Fragmented thoughts of a fragmented mind

31 Dec 2013

Looking back at 2013

For the past five years I have been writing looking back in year posts, one of those things which I decided to do and I don’t realize the actual value until much later.

People don’t like to admit this, but we are forgetful. We tend to remember things in extremes, either the painful moments or the joyous ones, forgetting that it is the mundane that fills up most of our lives.

Reading last year’s post which spanned two years, it made me smile to recall that 2011 was the year when I started to be more conscious about my diet and learned to make my bed, while 2012 was the year when I learned to smile at strangers.

The small, daily behavioral changes have the biggest impact on my life, I would say. With grand moments come euphoria, but having daily moments of joy builds up an inner, flowing well of strength and centeredness.

Finding an anchor

2011 and 2012 were tremendously life-changing years for me, filled with rollercoaster moments of joy and heartbreak, but I was going through so much that I hardly have the space to be conscious about what I want to do and where I want to be. I had to go along wherever that rollercoaster wanted to take me and adjust my sails according to the winds that are blowing. I lived in limbo and out of a suitcase. I didn’t even know where was that suitcase going to end up eventually.

My suitcase finally had a chance to be kept in a real wardrobe this year, as I finally moved to SF the end of last year. For the first time in the past couple of years, I had somewhere to return to.

Having a wardrobe is a luxury. I loved being able to purchase bedspreads and kitchenware after a year when I couldn’t have anything at all because that would mean a heavier suitcase. I am relatively minimalist when it comes to having material possessions, but I do like having a great pillow to sleep on which I can call my own.

The beginning of an end

After all that uncertainty I was ready to fall into a steady routine – I was working remotely for a year and I couldn’t wait to be in the same location as my team at simplehoney. I would devote the next few years to nothing else but building this startup.

Or so I thought.

It would be just a few months before simplehoney got acquired. I learned that making a product people love is not enough. For the first time I had something I worked on featured on the appstore, and I experienced what it felt like to receive users’ feedback declaring their love.

I was extremely grateful for that experience, it changed the way I thought about how I design and how I want design to be. Being the sole designer of an early stage startup was an incredible learning experience. It was a heavy weight to bear, but a weight worth bearing with the right product and team.

A door opens

One door closes and another door opens. Somehow the door to working at Medium started to open and I ran through that door as though my life depended on it. I had thought I lost that opportunity for good two years ago, but someone told me that life is long.

It was the first time I had to work with a much bigger team I have been used to my entire career. I spent a significant number of years working independently remotely, followed by working with a small team at an early stage startup, so learning to communicate cohesively with 40+ people was a huge learning curve for me. Previously, all I had to do was to explain myself to one or a couple more people, or being a visual designer much earlier in my career I could simply let the work do the talking. It was particularly challenging, especially because I was so introverted and I barely dug myself out of my own shell just a few years ago.

But I took it on anyway, not without fear. I hope if I let my love for the product take priority over everything else, including my fears, things will fall naturally into place.

Working at Medium for me is not just any other job. To work on a product which serves to bring the energy of words to people is an once in a lifetime privilege. I thought so six months ago when I first joined Medium, and six months later today I still feel as strongly about it, if not more.

Maximizing privilege

I constantly think about how I can maximize my privilege. It is already a privilege to win the ovarian lottery. I think about people being born places where liberty of any form is not a given, so despite my persistent grumblings about being born in Singapore I am still grateful to be born in a place where I can still lead a self-determined life, to an extent.

So when I am given the privilege to live in one of the world’s best cities and work with one of the best teams on a product I deeply believe in, it becomes an obligation to me to start thinking seriously about how I can be at my best.

No amount of will can sustain a body’s capacity to be at optimal levels. The body doesn’t naturally stay at its best, we have to work hard at it. 2013 became the year when I started to be a lot more conscious about the things I choose to do.

I established a strict sleeping pattern, I do not go to bed later than 11pm and I wake up without an alarm around 7am. I try to restrict my carb intake and allow myself only one coffee in the morning. I swim 20 laps twice a week, which is no big deal for people who run everyday but I’ve resisted the idea of exercise all my life so to have a consistent exercise pattern is a mini-miracle. I read for at least 30 minutes everyday, remembering that reading is like compounding interest for knowledge, according to Warren Buffett. I have reached my goal of reading 50 books the past year. I have gone through years when I barely managed 10 despite my love for reading, last year I managed 37 so 50 seems like a good number.

This year I have made a conscious decision to write even more than I used to, or at least establish a regular writing pattern. One morning per weekend, I sit in front of a screen, mostly not knowing that I am going to write, except that I would write whatever that comes to my heart and mind. I have written on Medium a lot more since I started not to pay so much attention to the stats. That is to ensure I remain authentic to my own writing, and plenty of times being authentic doesn’t equate to resonance. I still maintain that I would rather a small group of people finding real value in my writing – I write to find deeper connections across screens, not to make everybody understand me.

On a deeper level

I have also learned to mediate for the first time, thanks to a Medium retreat. For the longest time I believed I will not be able to meditate because my mind wouldn’t shut up, until I learned that meditation is simply a time and space to be aware of what I think. I have had a ton of insights (mostly about my own behavior) since I have started meditating.

It is also this year when I evolved my own view of romantic relationships. It is very empowering to understand that I don’t need to have someone sharing my life. The key word is, “need”. Needing a relationship was somewhat egoistical for me. I was emotionally insecure and wanted to feel needed as if to prove my existence was worthwhile. I wanted to have someone understand me, connect with me, only to learn that I cannot even fully connect with myself, much less someone else.

I finally understood what it means to truly appreciate my own existence. It is still an on-going process somewhat, to not only be comfortable in my own shoes but to love wearing them. More importantly, I do not wish for anybody to buy me those shoes. I was only daring to wear shoes people thought I could wear, forgetting that I can make them myself. In fact, I discovered that I could own multiple pairs of shoes and determine when I want to wear them.

Through my own personal evolution I am also starting to grapple with thoughts on creating sustainable change. This year I cannot help but keep on thinking that indignation and outrage on social issues can only go so far, whereas true sustainable change needs to occur at a much slower rate, grounded by empathy and an understanding of tradeoffs. How we frame problems can create a whole world of difference. I am still trying to distill my thoughts on this, but to give an analogy at a much smaller scale – wanting to work out because of an unhealthy body image versus because it gives you better energy; in one scenario we are almost fighting with ourselves, in the other scenario we are trying to better ourselves.

The year that gave me rain

Life will always have its challenges but what truly matters is the intrinsic motivation for living. I cannot control my external circumstances but I can have power over my own will to give my all.

Power over my own will, that is the theme for 2013 for me and will be continuing into 2014. With every conscious decision to live better and learn more, I learn to exercise my willpower muscle. Having will is not given, as many bestselling books can tell you. Through making conscious decisions I have been trying to build resilience, or what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls Anti-fragility. With physical strength comes mental strength, with mental strength comes inner strength. With inner strength comes the will to endure challenges and energy to maximize opportunities. The world can give us rain, but we still have to do the hard work of planting the seeds and growing the harvest.

2013 was the year the world gave me rain and I tried to plant some seeds, 2014 will be the year I will hope to plant more seeds and try growing what I have planted. In a year’s time here, I hope to be sharing with you, how it all went.

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