Book Description:

What I Didn’t Learn In School – You’ve probably guessed it – is anything but textbook answers to helping you find success in life after gradutation. You will read about all the hard knocks the author went through in search for his dream career after graduating from the university, as well as the lessons he has learnt from them.

From this book, you will draw 8 life lessons – on attitude, mentorship, personal branding, networking, employment, business, money mastery and health – that will help you meander through your new and exciting life with fewer knocks. This book is for school leavers and to-be graduates who may be intimidated by the impending thought of stepping into the real world and actualising that dream career. You should read this book before making another life-changing decision on your career.

  • Introduction

     The lowest passing grade in the real world is competence.

    William Glasser

    Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’re probably about to graduate from university—or have just done so. You are close to reaching, or have just passed, a critical milestone in every university student’s life. As you finish your exams and prepare to receive that graduation scroll, you might be elated, confounded or somewhere in between. Regardless of how graduation feels for you, remember its true purpose: as a stepping stone into the real world. Graduation will thrust you headlong into a place where you have to make the dreaded decision of what to do next… because your working life is about to begin, with all its responsibilities. The lowest passing grade in the real world is competence. William Glasser The purpose of education is to train us rigorously to have, and use, the right tools for excelling in the working world. Your degree brings great honour and responsibility—your credentials will stay with you for a lifetime. You have a visible emblem of your hard work, diligence and academic integrity. Furthermore, it tells employers that you have attained a body of specialised knowledge that is recognised worldwide and which opens the door to a career in your field. Quite simply, you are now the driver of your life.
    The working world also introduces you to practical knowledge– or how the concepts and theories you learnt are applied in a highly dynamic and unpredictable world. Besides that, you will be pushed into a tunnel of maturity where you have to assume responsibility for your decisions and their consequences, and find a means of livelihood to sustain your lifestyle. Your parents will have done their part and now you have to be accountable for your own life choices. Throughout your education, chances are, you socialised with people who have somewhat similar life experiences and who belong to the same age group as you. You could also have chosen to interact and socialise with societies on campus that closely matched your own beliefs. The better understanding of diversity is another gift of graduation. You will have to work alongside people who have life experiences, ideologies, and outlooks completely different from yours.
    It is normal to feel out of place and working life requires you to analyse situations and socialise in a more neutral, friendly manner.

    Graduation is basically the opening of multiple avenues.

    Will you work or pursue further education, and where at? What else will you do and how will your interests, circumstances, lifestyle, family, and ambitions come into play? Reassess what you really want to do in life if you have not already done so. Your actions today will affect the person you will be 10 years from now. Perhaps as a student, you were enrolled in a course you did not like. Why not seize this chance to eventually place yourself where you truly want to be? This book serves as a toolkit to help initiate you into life after graduation. It is a comprehensive guide to what you need to know (and do) to make the right choices, build a career that will ultimately help you fulfil your dreams, and actualise the purpose of your life.

    Some things to note before we get started:

    1. The workplace will change you, so choose wisely. The work ethic and rules of your organisation will affect how you see things. Your job hours might be demanding and you will be required to be prepared for daily challenges. Deciding early what type of career you would like to have will help you see whether a particular job aids your long-term goals.

    2. Learning doesn’t end after graduation. The process of learning is continuous and vigorous. You will have to incorporate your daily learning about people, tasks, challenges, problems, failures, and successes in your overall perspective. University life may probably have taught you to learn and integrate knowledge in your life; graduation merely provides the signal that you are ready to take off in the real world. Each day will bring new events, triumphs, and setbacks. This is where an attitude of continuous learning will reap great rewards.

    3. Begin making right decisions as early as possible. A confusing transition like graduation can make or break your life. The wrong life decisions, if not learnt from and dropped quickly, will become harder and harder to recover from.

    All these are the consequences of your hands—not those of your parents or lecturers— which hold the reins of your life. I have been through the uncertainties of graduation and now want to take you through how you can differentiate between the right and the wrong
    paths, eliminate bad options, and eventually make your path to success
    clearer and more realisable.

    Ready? Let’s begin preparing for the rest of your life!

  • Chapter 1


    If you can see the possibility of changing your life, of seeing what you can become and not just what you are, you will be a huge success.
    Oprah Winfrey

    The turning point of my life came when I was 17. I had done fairly well in my GCE ‘O’ Level preliminary examinations, where I scored 11 points. Based on these results, I was initially assured by the principal of Temasek Junior College (TJC) that I would be able to enroll in the school.

    However, when the results of the school posting came out, I was shocked to find out that I hadn’t made it. I was posted to Catholic Junior College, where none of my close friends was sent. I then submitted an appeal to two other schools by using my sports credits—I had won a bronze medal in shot put at the national level. But I didn’t have a lot of hopes and felt like giving up. I thought to myself, “Well, too bad. I’ve got to make the best out of the situation.”

    However, something inside me told me that if I really wanted to go to TJC, I had to do something about it. I was so desperate that I got hold of the Yellow Pages (telephone directory), and found the direct number to the principal’s office.

    Initially, I was told that the principal was busy. After five calls in two days, I was really desperate and begged the receptionist to put me through to him. I explained my situation to him nicely but all he said was to “pray hard” that my ‘O’ Level results were good enough to enter his school.

    I got angry.

    “What do you mean I’d better pray hard? Weren’t you the one who told me that 11 points were good enough?”
    Then there was an awkward silence on the phone. I just kept quiet, not knowing what to do, or what to say. I swear that that was one of the longest silences that I have ever gone through.

    Then he broke it and told me to leave my phone number down. He promised to call me back so I gave him my number and hung up. I kept telling my dad to inform me if the principal from TJC call. Two days went by and nothing. Somehow, I was confident that I would be getting a call from him. Perhaps this was positive thinking? True enough, three days later, my dad told me that TJC’s principal had called back and I was eventually accepted into the school. That was a memorable day for me and I can still remember what the principal told my dad, “I have never met a student bold enough and determined enough to call me directly, and question my words to him. I had no choice but to find him a place in my school.”

    It was indeed a turning point in my life. A lot of my self-doubts were thrown out of the window. I was able to use this experience as an anchor in my life, to motivate myself to achieve anything that I set my heart on.

    That foundational moment would later shape my attitude to life and success for the rest of my life. My motto in life is:

    You can achieve anything you want, as long as you have the guts to believe you can do it.

    Your attitude is simply the manner in which you approach something. When it comes to work, people notice your personality as you relate to them. Do you make others feel comfortable and optimistic or uncomfortable and uncertain when working with you? Having the right credentials is not enough. Your degree opens the door to your career path but whether you stay rooted is based on how you perform, as well as the attitude you bring before your tasks.

    What does a good attitude look like?

    It is one that communicates:

    A positive outlook about things. You will be given tasks that test your will mettle and these need to be met with hard work and positivity. Unhappiness, discontent, and tiredness, even if you feel them, need to be handled in a positive way. A positive attitude will help you settle in faster, while a bored and blasé person will probably not be approached or included in any office affairs.

    Determination to do well at your job.  It takes time to become completely efficient at your role, so be patient with yourself and never give up. Even if you make mistakes, your employers value a willingness to try new things and to learn from them. With the right approach to new responsibilities and missteps, you will become known as a reliable and dependable worker.

    Cultivate an Attitude:

    My career began in AIA. I started as a Financial Services Consultant in 2003, during the SARS period. Everyone was very surprised by my choice of career; many friends doubted I would last long as they felt the field was saturated and not feasible. Even my closest friends did not believe I had the looks, drive or charisma to succeed. “You’re too much of an engineer to be doing this,” they said.

    I closed my first six cases with relative ease as they came from my closest friends from primary and secondary school. Then it started getting increasingly difficult. I understood the great need for patience, as I went for 15 appointments without closing a single case.

    I realised that I would need to be seen as adding value to customers who might not have known me before. If I were in their shoes, what would I want from my consultant? And how would I like to be treated? That was the start of a great mindset change. I told myself not to worry whether or not they would eventually buy from me. Instead, I focused on whether I was doing a good job for them by adding value toward what they could see.

    I also needed to amend my style of presentation and how I told them the facts. Flexibility was also needed to accommodate last-minute changes in schedules and I did not miss out on any opportunity.

    Along the way, I had to keep learning and increasing my knowledge. I learnt that Results are the product of Activity, Skills, and Knowledge.

    Ask= Results                                                                                                                                     

    Hence, I started acquiring knowledge on how successful people manage their finances and came up with a systematic way of helping people with overspending and money hoarding problems. This strategy helped win many clients over. They came to perceive me as a subject matter expert, as my approach covered not only insurance, but money management. Through my diligence in following up with them, I was able to show that I cared about whether I was doing a good job for them.

    Sales took off in my second and third years. Many customers commented that they wanted to see how sincere I was in planning their finances for them and were won over not by my initial presentation, but by how I treated them and how sincere I was in helping them achieve what they wanted.

    Lesson learnt:

    Help enough people get what they want and eventually, they will help you get what you want.
    Be Patient
    The process of adjusting to an entirely new life, social circle, and work ethic – be it transitioning from primary to secondary school or joining the university –obviously takes time. Graduation is no different. It may take you a whole year to develop the mindset necessary to change your habits accordingly. Indeed, there are many things about real life that no textbook can ever teach you.

    Understand this and when you bring the right attitude of positivity and constant learning to your work, you will make progress towards better professionalism and maturity.

    As you gain work experience, lessons will instil themselves in your own understanding naturally. When employers look for candidates with a certain number of years of work experience, this is what they seek: the understanding, mindset, and skill development that presumably come with time on the job.

    Be Flexible

    Being flexible will allow you to become more resilient to change. Optimism towards whatever life throws at you and the ability to handle various situations are part of flexibility. For instance, if you don’t find a job right away and the hunt takes weeks or months, that just means you have more time to decide on your goals, build your skills and organise your life productively on your own terms.

    Or if you have found a job but still finding your place in the organisation, focus on adding value to your organisation in whatever ways you can.

    Be Inquisitive

    Study your daily routine and the various things in your life. What monetary commitments are you responsible for? Groceries? Rental? Car? Knowing the cash flow you need to maintain all these will show you what you must do to get enough.

    For example, if you need money on a weekly basis, it might be wise to get a part-time job while you wait for an interview call. In this way, you will stay busy and be able to negate some of your stress.

    When you are called for an interview, prepare well. Find out as much as you can about the organisation and the people working inside, as well as the business culture. Learn exactly what the role will require you to do, what skills someone in that role will need, and whatever you can find out about the role.

    Be Diligent

    Be prepared to work hard and give your best shot. Whether you are searching for a job or working at an organisation, use all your skills and talents to bring out the best in yourself and in others around you. You may also need to balance short-term obligations with long-term dreams, such as reaching a compromise at present in order to achieve them in future.

    If you do not yet have a job, do not ignore entry-level and low paying jobs, which will provide you with experience and adequate income. In this case, the skills and experience are more important than the pay itself and it is unproductive to waste that time by waiting for the perfect job at home.

    Remember that the time is now. Whether you want to start a business, set a new trend, become a billionaire, make your parents proud, invent something or do anything substantial, the only thing you have in your control is the present. Your time is limited; don’t waste it on useless activities. As Napoleon Hill said, “Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”

    The perfect career will never come your way; you have to find it or create it.

    Make sure every day gets you closer to your goals.

    Valuing and Working with People

    Get in touch with professionals – or at least their human resource
    personnel – who are in the organisations or fields you are interested in. Attending career fairs, guest lectures, and other similar events are great for this purpose and you will learn much by socialising with the attendees.

    Also, value the people in your life. Work is not the only path in which you have to progress and move forward. Your family, relatives, friends, and loved ones are equally important. As Steve Case, an American businessman best known as the former CEO and Chairman of America Online, once said:

    Your ability to succeed will be largely dependent on your ability to<br>
    work with people. Indeed, it has often been said that what you do is less important than who you do it with—that the people you surround yourself with, whether a spouse, or friends, or co-workers, will ultimately be the principal determinant of the course your life will take.

    So take care to reconnect with your old friends and loved ones and allow them to provide you with support throughout your career.There is no need to face the world alone.


    Keep learning. If you need experience, do an internship or get a part-time job. This will help you transit better into the workplace and develop good habits, such as waking up and sleeping on time. Volunteering at organisations will also help you gain contacts in the industry and increase your chances of getting a permanent job there (and doing what you love).

    Need to pick up a new technical skill or increase your knowledge? Check out online resources, such as PropertyGuru (, Forbes ( or YouTube ( where I recommend inspirational videos by Anthony Robbins. You can also take hands-on courses like Adam Khoo’s Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), or improve your speech and confidence with Toastmaster groups. You can then document the new skill in your CV.

    Courage and Dedication

    Finally, don’t be afraid of the ‘real world’. Too often, we use the<br>

    phrase as if it meant some dark and forbidding place. In reality, it<br>
    consists of regular people like you and me, who perform our roles and keep our society growing.

    Fear can kill your dreams and void your skills.

    Be confident about your own unique attributes, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Indeed, success and living the way you want involve taking calculated risks—as Apple founder, risk-taker, and iPhone creator, Steve Jobs, reminded us, “You aren’t made for living somebody else’s life.” In life, it is actually riskier not to take any risks at all!

    Do what you love and love what you do. Passion and dedication in work are essential ingredients for success and if you dislike your work, that compromises on your happiness and peace.

    Once you start something, put your heart into it and find ways to make it fun. As Dale Carnegie said,

    “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”
    Consider the following activities:

    1. Think of someone who has contributed much to your life but whom you have not shown appreciation for some time. How can you remind him that he is valued? Share it with him in person or on social media.

    2. Learn new things related to your field or hobbies. Find out what resources are available, and spend some time every day or week to learn it. The result will be more knowledge—or even value to employers or clients.

    3. What do you enjoy about your work? What keeps you going when times are hard? Consider looking for ways you can draw fun and satisfaction from even an average workday.

To see feature chapters, please click below