Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stumbling upon myself on the internet

The other day, while randomly surfing the internet, I stumbled accidentally on myself.

To be more accurate, I stumbled on an old blog that I created in 2011. It was a mummy’s blog that I created just before my first pregnancy.

Wow, did it bring back memories!

I read about my hubby and I going for a “babymoon” before our baby popped, my delight at starting my four months maternity leave, and funny moments like the time that my baby pooped on me when I was trying to bathe her.

It sure feels good to go back in time and read about all those significant moments!

It is times like this that I feel torned. Blogging is a great way to pen down your memories. Although I journal in notebooks sometimes, I find that I tend to not write very coherently. Only when I sit down properly in front of a laptop do I write in a more disciplined manner. In this way, I get to properly put more my memories down in words.

However, at the same time, I am still very conscious that this is a public domain. Should I be writing so much about myself in a blog?

Haha, I suppose that is the age-old question that bloggers all over the world struggle with.

Do you have a blog? If so, do you struggle with this issue? How do you deal with it?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Connie Talbot: Still Chasing the Rainbow

Do you remember Connie Talbot? 

She was the gap-toothed 6 year old kid who melted hearts when she sang the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow in front of Simon Cowell in Britain’s Got Talent. That was in the year 2007.

Recently, I went on a road trip to Malaysia. My sister lent me some CDs to entertain us on the long journey. One of the CDs was the album Over the Rainbow which Connie Talbot produced after the show.

Not having listened to Connie Talbot for well over 8 years, I was blown over by her singing. I showed the album cover to my kids and explained that this little girl who sang so well who was just a few years older than them (then). They were really impressed, and asked me to play this same CD over and over again during the trip.

After returning from our journey, I was curious what happened to Connie Talbot 8 years later. Is she still singing? Did she grow up to become a very different girl?

So, I went to google her.

This is what I found.

She was all grown up and so beautiful. The wonderful thing is she was still singing and producing albums. In fact, she has attracted over a billion views on her Youtube channel.

What was amazing was that she mentioned in interviews that life has not changed so much for her after she became famous. She seems to have extremely good family support in terms of helping her achieve her dreams. Her first album was produced in her Aunt’s home. Till today, she has no management company, and her mum and dad help her manage her bookings.

Way to go, Connie! You are an inspiration to all those who are striving to achieve their dreams.

I believe that success means 1% talent and 99% hard work. While talent gives you a head start in life, it is your attitude which ultimately determines if you will succeed or not. More importantly, we should all have fun and laughter while chasing the rainbow of our dreams.

Connie's performance during Britain's Got Talent in 2007

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Respect for Sheryl Sandberg: Resilience in the Face of Loss

I have not read the book Lean In. However, due to the popularity of the book, I kind of knew what it talked about. It was written by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook who seems to have it all - a great job, a super supportive husband and a loving family.

One month ago, Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died in a freak gym accident. He was only 47.

Can you imagine how the world changed for Sandberg?

In the book Lean In, Sandberg attributed much of her own success to having a partner that was willing to share her load. He was her equal 50-50 partner in every way.

Imagine in one sudden swipe, Life totally erased this man from the face of the earth. If I were Sheryl, I would have been devastated.

However, Sheryl has displayed her strength and tenacity in the face of sorrow. She has revealed her anguish and grief, and how she has been coping with death, in a series of personal Facebook posts.

“Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the s*** of Option B.”

This was how she put it in one part of her post.

I have only one word for Sheryl – Respect.

Respect for how she openly shared her grief to the world, and by doing so, revealed herself in all her vulnerability. Respect for how she is coping with the “new normal”, and how, in the face of it all, she can still feel so much gratitude and love. Respect for her attitude, where she can face up to the brutal reality and declare to the world that she will “kick the s***” out of it.

While we learn from how she deals with the tragedy, it also brings to mind that we should appreciate what we take for granted every day. Appreciate your husband and your loved ones. Spend time with them. And make the most of each day that you spend with them.

Here is her honest facebook post to mark the 30 days of her beloved husband’s death. 

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.

A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.

I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me. While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through. Some who opened their hearts were my closest friends. Others were total strangers who have shared wisdom and advice publicly. So I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.

I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.

I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine. She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children’s, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.

I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

I have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn’t know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let’s all move out of the way. Someone’s parent or partner or child might depend on it.

I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel—and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.

I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children.

I have learned that resilience can be learned. Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three. Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word “sorry.” To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.

For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, “It’s the elephant.” Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.

At the same time, there are moments when I can’t let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents—all of whom have been so kind—tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.

I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life. As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug. I no longer take each day for granted. When a friend told me that he hates birthdays and so he was not celebrating his, I looked at him and said through tears, “Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one.” My next birthday will be depressing as hell, but I am determined to celebrate it in my heart more than I have ever celebrated a birthday before.

I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy. A colleague told me that his wife, whom I have never met, decided to show her support by going back to school to get her degree—something she had been putting off for years. Yes! When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in. And so many men—from those I know well to those I will likely never know—are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families.

I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.

I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” I love you, Dave.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Top 4 Tips from the Creator of Dilbert on Success and Happiness

As I shared in my earlier post, I really like the recent book that I read – How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. It is a book by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. In the book, Scott Adams offered his views on how to achieve success and happiness. Some of his tips are really simple, but it is sound advice that I think are very useful. 

Tip 1: The most important metric to track is your personal energy

Energy is the one thing that helps you achieve all that you want from life. Given this, it is important to make choices that maximize your personal energy.

Maximizing personal energy means getting the hygiene factors right – eat right, sleep well and exercise regularly. Scott Adams also offered a few other tips to maximize personal energy. First, have something in your life that makes you excited to wake up. It could be your work, if that is what excites you. It could also be your hobbies and interesting side projects that you embark on. 

Second, match your mental state to activity. Everyone is different. If you are the type that likes to do creative work in the morning, then do that in the morning. Third, simplify your life and avoid unnecessary stress. In anything that you do, strive to do it in the simplest way.

Tip 2: Fitness is the lever that moves the world

To achieve success, you need to be fit. To stay fit, you need to do it in the right way such that it does not feel like work. One way is to make it a habit. If it is habitual, it is almost automatic, so it does not require much willpower for you to do it. In fact, you will feel like you are missing something if you do not do it.

Scott Adams also offer some interesting tips to motivate you to be active every day. First, you should do the right amount of exercise such that you will still look forward to exercising tomorrow. That means not exercising too much to the extent that your muscles get really sore. Second, reward yourself after exercise. This means you could enjoy some healthy snacks, or do some activity that you really like. In that way, you associate exercise with something enjoyable.

Tip 3: Imagine yourself into a brighter future

Scott Adams espouses that your mind isn’t magic. It is a moist computer that you can programme. One of the most important thing that you should programme yourself to do is to imagine yourself into a brighter future.

To him, daydreaming is an essential skill to acquire for happiness. Instead of repeating negative thoughts all the time in your head, imagine a future that is spectacular and breathtaking. It does not matter that your dream is out of touch with reality. In fact, suspend your judgement. Simply imagining a better future hacks your brain chemistry and provides you with the sensation of happiness today.

Tip 4: Focus on Systems not Goals

This follows from the first tip above. Scott Adams feels that the most important thing to manage is your personal energy. Goals decreases your personal energy, by making you feel that you are in a state of continuous pre-success failure. 

You can have big dreams, but instead of focusing so much on what you want to achieve, focus on how you are achieving them. This is what he term as a “system”. For example, running a marathon under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. A system is something that you do on a regular basis to help you achieve what you want.

Image credits:

Friday, June 5, 2015

28th SEA Games Opening Ceremony: An Electrifying Start!

“Singapore, are you ready!” shouted Emcees Sharon Au and Chua Enlai as the big screens in the Sports Hub showed a short count down clip. 


There was a blare from a horn as a voiceover emcee said in a more professional tone. “Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to 28th SEA Games Singapore 2015… Broadcasting to you live from the Singapore Sports Hub.”

My husband and I were among the boisterous crowd of 40,000 at the National Stadium last night. The atmosphere at the Stadium was amazing.

Before the show, the emcees warmed up the crowd by getting us to “rehearse” the evergreen “Kallang Wave”. This is our affectionate Singapore term for the wave-like motion of successive groups of spectators who briefly stand, yell and raise our arms. This simple interactive act was so much fun!

When the show started, the emcees got us to perform the “actual act”. The spectators were so much into the wave that we refused to stop. The wave went one round around the stadium, then a second, and then a third… Luckily, the wave came to a natural end when the lighting changed, and a bright spotlight was shone on the centre stage.

The rest of the show was equally great. The audience was treated to a non-stop 2 hour visual spectacle. There were always little surprises that kept the audience captivated. Who can forget the moment Nila the Mascot descended into the stadium via a small little parachute? And the fantasy-like performance complete with giant fishes, turtles, dragons and other animals? 

There were poignant moments as well. I thought the short video tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew was very well done. It showed Mr Lee doing all types of sports, thereby giving us the sense that our leader was “walking the talk” when he said that we needed to become a sporting nation.

At the end of it, it was the traditional transfer of flame to the cauldron that was the best part of the show.

The torchbearers made a dramatic “entrance” via the sea, as the first torchbearer held the torch high on a dragon boat lit by neon lights. The torch was passed on to 13 torchbearers, including 4 inter-generational pairs. When the 2 final torchbearers - Singapore’s most famous footballer Fandi Ahmad and his son Irfan – received the torch, there was a great roar of cheer from the crowd. 

How symbolic! It showed that sports has a way of making our bonds stronger. From families to friends to nations – we can build great friendships with sports. It also showed that Singapore was continuing our journey of building a sporting nation, as the torch passed from one generation to another.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Book Review: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

I love Dilbert the comics. In a short sequence of drawings, Dilbert manages to make us laugh and still bring out the ironies of working life.

When I came across this book by Scott Adams, I was instantly intrigued. According to its back cover, the book was a cross between a story of his life, and some life advice that he is giving out. I also assumed that since he is so famous as a cartoonist, there should be a good dash of humour in the book, which should make the book an entertaining read.

I was not disappointed.

The book was definitely not the same as other “self-help” books that I have read before. Scott Adams has a very unique way of looking at life.

Some of them are not new to us. For example, he is an ardent believer in embracing failures. As he himself says: “… over the years, I have cultivated a unique relationship with failure. I invite it. I survive it. I appreciate it. And then I mug the shit out of it.”

However, he also has a whole new way of looking at achieving what you want. To him, goals are for losers. You need to have a “system” instead.

I really love the part about systems and goals that I will summarize it for you here. 

Basically, he says that goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. And a system is something that you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.

For example, embracing challenges is a “system”. Because each time you embrace a challenge and fail, you are a step closer to achieving success. You are not failing, because you are just applying your “system”.

What he is proposing here is to focus very much on the actions that you take on a regular basis to achieve what you want, rather than what you want. He assumes that human beings are generally the same, and want the same thing from life, i.e. health, happiness, wealth, etc. So you do not really need to focus so much on where you want to go, but just on how to get there.

Err…. It kinda makes sense, right? Yet it completely overturns what popular literature say about achieving stuff in life.

However, I would caution that we take what he says with a pinch of salt. He contradicts himself all over the book by describing some of the goals that he chased after all his life. This includes his dream of becoming a cartoonist (which clearly is a goal), and his entrepreneurial dream of creating something of value and reproducing it in unlimited quantities. Nevertheless, I loved the way that he thinks of it this way, as it provokes us to think in another way.

So what exactly is his “system” for achieving happiness and success?

It is surprisingly simple. Maximize your energy metric.

Maximizing his personal energy means eating right, exercising, and having something in his life that makes him excited to wake up.

He also teaches us one important life hack. He said that if you are stuck in a corporate life that you dislike, have side projects that energizes you. He pursued half a dozen side projects while doing corporate jobs. One of them, as we know, got him to where he was. But he also made it clear that you need to put in efforts in those side projects as well. For him, he woke up at 4:30 am every morning to draw.

This book is a really a gem. Sometimes, Scott Adams says things that others have said a thousand times before, yet make them sound different. Sometimes, he says quite a lot of downright confounding things. As he himself warned at the start of the book, don’t take what a cartoonist say in its entirety. Filter it through your “crap-buster”. Still, it has quite a lot of good stuff to provoke you to think about life in a different way.