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?

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Life’s a gift. Treasure it.

deMelloThis week, as part of my new experiment with starting each day by reading an inspirational text, I picked up ‘The Song of the Bird’ by Anthony de Mello.

De Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest, psychotherapist, and excellent story teller. He draws inspirations from the mystical traditions of the East and West.

 

I’ve been pondering over this all week:

Uwais, the Sufi, was once asked: “What has Grace brought you?”

He replied: “When I wake in the morning, I feel like a man who is not sure he will live till evening.”

Said the questioner: “But doesn’t everyone know this?”

Said Uwais: “They certainly do. But not all of them feel it.”

No one ever became drunk on the world wine.

I think de Mello was alluding to the vital difference between knowing or thinking and feeling.  I’m more like those who know it, but not feel it.  As a result, I too, fell into the common trap that most people do find themselves in – taking life for granted.

Coincidentally, on three separate occasions in the same day this Tuesday, I got reminded of the fragility of life.  Three near misses.  Each one possibly leading to a loss of life, had the accident occurred.

The first happened in the afternoon.  I was standing at the junction of a road, waiting for the lights to turn green. Right in front of me were three school girls fiddling with the ‘fidget spinners’  – apparently the latest craze for youngsters in 2017.  I’ve heard about these spinners, but it was the first time I’ve seen them.

The lights were still red.  One of the girls suddenly began walking onto the road whilst having her eyes glued on the spinner.  It was surreal, as if I was watching a movie with a little girl walking fearlessly into moving traffic with her super weapon in hand!

I felt horrified, and yelled out at her.  I don’t know why I didn’t lunge ahead to yank her off the road.

Thank God she turned around and headed back onto the curb safely, as cars narrowly passed her.  “I just saved a life!” my inner voice said in relief.

The second incident occurred as I was driving to work.  It was raining, so I drove with extra vigilance.  The lights were green.  The vehicle on my right stopped to take a right turn.  A young man jaywalked pass it, and appeared right in front of my car.  I jammed the breaks and honked.  He didn’t even turn at all, and simply walked on, totally oblivious of the possibility of being run down by a moving car.

“I just saved another life!” my inner voice uttered again, but this time with slight anguish.

How can people be so reckless?  How can they take their lives for granted?

And then, I began to rationalise.  I noticed he had earphones on, which might explain the lack of reaction.  He might have assumed that it’s safe to cross since the other car had stopped.

And lastly, on the way home after an unusually long day at work,  right before I filtered left to exit the express way, I felt a hunch that something wasn’t right.  So, I hesitated and slowed down. Lo and behold, a motorcycle overtook me on my left!

OMG! I could have ran him down, and thank God I didn’t.  I really didn’t see it coming.  It must have been in my blind spot just a few seconds ago.

I felt both relieved. And strangely, the relief was followed by a surging anger.

Didn’t he see my signal? Didn’t he know how dangerous it is to ride in a blind spot of a car? Does he not treasure his life?

Of course, I was making all kinds of assumptions and allegations. I assumed the rider was male, although I didn’t see his or her face.  I assumed the rider saw my signal and decided to ignore it.

The truth is, I was in shock after the near miss, and began to get defensive and blaming others.  I’m not proud of that, but I find it difficult to ignore the three unusual incidents in one day.

And when I read De Mello’s writings the next morning, I can’t help feeling as if God had spoken to me.

What has Grace brought me?

I now begin to feel the fragility of life. I begin to remind myself not to take the day for granted.

Life is a gift.  Treasure it, while it lasts. 

What I Think About When I’m Running

It’s 4:30am, Sunday morning. I should have been sleeping.  Instead, I’m fully awake. My heart was pounding rapidly behind the starting line on the race track of the Marina Bay Street Circuit – not far from the pole position where drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel would eagerly await the flag-off of Singapore’s annual Formula 1 Grand Prix.

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Only this time, it’s a night race of a different kind.  Right beside me, was Jacqueline, my run-buddy who got me to sign-up for a half-marathon at 2XU Compression Run 2017.  She looked all psyched up to clock another personal best.

In contrast, I’d be glad to complete the race under three hours.  Even if my heart could take the beating, I doubt my legs could.  Honestly, running isn’t my thing.  I might begin to enjoy it had I been 10kg lighter.  I much prefer swimming, where my weight is partially carried by the water.

The music was loud and the DJ was screaming away.  But I couldn’t care to listen to what he was saying.  I glanced at my watch and tried to work out the likely time that I will cross the finishing line.    That would be 7:30am, and the sun would be up by then.

Anticipating the flag-off, a question suddenly popped up in my mind: “How did I end up here?”

“OK.” That’s how it all began.

About six months ago,  Jacqueline sent me a WhatsApp message.  It’s a photo of the race accompanied by a message: “R U interested to go for this event next yr?”

I said “OK. On. It’s a date. I’ll run with you.” And as they say, the rest is history.

What was I thinking? My usual runs typically last no more than 5 km. And I don’t even like running.  Perhaps, timing is everything.  The message came at a time when I was experimenting with the notion of “Say YES to Life.”

What began with a simple “OK” led to not just one race, but three races in three consecutive months.  The first was Run For Hope 2017 in February, which I ran with a colleague who successfully battled cancer last year, and still completed 10 km fifteen minutes ahead of me.  That was followed by OSIM Sundown Marathon 2017 in March, which I SundownWithDylan.jpgcompleted together with Dylan.  It was partly an opportunity for father-son bonding, and partly to make sure I covered another 10 km in preparation for the half-marathon in April.

Looking back, I’m glad I did those two preceding runs, without which, I wouldn’t have run 21 km with relative ease.  Interestingly, when the mind is fixed on a goal of completing a half-marathon, 10 km felt like a warm-up.  And once the body could handle 10 km, 21 km seemed achievable.  That’s the merit of raising the bar and stretching ourselves.

It’s all relative.

Now, a full marathon might be a stretch for me, but possibly merely a ‘warm-up’ for an ultra-runner.   There’s one thing that I like about solo sport such as running and swimming.  Ultimately, we compete against no one, but ourselves.  It’s about going faster or further than our last best, and not needing to worry about others.  As novelist Harumi Murakami wrote in his fascinating memoir – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

“In long distance running, the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”

Murakami

In short, we each run our own race. 

Similarly, in life, we live our own adventure, and play our own games.  No need to keep up with the Joneses. No need to compare our achievements with others.  No need to look better or be more successful than our peers.  After all, most people don’t care about how happy or successful or good looking we are. They care more about themselves. And rightfully so.

A night race offers an extraordinary experience.  The scenery is spectacular.  The air felt fresher and cooler, especially after a brief drizzle that gave the tarmac a slightly wet polish.  For an amateur runner like me, three hours of running is a very long time.  The random songs from my Spotify playlist and the occasional stats from RunKeeper kept me going.  Most of the time, my mind wandered freely to all kinds of interesting places.

Some times, it drifted back to the past, serving up fond memories of adolescent years.  At other times, I pondered about the present issues at work, and thought about what I need to do in the future.

I’d wanted to capture those random musing while running.   Perhaps, I could have chatted with Siri and have it all recorded.  But I was too busy having conversation with myself to think out of the box.  It’s a silly thought … but I felt as if I was ‘blogging’ on the run.  Inspired by Murakami, “What I Think About When I Am Running “sounded like a good title for my next blog.  However, that was soon drowned out by a self-critical inner voice.

Who on earth would take an interest in what I think about when I am running?  Murakami is a famous novelist, a talented writer. I’m a nobody – just an amateur runner, a writer-wannabe.

Anyway, here are some recollections from the night run …

Why I do what I do?

Murakami picked up running shortly after he decided to be a professional writer.  Sitting all day at his desk, he began to put on weight and smoking heavily.  He quickly realised that if he wanted to have a long life as a novelist, he would need to find a way to keep fit and maintain his weight.  But that’s not why I ran.

I started jogging recreationally at the age fifteen.  For me, running was a cure for boredom, a way to kill time during the year-end holidays.  Almost every day, rain or shine, I would follow a trail that leads to the top of a hill, and be rewarded with a panoramic view of my hometown.

Gradually, it became a social thing.  I began to make friends with other joggers, mainly girls from other schools.  But what sustained the daily trail run wasn’t the girls.  It was the runner’s high I got after the workout.  Today, neuroscience tells us that the feel-good effect is attributed to the release of endorphin – a chemical that the body produces which acts like morphine (yes, running can be addictive too).  I also love the sensation of sweat dripping on my skin, and the clarity of sight and thinking that came along with the physical pleasure.

Looks like pain might have motivated me into action.  But it’s pleasure that helped sustain the effort.  Boredom can be a good motivator, and endorphin makes it stick. No pain, no gain.  And no gain, no way to sustain.

From adolescence, my mind then drifted to a casual conversation with some old friends about new year resolutions at the start of 2011.  We were all in our early forties, and thought it’s about time we started to pay attention to our health and fitness.  “Let’s start with doing a 10 km run together,” a friend suggested.  We agreed to sign up for the Standard Chartered Marathon in December.  That would give us a year to train and get ready.

However, after much procrastination, by the time I visited the website to register, the space for 10 km event had already ran out.  I was left with either the half or full marathon.  Obviously, I chose the former.  Consequently, over the year, I gradually picked up running again.  Some people are natural born runner.  I am not. I knew that if I didn’t condition the body, there’s no way I could survive the feat.

Finally, the race day came.  Despite regular training, the journey was utterly painful.  I had to pull over a couple of times and lie down on the floor to stretch my aching back.  Of course, I stopped to take lots of selfies to document my maiden run.  “No pain, no gain,” read one of the signs.  I could certainly attest to that. Punching both fists triumphantly into to air as I crossed the finishing line, I felt as if I had won the race!

In the end, the pain was all worthwhile.  But, why did I put myself through the ‘torture’?  Did I have something to prove?  Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW.”  Similarly, in his famous TED Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek spoke about the importance of starting with WHY.

What was my WHY for running?  The answer wasn’t apparent at first.  And I noticed that the answer changes depending on how the question was asked.  There is a subtle distinction between “Why did I want to run?” and “Why did I run?”

Motivation vs. Intention

In other words, the reason for wanting to do something isn’t necessarily the same as the reason for actually doing it.  In this case, I wanted to run because I said yes to a friend’s request.  My motivation was simply to experiment with saying ‘yes’ to life more frequently than I normally would.  And I ran because I intended to honour the commitment I’ve made to myself and my run-buddy.  I wasn’t going to back out, even if it rained.

One part of me was also curious to find out how fast I could run.  Admittedly, I haven’t trained as hard as I had intended.  Another part of me yearned to know if I were fit enough to aim for a full marathon later in the year.   The last time I did a half-marathon, I felt accomplished, relieved, yet incomplete.  I got the finisher medal, but the finisher T-shirt was awarded only to those who completed a full marathon.  The desire to do the ‘whole nine yards’ were seeded.  Moreover, I was turning 42 soon, and that sounds like a good number to shoot for.

Unlike Bungee jumping or skydiving, where only guts and money is required and all I needed to do was to jump, marathon is different.  I know that conceptually, it’s about putting one foot over another repeatedly till the finishing line.  But completing a full marathon requires discipline, dedicated training, and a great deal of perseverance.  At some point in time, when fatigue sets in, it’s mind over body.  I have huge respect for those who have done it.  They deserve to wear the finisher T-shirt with pride.  It’s earned through sweat and hours of hard work.

A few months later, when the post-race euphoria subsided and reality set in, I gave up.  I know that where there’s a will, there’s a way.  But at that time, my will was simply not strong enough to do what it takes.   With the amount of travel I do at work, I wasn’t keen to devote that many hours of my life pounding the road with my feet.  Consequently, the desire to complete a marathon remained a dream, and faded back into my bucket list.

“Perhaps someday, when I’m lighter, I’ll give it shot,” I consoled myself.  And we all know that’s BS, and that ‘someday’ is notoriously elusive.

But this year, it will change.  I’m gonna check-off that ‘Run a Marathon’ on my bucket list by yearend.

Why? Because I’m done waiting for that someday. I’m choosing to make it happen, rain or shine.

What about you? Which item on your bucket list will you check-off this year?

Sleep Can Wait. But Why Wait?

sundown2“Sleep can wait.”

What a lovely tagline.  Extremely apt for Sundown Marathon 2017.

Guess I won’t be sleeping much this Saturday night.

 

While waiting in line to collect the run pack today, I can’t help feeling both amazed and amused when I noticed this father-and-son pair right in front of me.

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As father of two boys (who are now in their teens), it’s a really heart-warming sight for me.  I salute this dad for carrying his son all the way as we were joined by hundreds of racers waiting patiently for our turns.  It took close to an hour to gradually inch our way from the start of the queue to the collection booth.

For this dad, I guess it’s an awesome time to bond with his son, albeit tiring.  I reckon, if he could run a marathon, this is probably a breeze.

The amusing thing is that, for this young boy, it doesn’t appear that sleep can wait.  He’s like a Zen Master that appeared serendipitously to remind me to listen to my body.

When tired, sleep. When hungry, eat. When thirsty, drink.

When feel like saying something, say it.

When feel like doing something, do it.

Why wait?

Would life be much simpler, if we listen more frequently to our body, our inner voice, and our intuition?

Probably yes.

And it got me reflecting and thinking about ‘waiting’ – something that I hadn’t experienced much since I discovered the joy of reading at a young age.

I’m not annoyed with waiting. Standing in line, be it to see a doctor or to clear the immigration (ironically, that’s a big part of my life due to frequent travel) doesn’t bother me at all.  I just whip out a book and be grateful of the time and space I get to read a few more pages.

Of course, now that with mobile devices, it’s much easier to conveniently fill up every second of ‘waiting time’ – either to catch up on emails or the social media.  Never mind the ‘screen addiction.’  I think the bigger danger is that we risk becoming even more detached or unaware of what’s going on around us. We become even more disconnected with ‘reality.’

In truth, had I been totally absorbed with either the phone or the book, I wouldn’t have noticed this amazing father-son pair right before my eyes.  I would have missed the many messages this boy might have for me.

Today, I learnt, again, to stop and smell the roses.

There’s beauty and truth and wisdom all around us.  One needs only to look.

So, the next time you sense the urge to escape to your phone, try doing something different.

Look around you. See what see. Hear what you hear. Feel what you feel.  Be present to the gifts that Life is offering to you!

Don’t wait. If not now, when?

 

Disrupt, or be disrupted.

High school reunions are interesting events. They often bring back memories, both good and bad.

But there’s only so much we could do with reminiscing the past.  I find the present and the future, far more interesting.

I was at one such reunion recently.  When a dozen of high school friends in late forties gather over dinner, one subject inevitably popped up.   No, it is not mid-life crisis. We’re too busy with work and family to recognise the crisis.

It’s reinvention.

When a journalist friend shared about the imminent demise of print newspaper, my instinctive response was: “Perhaps it’s time to reinvent yourself.”  And right after I said that, I felt as if I was giving the same advice to myself.

The topic of reinvention isn’t new.  It’s just that, the need for reinvention seems to become ever more pressing now, for organisations as well as individuals.

I believe it was Clayton M. Christensen who first coined the term ‘disruptive technologies’ in 1995, the same year that I started my working life.  Two decades later, today, it has become a new norm.  And the word ‘disrupt’ has become sort of a buzzword, in the same way that ‘business process reengineering’ and ‘transformation’ had been in the 80’s and 90’s.

We now live in the age of disruption.  The impact of technology-enabled disrupters such as AliBaba (world’s most valuable retailer that has no inventory), AirBnB (world’s largest provider of accommodation that has no real estate), and Facebook (world’s most popular media company that creates no content) is felt globally.  CEO’s and business leaders are sleepless over the threats and opportunities presented by big data, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things. Coders and techie geeks are supercool and in sharp demand.  So are gamers and data scientists.

The writing is on the wall, literally.  I actually saw that in the office of a promising tech start-up.  And it reads: “Disrupt, or be disrupted.”

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It’s innovate or dissipate. Adapt or die.  Even companies with over a hundred years of success can vanish rapidly.  A popular example is Kodak, that didn’t survive the advent of digital photography.  In contrast, its rival Fujifilm remains strong and relevant, by adapting their knowhow in film processing to venture successfully into cosmetics and skincare.

What is true for businesses is equally so for individuals, if not more.

Reinvent, or be retrenched.

In other words, we need to be willing to periodically reinvent ourselves, or be prepared to be fade into obsolescence.  The roles we play in organisations may change, but one thing remains constant – the need to create value. Those who successfully evolve to create value for the organisation in the ‘new world’ will remain relevant, and possibly more valued.

Unless insulated from competitive pressures, most organisations need to continuously drive for greater efficiency and effectiveness.  That hasn’t changed for centuries.  Those who don’t or fail to reinvent themselves, shall be vulnerable to the brutal effects of automation, outsourcing, and right-sizing.  It’s nothing personal.  Even family-owned businesses are not spared.

The casual dinner conversation has sparked off a serious thought.  A timely wake-up call.  It got me mulling over these few questions:

  1. Is it time to reinvent myself, again?
  2. If not now, when?
  3. How can I radically create more value in the work that I do now – for my clients, my company, and myself?
  4. If I’m not constrained by past experiences, who would I be and what might I do differently?
  5. How can I best contribute to the betterment of the world?

I have a strong bias for experimenting, and learning through doing.  But I also find occasionally pressing ‘pause’ and doing a little disruptive introspection’ can do a lot of good for the soul.

Disrupt, or be disrupted.  I choose the former. What about you?

I invite you to ponder over these questions too.

If not now, when?

Another day to listen and love and walk

There’s something peculiar about celebrating birthdays.  It gets us thinking about stuffs that we don’t normally think about.

Morbidly, I thought about the inevitable.

Death. The one thing that we all have in common, eventually.

Coincidentally, a close friend who shared the same birthday had exactly the same thought.  We both imagined our funerals (if there was one) to be a celebration for the living, and not a solemn mourning for the deceased.

Let there be tears of joy, not grief.  Throw a big party where family and friends would gather to rejoice in the gifts of life.

It turned out that, pondering over mortality occasionally can be immensely beneficial.  I learnt to be more appreciative of every moment I have.  I could not resist the urge to dig out a favourite book that helped me survive the tumultuous adolescent years.

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The following lines taken from Hugh Prather’s Notes To Myself had kept me wondering:

But it’s morning.  Within my hands is another day. Another day to listen and love and walk and glory.  I am here for another day.

I think of those who aren’t.

What does it mean to be here? What does it mean to have friends? What does it mean to get dressed, to have a meal, to work? What does it mean to come home? What is the difference between the living and the dead?

I sometimes wonder if the “dead” are not more present, more comfort, more here than those of the living.

Reading that, I felt incredibly blessed to wake up to another day.  Some didn’t.

Honestly, I don’t know how to practically live each day to the fullest or as if it was my last.  But at least, I could strive to be more fully present to the here and now – with the people I am interacting with, the things I do, and even with myself.

Today, I shall listen more intentionally, love more intensely, and walk more mindfully.

That’s good enough for me.  What about you?