It's the time of year again when high school students are all graduating!
I recently attended the graduation ceremony at the school I teach at, and I felt very proud and happy for many students who had grown so much over the past couple of years. I talked with some students about their future hopes and concerns, and I thought a lot of what we discussed is relevant to all of us, even if we're not recent graduates.
Firstly, many students were worried that university would be really hard. Some were worried that they might not be good enough because they hear stories of how lots of students can't meet the grade requirement in first year to continue on to second year, especially for science-related majors. Some students were worried that they can't compete with their peers when looking for a job.
I advised them, "You need to believe in yourself and affirm yourself. Our thoughts and actions stem from our beliefs. If you believe that you are not good enough, you will lack motivation, and you won't try hard. That would result in you getting mediocre results. But if you believe that you can do it, then you will work hard and persist. The success of everything depends on perseverance. Everyone has their own struggles. You have your struggles, I have my struggles, they have their struggles. Most people don't succeed because they give up too early. As long as you believe in yourself, you will keep persisting, and as long as you persist, you will definitely succeed."
I then proceeded to affirm them: "Chloe, I remember the first class you had with me was Presentation Skills. You were totally not confident in your presentations at the beginning, but by the end, you got so much more confident, and you even achieved one of the top marks in the class. You probably didn't think you could do that, but you did, so you can definitely achieve great things! And Jesse, you didn't get your ideal score on the Business Leadership midterm, but you asked for help and kept working hard, and you got almost perfect on your final project! So the important thing is that you can persist through times of difficulty, and you guys have already done that in the past, so you can definitely do it in the future."
They replied, "Wow, thanks Mr. Chen. Yeah I was feeling worried because so many people were telling me how difficult university would be compared to high school, and how it's really competitive to get a job. Now I feel much better."
When I heard this, I thought to myself, "There's a lot of negativity in this world. We should all give more words of encouragement and less words of discouragement. We should all help people believe in themselves rather than doubt themselves. We should all help others have hope rather than lose hope."
Their Biggest Learnings
I asked some students, "What was the most useful thing you learned in high school?"
One student said, "Communication skills. I learned it's not enough to just know knowledge, I have to be able to communicate it as well."
I said, "That's an excellent point. I was talking to a past student recently, and she told me that she was surprised at how many of her peers lacked good communication skills. And she's in business school! A lot of people think that the people with the highest grades should get the best jobs, or the people with the best ability should get promoted. But that's not what happens. It's the people with good enough grades but excellent interpersonal skills that get the best jobs, and the people with good enough ability but great communication skills that get the promotion. So please, do not forget to join extracurricular activities and practice your people skills during university! These soft skills are key to your career success and also your happiness in relationships, much more so than your grades."
One student asked, "So what do you do when you try talking to someone new, and you encounter an awkward silence in a conversation and don't know what to say?"
I replied, "Great question. Well, everyone loves talking about themselves, so simply ask questions to learn more about them. Everyone likes people who are interested in them."
Another student shared his biggest learning: "I used to be very lazy and unmotivated, but in high school, I learned to be responsible."
I asked, "Oh really? You were such a good student in my class! I can't imagine you being lazy. So how did you learn to be responsible?"
He said, "Well, my parents work so hard to support my education. I don't want to disappoint them. So even if I don't want to do my work sometimes, I know I have to."
I said, "That's great! It's important to feel a sense of duty and responsibility to do the things that we should do, even if we don’t feel like doing it. We should often think about how our parents did their best to give us the best, and always hold the intention to repay their gratitude. It will help us be happy and give us motivation to push through hard times."
Another student said, "The most useful thing I learned is Small Simple Steps. If I don't feel like doing something, I know that if I just do the smallest first step to get started, I will feel more motivated to continue. It's been so useful for me!"
I said, "Oh yeah, that was a tip from our class on motivation! Yes, if we wait to feel motivated before we start a task, we might never start. But if we just start, then we will have motivation to finish what we started."
Another student said, "Definitely emotional intelligence. I used to have so many negative emotions and thoughts. I mean, I still do, but it's much better than before."
I said, "Yes, unfortunately, our education system doesn't emphasize enough on emotional intelligence and mental health. It is getting better, but not good enough yet. We only had one lesson on it in Business Leadership and one unit on it in Healthcare, but ideally there could be a whole course on it. In the future, it's up to you to keep learning and improving your emotional intelligence, whether by reading books or reviewing and practicing what we learned in the past. If you learn something really good, make sure to let me know!"
After chatting with the students, I thought it was interesting how no one talked about knowledge. Indeed, the most useful and important things are improvements to our character and virtues. It reminds me of a quote from The Great Learning:
"Wealth adorns the room. Virtues adorn the person."
At the end of the ceremony and party, a recipient who received a Business Award from me came to me and said she somehow lost her certificate. She was kind of upset, so I told her, "It's alright, I'm sure the school can print another for you. But the business award is not that piece of paper. It is within you. You have the virtues and talent deserving of that award inside you."
Overall, I had a great time and lots of meaningful discussions at the event, and I even got a souvenir!
(I said I'm not a graduate, but they had extra and urged me to take it.)
Although I was giving advice to those students, it's actually great advice for myself as well, and I'm sure many people can relate. I remember before university, I was also worried about not being good enough, or about the future being too hard. But now I know that facing challenges is a normal thing in life, so rather than worry about it, I should learn to get used to it.
Moreover, I need to encourage and affirm myself. Although it is certainly great if others could affirm and encourage me, but unfortunately, that's not dependable. Hence, if we have someone who always encourages us, we need to cherish them. And if we encounter someone who lacks belief in themselves, we should give them encouragement and affirmation; it just might make a big difference in their life.
But encouragement shouldn't be empty words. We need to bring out proof. Most of us have probably overcome difficulties in the past, so if we could do it before, we can definitely do it again. Plus, human beings are highly adaptable creatures, so whatever challenges come our way, we can find a way to adapt.
As contemporary Stoic Ryan Holiday said:
"Don't forget, though, that you come from a long, unbroken line of ancestors who survived unimaginable adversity, difficulty, and struggle. It's their genes and their blood that run through your body right now… as their viable offspring, you're capable of what they are capable of. You're meant for this."
And we should always remember that we don't have to shoulder challenges ourselves, we can always ask for help!
I was also quite delighted to hear the students' key learnings. Education on virtues and character is highly lacking in our modern society, and the media often lacks good role models. I'm quite worried for our future generations and the future of our society, but knowing that there are some students who understand the importance of virtue and character gives me hope for the future.
For example, communication skills, interpersonal skills, and emotional intelligence are all so important. The best investments (of time and money) that I have made in life are related to improving these soft skills. I have read many books in the self-development genre, such as
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Principles by Ray Dalio (Summary)
Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty (Summary)
The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday (Summary)
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Summary)
The Guide to A Happy Life (Summary)
I also took communication courses and got training in active listening. I am still improving these skills, and I know they will be useful for my entire life. In my observation, it seems like not enough people invest in these skills, otherwise, people would have a lot more harmony and happiness in their relationships, and our society would be more peaceful.
Two students talked about motivation as their key learning. The first one went deep and talked about duty and gratitude. The other one talked about a useful method called Small Simple Steps. If we can have strong motivation and purpose in life, then we will definitely have a life well lived. If we neglect this issue, then we might just drift through life without ever really feeling fully alive, and that would be kind of a shame.
I used to think that life is all about pleasure, whether it's food, TV, music, clothes, and so on. But now I know that a meaningful life comes from serving others. As Gandhi said,
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others"
We should start by serving those whom we owe the most gratitude towards, which usually is our parents and teachers, and then expand that heart of repaying gratitude out towards society and the world.
Do I say more words of encouragement or more words of discouragement?
Do I have a strong sense of purpose and motivation in life?
Have I invested enough in my soft skills, such as communication, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution skills?
Weekly Wisdom #242