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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

2XUFlagoff

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?

I blog, therefore I am.

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.

But this can change. And it will.  And here’s why …

In our family, we practise a wonderful annual yearend ritual, first initiated by my wife several years ago.  The process is simple.  We gather as a family, review the vision we have set for the year, reflect on the accomplishments and experiences that we are grateful for, and take turns to share out loud.  And then, we craft a vision for the following year, starting with the ‘Top Ten’ list, share it, narrow down to the ‘BIG 3,’ and create a vision board to keep us on track.

Call it ‘Law of Attraction’ or ‘Power of Vision,’ the vision board has its magic. Last year, all three of Sean’s (my eldest son) vision came true!  His proudest moment was when his team emerged champion in the national interschool floorball championship.  As parents, my wife and I are super proud of and happy for him too.  But I couldn’t say the same for myself, for I was still stuck at the second last step – picking my BIG 3.

I can’t help thinking that the Universe’s message for me was “Focus, focus, focus.”  Ironically, my last post was titled “To enhance focus, speed up.”  [Note to self: Read my own blog once in a while.]

So, for 2017, I’m inspired and determined to make ‘Blog weekly’ one of three major things to get done.  Ironically, it took me a month to get to this point (procrastination is one of my strengths), but I’m grateful that I finally did.  Better late than never.

And this isn’t some new year resolutions that get forgotten by February.  I’m conscious that it could be something that will transform the very core of who I am.  And here’s why things are gonna be different …

In truth, I’m really sick of carrying forward the ‘Restart blogging’ from one year to the next.  I’m done with repeatedly feeling the shame of not taking action to live out my vision.  I don’t want to be merely a dreamer, but a doer that realises his dreams as well.  And I don’t want to let myself down, again.

OK, to be fair, I’m not a total failure at this vision-to-action thing.  I did manage to tick off a few things in my vision for 2016. Skiing with my family in Japan, check. Run 10 km, check.  Swim Ironman distance, check. Learn yoga, check. Reduce weight to 78 kg? Hmm, perhaps a more realistic target for 2017 will drastically increase my likelihood of success.

So, back to blogging. Will turning it into one of my BIG 3 help? What will it take for a blogger wannabe to become a blogger?  And what will it take to become an excellent blogger?

Aristotle once said,

“We are repeatedly what we do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

Perhaps it’s as simple as starting to do it, and then keep on doing it, learning as we do, continuously developing ourselves, and practice, practice, and more practice.

What do you think? And what have you put off doing, that might benefit from a bit more focus?

Now that I’ve publicly declared my intention and given blogging another shot, only time will tell if I do indeed honour my words, at least to myself.

Fast forward to December 2017 … I’m seeing myself expressing my gratitude for all the encouragement and feedback from readers like yourself, and feeling even more inspired to write for the rest of my life.  Thank you for reading, for without you, this would be another page of my unread diary.

I blog, therefore I am.

NOW is a good time to start.

Every now and then, my mind gets hijacked by a deluge of random thoughts.  And each time that occurred, I wished I had captured them. Sometimes, I jot them down either on a notebook or  the phone. Other times, I just let them go by. And today, in the midst of an evening run, I experienced another episode. Only this time, one of the thoughts said:

“Blog it, starting from today, and now is a good time.”

And here am I, writing my first post since this blog site was created almost 2 years ago. Unbelievable! I’ve deliberately left the original “Hello world!” post dated March 5, 2011 to remind myself of how well I have mastered the art of procrastination.  I’m not proud of that, but I’m glad that I finally figured out what got in the way.

It’s silly, but real.  I got stuck at filling up the default “About” page. Fed up with feeling stuck and not knowing what to say about myself or this site, I simply deleted it. And then came a breakthrough! Barrier removed. No more obstacles. I’m free to get on with capturing my random thoughts.

Somehow, things always seem simpler in hindsight.

Today, I learnt that getting clear on “What’s really stopping me?” and taking small actions to address that can be a great way to jumpstart myself into action.

So, what’s really stopping you from doing what you want to do?