Meet Sean. He’s one of those guys that you need to have in your life. He’s the type of friend who’s always going to do the right thing, even if it’s not the most comfortable thing to do. He has a really strong sense of values, something I really appreciate. He has a really clear understanding of what’s right and wrong, mostly driven by what’s honest and what’s not. Yet, don’t mistake Sean as some kind of pious monk. Far from it! You’ll catch Sean making the worst, most inappropriate jokes that leaves everyone squirming. That’s why I like Sean, he seems to marry his innate personality of being one of the most honest people I know to his terrible ability of making the most disgusting jokes.
Here’s the dichotomy I find interesting, and one of the main reasons why I wanted to write about him. On one hand he’s a jokester, a prankster, a guy that enjoys shocking people with inappropriate things. But on the other hand, I find him very sweet and genuine. He once sent me a paper he had written for his thesis. It was about his life philosophy, and I asked him to share a little bit more with us.
“My life philosophy is not very rare. It’s actually very common. However, it’s something that I think is important to have. The first thing I believe in is that wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, there is a specific purpose and reason for it. A lot of times, in whatever the circumstance we are in, we always feel like there’s something better out there. The grass is always greener on the other side. With whatever we’re doing now, it sucks. The company is bad. The processes are shit! This could be true to a certain extent. But when you start believing in that, you won’t actually put in effort or heart in whatever you’re doing, and you’ll always feel like something out there is better. You have to realize that wherever you are, whatever your place, you can make an impact, no matter how small. For me, it’s about making a long lasting impact in the lives of the people around you. It can be within a small circle. We don’t actually need to be in a position of power and leadership to make that impact. You yourself are a leader in the place that you are in, and I believe that you can definitely make an impact in people’s lives. I myself have struggled to find the meaning and purpose of what I’m doing. At one point, I kept looking outside where I was. And it was through looking outside that made me realize the answer was right in front of me. I left my previous company because I thought there would be something better out there. After that, I went to four different companies. I jumped from four different companies! So if you ask me, with the knowledge I have now, would I still have left my previous company? The answer is no. I would have stayed. But at that time I believed there was something better and greater out there. So that’s a reason why I realize I have to reinforce this philosophy of mine in my own life, to know that wherever your place is in whatever the circumstance, there is a specific purpose and reason for it.”
Another one of Sean’s life philosophies is to always keep to his word. I wholeheartedly agree with this. People seem pretty flaky nowadays. I wanted to know, did the people in his life often keep their word?
“If you ask someone something three times, and all three times this person doesn’t do it, you know you can’t trust a person anymore.”
“Well, I’m sure as you’ve experienced, you would have someone telling you, “OK, I’m going to give this to you by this date.” And of course, when that date comes, it’s not there. In the working world, this is really common. In fact, it’s common in life itself for people to tell you they are going to do something and then they don’t do it. I realized that I get really annoyed by it, so I made it a life philosophy to make sure I don’t do it to others. It’s really annoying. You have a certain expectation that something is going to happen, and you can make certain plans because of it, and when it doesn’t happen, everything gets disrupted. Keeping to your word, or not keeping to your word, is going to affect your credibility. If you ask someone something three times and all three times this person doesn’t do it, you know you can’t trust a person anymore. We can still be friends, but I know that I won’t be able to rely on you 100%. I’m not saying that I myself am 100% perfect, but this philosophy helps remind myself of this.”
“Honesty and sincerity have to go together.”
Sean’s third philosophy is about honesty. Here, I’m curious. A lot of times, I have faced in my life people who roll insults with honesty, and then use the excuse of, “Well, I’m direct. I’m honest.” I think there’s a big difference between rudeness and being blunt. But, where does honesty fit in the whole equation?
“Honesty and sincerity have to go together. You can be honest, and that can come across as rude. What you have to come across as, is sincere. Honesty and sincerity is something that I know I have, but it can also be seen as a weakness. In the corporate world, you know, you’re supposed to bluff a little. This part’s a little bit difficult for me. But, I really believe it’s important, because it makes life simpler, when everyone is sincere and honest. 1 is 1. You don’t need to come up with reasons why it’s not. You don’t have to go around in circles, play this up and play that down. It’s just direct and much easier.”
So, what’s his opinion on why people aren’t as honest as they should be today?
“I guess everyone has their own personal agenda. They think about themselves.”
Since Sean and I are both Malaysian, the conversation shifted into the state of what Malaysia is today. Sean has a lot of close friends from his primary school that he’s still good friends with up till today. I went to a government school, where it was always a rule (at least, in my school anyway) that you had to sit with someone who wasn’t of the same race as you were. Personally, I liked this rule. As a kid, race just seemed like a label. There didn’t seem to be a bigger meaning to it. I always liked sitting with someone from a different race because often, it meant I sat with someone that I didn’t know so well. It was a chance to get to know someone new. Primary school and secondary school, in my opinion, fostered a lot of togetherness in terms of mingling with different races.
My feeling of Malaysia today is that it seems more race-based than ever now than it was 15 years ago.
“I think in terms of race based sentiment, you’re right. It seems like it’s more race based now than during our time. But, I also think that this sentiment is being shouted by a minority of people. They shout really loudly, and the media picks it up. But on the ground, the sentiment is very different. The people you and I meet on a day-to-day basis are not only thinking about race. It’s really bad for a country, especially like Malaysia, when we start getting very race based.”
What does he think we can do in our daily lives to make the situation better?
“I’m honestly not sure. I’m still going to go around my daily routine, with treating people like how they should be treated. I hope it will make a small effect in the small circle that I’m in.”
“When I see my friends do well in life, I’m honestly genuinely happy for them.”
As the son of a pastor, I wonder what Sean is motivated by. Unsurprisingly, material goods or money do not drive him. However, he struggles with a dilemma or while not wanting money, money seems essential to live.
“I’m a very simple person. I’m not driven to get the biggest house or the fastest car. These things don’t drive me. The only reason why I’m pursuing a path that has better financial security is for the people around me. I want to provide a better life for my family and my loved ones. But in order to provide for them, I need money to do it. Even if I have a life purpose of say, wanting to help the poor, I would still need money in order to do this. On my own, I’d probably just live a really simple, hermit lifestyle. When I see my friends do well in life, I’m honestly genuinely happy for them. Like when my friend Angelica got a job in a hotel, and she got a huge pay hike, I was sincerely very happy for her!”
I can vouch for this. Sean’s just one of those super genuine guys that cheer you on when something good happens to you.
If not motivated by money, what is he motivated by then?
“I’m motivated by seeing my loved ones happy. It’s probably because of the way I’ve been brought up. My dad is a pastor, and pastors don’t earn much. My upbringing was that my dad was financially able to take care of us and put food on the table, but it wasn’t a life of luxury. However, throughout my years growing up, I saw the helping hand of my close relatives. My aunts and uncles who really helped us out a lot financially, including helping out in my education. So I remember all this, and it’s something I want to give back to them in the future. That means my nieces, nephews or grandchildren, and not to my aunts or uncles because they’re so well to do already they don’t need it.”
“Happiness is my own responsibility, not the responsibility of other people around me.”
So on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy would Sean rate himself as?
“I wouldn’t know how to rate it, but I’m not a sad person. I view happiness as a conscious decision that you make to be happy.”
At this point, Sean pulls out a book called ‘The Happiness Project’ that I remember loaning him a few years ago. (Time to give it back to me, Sean!)
“This means, when you wake up, you decide to be happy. Happiness is my own responsibility, not the responsibility of the other people around me. For example, if I’m with my girlfriend, I can’t say, “Hey, I want you to make me happy.” Happiness is my own responsibility and I can’t expect her to make me happy. When I’m with her, I’m happy because I get to spend time with her. I’m happy being with her. But at the end of the time, happiness is my responsibility and it’s not her responsibility to make me happy.
A lot of things make me happy. I think in general, what makes me really happy is seeing my family happy and doing well in their lives. I think I’m quite a family oriented person. Hanging out with my nieces and nephews make me happy. I feel happy when I meet people.”
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