Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It has been a great 2014!

It has been an absolutely fantastic year for me. Here’s why:

1) I have a great spouse and two adorable kids to be my cheering squad

I am the “alarm clock” in the family. Every morning, after I have one hour of “me-time”, I go around and wake the kids and hubby up. It is a sweet moment for me every morning when I see them go from peaceful sleep to waking up sleepily (sometimes grumpily, especially for my elder daughter). I am eternally grateful for the higher being out there who “dropped” such a great spouse and kids into my life. They make my life so much sweeter and more meaningful.

2) I have great family support – my mum, dad, sister, brother, sister-in-laws, father-in-law etc

The second group of people that I am really grateful to is my extended family. I am especially thankful for my mum, whom my sister and I lean on to take care of our kids. Without her, we would not be able to go out there and experience a whole new world. Life would be that much duller. I am also so, so thankful that I get to eat home-cooked, ultra-delicious meals 5 times a week! On my husband side, I also enjoy the company of my father-in-law, sisters-in-law and all my nephews and niece. Being from a more “serious” family, I enjoy seeing the world from a simpler and more fun perspective of the Si Family.

3) I am learning and growing on my job
Yes, it has been a grueling journey. But what I feel fantastic is that I can feel myself learning and becoming more confident. I am now more comfortable with the team that I am leading, and I am also learning how to speak up more during management meetings.

4) I am learning how to control my thoughts more
Speaking about my career, I feel that it is a great that I have this bug bear in my life, as it makes me learn how to control my mind. Whenever I feel that I have negative thoughts coming into my brain and literally dragging me down the deep abyss, I tell myself mentally to stop. It trains me to focus my thoughts and turn it into positives. This is still a learning area for me, but it is fascinating to feel myself controlling my own brain. I feel like a Jedi knight!

5) I am learning how to be appreciative of the small things in life
I have Steven Covey to thank for this. One of the 7 habits of effective people is “Begin with the end in mind”. When I think about ultimately what I want in life, consistently the one key thing in life that I want is to be happy, and to bring happiness unto others. Now being a very happy person actually requires a lot of work! It really is quite cliché, but I believe one of the keys to happiness is really to be grateful for the smallest things in life. Romance the ordinary! As Sarah Ban Breathnach would have put it, search for the small and the sweet in our daily round with appreciation and awe, we will find beauty in the everyday.

Now I'm looking forward to another great year ahead!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Beginner's Mind

In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.

This is one of my favourite quotes. When I first chanced upon it, I liked it even without knowing what it actually means. I just liked the sound and rhythm of it. It sounded like poetry.

Recently, I came across the actual source of the quote. It came from Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It is a book that teaches people about meditation.

Suzuki explained in the book that in Japan, they have the phrase shoshin, which means beginner’s mind. I will quote the entire paragraph in the book, as I think it explained the concept quite well.

“The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose you recite the Prajna Pramita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times, or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it. The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.”

Suzuki explained that for Zen students, the most important thing is to keep this “original mind”. It means that we should have an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything. “When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something.”

Wow. So that is what these two sentences meant. I have a new-found respect for this quote after reading Suzuki’s book.

In our day to day life, we do many things over and over again. For example, we go to work every day. The first day of our work, we go to office with trepidation and excitement, eager to learn. Every day is an exciting day, because everything is new. Over the years, we become more jaded. How do we keep our beginner’s mind, such that every day becomes a new day?

Attitude is key. Imagination as well.

Imagine that you are a rookie. This is the first day of your working life. Take in the experience of what happened in the office with an open mind. Observe, really observe. Then you will find that what you experience every day in the office becomes totally different.

I wish you luck in your experiment. Excuse me while I go practice my “beginner’s mind”. Ommm…

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Finally I am back to running after a 5 years hiatus!

A mass of blue. Smiling faces. A sense of camaraderie.
Heart-pumping music at the start of the race. The anticipation of the road ahead.

Ah! How I missed this feeling!

This is the first time I am back running at an organised mass run, after a hiatus of 5 years. It marks a significant milestone, because it means that I am officially back on track after a period of disruption from pregnancy and motherhood.

The last time I participated in a race was before I had my two kids. That seems like a thousand years ago!

It seems like my life is divided into two eras: Without Kids, and With Kids. How totally, absolutely different these two eras are. So imagine how carefree I feel, running down the road, as I hark back to the times pre-motherhood when all I cared about was Myself, Myself and Myself.

Aside from that, I really LOOOOVE to run.

There is something about these kind of races that makes it really fun. It is different from running on your own in the park. For this kind of organised runs, there is a definite start and end, so when you finish your race, there is a wonderful sense of achievement. And there are thousands and thousands of people, all wearing the same clothes as you, running down the same path. I suppose this is the closest to joining a cult I will ever feel, where everybody is united in the same path and working towards the same objective.

The activities at the end of the race also makes it doubly fun. There is this carnival feel in the air, where all the endorphins-pumped individuals go around taking photos with each other (hey, I did it!). There are also silly activities such as taking (more) photos with a giant can of 100-plus, Zumba-dancing (the most popular form of exercise now), and "like-ing" products on facebooks to get free gifts.

To top it all, I participated in the mass run with my sister. If it feels great just participating in a run, it feels doubly-great when you participate it with fantastic company. We had fun on the road taking selfies of ourselves, and pointing out all the "weird" people you see along the way. (There was not a lot of "interesting" people in this particular run, but still there were one or two. For example, there was this lady that ran barefoot, and displayed her shoes prominently so people will notice.)

All in all, we had a great time! I really enjoyed the laughter, the companionship, and the blast of endorphins as we reached our "runner's high". So the logical question to ask is, when is the next run?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Committment and the Constant Struggle with Myself

It’s been more than a month since I last blogged. What happened to the commitment to blog at least once a week? Well, we all know what happened. There are the usual excuses – I was busy, I had no topic in mind, I don’t know why I started this project in the first place… yadedadeda….

It’s the constant struggle that I have: how to keep the promises that I made to myself.

In an interview with Steven Covey, author of the 7 habits, he mentioned that the first three habits that he taught can be summarised in a sentence: “Make and keep a promise”. I have always wondered about that comment.
To be frank, the first thing that came to my mind when I heard his reply was, you mean I read half the book, it can actually be summarized in one sentence? Hahaha…
Wise-crack comments aside, this reply struck me as quite apt after I paused to think about it. If you recall, Steven Covey’s first three habits were:
  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Do the first things first
The three habits are all about self-leadership. And the difficult part about self-leadership is not the intent, but how do we go about taking actions and then sticking to these actions day in and out.
The constant struggle that we have is all about the littlest things. Whether we should snuggle in bed for another hour, or wake up early so as to do all sorts of things that we promised ourselves we will do; Whether to eat that tasty-looking sinful French fries, or the yucky broccoli that’s sitting on our plates; Whether to open our mouths and start scolding someone who has made us angry, or just pause and reflect on what happened.
Well, I have arrived at a philosophy of handling such things. I think life is a constant struggle against ourselves. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. The important thing is not to give up. If you really want something, you have to keep at it, no matter how long it takes, and no matter that you are not seeing any progress.
It is really easy to write about this, but so much harder to do it in real life. As I have done countless of times, I will start a project (like this), with a burst of passion and enthusiasm. And then that burst of fire will die off, and then this blog will just be a silly project that I started. Keeping to your commitment requires a kind of doggedness and stubbornness to say to yourselves, over and over: I will do this!
And on that hopeful note, I will continue this struggle with myself!
Let’s persevere, and at the end of it, we will look back on this journey and proudly belt out the Frank Sinatra song: “ I did it my way!” 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Help! I am addicted to Self Help Books!

My hubby always laughs at my addiction to self-help books. At the heart of it, he does not believe they help at all. They make you feel good and motivated for a brief moment after reading them, and then you continue your old ways.

In a way, he is correct. I have read tonnes of self help books this year: The Happiness Project, The 7 Habits of Effective People, Gravitas, Working with Emotional Intelligence, etc. I do not really feel that I have improved that much.

I have pondered why I feel the need to read self help books. Now that I have read several of them, I am also getting sick of reading such books. But when I have the chance to browse at a bookstore, I still tend to gravitate towards the “Self-Help Books” genre, or at those self help books disguised as management books.

After some reflection, I thought that at the heart of it is my desire to improve.

I would like to become a better person. A person with EQ. A person who is happy. A better leader. That, in itself, is not a wrong desire to have.

So why have I not become a better person?

One of the reasons is because I jump from topic to topic. I jump from the topic of EQ, to happiness, to presentation skills, to leadership, to general personal effectiveness. And of course, I do not actively practice the concepts that I learnt.

To be more accurate, I try to apply the concepts. But after a while, because I have nothing to sustain my actions, I revert to my old ways.

This brings to me to the topic of this blog! I have been trying to find a focus for it. I do not think it is sustainable if I just wake up every Sunday morning and try to squeeze a topic out for my blog. It needs some kind of focus.

Well, for now, I will let myself meander from topic to topic. Perhaps after a while, a theme will emerge by itself?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Ultimate Staycation

In my earlier blog post, I commented that I hardly have any personal time. Now I have lots of it, and I am oscillating between hating and loving it.

The reason for the luxury? A bout of chicken pox.

The ugly, red, pulsating dots appeared after a day or two of feeling generally unwell. I glared at them in the mirror, and said to my spouse: “Do you think this is what I think it is?”

Apparently, it is. My doctor gave me a week of medical leave, with the instructions for me to confine myself to my own house.

At the start of it, I felt weak and tired and grumpy. I was not in the mood to feel anything but sick. And ugly. I religiously avoided all mirrors as I could not stand the sight of the dots, which unfortunately, congregated on my face.

All this changed in a matter of two to three days. The dots started being less itchy and blotchy, and I became much better. I started enjoying the luxury of waking up, checking on a few office emails, and having lots and lots of time of ME time. Yippee! No little toddlers to chase and shout after. Less troublesome office matters (I was technically working from home, but maybe because I was not in office to attend to matters, the emails also became lesser).

So what did I do to fill up all those long hours? Watching a Korean Drama, of course. It was pure decadence. I would watch one episode after another, with no one to tell me that it was such a time waster. Of course, there was this little voice in my head. But I chased it away with the sweep of my imaginary hand, telling myself that I would not have this luxury for some time to come.

This was really the Ultimate Staycation! Why do we need to spend hundreds of dollars to stay in a hotel, when my own home was comfortable enough for me? Most importantly, it was heavenly to have so much time on my hand.

I always knew that good things have to come to an end. After I finished the last episode of my Korean drama, I was determined not to start another one again. In any case, the timing was just nice as I was about to head back to office in a day’s time. Unfortunately, the little red dots (pun not intended) had other intentions. While most of them have dried up, there were still a few left. The doctor assessed that I was still unfit for work, and gave me another week of medical leave.

And here is where I am now. Boredom with a capital B.

Now I am counting the days before I head back to office. A few more days to go!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Getting the hang of motherhood (really?)

This is really the most wonderful phase of my life.

I have an amazing hubby, two sweet little children, and a wonderful job.

Sometimes, I will look back at my life of 36 years, and think about all its ups and downs. I have been really fortunate in that I have not had a lot of major turbulences in my life. Of course, some small little setbacks are unavoidable. But all in all, it was a largely uneventful life.
If I compare all the years I gone through so far, the few years since I have been married has been the most happy and fulfilling years in my life. I got married at a relatively late age of 30. And the first child came about two years later. And now I have two children, age two and four.

Motherhood is really such an incredible experience. It is the only experience where you can be both in heaven and in hell at the same time. When I look at my children, sometimes a literally get a “kick”. Thoughts like: “Awww, how sweet they are?” would flash across my brain as I watch them play with one another. Then in the next moment, I have to step in to break up an ugly fight between the two toddlers. (Trust me, the fights can get quite ugly. My young one is quite aggressive and may even bite his older sister. I have been trying to get him to stop doing that, but so far have no major success. Tips, anyone?)

I think the one thing about motherhood that I really do not like is the lack of personal time. Since I am a working mother, most of my time is actually spent on work. After/before work and during weekends, all my time belongs to my family. So to squeeze out some time for myself, I have to change my own lifestyle. 

Nowadays, I wake up one hour earlier than my family on week days, just so that I have some time to myself. But even that one hour is too little for me, as most of it will be spent on the usual morning stuff of brushing teeth and face-washing, eating breakfast, and reading snippets of the newspaper. One hour flies past too quickly, and then I have to change myself into “mother” mode, and get ready to wake the children up and coax them to brush their teeth.

At the start of the motherhood journey, I was stressed and tired most of the time, and became quite bad-tempered. My poor hubby bore the grunt of my bad temper, as I sniped and growled at him.

It is really quite unfair. I can be very sweet and patient with my kids, and be extremely testy with my hubby, all in the same breadth. It felt like those Korean drama, where the mother-in-law hates her daughter-in-law, and every conversation between them is peppered with insults from the former. Maybe not to the extent of that, but you get the picture. My poor hubby felt like nothing he did was enough. It led to a few quarrels, which actually made things better, as I started to understand how he felt.

Nowadays I try my best to control my temper, but sometimes I fail as well. Somehow, I find that I do not get upset with my kids so much (maybe because they are so cute), but my hubby can say really simple or innocent things, and hit my red buttons. Poor guy!

Recently, I thought that things have become better.

Is it because the kids are a bit more grown up (ok, they are still only two and four years old) and easier to manage? Is it because between my husband and I we now have a few years of experience of parenting, so we have “gone up the learning curve”? Or is it just because we have adapted to the new life stage, and can take things easier even when things go wrong?

I am not really sure which is the major reason, but I thought things are getting better.

Recently, the four of us went to Taiwan for holidays and had a wonderful time! Yes, it was more tiring as we may need to carry the toddlers for some parts of the journey. Yes, it was slower as we had to accommodate their nap times in between the holiday itinerary. But it was such an amazing and fun time because I had the best company in the whole world.

And that is the best part of motherhood. You get to love your children, and in the process, love your husband even more.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Getting Started

Hi there!

Thanks for reading my blog.

I have always liked writing. One of the earliest, albeit vague, memories that I have in my life is that of me writing some nonsensical scribbling on paper when I was toddler, and my mum looking at the scribbling and proclaiming that I will become a writer.

Don’t ask me how she came to the conclusion. There must have been some linkage between the two. Or was it just the fondest dream of my mum that I will become a writer, and she was just innocently planting that thought in me in the hope that I will become a writer?

In any case, somehow when I was growing up, the dream of becoming a writer would come and go periodically. However, as I am useless at sticking to any resolution for long periods of time, let alone go through the gruel and discipline of writing, I have not really fulfilled my dream of becoming a writer.

What triggered me to start a blog is this secondary school reunion that I attended. It was a very special gathering, because in Singapore, we do not have the tradition of organising secondary school reunions.

This reunion only came about because my ex-classmate (hey CF, hope you are reading this!), who is now based in Japan, had a brainwave, and suddenly decided to organise a reunion. When he got the idea, he did not just call some old friends from our class, and gather us for dinner or get-together. He used facebook to contact at least one classmate from each class (Class 4A to 4M).

This is quite phenomenal as many of us had not contacted each other for the last twenty years. Many of us had lost contact with one another. Some had moved overseas. In addition, he also managed to contact some of the old teachers, many whom have retired a few years back. It felt like Egypt’s 2011 FacebookRevolution, where we harnessed the power of social media to gather people together. The reach and speed of social media was quite amazing to witness.

We had quite a magical gathering at our secondary school that day. It was a simple but sweet affair. And it sparked quite a lot of thoughts in me as well. It made me feel that, if my classmate can do something so special, what have I done in the last twenty years that I can count as being really out of the ordinary?

Well, I thought about it, and decided to start a blog. I know nowadays blogs are really common. But what I will do is I will use the blog to force myself to keep writing. Then over time, I hope that I will become a better writer, and that will bring me a step closer to achieving my childhood dream.

Quite a simple idea, right? I only hope I have the discipline to keep at it.

Well, as Johann Wolfang von Goethe said, whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it. So let me begin my own special project!