You’ve probably heard the tale often enough; the burnt out highflyer who has a large bank account but feels unfulfilled in the rat race. So how to get more out of life and enjoy what we do everyday? Business Coach Cahyadi Kumiawan (Exec Ed 1996) and Chen Soon Kuan (BBA 1977), former Manager Director of DBS Bank’s Corporate Credit Group who is now a strategic financing consultant to entrepreneurs, give their take on this perennial question.
Business Coach Cahyadi Kurniawan sits down with professionally and financially successful but unhappy people practically everyday to help them overcome their sense of disenchantment. After 22 years of leading the foremost ink manufacturer in the world, “having breakfast in the car while my driver fights the Jakarta traffic jam, yelling at managers, chasing for the budget and preparing reports for shareholders,” as he puts it, Cahyadi fully understands what his current clients are going through.
He says their dissatisfaction boils down to one thing, “most people are unhappy because they do not know what they want in their life“. He ascribes this to “Eastern culture where we are molded to conform by fulfilling our duties to society. Our income is seen as a reflection of what we are contributing to the society through our jobs and our activities“. Cahyadi laments that “the biggest problem in Eastern society is that we are allowed to dream only as a child, but are later educated to ‘fine tune’ our dreams to fit the requirements of our family, leaders and our community. Anyone who doesn’t conform is made to feel guilty, as though they’ve done something wrong“.
“But you should have your dream. Career, money, etc are only tools to reach what you want,” Cahyadi emphasizes. So he helps to get his clients out of their rut by asking them to crystallize what they really want out of life. “We will ask them this same question four to five times, from different angles, to help them clarify what they want. Then we chunk it down, step by step, to see how they can achieve that. We also analyze whether their current situation puts them on the right track – usually not, or they would not be paying for a coach,” he wryly adds.
The solution lies in the hands of the individual alone. “If what they want in life cannot be achieved through what they are doing now, we coach them to make prompt decisions and make a change. Procrastination is a waste of time and nobody can change your life unless you start to take positive steps,” Cahyadi points out.
Agreeing, Chen Soon Kuan says, “Most of us spend a large part of our waking hours at work. We owe it to ourselves to whistle while we work. If anyone is really miserable at work, I would encourage the person to examine whether there is something that he can do to change it. If he can’t, he should move on and do something that would make him happy. Life is too short for us to spend it in misery at work“.
Chen Soon Kuan can draw on her own experience of trying to break the mould. After graduating with a BBA in 1977, she did not join the financial services industry like her peers. Instead, she joined the education service and trained to be a teacher, to follow her passion. “As fate turned out, I joined the training department of a bank after acquiring my Diploma in Education and was sent to the frontline corporate banking department to learn the ropes first. I enjoyed mainstream banking business so much that I carried on,” she recalls.
So she did return to the industry her degree had prepared her for, but did it on her own terms, by allowing her passion to direct her work. “When I took on leadership roles and had to supervise staff, I saw myself more as a coach. A teacher at heart, I believe in the immense potential of the human being, and the role of a teacher is to help people to be the best that they can be. In interacting with young people in the work environment and in my personal life, I stretched them and set relatively high standards; showed them the possibilities, but gave them space to do it their way.” She was thus able to find fulfillment in her job, at the same time making work pleasant for her subordinates – simply by following her passion.
Perhaps the Key
She has noticed a common thread among the successful clients from her days in private banking, “I came round to the view that fulfillment comes from achieving a good balance between work, relationship and pursuit of interest beyond work. While we should give our best at work, it should not be the one and only passion in our lives“. One thing she says we should hold dear is family. “Family is important as it is an anchor. I have come across many successful professionals and entrepreneurs who lose their family in their journey. It is sad because success is so much sweeter when we have people to share it with“.
But how do we achieve success and find fulfillment in the first place? Cahyadi advises, “Find our what you like to do best, then focus on it and do it really well. Then commercialize it and you will find fame and money chasing after you“. He adds a vital reminder, “You have to enjoy the process, as real happiness comes during the process, not the result because once you’ve achieved the result, you will actually feel ’empty’ and need to be ‘filled with something else again.”
In fact, we often forgot the saying, “Life is about the journey, not the destination“. So go ahead, enjoy the journey – make a change if you’re not.