Adversity Quotient

This article was contributed by Yoman and first published on 15 Jun 2023.

I walked down memory lane recently, largely because of a sad event happening within my family earlier this year that got me emotionally overwhelmed. As I am reviewing the multiple twists and turns in my life, I reconnected with many old contacts on LinkedIn, one of whom was my line manager when I first started my working life in the civil service some 20 years ago.

While he might not be the most popular boss amongst colleagues, I have fond memories working with him because he gave me many opportunities and guidance when I was very green and fresh from school. 

Do you have a high Adversity Quotient?

He asked me during the selection interview: “Do you have a high Adversity Quotient?” and elaborated to mean “the ability to take hard knocks and recover” when he saw me looking puzzled by the acronym. 

I managed to get past the selection interview, only to realise what was in store for me — quite tough on-the-job training, but it was very fruitful from a growth perspective. It was a pity we worked together for only just over six months, after which he got posted to another ministry via natural rotation at the Director level.

When I reconnected with him on LinkedIn lately, his first response was: “You have had an amazing career. Good thing you moved on from XXX” to which I replied, “Good thing I realised early!” (My first line manager also moved on from his civil service stint and enjoyed much better progression in the private sector.)

Many would think of the civil service as an iron rice bowl, that is true to a large extent. 

But one can also easily get stuck there performing mundane work, with little or no progression in one’s career. Roughly three years into my civil service stint, I found myself not getting anywhere after being bypassed for promotions on a couple of occasions. 

It was certainly not a good feeling when I found myself lagging behind my peers, both in career as well as personal life. The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam started becoming more popular in between 2004 and 2005. I jumped onto the CFA bandwagon in the second half of 2005, after I realised my boss at that time (boss already changed a few times) decided to cold-shelf me… and sensed that civil service was not going to be the right place for me to build my career.

2006 marked a turning point in my life, as I crossed paths with a few good people — one after one another — that eventually led me into the investment industry. (My ex-colleague had kindly pointed me towards the CFA Prep Programme by CFA Singapore at that time, where I swiftly enrolled that enabled me to sail through the Level 2 exam with flying colours… and then a quant fund manager who took a liking for my programming and data analysis skillset decided to take me in as his desk assistant.)  

They say it’s “Right Place, Right Time”

It happened because Lady Luck was smiling on me that year. But of course I played my cards well at each point that enabled events to pan out nicely.

(Life in the investment industry was full of UPs and DOWNs, but suffice to say I was blessed with good bosses and pleasant seniors, and had a fairly good run in the financial services industry, enabling me to “retire” from my fund manager career after 12 years.)

Looking back at the chain of events, if I had enjoyed a smoother ride in the civil service, I might have just stayed within my comfort zone, that would not have been in my best interests. 

Our Chief (equivalent of a CEO of a company) was a firm believer of Jack Welch management philosophy — let me quote what he openly shared with everybody at a Management Staff Meeting, “if you find that your staff is not performing up to the mark and/or does not quite fit well into the organisation, the best thing you can do is – let him go and let him “fly” elsewhere. 

By continuing to keep him there in his role, you may think you are being kind to give him a job, but that is actually “False Kindness” — your staff will realise one day that he has wasted his entire life there with little progress! Therefore, it is cruel to keep him there if he is Not meant to be – you are showing him False Kindness.

That’s why I said, “Good thing I realised it early enough and moved on!”

In times of adversity, play your cards well…

My lack of progress (in the civil service) paved the way for me to have something better later on in life, but the point really is — in times of adversity, one needs to continue playing the cards well. 

I did well by realising early that I am not well-placed to be a civil servant, because I am quite lousy at “singing the same song as the bosses”. 

I did well by jumping on the CFA bandwagon, and I did very well by swiftly enrolling for the CFA Prep Programme, even though the course had already commenced.  

I did best when I successfully transformed the lull time (due to the boss cold-shelving me) into extra time for CFA exam preparation, which enabled me to sail through the exam with flying colours!  That’s also why people say “Right Place, Right Time”. I wish to add that one needs to be playing the cards well (or making the RIGHT decisions  at each point) to “enjoy the good luck”.

Lady Luck will certainly smile on us one day… 

The question is: when that day arrives, are we able to rise to the occasion?

Had I chosen to just dwell upon my lack of progress and continue working (in the civil service), I would never have had the chance to experience institutional investing.

If you are currently going through a rough patch at this moment, I hope my story somehow boosts your Adversity Quotient enabling you to play your cards better.

I wish everybody success in turning things around in your favour!



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