#4: What was the biggest risk you took in 2018?

Link: 18 questions for an incredible review of your 2018

In these last weeks of December, I’ll be answering 18 questions for an incredible review of your 2018 that I wrote in my previous post.

I hope this series inspires you to look at your life, career, family and relationship, and to reflect and plan for an awesome 2019. Let’s go.

Question 4: What was the biggest risk you took in 2018?

“Step out of your comfort zone.” Cliche right? I can feel you rolling your eyes.

I’m advocating for this concept not as a rebellious millennials who think that stepping out of your comfort zone means travelling to somewhere in the Amazon jungle with a huge backpack. I’m advocating from a CAREER point of view.

As someone who’s interested in technology, I know how technology and artificial intelligence (AI) will soon replace most of our jobs. My academic degree and research skills might not bring me as far as they could, ten years ago.

In addition, I have a sibling who’s working extremely hard as a big data scientist. I slowly understand how this technology will soon rule the world.

Learning new skills that are beyond repetitive and administrative work are extremely important. According to Kai-Fu Lee, jobs that are in the customer service and care-taking industries will be the some of the biggest trends in the future.

Soft skills like creativity, craftsmanship and leadership are still relevant.

We can improve on things that AI cannot do, such as providing human connection and compassion.

But some people don’t think like that. They like to stay the same.

So I think, the biggest risk I took this year is to make a decision that I want to be different.

I don’t want to be refined to a small field or scope, because I think it’s not sustainable.

How about you? What was the biggest risk you took in 2018?

#3: What were the top 10 lessons you learned?

Link: 18 questions for an incredible review of your 2018

In these last weeks of December, I’ll be answering 18 questions for an incredible review of your 2018 that I wrote in my previous post.

I hope this series inspires you to look at your life, career, family and relationship, and to reflect and plan for an awesome 2019. Let’s go.

Question 3: What were the top 10 lessons you learned?

  1. Speak up for myself. If I didn’t learn to do it, I’d be somebody’s puppet, without a voice and opinion in things. You’re either on the table or on the menu. I highly recommend the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
  2. Separate reality with emotions. Worrying and panicking aren’t going to solve anything. Recalibrate my mind, focus on the task at hand and do the work. When something shitty arises, ask this, is it really difficult to solve or does it make me FEEL difficult?
  3. Be genuine and kind to people. Your new friend might be your cousin’s ex-classmate’s girlfriend. It’s a small world after all.
  4. Be grateful. Every night before I sleep, I name 3 things that I’m grateful for today. It could be a cup of dark coffee, or a random kind gesture by a stranger. This practice has eased my anxiety and made me feel lucky.
  5. Health is the most important thing. Don’t talk about goals and ambitions without a healthy body. Physically I hadn’t been feeling great this year, I need to work on this in 2019.
  6. Surround myself with more people who are smarter than me.
  7. Spend time on things that are meaningful and sustainable. I learn how to separate signals from the noise. Ain’t nobody got time for flimsy crap. 
  8. Don’t take shortcuts. Do the work. I learn that “hacks” and “shortcuts” don’t really work if you want to build something meaningful and sustainable. You have to build the foundation first.
  9. Don’t just complain about things. CHANGE IT.
  10. Accept the fact that I’m aging and that’s totally fine. This is the last year I’m in my 20s. Everybody is telling me that I should be married and having babies. My skin is sagging too. All these signs of aging are pretty intimidating but it’s okay. CHILL LAHHH.

How about you? What were the top 10 lessons you learned in 2018?

#2: What were your top 10 achievements?

Link: 18 questions for an incredible review of your 2018

In these last weeks of December, I’ll be answering 18 questions for an incredible review of your 2018 that I wrote in my previous post.

I hope that this inspires you to look at your life, career, family and relationship, and to reflect and plan for an awesome 2019. Let’s go.

Question 2: What were your top 10 achievements?

  1. Work hard in my research project and other side hustles. Hard work pays off.
  2. Know my style and taste in fashion, makeup, perfume, designs etc. This saves me a lot of money!
  3. Improve my cooking skills. There’s something therapeutic and calming about cooking and serving your family a cozy meal.
  4. Grow as much as I could, in terms of networking, learning new skills and exposure. Step out of my comfort zone all the time. Phew, that was so damn hard.
  5. Be a better thinker. Ask better questions and look for better answers.
  6. Care less about what people think, especially those who aren’t in the field or competing in the arena. They might be just projecting their insecurities on yo. Care about the opinion given by people in the arena.
  7. Create without fear. Don’t judge or second doubt myself. By creating I mean writing, finding new styles, exploring, and now, drawing.
  8. More joy. I’m generally happier this year ever since I cut out some crap and negativity in my life. This has been life-changing.
  9. Travel to my dream destinations – France and Switzerland!
  10. Feel more at peace, less stress and less anxiety. Meditation and breathing exercise are extremely helpful. I highly recommend you to give it a try!

These are not major achievements like graduating my PhD, winning a major award, giving birth or being featured at the Forbes magazine, but I do feel pretty good.

How about you? What were your top 10 achievements for 2018?

#1: What were your top 10 goals for 2018?

Link: 18 questions for an incredible review of your 2018

For the next 18 days, I’ll answer 18 questions for an incredible review of your 2018 that I wrote in my previous post.

I hope that this inspires you to look at your life, career, family and relationship, and to reflect and plan for an awesome 2019. Let’s go.

Question 1: What were your top 10 goals for 2018?

Yes I drew this. Doodling is a therapy.

1.Better planning
Be more organised. Planning is extremely important, or else you’ll waste time heading nowhere. I think I did better than I expected. After experimenting with different planning methods, like using the Google Calendar, drawing timeline in Excel and using the bullet journal system, I found a method that can organize all my to-dos and goals in one place. A good planning system has been life-changing for me in 2018.

2.Work smarter
If you’re not efficient, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, are simply not enough to finish all the tasks. With better planning, I managed to cut down unnecessary crap and failures out of my way. This is especially important for researchers like me. Working smart is equally important as working hard.

3.Always learn something new
One major habit I picked up in 2018 is I try to learn every day by listening to podcasts and reading articles. After listening to talks about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the future, I think we have to constantly evolve to adapt to the new world.

4.Write more often
I wanted to write more often to organize and express my thoughts more clearly. I find this extremely helpful in critical thinking, problem solving and random moments when I have to give an impromptu speech. Write, even when nobody reads it.

5.Know my money
I used to have no clue at all about money. I’m slightly more money-savvy now, at least I’m tracking my expenses every month now. This habit has been life-changing. No more buying lipsticks and bags impulsively. Oops.

6.Worry less
I’m a worrier. I like to worry about the worst circumstances that might never happen. Through meditation, I can feel that I’m a calmer person this year. I’m able to catch myself right before I’m about to go down the anxiety spiral and shift my attention to the positive thoughts instead.

7.Cultivate meaningful relationships
Some people just don’t belong in your life, accept it. This year I don’t want any  toxic and negative people in my life. Phew, that was hard but I’m glad that I did it. I strongly believe that you’re the average of five people around you.

8. Chill. Enjoy me time.
Didn’t really make it. I need to chill without worrying my work in the middle of the night!

9.Exercise
Oops. Didn’t do this at all. Do you exercise…?

10.Travel more
I travel every month. Maintaining a long-distance relationship is hard work, but the journey has brought me to visiting different places and meeting interesting people. It’s worth it.

Overall, I’d say I meet 70% of my goals. How about you? What were your top 10 goals for 2018?

Fish don’t know they’re in water

All these years of burning the midnight oil, leading a sedentary lifestyle and enormous stress had finally taken a toll on my body. My skin allergy never recovers and my hormones are crazy.

So I went to consult a famous traditional Chinese medicine doctor in Petaling Street. He checked my pulse and shook his head.

He asked me, “What do you do besides looking at the computer?”

“I… Erm… work.”

He asked again, “So what can you do besides looking at the computer?”

Wait, what? What does he even mean?

I mean, I can cook…? I can drive…

But I can’t sew or paint. Neither do I have any medical knowledge or survival skills.

I can take a cute selfie with a dog. Does that count?

I spend my day either driving, staring at my computer, my iPad or my phone. I don’t really know how to live my life without them.

Occasionally I will detach myself from the screens and give my mind a short break. But it usually doesn’t last long before I reach for my phone again.

Have you heard about the story of fish and water?

In the vast ocean, an old fish asks a young fish, “How’s the water?” Confused, the young fish replies, “What the hell is water?”

You don’t see the “water” you’re in. The day-to-day hustle. The habits. The passing time. The same work environment. The neglected family member. The forgotten promise.

I’m repeating my daily habitual loop that feels completely normal. Until the doctor reminds me that it isn’t.

What surrounds you is only normal because it’s what you’re used to.

That’s why we have to pause and reflect.

It is about simple awareness. Be aware of what is real and essential.

If you’re reading this blog post now, think about this, what can you do besides staring at your phone? 🤔

It’s a long game

A friend just passed her PhD viva and another friend just earned his MBA. We gathered to celebrate their incredible milestones. One of our friends said, “Gosh, I could never do that. You guys are lucky to be born smart!”

They’re lucky, or smart? Really?

Yes they are smart, but the real secret of their success is stamina. As their friends, I got to witness how much time and effort they committed into their goals.

Getting a PhD is a lonely journey filled with countless failures and rejections. She’s constantly solving problems and overcoming hurdles.

The guy who got MBA is a full-time engineer who battled with his health issues while planning for his wedding at the same time.

Learning from them and other people who I admire, I realize that it takes very little talent or IQ to accomplish anything big. Instead, what it takes are

  • resilience
  • patience
  • self-control
  • self-aware
  • courage
  • efficiency
  • and a bit of luck (when preparation meets opportunity)

I like this TED talk by Angela Duckworth. She introduced the word “grit” which means the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. According to her, grit is a better predictor of achievement than intellectual talent (IQ), because grit serves as the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to “stay the course” despite challenges and setbacks.

It’s the courage to try, fail and rise back up, again and again that makes the difference.

It’s the determination to keep going even when you are unsure of the outcome.

In fact not only professional success, personal projects such as overcoming a bad habit, maintaining a relationship, or parenting also need way more grit and effort than you’d imagine.

Case in point, recently my friend becomes a working mum. She has to juggle between her career and parenthood for the rest of her life. Imagine how much stamina that would take. Now I don’t even complain that I’m busy anymore.

By looking at the journey as a long marathon, instead of a short sprint has been really helpful. Each hurdle is just a small pebble on the road, I will rise and move on. It’s a long game.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Be the support you wish to have

My mum is in her mid-fifties but she looks much younger. I attribute her anti-aging superpower to genetics and diet, but lately I realize that she might have another superpower – my dad. In the past 30 years, my dad has been constantly telling my mum that she’s the prettiest woman in the world.

My dad has always been generous about compliments and support. Before we do something scary, like giving a speech, he’d say, “I know you can do it, you’re my smart daughter.” If we win, he’d say, “Of course you’d win, you have my genes.” If we perform poorly, he’d say, “It’s okay, I know you will nail it next time. My kids are awesome.” He’s one of the funniest person I know. He praises us in a humorous way, without being showy or inflating our ego. His optimism and support have shaped us to be quite driven and confident.

 

The world’s most handsome dad and his world’s prettiest daughter. Yes, he thinks he’s hot.

I understand that not everyone has this support system. My friend’s dad would beat her mum up and bang her head on the wall. Somebody else grew up feeling ugly and under-achieving because she’s bullied in her school. Another friend’s girlfriend always discourage him from having dinner with his friends.

Here’s the story that triggers me to write this post. A friend’s mum would scold him with harsh words and sharp voice whenever he goes against her will. He grew up feeling lonely and not understood. Guess what? As an adult, he’s equally harsh to his wife and their only child whenever they go against his will. His childhood trauma and the loneliness of not being supported led him into a vicious cycle. He’s constantly complaining about his wife who stops him from going out with friends and objects his venture to change his job. They seem pretty unhappy.

I think a lot about how the difference in our childhood and his childhood has shaped our minds.

My conclusion is this,

If you want to be happy, be kind and supportive to the people around you. 

When someone tells you how he feels, what he’s going through, or a new idea,

1. Listen. Just listen.

2. Try to understand his/her point of view. Don’t judge too quickly.

3. Think before you talk. Be open and kind.

4. Give constructive advice. Be open and kind.

5. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

What can you do if you need a support system?

1. Be open to a friend whom you trust.

2. Find your tribe, online or offline.

3. Support another person. Join a charity project.

People who perceive themselves to be supported are happier. In supporting others, you are supporting yourself.

Here’s a challenge for you: Name one person who has supported you before, and pay it forward.

A letter to my 19-year-old self

Hi 19-year-old Eve in 2008,

I’m your 29-year-old self. I guess you’ll be surprised that I didn’t become who you want me to be. You’ve always aspired to be a glamorous, fashionable, and confident woman.

At this point you’re still devastated over the breakup with your ex-boyfriend. He’s cool and fun, but he isn’t the one. Next year you will date another boy, who’s cool and fun too. Deep in your heart, you know he also isn’t the one. Your friends who question your choice of boyfriends are right. My dear, you are so young, you don’t know what you want yet.

A few years later, you’ll slowly learn what you want in a relationship. You don’t need fun boys to spend time with, you need a real man who can grow and see the world with you. Ten years later, you’ll be dating the man that you have a crush on at 19 years old.

Love yourself, girl. Know your worth. Set your standards high. Those who want to be in your life will rise up.

With Jay, 2010

Congratulations, you’re a freshman in the best university in the country. But I know you hate your life. You hate staying with a roommate. You hate your course because your brain is wired to think and analyze, not to memorize complicated molecules. You care only about shopping, hair and boys, but the people around you are nerds. You can’t fit in.

Trust me, you’ll graduate anyway. Your roommate turns out to be your best friend in the next decade.

By now, you also start joining the Buddhist Society. Yes you’ll have lots of sleepless night organizing events and running projects. But this is the best training ground to cure your stage fright, hot temper, and impatience. You get to learn from people who are patient, kind and smart.

You also learn how to meditate. This is the best decision you’ve ever made.

Remember girl, the strength of your mind determines the quality of your life.

Just out of ICU, 2011

A few years later, a rare illness will change your life forever. You need to go for medical checkups regularly. You witness life and death in the hospitals. You will experience tormenting pains. You will be bedridden for a month. You cry everyday. Life is going to be tough.

But you’re a lucky girl. With love and strong support from your family and friends, you are going to be fine. You will stay in the ICU for a few days and your parents will come to see you everyday. Your friends will fold a thousand Swan origami to pray for your recovery. Don’t worry my dear, you have enough willpower to go through all these.

Just like any other major hurdles in life, this is the most significant pivotal moment for you.

This experience gets you into thinking, if this is the last chance that you’ll live, what will you do?

You look at your 50 pairs of shoes, 20 bags and countless pairs of earrings. Are these really what you want? Are they even important? What is the purpose of this life? How can I leave my mark as a fragile mortal?

The most beautiful things in life are not materialistic things. They’re people, places, and memories.

Learning how to use my DSLR, 2014

This year you also start to blog. You’re frustrated because you can’t even write a simple blog post with proper English. And your blog looks ugly. So you start reading hundreds of books to study grammar and vocabulary. You write down every single sentence that sounds good. You stay up late at night to learn about web designs.

Honey, I thank you for that unwavering determination and passion. You continue to grow and improve over time. Now you can write, or I should say, we can write. You start writing and writing relentlessly, for work and for yourself.

Some people will define you by your job or your academic qualifications. They say you should only focus on your scientific research. They tell you you can’t do this, you can’t do that. You can’t earn a living with “passion”. You shouldn’t waste your time writing, taking photos, or doing voluntary work.

At first you’ll trust them and hide your creative self, but you’re not happy. You like to write and take photos. Soon you realize that they’re just projecting their insecurities on you. They can’t do anything that you do, because they don’t even dare to try and expand their comfort zones.

Care less about what people say. You do you.

Travelling, 2018

I know you always feel that you’re not good enough. I just want to reassure you that you’ll be fine. And I’m VERY proud of you.

With love,

Your 29-year-old Eve, 2018

Put in the work

Recently our Prime Minister Tun Mahathir caused an uproar because he feared that the Malays and Bumis couldn’t compete with 3 million Chinese from China that were expected to come to Malaysia.

He said, “If we bring in another three million people from China, what will happen to us? They are strong, able, knowledgeable in business; they come not as labourers but as successful entrepreneurs…. Can we compete with them?”

Naturally the Malaysians aren’t happy with his statement. “Are you saying that we aren’t capable? Are you saying we will lose our competitive edge?!”

Honestly, I agree with him. We can’t compete.

Outside a wholesale mall in Guangzhou. These clothes will be delivered to other cities in China or abroad. People are hustling all day.

My one-month stay in China has completely opened my eyes on what it means to work hard.

When I was young, my grandma who was raised in China always taught us that the only way we can change our lives is through hard work. That strong commitment and dedication to hustle is deeply interwoven in their DNA.

I still see this work attitude in China today. The people I met here are extremely committed to their work.

The bread shop near my apartment is open daily from 7am to 12am with the same staffs. The cosmetic shop on the same row is constantly playing loud music and welcoming customers. The fruit store on the other street is open until midnight too.

Everyone is hustling to survive in a country crowded with 1.4 billion people.

Last train of the day. Need to snap a photo for memory because the train was NEVER empty.
Anyone who has read about Elon Musk would surely be fascinated by the Tesla cars in Guangzhou showroom.
Corridors of a students’ hostel was full of clothes waiting to be dried.

My professor is a Chinese man in his 50s. One day he was explaining a science theory to me in Mandarin. Although I can speak Chinese fluently (in Malaysian’s standard), I still struggled to understand what he meant. He knew I couldn’t grasp what he said.

On the next morning, he explained the whole idea to me again, this time in full English. I’m so impressed. He must have spent the night reading about the topic, in English. He didn’t have to do this, but he did it because he’s dedicated to his work.

“In a mega crowded place like China filled with people smarter than you, the only way you can stand out is to work hard,” his words stuck with me until now.

This is why they have TenCent, WeChat, Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo… a the cutting edge technologies and convenience that we have yet to see in Malaysia. This is why they develop so quickly in the past ten years.

This experience left a major impact on my life. I always thought that I have tried and given my best. Sometimes I gave up and got intimidated by a task too early.

Now instead of giving up, I always ask myself, “Is this really the best that I can do?” Sometimes this question makes me anxious, but it also pushes me to think and take action beyond my usual comfort zone.

We ordered drinking water from this dealer. He would carry it to our apartment in the 5th floor.

You might ask, but hey, what about work-life balance? Things like art, leisure, love and all the other things are equally important too!

I don’t have an answer for that question yet. I am also finding my own balance. But from what I observe from the people in China and here in my country, I think we Malaysians are pretty good in balancing between work and life. We certainly know how to enjoy life.

What we lack is the drive and ambition to take action and move forward.

The only distance between your dreams and reality is called action.

If anything that you want to achieve takes 10,000 hours, are you willing to put in the work?

If you feel inferior, jealous or even threatened by your competitors ask yourself – have you really put in the work?

You should spend some time alone (without your phone)

In April I lived in Guangzhou, China for a month. I seldom travel solo, so this was exciting. Guangzhou is a mega city with 14.5 million people (half of Malaysia’s population).

Taking their metro was an unforgettable experience. On my first ride I was courteous and naive. I queued like a normal good citizen would, but once the train arrived at the platform, everyone was pushing forward aggressively to squeeze into the already crowded coach. I waited for two more trains before I could really board the train. Gosh.

To me, Guangzhou is way more crowded than Singapore and Beijing. The boundary between two human beings was so small that I felt my personal space invaded by strangers everyday.

The view from my balcony
Starbucks in Shamian, Guangzhou

On weekends I liked to walk around the city. One day I was walking in Zhujiang New Town looking at the beautiful Canton Tower. This is the most iconic landmark in Guangzhou. People come here to take photos with the unique building and eat at the restaurants here.

 

The iconic Canton Tower

I sat down on a bench after a long day of walking, sweating and being squeezed like a sardine. Usually I would scroll my phone, trying to feel connected to my family and friends who were miles away, and trying to feel like I’m not alone… but my phone ran out of battery.  I got nothing to distract myself.

There were thousands of people around me. I started noticing people.

A grandma was massaging her sore feet while watching her grandchild play with her own shadow – where did they visit today?

A young couple were taking selfie with the Canton Tower, the guy kissed the girl on the cheek and she smiled – are they local Chinese?

A frowning security guard was constantly checking his phone every 2 minutes – does he have an emergency?

A lady, probably Vietnamese, was sitting opposite me – did she come here to work and support her family?

A guy wearing torn jeans was chatting loudly with somebody on a video call – did he come here alone too..?

Guangdong Museum

In the three weeks in Guangzhou, all I felt was stress. Initially I struggled to adapt to the Chinese work attitude. I didn’t like the traffic, the weather and the food.

But on that evening, Guangzhou became a city full of stories. I sat there and watched people for hours, fully embracing the fact that the people are interesting, and the fact that I was indeed alone with thousands of people around me. My heart was glad that I came here alone.

I felt isolated and foreign, but free.

I am my own best friend. 

Spending time alone allows you to reboot your brain and unwind. We are constantly distracted by commitment or the needs of other people, not to mention how often we are distracted by our phones and social media. We need to attend to our deep personal needs too. Solitude gives you the space and time to refocus and discover things that you might not realize in your usual hectic life. Allowing yourself a small gap and personal space might help you to work out your problems more creatively and efficiently.

Please spend some time with yourself without feeling guilty. Your phone can wait.

When was the last time you put down your phone and really be with yourself?