Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ah, to give it all up

Whenever people tell me what makes them happy, it gets me thinking about what makes ME happy.

Apparently not much. Surrounded by those whom I love, great friends, a satisfying job that pays more than enough, good health, some time to exercise, good food, etc, that should be great. Free from the worries that plague other people, like financial or health, and definitely in a position that I am sure many others would readily swap places with in a heartbeat. Not that I am boastful, but just appreciative of my circumstances.

This is the perfect life. If you want steady stability, this is it. A permanent secure job with a blue chip employer who pays you (for what you do and have experience with) much more than the market equivalent, so you can basically settle down here, and follow the crowd, i.e. work hard at the career, get a promotion every couple of years, buy a house, a car, have a family, etc. Get a pet dog. Excellent.

So why is it that when I read Bryson's books, every single time, I will end up re-examining the above lifestyle? I don't think there is a problem with the lifestyle itself, but geez, I do so want to hike the Appalachian trail too! And I do so want to travel around Europe, and stuff like that. I guess that's what good writers do, put those kind of thoughts in your head. It's not impossible for me to do so, but it IS impossible to straddle both at once; after all, what kinda job would let you go off on a multiple month sabbatical to 'discover myself" or "see the world" etc. We've got to be realistic. Of course, at this stage, some people will go, why is dreaming so unrealistic? What makes THIS realistic? Isn't this an artificial cord we tie around ourselves and hence we can never takes risks and let go and THEN in 30 years we'd look back at this pivotal moment and go GODDAMN if only...

Anyway, I won't prattle anymore. But his stories and the settings do appeal. I would never hike the trail alone, of course, as I'm too cowardly, too inexperienced, too ill equipped and way too imaginative, but it'd be nice to hike around a bit within my limits, and exercise my imagination. Was this spot ever a resting place for a tired Mohican? You know, fanciful stuff like that. Perhaps THAT spot over there was the scene of a dramatic parting between 2 lovers of the rival Cherokee and Iroqois tribes? Ahh...But I could never do Europe backpacking the way he did it. Sure, it holds its appeal, and I'm sure plenty of travellers vouch for it.

But I'm old, pampered and petty, and I shall make no pretenses and be the type of backpacker who isn't really a backpacker but just wants to do certain elements of it just to say they backpacked across say Scandinavia. Nah, either you do it properly and call yourself so, or you don't do it or don't call yourself so. At any rate, I want nice hotels, nice travelling conditions, and certainly, not much alcohol. All I'd reallly like is warm jackets, scarves, music player, notebook, camera and a nice thermos to store hot beverages.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Trust yourself

People say one should always have a positive attitude and demeanour. Agreed. People also look at successful people and say, well, so and so was a positive person, hence he is successful.


How hard is it to be positive when one is successful? By that point, you can say anything you like. How about those who started off being positive, tried to remain upbeat despite less than positive circumstances, but still didn’t end up achieving the ideal outcome they wanted? Does positive attitudes really lead to success? I find it hard to believe that people can isolate 1 trait and pinpoint success down to 1 factor. A positive attitude definitely helps, but only in tangent with other attributes, will it be tangibly beneficial. One should always try to be positive, but when things are not going well and one finds one’s well of optimism is drying up, don’t let that turn into a domino effect.

When things are not running well, what does one do? Does one lose heart, lose hope? Well, one should trust oneself, right? That one is making the right decisions, have faith in oneself. As Eric Musselman says,
are you willing to bet on yourself? When the going gets tough, are you willing to bet on yourself? If you are a leader, you must be willing to bet on yourself – or else, how else will you influence others to follow you? Are you willing to place your money on your decision making skills? You never know what will happen. A lot of times you just make the best analysis you can with the given info you have, made the call, take a risk, and see what happens.

But we have to trust ourselves, and our instincts. As Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote Blink, said, we’ve got to trust ourselves and our instincts. Too often, people doubt and don’t trust themselves and their intuition, preferring instead to rely on so called logic and facts. But sometimes, our intuition is running completely opposite to what the logic is telling us. So what do we do? Is it that much harder to trust ourselves?

The value of hard work

I am going to draw again upon yet another parallel between sports and real life.

How many of you, in the course of your daily life, have encountered people more talented than you, but delivering mediocre performances, and vice versa? Are they luckier? Are they more ‘suited’ to something? Or are they simply more hard-working?

When I was growing up, various experiences led me to strongly believe that I was special, different, gifted, blessed, and more intelligent, could never fail and superior to other people. Of course, while growing up, these falsehoods were repeatedly asserted into me, and I lost that confidence, but remained much humbler of my capabilities and more respectful of others. However, eventually it dawned on me that there are others much more talented than me. And there was only 1 way to outperform the more naturally gifted than me in every arena: I had to outwork them.

Everyone has talent. What truly separates them is how hard they work. Michael Jordan was famous for having a practice regime that bordered on maniacal. Many can jump like him, shoot like him, drive like him, play O and D like him, but no one does it night in and night out, achieves the same level of stellar play on both ends of the court, and sustains it for as long as he does, and definitely not many people can reinvent themselves to remain dominant when their body starts to age. He did, and there was no blind luck involved. That is why he is the best.

When asked recently what makes someone a champion and not another, Arnold Schwarzenegger replied:

"It's drive. It's the will. There are certain people that grow up with a tremendous hunger and it's usually kids that have struggled when they were young. When you grow up comfortable and in peace and happiness, all those things will produce a very balanced person and a good person, but it will not create the will and determination and hunger that you need to be the best in the world."

The most successful people work hard. That’s the 1 constant. Their motivations might be different. Jordan grew up in a relatively financially comfortable family. His drive came from ego, wanting to be the best, and hating to lose. For Arnold, it was a relentless desire to be the best in the world. For others, it could be to escape an impoverished upbringing and to escape into a cushier future. It doesn’t matter the motivation. What is important is hard work.

After encountering
a recent reminder that the true differentiator between the successful and non-successful is how hard someone works, I have decided to dedicate myself more to my job, just to see what kind of benefits I will derive. In the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he mentions that 1 of the success factors of successful people is that they have spent 10,000 hours honing their skills to become top performers in their field. After looking at the statistics of world class athletes and the years of experience after when they arrived at the peaks of their careers, the numbers bear out this argument. According to Gladwell, this argument holds up well when applied to Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, etc as well.

This runs totally counter to those financial people who thrive based on who can use the least time to swing the biggest deals. Which leads to integrity, principles and controls being compromised. Which leads to the current economic and financial crisis but hey, that’s a story for another day.

You are not a quitter

When is it time to quit? How do you decide whether or not to soldier on at something? In my previous job at EY, I was presented with the option of joining my present company. It was a tough decision, and being slightly indecisive and wishy-washy, I agonized over the decision.

We will never know whether we have made the right decision. Some we know immediately after we make it, like ordering a dish and finding out it tastes bad. Some needs middle term retrospective inspection. Some are long term, by which point the consequences could already have affected your entire life and it is too late and most of your life is gone.

They say for a woman, the most important decision is who they marry, and for a man, it lies in choosing his career.

Well, choosing who I marry is probably the most important thing in my life too, but since I already know the answer, the part left unanswered is my career.

There have been occasions that I have never felt gladder that I was out of EY. Yet there have been times that I have regretted deeply. What’s right, what’s wrong, how do we know? The only way we can be sure is if somehow we are able to view our life and see how it pans out had we taken this or that alternative route, just like the movie Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow.

A lot of people (
like these) successful in their fields tried quitting, but ultimately gave it another shot and ended up excelling. How many people gave up before becoming excellent? How many people would not have been had they given up? Are people who quit really ‘quitters’? Is there an unproportionately negative response and stigma to the term ‘quitter’? Based on the connotations to the meaning of the word, should the word even exist? How many people have slugged on with mediocre results because of the fear of being labelled a quitter?

When and how do I know whether it is time for me to move on?

And the end goal is...?

They say near death experiences changes your life.

I’m getting to the age now (mid twenties) where it is getting more and more imperative to find meaning in my life. To find a passion, a direction in my life, that can inspire me. I want a career that I enjoy, that I am good at, and that is reasonably financially rewarding. I need to make my plans now. What will I be doing in 2 years? In three years? Where will I be? Why will I be there? These are all questions that every man has to answer. We cannot drift aimlessly around in life, not knowing that we want, not knowing where we want to be, coz we will end up with nothing in nowhere. For men who intend to get married or who are in stable and long term relationships, such certainty of knowledge is only fair to the other party. Knowing what their man’s plans are, knowing that they are aligned with hers, gives the woman a sense of security and provides her with an anchor and a perspective and context from which she can develop her own plans and expectations.

The problem is that I don’t have much certainty yet. A lot of people are in the same boat as me, but that is scant consolation. I need to know what is it I want, and make a focussed, concentrated beeline for it, and not waver and beat around the bush wasting time. That will ensure that everything I do is accumulative and leading to my end goal. But what is my end goal?

Apple CEO
Steve Jobs, who has survived pancreatic cancer, had this to say in a commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005:
"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

I need to listen to my heart and intuition, and drown out all other noise, dig deep, and find out what I really want. Then, I can assure my partner, and we can both plan and align our lives to ensure that at the end of the day, we want and are working towards the same goals. That will give us a sense of security and peace, and allow us to happily feel that sacrifices are worth it, as we see ourselves inching closer to that professed joint goal.

Picking your moments

Often times, there are parallels to succeeding in sports and succeeding in life.

When in sports, we have to be able to ‘read’ situations. Situations in this case here means simply more than reading what is going on on-court, being able to read what kind of offensive and defensive schemes the opponent is trying to pull on you, and being able to react. You have to be able to sense and fear the mindset of your opponent as well. Is he intimidated? Is he selfish? Does he have a big ego? Will he be easily goaded into a 1 on 1 game, which is detrimental to his team? Is he disciplined and patient? These things translate into real consequences, and are as important as any physical or technical skills he may possess.

But the really useful skill to possess is
killer instinct. This separates the champions from the pretenders. When you face certain players and teams, and you start gaining an upper hand, you move in for the kill. You can sense and smell it. If you are leading, you don’t let up, don’t release the foot from the pedal and you don’t take it easier. You push harder, increase the score differential, and drive your scores up. This will squish the hope from your opponent, and persuade them to give up, because the going just got harder, and the journey to catch up just got that much harder. You don’t let your opponent hang around; you finish them off, step on their desire and mindset and make them not want to fight back. You want them to think that there is no chance and that they can’t be bothered to fight back.

Of course, in the real world, that is what businesses do. When you sense you are gaining an advantage on your opponent, when you feel that a certain law can be moulded to your advantage, you seize it, and you use it to differentiate yourself from the competition. You use it to squeeze them out of the marketplace.

You can also apply it to your individual work environment. If you think that you are on a roll, and that you have done some good work that you think might impress your manager, you should show it to him. I used to think this was blowing my own trumpet, but as I mature, I realize, how else is he supposed to know what I am up to? If I was a manager, I wouldn’t go up to each subordinate and ask him what he has done recently. I should know on a day to day basis what they do, but any initiative and new ideas they have or want to implement would be unknown to me. The onus is on them to bring to my attention their merits and achievements.

Hence if you feel that you have done some good work, go ahead and step up and show him. Demonstrate your capabilities, step on the pedal, and while his impression of you is improving, take advantage of that, and push some more. Don’t let up. Of course, it takes savvy to do this, as it is not just a matter of shoving your achievements down his throat. You have to know when to stop. But if done the right way, once you see an opening, seize it and imprint in your boss the fact that you are a capable person. You will be amazed at the positive difference it makes.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Minority Report

In the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise, he had the ability to foresee who would become criminals in the future, and hence he'd arrest them first. I stumbled across an interesting article with a list of NBA players who have been arrested and charged before. It is an amazingly big list, with drugs/domestic abuse/drunk driving/carrying a weapon the most common charges.

If all these statistics could be analyzed across society, we could theoretically and statistically determine who are high probability future criminals, and monitor them closely. The only drawback is that this would make ME also a target, being young, male, and a baller.

There is no way to really tell who would become a criminal. Circumstances are fluid and dynamic, and circumstances really do determine our actions and fate. So if we could control our circumstances, knowing that our morals remain constant, that'd be the best way of ensuring we are getting the outcome we want.

Gosh, that might not make much sense. I'm tired, time to go home!

Friday, February 27, 2009

As I've always said...

...the safest jobs in the world are the ones whereby you are actually making something.

Well, no, not really, because the safest professions are doctors and farmers. Regardless, people will still fall sick and people still need to eat. But besides that, I have long espoused the importance and usefulness of a practical job, that actually delivers something that one can touch and see and feel and smell etc.

That is why I have never had much respect for professions that dabble in the virtual and intangible, though quantifiable (even the quantifiability is suspect, as virtual figures that can't be physically verified can be manipulated and massaged to reflect something other than what is is). Key examples of such jobs are those in finance and banking, professional services, etc. As is expected, in an economic downturn, those are the first to go. When push comes to shove and people want to tighten their belts, the first jobs to go are those that aren't necessary and don't add value to the economy in any real sense. I am wholly unsurprised by such a turn of events, and the recent news and headlines about massive layouts have just confirmed my sentiments.

Being from the manufacturing industry, I am of course somewhat biased. But people still needs goods and products, albeit necessities and not luxuries, unless your product is something that is addictive. Highly debatable, in my case. Anyway, it is lamentable and a pity that some of the best people (yep, those in manufacturing) are the next in line to get the axe, if they haven't already gotten it. A key culprit is of course the lessening demand for luxury goods and products, given the harsh economic clime, but a strong and undeniable factor is definitely the rise of developing countries with an educated and cheap workforce (both skilled and mass unskilled) that can offer a cheaper cost base from where to operate, hence providing a competitive advantage that would be hard pressed to overcome in a developed country with much higher costs of living and where the rights/laws add additional costs of operating. It is sad that those in manufacturing, who really produce with their hands and whose work efforts can be tangibly seen, have to be laid off.

A side effect of the current economic crisis, and mind you, from all the figures I've seen and definitely from the very real impact that it has on my company, we are in a crisis, is the affirmation that the end is nigh for the out of control and insufficiently regulated finance and banking sector, putting a much overdue end to a period first started 20 years ago and defined by the jet settling and lavish lifestyle of the privileged top few which hardly translated into real earnings for the average mum and dad. Those who have put their money, hard earned savings, retirement funds, because they trusted the slick talking and smooth talking financial product salesmen, many of who have little understanding of their product except the commissions they stand to gain, and have their hopes so cruelly dashed, will have little to show after decades of slogging, and most likely will have to go through their retirement years much les gloriously than imagined. Of course, many of these people were betting, were ignorant, ill informed, or were greedy, and for these, there is not much to say. But to those who were ignorant, but who trusted the banking and financial institutions, because they had government backing or were too big to fail, this must have been a bitter lesson. Not to mention a blatant breach of trust.

To the many thousands around the world, the financial workers, the bankers, professional services people, who were riding the wave for the last 2o years, the bubble has come to an end. To everyone who dreamt of getting rich quick, of doing work that cannot be seen or touched, who thought that they could take a shortcut and bypass the factory workers, who could get by by manipulating numbers, taking advantage of people's desires/greed/ignorance/insecurities to fund their own lavish lifestyles, who thought they were cleverer than the rest, who stifled their own conscience to push financial products they barely understood, who flaunted their wealthy and lavish lifestyle, this is a time for reckoning. There really is no short cut to getting rich. Analyzing stuff, preventing risks, all that fancy shmancy stuff, has proven to be truly ineffective. What is the point of having analysts, ratings, risk managers, product managers, investment bankers, blah blah blah, when almost every such instrument has failed to prevent the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression? You'd expect, with the technologies at our disposal, we would have been able to spot/prevent/rectify this a mile off, instead of waiting til we are drowning in it. Had someone had more brains, more foresight, more balls, perhaps the damage would have been less. I do not have much sympathy for those who have greedily fed the vicious machine, encouraging and feeding it, thinking they'd be happy doing a 9 to 5, saying they work in a 'firm', wearing their sharp snazzy suits, marching around with their heels and briefcases, talking about clinching multimillion dollar deals, arrogantly describing themselves as traders/bankers/whatevers, who are addicted to the glamour of the corporate world, and who reject the honest work-with-their-hands types as lowr class denizens. Looking at the gazillions of commerce graduates, and especially with an eye towards the cocky and arrogant classmates I had back in uni, I can't help not feeling sorry for them. It'd be more correct of course to point out that not everyone working in those industries is like this, and that I'd be guilty of gross generalization by tarnishing everyone with the same brush, and risk my entire tirade being dismissed, hence I shall include that disclaimer.

If I sound bitter, yes I am. Perhaps it is the residual effect of feeling first hand the arrogance of such people, the constant overlooking of people who do not work in glamorous jobs, the second class treatment, the fact that people close to me have suffered from the activities of such people, and the feeling of injustice I feel for my co workers who put in a good hard day's work and yet are regarded as lower than and earn less than the cockroaches who have contributed to this crash. Life is not fair, and people say 'accept it and don't fight the system'.

If we really wanted to prevent ourselves from getting into another crisis in the future, really, we just need a few simple rules. (i) focus on manufacturing (ii) focus on delivering higher value added products/goods/services/propositions (iii) have stringent regulations (iv) reduce the insane executive payments to weed out the incompetent (everyone's greedy, let's just weed out the incompetent and greedy).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Back...! With[out] a vengeance.

Ah! After many months, I am back, to stake and reclaim my place as one of the world's foremost irregular bloggers. Having said that, I think I am edging away from blogging so rapidly that soon I may be able to shut this down for good. On the still-numerous occasions when I have something to say (noteworthiness of the said stuff is another matter entirely) I find it quite easy to brush it aside and continue living, whereas back a couple years ago I would have tried to post it asap.

Life is still on the regular, coz it's just been a few months, and nothing is gonna change THAT much. But there HAVE been changes, too much to describe in a post.

I probably wouldn't be posting for the next few days, there you go, on again, off again, because I am off to Singapore with some friends to do the OCBC Cycling Challenge. Finally, the race is here! We did not do much preparation, definitely not what is required for a competent participation in the event, but whatever light training we did should suffice in terms of getting us to the finish line.

Having wasted (omg, the final ominous signs are here, I am describing time spent blogging as wasted) 5 mins on the last few paras, I think it's time to check back out of this temporary online reprieve/pit stop of life and rejoin the main race, as I do still have a few errands to run before embarking on the trip down south.

Adios amigos.

Oh wait, just before I go, I would like to say, please take care and enjoy ur life and appreciate all those around you who love you and treat you good. Life is short, unfair and unpredictable, no matter how you try to control the controllables, sometimes it is the more powerful uncontrollables that really get you. Appreciate everyone and everything. Don't let the small stuff get in the way of the things that really matter.