Monday, November 14, 2016

Rediscovery: lessons on G string

I have always had a phobia of performing on stage as a soloist, or being the focal point in an ensemble. Post-school, I chose to hide behind thick heavy curtains as a stage hand and later, a stage manager where the dark nooks and dim safety lights cuccooned. I would stand backstage applauding the actors who've worked so hard to bring the scripts to life, but also at the same time yearn with envy at their ability to delight and inspire.

I was determined to stand in the light again, and with that, to learn a new instrument. 

1 month of cello lessons have helped me rediscover parts of myself I didn't want to contend with. It really hit home one day while I was watching a particular episode of the Crown, where Churchill was having a heated exchange with his portraitist.

My teacher have said many times, astutely, that I want to be correct more times than I want to play music. In practicising one passage, I gradually realised that, in all irony, the more I forced the correct, the more it came out sounding awful. That is not to say proper bow strokes or posture is unimportant. It's the approach and the preoccupations of wanting to be correct all the time that distracts me from the sound I was correcting for. At the end of the day, I had to remind myself that everything is a work of progress and I have to be patient for muscle memory to form, for my body to become accustomed.

I have always been afraid of performing solo - because the task of being correct in music,where no 2 notes are the same - become too daunting a task for any conscious mind.

Art and character
In the episode of the Crown where Churchill, a prolific painter himself, criticised and insinuated that his portraitist had lesser experience and aptitude than he (lesser works a year, his lack of knowledge of pencil and paper types for a sketch). His portraitist, went back to do research on Churchill's numerous works. He returned and pointedly told Churchill that his painting constantly returned to the subject of his pond. He asked why Churchill was so engrossed with the pond. Churchill sees art as battle, to win over the subject matter as conquer. The pond with is dancing lights, was difficult to capture completely. The artist made a passing statement that the way he framed and painted the water, revealed that Churchill wanted people to see something that he feel people didn't see. It was calling for the viewer to see beneath the muddy surface for something. Something might not be there. Churchill was visibly struck, it was a quiet scene, yet resonated loudly under my shell.

In the context of an aging Churchill with his illustrious career, it was tragic, the denial of one's age and limits. The forced perspective of wanting others to see the greatness without also acknowledging the weaknesses.

Why do they say art is reflection, food and sustenance for the soul?

Is this why Einstein plays?

Is this how Bach felt when he composed his preludes, fugues, and many other concertos?

After years of knowing these statements from artists, I am beginning to embody the experience and understand why.

Both experiences brought tears to my heart and eyes. First, with immense sadness because after a long time, I am finally at the cusp of realising a deeper part of myself. To remind ourselves that life is more than just right and wrongs, more than the petty politics and power struggles. Empathy is a resource fast running out in this distracting world. Every day I play simple notes and yet I am reminded that while as a beginner we need to get the simple things right, but it is all about being able to feel between the notes. We underestimate the touch of sound, the vibrations that rock us within a concert or dance, that also exists between the tense pauses on stage.

I took a breath and pulled my first bow, ah! That full tenor of the G on the cello. Beyond technique, beyond correctness, we all need to be reminded that life is about fullness. Sound never lies. What I play, is a reflection of what is inside me - a scratchy distorted conflicted sound. There is no way I can play without releasing tension in both my mind and my body. No way I can feel the notes if I constantly berate my ineptitude. In time...

Like Churchill's obsession with that pond, that forced perspective on his viewers to  my forced cello sound was born out of pride. Humility releases the soul in ways that is indescribable. Like theatre often theorises, when an audience laugh, it is because they feel uncomfortable, it is a visceral reflection and reminder of the shady parts of ourselves. When I played my cello, the sound is a direct manifestation of insecurity. Indeed the obsession with being correct, is a selfish endeavour. It emphasizes the player's self-absorption to be correct and the audience becomes alienated. It is masturbatory and fails engage nor does it serve to communicate. People become disenchanted when art is supposed to do just the opposite. 

If you are disengaged from any performance or art piece, when you also have all the lenses and grammar to read and interpret, it is fault of the artist.
I am afraid of performing because I am simultaneously afraid that people do not like me for who I am. I am scared shitless because we bare our souls, and run the risk that people do not like that part of us that was made public. I still have a long way to go, in accepting my own weaknesses as well as strengths. Like learning is a life-long skill, may this journey never end.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Email writing: some ideas to help

Recently, there has been a lot delicate ballet surrounding emails.
How do I reply an email from my boss that has Cc-ed the whole village for a decision that looks like I missed my work when in fact, s/he changed his/her decision?

How do I reply emails that compliment my work?

How do I reply emails when my colleagues are clearly throwing me under the bus?

How do you write a sensible reply to someone who is passive aggressive?
How do you reply your CEO who has dropped you work and skipped the entire chain of command?

I am constantly amused at how writing, despite advances in technology, still revolves around 3 principles - context, power and tone.

Human communication over text is a fascinating thing - the semiotics can be interpreted widely depending on our mood, or even time of day. We read what we want to hear. Literature and authors, like musicians, exploit this to create colour and suspense. Yet, in professional business writing, a "colourful" tone can be mis-interpreted as sarcastic or worst-still, offensive.

The worst part is, the more people jump on the bandwagon, the confirmation bias grows every stronger and it email becomes morphed into its own interpretation regardless of the author's original intention.

So here are my 3 humble thoughts about email writing based on my personal principles. I've learnt these skills from mistakes, as well as my bosses, for whom I am eternally grateful for pointing out these hesitancies.

1) Context - reading between the lines
So you wrote an email, and you expected it to go cordially. Before you know it, a harsh reply came back and you are fuming. You feel wronged. You feel that the other person is unreasonable. She's a bitch, he's a jerk. This problem compounds when that person is someone with power.

Instead of hitting "Reply All", it is perhaps easier to pick up the phone. Come forth from the position as a listening ear, hear why and what this person is trying to tell you. That anger might be completely misdirected, or someone else is trying to send an indirect message via you to your team or boss, who's conveniently cc-ed in there. If you are completely sure of your innocence, then you don't have to go on the defensive and start a shouting match. Let it go and reply pleasantly, more anger doesn't breed resolutions.

Listen, understand, rant a bit...and calm down.

Secondly, you receive a very cryptic email towards a potentially very awkward conclusion. You can't seem to figure out exactly what has happened and you are too embarrassed to ask. What then?

Context becomes extremely crucial in the environment where information is non-transparent. You could be a scape-goat in the making, or be unknowingly complicit to a whole scheme of things you'd rather not get involved. In this context, ask very awkward and difficult questions, escalate matters if this is out of your pay-scale. Clarify with the sender if this was a mistake, seek confirmation on the objectives and have that in email. When the context is not clear, being clear about what your unknowns might raise the right alarm bells. There are no stupid questions.

But there are stupid assumptions.

2) Power

One of my personal pet peeves, is people who write short curt and very accusatory emails that at once suggest very little in way of direction and also insist upon a multitude of things.
You know, those emails?

"I saw "X" this morning, what the hell are you people doing. Inserts sign off"
"Insert Cc to entire team: Please activate this for Amy as discussed, why is this still not done."

The former is a poor email form that js outwardly demanding, with all the room in the world for the team to jump in and start pointing fingers.

The latter, is passive aggressive. It suggests the receipient is incompetent of following instructions or the person giving it has a point to prove on the earlier point.

While I personally don't agree with these forms of email, they are dis-empowering to the receivers - even if they are guilty of the act. But wait, you cry, what if that person is a repeat offender! What if they don't move unless I resort to such tactics.

I believe that dealing with difficult people require strategies. For now, assume you are innocent and you find yourself on the pointy end of the stick, how do we reply?

Firstly, do not wrestle back control. Do not fire off another email that is equally foreboding and petty. Secondly, write to clarify, not defend. Do not start by saying "you didn't tell me" or "Ernest failed to...", it will just make the endless witch-hunting even more tedious.

We don't want the Salem witch hunts, we want to resolve a problem.
So the key is to write what you do know, how it will be resolved, and what is preventing you from finding a conclusion. It may well be a lack of information, your boss forgot that 5min discussion in the pantry, etc. Confirm that discussion, seek clarity and with each onion layer you peel, the power balance tilts in your favour. Consider your positionality, and how much change you can effect over the organisation and adjust your content. The less power, the lesser explanations on email. We're not called to answer for problems beyond our pay-scale - unless the problem is you or your team.

If you truly forgot to do something, do not over-explain. In true Gordon Ramsay style, recover, and save the excuses. By giving excuses, you are crippling people's expectations of your work, when what you really want is to admit that we all make mistakes, and they can adjust their own worldview. The latter being, everyone can identify with and the former being just someone desperate to cover up. Ironically, you win power by being more vulnerable because you don't win approval, but you win empathy.

Writing from power also means being affirmative. "I think", "It might be possible" are phrases to avoid especially when you are putting forward a recommendation. It cracks open debate which will further undermine your confidence. If you are not sure, then why are you recommending?

3) Tone

Friendly or business-formal? Should I insert that smiley face? Is slang allowed?
It is obvious that much of tone comes from the first 2 points. Yet at the same time, tone is the structure we put up to set ourselves up for success or failure.
Consider your relationship and objectives, if you would like you ease a tense situation by throwing a joke, you would be better off doing it in person. Humour is a risky thing, because it depends on timing and frame of mind. Unless the relationship is on a firm basis, risking a joke is generally not wise.

Consider tone as a bridge between 2 gulfs of ideas. If you have a point that you want to say, consider using tone to draw the person in. Sell-in rather than hard-sell. It is often much palatable if the writer seems to be open to a conversation, rather than coming as a directive.

Except of course, when it is truly a directive.

I consider tone like music playing. You can play the piano and the teacher often asks you to sing the melody line. You get a sense of phrasing where the composer intends to end a sentence. Tone of emails is exactlt that, you have to read your email out loud to consider if the text  reads well. Are your salient points are highlighted? Can some parts of the email be interpreted wrongly? Think about various ways of reading, like music, there are many ways to go about singing a melody.

Tone, is a word that is associated with aurality. When in doubt, vocalise.
Ultimately, this is a very long and convoluted way of thinking about email writing. I don't have specific tactics, because if those will automatically come to you if we shift our mode of thinking. Don't self-victimise, and tilt power in your favour. Appraise how your reply affirms or disavows your position in the company and write mindfully.

My rule of thumb is, if I have doubts about my email, discuss it offline with your manager or with that person directly. It's often a sure sign that the email will come back with a reply that is not entirely favourable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

So you didn't get that promotion...

Recently, many of my friends/colleagues had their bubbles burst. This cuccoon that good work should be commensurated by good pay, and the implied trust that you will get a pay raise when you get promoted, is sadly broken.

In many conversations, I've insisted that good work is rewarded by more work. Behind that, there's always a trust that you will be rewarded accordingly. More responsibilities means being paid for it and vice versa.

Then 3 years into my career, when I've had a peek under the hood, I realise that people are not all very smart nor rational. I discovered many ugly politics that resulted in my various hires, and the real reason why people leave. I've witnessed incompetent employers being driven by employees yet never sharing the profits with them. I've been disgusted by senior management's miserly cost-strapped approaches that deter growth. That "defend whatever pie I have" instead of finding more. It would seem almost fate, that a slew of articles and reports seem to correspond to my current worldview - young underpaid burnt out executives who leave or are asked to leave due to rapid financialisation of companies and rapid cost cutting measures to meet those financial goals.

Work more, for less.

This lore, must rest.

My best friend, like Morpheus in the Matrix, offered me the blue pill and I've since opened my eyes for the first time.

Meritocracy doesn't exist. If it naturally did, why do we still write it into our national pledge? Why do ministers still insist that the civil service is meritocractic. We hardly need to instate upon a concept that exists in reality.

I've burnt out before, and felt hopeless. For 5 months this year, I've come to re-assessed this lore that has been ingrained in me throughout my educational journey.

It is true to some extent, that the best people tend to get the better pay and education has had a big part to play, besides gender and social class, in one's life chances of making-it-out-there. Yet, when we tear apart the cohort analysis, across individuals or communities (like young executives), we face ever-increasing disparities. Not all education types are valued equally, not all industries reward the same, not all bosses promote individuals with good qualities.

As we are schooled to become ever so alike, ironically the notion of meritocracy as we know it changes. Merit is based on who can angkat bolah (carry balls), who's able to get into the good books and do what upper management want. Performance at work, becomes a wayang, and taken to the extremes, creates a vastly disturbing and toxic corporate culture.

The key is really to keep on learning, even when life is unfair and promotions become extremely biased, I believe it will play out and here's why:

Ultimately, success is about grit and resilience. Resilience is all about being adaptable and gaining the skills that makes you mobile and less-company-dependent. It is true for any HR, that the best people will always leave and the worst are hard to get rid of. Companies always struggle to balance short term cost cutting measures with long term gain. Given the financialisation of many companies, short term gain is becoming more of a reality than long term development. While that is none of our problem, since we are the cogs in this entire corporate machinery, that burden of sustainability is not ours to bear.

I always say, "this problem is above my payscale".

Yet it has implications. It suggests that with increasing short term worldviews, we have to ironically think long term. I live in constant belief that I might be asked to leave my desk tomorrow and every month I ask if I have the skills to go  elsewhere. If every month my answer is yes, I will sleep easy at night. If not, it's time to consider readjusting my position/scope in the company.

Many of my peers then turn to businesses, as an alternative eden. Your own hours, full profit, calling the shots. No more unfair promotions, no more nonsense from upper management. Except when you're daunted by real prospects, you realise how much more politics and craziness one has to bear. From unscrupuloys suppliers to powerful buyers, doing business come in all flavours.

Burn out. The candle's wick can only burn for so long. The wax is evaporating  Bills go up in smoke.

Generally, while there are tons of articles telling you how to deal with a burn out, my last takeaway is to not make work your all. Don't make work your reason, find a reason to work, to make it work. Yes it sucks that the promotion didn't come despite the hardwork you've put in. Leave for better prospects not for the feeling of injustice, but for a better future for your family. Arm yourself with the skills to negotiate for that future you want, build your reputation, which over time outweighs its worth in gold.

Meritocracy doesn't exists, not perfectly anyway. Find strength in places, seek solace in others =) push on.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bosses are humans too - thoughts on humanistic leadership

Recently I've been interested in this idea of humanistic leadership. There are many schools of thought on leadership, and some of them may already cover what I currently have in mind.

Nevertheless, this post is aimed at that frustrated subordinate and the fresh-faced executive, about our managers.

I've always sought to find a good mentor and manager as my number 2 priority after job-scope/exposure. The reason being is that we probably see our managers for longer hours than our spouses or family. It felt only logical. Monetary issues aside, if one can afford it, seek a job to grow and learn first and foremost.

However, not all managers are leaders. Many times we are frustrated by the decisions they make, or do not make. They also chastise us for things that might not be entirely our fault, or may seem unreasonable in terms of deadlines. No one likes OT (unless you like escaping from home), and certainly no one likes uncertainty or negative energy around the office.

So we immediately turn to the manager who gave us that instruction, or directive. Why B now when it was A earlier? We question, interrogate and some managers stonewall us and ask you to "just do it". So we bitch and moan over lunches with our colleagues, and then complain to our loved ones that my manager has been unreasonable. Crazy even, especially when emotions were involved and things felt a bit personal, words were heartedly exchanged.

Ultimately, everyone goes back with their relationship just a bit sour. Bits of you promise that you'll never help your boss anymore. S/he has betrayed you.

There are a ton of articles out there that suggest what you should do if you have a lousy boss. How to "survive" a lousy manager. It is all about coping and tolerating the Mean Manager. This is where I beg to differ.

Coping and tolerating is a stop-gap measure, it suggests that both parties dance around the bush and ignore the white elephant in the room. Truce comes with developing understanding, and some empathy, as well as crystal clear communication.

1. Understanding, maybe you misunderstood the messenger for the message.

Managers have meetings, they have closed-door discussions. They have responsibilities and emails that you are not privy to, they text their own bosses, they have greater responsibilities beyond the organisation.

Sometimes we see the blood but not the battle, and we blame the soldier who fought in the trenches than the politicians that instigated the war. Messages flow from the top, and managers are sometimes confronted with the difficult position of being the messenger - to fire, to discipline, to U turn - because of whatever reasons. They could have spoke up for you, but their decisions were overrode by other people and considerations. Ultimately, we need to ask the right questions before we jump to conclusions. Managers have bosses to please too. How they handled the situation reflects well/badly on them. So while we can feel that the message could be phrased in a better way, we need to be objective and seek clarity on where and how this decision came to be.

2. Empathy, because managers have families too.

So she was snappy at you - it must be PMS or she is has issues with your slides last night. He was distant- maybe he has unvoiced disappointment and the hammer's gonna drop any minute.

Maybe you don't care at all.

However we see it, our bosses can equally be met with frustrations from home, they are not our managers when they are home but husbands, wives, children, friends. They can very well have had their heartbroken that affected their day. It's not always about you.

Junior-entry executives don't always realise how sheltered they are. Personal performance is easy and while there are some relationships to manage, the goals are often very clear and directive. However the higher up the corporate ladder, the view is less clear, the relationships less obvious and suddenly the phrase, "with great power, comes great responsibility" start to really sink in.

It is always easier to be responsible for yourself, than to be responsible for others. That's why I'm quite resistant to the idea of the careerist individual, because more often than not, I see managers burn out and run ineffective and toxic teams that surrounds a person's ego. Without the support of family and friends, it is easier to be bitter, jaded and simply apathetic about other's predicaments.

3. You can never over-communicate.

A lot of misunderstanding comes from the lack of will and ability to simply tell others what the hell you are working on right now.

Sometimes when things are extremely overwhelming, boss forget to communicate, and because shit flows from the top, the landslide eventually lands on our 6pm shoulders.

Soldier on.

Shake it off like water off a duck's back and fucking grow a pair. It is not okay for any boss to tell you  to do something that was due 2 hours ago, communicate how this can be improved, mutually apologise and move on.

Of course with authority, no manager is going to tell you sorry for making you miss your movie with your partner, or worse still, the finals of EPL.

Yet, taking the first step to confront the issue achieves 2 objectives. First it tells you what kind of leader you have, and secondly, it opens a dimension of understanding that goes beyond passive-aggressiveness.

Nothing gets achieved if communications are reduced to passive aggressiveness, and people who are PA need to understand that this propagates and complicates the issue. If you feel you are not listened to, or are not appreciated for your opinions, just voice it out and see where the paint spray settles. If the organisation doesn't appreciate your skills and views, then leave. If you can't leave, then just press on. If you get brow beaten all the time, at least you did your conscience proud. Congratulations, welcome into maturity.

Bosses who are themselves PA, need to get a grip of their actions, and I fucking make no excuses for managers who are detrimental to their team due to ineffective (PA) communications. But all of us can do our part to improve things.

My point of this article, is that you don't need to have a shiny brass plate engraved with your name and title to exhibit leadership. In this day and age of rank-seeking individuals, we forget the software of what makes managers important. They are the muscles that hold the joints together, the nervous system that run effective communications, though while sometimes painful, helps the rest of the corpus understand that they have been burnt and back away.

It is not always about you, neither do people "have issues with your performance". Very rarely, people think about you if at all, and managers, those who are truly focused on the good work, have spare RAM to give a shit about your petty thoughts and drama. So grow a pair of bravery + transparency, and mature. This world is really not your polly-pocket universe.

Humanistic leadership is about understanding the individual and where they are coming from. Thereafter, to lead with transparency and empathy, to communicate clearly with people around you so as to develop healthy relationships. You may do it in any style, but you don't have to be a manager to lead - you can start with yourself.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Lifelong learning

I was searching my family document library 2 days ago, trying to get papers in order for an appeal application for my mother's step-down care subsidy. And my mum being the extremely orderly person she is, has kept everything in place and is a system we still use 7 years later despite her stroke.
Having said, I paused to flip through the numerous certificates, courses and accreditation that my mum has had throughout her career right up till her stroke. At first, it was O levels, and then a diploma in IT back when computers barely made it to the scene. My mother was a brilliant typist, scoring an impressive word/minute to qualify a shiny badge for it. She attended even more courses about logistics, learning advanced excel and so on. This was before systems like SAP and Oracle made it to our shores to help companies monitor complex logistics.

It was easy to pass these off as my mum's poor O Level grades didn't qualify her entry into a tertiary institution due to her poor English marks (she was Chinese educated). It is but of course, that she kept on learning so that she could continue to be relevant. It is a discourse we are familiar with and, with SkillsFuture, institutionalised.

However, being a university graduate, a person of middle-class privilege, it is easy to be comfortable in our worldly knowledge. To pass off my mum's pursuits as simply a necessity because she didn't have access to university. It is equally tempting to assume we know it all - and stop learning. A great deal of humility came when I entered the digital media world - where no such course is offered in Singapore, where the playing field is equal, that you feel that your entire educational hardwork seems less useful than when it first felt. My mum must have felt the same when she picked up IT as her profession of choice.

I find myself on the same journey as my mother now, learning and developing new skills, taking courses and getting certified for platforms I never knew existed or were possible.

Yet, a constant worry plagues me.

My mother had to also banked on a particular set of skills - and it was IT. Very soon after the 2000s, a vast majority of consolidation exercises and downsizing caused many to lose their jobs. My mother included - she had to de-skill and work in another field that demanded a strict paycut. The last few years leading to her stroke were the most stressful. Being older now, I am starting to understand her frustrations. Back in 1970s, the government promised developments in the IT manufacturing sector. However that strategy quickly changed when China because cheaper and opened its doors in mid 1990s. We lost our comparative advantage in a heartbeat. Many industries today still grapple with this change.

It must have been infuriating to invest so much into one's learning, and not have it pay off in the future you aspire to. I am somehow doubly pained for my mother, who have always shielded me from these worries and allowed me to pursue my passion and strengths. Perhaps if she were healthy now, she would shared more with me.

There are two kinds of learning - often dichotomised as incompatible. On one end of the ring, we have the academic approach of meta-knowledge. The abstraction of common phenomenon into concepts that can be adapted to analyse anything - a way of thinking if you will. On the other side presents a realm of practical knowledge that get things done. How to fix a generator on a bulldozer, how to create pivot tables, how to run a training session.

The former comes at too high a cost, often econimically and scholastically out of reach from many. The latter is too specialised and can, in my mother's case, be obsolete if the wind changes directions.
So what then? While one can certainly, theoretically, keep getting skilled - some boundaries are harder to cross than others. A salesperson selling books can hardly transit into a role that sells medical equipment. This structural unemployment is not simply distilled to just the lack of learning. The person may very be learning all this time, just within their own vertical that no longer exists.
It is this insecurity that makes me question the viability of some of the strategies posited by armchair economists, often relegating the structural unemployment as a problem of the lack of self-improvement.

But what is clear is that we cannot stop learning, and be closed to the idea that being in a lab analysing cell division is a farfetched idea when you were a geography major. No doubt it comes at a very high cost. However my point is that if we are no longer hungry to learn, we stand no chance at all.

This post addresses many parallel and intersecting issues - but the tldr; version is simply this. Just keep swimming, even if it was the wrong direction, we can always turn back, but never stop moving.
By the way, my mum wanted to enroll into university to pursue her dreams of getting a degree after I "grew up". She never went on to fulfil that personal aspiration. It doesn't matter because he carries enough knowledge already that universities will be learning more from her experience than what they can offer.  Her dream lives on with me, and I will carry that torch of learning forever in my heart.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What lying does to you

Lies are a form of narrative, a story or a fantasy we tell people. It is often rooted in some sort of truth, or phenomena experienced but can either be taken out of context. Facts distorts into falsehood because it has been misappropriated to fit one's selfish interests.

People might tell a liar when confronted face-to-face, because lying to someone is uncomfortable and much more difficult than one might think. It's loaded with a sense of sheepishness, guilty conscience and plot-holes to get straight that it often takes less effort to just tell someone the truth and get it over and done with.

However, lying, like most things, can become a habit. It gets easier every time you do it, such that it is all paradoxically, becomes the only truth you see. It starts to frame how you see things - your neurons travel the pre-emptive pathways on how you place facts within a story that has become familar to you. So lies ultimately become a worldview, and in that worldview through time and space, situations become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The fable of the Emperor's New Clothes is about not getting fleeced, but also and more importantly about vanity and pride of the Emperor. In a sense, he allowed himself to be deceived because he has already deceived himself that it is extremely crucial to have clothing that is made of the finest material as an affirmation of his lordly status. We allow ourselves to be lied to, or take into lies because the first lie starts with the lies we tell ourselves. We need that $2,400 bag because it makes us look good. We don't interrogate assumptions enough, especially the assumptions that echo in our minds.

So all in all, lies do something very particular. They feed. Rather than substract from your being, they add, feed, seduce and nourish. Whether it is desire, pride or even glory, it seeks yo affirm what may not be. And it is potent because since they are based in facts that do exist, we make logical leaps and jump to conclusions. When we lie to others comfortably, we have to lie to ourselves, and to do that easily, is to take mental shortcuts or erase outliers.

It becomes easier to find cause and effect, to sweep all other factors under the carpet. Dangerously, it becomes easier to blame, to seek justifications for extreme actions. We tell ourselves it is okay. And after a few times, lies replace truth as discourses that most accept. Not all lies are purposeful, and this is not the same as scientific theory that has been debunked due to new evidence or research practices. I am referring to the lies we tell ourselves, the personal touchpoints we have regularly that suck us in.

Lies are a false cucoon, one that is as brittle as diamond. It only takes 1 child on the street to say, "but he is naked!" to shatter illusions into a thousand pieces and have us all running back vulnerable and exposed.

Have courage my friends.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

So you're stuck in a rut...

You sent some resumes, got through the door. Bought a reward for yourself with your first paycheck. You've started work. Hurray.

You go home after work day everyday, watch your Game of Thrones or Kdrama, chat with your friends. You maybe catch dinner with someone. Fall asleep.

Rinse and repeat.

Now what?

You've become what institutions envision you to be - a collared worker, productive and abundening.

Every once in a while, you head for a holiday, go to Universal Studios with your family or niece/nephew.

You return home, staring at the mundaneness of it all. Wondering if your life is resigned to this cogwork cycle.

Work can be exciting for some, not so much for others who feel that things are out of their hands most of the time. Agency, is the concoction that brews only in academic towers, the steam is what students inhale in lecture halls. The privileged, the non-caring, the ones who have it easier because life dealt them the right DNA and circumstances.

So suddenly you are 30, 35. You've worked so hard to be in middle management. The pay off doesn't seem as worthwhile as it was when you were 24 and decided that relationships were a distraction. You find your friends increasingly unable and unwilling to make time for brunch or soccer because "Little Jimmy" has playgroup on Saturdays. You go on an online dating spree, become increasingly critical of the guys who are of similar age - not earning enough, he is not "worldly" enough, he hasn't dated in 20 years!?

And you trudge on with a date holding the same fallible need to impress with their credit card or make up. At the same time, a little part of you dies inside. Yet pride prevents you from admitting that you've made a wrong choice. You're a manager now aren't you? Age is creeping up, and you know your younger colleagues are calling you that mean bitch/bastard who needs that stick out of his/her ass. Someone who just needs to get laid. Your male colleagues wonder if you're gay since they never hear you mention that you're meeting women.

And you did, it is not without a lack of trying - after all that is what the modern independent person is, isn't it? However you have too much self respect to render yourself at anyone's whim and fancy. You only want the best.

But the best are taken with the mundaneness of life you have grown so much to despise and yet also desire. That stability and burden of a family doesn't seem as "traditional". Maybe tradition endures not for its own sake, maybe your pride didn't let you see through your own naïveté at 24.

Eventually you resign, and quietly admit that you missed out. Life goes on, you settle for your games and Kdrama with the cuccoon of solitude keeping you chilled in this hot tropical weather.

Time is an investment, an instrument that does not return once capital has been invested. It is the riskiest, as well as the most precious commodity that most people take for granted. Until something happens, oft too late, will we fully grasp the sands of time.

Would you choose this unspeakable burden of two little feet, or the unimaginable endlessness of forever weightlessly floating through the city at night.

What legacy do you want in the end? What lives on what you have passed. Are you a guest of this earth, to come by and have passed, to never evoke memory ever again?

People often misunderstand that career and personal life are incompatible - especially women. Even increasingly men.  We must have "enough" before we are "ready" to love and be loved. To settle down, to marry, to have kids. I strongly disagree. People are not complete, nor should they be. We are all growing and evolving, we are always work-in-progress. We are dependent on time and space, and the people that bump in snd out of our lives. We are the baggage we carry and the tears we shed. I want to grow old with someone, not start a business with him (or her).

While we can be married to our work at key points in time, it is equally important to return. To return to what matters most - to the people who care very much about it. Finding someone to spend time with is not so much as "lacking time" but a shift of perspective. In Singapore, we are often chastised for being unfocussed - students are conditioned towards a singular goal (the national exam) and if that goal is achieved, it all pays off.

Later people transfer that conditioning onto their careers. However as we grow older, we forget that we have agency to change some of the chains that bind us.

So life doesn't entirely make it incompatible, it's about what we're willing to sacrifice for what we want and the courage to admit our heart-felt desires. Family or no family, most importantly we need to be at peace for the choices we make.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In praise of gaming

4 years ago, a friend introduced me to the very alien world of computer gaming. Back then, I never counted myself as one of their target audiences. A "proper" girl doesn't game right?

Well, proper girls shouldn't be doing a lot of thing and that's why they have cats.

Which by the way, are furry movable furniture.

(Kidding, I love cats.)

In any case, I have had the fortune to experience first person shooting games like Battlefield and L4D2, to story-line pakour cinematics like Asassins' creed and Tomb Raider, and also multiplayer strategy games such as Dota2 and League of Legends.

Well no doubt they are really fun, I mean like hours-fly-by kind of fun. Which admittedly is longer than any movie.

There is a lot of resistance against gaming, especially women who almost see it as bad as their partners watching porn. I believe that it is lack of understanding that is proliferating this "judgy" attitude.

And no, I don't self-identify as a gamer girl because my reflexes, like my math, is tosh.

So here are 5 reasons why I am in praise of games.

1. Singapore is expensive and boring

It seems like an odd first point, but it lines up. Bear with me and you'll see why.

Singapore is a playground for the rich, extremely rich. We can't afford yachts and MBS-esque lives. But we can afford $12 of 4 hour game time to have a good time with friends. It is almost cheaper than a weekend movie ticket with twice the length of fun.

Popcorn not included. But most places allow food anyway.

Prices are inclusive of GST and service charge. You are welcomed.

2. You learn complex strategies à la the Art of War

Some games like DOTA and League of Legends require complex strategy. You have to decide from the moment have to pick a character with unique abilities, to the actual gameplay, to teamwork synergies. I call it complex chess.

Ultimately the aim of the game is to capture the opponent's team's "flag". Much like chess's aim is to capture the king.

So chess pieces are all inanimate but follow the same strategy. Characters have to work together with their abilities, they need to learn when to give someone the bounty so that their team wins over all, or when to wait for their turn to strike. Teams have to coordinate to focus down an enemy, and/or protect their damage-dealer so they don't give their own bounty away.

And the amazing thing is such decisions are also made in mere split seconds with multiple things happening at once.

So tell me how is this not amazing in and of itself?

3. It tells you what kind of person you are.

So previously, I thought that I was an aggressive decision maker because I'm very proactive. However, playing games (including Civ5) made me reconsider my assumptions.

I'm passive and defensive as hell. From my experience, some players go big and go home, others like me prefer to have all the information before proceeding. From these games, I am starting to realise how my passiveness can sometimes wreck results.

It is also true that you tell a person's true colours when you put them in hot water.

When the game is seemingly hopeless or when the odds are stacked against you, the feeling is eeriely real even though it's just a game. Do you stick through and find an opening? Do you blame others for what may be your mistake? Do you listen to 2nd opinions? Are you defensive?

4. You actually learn stuff

So Ezio and the Assassin's creed series just basically taught me the civil history in an extremely real replica of the cities they depict. It was so real, that when in Florence, I actually really didn't need a map because I've walked those streets in-game before.

Also, you learn about stuff like guns, how they fire, how recoil can affect your aim etc. It's not 100% the real thing, and no I don't feel the urge to go shoot people in case you're wondering. It's useless information, but at least I'm prepared for a zombie apocalypse, are you?

5. Some games, are basically sports.

Unlike doping, e-sports face no such issue. Unless you count red-bull as a drug. Before you scoff at the notion that computer games can be "sports", may I remind you that soccer started out as kids kicking a tin can around in some alley as well.

And like every community, there are crazy ass people who mouth off, as there are silent supporters who watch every game of their favourite (*ahem Puppey ahem*).

It is also not some small obscure community. The last prize pool of Dota2 The International was ~USD6 million, way more than the Wimbledon and mostly pooled through the community. The combined players of World of Warcraft in a city is too large to fit an Olympic stadium.

Like all things, if done in moderation, poses benefits. Phobias are irrational, so is the lack of will to try to understand. Addictions are detrimental, so find out what games do to our brains. Like with all addictions, often the medium (games, drugs, porn) are just stand-ins for something more fundamental.

So go try them out....good luck have fun people!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

So about this thing called a start-up...

We've all got that one friend, who's involved in a start up of some kind. With the proliferation of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin at the turn of 2010, to the recent hype of Uber and beautiful branding of Airbnb, it is hard not to be tempted to jump into the bandwagon.

I've been to a couple of start up talks, and networking events across the last few years and I'm constantly struck by the kind of questions that some would-be entrepreneurs ask, or the attitude they display.

Don't get me wrong, this post is not to suggest or downplay start-ups as a frivolous pursuit. Neither am I possessing the opinion that it is a waste of time, and that most of them are scams.
However I am of the opinion that the word "start-up" has become a brand in and of itself, and I have observed that some people have bought into the hype and think that being part of a start-up, or somehow being self-employed is desirable.

It is not.

As a loved one told me, the word start-up gives the would-be entrepreneur an excuse to fail, that it is somehow okay to do so because everything is "experimental" or "untested". As a result, incompetence is tolerated because we are all part of the "learning journey".
I find this notion uncomfortable to stomach. Incredibly, would-be entrepreneurs find capital and see it as a be-all and end-all solution to their insolvency, or the high costs of running a company. It is also extremely self-centered, that someone should trust their capital in your hands for a turnover when you have no track record, not even an inkling of what it means to analyse a balance sheet. A good idea is not enough.

Our parents and indeed some people now, would never have self-identified themselves as a start up.

Not-too-long ago, it was called running a business.

It was about feeding their families, about working for a better life - recognising that working for someone else offered limited opportunities because of the current career climate. It could also be that the person earned much more doing freelance outside, that slowly gained traction into a registered business.

I think in our pursuit of the dream of owning your own million dollar company, we forget that it was ultimately either a rich family's son/daughter's interest that grew into something, or one's desperation to get out of poverty at all personal costs. However some individuals see this start-up culture as an event to hand out business cards that says "CEO" or "MANAGING DIRECTOR" behind a wrinkle free face. It is not an avenue to bolster one's ego. Ask any SME and they can tell you that they have endless nights worrying about cashflow, and from mistakes they gain valuable experience.

Because experience is one of two things: age and exposure. Some fortunate individuals have had the opportunity to be exposed while they were in safe environments (schools, family businesses, universities), they grow quicker and therefore are well-poised to seize a new idea and turn it into a new business.

However, observing the small sample size I have, I feel that many would-be entrepreneurs have no idea what they are doing. There is a lot of wastage - time, effort and money - to get the same result. A lot of would-be entrepreneurs also reject the "corporate monolith", often setting it as a dichotomy to their own identities. Either seeing them as bullies or as stuck-in-the-mud institutions. Yet, I share a different perspective.

I see corporations as learning institutions and some have more lessons than most. Unlike the climate our parents face, many companies are rich areas of experience. The exposure in some companies can be better than most start ups. Furthermore, they have failed before and these lessons are passed on. There is received wisdom and modus operandi is a series of trial and error. There is a reason why they are stuck to their ways - it worked. The only failure is a company's lack of agility and vision, which understandably can be lost due to groupthink and set ways.

So ultimately, I've learnt plenty by working for organisations, that I didn't get while working for a start-up. Of course you get the office politics in a office of 500 instead of 15. Of course you have red tape when you have shareholders and authorities to account to. Of course there would be more control because your actions are consequential.

However consider this, control is labour intensive and time consuming. If no authority bats an eye, it may very well be that you're too small to make a significant impact. In that case, what kind of superstar start-up would you be?

Ultimately, I am against ill-experienced, self-important and indulgent start-uppers. Those that can't tell revenue forecasting from market analysis. Those that waste their parents' hard-earned money to bolster their egos.

It's good to have ideas, and above all, it is absolutely crucial to have better execution.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sri Lanka 2016: Three Things

It has been some time since I've blogged - I've been busy recuperating from the topsy-turvy time back at my old job. There's simply nothing better to "cleanse the system" than a holiday.

So when a friend asked me 2 months ago, "would you like to go Sri Lanka?" I dived at the opportunity.  I mean my boyfriend's half Sri Lankan, and I used to work on the Sri Lankan Tourism Board accounts which really made me wonder about the place. It's not a destination that one immediately calls to mind, especially when they tout their beaches and heritage sites as a big draw.

1) Sri Lanka is a workout

I have never exercised as much as I did before going to that place. Even with a private driver to ferry us around this vast hilly land, I find myself walking and climbing more than any other holiday I've taken.

Temples are mostly on top of an endless flight of stairs. Understandably so, since the mostly-Buddhist country has not just beautiful naturally occurring caves and rock outcrops, Buddhists also believe in seclusion for meditation just as Buddha himself did.

The mere mortals like us - it's 200m worth of steps up. For more unfit individuals like myself, it felt more like 1297183788384234m worth of torture.

Trying to get down the boulders was a certifiable challenge at Pidurangala Rock. It felt like a Lara Croft Tom Raider Walkthrough in real-life. #achievementunlocked

The moment where I go "Does my travel insurance cover accidents like this?"

When the number of stairs make you see stars early in the morning.

I've officially reached my climbing quota for the entire trip when we had to climb yet another set of endless stairs to reach the top of the Cave Temple in Dambulla later that afternoon.

2) You can see so far that your eyes hurt

In Singapore, due to high-rises and skyscrapers, you don't really get to see the sky. It's one of my many regrets, especially since I'm a sucker for a fully lit night sky.

But day after day, I had views that take my breath away literally, and was greeted with the sense of immense respect for the vastness of the land that we take for granted. We had to work for the view (muscle aches were part of the package) but at the end of the day, you could say that it was worth every bead of sweat.

Nothing beats a sky filled with stars, a landscape full of trees and a peak bursting with clouds.

The best things come for free.

Winds were so strong, I had to have a model moment at the peak of the Cave Temple

4.5hours drive to the highlands and this place's views can rival that of Europe.

One of the many waterfalls we see in the highlands.

3) The best things in life are shared

From drinking Coconuts, to enjoying dinner, I'm grateful to have gone with 2 awesome companions who are the most easy-going and forgiving folks that I've ever travelled with. I admire their determination for climbing Adam's Peak at 2am in the morning and still make it to work the next day (a round of applause please).

I think without their help, I would have never enjoyed the view on top of Pidurangala Rock, nor awe at the sights near Adam's Peak. I would have never opened my eyes to another side of travelling - that it is okay to compromise comfort (and lay in a night's worth of bedbugs) because some experiences make such a deep impression, they become imprints that you carry for life.

It has truly been magical, and once again, thanks for getting my fat ass up and down the bloody Rock at 5am in the morning. Thanks for the many pictures and fond memories!

You guys rock....and durian.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Portrait of Failure

I have not been writing, because recently I feel that my writing inspiration has come to some what of a standstill - there's a lot of negative energy these days, mostly from my current job as marketing executive secretary. In any case, I've spent a lot of time talking to people - friends mostly - on what I do I really want in life?

Surprisingly, after weeks of contemplation, I have drawn a complete blank. I felt almost a sense of loss, because people that know me, know that I am very sure of what I want. I am often the most decisive, the most sure. However, that was when yardsticks and KPIs were clear, in the form of grades and academic transcripts. It was also easier in post-graduate because your success was solely based on 2 markers giving you the go-ahead that you're a qualified researcher and thesis-maker.

In any case, the world outside school has always confounded me. I find myself increasingly lost at this maze of would-be achievements and metrics of "success". I have people tell me, I'm not "making enough" as a masters degree holder. Others informed me that I am simply doing what everyone else is doing - being the overpaid administrative secretary cog-and-wheel in a large organisation. It is at once frustrating and perplexing to be asked to print documents for your bosses, and to be at the beck-and-call of higher management (professional travel agent anyone?). Yet I see many people being okay with this - that it's alright to come into the workplace just doing what the bosses want, keeping a low profile and earning a monthly salary. For some reason, such an undertaking does not sit comfortably with me at all - and as much as I am a self-starter, I am hungry to learn more from others to see how they do things, so that I can return to teach others the same and pass those skills on.

I start to question what do I really want in life?

History has always been the best teacher and so I contemplated in the periodical episodes of life in what Life-Course researchers term "turning points".

I wanted to first be a conductor, and musician and a musical director. Until my parents told me that they can never afford me to live the undetermined life of a musician because I have to take care of them in their old age. The second nail to that coffin was that, I couldn't do musical dictation because I don't have perfect pitch. It was a handicap and unfortunately, I've learnt very early on that my brain just wasn't wired that way. Sadly, I also failed my audition to take A'level music - being told I wasn't good enough wasn't something that I wanted to hear, especially when I thought I did very well at O'level music. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be and I often label myself as a music-reject. I am someone who has enough talent to appreciate, but not make the wonders and magic that delights the aural senses of so many.

So I turned to my other passion - sciences. I thought perhaps I would become a food scientist/nutritionist since I love the science that goes behind baking/cooking. I applied to do H2 math, even volunteered to retain another year so that I can live my dream. The school rejected me forthrightly, considering that it'll perhaps bring down their reputation. I was rejected once again, at the onset of a path which I today, still think I would enjoy. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be, and struggling with Math all my life, it was something that I thought perhaps I'm never gonna do well in.

After wards, I turned to something I could do well in - Geography. I have always done well in this subject with little effort. The concepts always stuck well to my brain and I could re-call facts more easily than any other subject. That's perhaps what others call as "flair" in the subject. However it wasn't my number one passion. It was a bread-and-butter staple which got me going but doesn't delight my senses. It felt hollow, and ever success in this made me step back because it also acutely reminded me of how my passions and reality don't meld - and they may never meet.

I wanted to badly to go Geology later - marrying the conceptual understandings in geography with my love for chemistry and physics. Unfortunately, while I qualify to go overseas to do my degree there, my parents could not afford the hefty school fees. Furthermore, my mum had her stroke and leaving the country was simply not an option. I was bitter, upset, to only work so hard to qualify to enter a geology programme only to have failed again. No matter how hard I tried, it was just meant not to work out. For years, I was once again, having to settle for second-best. This time, it was more personal because it wasn't due to ability, but life circumstances that made me fail. It wasn't my failure, but it was a failure of consequences that I would have to live with. Till this day, I will forever live with "what if" questions.

During my masters, I took a part-time job, and I thought I was doing rather well at it. Until one day, the students I was managing quit en-masse because I was too harsh, and too dictatorial. I didn't see things their way. Later I learnt that my colleagues were also unhappy with my conduct, and they told my boss about it. It was a huge blow to my self-esteem, partly because I felt that I was doing well to push the show forward. Unfortunately, I was too careless with how I made others feel. It was a huge crush to my confidence as well, because I always felt that I had leadership matters on hand. Unfortunately, I had to live with the consequences and I cried bitterly over my failures. It was not a pretty time, and I had to prune my ego and pride away to see where I had gone wrong. At that moment, I felt very much not-in-control, and wondered for the first time, am I suited for working life at all?

During my masters, it was a very rocky road because writing academically because a challenge. For the first time in a long time, I did not score near the top of my class, and neither did I do well in modules. After the previous incident, I felt like I am not deserving, and left myself go completely. I would cry on the NUS roof top almost every other week. I'm forever lucky to call a friend, who was a good listener, and we discussed on many topics that ranged from philosophy to religion, and in some ways, helped me walk out of the dark path.

Fast forward to my first full-time job - the first few months was absolute hell. I would feel down-trodden and horrible because my manager could scold me every other day for not understanding something, or not doing something correctly. I couldn't answer her questions very well, because I was struggling in an environment that was 180 different from where I was used to. I was very very confused and negligent in a lot of things. It hit me harder because after 3 months of internship, I still wasn't converted to a full-time position and my bank account was wearing thin. I was doing full-time work with half-time pay. I was extremely depressing. In any case, even when I was converted eventually, my working days was more dark than light, and I dreaded going to work everyday.

Things looked well after a couple of months, partly because my manager left, and I was happy for months. I left the company because my bank account couldn't take the strain anymore, and now in my current job, I feel even more under-utilised. I've never once felt so disenchanted with what I'm doing and disempowered by the management of the company. In a way, I felt that I could have asked more pressing questions during the interview, and I could have made my interests clearer. However, I was too desperate to leave to ask beyond the obvious and see the danger signs that presented itself.

Now, I'm at another crossroads. The portraits of failure have thought me, that behind the veneer of success - presented in the form of social media posts, dinner-table conversations, hide the true complexity of what success really means. To many, I am an example of success - well-educated, job stability, brilliant in mind etc. However, these did not come at a cost. No one, in fact very few, have seen my blood, sweat and tears. I also have the same amount of self-doubt, periods of low confidence and self-esteem. I have also been told off that I wasn't good enough.

I wish to share, that everyone of us don't know what the hell we're doing. We're busy trudging along anyway, and pretending to the whole world that we know. We want to portray the very image of success, because very few of us want to admit that we're an accumulation of our failures and lessons. Conversely, there are those who are self-critical - who see only their failures because they benchmark themselves to the seemingly top of the class, without considering that path of destruction and sacrifice it took to get there. That like my failed-nutritionist and musician dream, that we're just cut from different cloths are not meant to compete in those fields. We are sunflowers in the midst of roses, and we should be proud of it. We should see our own kind, and work in synthesis to create the dreams we want, and not the dreams that we ought to have.

I think constant failures remind us that we're not losers, but messages that perhaps this path taken is not suitable for our dispositions. It is okay to keep finding, and searching. There is no shame in not knowing what we want. My only wish is that more people are honest about themselves, that we don't always know what we want in this point in life, and that is okay. It takes courage to admit that you're not happy in your current station, and it takes strength to do something about it.

Where failure is concerned, it is only truly the end, if you stop trying. So don't ever stop trying, pushing, changing and learning from others and yourself. I have failed so many times, and will continue to fail in the future. However, every little bit of it has taught me so many things about myself. I wish my experiences will serve as reminders that even the best of us fail - and some of us more than others. Yet in this war-torn battlefield, we wear the scars that we simply survived, and that is an achievement in and of itself. We should do better than who we were yesterday, and not punish ourselves to benchmark our abilities with the illusions of others.

I hope, after reading this, you'll forgive yourself more. Society needs to forgive failures more often, and be slow to judge but quick to empathise. For every one, their path is different yet so similar, and our dreams and hopes are not always matched with our abilities. We just need time, and strength, to find our way and in the process of it all, the success that will come, will eventually come.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Doing a masters: is there regret?

It's been 2 years since I stepped out of the ivory tower, into the chaotic honking world, to undertake formal employment. Back then, if not for a very kind colleague-now-good-friend, I would not have known my rights and my agency as an employee. Back then, looking at how my colleagues the same age have already progressed so far ahead in their careers, I can't help but wonder if my decision to do a masters was hasty, or even a sign of reluctance to move out of "the school" where there are no longer any clear goals or scores to strive for.

I don't necessarily regret doing my masters for personal reasons. As a workaholic, I had more time to fall in love, and find meaning of life outside of my work. I also had more time to travel and see the world with good friends. I also rekindled my lifelong passion for theatre, and staged productions I can be proud of. Amidst, I made many great aquaintenances and social networks that continue to make an impact.

The dream of a well-educated scholar seeking to contribute outside of the ivory tower was quickly faced with a rude awakening. A masters in social sciences, outside of academia, is pretty much a footnote in anyone's CV. It is drastically different if one has an MBA. The hierarchy of disciplines exist in the market where social sciences post graduate degrees (I suspect PhD as well) may cause 2 blinks but not raise an eyebrow of employers. It vastly differs between industries of course, but in my experience, very few hire because of qualifications alone. I spoke to my bosses - ex and current - and they stated that while my masters was a good-to-have, and indicates that I may have maturity, they were more drawn to my event-organising experience and ability to interpret and work with stats. So ultimately, what value does a masters have? After 2 years, I seek to come to terms the returns of a postgraduate degree in social sciences.

Well, that is of course assuming you did a postgrad degree to advance in your career. Many of my colleagues in academia do it because they are truly passionate in their area of study. So passionate was I in exploring theatre as a method for young people's expression and education in socio-political matters, I decided to set aside 2 years of life for this pursuit. There's also very little avenues in life, now that I've realised on hindsight, that allows one to solely focus on a dedicated pursuit. Not even at a professor's level, not anywhere else except postgrad school. It's an extremely privileged position, and I was lucky to go to a proverbial mountain to metaphorically meditate on a subject of my choosing. I don't flaunt a masters like a degree because it is a privilege, not a right, I had due to complex social and economic path-dependencies.
At work, I'm not sure if my masters training contributed to anything. However, I must say that I've grown to be more patient of certain frustrations at work - i.e. Weberian iron cages of bureaucracy and a very Foucauldian sense of self-discipline in an open-plan office concept. I have also realised that social sciences knowledge have made me almost a walking encyclopedia to my clients/colleagues. People ask, "how do you know so much?" Which is, admittedly, always nice. At the same time, it grants perspective and in some areas of the industry, perspectives are what employers look for.

Perhaps it is of no coincidence that the french word, employer - to use - is also used to describe bosses that hire. Employer: to use, a user. The lesson I've gained over these 2 years is that, we are all being used for our skillsets or use others for the same reason. This increasingly dehumanising approach in companies is sadly the reality for many employees. Ultimately there will be those that find meaning in their work, especially those in the social and health services. If work is an empty shell, the empty hearse of the humdrum of life, then my masters is the continuing light and hearth that keeps me going especially during difficult times. It is comforting to be able to step back from a tough day at work and be able to reflect, to perhaps sometimes put on a geographical or sociological, or even historical lens to understand what factors contributed to my frustration.

Do I regret doing my masters? In terms of work skills and time "lost" in my career progression, absolutely. Yet, the time lost also ironically gave me more time to retreat and focus. If the skills and discipline developed during postgraduate study do not manifest themselves into focus, determination and fortitude, then having a masters is nothing but a self-indulgent pursuit. If reading endless literature does not translate into taking into account multiple stakeholders' interest and interconnecting symbiosis within an organisation, then all there is left are just words and concepts. If working cross culturally during conferences doesn't make you more sensitive or open to connections, then perhaps, ivory tower indeed. the process of doing a postgrad degree should leave you changed, transformed, humbled.

Ultimately, a masters is the sign, that signifies the educational journey, the proliferation of one's ideas through healthy debate and discussion. The semiotics of education cannot be so easily captured in a singular concept such as returns on investment. A dialectical process or abstraction, is necessary, to fully appreciate the qualities that proliferate in an individual. These qualities continue to unfold throughout life, and becomes a foundation upon other pursuits are built upon.

If spending 2 years gives me thirst for knowledge, compassion and lifelong learning, I gladly drink.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Types of Intimacy

As I settle down and am more at peace with being single, it's easier to see things that is beyond the black-and-white.

Some people often refer to their partners as their "all and everything". Partners share everything with each other - their interests, their desires and their hopes and dreams. It's an intimate partnership that is built on trust. However, there is also an inherent assumption that your partner has to also understand and some what empathise with your interests, hopes and dreams. I think the act of love is to still embrace the person in spite of your (un)derstanding of your partner's interests/intellectual leanings. That is, we come to have faith and still love the thing we do not understand.

Ultimately, that's accepting the person for who they are. Of course it is easy to accept someone because you fully understand where they're coming from and furthermore, you're also able to add on to the discussion and have your own point of view. It becomes a melding of the minds - and an intellectual intimacy develops that is layered upon the emotional bond that both of the partners already have. However, it takes a special kind of courage to still accept someone despite not knowing what theories/insights that the person is spouting, and have the faith to still embrace the individual.

Love is about being brave. Above all, intellectual acumen without heart is ultimately a soulless world.

So I've come to a realisation that there are multiple intimacies. That we can love individuals differently and the person whom we may choose to spend our lives with, need not embody all the intimacies we are seeking. For instance, there is a sense of survivalist bond amongst ex-addicts that huddle in their weekly meetings that their wives/husbands have no privy to. It's a closeness that is amongst people who have gone through and triumphed against their addiction. For the academically inclined, exchange of ideas and theories, discursive deconstructions and debates is an intellectually charged atmosphere that is rarely experienced by individuals outside of the ivory tower. It is an intimacy shared only because both parties understand each other by understanding their respective fields well. Because it is so rare to find people who understand abstract philosophies and principles, individuals who do become treasures (or enemies!).

Then there is a type of emotional link between parents and their children that no one (in a functional) family can undo. Be it adopted or not, god children or not, the link between parents and children is something that goes beyond words. There's something to be said when these are the people who have seen you at your worst and best - and still stand by you no matter what.

Lastly, the physical and emotional bond between lovers. The warm kisses and hot caresses at night is both private and intimate. The sense of a stranger, not family nor relative, to see you naked and vulnerable is both exhilarating and fascinating. With each phase of the relationship, the melding of 2 unrelated families (mostly, unless of course you have to marry within a particular social circle) into 1 through the love of 2 complete strangers. How girlfriends become part of a weekly social affair for the family and boy friends help out their partner's family when they have a renovation. It's the willing sacrifice that is not born out of familial or national duty but affection that becomes binding.

So in the past, while I've been hard pressed to find someone who can share all forms of intimacies. I need to check my ego and understand that intimacies are also multi-faceted. There are friends or individuals in general, who like me, are looking for someone to share their full and rich lives with. However, let us also take 2 steps back and understand, whether if what we're asking of our partners is something that we can live with, when our partners ask the same of us? I for once, can never understand sports and can never share that joy and jubilation when someone scores a goal. It's an intimacy that I can never have access to. However, it doesn't mean I love my father any less. It doesn't mean we don't still share a strong father-child bond.

We cannot ask of our partners, to fill the gap. This is not shopping - we're not here for someone to love us just because they fill a need in their lives. Love is a choice, and we choose to love someone because they share an intimacy - they compel us. It is not a rational choice, it is a choice made for us by us, for reasons we do not yet know. So while we may want our lovers to have everything our hearts desire, it will be a missed opportunity if we are so fixated with this goal. We fail to love if we are looking for a match. While no doubt it is important to find someone of the same wave length to have healthy communications, to demand that our lovers share our every intimacy will foreclose us to the other intimacies we can have in any relationship.

Ultimately, friends, intellectual equals, family and all that form as large a part of our lives as our lovers. It is therefore okay, if your need for intellectual intimacy marries you to publish journals rather than having a family or partner. It is perfectly acceptable to want to be with family all the time because you treasure that bond way more than any other. Ultimately, we are complex beings and as life shifts and the rivers of fate twists, we will change and our priorities may change.

In the mean time, being happy is being exactly where you want to at this point in life. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Causation: the caustic mix


The question we wail over when a loved one departs from us suddenly.


The question we raise in a meeting when faced with a professional crisis.


The question we punch into the dry wall when our partners leave us.

Why indeed?

We have all kinds of theories, and the stories or explanations we tell ourselves balms the raw caustic wound. It helps us cope with loss as well as success. Such an explanation, while valid, may not be true. The devil's charm lies in an otherwise pure statement that sits in an entirely different context. Because it is a statement of validation, it inherently also affirms and validates our ego. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In reality, a person's success or failure, can be completely random. It might be due to ability, or chance. It might be due to fortuitous family fortunes, or ancestral path dependencies. We find reasons when there is none, and we own both of those. We also equate the Whys in life with the Hows. How often do you hear that the question of "how do you do it" followed up with an answer that starts with "because..." instead of "the process was..."

Whys are potent caustic chemicals that feed and destroy. Whys are mechanisms we use to justify our actions. Whys are the source of our strength as well as weakness. Do we therefore stop asking questions of causation?

I'm not entirely sure if I am personally capable, after all Buddhism preaches that everything is nothing, and in nothingness, everything. In Judeo-Christanity, God is the why and center of everything. It doesn't mean that the root of causation lies in the heart of faiths (or Faiths). The caustic solution of causation is not in seeking an answer (which we may not find), but when the answer to our questions stop at "I".

I have realised that when faced with Whys, the sensation of looking at the reasons causing the circumstances I'm in, is the same as looking at a night of a starry-lit sky. It is so large, so vast and so infinitely scaled, that our minds can only process the light that took a million light years to reach us. Reasons, or causation, is exactly the same. Factors in our life, crisscross in intersecting networks that one small quiver in the distant web, sends vibrations across all other nodes of our lives. It's on the same cosmic scale of complexity that any train of thought that reasons the Why of where we are and where we're from boils down to just one permutation of causation when in actuality, life (re)aligns itself continuously all the time.

There is a cucoon of stasis, of a dynamic equilibrium that we have from a day-to-day that makes our lives seem ceaselessly repetitive. Yet when we look at back at our lives, we see so much changes and wonder where all the time has gone. We sit on a scale of being human while factors like time run in an entirely different dimension.

The reasons and search for answers must never stop, and more importantly, never stop at your own star. We are constellations and our light reaches others in ways we may not understand. We touch others way ahead or behind us - our legacy sits within a galaxy where forces influence this dance we have.

Everything happens not for a reason, but for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes, we just have to trust, accept and let it go.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Thoughts on Defensiveness

Happy Lunar New Year folks! I hope the feasting has kept us all full for the entire year. This time of year always reminds me how lucky I am to be situated between cultures. Hey, we get to celebrate 2 new-years AND Christmas. How about that.

Fat die us.

In any case, this year I've been stock taking on the events past, 2 or even 5 years ago. I've decided to check something below the bridge, to see if the water is clear as I once initially assumed.

To confess, I've been slightly unsettled lately - keeping myself busy to avoid most social gatherings because I'm not in a particularly social mood. There's a thorn in my chest I want to remove, and I've been upset by circumstances outside my personal life.

So after all that personal rambling, sorry I mean context, I've decided to come out to ponder upon this skeleton in my closet - defensiveness.

Recently, before the lunar new year, I was chatting with a good friend about how I constantly look for reasons behind. Why? How? The sense of life that can be not just explained, but discovered. Over the years, I suppose the number of books and my penchant for reading spoilers have kinda proved the fact. More importantly, I got away with it because I've been blessed with a good sound mind.

Some of you who follow my writings know I expound on pride, arrogance, hubris. Defensiveness is the lion licking it's wounds.

Like all wounds, it appears in many shapes and forms. Taking it personally, reflecting back on the user ("you did it too!!"), being nonchalant, or finding still more evidence to suit your case. On rare occurrence, I see defensiveness get manifested into a kind of one-upper or the other extreme, self-pity.

I admit to committing all of the above. I still do - ultimately Humans are humans despite our achievements. Lest I commit an 18th century error in psychology for type I generalisations to label these behaviours as pathos, this is in no way an exercise to call people out or to even to say that we have a societal problem.

I mean, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, it's called contemplation.

When we are defensive, we have something to guard, to protect. More often than not, we protect our ego, our sense of self-worth. Personally for me, I was extremely defensive when my work also became my identity. Humans achieve a great deal, but we are not only define by what we are capable. Ultimately there will always be someone better, even though. we may be pretty near the top of the pinnacle in terms of wealth, health, smarts. I mean hasn't Victor Hugo outlined very clearly in Les Misérables that "little people have power too". Revolution has turned over regimes, no matter your wealth, health or smarts.

So ultimately, what constitutes identity is something we have to evaluate for ourselves. However what my reflection thus far has taught me is that, if we are defined by what we do, our jobs, I sense that my self-serving monster rear it's head.

"What are you trying to prove? To whom are you proving it to? Why are you defending yourself?"

We all defend a part of ourself we don't like and don't want people to know. Which is why I find the failures of Sherlock as dazzling as his constant successes. There is no shame to be vulnerable, even if you are the worst kind of human. If you are the worst kind of human, since when do you give a fuck about what others think?

Let it go, it doesn't matter anymore.

The best can accept you at your worst - Bonny had Clyde. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hubris: the lies we tell ourselves

My best friend told me that pride would be my downfall. The incessant need to always be right. 4 years ago, I never understood how that could be a bad thing. I felt that I see clearer than others, knew more, could reason better.

I was invincible.

Yet, also incredibly idiotic.

I can't exactly pin down the day I turned around. I think rejection helps. I've always had my lack-of-lovers-rant keep me grounded that I'm not as awesome as I think I am. It will always be a trouble to accept that part of me, to swallow hubris and come down from my false pedestal.

I am not the king of anything.

Of course now when I recognise hubris in others, it makes it doubly tragic. Yet, I have the humility now to accept the things I can't change, and while I may be their friend and sometimes counselor, I cannot decide for them that the best way is to punish them with "wise words" of "having been there" and make them come to relevation how much their arrogance have hurt those around them.

They may not sincerely care, especially when we're in the zone of the Mountain King (insert Edward Grieg music please).

If I may bottom-line my observations about hubris, it's stems from the Self. The protective need to defend the shell of a person we've created. Smart people have been defined by others and themselves and attribute their achievements to their Being. While those who have consistently failed, have a certain type of note that makes me arrogant because the alternative is unthinkable. To admit that one is a failure is crippling, especially when we're reminded by greatness all the time.

So hubris, while is also a personality trait, is simultaneously the lies we tell ourselves. We create roles or fantasies to assure ourselves. Because they are roles, we can afford not to take ownership of our mistakes, we can afford to blame the invisble "others". We find all kinds of justifications to assure that our fantasies hold water, do not break down due to inherent contradictions.

After a while, we become our lies, and we live is as truth. We devoid ourselves of peace. The paranoia takes over. People are always against you, or are too stupid to understand what you're saying, or do not necessarily see things your way because your logical reasoning reigns supreme.

The most dangerous part is that there is enough droplets of truth in there, to tinge the whole ocean red. It is the assumption and generalisation of some truths that holds up this lie. A person may be exceptionally smart that can pull this off. After all, the best stories are the ones that are littered with enough truth, created under different contexts and based on entirely fraudulent assumptions.

The best lies we tell ourselves are based on fact.

The emperor's clothes is a story of our pathos, and we strut around naked. A laughingstock, and while some may shrug it off and think that being accepted by everyone us overrated (rightfully so), they are also mirrors. Their reaction might be dumb, but their motivations for doing so are not.

Arrogance creeps up on us, and the best of us fall like Troy. There is no shame in admitting you have a problem, or that you're really not that good at it. It's perfectly okay to say that you hate yourself, your life and for everyone to keep telling you what you can and cannot do. But never cheat yourself of living a full life. A meaningful life, a truthful life. We suck, and it's okay. The best will accept the worst of you anyway, and the worst won't blink at your best.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dealing with Singlehood

Late 20s, possibly early 30s. Facebook serves you ads of wedding dresses, baby clothing. To add insult to injury, your aquaintances are all getting engaged, even married. Some have little ones on the way.

And you feel absolutely no joy because you feel like an absolute failure. No matter if you're doing well at work, they will never see you as a whole person until you become married.

Academics call this stigmatisation, and alienation - the process of which you're constantly reminded that there's something wrong with you, and you do not belong no matter how much you tried. We may wax lyrical about the so-called phenomenon, but it gives us knowledge but not comfort in how we should respond or feel, or even act about this forever-alone 9gag feeling.

So I've decided to deploy tactics (thanks de Certeau) to navigate these waters. Lest of making a mountain out of a molehill, there are very real biopolitical powers of singlehood (look up Foucault guys) that makes us see through a very specific set of lens. It is power by perspective and like the Michael Jackson song says, "if you want to change the world, just look into the mirror".

The solution was in pop culture all along.

1. You can't win them all
I've often felt like an immense loser for not having a partner. And no matter how often my friends assure me that there's absolutely nothing wrong with me, this aching sense of rejection never goes away.

It came from the fact that we never really "lost" in life. We win in studies, in our achievements and have been told that wr punch above our weight. However we have never really faced rejection openly. We sweep it under the rug when we've lost, quickly overwritten by other successes.

That sentiment makes us extremely prone to divide people into those haves and have-nots. Yet, life is extremely complex. We all win and lose in many places. We need to stop focusing on the zit and start realising that the rest of us are as beautiful. We cannot win them all, if we could, we'd be angels.

2. Acute sense of skepticism
I must first make a distinction between cynicism and skepticism. A cynic is as bad as a blind faith believer, where any evidence to the contrary will not shift his or her position of belief. Skeptics hold assumptions in question as prima facie, assess the facts before making a call on the conclusion.

So ultimately with Facebook, we think we know everything about other people's lives, when in fact we know very little. Who the hell airs dirty laundry anyway, who dares to explicate their extra-marital affairs. Who would confess they are lonely in their marriages? Who says they feel caught?

We are so fixated in the moment of happiness on our newsfeeds, we forget that all relationships take immense effort and are forged through pain. Buddhism has a very interesting view about this. Romantic love is shared pain, compassion - "co-passion" - and passion taken from the latin word of suffering. In a very cynic fashion, romantic love is about suffering together.

No wonder people feel compelled to publicise happy moments from time to time. Do we feel lousy as singles because we suffer alone instead of together? If so, imagine having to also carry someone else's burden. Hard work guys, it's not all roses. I applaud every couple's determination, y'all deserve it.

Having said, divorce is one the rise. You know, with instant gratification on the rise, I reckon we are less willing to pull through for the long term. Just saying.

3. Rant about it
This is truly a personal preference. It stems from honesty. I have a direct response to shit - admit it, deal with it, move on.

Ranting achieves 2 purpose, it helps to get it out of our system, and it's also a brainstorming session. We throw shit out and sometimes in a rare moment of genius, say a great idea to try. Ranting also brings up fears, and fear, as the BBC series Sherlock mentioned, "is wisdom during the time of danger."

We are inherently notafraid of not being able to find someone in the long term. That's uncertainty. The fear stems from our inability to carr for ourselves when we are older. For ladies, your partners will most likely not outlive you, so it's really no difference if you want someone to take care of you in your golden years. Children? There's no guarantee they'll return, after all people are so mobile these days. The fear stems from within, we imagine monsters from our bed. We should instead trust that we will have the ability to cope when we're older.

So rant on, and in the mean time, let's also introspectively examine and deal with our fears.

Ultimately we are human, we have all kinds of needs - sociological or biological. Being single is not a handicap, neither is being attached some sort of heralded status.  It just happens or does not happen. People may love each other for a long time and never be together, or hate each other immensely when they lay side by side at night. This veneer of perfection is an illusion, and I personally know a handful of happy couples. Like excellence, it lays on a normal distribution curve with the vast average leading very average problems. Only very very few live the happy ever afters.

A sharp reminder to myself to not fantasize or rom romanticise relationships. I'd rather be a statisically rare single, than be in an average couplehood. I know I'll dream better in the former anyway - 夜长梦多.