Here’s what I said to my MBA class on our graduation day. Personally, I still find these words speaking to me every day this past year and ever since, especially when tomorrow I will officially start my work after a year of hibernation for soul searching and truth seeking. From tomorrow I will have to make decisions every day which will affect not only myself but also, more likely and most importantly, many others who have placed and will place trust in my hands, in the companies I help build.
Therefore, amidst so many variables, random or not, that will cloud my judgment and sway my mind, I have to constantly pinch myself that I am NOT building companies. I’m building PEOPLE – students, students’ parents, staff, teachers, managers and others in need of my help – a journey I will gladly and humbly take, with more love and less status.
With more LOVE and less status.
As some of you may know, I’m a Starbucks guy. Starbucks is my space for creativity. But the other day I sat down in Starbucks for hours, still struggling to come up with even one paragraph for tonight speech. I kept wondering if what I’ve got to say would be too fluffy, too childish or too idealistic, especially when I know most of you here are possibly more eloquent, more inspiring, and more humorous speakers than I ever can be. But then I realized that exactly was my problem because I kept wondering what I would say to an MBA class.
So I asked myself. What if this were not just an MBA class. What if you were not just my friends, then what would I say? What would I say if you were my family? If you ARE my family. That moment, everything I wanted to say all fell in to place. So please bear with me for a while, my friends – my family.
Roughly 25 years ago, I was a pretty arrogant boy, so arrogant, so overly confident with all of my achievements that I behaved badly, very badly. One day my Dad lost his temper. He tore off all my award certificates, threw them in the trash bin and then said: ‘You see, these are just useless papers and how easily they can be gone, just like that. What matters is the knowledge that lies in your head and the love that lies in your heart.’ Then my Mom told me: ‘Just be good. Even if we have to do tough labor work or even beg for money on the streets just for you to study, we WILL.’
Those words did not hit me as much back then as they have gradually over the years. Along the way I also realized how in one tough year of 1992 my parents gave up their dream jobs – being teacher and school headmaster – to open a little mom-and-pop shop, just so they could afford my brothers’ and my schooling. Yet both my Mom and Dad are not here tonight; neither were they in any of my previous three graduations.
Likewise, some of us today do not have our parents or beloved others here, for one reason or another. But regardless of whether they are here or elsewhere, I believe – you believe and we all believe – that they are watching us, as always. As easy as it is today to celebrate our achievements of completing the MBA, it is also very easy to forget that today is not just our achievements. To be brutally honest, today is also the achievement of those who may have given up many status and dreams of their own, with or without our notice, so that they have time to give us love, so that we have time to build our dreams, so that we can be here tonight.
And because we don’t do this often enough, remember to say Thanks.
Prior to this MBA, many of us were already professors, doctors, C-suite executives, managers of Fortune 500, founders of promising ventures, leaders of communities. Many already were dealing with a lot of zeros in their portfolios, or in their bank accounts, appearing on TV shows or the news, so on and so forth.
Yet we all came here, to this MBA class where we have lived and celebrated this one year, not with what status we had achieved, but with a love that was sparkled right from the Launch and then carried through to lectures to formal halls to pub crawls to trips overseas and to tonight. In this wonderland called Oxford, we have learned to strip ourselves off all the status we came to the MBA with, and instead filled this space and time with love.
And what a year it has been.
Yet the space and time we have lived this past year is possibly many light years away from how many parts of the world are functioning out there. Tomorrow we will start tackling problems we are concerned about, whether it is with the big world or region or country or community or company or just with those around us, problems that are often created because people care freaking so much about status yet so little about love.
Out there, what we have cultivated for ourselves this year will be challenged, will be attacked, and will be likely destroyed by peer pressure, by social expectations, by the necessity of paying bills each month, by the dailyness of our routine work and busy life, by all the tough and dark moments, both professional and personal, that FOR SURE will come. In such times, how do we stay focused? How do we anchor ourselves? How do we avoid making decisions that will make us regret years later when we have more than enough to do whatever we desire yet may have lost ourselves or even lost our loved ones along the way?
In such moments of making choices, I hope you all remember this past year – what we have filled it with and how. I hope you all remember our parents and loved ones – what they have filled our lives with and how. Whatever the scale of the problem we solve, I am sure many of us, if not all, will achieve status that even overshadow what we have now. But I hope – and I believe – for us that is not the goal, that is not the end, that is not the meaning we want for our life. Instead, I believe Love should be. Love what we do, even if it takes time. Love the people we’re trying so hard to change, even if it takes time. Love the good impacts we can potentially make on any community, even if it takes time. Because it DOES take time. Love any family we’re lucky enough to be a part of. And love the life we’re lucky enough to live in. Because not many people even have the chance to. And because we often forget to do so.
Is it hard? Of course, it is. It is super hard. But it is also POSSIBLE. It is possible because our parents and loved ones have done it for us for all these years. It is possible because we have done it this past year. Together. And therefore no excuse should hold us back from continuing so, together, for years to come. That way, whatever status comes will come – it will come – but as we focus less about the status we can get and more about the love we can create and share, at least whenever the time comes, for whatever reason – and I mean it, WHENEVER the time comes, for WHATEVER the reason is – we can all leave the world a better place than when we found it. Because the day we leave – WHENEVER the time, WHATEVER the reason – the world has more love, thanks to our presence.
For now we are here with family and friends, since we’re still together as a full class until who knows when’s next, since we are still wild and young and free, since status should have no place here and love is all around, tonight let’s dance. And tomorrow we will continue dancing our way to the world and tackle world-scale problems in our way, regardless of whatever the definition of ‘world-scale’ is for each of us. Big or small, the change we make will be equally meaningful if we pack our journey with more love and less status.
I am often an introvert. But tonight, I have the courage and confidence to stand up here, having absolutely NO shame in saying what I’ve just said because this is all for you, because of you, and thanks to you – my friends for this past year whom I now happily call my family.
Congratulations, Oxford MBA Class of 2015-2016. We did it.
Good night. And tomorrow I hope we all continue living a life that’s worth living.
With more love and less status.