Photo credit : Bhope34 | Flickr
By MICHAEL TEOH SU LIM
Hailing from SMK Tinggi Bukit Mertajam (Pak Lah’s alma mater) came with huge expectations. I was relatively weak in sports and was often ridiculed for being a kaki bangku. However, I believe it was a blessing in disguise as that compelled me to develop my soft skills via drama competitions and public speaking opportunities.
Eventually, those abilities would be highly demanded of secondary school leavers, ensuring that they would be ‘marketable’ enough to enter any higher learning institution or even pursue a job. Remarkably, these soft skills were hardly appreciated until about six years ago. How times have changed!
Today, the abilities to engage society, contribute towards charitable efforts, communicate with people, and develop innovative ideas have become the new benchmarks to measure a youth’s employability and entrepreneurial skills. All these can be inculcated during our educational years.
Since graduating from secondary school, I have been one of the finalists in the 2008 AYA Dream Malaysia Most Outstanding Youth Award, been invited by Harvard University for its Asia Business Conference, won multiple global business student championships, and played a part in developing the community of youth entrepreneurs in Malaysia.
During my days at INTI College Penang, I took up various youth leadership roles, chaired various clubs, and became the president of the Student Government. It was not easy managing major events and leading a large body of students. Still, I encourage school leavers to embrace the opportunity to be peer representatives and serve as a stepping stone in creating a positive impact. As leaders, they will learn to think of others before themselves.
Subsequently, I spearheaded the college’s event management division and pioneered reality events for students, during which I took the opportunity to give back to my college. Through events like Alternate, not only were students drawn away from their classroom environment, they also underwent personal development. I also organised DiGi Street Blast, the largest youth festival in Malaysia at the time. The coordination of the 10,000-strong crowd that night taught me resourcefulness. Through these events, I learnt that youths can achieve anything they want, as long as they have the confidence and passion to do so.
After my stint with youth entrepreneurship, I pursued my degree in marketing and international business in New Zealand, during which I took the opportunity to lead the Students in Free Enterprise business organisation, and organised various community projects. The network of talents, business contacts, and communities I engaged with strengthened my belief that it is not only what you know, but who you know and who knows you in return that makes a difference!
One of the many unique experiences I had was distributing flyers on the streets to supplement my living expenses. Being alone and separated from my beloved country, family, and friends, I made it a personal goal to be a respected representative of Malaysia and my countrymen, something which I believe all Malaysian students can and should do while pursuing their studies overseas.
With strong support from family and friends and the ‘Malaysia Boleh! spirit, I won numerous business competitions, enabling me to fly to many parts of the world including New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong. I never imagined that I would have the chance to consult huge companies like Deloitte, Citigroup, and Ocean Park in our competitions. Upon achieving that, I realised that youths possess limitless potential, but the realisation of that potential hinges upon whether we are confident enough to showcase it.
Today, I speak to youths on ways to further develop by sharing my humble experiences with them. I also consult businesses on strategies that would make them more effective and responsive toward the youth market. Through my work, I also aim to share my late grandfather’s principles. The first is to be patient but persistent, while the second is to look at the silver lining amid adversity. His values, I believe, are even more relevant for youths today than they ever were.
We have reached the end of my story, even many others set out on the beginning of theirs. Share and share alike – after all, it is my personal belief that a story is not worth anything if it is kept in secrecy. If a story is inspiring, and puts a smile on one’s face, then it is a story worth telling.
Michael Teoh Su Lim is the co-founder of Youth Entrepreneurs Malaysia, an organisation that empowers youths with entrepreneurship opportunities. Michael’s experiences in global business competitions and youth NGOs became platforms for him to impact youths positively by creating opportunities for them. He was one of the finalists for the 2008 AYA Most Outstanding Youth Award.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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