With an affable and relaxed demeanour, Eric Feng exudes the warmth of a naturally charismatic mentor as he recounts and shares his personal life experiences and journey over the years. From leading a once typical Singaporean life, he has now become an international speaker and sales strategist with widespread acclaim and awards to his name. STYLEGUIDE takes an introspective approach in exploring his journey from start to end alongside his innermost thoughts and motivations.
Can you tell us how you got started initially?
My life was pretty much like a typical Singaporean. I was studying double math and double science in Junior College before getting a scholarship to do computing in National University of Singapore. Life was predictable and I had expected myself to work for the government after graduation so as to have an ‘iron rice bowl’.
During my first year of university however, I received one piece of information during accounting class that changed everything. I learnt that salaries are accounted for under liabilities when balancing a financial statement.
This offended me because I felt that employees add value to their company and should be seen as an asset rather than a liability.
Ultimately, I realised then that you don’t have much financial stability when you are a salaried person working for a company. When the economy does badly, you might lose your job and even when the economy is good, you may not get to reap the benefits.
Another revelation was that an ordinary job would not help me earn the amount I desired. My initial salary on a per hour basis was equivalent to a domestic worker - that was when I realised that I can never make the kind of money I want by working for a company and exchanging my time for meagre payment.
Around this time, I started paying attention to the world of entrepreneurship. I realised I have a knack for solving problems (which I love) and I could be rewarded many times exponentially by engaging myself in this area.
I decided to join the NUS Overseas College Programme, which gave me the opportunity to work overseas for a start-up and learn entrepreneurial skills from successful entrepreneurs.
After I finished my scholarship and cleared my bond, I decided to start an educational company as I love teaching and learning. It just felt natural.
And ever since then, I have never looked back.
What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced along the way?
When I started my educational business in 2004, I was about 24 years old with a very young looking face. In the educational business back then, it bodes well if you have an old or mature look as it lends credence to a trainer or teacher’s experience.
In my case, many people were doubtful of the value I could provide through training, simply because of my age and appearance. I’ve had to face sarcasm, cynicism and many forms of rejection.
This was a significant period in my life where I had to hustle for opportunities to prove myself. Although this was my biggest challenge, it had led to my big breakthrough.
This is why I want to let people know that their biggest struggles usually lead to their biggest breakthroughs. The depth of your struggle determines the height of your success.
I was rejected so many times that I decided to heed the advice of my mentor to invest some time and effort into finding out the reasons why some people still hired me as a coach and trainer.
That was when I discovered – to my amazement - that I was hired because I’m young!
Instead of perceiving my youth as a stumbling block, I started to see my youth as a stepping-stone. Because I was young, I can be a lot more creative. Because I was young, I can share with leaders, things that they probably have not thought about. This was how I found my positioning.
Yet having said that, I think one of the things young people need to remember is this: relationships do matter.
Your network equals your net worth. I would not have been where I am today if not for that one or two people who gave me an opportunity.
Irene Ang was one of my very first mentors and the only reason why she helped me was because she saw a lot of herself in me. There will be people out there who will see themselves in you and because of that, they will help you. But never take their help for granted.
Early in my career, the Learning Head for Great Eastern (GE) gave me a single opportunity to speak at GE’s Achiever’s Day. He had told me: “One chance because I like you. But whether you can continue with our organisation depends on whether the 1,000 people like you and if the 1,000 people see value in you.”
And of course, the rest is history.
I worked hard for 5 years before I was given that one opportunity, and when opportunities seemed in short supply, I kept working on improving myself.
For young people today as you wait for your chance, get yourself ready. Sharpen your skills, deepen your knowledge, and expand your network.
What is your main driving force?
I always have this nagging thought that I am not good enough. I was short, shy and had low self-esteem.
My best friend told me that if I were in a room, people might not even notice that I was there. I later found out that I was born out of a shotgun marriage. My mum didn’t want to have me because she was only about 16 years old back then.
All these incidents do affect a person’s psyche, which is why I always have this lingering feeling of inadequacy that I’m not good enough or I’m not useful enough or people will not want me.
This drives me to do two things.
One, it pushes me to work very hard on making myself valuable. I read a lot, take time to learn from people better than me and after each training session, I will do a critique of myself to find out what can be done better.
Two, I go where I am celebrated. In spite of trying your very best, there will nevertheless still be people who will dislike and demean you. Do not let them get you down. You can let them motivate you, but do not let them demotivate you.
What will you say is your purpose in life?
As a Christian, my purpose in this life is to become more and more like Christ Jesus, the perfect man who is kind, wise, patient, loving and generous. He is my role model and my prayer every day is to live out my life in a way that brings honour to Him.
At a personal level, I want to become a positive influence to as many people as possible. I will be the happiest person in heaven when on the day I die, millions cry because of the impact I have made in their lives.
Years ago, I met an Indian boy at Toastmasters. We got along so well that I asked him out for a meal at McDonalds. Back then, I was part of a life-coaching organisation and I was tasked to sell a particular coaching program. And I thought this Indian boy is a good prospect.
He shared with me his story: why he left India for Singapore, why he chose Singapore and what he wanted to achieve in life. He eventually did sign up for the coaching program and benefited tremendously in resolving some fundamental and personal issues that were holding him back from achieving his goals. It was a very touching moment for myself when I realised the profound impact I’ve created in his life.
I had made a difference to one person.
In hindsight that particular moment also made me realise that I’m actually happier when someone else gets a breakthrough than when I myself get a breakthrough. When my Indian friend succeeded, I actually felt happier for him than for my own success!
It’s a very interesting thing – true happiness comes when other people are happy.
There’s a lot of blessing when you give. When you give whatever you have, regardless of your religion or belief, you activate a law where others will give you more, so that you can in turn keep giving. You now become a river and when your river flows, more is given.
If you can just touch one person’s life, imagine the ripple effect. Most people neglect to consider this. Someone helped me a long time ago, that’s why I am where I am today.
Is there one single success that resonates most with you?
I have always wanted to travel around the world and to have a stage where I can speak and influence others. But perhaps because I’m Asian, and especially as a Singaporean coming from a small red dot, I have had this persistent thought, “Why will people want to hear me talk?”
I’m 36 this year and I’m literally going places around the world. If you look at things from a superficial point of view by the world’s definition, then yes I’m successful. But in my world, I don’t think I’m successful yet, because my definition of success is very different.
My definition of success is to be the best version of myself, and I’m not there yet as I have a lot of weaknesses to improve on.
When will you be at your best if you constantly want to improve?
I will never be at my best! But you see, maybe that’s it!
A purpose is always a moving target that pushes you to progress continuously. At the end of the day, it’s never about a destination but the journey.
We need to set a purpose that is exciting and meaningful so we can progress. It’s in this progression that we gain all the experience and that we meet all the people we are supposed to meet.
This is called precession.
For example, take a bee. Do bees know their real purpose? They don’t, but what is their objective? Go to the next flower, collect nectar and feed their colony. However, as they fulfil that objective, they are fulfilling a bigger purpose – pollination.
Let your emotions guide you. Occasionally there are things that you do which makes your heart flutter – that is life’s little hint and little nudge to tell you to lean towards it.
Hence, I always encourage young people to do more things because if you don’t, you will not know what you like and what you don’t like.
Life is all about experiencing. When you experience more, you start to see a pattern where people respond very positively towards you in some aspects. That should give you an indication of where to focus.
As you go deeper, you start to realise that you’re serving people without even knowing. That is when you are fulfilling your purpose.
To quote Steve Jobs, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
What do you have to say to young people who have a fear of trying things out of the norm, or the fear that they may spend years to try something new yet it ends up a waste of time?
Everyone is running his or her own race. Life is unlike university and it’s not school either where we are measured on a normal curve. There is no curve and no distribution. You are on your own.
I have seen people in their 50s doing phenomenally well, but they have been hustling for decades!
The first thing that young people need to know is to stop comparing themselves with other people – your journey is your own to live.
They need to ask themselves better questions and be certain of their decisions, similar to making an investment – “What is the opportunity cost of spending one year of my life to experiment? Is the upside worth the downside? Am I willing to lose my investment?”
Perhaps instead of taking big risks first, take small steps to see if you can sustain the momentum – for example, start with sacrificing one hour a day as an alternative to sacrificing one year.
What is your morning routine that keeps your day in check?
I believe in routines a lot because with it, one can preserve his or her limited willpower and discipline to tackle the harder things in life.
For everything in life, your starting investment is discipline. It takes discipline to first create a routine and sixty-six days of consistency before that routine becomes a habit like brushing your teeth.
Having a morning routine is essential to me because how you start the first hour of the day will determine the rest of your day.
The very first thing I do when I wake up is to play high-energy music! Music is one of the fastest ways to shift your mood! I have a playlist of music that I listen to, and songs I recommend will include “Fight Song” and One Republic’s “Good Life”.
The second thing I do is read the Bible – I have a daily devotional app where I can go through one verse every day in just five seconds. Exercising is very important to me as well so the next thing I do is follow a fitness routine on an app in my phone called “Seven – 7 Minute Workout Training Challenge” where I do about ten exercises.
After feeling refreshed, I then have a nice breakfast and read at the same time. In fact, this special time is where I essentially want to tell the world, and also to reaffirm to myself, that I want to dedicate the first hour of the day to me. We tend to give our energy away all the time, with almost nothing left by the end of the day.
Hence, by spending time with yourself for yourself, you are sending a message out to the world that “I matter”.
What are your hopes and aspiration for the future?
The big picture is that I want to be the best version of myself.
I believe in living a value-centred life because things change all the time.
My number one key value is to be a positive influence to millions of people. I become very driven when I have a following constantly looking to me for motivation and inspiration. It gives me a sense of ownership because if I know I’ve got a thousand people looking at me, I’d want to be the best version of myself.
Freedom is the second key value that I cherish. I want to travel and see the world, to have conversations with people from different cultures and be inspired by stories about their lives and struggles.
I hope to capture these stories and any little nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned to share with the world and with my following as well.
Personally I feel that the world out there makes us think that we are not good enough. If there is a message I want to bring across to the world, it will be this, “Know that every one is made to shine like a star – it’s just that each of us shine differently.”
And if I can use my life to inspire people, to let them see that they are worthy, then “Wow!”
I’ll feel good even if it’s just one person.
But I’m ambitious.
I want to be a positive influence to millions.