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August 03
2012年8月3日

人生好比馬拉松

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我最近應邀出席數間中學的畢業典禮,並以「人生好比馬拉松」為題,向畢業的少年致詞。恰好最近這段時間,城大的應屆畢業同學也結束學業各奔前程,我謹將這篇致詞移贈給他們,全文轉載於本網誌,誠意祝願他們在人生馬拉松途中不斷努力,持之以恆,各自創造出光輝的前程。

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各位同學:

混沌學理論中有一個概念,叫作「蝴蝶效應」,源自於美國氣象學家愛德華.羅倫茲(Edward Norton Lorenz)的一個說法。他曾說,「一個蝴蝶在巴西輕拍一下翅膀,可以導致一個月後美國德克薩斯州一場龍捲風」,意思是說,一件表面看上去毫無關係、微不足道的小事情,可能帶來巨大的改變。也就是我們常說的「差之毫釐,失之千里」。

每個人在自己的一生中,會面臨許多選擇,有時看上去像是一個簡單的選擇,卻會產生完全不一樣的後果。但問題是,人生是沒有綵排的,我們永遠不會知道,如果選擇了一條不同的路,結果到底會怎麼樣。正因如此,中國歷史上才有這樣一個故事。

故事說,先秦時代有一個魏國人,姓楊名朱。一天他走到一個三岔路口,面對著三岔口,突然放聲痛哭起來。

旁邊的人問:「唉,這位先生,你哭什麼呀?」楊朱答道:「唉,我不知道該走哪條路!」

旁邊那人聽了直搖頭,說:「嗨,弄了半天你就為這個哭啊。這麼大一個人,又不是小孩迷路找不著家,值得為此而嚎啕大哭嗎?」

楊朱鄙夷地看了看身邊的人,眼淚還沒抹乾,帶著滿臉憂愁說:「你哪裡知道,人生到處都是這樣的三岔路口啊!」

這就是有名的「楊朱臨路而泣」的故事。楊朱是先秦有名的哲學家,他臨路而泣,就是感慨一種選擇可能改變人生,和上面說的「蝴蝶效應」有相似之處。

其實,美國詩人羅伯特.福斯特寫過一首詩,講的也是這種人生選擇給人帶來的困擾,詩名叫 The Road not Taken

人生沒有綵排,生活不可能重複;一旦做出選擇,就要放棄其他機會。因為沒有綵排,所以應該隨時做好準備,要能夠隨機應變,不要等到某一天突然天上掉下來一個餡餅,給了你一個大機會,你卻手足無措,不知如何把握。

你們中學畢業了,也會面對許多選擇,包括選去哪裡讀書,要選學校、選科目,或是選工作。這是人生的一個很重要的關頭,是走向獨立的起點。

在升學選科時,你們要選讀自己感興趣的、適合自身性情和才具的科目,而不要隨波逐流,追求所謂的熱門學科,也不要只着眼於院校的名氣和排名。以美國為例,當地不少掌管福布斯五百強企業的CEO都不是名牌大學畢業的,可見成功與是否讀有名氣的大學沒有直接關係,而更多取決於個人的努力。

人生好比馬拉松,一時的成績不能決定終身。名牌大學畢業也許可以為你爭取到一個面試的機會,其餘的還要靠能力、努力。哈佛商學院曾經好幾年針對畢業生做過一些研究,探討哪些因素跟學生未來的成就有關聯,其中包括學生修習的課程、學業成績,以及包括身高在內的其他變數。結果發現,學生在校成績跟未來的成就似乎毫無關係,雖然短期來看,也許有點關連;從長遠角度看,大學學習成績與成就之間沒有任何關聯。

另外,根據我個人的經驗和閱歷,以及許多我認識的人的親身經歷,我可以肯定地說,只有對自己感興趣的事,才會有熱情和激情,才能持之以恆、不斷努力,因而才會成功。

俗話說,思想決定行為,行為形成習慣,習慣決定性格,性格決定命運。年青人不要太相信命運,前途掌握在我們自己手中。知識可以改變命運,做事的態度可以改變命運。

年青人,無論做什麼事,不要怕失敗,或是怕失敗而不去作嘗試。要敢於大膽嘗試,做第一個嘗試吃螃蟹的人。孔子說過,只怕自己無能,不怕失敗,不怕受挫折,不怕別人不識自己的才華。

事實上,年紀輕輕一帆風順,沒有吃過苦、耐過勞、受過挫折,反而不是一件好事情,缺少一種韌性。

中國古代的教育家已知道這一點。中國明朝有一位名相張居正,原名張白圭。據說他兩歲即能識字、五歲能詩、十歲能文,是一個「少年天才」。十二歲考秀才時,荊州知府李士翱一看他的文章就很喜歡,見面後更為他改了個響響噹噹的張居正。

李士翱隨後把這個天才少年推薦給他的上司,湖廣僉事田頊。田頊當面考了少年張居正一篇文章,題目叫作《南郡奇童賦》。張居正很快交上一篇文章,田頊看了果然覺得他是個奇童。

十三歲張居正去武昌應鄉試,當時叫作考舉人,有點像今天的高考。在明代,鄉試相當於今天的高考,而會試則相當於研究生考試,最高級別的是殿試,考上的人叫作進士,相當於現在的博士生。

原來他是可以中舉的,但是當時一位官員,湖廣巡撫顧璘,卻勸主考官不要錄取他,理由是張居正年齡這麼小,不經挫折中了舉,只會添長驕氣,最多不過多了一個吟風弄月的文人,卻可能因此失去一位治國良才。因此,張居正直至三年後再次鄉試時才中了舉人。

顧璘不讓張居正中舉,是因為他識才。據張居正自己回憶,顧璘第一次跟他交談後,就稱他為「國士」、「小友」,把他當成忘年交。還邀十三歲的張居正去家裡吃飯。席間,他把兒子叫出來,指著張居正說:「這位是荊州的張秀才,以後成為中樞內閣,可以去投靠他,看在我和他是朋友的關係,一定會幫助你。」由此可以看出,這位一方大員對張居正的器重。

後來,張居正身居宰相之位,大力推動改革,使明朝的政治經濟得到振興。在他的官宦生涯中,雖然屢經挫折,但從沒有氣餒、放棄,一蹶不振,幾經風浪,如履平地。少年經歷挫折,使他成熟、老到,因而能夠成就大事業。

人生如同馬拉松,需要我們持之以恆,不斷努力。希望以上講的故事對大家有一點啟發。謝謝。

 


 

Life is like a marathon rather than 100m sprint

Recently I’ve attended a series of graduation ceremonies at the invitation of some local secondary schools, and addressed the teenagers in a talk titled “Life is A Marathon”. It happens that meanwhile our own last-year students are finishing their studies at CityU to embark on their various new careers. Here I would like to offer this speech to them, with my sincere wish that they, with diligence and persistence, shape a bright future in each of their life-long marathons.

For the full text of the speech, please see the blog entry below.

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Dear students,

If graduation from high school is a milestone in our life, it is the beginning of a marathon, our life's marathon. For many of you, it could be the beginning of a more independent life whether you choose to study in Hong Kong or abroad, or start your career. You won't have your teachers holding your hands and advising you, and sometimes, showing you what to do anymore. You could be living away from home.

But no matter what you are going to do, you need to remember what you decide to do could lead you on a different road. While it is better to have choices than having no choices, having choices could prove to be a challenge.

There is a story about a philosopher, named Yang Zhu (楊朱)from the State of Wei(魏國)of the Warring States period, who was seen crying at a fork. Someone came up to him and asked: "Why are you crying?" Yang replied: "I don't know which road to take." The guy shook his heading disapprovingly: "So you are crying because of this? You are an adult, not a child losing his way. Is it worth crying for?" Yang frowned at the man and said sadly: "What do you know? Life is full of forks and one fork could take you to another."

This well-known story, Yang Zhu Crying at a Fork(楊朱臨路而泣), tells us the difficulties of choices. What you choose, especially when you are young, will to a large extent determine your future.

There is a similar story in English, as expressed in a well-known poem by an American poet, Robert Frost, who wrote The Road not Taken, which you may be familiar in your English language classes.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


It talks about someone facing a fork in the forest. Even though two roads may look more or less the same, as he takes one of them, it will lead to another down the road. One cannot expect to get back. Many years later, this same person may sigh for taking the less travelled road because it has made a world of difference.

In your case, choosing a university to study might be one of the choices you have to make. Typically, people tend to follow blindly the trend or reputation without looking at one's own interest and aptitude. As a result, a student might end up selecting an academically weak discipline in a well-known university rather than going for a very strong discipline from a not so well-known university. Another example is the popularity of some of the disciplines in Hong Kong. Many students choose discipline without thinking whether it is suitable for them or not and end up finishing the curriculum opting for jobs entirely unrelated.

But life is a marathon. At one time or during one period of our life, we could be doing very well, achieving high scores, for example, in high school or at college. But a one-time honour is not something we can live on forever.

Doing well in high school doesn't mean you will do well in college. At Harvard Business School, there is an old tradition. The School has over the years performed studies designed to figure out which factors are correlated with a student's future achievement. They have looked at courses the students have taken, marks they have earned, and all manner of other variables, including the students' height.

In the end, they found out that there seemed to be no relationship at all between the grades a person received while studying at Harvard, and his or her later degree of accomplishment. There might be some short-term correlations, but in the long term, there is none correlation at all.

And this phenomenon is not unique to Harvard Business School. Other well-known cases involving some of the world's outstanding leaders tell the same story. For example, future US President John F. Kennedy earned C's in his early years as an undergraduate at Harvard College.

These stories tell us two things: firstly, life is like a marathon. One time success doesn't guarantee future success; secondly, don't let onetime failure dishearten you. As long as you don't give up, life will not give you up. Human beings, according to my profession which is reliability study, are the least reliable system. We all make mistakes or blunder as we move along. Failing isn't a shame, as long as you are willing to learn the lessons. The way we handle disappointments can prove to be invaluable. Science advances from set-backs and blunders. The most recent and most severe lessons we learned are from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

If you are curious about the factors that will help you succeed, I would say there is no secret. "Did you ever know any successful person who didn't tell you about it?" Here are a few factors that will definitely help if you are willing to give them a try: passion, persistence and discipline.

Tell the story about a bird in the hand of a rascal who asks a monk if the bird is dead or alive. The monk says: the answer is in your own hand.

Thank you.


August 3, 2012

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