March 4, 2019

Yoke Pean Thye, Joe Tan and Cheryl Lee were just three ordinary millennials before they became entrepreneurs. If you asked them, they’d likely say their success was not because they were exceptionally talented or one of the “chosen ones”, but because they made goals and took small steps to achieve them. Battling self-doubt and cynics, they dreamt big and followed through.

Today, Joe runs not one, but three enterprises (Love Action Project, The Tuckshop Assembly and Music For A Cause); Yoke Pean sits at the helm of WISE-WASH, a local water sanitation non-profit that has expanded into Indonesia and Cambodia; and at 23, Cheryl has not only founded a school that cultivates alternative skills, but also delivered a TED Talk and spoken at the United Nations Climate Change Conference as a youth environmentalist.

Are you stuck with the notion that the young are idealistic, inexperienced and not mature enough to tackle real-life problems? Allow these millennial founders to shed some light on the importance of dreaming big and not being deterred by slip-ups.

High Net Worth: Why is it important to dream big?

Joe Tan: I think we should always dream big, but in moderation. A dream to me is like a vision, an end state that we wish to achieve through a certain action or decision. When I started the Love Action Project and the other businesses that I am managing, I was always thinking about how the business will be in 5 to 10 years down the road. Thinking big in that aspect is important because it allows us to always stay ahead of our competition and any environmental changes that might risk leaving us obsolete.

Cheryl Lee: It’s important to dream big because that’s where true creativity and possibilities lie. Dreaming big helps me stay creative and excited, and it leads me to opportunities and experiences that I never dreamt were possible. By dreaming big, it removes the limits I subconsciously set for myself. I also create a dream map, which helps me visualise my goals and values as well as challenge my thoughts and beliefs.

Yoke Pean Thye: I don’t think it is necessarily important to dream big. I have dreamt of going to the Olympics, leading a large international NGO, becoming a politician, but I am where I am today because I have made seemingly small decisions to pursue opportunities that come my way. 

How do you strike a balance between dreaming big and being realistic?

Yoke Pean: By doing my best to take action, right here right now, on the injustices I observe in my everyday life. No point dreaming big and doing nothing, right? At the same time, I recognise that taking action requires mental and physical energy, and I try not to beat myself up if I feel like I haven’t done enough.

Joe: My answer to this is simple: Be on the ground. You cannot realise your dream if it’s something you dream about in bed alone. You need to do a lot of groundwork and research first. Whenever I have a new idea (be it in corporate social responsibility or business) I will always spend time speaking to friends, customers and clients to gather their thoughts on how they feel about it. Their feedback allows me to fine-tune my implementation plan, so I know what is feasible or not.

Cheryl: I set milestones for myself to hit. Sometimes my dream map has very big goals and a little voice in my head will ask, ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ This prompts another voice to ask, ‘What are the things that can help you get slightly closer to this goal?’ So tackling small tasks and setting small milestones is a way not to get overwhelmed. Knowing what matters to me and prioritising that helps a lot too.

What obstacles have you faced in your journey, and how do you prevent them from dimming your light?

Yoke Pean: I get angry that humankind has created such an unjust society, but I also remind myself why it matters that we all take action. Also, self-care.

Joe: Rejections and failures are common themes in my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve also had many people come up to me saying that my business idea and my ideology wouldn’t work. How did I get around it? By being objective. We cannot please everyone. We need to understand that we are introducing new ideas to the existing community, so resistance is normal. Therefore, it is important that we remain objective, take in the right feedback, adjust our plans and continue to persevere. Truth be told, if I had given up the moment things didn’t work, I wouldn’t be where I’m today. And I’m grateful that I didn’t.

Cheryl: I think the biggest obstacle I have faced is self-doubt. Self-doubt is a real mountain that seems never-ending. It’s a constant obstacle that revolves around me. It kills off anticipation and breeds the imposter syndrome—thinking that we’re not good enough or not qualified enough. I personally struggle with self-doubt a lot and it has sabotaged a few plans and dreams I once had. The hardest part about this obstacle is no matter how much someone tries to help, we are the only ones who are able to resolve it. What I do is turn every voice into a question and ask if it’s a question that needs to be solved. Often, the questions help to provide a clearer perspective of where the doubt stems from and how I can make things work.

[Read More: Doing Good: How Three Youth Founders Had the Courage to Make a Difference]