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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My main learning point from Mr Lee Kuan Yew

I feel much sadder than I thought I would at the demise of Singapore's founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I must have shed tears at least 5-6 times in the last few days as I read his speeches and see his life pictures. Not the type of tears one sheds for a loved family member, but tears shed because his was a life worth living and I feel a great sadness that such a well lived meaningful life has to end just like any other life. And as I reflect on what Mr Lee Kuan Yew represents to me, I realize what I learn most from him is that it is possible to dedicate an entire life to a single greater purpose and have no regrets at the end of it.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was clearly extremely intelligent and eloquent. He also was a natural leader, knowing when to play nice and when to be tough. But there are many other people in the world who are extremely intelligent and who are strong leaders. It is a genetic lottery and there is not much to respect or learn from that. Mr Lee himself believes that over 70% of a person's ability is determined at birth. I totally agree.

What sets aside Mr Lee is his amazing strength of will and alignment of his entire life to the idea of a strong Singapore. The closest approximation to this I have experienced is the way a good entrepreneur sacrifices and obsesses over their business. But we entrepreneurs do this because we own the company and so we tap into our base human nature to love what we possess to drive our obsession.  But Mr Lee is too smart to not know that he does not truly own Singapore but still he consistently chose to subordinate his life towards what he felt was best for Singapore.

And reading all his books and looking at his home and pictures, I can honestly say I don't believe he did it for any monetary reward or creature comfort. His sense of purpose and benchmark for personal achievement is the Singapore story. That explains his now famous quote about giving up his life for Singapore. He had so many chances to take it easy but he never did it. It could be because he has aligned himself so much, he cannot let go even if he wanted to!

So it all boils down to this. That this super intelligent, thoughtful, eloquent, happily married individual can at the end of his life, reflect and say that his life of conviction and service to Singapore is a life worth living and which he has no regrets. This is very unique viewpoint as most people at the end of their lives don't reflect on business or politics but instead wish they travelled more or spent more time with family.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew has shown another path for those who seek purpose in life. It tells me that it is possible for a highly talented man to devote his entire life and talents to a greater non monetary good and be engaged throughout with it as it grows and evolves. And at the end of that life, have no or little regrets.

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