Overcoming setbacks and striving for success

Driven. If there was one word to describe Sia Bao Huei from NUS Law Class of 2021, it would be driven. Throughout his time in NUS, he was constantly driven to do well but it was not because of accolades or recognition.

“Coming from a household where finances were always tight has driven me to want to succeed academically so that I can support my family and give them a better life,” he shared. “My father is frequently ill so medical bills were always on our minds. Watching my family contemplate whether to go ahead with medical operations simply because we could not afford it made me feel helpless for not being able to contribute financially.”

Despite being under pressure to never slip, Bao Huei still found space to pursue a fulfilling student life. He has represented NUS in numerous mooting competitions while holding various leadership and mentorship positions that have helped to improve the welfare of the student body.

Finding failure

Early on in his NUS Law journey, Bao Huei found himself struggling academically. This came as a surprise to him because all along in secondary school and junior college, he had excelled. He realised that his old habits of last-minute studying and playing catch-up no longer worked. “In NUS Law, consistency is key,” he explained. “You need to conscientiously keep up with readings otherwise it is easy to fall behind after two or three weeks.”

To make matters worse, the aspiring mooter saw his first three moot competitions go down badly. For two of them, his team broke winning streaks set by their predecessors. For the other, he lost the Grand Finals for his team when he struggled with a line of questioning posed by the competition judges. It was disheartening to have nothing to show after spending months on each competition.

These setbacks were demoralising and made Bao Huei question his suitability for law school.

Fighting failure

Things began to change because of the support that Bao Huei found. “I was very fortunate to find good friends and mentors who helped me overcome these setbacks,” he said. “They picked me up when I fell and took the time to inculcate in me a mentality that embraced failure and looked towards growth.”

For Bao Huei, embracing failure was an uncomfortable notion as so much was at stake for him. His moot coach, NUS Law alumna Rachel Tan, had recounted many anecdotes of friends and seniors who had all experienced failure before finding success. It dawned on him then that everyone will experience some form of failure one day, eventually and repeatedly. Why not instead embrace it and in the process, learn as much as possible each time it happens? That switch in his mindset made all the difference.

He shared, “The key to overcoming failure is to move forward. I worked harder and improved my habits to ensure that I did not make the same mistakes. For me, that meant persevering and continuing to moot, even despite my own reservations about my suitability.”

Savouring success

Armed with the support of friends and mentors, Bao Huei persevered. His grades began to improve, eventually earning a place on the Dean’s List in his final year. His moot experience also began to find success - he represented NUS in the prestigious Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot and his team were Champions in this year’s Ian Fletcher International Insolvency Law Moot Competition.

But success for Bao Huei does not revolve entirely around academic life and mooting. “University is not just a paper-mill or accreditation centre to get a job. It is a great place to not only develop a better version of yourself, but also do things that you find meaning in. For me, this is giving back to the community,” he shared.

Bao Huei has volunteered with the NUS Criminal Justice Club’s Recourse Initiative (formerly the Innocence Project Singapore), chaired NUS Law’s Freshmen Orientation Central Committee, and served as President of the NUS Law Club. He continues to serve as the chairman of the Mooting Alumni Initiative, which mentors and assists students in honing their advocacy skills.

Sharing success

Looking back on his time in NUS Law, Bao Huei shares a few things that have kept him grounded.

“First, adopt a growth mentality, aim to learn, and grow as much as possible. It is a lot easier on yourself and you will be less afraid to fail. It is also difficult to fault someone with a willingness to learn.

Second, do not compare yourself with others. In NUS Law, there were always prodigies who studied the week before and still obliterated the curve. I am sure in work, there will be those who perform exceedingly well, rise through the ranks quickly or clinch a dream job. Comparing ourselves with others is a sure-fire way to be unhappy and make regrettable decisions. Life is a marathon, like law school, and we should focus on running our own race and celebrating our own achievements.

Third, surround yourself with people who care about you as a person. A good support system will help ensure that you find worth in shared memories and experiences, rather than valuing yourself solely by work.

Finally, find meaning in what you do. Your path should be aligned with a sense of where you see yourself down the road and the type of life you would like to lead. As we all venture into work together, I hope we never lose track of this.

All the best everyone!”