Never Flagging in Adversity

I was not the easiest person to work with – full of skepticism and negativity. Most of my high school classmates would avoid me. I was in huge internal struggles. Depressed. Despair about life. It was so dark that I there was actually a blank in my memory of a few of those moments, which I knew there was extreme pain but I couldn’t remember the details of it…

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The Navy has been a very important part of my life journey. I am extremely fortunate to be working under a dedicated group of passionate officers who accepted me for who I was, who saw my flair and nurture my creativity, who mended the broken me together.

To begin with, I was part of the army who didn’t want to let me go. Yet, I’m always treated as part of the Navy family. My commanding officer did not have to do this out of his busy schedule because I’m really a nobody but he made two calls to the personnel department to ask to keep me with the Navy family.

I am no sailor, but the officers who were under him took very good care of me too. They offered me their friendship and taught me the traditions of the seas anyway, a lot going far back into the Age of Discovery. I fondly remembered the many nights working through projects with them. The many bowling sessions we gone for. The really generous affirmation they have given me about my work and my artistry.

I also saw through a dark moment – RSS Courageous. I remembered the skies poured its wrath at us, soaking every hair and every skin on that sombre day which the military funeral took place. All soaked and cold, our hearts strung in a common heavy beat as the procession drove passed us.

Through fair winds and against rough seas, this journey had built my courage and my confidence to live on and gave me a chance to redeem myself. It is for this reason, I always feel very much indebted to the Navy and will forever be grateful to be given a chance to be a part of this great family.

BIG PICTURE THINKING and POWER OF INFLUENCE: Observing Leadership in my Students

N was the result-and-task-oriented person, the head of the student club. J was the people-oriented person and a leader from the previous generation.

Both were just as passionate in serving and both were correct in their own rights.

It was two schools of thoughts, just like the one between a conservative and a liberal, one between a democracy and a communism.

They couldn’t convince one another. I see logic in both and I see shortfalls in both their execution. They just have to decide and move on.

N was probably stubborn in his own way, having the likes of a great entrepreneur in the making although not quite there yet. Authoritarian in his approach and expects everyone under him to perform as well as him. Decisiveness was his strength. Anger management and giving up to easily in getting buy-in from his team were where his shortfalls laid.

The Issue in Question

The issue in question was about dealing with additional student manpower for a school event. N was dogmatic that all student volunteers must be of quality. He was willing to interview the over 50 volunteers and will not hesitate to kick anyone out if they did not meet his standard. Harsh were his actions but there were certain validity to it.

J disagreed because no one kicks out volunteers and this is not “how the student club works”. Airy-fairy that reasoning might sound, but not without its truths.

Big Picture Thinking

In leadership training, people were often taught to have “the big picture in mind and not to be bogged down by details”. I often thought to myself what big picture thinking actually means. It was one of those terms, to me, that is so overused that it loses its meaning.

However, being put into the situation to calm both N and J down, for the first time, I was forced to do big picture thinking in a manner that I’m self-aware. One thing that I definitely know:

  • Kicking out student volunteers may allow them to run the event smoothly and make the event-goers happy. It will highly likely result in bad reputation for the student club if not done properly too. This will mean that future leaders of the club will find it difficult to recruit volunteers for all sorts of events.
  • Yet, keeping all student volunteers may sink the event into mayhem. That will also result in bad reputation for the student club and may cause a decrease in the number of event-goers next time.
  • Win-win: Keep as many as we can, train them and give them a memorable experience. Develop them and we have more capable volunteers with us in the future. They will help us make our event-goers feel at home. After all, we need all the help we can get.

A few big aspects about big picture thinking here. To me, big picture thinking (may include but is not limited to):

  • Is cross-generational and for the long term: How a decision can bring positive impacts and negative effects in the long term. Long-term should be defined as beyond the current generation/situation.
  • Takes ALL stakeholders emotions and concerns into consideration: In short, empathy. Yes, we need to take care of the needs of the “customers”. This must not be done at the expense of our own people.
  • Is a Win-Win: This often requires some creativity but when we place serving the people at the heart of solving our problem, I truly believe this will flow in automatically.

Power of Influence

Just as I and my colleague thought that we have settled their differences, the unthinkable happened the next week. J was so uncomfortable with N’s approach that she gathered the support from the rest of the student leaders to lead, plan and execute the event!

From the conversations with the rest of the student leaders, we can see that N’s authoritarian approached failed to gather any form of sympathy or support from them. The leaders were in fact happy that they were able to carry on with their work under J’s leadership. One thing, they felt that they were respected.

In history lessons, we always heard endless stories about how knights and advisors of the west to generals and eunuchs of the east usurped the throne from the king. Some of them wanted the power and others wanted a revolution.

Whichever the case, it is the power of influence that ruled.

Positional power can be easily lost without influence.

 

Arena Anthems

One of the most important lessons I learnt from Brené Brown’s “Daring Schools: The Four Pillars of Courage” was to set up a playlist known as the Arena Anthems.

It is a playlist of empowering songs that accompanies you when you want to summon your courage to enter the “Arena”.

I do not have such a playlist yet but I believe I better put what I’ve learnt into action.

I never felt so alone at work.

I never felt so lack of time before.

I never felt so involved in emotions, such that I do not know how to manage it.

I struggled with authenticity, the dilemma of being my pessimistic inconsiderate self, and, just holding back my confabulations and ego, being a bit more encouraging to others and a bit more compassionate towards myself but at the same time, not to overdo it until I’m not myself.

Just a bit more. I think I can tide through this like how I tide through other trials and tribulations.

Just a bit more motivation.

Just a bit more encouragement.

I’m entering the Arena.

And there’s no turning back.

Rising Early, Finding Excuses

I read in an article some time ago the benefits of rising early. One of the reasons given was that the time in the morning effectively belongs to yourself.

Considering that there’s limited things which I could do after I get home after work, for the fact that I’m just too tired to do anything more productive, I was really eager to give this “rising early” habit a try.

The final target was to wake up at 5am. After all, I am already waking up at 6.30am every other day, what’s so difficult about waking up that early? While I was schooling, waking up at 5.45am is a really common thing to do.

I set an immediate target to wake up at 6am consistently, including weekends, for the next two weeks by winding back my alarm by 2 minutes daily. I will also push myself to sleep earlier at about 10 pm.

And you know it is not going to turn out well.

My body just can’t get used to it! It seems that without the weekends to sleep in till 7.30, without those other days where I just wake up a little bit later and to hit the snooze button, two weeks was all it took to bring my immune system down.

Maybe, I’m growing old.

Maybe, I’m just not meant to wake up that early.

Maybe, I’m living in a place who’s government decide to use the wrong time! Singapore rightfully belongs in the +7 GMT time zone but chooses to align our time with KL, or East Malaysia, or Hong Kong, or Beijing (depending on what your interpretation is). In fact, I’m really already waking up at 5.30am solar time when I wake up at 6.30am! …

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A modified image from Wikipedia on the time zones used in South East Asia. The red arrow shows where Singapore is.

… Maybe, I’m just finding excuses.

Personal Retreat 2016 Day 8: GOALS

The earliest record of goal-setting I had dated back to 2007. On top of a small piece of diary paper were the words, Birthday Resolution 2007, written in blue ink.

It has became a tradition for me to set goals twice a year. The New Year resolutions to set new goals and the birthday resolutions to act as a review mechanism.

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This year’s resolution spans two pages

As the years gone by, setting resolutions became more sophisticated. I was primarily obsessed to know whether I am setting the correct goals or not. It became a framework, which I built it upon Stephen Covey’s 7th Habit and SMART goals.

However, that is back in 2013.

In 2015, I learnt about a different type of goal setting method, known as HARD goals. I agreed with it in principle, although I’m not quite sure how to apply it. It was only until end-2016, when my life coach, Lusi Lim, shared about her method of goal setting, it became obvious how my new framework is going to look like.

Lusi shared her goal setting methods through her life experience. The key takeaway I got from her sharing was that she removes the A and R from SMART goals as she believes that goals should be difficult to achieve in order to make a breakthrough.

There in lies the secret. That one part which I did not had the answer to. The part on how to fuse the conflicting HARD goals with the SMART goals portion of my framework!

I truly believe this will work and this is the missing piece that is required to fulfill resolutions. In fact, I think I can simplify my framework with this by a fair bit. With this new insight, New Year Resolution 2017 span two full pages and for the first time, there was great clarity in what I intend to achieve.

I will definitely want to share about this again some time in the future; it warrants a separate article! For now, let me try this out for myself first and attempt to achieve a 100% hit with my goals.

PS. Epilogue

This wraps up my 8 days of retreat and it has been a great success!

Aside from the goal setting, meeting up with friends and the experiencing stuff, there were actually two other goals I set for myself.

The first was to get some exercise everyday: I managed to jog at least 2km daily (except for Day 5 which I cycled instead) and even manage to throw in a gym session on the rainy Day 7.

The second was to record all my experiences and thoughts down in the journal. And this is what you have been reading.

For now, lots of work is already piling up on my desk as I write and the year is drawing to a close. 

It’s going to be an exciting 2017. : )

Signing off,
Flex Tio

Personal Retreat 2016 Day 7: Story

Day 7. I didn’t have a theme actually. If I have to give it a theme, it would have to be ‘Story‘.

I spent much of the day writing two stories. One of it was in preparation for a table top game, a story for a half-elf named Ivellios Windrivver.

And so Ivellios was an altered-ego, an arcane trickster and a charlatan who was accused of killing his only love when he was 20. He went on the run, hiding in disguise in the past two years and caught on by the official just recently. The rest of his story will be told in the gaming session early next year.

Make belief stories are always fun and it is a place where you can be whatever you want to be.

The more important story to write, however, was for another gentleman living somewhere in this world in a country called Singapore. This is a story of myself, a story which I need to write for myself. With any luck, I’m only slightly more than a third through it or maybe I’m already halfway through.

As per tradition, I seeked out a hermitage to do my goal setting. The place I been to look like this:

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A key landmark of the hermitage I went to this year

Goal setting has always been a very intense moment for me. 2016 has been such a bad and busy year that I’m determined to make it right.

There were many questions I wanted to answer: Do I want to continue with a certain pursuit, why do I want to continue with a certain pursuit, and because of my wide interest (and talent – please allow me to boast just this once, please please please : P) that I am not willing to give up, how do I sustain the passion to keep on going, at the very least in a sustenance mode, is a key.

There’s also Future Reinvention to think about. I really believe that this is the other key to this tangled messy story. Maybe there really isn’t a need to untangle them. Just melt it and mix them together in a cauldron, brewing it till it’s well done and serve it hot.

And there was a breakthrough.

I set ZERO goals for the night.

Well, it was the first time I failed to set any goals in a dedicated personal reflection moment so it is a breakthrough isn’t it?

I did walked out with more clarity.

And I did feel a bit more determined and inspired.

Personal Retreat 2016 Day 6: INSPIRE

There are two types of museums which I really enjoy going. The artsy type that allowed me to peer into the mind of the artist, and the science type that can engage my intellectual mind. To me, the two usually come together quire implicitly. Simplistically speaking, you cannot talk about art without talking about the advancement of technology to produce an art piece, and, you cannot talk about science unless they are delivered in a manner which you can hear it, see it and touch it.

Seldom, they come together explicitly. The “Future World: Where Art Meets Science” and “Journey to Infinity: Escher’s World of Wonder” exhibits at the ArtScience Museum were two exceptional exhibits where science and arts held their hands with each other.

I’m so thankful that my friend, L, called me out to this museum trip. With her membership card, we even got to get in at half the price. This trip left lots of ‘aha’ moments in me which might guide me on my journey.

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To Infinity and Beyond~!

I am most impressed with the works of Maurits Cornelis Escher. I am so so so impressed to the point that I put him among the ranks of the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and Nikolas Tesla.

His biography describes him as a graphic artist. I think the term ‘polymath’ suited him better. A person who uses the law of Mathematics to break the law of nature. I’ve always thought that his works were some optical illusion puzzles. Now, I knew that they were Escher’s trademark ART x mathematics art pieces.

Where this exhibit really shined was that it took me through the different stages in Esher’s career, from his early works that were largely on architecture that help built the foundation to his artwork, to his unflagging experimentation on tessellation, evolving to his meticulous madness commitment to “metamorphosis” art forms and finally, this piece of work that combined all of what he had learnt about over 30 years. Still not quite his vision from what I understand, but close enough to me.

It was all presented in front of my eyes, how knowledge so disparate can be synergised and infused to a state that they became inseparable. In fact, should I say that arts and mathematics are not disparate at all but are one and the same?

His works were hope to me.A hope that someday I will be able to fuse all that knowledge in my mind to create something useful, something thought provoking for mankind too.

Escher showed me that there was a way to do this.