April 16, 2021, by indybamra1

Learning To Say No, Focusing, and Seeking Mentors

By John Lim, UoN Alumni

John Lim, an international graduate from the University explores the different elements that have led to his success in the workplace. He has learned how to keep focused, nurture his strengths and seek advice from mentors along the way.

1. Stay focused

When Bill Gates and Warren Buffett sat together for dinner one night, Bill Gates Sr. asked them what they thought was the most important thing that led to their success. Their reply was unanimous: Focus.

As a social entrepreneur running a speaking, publishing, and coaching business that aims to help people to understand, unlock and unleash their potential, there are thousands of things I can do. I have been thinking of hiring more people, ways to market our business and how to redesign our website.

But I’ve realised that my greatest successes have come from the things that I’ve said no to, rather than the things I’ve said yes to. Jim Collins, the business philosopher, found that great companies had a stop doing list, rather than a to-do list.

Today, you might be tempted to take on more. But remember, we are only human. We can do many things, but we can’t do all things. Focusing on a few things allows us to bring greater effectiveness to the work we do. It ensures that we aren’t burnt out and that we can continue to live to fight another day.

2. Sticking with strengths

When I was a student, I used to receive negative feedback about how poor I was with teamwork. However, I would receive much positive feedback about how good I was with speaking and writing. As a student, I tried to work more on my weaknesses, rather than sticking with my strengths. I would go to conferences to collaborate with other delegates, organise events in teams, and try to be a better team member. But it just didn’t work out. I ended up failing my coursework and was still berated for my poor teamwork.

When I started my career, I realised that I needed to start playing to my strengths of speaking and writing. By doing this, I’ve written regularly for Professional Social Work, a magazine read by 21,000 social workers; spoken to hundreds of students at multiple training sessions, and started my own publishing business.

I don’t say this to boast. I used to think that if I didn’t work on my weaknesses, I would continue being unsuccessful.

Today, we are fed the narrative that to be more competitive, we need to have more skills. I would argue that we need better skills, rather than more skills. It is our responsibility to steward and nurture the few talents we have, rather than trying to be good at everything. Like the saying goes, ‘A jack of all trades is a master of none.’

3. Seeking mentors

When I was studying for my social work degree, I was privileged to have a mentor who cared deeply about my development. On my final placement, I struggled a lot. I nearly failed, twice. This meant that I would have had to repeat my final year. However, my mentor gave me suggestions on how to get through my final placement and I passed!

Since moving back to Singapore, mentors have also helped me to make sense of how to transition from the UK to Singapore. They have helped me to understand the context of my work, what I can do, and how I can be more effective. I was nearly sacked from my job after six months but after applying my mentor’s advice, I was given greater responsibilities at work.

A mentor’s greatest role is to help you identify your blind spots. We aren’t perfect. We can’t always see what we’re doing wrong. But when we bounce our ideas off of our mentors, they draw experience from their own journey to suggest what might be good for you.


Focusing, sticking to your strengths, and exposing your weaknesses to mentors is countercultural to the usual narrative on how to advance in our careers. But to differentiate, we need to do things differently. We need to be different. Why?

Because we are all different.

John’s website is Live Young and Well.

Talk to us about how you can play to your strengths to find a job that suits you. We can also help you develop your skills ready for the world of work.

Our Career Mentoring is an opportunity for you to be supported by a member of our alumni community. Mentors come from different areas of expertise and are at various stages of their careers, but they have all volunteered their time to offer one-to-one career support and advice to help you.

Posted in Alumni StoriesChoosing Your Career