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Blog | Life and Leadership   |   July 2, 2015

by Karen Chan

Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, how fast we can bounce back from adverse situations or simply “tahanability” in our Singlish context. Growing up in a meritocratic economy that focused greatly on intelligence quotient (IQ) during the school years and later emotional quotient (EQ) in the working world, adversity quotient (AQ) was something that took a backseat, primarily from a lack of knowledge as well as self awareness.

A recent trip to the Philippines to help equip and encourage underprivileged tertiary students provided me and my family with a very different perspective on resilience. Our ROHEI team participated in a corporate community outreach to Real Life, a non-profit organization that offered holistic programs for the underprivileged in the Philippines. These programs ranged from feeding programs for young kids in the slums to offering scholarships to sustain the older kids through school, so that they in turn can, in the future, deliver their families out of poverty.

One of the life-changing events for me personally came from visiting the scholars’ homes. During the morning of the visit, the scholar whose home we visited, told us his dreams. He shared about where he wanted to work, how he wanted to help support his three younger siblings with a good education and his desire to resettle his family in a home with better living conditions. While I have visited one-room flats and homes of struggling families in Singapore, nothing prepared me for what I would encounter next.

We arrived via pedicab and proceeded to enter one of the slum districts in the Malate area. Our walk into the backstreets was greeted with wide-eyed stares from the mostly squatting residents who reciprocated with shy smiles and slight nods when I smiled at them. As we entered the home, we had to climb up to the second-floor via a wooden board with planks nailed into them as steps. Up here, there was a makeshift table with a few stools. One side had mattresses piled against the wall and another side contained a simple provisional stove; yet another side contained hand-drawn sketches of manga caricatures. The cramped abode was lighted by a single florescent lamp and cooled with a simple table fan. There was a small open hole in the wall where pigeons would perch. At night, the table made way for the mattresses, which were barely enough to contain the family of six plus three dogs and three puppies. One side of the wall was charred black, the result of a fire that broke out 2 years back causing the family to lose everything they ever owned. Yet, they persevered to rebuild their lives and home from scratch.

Such was the scene that will remain forever etched in my mind. Here was a family, not unlike my own, living with bare necessities that we take so much for granted in Singapore. Here was a family that chose to define joy in their own terms rather than allow their physical environment affect the joys of family so long as they had each other.

This humbling encounter in the Philippines surfaced some lessons using the CORE principle from Paul Stoltz’ book, “Adversity Quotient”.

1. Control – How much influence I think I have over the adverse event.

The sheer determination and grit of the scholars in their quest for excellence was evident in their eagerness to learn from the collective experience offered by our team and the joy in their attitudes instead of resentment despite their obvious difficult family backgrounds.

2. Ownership – How much responsibility I am willing to take for the final outcome.

Instead of blaming others for their lack, the scholars focused on the skill sets they could present in their resumes and interviews to make them more relevant in their dream jobs and careers. Their diligence, hunger for learning and sheer determination to carve a better life for themselves and their loved ones was their driving force that propelled them forward and fuelled their purpose in life.

3. Reach – How far the adverse event impacts the rest of my life.

For as long as we knew the scholars, there was no evidence of their adversities reflected on their physical faces, body language nor their spirits. Instead, they carried with them a countenance of joy and hope for the future, and intentionally chose to focus on building a future of possibilities.

4. Endurance – How long I think this adverse event/consequence will last

It would have been easy to give up when the fire took away everything the family owned yet they made the choice to endure and soldier on. The scholars never despised their beginnings nor their neighbours. Instead, they persevered to bring hope to others in their quest for a better tomorrow.

Questions to ponder on:

  1. What is your current heartset and mindset whenever you encounter adversity and tough times?
  2. What aspect of CORE can you apply to build your personal resilience?

Drop us your thoughts at


Karen is Vice President of ROHEI, and mother of three children, Sarah, Alex, and Janice.

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