Follow Your Curiosity – 50 Days of Miloism

This weekend, a Facebook memory from a year ago, photos of Milo’s first day home compared to today, and a digital collage by Beeple (sold for USD 69.3 million) seemed to have conspired to nudge me to complete another almost-abandoned project – a digital collage for #50DaysOfMiloism.

As part of turning 50 last year, I embarked on a couple of 50-days experiments. The first, which commenced on January 19, 2020, was #50DaysOfSimpleLiving– inspired by The Art of Simple Living by Zen monk Shunmyo Masuno. Each day, I shared a couplet from Shunmyo’s ‘100 daily practices’ on Insta and FB. As the minor outbreak in Wuhan grew into a global COVID-19 pandemic that will impact our lives for years to come, these Zen practices turned out to be rather helpful in adapting to the new way of living.

Life took a new turn when Sean’s friend gave him a lovely kitten. On August 9, 2020, Singapore’s 55th National Day, Milo joined the Toh family. Cute, curious, and playful, he stole my heart and became my muse that inspired various creative pursuits. One of which led to the second experiment – and #50DaysOfMiloism took flight on September 28, 2020. For 50 days, I shared on @The_Miloist, a piece of daily ‘random wisdom’ from one of my favourite books, accompanied by a digital image of Milo.

A digital collage of 50 images featured on @The_Miloist from 28 September to 16 November, 2020.

The #50DaysOfMiloism is a confluence of multiple influences and sources of inspiration.

  • A desire to embrace the qualities of curiosity and playfulness of my Spirit Animal – inspired by Milo
  • A playful experiment with following my curiosity whilst satisfying a yearning to rediscover the wealth of wisdom that is sitting on the bookshelves (and an excuse to read my favourite books again)
  • A nudge from Carla Henry, a dear colleague and friend, to create an Instagram account for Milo – evidently a muse for my iPhonePhotography
  • An outlet for channeling my passion for learning, creating, taking photographs, and sharing of wisdom
  • A worthy idea to start another #50Day series after completing the #50DaysOfSimpleLiving

So, what have I learnt from these 50 days?

  1. Curiosity has its own rhythm. It is not to be dictated or directed intentionally. Best to relax, keep an open mind and open heart, let life spark your curiosity, and then follow its trail. You never know what you’ll find. The joy of exploring the unknown is in the discovery.
  2. There is abundant wisdom around us, if only we open our hearts to receive them. On some days, when faced with a difficult situation, I got just the ‘right message’ from the book or passage that I happen to read. And in various occasions, friends who followed the posts would find them extremely timely. There is magic in serendipity.
  3. Declaring a commitment publicly is helpful for building habits. In honoring my promise to do a daily post for 50 days, no matter how busy I was at work, I diligently read, took and edited photos, and spend time with Milo everyday.
  4. Discovery is only the beginning. It’s what you do with the wisdom that matters most. I still practice most of the ’10 Rules of Ikigai’ from Day #24 – especially smile, reconnecting with nature, and live in the moment.
  5. With curiosity, no problem is unsurmountable. When in doubt or in need for help, simply ask. In following my curiosity, I rediscovered the magic of “Ask, and you shall receive.”

Curious about #50DaysOfMiloism?

Simply download this compilation and enjoy your journey of following your curiosity!

Annual Review 50

In keeping to a ritual that I had started in 2019, this is the third year I publish an ‘Annual Review’ – a process inspired by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. James has been publishing an ‘Annual Review’ since 2013 (https://jamesclear.com/annual-review) where he shares publicly his reflections on the following three questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?

This week, I turn 51. As the second half-century of my life begins (assuming I make it to 100),  here’s how my 50th year had turned out.  It was an extraordinary year indeed – with massive disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic that will continue to shape how we live and work in years to come.

What went well this year?

  • Work.  Despite the initial cancellations of leadership development programmes due to travel restrictions, I’m grateful that we adapted to conducting our work virtually pretty rapidly.  As remote working and virtual learning became the ‘new norm,’ the frequent travel which I used to enjoy took a complete halt. Thankfully, with technologies such as Zoom, Webex, Adobe Connect, and Microsoft Teams, our work continued to reach leaders as far as Latin Americas.  Although I still enjoy in-person facilitation, when done right, virtual facilitation can be equally impactful too.  As more organisations experience the positive impact and cost-efficiency of remote learning, the good old globetrotting days are undoubtedly numbered.
  • Family.  Grateful that wife and boys are doing well. She’s approaching her counselling with greater confidence.  Sean finished his first year on the dean’s list.  Dylan completed his National Service (NS) safely and is doing what he loves (training young Math Olympians) while waiting for college to commence later in the year.  We spent lots of time bonding over meals, board games, and table-tennis matches at home, especially during the Circuit Breaker period.  On National Day (9 August 2020), Sean brought home a new member of the family – Milo, who has become my muse that inspired various creative pursuits (as well as our daily wake-up call).  Also glad that Dad is in relatively good health despite living alone – thanks to my siblings, nephews, and aunts who take good care of him.  And I became grand uncle for the second time – still yet to see baby Carlos in person.

pingpong miloday1 carlos

  • Travel. Our usual ‘couple-time’ on overseas travel (glad we did lots in 2019) was replaced by exploring Singapore on wheels.  The Polygon Urbana foldies turned out to be the best investment in 2020. With over 300 km of park connectors, beautiful waterways, and countless parks that feature a rich variety of wild life, I’m convinced that Singapore’s cycle-way can rival Japan’s Shimanami Kaido we have experienced in 2019.

foldies sunrise promenade

  • Friends.  With COVID-19 restrictions, our annual ritual of kicking start a new year at Chong Teik and Denise’s home continued with a much smaller crowd.  Had fun creating our iconic ‘Zodiac fruit platter’ too – a handcrafted sculpture (made of turnip) coated with dark chocolate to welcome the Year of the Ox.  Grateful to celebrate my 50th birthday with colleagues/friends from BRIDGE (before ‘lockdown’), and to have met some amazing people around the world on the GAIA Journey by Presencing Institute. Appreciate the deep and meaningful conversations we shared fortnightly as the Circle of 8 for almost a year now (and still ongoing).

ox KT50Bridge circleof8

  • Projects. Super proud to finish to a few personal projects – writing Let’s Hack Learning, starting @the_miloist and completing #50DaysOfMiloism.
  • Habits.  Still keeping up with qi gong (baduanjing) almost daily, reading regularly, and drawing occasionally.
  • Learning & Professional Development. Definitely a year of learning – ranging from virtual facilitation to systems thinking, systemic leadership, adaptive leadership, integral psychology, Hayhouse Writers Workshop, Warm Data Lab, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain with Drawing Right.

DrawingRight botanic

  • Health. Unlike last year, have enjoyed good health – the reward of frequent exercise and possibly, mask wearing.

What didn’t go so well this year?

  • Unfulfilled dreams. Reframing the‘50 before 50’ list to‘50 @ 50’ to give myself another whole year to turn as many of the unfilled dreams into reality clearly didn’t do much difference.  Perhaps, it’s better to stick to a vital few and really work on them.
  • Work. Feeling sad to lose a few colleagues this year, as they left BRIDGE to pursue their own paths. Plus, missing the perks of travel, further compounded by excessive screen time and highly sedentary lifestyle.
  • Weight Management. Shot back up from 82.5 kg to 86.5 kg. Waistline is all time high, and love handles increasingly visible.

What did I learn (and relearn)?

  • Human beings are quick to adapt. The COVID-19 pandemic caught the world by surprise. But within a short time, safety measures were rolled out, factories reconfigured to meet the shortage of masks, vaccines were developed, and new ways of working were established.  Throughout history, human beings have survived many calamities and pandemics.  Perhaps the biggest threat to humanity isn’t a virus or a natural disaster, but the ‘a viral infection of the mind’ that prevents us from loving and caring for another, and working collaboratively to emerge stronger together.
  • Great work is done over time. Looking back in the year, and the many aspirations that I’ve failed to realise, I can’t help being reminded of a saying that is often attributed to Bill Gates: Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Instead of looking a year ahead, I start planning for the decade instead and work towards my dreams at 60.
  • Beauty is all around us. I’ve learnt to pause and seek beauty more frequently. There’s beauty in the most ordinary – if only we make time to see it.  And there’s no need to travel far to find it.  The sun rises every morning and sets every evening. And the birds sing all day long. How many sunrises, sunsets, or ‘bird symphonies’ do you enjoy in a year?
  • Ask, and you shall receive.  I don’t mean asking for material abundance, but being willing to live into a question whilst keeping an open mind and open heart, and listen to the answers that Life or God or the Universe has for us.  I tried to follow my curiosity and tune into street wisdom.  Here’s an answer I got when pondering about a future direction: “The future starts here,” “The future is yours to create,” and “Dare to dream.”  Give it a try!

futurestartshere createyourfuture dream

From Parenting to Parent-Being

“I wish my child had come with a user manual.  Parenting is possibly the most important and challenging task put in the hands of amateurs without any training.  I didn’t sign up for this.  I should have read the fine print before committing to having a child.” 

Those are the words I’ve often heard from parents.  They make me ponder about my own journey as a father over the last two decades – a thrilling adventure packed with excitement, challenges, and joy.

Becoming a parent is easy.  Human beings are biologically-wired to procreate.  No training is required.  What isn’t always easy, is being a parent.  And I believe a huge part of the difficulty is attributable to the over-emphasis on ‘parenting’ and under-emphasis on ‘parent being.’  Let me elaborate on the difference.

 

On Parenting

Parenting is commonly defined as the activity of bringing up a child as a parent, or as described more comprehensively on Wikipedia:

Parenting or child rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood.

Be it an activity or a process, approaching parenting in this way tends to direct our attention to our actions – what we do (and don’t do).   Let me invite you to pause and reflect on the proportion of attention on these three domains of parental actions:

  1. What do you do for your children? i.e. care, provide for their needs, feed, bathe, clean, chauffeur, etc.
  2. What do you do to them? i.e. nurture, love, encourage, guide, support, teach, discipline, scold, nag, control, threaten, blame, criticise, complain, punish, reward, bribe, etc.
  3. What do you do with them? i.e. have conversations, do fun things, play, learn, travel, share experiences, being present, etc.

Which domain do you attend to most frequently? Which domain do you pay the least attention to? And what are the implications of these actions on you, your children, and your relationship with them?

Most parents who have undertaken this ‘self-audit’ found themselves devoting a disproportionately high percentage of their attention on either doing for or doing to their children.  Consequently, they miss out on doing with – which explains the lack of joy in their experiences as parents.

The goal of a self-assessment is not find another excuse to beat ourselves up, but simply to gain awareness of the current reality.  Awareness is the gateway to change.  What matters more is that given this awareness, what would you do differently to improve your experience as a parent?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Do for. Keep to the bare minimum of what your children requires, depending on their needs, maturity, and capability.  Doing too much for your children risks creating over-reliance, lack of independence, and sometimes, resentment when our ‘sacrifices’ isn’t appreciated.  Doing too little risks coming across as uncaring, absent, or even negligent.
  2. Do to.  Give up William Glasser’s ‘7 Deadly Habits’ – criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing or rewarding to control.  Continue to nurture your children by providing the essential nutrients for healthy development and growth – love, encouragement, guidance, and support (LEGS).
  3. Do with.  Be more present in your children’s lives and share more experiences together – play, learn, have open conversations, etc.  Deepen your connection through your presence, non-judgmental and empathic listening, and authentic expression.

With school closures and more parents working from home during this COVID-19 season, new opportunities arise for us to reexamine what we could do more with our children.

On Being a Parent

Becoming a parent is life-changing.  When our firstborn arrived in November of 1998,  I experienced a profound shift in my sense of identity.  I am not just a son, a brother, and a husband.

OMG! I AM A FATHER.  Like most amateur dads, I fumbled my way, learnt rapidly from other veterans and experts, and eventually survived (and thrived).  Given that Sean and Dylan (our boys) turned out pretty fine, it’s safe to say we did OK as parents.  More importantly, we thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

It turned out that raising our children wasn’t as ‘difficult’ as expected.  Instead of terrible two’s, we had terrific twos.  Instead of rebellious teens, we experienced them as sensible, reasonable, and responsible young men. Some said we were fortunate to have ‘good’ or ‘easy’ kids.  Perhaps they were right.  But I suspect, it’s got more to do with our intentional emphasis on being instead of doing.

Like most parents, we face similar challenges too.  But instead of asking ourselves What should we do to get our children to behave in a certain manner?”, we often asked “What do we need to be to bring out the desired qualities in them?” 

For example, many parents struggled when faced with children who tell lies frequently.  The more they punish or discipline their children, the more recalcitrant the latter become.  Most of the time, children lie because they don’t feel safe to tell the truth.  Occasionally, especially older children, may lie to avoid hurting their parents.  The same applies to adults at the workplace who don’t speak up truthfully due to the absence of psychological safety.

So, what do we need to be to bring out the honesty in our children?   Perhaps, a safe space for authentic self-expression.    And that will call forth a different way of being compared to that of a parent who exerts control, punishes, or instills fear in a child.  The former will usually forge a mutually respectful and trusting relationship what makes open and honest communication possible. Conversely, the latter often leads to parent-child conflict and communication breakdown as children shut down.

Let me invite you to experiment with the habit of asking yourself more regularly, “What do I need to be to … ?”

From Parenting to Parent-Being

While parenting (technically) ends when our children reach adulthood, being a parent doesn’t.   Once a parent, always a parent.  Being a parent is about being in a relationship with our children – a long-term relationship that lasts a lifetime.

As you shift your emphasis from parenting (doing) to being a parent (being), I hope you will experience a closer and more rewarding relationship with your children and greater joy in your journey as a parent.

Yours truly,

Kenny

P/S: Interested to explore other topics on parenting (and parent-being)? Reach me at kennytoh1970[at]gmail.com.

 

 

50 Days of Simple Living

Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Simplicity has been one of my major obsessions.

As an undergraduate in the computing school, I had always striven to achieve the best outcome with the least number of lines of code.  And now, at work, I enjoy distilling complex topics into a few core principles.

There is beauty and elegance in simplicity.  It’s no surprise that I am drawn to the work of a Zen monk and Zen gardener.  Despite having decided not to purchase any new book until I am done with a dozen of unread books accumulated from previous year, I couldn’t resist when I chanced upon The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno.

I used to devour books like a hungry teen at a buffet.  But this time, I decided to slow down and pause after every bite.  Exactly 50 days ago, on 19 January 2020, I set out on a #50DaysOfSimpleLiving challenge to fully immerse myself into Shunmyo’s ‘100 daily practices.’  Each day, I shared a couplet on Instagram and Facebook, and tried putting them into practice.

Here are my Top 10 daily Zen practices from 5o consecutive days of experimenting with Shunmyo’s Art of Simple Living and how they have impacted me.

01. Day #11: Try just sitting quietly in nature.  I’ve always loved nature, but have definitely spent a disproportionately high percentage of my life being seated in front of the laptop.  This has prompted me to make time to connect with both nature and with myself more regularly.  It has brought greater clarity of mind and deeper peace in my heart.

02. Day #13: Focus on others’ merits. I’ve been known to be ‘highly critical’ and focusing on others’ merits (instead of faults) has enhanced the harmony and relationship both at work and at home.

03. Day #14: Don’t put off what you can do today.  A perfect remedy for the ‘chronic procrastinator’ in me. This practice had fueled actions to get a few things done, including publishing Let’s Hack Learning

04. Day #17: Be here now.  I’ve known the importance of being present to the HERE and NOW, but certainly haven’t put that into practice enough.  I think I’m more present now, especially when listening to another.

05. Day #24: Do not be swayed by the opinions of others.  A timely advice when faced with a recent dilemma amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.  I learned about decisiveness and the ability to trust in myself.

06. Day 27: Be grateful for every day, even the most ordinary.  Gratitude is indeed a powerful practice found in many spiritual and cultural traditions.  This had deepened the practice that I have observed when experimenting with A Year of Living Gratefully in 2017.

07. Day 27: Make the most of Life.  I am reminded that what matters most is not how long we live, but how we use the Life we are given.  Borrowing the words of George Bernard Shaw, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.”

08. Day 34: Deepen your connection with someone.   Deep and meaningful relationships – that’s what I have always enjoyed.  I shall continue to do so, even with those whom I meet only once in my lifetime.

09. Day 43: Discard what you don’t need.  A very practical advice to simplify our lives.  I’m still working on my attachment to certain possessions and past experiences, but already enjoying the space created both physically and mentally from letting go of those that I am able to discard.

10. Day #50. Serve People.  Some friends have asked, “What happens after Day 50?”  Inspired by the words of wisdom from an old friend – “Being in service of another is a mutual gifting,”  I’ve decided to extend this final practice into the rest of the year with a next project: #50GoodHours.

I’m committing 50 hours of pro bono service to individuals seeking coaching, mentoring, or consultancy in the areas of personal development, leadership development, life transitions, and parenting.

If you know anyone or non-profit organisation (any where in the world) that I could be of service to, please have them contact me. Thanks for spreading the word. 🙏

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Why not check out The Art of Simple Living and find out for yourself how Shunmyo’s 100 daily practices could bring more simplicity, calm, and joy into your life?

Decisiveness is about having the ability to trust in yourself

“To go, or not to go?”  That’s the question that I have been wrestling with over the weekend.  As a consequence of COVID-19, all our face-to-face programmes with clients scheduled in February and March have been either postponed or replaced with virtual options, except two.

I was due to travel to Dubai next Monday, followed by Batam, Indonesia in late March.  Dubai will be my first overseas destination since the beginning of the outbreak.  Part of me yearns to return to ‘business as usual,’ get on with normal life, and carry  on with my work in leadership development.   Another cautious part wants to minimise non-essential travel so as to lower the risk of being infected or infecting others.  At present, there are more confirmed cases of infection in Singapore than UAE.  And I certainly don’t wish to be known as the guy who spread the virus to Dubai.

Confused and undecided, I chose the easy way out.   Instead of facing into the dilemma, I expressed my preference for postponement and left it to the client to decide.  Eventually, as the company put in place a ban on non-essential travel and that some participants would be travelling in from other middle-eastern countries, the workshop was postponed.

I was relieved, but somewhat disappointed with my cowardice.  Why hadn’t I just said ‘No’?

Then I thought of one of Shunmyo Masuno’s 100 Zen practices that I had previously shared on Day 24 of #50daysofsimpleliving:

75. DO NOT BE SWAYED BY THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS. The secret to breaking free from confusion … Decisiveness is about having the ability to trust in yourself.

 

This time, I trusted myself, and took courageous action.  I wrote to the CEO of the other client, shared my concerns openly, and recommended strongly to postpone the training in Batam.  I also expressed firmly my withdrawal from the engagement should they decide to proceed as planned.

I’m not going to Indonesia this March, no matter what the latest news or COVID-19 statistics may suggest. And I shall not be swayed by others’ opinions.

I made my stand and felt fully at peace. And the CEO responded shortly:

Dear Kenny,

Our policies are in line.
We just decided to postpone the school 2 hours ago. I will get back to you in the next days with proposals for new time slots.

Great minds think alike.  Looks like ‘business as usual’ is not about to return anytime soon, if it does, at all.

And I learnt my lesson on leading in uncertain times.   As much as rational and well-informed decisions are often preferred, in the absence of sufficient information, we still need to take a courageous stand.  Whether we choose to be guided by intuition or grounded on values, Masuno’s wisdom is worth heeding.

Decisiveness is about having the ability to trust in yourself.

 

 

Give yourself the gift of done

I’ve been pondering about a key lesson from my previous blog: “Done is better than perfect.”  Perfectionism has been one of my longstanding achilles heels.  And I’m known to be a chronic procrastinator too.

I excel at starting new initiatives, but not always finishing them.  There are way too many partially-baked ideas, abandoned projects, and half-written books that I’m too embarrassed to mention.

Enough is enough.  Turning 50 has heightened the sense of urgency to utilize my time and energy wisely and more productively.  Assuming that I live to 100, that’s 18,250 days remaining.  Each day provides a new opportunity to put the knowledge, wisdom, and experiences that I have amassed over the last five decades into good use.

I am reminded of a Chinese saying that came to mind as I was putting Shunmyo Masuno’s Zen practices into action on Day 38 of #50DaysofSimpleLiving

学以致用 (xuéyǐzhìyòng) means “to put into practice what has been learnt.”

 

So, last weekend, I decided to combat both perfectionism and procrastination by applying what I’ve learnt from Jon Acuff in his book FINISH and give myself the gift of done.  Finally, imperfect, but done – I brought closure to one of many half-written books that has been yearning to cross the finishing line for years.  And it feels great to make the first step from being a chronic starter to a consistent finisher.

Here’s the first edition of Let’s Hack Learning: How to become better at anything, faster.  I hope you will find it helpful.  Feel free to share it with others and spread the joy of learning!

What will you finish today to give yourself the gift of done?

Annual Review 49

This day last year, I published an ‘Annual Review’ – a process inspired by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. James has been publishing an ‘Annual Review’ since 2013 (https://jamesclear.com/annual-review) where he shares publicly his reflections on the following three questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?

I intend to keep to this ritual at the start of each new biological year.

Today, I turn 50. And looking back, here’s how my 49th year on earth had unfolded.

What went well this year?

  • Work.  BRIDGE continues to provide me opportunities to do meaning work, ranging from helping an asset management company uncover its purpose, launching leadership development programmes for some new clients, developing leaders to do well and do good (e.g. creating a more inclusive and connected community), and bringing government, businesses, and the civil society together to combat the trafficking of women and children (Kalinga Fellowship 2019 @ Delhi). Am also thankful for the support that led to the appointment to BRIDGE’s global board of directors – an opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute in a different manner.

  • Family.  Grateful to witness the development of our boys. Sean turned 21, settled well into his undergraduate studies at NTU, and is doing fine in his floorball (his team emerged champions in two major inter-varsity games). Dylan completed his first year of National Service (NS) safely, graduated from Officer Cadet School with a Sword of Merit, and is awarded a scholarship to study at Cambridge. Enjoyed a cruise holiday with my in-laws, attending Henry and Abi’s wedding in Kangar, and gathering with family members in Batu Pahat over Chinese New Year.
  • Marriage.  Relished our daily conversations and companionship, especially during our ‘empty nest’ times on weekdays. With the boys in college and NS, couldn’t find a time for our annual family vacation this year. Instead, we managed to do a few short trips (just the 2 of us) – cycling on Japan’s Shimanami Kaido, viewing the terracotta warriors in Xi’an, hiking The Great Wall, and a ‘disastrous’ holistic detox in Koh Samui.
  • Friends.  Kicked off another year at our annual gathering at Chong Teik and Denise’s home – a ritual not to be missed. This is indeed a year of reunions – reconnected with friends from college days at National Junior College’s (NJC) 50th and Raffles Hall’s 60th anniversary dinners, ex-colleagues from Accenture, friends from Gone Fishing days, and old friends in Beijing, KL, NYC, and Seoul. Immensely grateful for the many well wishes, care, and love pouring in from friends around the world as I was recuperating from a recent haemorrhoids attack which left me briefly wheelchair-bound.

  • Giving Back.  Supported the YWCA’s Empowering Mums programme for the second year and the Kalinga Fellowship convened annually by BRIDGE Institute for the third year.  Completed my fourth annual 10km charity run @ Run For Hope with Bev – running buddy and ex-colleague. Sadly, will have to give it a miss in 2020 due to knee injury.
  • Habits.  At last, managed to sustain two new daily habits (at least so far). The first is to begin each day with a ‘boot-up’ routine – a self-concocted cocktail of various disciplines I had learnt over the years but hadn’t put to good use. Core ingredients include qigong, yoga, calisthenics, aikido, earthing, meditation, and journaling – with temporary abstinence from social media and emails. The second is daily application and sharing of a couple of Shunmyo Masuno’s Zen practices through the #50DaysofSimpleLiving daily posts. Am savouring the morning air more frequently, lining my shoes, and cherishing being alive every single day.

  • Professional Development. Had the opportunity to put the learning from 2018 Presence Foundation Programme (Theory U & Social Presencing Theatre) into practice through a social transformation project with a group of fantastic like-minded souls.  As we set out to unleash the Singapore Soul – learnt a lot from the journey and forged some new friendships too.
  • Spirituality. Finally, resumed my daily walk with God (on most days). Feeling blessed.
  • Meditation. Meditating more frequently now. Appreciate the greater clarity and peace of mind.
  • Travel. Work has taken me to new places such as New York and Xi’an, along with Delhi, Greenwich, Guangzhou, Kuala Lumpur, London, Seoul, and Taipei.  Also enjoyed short vacations with wife in Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Beijing, and Koh Samui.
  • Weight Management. Dropped from 85kg to 82.5kg. Still a long way to optimal BMI, but at least, heading at the right direction.

What didn’t go so well this year?

  • Unfulfilled dreams. Began the year with a lofty aspiration of checking off a ‘50 before 50’ list. The first five that I had unashamedly shared last year were: (1) Publish my Annual Review, (2) Post 50 blog entries, (3)Trek the Inca Trail with wife, (4) Publish my first book, and (5) Do at least 100-hours of pro bono work. How did I do? Admittedly, I sucked at following through. Wrote only two blog posts for the entire year, including the last annual review. Renaming it to ‘50 @ 50’ instead – giving myself another whole year to turn as many of the unfilled dreams into reality.
  • Health.  This is possibly the worst year. Went to A&E for acute chest pain and got admitted for a night; added a cardiologist, a urologist, and a colorectal surgeon onto the list of specialists I’m seeing; suffered an excruciatingly painful haemorrhoids attack amidst a holistic detox; stopped running due to knee pain; had a cracked tooth extracted, to be replaced by a dental implant after I get my sinus treated. But thank God, there was nothing life-threatening. It reaffirmed my commitment to take good care for the temple of the soul.

What did I learn?

  • Learning without practice is pointless. As a keen learner and ferocious reader, I frequently max out the library quota and read about 8 to 12 books at a time. However, most of what I’ve learnt often is forgotten weeks or months later. Sometimes, I would re-read the same book as if I had never read it before. What a waste of time. Now, I’ve learnt to slow down, read more deeply, summarise, and actively seek out opportunities to put the new knowledge into practice soonest possible. I also became a big fan of Kolb’s Learning Cycle – learning through concrete experience, followed by reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation, and active experimentation.  And the daily posts on #50DaysofSimpleLiving has been a wonderful experiment on putting Masuno’s Zen practices into action.
  • One thing at a time. Focus – this is a recurring lesson for me.  So many ideas, each competing for attention. I’m learning to disconnect from everything and just focus on the vital task at hand.
  • Done is better than perfect. Sheryl Sandberg said this, and it’s plastered all over the office walls at Facebook. I had been a victim of perfectionism for far too long. According to  John Acuff, author of FINISH: Give Yourself the Gift of Done:

    Starting is fun, but the future belongs to the finishers. Developing tolerance for imperfection is the key factor to turning chronic starters into consistent finishers.

    Yes. I’m done with perfectionism.  It’s time to let go of this ‘enemy of good’ and be a consistent finisher.

 

Dreams Came True

Yesterday, Sean turned 21.  Being our first born, his birthday also marks our anniversary as parents.  I could still recall vividly, the moment when he first came into our world, and continue to experience the profound transformation since his arrival.

I was no longer the same man.  I was not just a son, a brother, and a husband.  I became a father.  And that meant a lot to me.  My sense of identity and purpose totally shifted.  A whole new world opened up for me – the ‘Wild and Wonderful World of Parenthood.’   Parenting advice and tips were pouring in generously from family, friends, colleagues, and at times, even strangers.  One of the best advice I got from a client which I frequently share with new fathers is:

“When your child arrives, make sure you pay attention to your wife. The baby will get lots of attention from others.”

Fast forward 21 years.  Looking at how Sean and Dylan had turned out, I think I did alright on being a dad, albeit starting out pretty clueless.  Of course, much of the credit goes to my wife, who shouldered most of the parenting responsibilities, whilst I enjoyed most of the privileges – usually as their playmates.

We have both learnt a lot about parenting, marriage, and life over the last two decades.  Parenting is probably the best personal development programme we have unknowingly signed up for.  We had to continuously learn, develop, and evolve as our children grew from boys to men.

When Sean was four, I had a dream of writing a book to capture some nuggets of life wisdom so that we could pass them down to our children.  As with many of my failed or incomplete projects, that book idea was long abandoned … until last week, when my wife asked, “What should we give Sean for his 21st birthday?”

After a few late nights, we managed to pull together 30 ideas which culminated into a little booklet titled: What we wish we knew when we were 21.

At last, a dream came true.  But that was not all.

Over dinner, Sean shared about an impromptu speech he had delivered in class this week.  He was amazed by how well it was received by his tutor and classmates.  The task was to speak about a role model who had inspired him.  And he chose to speak about his dad.  He shared the story of how I transitioned from management consulting to starting a café and becoming a coach, as well as how he learnt about unconditional love through the way I cared for my dad.  The audience were blown away by his heartfelt sharing.

Needless to say, I was blown away too.  Super happy, and extremely touched.   I wasn’t expecting that. But I did secretly harbour a wish that someday,  my children would consider me their role model.

OK, it’s just a speech assignment in class.  But that’s enough to have me feeling as if I’ve won an award for being the ‘Best Dad of the Year.’

Another dream came true.

 

Annual Review 2018

It’s been exactly one year since my last blog. Déjà vu.

In January 2017, I wrote …

OMG! My last post was in January, 2013. And that’s the third post including the auto-generated “Hello World!” when this domain was registered in March, 2011.  Obviously, an average frequency of 0.333 posts per year for the last 6 years definitely isn’t enough to make me a blogger. A blogger wannabe, maybe.

This is the 13th entry since 2011, raising the average frequency from 0.333 to 1.625 entries per year.  That’s a remarkable 488% improvement! And I might have just invented a whole new category of blogging.

Meet Kenny, The Annual Blogger 😊

Clearly, I’ve failed again at keeping up with a previous commitment to ‘blog weekly.’  Another futile new year resolution, along with ‘losing 8 kg,’ and ‘become ironman-fit,’ blah-blah-blah … to the point of ad nauseum.

Yes, I’ve come short again and again. But I’m not giving up. Not just yet.  I’ll stay in the arena and continue to strive valiantly, as Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his famous speech known as ‘The Man in the Arena’ –

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Today, I turn 49.  Inspired by a colleague’s question “What’s your 50 before 50?” … I thought of raising my own game with a little challenge.  I shall go public with my aspiration and publish an ‘Annual Review’ – a process inspired by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, whose blog I’ve been following for past few years. James has been publishing an ‘Annual Review’ since 2013 (https://jamesclear.com/annual-review) where he shares publicly his reflections on the following three questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?

Here’re the first 5 of my 50-before-50-list (more in coming weeks).

  1. Publish my Annual Review
  2. Post 50 blog entries
  3. Trek the Inca Trail with my wife
  4. Publish my first book
  5. Do at least 100-hours of pro bono work

Let me start checking off Item #1.

Annual Review 2018

1. What went well this year?

  • Work. BRIDGE continues to provide me opportunities to do meaning work, ranging from helping a new joint-venture company define its purpose, vision and core values, developing leaders to do well and do good (e.g. sustainable packaging for a food company), and bringing government, businesses and the civil society together to reduce sexual violence on women and children (Kalinga Fellowship 2018 @ Hyderabad).
  • Family. Despite the frequent travel, I’m grateful to be able to witness the key milestones for the family. Mei Chin completed her post-grad studies in counselling; Sean became an Operational Ready National Serviceman; Dylan graduated from high school as the Valedictorian; attended my nephew Ricky’s wedding; and I became an granduncle following baby Griezmann’s arrival. Also grateful for Dad’s relative good health.

blog-family

  • Health and Fitness. Glad that I finally recovered from an annoying frozen shoulder and fit enough to resume swimming as well as to complete my third annual Run For Hope with Bev, my colleague and running buddy.
  • Travel. Work has taken me to new places such as Colombo, Taipei, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. Managed to squeeze in two family holidays (instead of one) – a roadtrip in Malaysia and a spectacular yearend trip to Turkey – plus checking off a bucket list after ballooning in Cappodocia.
  • Romance. Still blessed with a loving wife, with whom I managed to enjoy two romantic getaways – Club Med Cherating and Chempedak island.
  • Personal & Professional Development. Privileged to free up from work to attend Presencing Foundation Programme in Fremantle (first time in Asia Pacific region), and get to hang out with some amazing people, including Otto Scharmer, creator of Theory U.
  • Volunteerism. Completed my final term as chairperson of PSG at NUSH High and made some wonderful friends whilst we Makan Together, Exercise Together, Do Good Together, and Learn Together.blog-psg

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

  • Stalled projects. Managed to enrol a dozen ‘gifters’ in project I was incubating, but failed to launch it as planned. To be launched in 2019.
  • Spirituality. Didn’t quite carry out my intention to resume my daily walk with God.
  • Meditation. Took a course on transcendental meditation (TM) but have yet to meditate frequently.
  • Lost. Lost my father-in-law very suddenly, but glad that mum-in-law is well supported by family.
  • Weight Management. Instead of losing weight, I have reached a new height of 85kg. A dangerous trajectory.
  • Health and Fitness. Definitely ran and swam far less frequently than desired.  Losing flexibility too.  Really gotta get my act together and stop the gradual decline.

3. What did I learn?

  • The Beauty of Rituals. I began to pay attention to what we do annually and appreciate the beauty of rituals. Each year, friends from college days would gather for a pot-luck at Chong Teik and Denise’s home to kick-off the year and celebrate the birthdays of January babies.  This has gone on for over a decade. In 2017, the Year of the Rooster, instead of bringing our usual roast chicken, my wife and I started making a 3-dimensional ‘Rooster’ fruit platter.  Naturally, we followed up with a dog and a pig in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Unknowingly, a ritual was created.  We now know what to make at least for the next 9 years of the zodiac cycle.

blog-ritual

  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind. As part of our annual family ritual, we practice sharing aloud what we are grateful for the year and create a vision board for the new year.  While I had created a vision board for 2018 had it pinned it up on the wall, I rarely looked at them.  Granted that some aspects of my dreams did come true (i.e. we ended up ballooning in Turkey), most of the items that require intentional actions such as exercise and working on my parenting offering fell totally out of my consciousness and remained as unlived dreams.  I’ve learnt to make what matters more visible – and where possible, keep them in sight by scheduling them onto my calendar.
  • The 5 Seconds Rule. I chanced upon Mel Robbin’s 5 Seconds Rule and absolutely loved it.  Definitely life changing.  It’s really simple. From the moment you have an idea, you only have 5 seconds to take action. Do it right away. Otherwise, it’s gone.  In fact, this blog post is possible because I started writing right away when the idea came up.  Watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI2VQ-ZsNr0
  • If you don’t change your direction, you may end up where you are heading. That came from Lao Tzu. I had it written on the café wall (Gone Fishing) in 2002 and have been quoting it regularly when conducting courses on ‘leading change’ over the years. But I definitely don’t heed that advice enough, especially on the direction I have been heading on health and fitness.  It’s time for change.

I find the Annual Review incredibly helpful. Wanna give it a shot?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Living Gratefully

CountYourBlessings

I’m no social scientist, but I love experimenting with life.  The great thing about experimenting is that you never know what you’ll get.  The trick is to “Just do it” and see what emerges.

Sometimes, nothing much shows up. Sometimes, you get lucky, and discover a few gems that profoundly change your life.

In January 2017, I embarked on an experiment with ‘Living in Gratitude.’  At the end of each week, I would reflect on my experiences over the week, and make a #CountYourBlessing post on Facebook to chronicle the moments, events, and people that I am grateful for.  The first entry looked like this.

Screenshot 2018-02-11 21.42.02

Week #1 was a pretty emotional one.  It started with an annual gathering with friends of almost 30 years, followed by a process of ’empty nesting’ as Sean got enlisted into National Service and Dylan began his year of boarding at NUS High hostel.

This weekly ritual of FB posts went on non-stop for 52 weeks, and the result was astonishing.

Screenshot 2018-02-11 22.29.29

And here’s what I’ve learnt from living gratefully for a year (in no order of significance).

Life Lesson #1.  Life has its own plans.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way I had planned.  In fact, Life has its own trajectory and rhythm. And if it happens to match mine, that’s great.  I learnt to be grateful for even the smallest co-incidence, like waking up to a rainy morning on days I longed for a ‘legitimate excuse’ to skip the morning run.

And when they don’t, I learnt to listen to what Life is trying to tell me.  For example, encouraged by the momentum built up from completing a half-marathon in April and a 3km open water swim in May, I had signed up for an Ultra Aquathlon in October.  The idea of testing my physical limits to swim 2.25km in the open sea followed by a 21km run seemed both challenging and daunting.  But there was just one small hiccup.

Around June, my right shoulder began to hurt so badly that I could barely remove my shirt on my own.  Clearly, swimming was painfully impossible.  And my dream of becoming an Ultra-Aquathlon Finisher was regretably quashed.  “Maybe not this year,” I consoled myself, and focused on what I could still do.

The frozen shoulder hasn’t stopped me from completing a full marathon, swimming with dolphins, or climbing a 50m tree.  But it has taught me the importance of physical mobility and helped me develop greater empathy for those who have lost it  – like my dad whose eyesight is failing and had just begun using a walking stick.

What I’ve learnt is that …

when things are going well, be grateful and enjoy them while they last. When things aren’t going well, be grateful for the lessons and new experiences that they could offer. 

Life Lesson #2: It’s not what you do or where you are, but who you’re with.

I’m blessed with the work I do at BRIDGE and the places that our work takes me.  In 2017 alone, I get to work with colleagues and clients in Bhubaneswar, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and London.

But what makes work wonderful isn’t necessarily what we do or where they are done, but WHO we do it with and sometimes, WHY we do it at all.

I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who readily challenge, encourage, and support me to be at my best. And I’m grateful for the opportunities to witness the transformation of individuals and leaders I’m privileged to work with, and how they inspire themselves and others to be a force for good in the world.

I might be biased, given that my work centres around working with people.  But I genuinely believe that the quality of our lives, be it personal or professional, lies in the quality of our relationship with the people we are with.

It doesn’t matter what we do. What matters more, is who we do them with.

I could choose do work with people I care about, or care about the people I work with. And I could also choose to do both.

Life Lesson #3.  Sometimes, a small investment can make a big difference.

I love taking photos, especially with my iPhone. Colleagues at BRIDGE once crowned me ‘Mr. Selfie’ – a title I accept with pride.  Apart from confirming my narcissistic tendency, it honours a handy skill I’ve developed from years of traveling solo, long before iPhone came with a front camera.

But I also love taking photos of other people, nature, and just about anything that captures a moment or experience that I cherish.

I like to travel light (hence the preference for iPhone over a bulky digital SLR) and wasn’t a fan of accessories, until a street vendor in Kuala Lumpur sold me a clip-on wide-angle lens for RM10.  It turned out to one of the best investments I’ve made in 2017.  This new gadget enabled me to literally see the world with a new lens, take some amazing shots, and bring a newfound joy to what I already enjoyed doing.

 

It doesn’t necessary cost much to have a big difference in our lives. Really.

Life Lesson #4. It’s easy to take good things for granted, until they’re lost.

The absence of any major illness has made many things in life possible.  It’s easy to take good health for granted until it’s lost.  I frequently get reminded that “Health is first wealth,” especially when I’m not feeling well.

I was fortunate to have been able to complete a record number of races in the year – including a few fund-raising runs and my first full marathon.   Looking back, I know there’s no way I could have made it through 42.195km (albeit with lots of pain), had I been down with a flu or twisted my ankle weeks before or during the race.  I am grateful for the good health that enabled all of that.

Now, I seldom take good things for granted anymore.  I make a conscious effort to appreciate and maintain them, be it good health or great relationship with my loved ones.

Run2017

 

Life Lesson #5.  Nature is the probably the best therapy.

Singapore is an amazing garden city, but I suspect, people just don’t get out into the nature enough to enjoy what’s available.  Each time I’m out in one of the nature parks for ‘forest therapy’ (an almost weekly ritual that my wife and I enjoy), I get reminded that the park didn’t just exist naturally without human effort.   Someone had a vision, and did something about it.

I’m grateful for what the National Parks Board ( NParks) does to preserve, create, and maintain so many green spaces in this highly urbanised and tiny island.

Being out in the nature, is possibly the best therapy. And to top it off – it’s FREE.

Looking back, 2017 had been a spectacular year.  This year-long experiment had taught me to be grateful for the many gifts that Life has graciously served up … good health, loving relationships, and great opportunities for work and travel.

“So what?” I asked myself.  What would 2018 be like?

This experience has also inspired an idea for my next experiment for 2018.  Last year was about counting my blessings and being grateful for all the good I have received.  This year, I’m experimenting with ‘A Year of Giving’ – essentially, it’s about spreading goodness through creating a movement that encourages, enables, and inspires the joy of giving.

Stay tuned for more details about this exciting project that I’m currently brewing. Meanwhile, do reach out if you wish to find out more or would like to be a part of this movement.