And every superhero has some superpower that is (usually) used for good. And so, we remember not just our superheroes, but also the superpowers they have and how they use them.
Let me share with you my superhero, his powers and how he put them to use.
Born nearly eight decades ago in a city close to a bustling port. The eldest of four siblings in a family that came from a relatively middle-lower income group. Having lost his father, quit school early and started working to support his mother and three other siblings. Secured a role as a peon (Google it!) at a foreign bank. From the bottom, he worked his way through the school of hard knocks and ended up leading the International Trade Finance function.
You either pay now, and play later or you play now, and pay later.
What was his superpower and how did he put it to good use? After observing him for some time now, I came to the conclusion that his superpower was being decisive. Not only was he decisive, but he was decisive early in life. He was able to put his superpower to use in many areas; here are three areas that I have seen and personally experienced.
Decisive about taking responsibility
Even at a young age, he decisively stepped up to the responsibility of being the eldest to provide for the family. That same decisiveness was seen when he asked the woman he loved to marry him. That same decisiveness in responsibility was seen in raising his own family.
I saw how he took responsibility in ensuring that his three children had a better life ahead of them. From education to career, his superpower of being decisive in taking responsibility was not seen through manipulation and coercion, but rather through loving counsel and Godly advice to nurture his children.
I had firsthand experience through my interactions with him one late night in 1995. I was a student then, pursuing my undergraduate studies, and he was my sponsor. I was into my first semester and unsure if I should continue. Knowing he was paying my fees, I didn’t want to disappoint him. Our conversation went late into the night. It ended with his assurance that I could pursue other areas of interest if or when I was one hundred percent certain; and that he would continue to sponsor me in my chosen field of study.
I stepped away from the conversation that night feeling overwhelmed. He was decisively responsible in sponsoring my studies. He taught me likewise – be responsible and decisive in life. Fast forward, I completed my bachelor’s degree (in the original field of study) and he attended my graduation ceremony! There was a sense of pride in his eyes and a deep gratitude in mine.
Decisive about working hard
From the early days of hardship, he was decisive that he needed to work hard to provide for the family. Things were not going to present themselves on a silver platter without hard work. Good fortune and luck may be the mantra for some, but never for him. Being decisive about working hard meant he was willing to put in the hours and make sacrifices. He was disciplined. While others played, he paid (the price of working hard).
“You either pay now, and play later or you play now, and pay later. Either way, you have to pay. Leaders choose to pay now and play later. They appreciate the compounding effect when you sow now” (paraphrase from John Maxwell). I’m not sure if he had read John’s books then (I doubt it), but he sure would have understood the principle!
Whether it was his responsibilities as a volunteer in church or the demands of work, he was decisive about working hard. Very late in his career (near retirement), the bank introduced something called technology. From the ‘hunt and peck’ Olivetti typewriter, he migrated to a Compaq Presario (laptop).
I recall seeing him spending hours reading manuals and learning the various functionalities and applications. Take for an example, how he diligently organised the church address book and integrated it with the label printing function. I bet that most of us reading this don’t know how to do that! I was impressed beyond words about his learning agility.
Being a volunteer in church, I saw how he meticulously organised his tasks to ensure that the responsibilities were carried out efficiently and effectively. From song books to home visitations, I observed how he was decisive in connecting and caring for people around him. It was neither easy nor convenient, but he did it with much decisiveness.
Decisive about priorities
Whether it was in the home front or expectations from work, volunteer or paid, he was decisive about his priorities. This meant never neglecting them and at times, struggling to juggle matters (but juggling them nonetheless).
I remember many occasions when he would return from work (Kuala Lumpur) on a Saturday (yes, corporate offices used to work Saturdays!) to our home in Klang. Tired as he was after a long week, he would often promise to bring me (well, perhaps I may have been presumptuous) to the toy store in Section 14, Petaling Jaya. So imagine the journey (from KL-Klang-PJ) in the days when the Federal Highway was only a dual-carriageway. After a cat-nap, we would make our way to the toy store with my brother. (Almost) every trip will have two endings - we would both have a new toy, followed by a meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
I could think of many reasons why he shouldn’t or wouldn’t go through the trouble, yet he did. I’ve seen him do the same for others. Going out of his way to serve them, care for them and attend to them. Why? Because it was on his priority list. He was decisive about his priorities.
Being decisive about priorities meant he had to make sacrifices. He could have had a bigger house, more expensive clothing, more exotic meals and more luxurious cars. Yet, he knew his priorities. Savings went into the childrens’ education fund and making sure there was enough for a better (brighter) future. He decided early and stuck to his decision.
So there you have it. My superhero had the superpower to be decisive. How he put it to good use in taking responsibility, working hard and having clear priorities. But the greatest impact on me was him being decisive about loving God (and serving people).
Being a person of faith, I observed how he read his Bible faithfully. Unlike a history book, he allowed the Bible to read him. Instead of studying the Bible, he allowed the Bible to study him. He was true to scripture that says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). I saw how the Bible transformed his life. I learnt what it meant to be patient and kind towards others. To treat others with respect. To give your very best and always value people.
Thinking of our current situation in 2021. With the pandemic and our increasingly VUCA world, leaders need the superpower of being decisive. As we lead our people and organisations, we must act responsibly, work hard (and smart) and have clear priorities to navigate through this storm. In every crisis, a pilot (leader) must aviate, navigate and communicate.
My Superhero's change of Address
It has been nearly a decade ago that I last spoke to him. The memories remain fresh in my mind. As if it was just last week that we had our toy store trip and KFC. It brings a smile to my face and tears of joy in my heart. I had so much joy spending time with my superhero.
A decade ago, he changed his address. From the port city he grew up in, he exchanged it for the eternal place of rest he was looking forward to. We spent the last days seeing him smile and enjoying the little pleasures of life - having family and friends around, sharing his favourite meals and his craving for ice-cream (which I still don’t understand!).
Such was the life of my superhero, his superpower and how he put it to good use. He discovered his purpose, worked to sharpen it over time and lived it to the fullest. He has inspired me to live likewise. Like my superhero, I too want to be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
I love you Daddy!