Chen and Friend’s Lessons for Hawaii Business: No Comfort Zone in Learning

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Part of a series of articles on education and job development with high-achieving perspectives from Eric Chen and me, J. Arthur Rath

Rath: We left off with a question posed by your former student, Jordan.  He asked, “What would have become of him if he hadn’t  moved on to continue his study?” Your answer?

Chen: I said he shouldn’t wonder.  He knew the answer already.  He  would have become Brown.


Rath: Brown?

Chen: Brown was also a former student of mine.  In fact, Brown was in the same graduating class as Jordan when I taught at a college
in Massachusetts.  You want to know a secret?

Rath: Yes, I like secrets.

Chen: The secret is that Brown had more potential than Jordan!

Rath: So what happened to Brown?

Chen: Like Jordan, Brown had the chance to continue his studies with me in a new environment.  Unlike Jordan, Brown couldn’t make the move.  Brown chose not to change his life.

Whereas Jordan embarked upon a career in fraud prevention, my hope for Brown was to train him to take a job as a health care administrator working for a company like Aetna or United Health.

Rath: Sounds like a great opportunity!  Why didn’t Brown come?

Chen: Because he was homesick.  He didn’t want to leave home.

Rath: He didn’t want to leave his comfort zone?

Chen: That’s another way of looking at it.

Rath: What is Brown doing now?

Chen: Brown drifted.  His undergraduate degree prepared him to become a funeral home director.  He did that for a year, then decided it wasn’t for him.

Then, he spent a couple of semesters trying to decide if he could hack it in accounting.  Brown ended up picking up a master’s degree in management and working for a medical claims company.  Today, Brown is managing a handful of car washes.

Rath: Wow!  Brown’s career has taken many turns.  That’s in great contrast with the focus in Jordan’s career.

Chen: I agree and tell students I have no answers for many of the issues they will face later on in their careers.  Instead, I teach the analytical process – a disciplined approach to problem solving they can apply to any situation that will come up.  After all, it is not possible for me to be at every student’s shoulder to help solve all the problems that arise.

Rath: That’s Hawaiian Kapuna wisdom: Teach persons how to fish, and they acquire the means to feed themselves—I’m speaking  metaphorically about problem-solving acumen.  Are you still in touch with Brown?

Chen: Yes.  I tell him not to regret his decision.  It was right for him at that time.  Had he traveled to somewhere new to study, there was the chance that he would have been very unhappy, affecting his grades.

He would have been Eddie.

Rath: Eddie?

Chen: Yes.  When I left Massachusetts for Saint Joe’s, Eddie, a straight-A student, also came to study with me.  He changed his life to take the chance, so Eddie made the courageous move.  He ended up rooming with Jordan for a while.

However, Eddie didn’t count on one thing: he became homesick.

Rath: And…?

Chen: Eddie had a lot of friends in his hometown.  He felt isolated away from them.  As a result, he couldn’t wait to leave on Friday after classes were over and he barely made it back in time for classes at the beginning of the week.  His grades showed flashes of brilliance, but not the high marks I knew he had in him.

Rath: He sounds like a character in one of Author Chris McKinney’s Hawaii-based novels.  So what happened?

Chen: Eddie went back to the college in Massachusetts, where I believe he graduated this past week.

Rath: All’s well that ends well.

Chen: Courage isn’t enough.  You need the will and the strength to follow through.  I use the word “will” because a lot of it is mental.  It’s how much you want it.

See, Brown knew he wasn’t going to be happy, so he chose his comfort zone.  He has no regrets, because he made an educated decision.  Eddie had the courage to take the leap, but underestimated the obstacles in his way.  Jordan had it all together.

Part of courage is knowing when to leap and when not to.

Rath: Discretion being the better part of valor…

Chen: Indeed.  Sometimes, it just takes time and maturity for something to happen.

I remember Sarah, a young woman in my finance class a number of years ago. She got by without working very hard.  The truth was that she didn’t care very much for my class.

Teachers can  acquire insight about students, whether a student realizes it or not.  I remember wanting to ask Sarah if she would consider studying accounting?

I saw a great potential for her success in that area.  However, I remember holding my tongue because Sarah wasn’t ready to listen.

Rath: If you’d said something, it would’ve fallen upon deaf ears?

Chen: Yes, or she would’ve had a defensive answer.

I had the opportunity to say something about it a couple of years later.  Sarah had graduated with a bachelor’s degree and had gone on to start a couple of small businesses.  Sarah also had a child.

As you know, I adore children.  I think they are true miracles that walk the earth.  However, raising children takes a great deal of time, energy, and resources.  Speaking for myself, I spent years getting ready, so that when the day finally came, I was prepared.

Or so I thought.  Having a child forced me to “get real.”

It became about planning – when the next diaper change would come about, what the next meal would be, when the next nap time
would occur.  But planning didn’t just encompass the short-term – it covered long-term events as well – like college, a wedding, and
other of life’s events.

I talk about these very human issues and events when I cover personal finance because such planning should take place.

I tell students, it shouldn’t be a surprise that someday in the future your child will go to college or get married.  If it’s not a surprise, then you should put yourself in a position to have the money available to pay for those kinds of things when they happen.

Rath: Having a child changed Sarah’s point of view?

Chen: I think it did.  Having a child made Sarah want to plan for the future.  What parent doesn’t want to provide the best life and the best things for his or her child?

Sarah is now studying accounting.  She won a large scholarship from the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants.  She is focused, and she is a top student.  She has come a long way.

It required courage, will, time, and maturity.

Rath: Those key ingredients for success.  This discussion rose  from our reflections between academic years—the end of one and the
challenge of the next.

Let’s continue encouraging aspiring young business leaders with practical advice from the real-life  college we both experienced.  It is called “The School of Hard Knocks.”

We’ll return as “Chen and Friend” in two weeks.

J. Arthur Rath III I a Hawaii-based writer, reach him at