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A transcript of my Guest of Honor, F-word speech

The following is a transcript of my speech as a Guest of Honor in an Outram Secondary School event about the F Word – FAILURE. Hope you enjoy this 🙂
“Good morning to Principal, Vice Principal, Teachers, Students, and everyone in Outram Secondary.
“Yesterday was just another usual day, and I skipped into the office at 6pm, cheerfully telling the team how great my nasi briyani was at Pahang St. Then, Brenda casually popped the question, “Keith, how is your GOH script?” And I’m like, what Guest Of Honor script? I’m just going to conduct a workshop for the teachers on why Playing is the future of Learning”. In my head, I’m thinking, I’m too young and not good enough to be a guest of honor! Guest of honor are for old people who are really smart!” Brenda then insisted, “No, you ARE the Guest of Honor, and you will be giving a talk!”

So, after a long silence and confirming over email, I am indeed giving this talk. Lesson no. 1, never doubt yourself. When even you don’t believe in yourself, everyone else around you believes you are much better than what you think you are. Don’t ever shortchange yourself, and sometimes you are your biggest enemy. Not your parents, not your teacher, not that guy in the class who keeps scoring better than you. And lesson no. 2, do not assume. The famous saying goes you make an ass out of you and me. Be doubly sure about anything, everything.

So thank you, Outram Secondary, for believing in me. It is a real honor and pleasure to be standing up here. And after the mini saga yesterday, I sat down for the next 2 hours pondering what I should deliver. I have delivered 100s of presentations to working adults, but none to 15 year olds who will be the future of Singapore. Some of you will be changing the world and improving lives by becoming entrepreneurs, teachers, astronauts, rocket scientists, doctors, anything really (just don’t be a computer hacker). I thought long and hard what would be inspiring, relevant to all of you. After an epiphany, I decided it will be the F word.
F…for Failure.
I have to thank Serene for helping me come up with this topic, because when I asked her what I should deliver, she said to talk about myself. You see, I used to fear this word like I see my Chinese teacher. When I was studying in primary school more than 20 years ago, failure was not an option. In fact, you would have failed your Chinese exams if you did not score 90 in the papers. One year, I did not get into the top 3 when I was in primary 3, and my world came crashing down. In my head, I had failed everyone.
So when I got to the best business college, SMU, I continued my fear of failure. I became a double degree student, secured a scholarship, and became teaching and research assistant to many professors. I wanted to achieve anything I could, and didn’t want to fail. In 2009, I started my company with my buddy, Damon. We decided to create a game for people to make predictions, and we thought we would be able to make millions and sell the company and retire happily ever after and travel around the world.
Fast forward 2-3 years later. Not only did this dream not happen, I experience true FAILING for the very first time in my life. In fact, I call it MFMultiple Failings. In 2011, the company almost went bankrupt due to bad cashflow management. Lesson no. 3 – Learn to manage your money and you will live a longer life. Not many people in this room will experience what I had. We had our electricity cut off in our office one day because we couldn’t afford to pay the bills. I took on so much personal loans to fund the company’s operations, I practically memorized all the interest rate charges of all credit card companies in Singapore. I was even thinking about going to loan sharks, and spoke to one about developing his website. I had to eat in restaurants because all I had was a credit card and no cash – sometimes, that’s even how I got to have some cash in my wallet. It gets even more depressing when some of these friends who are bankers, making tonnes of money, complained over dinner about their miserable year end bonus of 3 months. Bonus, what in the world is that?

Simply put, no one else believed in us. Our products were horrible, and useless. We developed something based on our wildest imagination, and they turned out to be the wildest failures. But you know what, this turns out to be the biggest achievement, and blessings (after having a mum like mine). I am extremely proud to have failed, truly and authentically. If there is a certificate or a badge of honor for failing, I would proudly wear in on my chest or my head. Without these failures, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because that’s how I learn. If you are a gamer like I was, that’s in fact the best way to learn how to play a certain game – by failing and trying again and again. So here it is, lesson no. 4, it’s okay to fail, as long as you learn from it and take advantage of your failures. Some of you would have heard of the game Angry Birds, but very little of you would have know they have failed for 51 times prior to that.

The Singapore system, from education to corporations, is one that doesn’t like people to fail. As a child, I was always told if I did not study hard, I would end up sweeping the floor (which btw, is perfectly fine. These guys make Singapore one of the cleanest, if not cleanest city in the world. What I have learned today, and btw, I am still learning about this world, is that sometimes all we need is a change of perspective. What does this really mean?

2 disciples went to Socrates for advice. The first one was getting a divorce, and asked Socrates what he should do. Socrates said wisely, “If she was a bad wife, good on you, she will be leaving you. If she was a good wife, good on you, you had a good wife.” The second one was getting married, and asked Socrates the same question. Socrates replied, “If she will be a good wife, good on you, you will be blessed. If she will be a bad wife, good on you, you will become a philosopher.”

With that, here is lesson no. 5 – by adjusting your mindset, things can look a lot better than you think. There are always positive things to focus on. You may not be the best science student, but there could be other passions you already have, and you should go for it.
So enough on failing. Who am I really, and what is this guy doing here on the stage? So again, my name is Keith, and I’m the co-founder and hustle ninja (aka CEO) of Gametize, who believes playing is the most important experience in life and wants to turn the world into a giant playground. We want to make studying, working, healthcare and even fitness fun through our products. Today, we have clients such as Singtel, DBS, Standard Chartered Bank and all these didn’t come easy without the support of people who believed in us.
I was also a compulsive gamer who didn’t sleep for nights, today I am reformed and repented, and can’t even pass Candy Crush Level 2. I chose a road less travelled, because I believe every individual has the potential to make a difference to this world. I just learnt about the slang, YOLO, a couple of weeks ago when I was a judge in ITE West College for a business competition, and have since fallen in love with this mantra. Imagine if I didn’t discover my passion for playing and changing the world, I might just have been an engineer – nothing wrong with that, except none of you here would then know the beauty of failing, and what a wonderful feeling it is.
Enjoy your rest of the day, and rest of your life, failing.”
Published on 20 November, 2013

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