1. “Awards are merely badges of mediocrity.” - Charles Ives
For those who are looking for more than a job – for excitement, the defeat of boredom, success and fulfillment, one piece of advice that is seldom mentioned particularly in East Asia is, have a complete disregard for what others think, for the status of academic institutions and for awards. Don’t be bound to the pillar of failure merely because no awards or honors have been conferred to you thus far. Do not seek praise; seek criticism. History has shown time and again that the greatest masterminds are not always the product of a spotless pedigree.
As a small example, let us look at some of East Asia’s top billionaires.
Li Ka-shing from Hong Kong was born in 1928 in Guangdong province. His family fled the Mainland to avoid the turmoil in 1940. Before becoming 15, Li was forced to leave school and found a job in a plastics trading company where he worked approximately 16 hours a day. As of 2012, Li has a net worth of $25.5 billion making him the richest man in Asia. He is the world’s largest operator of container terminals and the world's largest health and beauty retailer.
Lee Shau Kee, also from Hong Kong, never received higher education. He is a real estate and property tycoon whose net worth is $18 billion.
Cheng Yu-tung, Hong Kong, never received higher education. Net worth $16 billion. Now, the Cheng Yu Tung Foundation Donates millions to Chinese universities for the development and training of highly skilled individuals.
Lee Byeong-cheol, born in 1910. Despite being Korean, he attended Waseda University in Tokyo, but never completed his studies. He is the founder of the biggest conglomerate in his country, Samsung, and was one of South Korea's most successful businessmen.
Wang Yung-ching, Taiwanese, born in 1917, never attended high school. Eventually became a billionaire founding Formosa Plastics.
The list goes on, but the point is clear: success is not ascribed at birth, it is earned.
2. Fail, Fail, Fail
Founder of Fast Retailing (of which Uniqlo is subsidiary), Tadashi Yanai said, “I might look successful but I've made many mistakes. People take their failures too seriously. You have to be positive and believe you will find success next time.”
Getting a job requires energy, focus and persistence. Persistence is to power what carbon is to steel. By gnawing through a dike long enough even a rat can drown a nation. You must be tenacious.
The Korean (now naturalized Japanese) Masayoshi Son, is the second richest man in Japan with a net worth of $7.2 billion. Before becoming the success story he is, Son decided to produce at least one entrepreneurial idea a day. He eventually sold a translating device to Sharp Electronics and in 2006, Vodaphone Group announced it was going to sell Vodaphone K.K. To SoftBank, of which Son was the founder.
Moral of the story? “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
3. Don’t wait. Act now
Founder and chairman of Daewoo, Kim Woo-jung was known for converting problems into opportunities. During the spring of 1989, he was forced to settle a strike at the Daewoo shipyard in Okpo on the southern island of Koje. He used this time to write a motivational business book entitled Every Street is Paved with Gold, which became a bestseller in Korea.
In it, he wrote,
I often tell people that the Korean War made me what I am today. Because of the misery and hardships of the war, I got a taste of the tough life early. I learned how to develop guts to overcome fear and hardship and trials because in my early teens I was suddenly responsible for my family’s livelihood.
To impress upon you that life is not easy, consider the basics of Buddhist teaching: life is suffering, and the world is a sea of it. Life is not a well-paved road, nor is it a bed of beautiful roses. Do not forget that roses have very sharp thorns. But it is foolish to be overly afraid of the thorns as it is just to swoon over the roses.
Success belongs to those who are not afraid of the challenge of the thorns. Just about all who are highly successful today have become that way thanks to hardship and adversity, not to a bed of roses. That is why I do not hesitate to say that the Korean War made me.
The Korean Association for Suicide Prevention said, “The pressure to find gainful employment is one of the main causes of suicide among those in their 20s.” Unemployment can be immensely frustrating, and continues to drive many to suicide. Frightening as it may be, there’s also something beautiful about the struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, where success can be achieved.
“You have to know how to use crises. It is very interesting to take a close look at the Chinese characters used for “crisis.” The first is close in meaning to the English word “risk,“ and the second represents chance or opportunity. It hints at the possibility of moving in either of two different directions.”
“Potential opportunities are unlimited, but you cannot see those possibilities without working hard. Thinking is also hard work, and it will lead you to create new things.”
The essence of Kim’s argument is not too different from Newton’s First Law of motion. According to this law, an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
You won’t be as pumped about your ideas later. Act now.
4. Ignore Everyone but yourself
About 800 a.D., the Chinese founder of the Linji school of Chán Buddhism, Linji, wrote these powerful words: “Followers of the Way, if you want to understand the Dharma, do not be fooled by others. Whether you turn inward or outward, whatever you encounter, kill it! If you meet a Buddha, kill the Buddha.” What this means is to have faith that your thoughts are valid and just, and can get you to where you want to go. Do not be deterred or beguiled by others’ opinions. “Never seek outside yourself,” he continues. “When something appears before you, shine your inner light upon it; have confidence in what is operating within you – everything else is empty.”
5. Pursue relentlessly
During the medieval Kamakura period in Japan, a Buddhist teacher born in Kyōto known as Dōgen compiled a collection of ninety-five fascicles concerning Buddhist practice and enlightenment known as the Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma, or Shōbōgenzō. In it, he wrote the following passage:
True study of the Way does not rely on knowledge and genius or cleverness and brilliance. But it is a mistake to encourage people to be like blind men, deaf mutes, or imbeciles. Because study has no use for wide learning and high intelligence, even those with inferior capacities can participate. True study of the Way is an easy thing.
But even in the monasteries of China, only one or two out of several hundred, or even a thousand, disciples under a great Zen Mater actually gained true enlightenment. Therefore, old sayings and cautionary words are needed. As I see it now, it is a matter of gaining the desire to practice. A person who gives rise to a real desire and puts his utmost efforts into study under a teacher will surely gain enlightenment. Essentially, one must devote all attention to this effort and enter into practice with all due speed … Anything sought for with such intensity will surely be gained.
On another occasion, Dōgen wrote, “Don’t demean yourself by saying that you are dull and stupid. If you don’t arouse the determination to seek the Way in this life, when do you expect to be able to practice? If you force yourself to practice now, you will without fail gain the Way.”
Nothing is impossible. History has shown repeatedly that if you put your mind to it, if you stay focused, you can achieve the unachievable.
6. Know thyself
The Chinese philosopher Confucius, one of the most famous men in Asian history who lived during the Spring and Autumn Period circa 500 b.C., cautioned his followers to know themselves. To be a virtuous man, one must carry out self-improvement through constant study and disregard for the words of others. In the famous compilation of his teachings in the form of aphorisms, the Analects, Confucius wrote,
“The gentleman is troubled by his own lack of ability, not by the failure of others to appreciate him.”
“The Master said, 'What the gentleman seeks, he seeks within himself; what the small man seeks, he seeks in others.'”
“The Master said, 'I suppose I should give up hope. I have yet to meet a man who is as fond of virtue as he is of beauty in women.'”
He also professed the well-known principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.“
Fundamentally, Confucius' message is to avoid knocking the competition. That will only deter you from improving, and as a bi-product, will empower others. Rather, study yourself, find your voice, your talents, improve those and work with what you’ve got. Then, push to accentuate them like a cartoonist exaggerates his caricatures. Talent helps, but without the ambition to improve, will get you nowhere.
7. Finish what you started
“Fate did not hand Genghis Khan his destiny; he made it for himself.”
In his New York Times bestseller, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford explains that in twenty-five years, this formidable Mongol warrior subjugated more lands and people than the Romans had conquered in four hundred years. He conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history both in terms of total number of people defeated and total area occupied. How did he do this?
The Mongols did not find honor in fighting; they found honor in winning. They had a single goal in every campaign – total victory. Toward this end, it did not matter what tactics were used against the enemy or how the battles were fought or avoided being fought. Winning by clever deception or cruel trickery was still winning and carried no stain on the bravery of the warriors, since there would be plenty of other occasions for showing prowess on the field. For the Mongol warrior, there was no such thing as individual honor in battle if the battle was lost. As Ghenghis Khan reportedly said, there is no good in anything until it is finished.
Finish what you’ve started. For once, be in it to win, not just to participate.
During the medieval Muromachi and Kamakura periods in Japan, a Buddhist monk and author known as Yoshida Kenkō published a work entitled Essays in Idleness, one of the most studied texts of that period. In it, quotes a man as saying,
”To want everything uniform and complete shows bad taste. Leaving things imperfect is more pleasing and gives one a future to look forward to.“
Showing results entails being productive.
Being productive means something is being produced.
In order to produce, you need to deliver – you need to ship. It’s ok if it’s not right the first time round; apologize and get it right the next time.
What’s important is that something is being delivered.
9. Don't over-think things
There's a beautiful poem that encapsulates the spirit of Tibetan Buddhism:
A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Considering how to run.