Cheah Wui Ling, law professor

Wui Ling is Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Law. She was educated at NUS (LL.B., LL.M.), Harvard Law School (LL.M.), and Oxford University (D.Phil). Prior to entering academia, Wui Ling served as a Legal Officer at the Office of Legal Affairs of Interpol’s General Secretariat (Lyon). She still dreams of working for National Geographic and living out of a tent (with fully functioning toilet please!).

This Letter is addressed to herself as an undergraduate Law student at NUS.

Dear Wui Ling,

This was a hard letter to write to you because failure is still a bad word in our society today. We wrestle with failure in our darkest moments alone, we whisper about it to our closest friends, but we seldom admit our failures openly and frankly. We expect people to be perfect, and we expect ourselves to be perfect. We forget, or refuse to recognise, that the person of character is not one who succeeds with ease but one who tries, fails, and tries again.

Right now, you are scared of showing up because you are afraid to fail. You left home and came to Singapore to the cheers of everyone back home, you being an ASEAN scholar and all that jazz. That was a lot of pressure, and it wasn’t that easy fitting in. I remember.

But don’t be afraid of failure, Wui Ling. Don’t let it keep you from trying, from showing up.

You will make mistakes and you will have setbacks. But don’t let the fear of not being good enough get the better of you. Go for your lectures and tutorials. Do not think that your teacher will not care, and that your classmates will not either. Speak up more. Do not worry so much about what others think: the classmate who speaks so eloquently, the one beside you who writes so well, the others who know all their cases, and that person whom the teacher seems to like best. It is okay to make mistakes. We learn best from mistakes.

Don’t stop trying or showing up. If you show up, you will make new friends - those who will continue to laugh with you and cry with you till today. Those who will tell you when you are wrong, but still always have your back. Those who will agree, even volunteer, to guarantee your scholarship bonds so you can further your studies, when you finally get over your fears of showing up.

Today, when I stand in front of a class, I sometimes recall how you were. Eager but afraid. Now I can tell you that your teacher wants you to show up. Your teacher cares about you. You matter – your voice, your thoughts, your feelings, and your dreams matter. You will meet some fantastic and inspiring teachers, but you have to first give them the chance. Don’t shut them out or give up on them. Do you remember the teachers who opened their homes to you? Your law professor who comforted you and put things in perspective when you got a bad grade for your assignment?

Law school is hard. University is hard. Life will be hard. But do not give up on yourself. Most importantly, do not give up on others. Give every person and every opportunity a chance. Show up.

Things may not turn out the way you want them to, but don’t check out. Do you remember how you wanted to work for National Geographic and travel the world? You applied to Oxford to study geography and got accepted, but had to give it all up because your family could not afford to send you overseas and because your parents thought law would be a more sensible career option. Your father tried to cheer you up by saying you could study international environmental law and human rights law at NUS Law. Do you remember the mixed feelings you had when you got into NUS Law later than your peers? You will find law subjects that you are interested in and that you are truly passionate about. Thanks for not giving up.

Wui Ling, don’t be afraid to try new things or challenge yourself. University is a time to stretch your mind and expand your understanding. Take that cross-faculty Chinese Art class. Your teacher will keep calling you a ‘banana’ and you will be convinced you will fail, but you will enjoy every class and learn so much.

Don’t worry about taking the ‘correct’ subjects or meeting the expectations of others. It is alright to be interested in different things and want different things. All those international law and human rights subjects are okay. Do those legal aid and UN internships. You will worry about whether you should be interning with law firms instead, but you will not regret your choice. Don’t be afraid of saying you want to work in international law. You will go on to co-found the Women in International Law • Singapore (WIL.S) Mentoring Program that connects early career women with experienced international law practitioners. Right now, your goals may seem out of reach sometimes, even hopelessly quixotic. You will have to settle in some areas and work doubly hard in others, but give it your best shot and do not be afraid to fail!  

Wui Ling, I know things are tough for you in law school but I would not have it any other way. It will take you quite some time before you come out of your shell, and that is okay. Looking back, I don’t remember your grades or assignments, but I remember the great times you had: the late night moot competition preparations, the student dance performances, the long chats with friends and tutors, the many suppers at Fong Seng.

I am so glad you decided to show up. Please press on and continue showing up.


Wui Ling

Thng Shin Min, in-house counsel

Charmaine Loh, in-house counsel