ESN continues its series of interviews with authors of Faithful Is Successful. You can read Chelsea Foster’s previous post on Soo Chuen Tan’s chapter in Faithful Is Successful here. Soo Chuen Tan grew up in Malaysia and attended college at Oxford, England. Soo Chuen later received a fellowship as a Harvey Fellow to Harvard University to complete his MBA. He decided to join the investment management field, but was challenged by certain ethical demands of the industry. As a result, five years ago he founded his own firm in order to manage money for non-profit foundations and individuals with endowments whose missions aligned with his spiritual foundations. He joined the Harvey Fellows advisory board in 2005, and now lives in Stanford, Connecticut.
1. ESN: You note in your essay that “it is critically important to sail by a strong internal compass . . . we must be able and willing to do the right thing even if this is against our best interests.” Do you have any practical suggestions or words of wisdom on how others might develop such convictions?
Tan: Yeah . . . Easy to say, but not easy to do. The best way is through faith. Yes, it’s a really quick answer, but if one realizes that what we do and who we are is not eternal [apart from God], then it becomes easier to follow that compass. You begin to realize that nothing is worth compromising because time is short and quite temporary. We all have desires and goals and ambitions, but it’s not always easy to maintain that. With the faith perspective, it’s pretty easy and logical when you consider the greater scheme of things. Everything else is relatively small and temporal.
2. ESN: In your essay, you mentioned that following completing your MBA at Harvard, you experienced a period of your life where you frequently changed jobs and suffered a personal loss. Do you remember where or how you were spiritually at that time?
Tan: The personal loss was that my mother passed away from lung cancer in 2008. It was a bit of a shock. I had my life planned out and had thought about how I would take care of my parents as they got older. We think we’re in control but we’re not. My mom was 58; I didn’t expect that. I moved her and my dad to Connecticut from Malaysia so that she could get the best care, but it was already in the advanced stage. I wanted to provide for them and make them proud. It was the reason why I was doing what I was doing. I then began to question what I was doing and why. My mom and I are Roman Catholic but my dad is not. As I saw her becoming depressed, I took her to church to see the parish priest. We also traveled to Rome. I wanted to let her know that she was loved by me and by God. We ask “Why me, why was I forsaken?” . . . I had these doubts but couldn’t share them because I had to be the person who was strong in my faith. A year later she passed away. I played a spiritual role in her life. Each morning I would share a scripture with her. The cancer spread to her mouth and she couldn’t speak so we wrote everything out. I’d share a scripture and then she’d write a response to what she thought about it.
3. ESN: How has working on this essay deepened your own understanding of what it means to be faithful in your vocation as a Christian and a scholar?
Tan: It was hard. It was frankly very difficult because I wanted to give up and told the editors that I didn’t have much to say. It’s really hard to say something worthwhile in such a short way that I found it better to share the wisdom of others rather than reflecting on myself. Our faith is lived out in life and it can be hard to put it all down. The essay forced me to reflect on my faith and be more aware of the impact of my faith and who I am. It helped me to articulate who I am, what I do and what I believe.
4. ESN: How do you hope your essay will encourage our readers as they live out their callings to follow Christ in their vocations?
Tan: The hope is that it will impact them in their vocation. The common thread is that life is a journey and our career is a part of that journey. Our careers are our work, the product of our offering to God as we work out and grapple with what we do and who we are. My story is just one of many that can be an example, but everyone has their story. I hope that readers will consider that how they live, the choices they make have great impact. You may think you are alone and that you struggle but you’re not. My personality wants to be in control and to know everything, but we are not and do not so I have to let go and it’s all right. I hope that is encouraging to the readers.
5. ESN: Is there anything else you’d like to say to Emerging Christian Scholars?
Tan: Read the book! We need to listen to the quiet still voice and know we are not alone. We need to walk by faith and know that in the midst of our work and our struggles, God is doing something beautiful. Be faithful and trust God. We’re not in control; God is in control, but if we are faithful, we will realize that that is enough.
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