This is a transcript of a talk I gave at INTI International College Subang on 25th May 2016.
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First of all, don’t worry — I’m not here to talk about religion.
My name is Aaron and I’m from a company called Leaderonomics. We specialize in developing leaders. I’m here today because I belong to the division that focuses on young people — specifically undergraduates like you.
I’m also here today to talk about how to live forever. Which as ridiculous as it sounds, is something I hope each and every one of you will start thinking about. Over the next half hour or so — we’ll talk a bit about how historically people have tried, and how you can apply lessons from that into your own life.
A little bit more about myself — just so you know that you’re not talking to a crazy preacher from some faraway country. I grew up in Alor Star, Kedah. Studied electrical and electronics engineering in Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS. My professional background is in Oil and Gas — where I spent nine years — in a few different roles: from graduate trainee, field engineer, operations coordinator to Asia Pacific regional manager.
I recently quit my job, so I could come hang out with young people like you. Oh ya, I’m also a bit of a writer — so if you’re pretty active online, you might have seen my name and blog somewhere on the Internet before.
But enough about me. Let’s dive straight back in to the topic.
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Let’s start with a chart. Guys and girls, would someone like to guess what this is?
(I’ll give you a hint. It’s 52 columns wide, and 75 rows deep.)
Right… this is a typical human life in weeks, adjusted for the average Malaysian.
I’ll assume most of you are around 21 years old… so where you are on this chart is here: [Blue Line]
And where I am is here: [Red Line]
The reason why I’m showing you this chart is because I wish someone had shown it to me when I was much younger. Yes, I have no major regrets in life — but at the same time — I spent a lot of my youth (including my early years of work) thinking about computer games and chasing girls. Somewhere along the line, I started thinking more seriously about what I wanted to achieve in life. But if someone had shown me this chart earlier — I might have grown up a little faster.
And I know we have a lot of good, religious people in this room. Yes, you may strongly believe in the afterlife, and I’m not discounting that. I’m just saying that if we looked purely at the amount of time you have on earth (assuming you live to a ripe old age) — this is it.
Not very much eh?
Way 1: The Traditional Way to Live Forever
People through the ages have thought about various ways to live forever. Do you remember stories about “potions of immortality”, or “the fountain of youth” when you were younger? Or okay, when you grew up a bit and started hearing about Twilight and vampires. For better or for worse, people have a fascination with living forever.
But here’s how I see it: From a non-religious perspective, the easiest way to live forever is… to have kids.
The smart ones in the audience are already complaining: “Hey that’s not fair. That’s not REALLY living forever.” I hear you… It’s not really YOU living forever. But short of cloning yourself, downloading your consciousness into a computer, or freezing your body for the future — having kids is the closest thing to having your DNA live forever.
Because if you play it right, your kids will carry your name, genes, and DNA into the next generation. And then their kids, and so on. Whether it’s a biological instinct or a social norm — this is how the human race has continued to survive and grow since forever. It’s why the kings of old wanted so desperately to have sons.
It’s also the reason why your parents will want you to have kids.
Let’s talk about parents for a while. Because parents are really strange people. Any of you already dating?
Some of you have really cool, open-minded parents — so they’re totally fine that you’re dating.
But the other, older-school parents: “Aiya… no need to worry about boyfriend yet la… Study first la…” Which in a couple of years turns very quickly into “Aiya… when want to settle down ah? When want to give me grandkids ah..?”
Parents logic: In uni, say don’t date. Suddenly when you’re working, expect you to find girlfriend/boyfriend immediately like clicking a YouTube video.
When you get to my age, if you’re not married/don’t have kids — that’s the most common piece of nagging you’ll have to listen to.
The Ideal Partner Exercise
But I’m here to help. Don’t worry if the thought of having kids scares you right now. Heck — I’m scared too. So let’s take a step back, and think about what happens before kids.
No, not what you’re thinking of… Think a little further back. Right — it’s finding your life partner.
If you’ve ever thought of settling down with someone special — I’ve got a simple, but very useful activity for you right now.
Here’s what I want each of you to do. On a piece of paper, write down 5 things that you want your ideal partner to have:
I’ll give you a few minutes. And I’ll tell you why later.
- Be specific. Don’t say: “I want someone beautiful.” (Bro, since the beginning of time, everyone wants a beautiful wife la…) Say something that is unique to you. Like: “I want a partner who is very girlish.” Now, that is not universal. Because some men prefer wives who are less feminine, and more boyish. Don’t believe me? Go ask a friend who has a very girlish girlfriend. It comes with its own set of challenges. 🙂
- Don’t judge yourself. Don’t say: “Aiya, but I’m so average… Who would want me? Who am I to ask for someone so good?” We’re talking about an ideal situation here. Think about what you really want. Let yourself dream a little.
- Keep it character-based. Because you know, beauty fades, and money finishes. But character is more lasting. So don’t say, “I want to marry a billionaire.” But think about what are the qualities in a billionaire that you really want. Is it bravery? Confidence? 50 Shades of Grey? Charisma? Whatever you want.
I’ll give you three minutes to think about it and write it down.
And don’t worry, I’m not going to show it to your lecturers… or parents.
The Ideal Partner Debrief
Now I want you to share your list with someone sitting next to you. Take a minute to do this, and one minute to listen to that person.
Remember — no judging. Let’s support each other here.
Can I have one or two volunteers to share their list? Hey if you’re single, this could be your chance to make a public offering.
Now, why did I just ask you guys to describe your ideal partner?
Here’s how I don’t want you to use this: Every time you meet someone new, bring your list along like a checklist. As the date goes along, tick things off the list:
- Funny… check.
- Polite to the waiter… check
- Likes Justin Bieber… check
That would make you… a weirdo. (Don’t be a weirdo.)
The Map to Happiness
Instead, I’d like you to think of it as a map. Most of us, (young people especially) when we’re in love — we end up making decisions solely with our hearts. I just wanted you to think a little today about what you really want — as rationally as you can.
Because there may come a day, perhaps one day when you get dumped and are heartbroken; when you feel lost; or unsure about where your relationship is going. That would be a good time to pull out your “map” and see. Where you said you wanted to go — is that where you are now?
If it is — then great.
If it isn’t — you now realize that you’ve changed course. And sometimes that’s OK. Sometimes what you want at 25 is different than what you want at 21. But at least you know and can compare. And if you’re not happy, you can use that “map” to guide you back to somewhere else. Somewhere happier.
What I really want is for you to put some thought into your life partner. It’s probably the most important decision you’ll make in your life.
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But what if for some reason you decide to not have kids. Or touch wood, if you’re unable to. Or if you want to be single and fabulous forever.
There are other ways to live forever. But first, let me give you a simple quiz.
Have a look at these logos. Do any of you know what these companies have in common? I’ll give you a prize if you get it right…
Right — all these companies are really old. But they’re also special for one reason: Every single one of these companies carries the name of the founder or co-founder.
Like how Henri Nestle founded Nestle and John Cadbury founded Cadbury in the 1800s.
Which brings me to way number 2 to live forever: start something.
Way 2: Start Something
It could be a business, like the brands you’ve seen in the previous slide. But not necessarily. It could just as easily be a foundation, non-profit organization or movement.
That, way it carries not only your name — but also your beliefs, mission and vision — even after you’re gone.
And just in case you don’t believe me. Or in case you don’t think it can be done, let me allow Batman to remind you.
Yes, Batman. For context, Bruce Wayne is the handsome guy you’ll see in this video (from the 2005 movie Batman Begins). Look out for why he decided to start wearing a weird black leather outfit, and fight criminals every night:
Bruce Wayne was just a man. But Batman was the something he started.
He called it “a symbol”, the something that would live on (and criminals would fear) even after Bruce Wayne the man was gone.
And if we come out of the movies and think about it in the real world — it kinda makes sense too. It doesn’t matter whether it’s George Clooney, Val Kilmer, Christian Bale or Ben Affleck who acts as Batman. Batman is Batman — he lives forever.
In your career and life — you can start something too. If you want. Whether it’s a small business, a monthly gathering with your friends, or even a simple Facebook page.
An Aspiring Writer’s Story
About five years ago, I started writing stuff and posting it online. It eventually led to my blog. If there are any writers/prospective writers in the crowd, you’ll know exactly how I felt:
- “What if people think I’m stupid?”
- “Do people even create blogs anymore?”
- “What if my boss or lecturers read my rants?”
- “WHAT IF MY FRIENDS THINK I’M LAME?”
Don’t worry — five years on and I still feel the same way. And people occasionally still come to my website and tell me I’m dumb.
But a few nice things have happened too. Over the past few months I’ve had articles published in the Huffington Post, some other Malaysian websites, and two weeks ago even had something in The Star newspaper. I’m not a best-selling author or anything — but I’ve started something, bigger than myself — that I’m pretty proud of.
It’s the easiest and best time in history to start something. Maybe all you need is an Internet connection and some guts.
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But what if you’re not interested in starting any companies or movements. And you’re still afraid of kids. I think there’s one more way to live forever. Heck, even if you don’t want to have your name live forever — this final point will be useful for you.
Here, I’ll let Batman’s mentor tell you. In this video (which actually happens before the previous video), Bruce’s mentor looks for him in a prison, after he had lost his way in life. Look out for how he offers him a path to redemption:
Way 3: Become a Legend
Way number 3 to live forever is to become a legend.
Of course, “legends” are subjective. What is legend to me might mean nothing to you.
I consider Elon Musk a legend, but maybe some of you haven’t even heard of him.
My point isn’t to try live your life so that people will think you’re cool. It’s to live a life of your own choosing. To choose your own path. And by doing so, you can live on in the hearts of the people that believe in the same things you do. You won’t become a legend to everyone. But you can become one to people that matter to you.
Now I know this is starting to sound like a cheap motivational speech where the speaker tells you that you can do anything. Which depending on how you see it — can be true, but also contains a lot of bullshit.
So let’s try to be more realistic. Here’s how I think we can actually lead legendary lives…
How to Become a Legend
It all starts at the intersection of passion, capability and demand.
Passion is what you love. Capability is what you’re good at. And Demand is what the world needs.
If you love something and are good at it, but there’s no demand for your “skill” — you have a hobby. For example, if you’re really good at a game on your mobile phone that no one else knows. It’ll likely remain just a hobby.
If you’re good at something, and there’s demand for it, you can get a job. But if you have no passion for it, that’s all it’ll be — a job. By the way, most people in the working world are here.
And then we have the wannabes. They love something and there’s demand for it — but they’re just not good at it. Like people you see on American Idol who really can’t sing, but try anyway. And like me — I love playing basketball. But a skinny, slow guy like me would never make it to the NBA.
Where we want to be is here in the middle. The intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. If you stay here long enough — you might just become a legend. Even if you don’t, it’ll still be a heck of a meaningful life.
It’s not easy though. Of all the three ways we’ve talked about, becoming a legend is probably the hardest. Like I said earlier, most people end up having a “job.” It pays the bills, and they have hobbies — but they don’t feel anything for their work.
But if you want… You can chase your dreams — and try to be a legend.
A word of caution though. My two rules for chasing your dreams are these: it needs to be legal, and it shouldn’t hurt other people.
Don’t become a terrorist.
But What About Passion?
Finally, let’s talk a bit about that elusive “passion” word you keep hearing about.
Because Demand and Capability are a little easier. If you’re willing to test yourself — you can pretty quickly find out what the market wants, and what your capabilities are. But passion — that’s difficult.
I still meet a lot of people my age or older, people in their 30s or 40s, who have no idea what they’re passionate about.
“What is my “passion” and how do I find it?”
What is your passion?
Here’s my final takeaway for you. If you want to discover what you’re passionate about — you can start by asking yourself these two questions:
- What problem do you want to help solve in the world?
- And what are you willing to suffer for?
Because with passion, there comes suffering. There is no perfect job in this world. Every work has some part of it which you’ll dislike. The question is… whether or not it’s worth it.
A few months ago, after nine years in Oil and Gas — I quit a pretty cool job because I wasn’t wiling to suffer anymore for that cause. Huge pay cut, and a totally different industry now — with a different kind of suffering. Yeah, now I have to stand in front of you guys and try to entertain you for half an hour.
Some people would say it’s stupid.
I say it’s worth it.
What problem do you want to help solve in the world? And what are you willing to suffer for?
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Maybe your life goal is to have a happy family and raise awesome kids — that will make you and your forefathers proud.
Or maybe you’ll build a powerful corporation — that will live on for generations after you’re gone.
Or maybe you’ll become a master at something you love, and in your own legendary way — contribute towards the human race.
Whichever it is, I hope you start; and continue to search for meaning in your lives.
And I hope you find it.