Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hard Questions

First, I would like to apologize to the class that today's lesson ended way late.

Like I said in my previous post, CS3216 is "like a box of chocolates". I never quite know what I'm going to get. Truthfully, it's pretty scary.

The Show-and-Tell this year was much longer than either of the Show-and-Tells for years' past. The main reason is that we had a *much* larger number of musicians, singers and dancers. Also, lots of the students showed stuff on their laptops.

This year was much more show than tell and those who told, told a lot. :-) Previous years were mostly tell and not so much show.

I guess I am quite good at cutting people off if they talk to much -- but I don't know how to cut people off in the middle of a musical piece.

My consolation to the class is that future lessons, except the Facebook application seminar, are not likely to go overtime. Remember that I'm the guy with the wife and two screaming babies at home.

If I keep going home past 11 pm, it will not be long before I have my ears twisted off. I think I have nice ears. I would like to keep them attached to my head thank you. :-)

Anyhow, typically I ask students at the end of the first lecture if they have questions and I expect "normal" questions.

Today, the students asked two questions and I didn't have the time to answer them so I said I would answer them in this blog. So here I am stuck with two hard questions.

First question: What is success?

Second question (asked by Wai Hong after Show-and-Tell): What is passion?

What do you do when confronted with hard questions? You Google - and I did exactly that.

I estimate that there must be at least 300 articles on success and about 30 on passion. Those with more time than me can go count and let us know exactly how many.

So obviously, people are more interested in success.

The truth of the matter is that I don't "know" the answers to the two questions. I can only talk about my impression of what they are.

I think success is a state of mind. People can be divided into two categories by their mindset: winners and losers.

The winners aren't necessarily your billionaires and often times if they aren't quite billionaires yet, they are just on their way. But this analogy seems to suggest that success is measured in financial terms. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. How would I know? After all, I'm a Computer Scientist, not a philosopher.

The following quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is pretty thought-provoking:

What is Success?

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

I once stocked up on copies of this book called Secrets of the Millionaire Mind and I gave them away to random students who came to see me (it's a cheap paperback lah). I've run out. Sorry.

The point of giving out this book was not so as to encourage students to become more money-minded, but to highlight to them this point I'm trying to make: success is a mindset.

Sorry I like to pick on students, but welcome to CS3216. This student for example has a mindset problem because he says "I think I am a failure".

The truth of the matter is that I knew that already. Our friend submitted a seven-page personal statement and said he "already tried to make it as short as possible". After reading every single word and thinking through what sort of a person would write what I was reading, I was not surprised to read the "I think I am a failure". :-)

Fortunately, the story does not end here. This student also says, "I don’t want to be one", which I also expected.

The truth of the matter is this: CS3216 doesn't take losers. There aren't already enough places to go around. It is only right to offer the places to those who have the potential to benefit the most 'cos I don't have any confidence that I can turn losers into winners. My goal is to try to pick the winners and try to help them win earlier and bigger. :-P

This particular student has talent. He doesn't really know what it is, but it's there. He feels he hasn't quite achieved his potential and he is NOT content with status quo. That means his mentality can be "fixed" so that he falls squarely in the "winning camp".

Let's play a little game. I know what his talent is. I suspect he doesn't. At this point, all of you probably don't either - since you don't know him well enough. Over the course of the semester, why don't you guys figure it out and do him a favour and tell him? :-)

Finally, what is passion? I think passion is a deep-seated conviction that empowers folks to do stuff above and beyond what is typically known as mediocre. It's not about what you believe, but knowing WHY you believe. No one says it better than Anthony Robbins.

I believe that I have a passion for what I do. It is now 4 am. I am dead tired. Still I blog. Enough said. :-)


  1. I like that quote about success. Too often, success is misconstrued, and people associate success just with money, status and power. Yet, the people who are really successful are the ones who've really lived a life for others, and for themselves.

  2. I think your answer is too much for me~ I can't remember too much things. haha =]

    I want to share my feeling about these two questions. For me, no matter whether it's success or passion, the answers are the same. It's doing what I like and use what I like to help others. Really simple, right? But I think it's easier for me to execute.

    I don't think success and passion are the purposes of my life, but are the processes. I am in success and in passion all the time (just what I feel la, have none business with what other people think =] ). So I can enjoy them all the time.

    If we always try to pursue success and passion, but have no time to enjoy them, what's the meaning of them?

  3. I absolutely agree with what Bingyu has said about success being a process. I think what the wise philosophers have been trying to tell us is that success is not a destination. One shouldn't aim at success. Success is a by product that comes along with having lived one's life right.

  4. i think what Bingyu and Reuben is trying to say is this:

    I dread success. To have succeeded is to have finished one's business on earth, like the male spider, who is killed by the female the moment he has succeeded in courtship. I like a state of continual becoming, with a goal in front and not behind.
    ~George Bernard Shaw

    yar reuben, this was the quote i was telling you about in lecture, just couldn't find it in my head at that time.

    another is that during the lecture, i think i did not put it articulately enough in lecture about my purpose of life. so basically it's the

    "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived."

    line in the poem.

    One last thing. If anyone wants to borrow secrets of the millionaire mind from me, let me know. i have a copy as well.
    i'm not as rich as prof tho so probably not giving it away =P

    and finishing off with 2 quotes i particularly like

    Don’t ask so much what the world needs. Go out and do what makes you come alive, because what the world needs most are people who have come alive.
    ~ Howard Thurman

    Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.
    ~David Frost

  5. I think the same people we view as 'successful' will never think of themselves that way. They will still have the hunger, the passion, the drive to keep going on, never being satisfied because they can still keep going.

    A person only talks about success when everything is behind him/her, like MJ(either michael jordan or michael jackson) or that rich old man who owns a little island off the pacific and fishes all day..

  6. Dear sir,

    You exposed me!

    That quote sounded too familiar... True enough, I found it in a post dated 30th March 2007 (Blogger Search sucks by the way, took me a while to find it). Reading the post again brought tears to my eyes.


    Sorry, there was no permalink back then and it was archived by months. Luckily, it was the last post for the month and it's all the way at the top.

    The CS1101 tutor I was talking about is Mr. Raymond Tan. He taught me how to write a program! =)

    I noted that he worked on Hydra with you and also noted that he left the University a while back. Do you guys still keep in contact? Help me say hello! =)

    He might have forgotten who I am. After all, lecturers teach lots of students throughout the years. Tell him I'm 'twocute'.

    Bah, it's almost 5a.m., and I wonder what I am doing here. =p

  7. I don't think it's just mindset leh, I once read that most people think they ARE leaders. Ofc, we can't all be leaders.

    We need skill, and luck in order to attain success. A positive mindset, though, is ofc a major plus.

    I kinda agree with doomdg on the last but that we only speak of success once it is behind us.