Today’s generation has so much of everything that acquiring skills and connections has become a less painstaking endeavor. But the glut of choices nowadays becomes a distraction that challenges the way we focus on our capabilities and priorities. We might find it difficult to answer, “What’s your passion?” or “What’s your purpose in life?”
Definitely, things were different several decades ago and knowing your passion was not a priority, especially when the world was undergoing a revolution in ideologies and lifestyles. “Back then in Hong Kong, we were talking about survival,” said Benby Chan, a retired banker and a father of two. “It’s a transitional place. My parents migrated to Hong Kong in 1949 and they never thought of staying there for long. For us, as long as we work hard, we’d live.”
Survival Is the Name of the Game
Chan found interest in scouting when he was a child as it was his father, a school principal, who encouraged him to join extra-curricular activities. He became a “badge hunter” because of his desire to get badges on different scouting achievements and stay ahead of his peers. That, however, derailed him in his high school studies, and soon after he failed several academic subjects. While survival was the name of the game, Chan kept his mind open and invested his time in studying. In the end, it paid off. He got accepted at Oxford University but eventually turned it down in favor of a scholarship at Hong Kong University.
While in college, Chan also worked for the government to earn a living. After graduation, Chan embarked on his career as an investment banker, first in Hong Kong, then in the US, Europe, and ultimately in China in 1993. In that year, he met his future wife at a hotel in Beijing where she worked. They married a year after and welcomed their children Sarah in 1997 and Daniel in 2000.
Chan said his children are lucky to know their passions despite the many distractions nowadays. Part of it, he said, was his family’s privilege because of his extensive network that helped open a lot of opportunities for both children. Sarah, now a sophomore at University of California, Los Angeles, has found an interest in global studies and marketing. Meanwhile, Daniel juggles his senior year at International School of Beijing (ISB), college applications, and his budding film career and charity work.
Despite being an investment banker by profession, Chan has mentored Daniel by providing him with the essential tools of the trade he got from his years of experience: business wisdom and eloquence.
Making up the Lost Family Time
The relationship between Chan and his protégé son seems rosy, but that’s not always the case. When Daniel was younger, Chan was at the peak of his career in the banking industry as a vice-chairman and CEO of a listed company. Family time seemed like a weekly appointment for him. “He hardly saw me unless during weekends. Basically, he was always with his mom. There’s some sort of shortcoming in the sense that his mom needed to accompany him at public events. Unfortunately, I was not around.”
At times when Chan was on the other side of the globe and had to call his wife to check his kids, she would tell him to wait for her call instead. Or when after Sunday dinners with his family he needed to leave for work, Sarah would cry. “[At these moments] I realized, ‘I need to do something more to make it up [for them].’”
Chan left the banking industry in 2009 to focus on his family. He never left business, however; he opened an investment firm and a restaurant chain in Beijing. But his business interests were different this time. “At times my father has been telling me to be good and we should try helping other people. The only reason today that I still want to make money is to get more resources to help other people,” Chan said.
This would soon drive the way Chan’s children viewed their passions. “My dad taught me the importance of kindness,” Daniel said, adding that after having a taste of community service several years ago, he made friends with a lot of different people whom he never thought of making connections with.
A Pleasant Surprise
Last year, Daniel spent his summer in Costa Rica where he helped out with the conservation of birds. On the sideline, he spent time with a local tribe that had no proper water supply. There he met a lot of people who helped him know what happiness was. “They told me, ’You should enjoy life, live in the moment,’ because a lot of times I am looking only at the surface.” That experience inspired him to kickstart a fundraiser for the tribe and over the course of four months, he raised USD 17,000.
“That was a pleasant surprise,” said Chan, “…we wanted him to do service, obviously. But we didn’t expect him to come back with a sort of legacy or contribution. We were happy to see the momentum he has created and the work that he built. To us, it’s very encouraging and for him, it’s a very good start.”
Daniel continued, “I feel like my dad gave me the opportunity to expose myself to a lot of these activities which have taught me these lessons. At the same time, he’s also transferred a lot of skills in terms of communication.”
Lifting Yourself by Lifting Others
Chan continues to mentor Daniel and helps him with his college applications. In the meantime, Daniel is honing his skill in filming, undertaking projects where he can gain a commercial foothold such as an upcoming documentary to promote the tourism of Sierra Leone. Daniel also maintains a website (http://www.danielchanfilms.com/) where he publishes photos and films of his projects including “We the People,” his charity venture for underprivileged children in Sierra Leone.
“Pursue your passion and you will be able to achieve something in your own way,” Chan said, explaining that by keeping an open mind, one will find what interests them. His protégé son believes that it is not about having remarkable achievements or stellar records on college transcripts. “Rather, it’s having something that you desire, strive for, or believe in. I feel that by lifting and helping others I actually lift myself and find my purpose in life,” Daniel said.
Photos: Uni You
This article originally appeared on p 44-45 of beijingkids August 2017 issue.
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