Overseas Colleges). It has merely begun. All NOC does is loosen the knots tied up in your head. You have to be the one to untie them. Only then can you know how many more inches you actually have in you. Knot by knot, inch by inch. Those inches are going to add up and great things will come along.

Why am I talking about this? Because it’s important, it’s going to be what matters to you when you finally grow old. The people that I have met over this year have passed on that experience to me, to allow me to look beyond my years. With or without their presence today, I am grateful to them.  Thank you. Thank you for the inspiration each and every day.

Soon, we will have to return home. What’s left of our year here will be mere fragments of memories. The only evidence you will have of ever being in this country will be the mind-set, skills and lessons learnt here that will shape you as a person. You just don’t know it yet.

So to the graduating batch, please keep this in mind. Untie the knots, one at a time, because inch by inch, you can create miracles.”

Leave your comfort zone. Untie your knots, one at a time. Who knows what miracles you will create.

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  1. Ed Henkler April 4, 2012 at 9:26 am · · Reply

    Great post Steve.

    It reminds me of some of the underlying methodology with Matt Goerke’s “Memory Switch” program. He advocates reading an unfamiliar magazine, reading a book from bottom to top, right to left, etc, as ways to build new neural pathways, strengthening and invigorating our minds. Doing something you’ve never done before accomplishes a similar outcome.

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