Speak Your Mind by Aw Kum Cheong

Divisonal Director
Foreign Manpower Management Division
Ministry of Manpower
Speak Your Mind by Aw Kum Cheong
Dear Young Officer,

I was a young officer once. Just like some of you. It’s hard to believe, I know. To you, people like me may seem like relics from another era (of typewriters and carbon paper); who’re afraid of Facebook (yes, I’m averse to it) and not getting with it (is this expression passé already?). Or worse, just getting in the way of real change.

That’s the strength of youth. The young believe they are unique, that no one else gets it, that life is full of infinite possibilities and they have the power to change the world. All this was true of me too when I started out in the Service. Through a combination of circumstance and ambition (or the lack thereof, at least in the private sector), I somehow decided my primary mission in life would be to help people. Actually that’s not entirely true; my primary motivation was to not spend my time working hard making money for other people. Also, I wanted something tangible as the fruit of my labour, instead of just adding zeroes to the bottom line. I wanted to make a meaningful contribution, and my work to make a real difference. And life in the Civil Service seemed a good way to do that.

But it doesn’t really matter how you came to be in the Service today. What matters is how you intend to continue, every day for the rest of your career. What matters is when you look back on your time in Service, you are able to say that you did some good and take some pride in what you have accomplished, for the public you have served and helped, the lives you have touched. Never lose that perspective. It is easy to get lost in the bureaucracy and forget that what we do affects many people directly and indirectly, every day. It is easy to focus on the big picture, on the KPIs that affect how you and your team look because that’s your bottom line, and forget that the numbers are about real people out there. Find a way to see and hear their stories periodically if you can. Get on the ground.
When I sometimes catch myself being uncharitable, I remind myself that as a young officer, I had also made my fair share of mistakes.
As for my own stories, what I treasure most are not the personal successes, but rather, the memories and camaraderie of those I served alongside, and the battles we fought together. So as you move forward in your career, remember that you did not make the journey alone. Many others within the Service have contributed to your success through their work, guidance, influence and tolerance. When I sometimes catch myself being uncharitable, I remind myself that as a young officer, I had also made my fair share of mistakes. I spoke my mind and was fortunate enough to have good bosses who overlooked my youthful naiveté and occasional unwitting impudence. But I was always motivated by good intentions and I think that was what people could see and forgive.

So speak your mind.
    May 25, 2012
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