Self-discipline, athleticism and impact investing

Here is the story of a student-athlete. Every morning, this student would wake up at 5 am to train at the campus swimming pool at the University of Michigan. She shunned the vibrant student life. Instead of going to parties and socialising on campus, she went to bed at 11 pm to make time for the training. She knew she loved the sport, but she had something more in mind.

Even the pandemic did not stop her. As campus swimming pools closed when COVID-19 hit, she moved her training to a freezing lake on campus, and would then rush off to class straight after. Sometimes her friends would see her hair frozen because she had no time to dry it.

She did all of that to chase a goal, and soon enough, she would see that it was all worthwhile.

Siobhán Haughey won two silver medals for women’s 100m and 200m freestyle in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics © South China Morning Post

Hong Kong celebrates Olympic successes

Hong Kong was in a full celebratory mood as Siobhán Haughey won two silver medals for women’s 100m and 200m freestyle in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She has become a household name overnight, and signup enquiries flooded her swimming club immediately after.

The same can be said for her fellow homegrown Olympic medallist. Cheung Ka-Long won Hong Kong’s first gold medal in 25 years after defeating the Italian defending champion Daniele Garozzo in men’s foil. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers witnessed history together as Ka-Long lunged for his victory.

After this historic moment, the community, children and adults alike, found a sudden interest in fencing. Similar to Siobhán’s swimming club, fencing schools across Hong Kong experienced a surge of signup enquiries

As Hong Kong’s first homegrown impact investing asset management firm, AvantFaire has a special fondness for the city’s Olympics team. There is no greater joy than witnessing the success of our talented athletes, and we are proud of all the Olympians competing for our home.

While successful athletes may make their performance look effortless, it does take years of hard work to reach their level © Dylan Nolte | AvantFaire

Interest vs dedication

While successful athletes may make their performance look effortless, it does take years of hard work to reach their level. And their achievements would not be possible without their self-discipline to persevere.

It is true that passion and interest may turn enthusiasm into dedication. The word “amateur” originates from the Latin word for “love”, meaning one must be first and foremost interested in a field to commit to it. Yet, love alone is not enough.

Professional athletes have to endure a disciplined training regime to be successful, which includes routines to diet, recovery and even psychological wellness. This level of commitment requires substantial resilience, especially for a field where setbacks and distractions are abundant. All athletes face the temptation to give up at some point, but those who want to stay have all made the conscious decision to push themselves through.

A person needs 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become world-class in any field © Tirza van Dijk | AvantFaire

The true path to success

Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell discovered the essential rule for success after interviewing scores of legendary figures for his bestseller Outliers. He found out that a person needs 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become world-class in any field:

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.”

However, it takes both passion and dedication to be successful:

“Hard work is only a prison sentence when you lack motivation. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.”

What this means is motivation and passion are vital to unlock one’s willingness to commit and focus. US cyclist and Olympic gold medallist Kristin Armstrong expanded on this notion further as she told student-athletes at the Idaho State University about the importance of staying true to their vision:

“My success always came back to my why. You have to know why you’re doing it. And it comes back to my vision. … A vision is a mental picture of a result you want to achieve — a picture that’s so strong and so clear, it helps make that result real.”

Making impact investing meaningful requires self-discipline and vision © Ian Schneider | AvantFaire

Self-discipline and impact investing

Like athletes striving for a spot on the Olympic podium, making impact investing meaningful requires self-discipline and vision. Both factors are indispensable if you wish to make sustainable investment choices and alleviate some of our world’s most pressing problems.

The golden formula of impact investing can help us visualise this concept. If you are an impact investor, you need to have a clear vision (intentionality), put in the hard effort to master this line of investment (additionality) and have the ability to measure progress regularly (measurability). But to make it work, you need to “love” your vision and spend time understanding the financial market and the world’s social issues.

Impact investing = intentionality + additionality + measurability

In the short run, this means balancing wealth creation and non-financial impact. And if this is successful, investors can standardise ESG investment with a principle-based framework, so positive impact on our world and vulnerable communities can be guaranteed and quantified.


Like the Olympics, the quest for impact investing is full of obstacles. Countless lists of regulations, long hours of research and the tedious work of evaluating social impact will be a putoff for many. And needless to say, there are always financial products with higher returns.

But like our homegrown champions, holding on to the original vision and the self-discipline to realise it will ensure impact investing will be here to stay in the long run. Being successful in impact investing is to be, like Siobhán, consistent and not take the attractive and easy ways out. Remember what brought you to impact investment in the first place, and when in doubt, simply picture her frozen hair and remember it was all worth it. 

The worlds of impact investing and the Olympics may look different, but they are more similar than you think. The vision, hours, and hard work – bound together by self-discipline – are the key to success.


Athletes’ profiles

Photo credits: AFP

Name: Cheung Ka Long

Age: 24

Club: Hong Kong Sports Institute

Medal from Tokyo 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games: Men’s foil – gold

Photo credits: RTHK

Name: Siobhán Bernadette Haughey

Age: 23

Club: South China Athletic Association

Medals from Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: Women’s 100m freestyle – silver; women’s 200m freestyle – silver