Avoiding problems is one of the most telling signs that we’ve flipped the switch to adulthood. As children, we’re always asking questions, finding great problems to solve with all of our “whys”. But as we get older, that magical openness and our sense of wonder start to escape us.

SMU Snapshots caught up with finance student Darren Cheng, who juggles multiple roles – as advisor to acapella club SMU Voix, senior analyst at SMU’S Student-Managed Investment Fund (SMU-SMIF), and self-taught sound engineer – to find out how he breezes through student life with little worry. One of his greatest assets that has fuelled every thought process and life decision is his insatiable curiosity.

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Attract new experiences 

When Darren entered SMU, he had a couple of goals – to enjoy student life, ready himself for the working world, and conclude SMU with the knowledge that he did his best to maximise his experiences in both play and work. So he joined SMU Voix, which seemed to offer the promise of fun, and signed up with investment club SMU-SMIF, because he wanted a head start in the world of finance that so fascinated him. There were no second thoughts about the commitment that lay ahead.

“It was a leap of faith, entering a new environment and not knowing what was going on. I wanted to try new things, give my all, and if things didn’t go as planned, at least I would have no regrets not going for it. To put too much stress on yourself ruins the whole university experience.”

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As honorary general secretary of SMU Voix, Darren challenged assumptions and was persistent in asking the tough questions, which would ensure that the club stayed on the right path.

“How could we improve SMU Voix’s image in the eyes of the public? Think about how acapella is such a flexible art form. We should leverage that to reach out to more people.”

Darren’s curiosity sparked a recent initiative – a music video that the team successfully produced, which has drummed up online interest for the club.

Everything is a learning experience

While supporting SMU Voix, Darren made his foray into corporate life with three internships completed within three years. When asked about his confidence, Darren is especially thankful for the seniors he’s met in SMU.

“Doing what I did and taking on an internship in freshman year really isn’t necessary. More important is to figure out the kind of person you need to be. Starting afresh in a new environment is overwhelming, but I was fortunate to have seniors who were generous with their advice and swooped in to guide me on what I should do, the steps to take, and even share with me their regrets and what they would have done better.”

Apart from surrounding himself with people he could trust, Darren also credits his certainty on knowing what he wants, to his childlike curiosity.

Even at a young age, he had been amazed by how money flows in and out of the financial system, and how prices of things could go up and down. He wanted to understand how things work. He describes his fascination and love for the finance industry.

“I like that at the end of the day, you are proven right by what you have done. And if your prediction is wrong, then you have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes, understand what went wrong, gain experience, and begin to understand what makes people tick.”

It is this learning mindset that allows his curiosity to flourish.

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Curiosity is a self-motivating force

When Darren was in junior college, another question popped into his head: “How do records get made and how do we immortalise live performances without compromising the quality?” He goes on to explain animatedly, “Before the 19th century, music was a fleeting art form. You could never hear exactly the same thing again. But when it came to the 20th century, people began to be able to capture this. It is fascinating.”

His first attempt to record a live performance was done by holding up a sound recorder to a band performance, and later tweaking the quality with software he downloaded online. It was when he joined SMU Voix that it struck him how this might be the best opportunity and biggest challenge that he would ever have.

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His first professional attempt was to record a short part of a song to advertise an SMU Voix performance. Darren goes on to explain the process and the different ways that the recording could have been done. We asked him how he picked up sound engineering.

“I learnt on my own and sought advice from other people, such as SMU Voix’s live sound engineer who manages our live concerts. I get wowed easily and don’t really care about whether I can do it or not, I just do it first.”

Darren acknowledges that his open-mindedness and the ability to shelve the sense of being right in favour of being open to possibilities, allows him to take risks. To him, asking why is more important than knowing the answer and conforming. Curiosity helps him to overcome fear and gets his mind quickly working on possible strategies for the challenge at hand.

Life becomes full of surprises 

It should not come as a shocker that Darren has no big regrets when he looks back on his time in SMU. His penchant for wondering and questioning has consistently led him to new ideas and fresh opportunities, while helping him to broaden his thinking.

Curiosity feeds energy to everything he does, and he wishes the same for everyone. How do we get started? He lets us in on his formula:

“Be curious. Always keep an open mind and embrace opportunities when they come. Try not to remain within your bubble – step out of your comfort zone and allow life to amaze you. You will be pleasantly surprised.”