Tuesday, November 18, 2014
1. I assume too much.
Granted, it's both my strength and weakness. I catch on things very fast, once I have a structure in place, I can be left to figure out the rest on my own. The downside of that is I also make a whole lot of assumptions and I think they stem from the fact that I subconsciously think that others will not be able to help me, so I leap to the conclusion that I know best. It's a subtle manifestation of arrogance that has led to serious consequences.
So attitudinally, I need to start thinking of how I can make sure I don't rush through my thinking and leap to conclusions about things. I'm gonna ask myself 3 questions: If I know this fully, can I do this without checking back with others? What other information do I need or have to find out? Why do I feel I can do this?
I need to stop having misplaced sense of self-confidence.
2. I take things for granted.
From my previous point about false self-confidence is putting too much trust in my own work. It used to be that I can complete something and hand it up - and still get good grades/reviews for it. However, now the stakes are higher and I can no longer trust myself to hand in work and not afford to check through them. Everything I do has to be be checked. So that means: -
For emails: read them out loud before sending. If i have a funny feeling in my gut, walk away before replying. Fresh eyes or check with someone before sending it.
For admin work: If it's a huge report, always look through it the next day to catch whatever mistakes I missed. Stop having the tunnel vision attitude and really really make sure I leave no rows unchecked, no columns unmarked and no boxes empty.
For work processes: I realised this is a symptom of a larger problem which is...
3. I need to have a personal stake in my work.
I meant this both as a command and a source of reflection. I've been wondering why I could perform so well in the past and the answer was glaringly in my face.
I was at the centre of all the projects I did well in, with patient people working with me. This time, the project was initiated by someone else, carried on and then passed to me. So inheriting a project has its challenges out of all is the sense of having a personal stake at the project we are taking over.
I need to make it mine, and to make it mine - it means I need to find some kind of personal stake. In the past it was because I was working with my friends or people I know well. Now, it's a strange environment with conditions out of my comfort zone - I need to find my footing again. So this is what I'm going to do:
My personal stake is in my colleagues and professional family: I owe it to them to do good work if not they will suffer. And seeing how much pain uncaring can result in, I should not become like them.
My personal stake in my work is the very fact that this is meaningful work, and I should be passionate about the brands I'm working on, or at the very least, care enough to know that many people out there will see the message, take advantage of the current sale fare, opportunity, or even take away some inspiration from the advertising messages I'm putting out. It's about engaging a community and creating communities through my work. I think having this social meaning is an important meta-driver that will fundamentally change the way I see my work.
In the past, I didn't see my work as important, and being very junior in the company, it is inevitable to feel insignificant and have a "let-go" attitude. However, I'm grossly mistaken because I"m expected to also have a stake, and my bosses want my input in many things. So I should take this as an opportunity to consider adding my stake in this meaningful work.
4. I need to constantly remind myself that mistakes occur all the time, but every incident is a lesson learnt, not a bucket of tears.
Today I wept a little because I was grossly disappointed in myself for being such a loser. The whole negativity just kicked in and almost triggered a downward spiral. I was being frustrated at myself for messing up big time and dragging someone's wits and stress levels up at my carelessness.
I think it's also a moment of realisation after the fact (to be specific, 8 hours later), that my negativity is going nowhere. It's not gonna help me, and I want very much to get out of the rut. I've tried objectively to look at this and see what a lesson I can draw from. First and foremost I think I learnt more about myself, and coming to these conclusions is already a good step forward. Secondly, I understood how my supervisor felt, and I appreciate her honestly in sharing her feelings with me. Thirdly, I learnt how to recover from criticism when in the past I would have just crumbled away.
So from now on: I'm gonna take a break by taking a walk to cool down before coming back to continue with my current work when I feel like the dam is breaking. If I'm feeling really vexed due to a bad day, I need to go somewhere to air the bad vibes before attacking the issue again - I would.
It's such a challenge to step out of one's comfort zone to attack something that you've never tried before. Having to unlearn and re-learn new things after being so deeply entrenched in school is something that most people will find a challenge. I need to constantly remind myself that it's a bad patch we all have to go through some day - and the constant faith that this will lead to a better place is something I'm holding on to. Like what my supervisor said, as new things come in, the things I'm weak at will never fade, but what we can do is grow the list of things that I'm good at.
I think fundamentally, it stems from having a personal stake in things, and after that usually the rest will follow. But until then, I'll just have to be extra careful by asking myself those questions and pacing down my work before submission.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
It's been a long time since I've written, or have typed anything on my keyboard that does not start with
"Hi [insert client name],
Kindly find the [file name] as attached.
[Insert sign off of choice]
I have had urges to publish in-between this dry bout of writing, but the ideas will not flow and some how after writing my thesis, it seems even more difficult to write personally, fluently and freely. I've literally started working 1 week after my thesis submission, and many have thought me insane to start working so soon. However, with mounting debts, ageing parents and escalating financial commitments (insurance premiums cost a BOMB), there is little choice in the matter.
I'm jumping ahead but I would like to say that these 2.5 months of working have brought so much insight, happiness and frustration. Choosing to do my masters was a decision I'll not regret, but it doesn't mean it comes without consequences.
Well, for starters, it's not easy to take instructions from someone who has had 3 years of experience ahead of you, but is the same age/slightly older than you. They are not your friends, nor are they your buddies. They sit above me and handle accounts/problems higher than my pay grade. The struggles of feeling impotent despite being higher qualified is something that caught me off-guard. There is a difference between saying you'll learn from the bottom and actually doing it.
Having said, it is not to say that masters students are "looked down", we just have to cope without the privileges we're used to in an institution. Here, we are infants.
And on that note I've been making so many mistakes at work - some involuntary, some voluntary, some contextual. It's hard to explain without violating confidentiality. But generally, I feel I can do better, but can't because I just don't have enough experience. It's not about who has the skill set, but rather who understands the processes better. The latter is truly down to experience - which puts me, a fresh masters student, at a disadvantage. On one hand, I am expected to do better than a fresh graduate, and on the other, I am also new so mistakes are bound to happen. What is worse, is that we now don't work alone. Many things we take for granted: our own system of naming files, how we organise our raw data etc. Just today I was told that I can't put rates in a bar chart and absolute volume in line graphs because it doesn't make sense mathematically. It seems obvious now, but during then, it wasn't - and it's all down to experience.
Having a prolonged education has made me more patient and more observant - especially given the training as a social scientist. However, the feeling of being in this place is truly like an infant being thrust into the noisy and bright world with strange faces staring down at you. As a baby, you take in everything and one's sense get so overwhelmed, the brain's reaction is to numb and shut down. That was exactly what I did during my first few weeks here, and in some ways I shut down when the information becomes overwhelming. This shut-down mentality is bad because I'll miss out things and instead of compartmentalising, I should be extending and linking processes.
It's like learning all over again.
And gosh it's exhilarating.
When we communicate with others, we sometimes forget to communicate with ourselves - to negotiate the processes within when we are confronted with an entirely new environment. These spaces and worlds are so emic, it is very difficult to explain to anyone who is not in the same place as you. I suppose that's why it's hard to explain our work to anyone, because words is a pale metaphor of the challenges that lie within the day-to-day of those who actually work there.
In any case, my weaknesses in work are exposed precisely because the environment demands from me my best. When I asked for a challenging career, I need to keep reminding myself that in every challenge, we are called to do our best and in the process of doing so, we also show our worst. Unfortunately, the former is taken for granted and the latter is not tolerated. Recently, I regret starting too early, because the break is definitely much required to reset my outlook. This "work as a break from academia" is not good, and I find my current work suffering. It is difficult to let research go, and at the same time with pressing financial concerns, I cannot undertake a PhD right away. Now being in this career, it's like I've finally lived the pages of the books I've read about. The sad thing is, I can never really share my analysis with anyone because the academese will probably turn my colleagues off. It's a delicate liminal position of living between two worlds and can I do both exceedingly well? Unfortunately, the answer is increasingly - No.
To be honest, I miss academia because of the freedom and individuality. However, at the same time practical matters have pretty much dictated my fate for me - and in a way, this current path isn't all bad, and I just have to embrace it fully in my heart. That will take time and hopefully, not too much as well.
But the learning never stops, and gosh I hope it never will.
Friday, July 25, 2014
The reason for that temptation, is how utterly eye-opening this whole experience was. I have formerly written about some self-discovery moments as I walk through different doors for interviews in my previous post. After wrapping up what must be months of knocking on doors, and stressing if you'll be getting The Interview, there are a couple things I gathered from this entire process.
1. It doesn't matter, your education certificate is a membership card.
I am a hardcore believer that every discipline is useful and important in framing our critical understandings of society. I am also a firm advocate that taking your studies seriously in University is something every student should do.
However, the aim of taking your studies seriously shouldn't be done in the hopes that you can impress your future employers with your shiny new certificate and accompanying transcript.
Truth is, no one cares. I have worked my ass off 2 years in graduate school to get a 30,000 dissertation, with complex arguments and theories. However, none of my employers have quizzed me about the work I've done and questioned how those skills are transferrable.
Employers already know certain universities have a reputation for certain calibre of students, and those mindsets don't change.
(P.s. I didn't come from a good junior college, and there was a managing director who assumed that I didn't have a good command of the English Language because my GP was a C. I mean dude, that's 7 years ago? Plus, I don't see how I can be admitted into NUS's Geography without having awesome language skills.)
Well, bottom-line is that university is a gym, and your brains are the muscles you lift so that you have the capacity to go on to do other tasks. It might sound utilitarian, but doing other tasks does not always refer to economic activities. It is also social - change the way we treat others, cultural - more compassion towards difference, and of course personal - finding answers to some of the roadblocks we felt earlier in our lives.
Education, especially higher education, is a privilege. Not an entitlement. It gives your education a bad taste in the mouth if we act as if we "deserve" to certain set of benefits. Bitch please.
2. Passion is overrated.
Passion is not an excuse for mistakes made on the job. It is not an excuse to not take your OTJ training seriously. You know how those reality shows where they show contestants being bitter about leaving because they felt that others who were selected to remain didn't have as much passion? We always judge the person as being a "sour grape" but in the end, we commit the same problem when we invoke passion as justification for higher rewards. It is a mask for self-entitlement.
People also ask me, why not continue teaching since I've done it for a long time, and I am also good at the job. Well, to use a somewhat cheesy analogy. Sometimes you have to leave a person, no matter how much fun times you've had, because you know in the long run things are not going to work out. It's the same with my attitude towards passion in one's career. True enough, we must be interested in what we do, and at least have a healthy dose of curiosity over the career we're in. However, passion and love are very different things. We love what do we, despite its ups and downs, bad and good. We love someone because of the tough times we've been through together. So passion is necessary in the beginning, but perseverance is needed to make it into a job you love. I respect people who do that, no matter what job they have, because really, who are we to judge.
(p.s. I do not regret not signing my name on that line all those years ago. It's still one of the best decisions I've made. I am still passionate, but I'm also passionate about a lot of other things.)
3. Not all that glitters is gold.
The word "con" comes from the slang use of "confidence" and thus when you've been conned into the something, it's about betraying that sense of confidence (in something). So technically, employers and employees alike are out to build your confidence about their abilities. It only becomes a con when that claim do not match up with reality. In that regard, it's always easy to buy into something because as a prospective employee, we are not the ones in power. It's also a problem of information asymmetry because we are not in the job to realise the challenges they face.
That's why people compare pay and benefits, because these are tangible things we can measure. However, don't let that distract you from the other more shadowy parts of the job. I am a great believer of organisational fit. The work does not matter as the people you work with, because ultimately, new opportunities rise in time and space and job description change all the time.
We are going to spend a large part of our adult lives around the people we work with, so while pay and benefits may seem nice at first, do not be "conned" into a bad toxic environment. I have learnt that once we are "in", no amount of pay is going to make up for the unnecessary stress and tears.
(p.s. I went for an interview with an employer who promised me that I can be making 5,000 a month in a year. Later I found out that it was a MLM marketing company that promised people that if they sold enough keychains door-to-door, they will be able to work their way up the ladder and get high pay by managing a "team".)
Monday, July 14, 2014
I've gone through all the phases of a job-seeker except the last one. Exhiliaration of first "venturing" out into the great unknown, to a sense of insecurity after realising how limited my choices are, and finally a sense of acceptance and cautious optimism after getting some results from my hardwork. I hope against the odds that I won't ever have to feel despondent and despair over my ever decreasing chances.
It has been a humbling and an eye-opening experience. Blog posts, reviews, magazines and websites about interviews, CV writing, internships vs perm positions...it is really mind-numbing. I don't know where to start, who to believe and what to think anymore. It's one of those things that career centres in universities can babysit, but up to a certain point, we have to learn how to walk through the brimstone and fire ourselves.
I've been fortunate to still have some choices with regards to the industries I want to join. As I apply for more positions and do more digging, my initial idea of wanting to "get out there" is as daunting as it is exciting. I learnt that being passionate in my academic studies, is hardly the same as being passionate in the corporate sector. They run on very different engines, and this means I need to learn how to drive differently - and fast. I gathered the fact that interviewing the boss is as important as being interviewed by him/her.
I also finally understand how pressurizing this process can be. The need to have to "get a good job" as soon as you graduate is an unspoken rule in my family (and I believe in many others'). My dad frowns when I am considering an internship at a prestigious firm, rather than seek security in the civil service for full time pay and benefits. Well-meaning friends ask how my "job hunting is going" out of concern, can sometimes become reports of failure and despondency.
It's not an easy process and suddenly social networks become a valuable resource. Without the back up of institutional credentials, seeking knowledge about an industry becomes more of a favour justified solely on the grounds of personal rapport.
I am lucky that people see my potential during interviews and I am grateful to all those who took time to get to know me more. I have received replies thus far from prospective employers (although those are far and few between) and already consider myself lucky. Being in this position with friends who are already working advising me on the type of jobs helps since I constantly consult them on to ask interviewers and learn from their mistakes.
This short recount ends with a very simple realisation. Time is our most precious commodity and finding a career is really finding the best way to invest the most of our time. We want returns - whether it be monetary or career opportunities. Yet on the other hand, we don't realise that as we trade time for a salary, we also have to be discerning as to who and what we are giving it to. 30-40 years down the road, I hope the accumulation of those choices is going to make me a better person than I am today.
Monday, June 30, 2014
I've also been busy with job-hunting, although I must admit my efforts could have been more intensive if my thesis work went smoother. The hours lost earlier this year have been precious, and I do feel the opportunity cost of my choices now. Nevertheless, it's better to just press on and stop all the excuses. After all, if I do pull this off, then it's going to be quite awesome.
Looking for employment is a humbling experience, and I've had the opportunity to have a small glimpse into the corporate world. It is really a different rhythm of life there, and the expectations are definitely different. Recaliberating my own thoughts presented the biggest challenge, and it is always good to know that I'm finally ready to start my career.
These 2 years doing my masters, have been a time for me to be "lost in the woods", and to come out a better, hopefully smarter and sensitive person. It will forever be a time where I learnt and lost, threw caution to the wind and won. I am grateful for the support I've had throughout these years and the friends that I've made during my time here.
I feel almost weepy that this wonderful time is now nearing its end. But a new chapter is presenting itself, and I'm excited to open that door and face whatever opportunities and experiences - both good and bad.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
I am afraid and at the same time exhilarated. Knowing someone on such an intimate level is an exciting experience - but that also means that we learn the worst in each other. I still grapple with the notion of being human - imperfect, and I will find it a wonder that a person can love another's imperfections perfectly. It is true, that your partner will and should bring out the best in you - someone who grows with you.
One would expect that after a while, when things run their "natural" course, when friends get involved, there will be a happily ever after. Yet the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and as much as friends want the best for us, it is often this lingering question of whether there is an "us". I honestly don't know, and peer pressure can be a horrible thing.
"Are you guys officially together yet? It has been some time already hasn't it?"
"Why you never go and ask him! I asked my boyfriend first last time! Don't shy lah"
These sinking feeling can be horribly real and unsettling and while you intellect tells you those are all very silly insecurities, the heart can waver.
What if he's stringing me along.
What if he's no longer interested?
What if he isn't ready to commit with me?
That's when I feel like taking the club-axe and killing all those phantom voices. It kills the mood and it definitely douses the concentration. It doesn't really help that St. Valentine is at the background smiling benignly over affianced love. While I never believed in the overly-commercialized excuse of a festival of roses and chocolates, what I do crave is the romantic gestures of affection - which can happen any day.
Perhaps my best friend was right, I do have to curb all those idealistic romantic fantasies because THAT is not love - and I must learn to accept the gestures of affection a man is really giving.
I am appreciative of the little things, and wish they would never stop. I am also appreciative of the experience - that it had happened regardless of the outcome. I am so young and so naive about the ways of the world. What is love - perhaps is a question that requires a lifetime to explore.