Letter to Olivia: Lessons from Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life

My dearest Olivia,


The past few days we've been talking a lot about the passing of a very important person in Singapore. You have learned that he is the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew ye ye. Yes, he's definitely old enough to be your ye ye and he has been the ye ye of the entire nation for most part of his life.


A story that mama wants to share with you is that I came to Singapore in 1994 to pursue my education. This was made possible because of ASEAN Scholarship, which is awarded to exceptional students in ASEAN countries. Mama will always be grateful as I didn't have any other option then. Without the scholarship, I will most likely lead very different life. Here in Singapore, as long as you are willing to work hard and persevere it is possible to achieve success, however you may choose to define success. Mama will always be grateful for that one opportunity to come to Singapore and the numerous doors that it opened subsequently, including meeting your Singaporean papa 10 years later.


You will learn and read much about him in time to come. For now, mama wants to share with you what mama has learned (and still learning) from this great leader and what I hope to inculcate and nurture in you. In my opinion, the best way to honour someone's life is to continue his legacy in our own lives. 


1. Be a thinker.

My darling, as you grow older you will be inundated by a lot of views, opinions and thoughts; from school, books, friends, social media and from us your family. As a leader, it is critical that Mr Lee is crystal clear and laser-focused about what is important, be mindful of the consequences of the decisions that he makes and  able to maintain the vision that he has for the country. He must have practiced critical and strategic thinking all the time. Likewise, we need to sharpen our thinking skill because it is the only defense against our culture of distraction. It is too easy to be swayed by herd mentality and distracted by what is inconsequential. Deep thinking allows you to know and understand who you are, your values and what truly matters to you in life. It has been said that "the good life is a by-product of good thinking." As a thinker, you have to make time to ponder over issues, process and analyse information that you have before making your own judgment and conclusions.


2. Pursue your passion

Take your time to discover what is it that gives you the fire in your belly. Internal motivation will always triumphs external one because you will not need anyone to push you and when obstacles present themselves you will have the tenacity to overcome them. You want to do it because you believe in it and it gives you meaning and a sense of accomplishment. From his life, it is evident that Mr Lee's passion were Singapore, his country and relationships.  Whatever that he did flowed from his passion in making Singapore successful and maintaining close relationships especially that with his wife.


3. Authenticity - be true to yourself

If you wish to know if you're being authentic to yourself, ask the following questions - would i do or say the same thing when I am alone? Is there any discrepancy between what I truly believe in and my behaviours? Am i doing this to please and win others favour or am i doing this because i believe this is what I am called to do? Mr. Lee's life revealed that he was true to his principles and his beliefs in different aspects of his life, in his career as a stateman and family life as a husband and father. He was never afraid to speak his mind and truth to the people. He walked the talk and led by example.  When you are true to yourself, you have nothing to hide and you can only flourish and prosper.


4. Taking risk

When Mr Lee took the leadership as the first Prime Minister of Singapore, it was a different time and era. It was a tremendous risk and there was no guarantee that Singapore will even succeed. Despite that, he forged forward and led a group of dedicated people to make things work, by hook or by crook. His stake was enormous and he wasn't afraid of failure. In the same way, you mustn't be afraid of failure and avoid taking risks, my dear. Take small chances whenever you can. Learn to enjoy failure. Don't be afraid of it. Mama learned this lesson in the last few years myself and it's liberating. Let go of perfectionism. Go for growth mindset.


5. Persistence, hardiness and grit.

The common essence in the three qualities above is to never give up. This is of utmost importance in life. Without persistence, hardiness and grit, you will not be able to achieve much. Mr Lee's life exemplified these qualities beautifully and that brought him the accolades and tribute that he deserved today. When something is of utmost importance, one will naturally devote oneself into it. Consequently, this relates to point one and two above. You've got to know what is it that matters to you. Persistence implies discipline and consistency. Hardiness refers to how we bounce back when we experience setbacks and challenges in life. Despite roadblock and challenges, we have to persist and soldier on. Grit on the other hand refers to "firmness of character; indomitable spirit." Once you've worked on harnessing these three qualities, you have a very high chance of succeeding in life.


6. Be a lifelong learner

Mr Lee was a lifelong learner. He continued with his mandarin lessons until the end of his life. He has learned and used six different languages - English, Malay, Latin, Japanese, Mandarin and Hokkien. It is not necessary that you learn six different languages, my dear but the point is you must be interested in being a lifelong learner.Take interest in different subjects. Pick up a new knowledge in something that is foreign to you.  Learning keeps us humble, makes our brain works harder and allows us to push our own boundaries. Take delight in the process of learning, not merely focusing on the end goals. Make learning exciting and fun for yourself. Mama has found traveling to be an excellent way to broaden my horizon as I learn and appreciate the culture and beliefs of other people.


7. Give of yourself in the service of others.

Always remember that the gifts that God has blessed you with are to be shared in the service of others. We enjoy a prosperous and strong country today because a group of people including Mr Lee decided to give their life in service of the people years ago. They could have chosen other careers that can bring them fame and riches for themselves. Yes, we do have the option of living for ourselves but that in mama's opinion that would not be meaningful and satisfying. Mama hopes to raise you up as someone who cares deeply about the needs of others especially those who are marginalized and have no voice. The world needs more people who are compassionate, caring and seek for justice.


I hope to have a long and thoughtful discussion with you one day on what I have written here. You will soon discover that your mama is an idealist. And that's a story for another day. The following is something from Mr Lee that I feel strongly about and I shall leave it here for us to savour and digest.


"And that is why i feel life is an adventure: exciting, unpredictable and sometimes exhilarating.

 What is crucial is never to lose that joie de vivre. That zest of life. To watch the sun go down and wake up to a new day rested and refreshed after a good night."  ~Lee Kuan Yew, 2003


Always loving you,

Your imperfect mama


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