Sunday, March 15, 2015

Privileged Busyness

In the middle of my first term back in university, I feel like I have never been busier in my life. (Which surely can't be true, if I recall the days of my first Project Management job in Singapore when I regularly worked till midnight and on weekends.)

After working hours, there's still more work - the result of working in a global company where a large part of project communication is with colleagues and suppliers in Europe and the US. Apart from that, there's the Masters group project work -- three group presentations to prepare for, two for which I am the de facto group leader. (I naturally gravitate towards that role due to my tendency to facilitate during group discussions.)

Then there's family. I love my family. It's so great to have C and A back here at home again. I can't resist playing with A whenever he calls out "papa papa". Among all the hats I'm wearing these days, fatherhood is my favourite of all.

The speed of the passage of time feels diametrically opposite to last year. I was so bored last year I downloaded a countdown app on my iPhone to help see how it's not so long anymore till the end of the workday. This year, I arrive at the end of the workdays and wondered how the whole day could possibly have gone by already.

Busyness can cause much anxiety. This weekend, I arrived at two university group meetings guilt-ridden for being under-prepared. Yet each time, other group members share similar stories of family/work/university challenges, and are equally unprepared.

Spending time in the company of these excellent people, I was once again reassuringly reminded that mine was nowhere near the most challenging life, nor the most time-disadvantaged. It's an insightful reminder too not to be inward-looking, and to see situations in the wider context of how other people are also facing similar challenges.

I am surely still adapting to part-time graduate student life. That I am even on this journey is a most wonderful experience, for it means that once again I am learning, growing, transitioning to an even better version of myself.

It is a privilege to be here, to live this life that I live now, and for that I am truly, truly, thankful.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Higher Road

It was a demanding day at work. I had to do what's probably the least pleasant part of my job -- having to escalate project team members that aren't pulling their weight. It's nothing I've not done before, still, it's politically fraught, and despite trying to be professional, setting emotions  aside, it damages trust in the team, makes relationships thorny.

So it was a good thing that I went for a run this morning. The happy hormones kept my body loose and more relaxed while dealing with these demanding situations. At the end of the day, there's an apparent resolution, yet no doubt there will be more turbulence to come. That's the nature of the beast, so to speak. Just a natural part of the life of a project manager.

At the end of the day, having put some distance between myself and the office, taking the situation holistically to reflect, I still love my job, even the "nasty" side of it. It certainly isn't dull.

Then there's the coursework. I can hardly rest without feeling that I should be doing some reading, or researching the groupwork assignments. Free time doesn't feel free anymore, there's an urgency behind, there's something else that I should be doing. It's fascinating how the experience of time has shifted so significantly. It still is thrilling -- for now.

There are pressing matters for work, for the coursework, for the family. In that, I am no different from any of my coursemates. Despite these challenges, we are all doing this to build a better version of ourselves, to build a better future for ourselves. We are taking on one of the greatest challenges in life, and that is immensely positive and empowering.

When the day comes to an end, I might be exhausted but I feel victorious. Time will pass me by, whether I use it wisely or not. The next two years will pass me by, whether I study the EMBA or not. I have chosen the higher road, and that makes all the difference.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Awesomeness Withdrawal Symptoms

It was a marathon. Four days of intensive classes, running daily from approximately 8am to 6pm. After four days of opening my mind and ears to absorb the new information, and of mind-expanding exercises to discuss and debate various topics, to go back to work today felt like such an anti-climax.

Work was interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the past four days. Coming home after work, the silence was discomfiting. I was surrounded by coursemates virtually all day for four days and now back to this routine of going to work alone, working (most times) alone on my project, coming home alone. I was having withdrawal symptoms.

There is a lot of reading to do, and I'll see my assignment teammates this Saturday, so moping over the silence is just time wasted. I should be speeding at a 180kph like I was a month ago on the German autobahn. Instead here I was reflecting on the silence.

I put it down to exhaustion. I need a rest. Even my sleep last night was full of dreams. To take the edge off, I woke up early this morning to run and work out in the gym. I think it helped; it did leave me physically tired too though.

I like this course, I like the lecturers, I like the content, and I really like the coursemates. I like the fact that we are all going through it together, going for coffee runs for each other, looking out for each other. I feel like we are all one big team, that yes -- we each one of us have our own individual struggles -- yet collectively, we are all going through this one massive challenge in life together, and we only have each other to lean on throughout.

I may be exhausted but I am feeling victorious. There is no other way I could imagine to spend better the last four days than being in class with these very intelligent people learning all these very challenging concepts. I am privileged to live this life, to go through this heroic challenge, and to do it with such amazing people.

I think the next two years will be nothing short of awesome.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Time to be Alone

'It feels like the last weekend before the next two years", I said to C last night. 

There's a palpable sense today of a large looming journey ahead. It's the final quiet weekend before weekends fill up with classes. And once the classes begin, so will the readings, the assignments, the groupwork. It's going to be quite a ride.

And quiet it certainly is. Everyone else is away back in Asia for a Lunar New Year break. I have the house to myself for three weeks. There's certainly time for some deep contemplation. It's rather therapeutic to rest, recover, pause and think through all the events of the past several months. It has been such a manic ride ever since I flew to Zurich last Nov and came back a changed man - like a rollercoaster that kept on going and going and going, and you want to get off but at the same time, you start to feel your body has been shaken too much, you're exhausted, and you need a break.

Well, this is my time for a break. The quiet in the house is -- dare I admit it -- welcome. The time to be alone for a while, to do what I want, when I want, go whereever I want -- it's somewhat liberating. I don't really want to go anywhere, do anything other than what I've already been doing, but I can. And that's... different.

Three weeks alone in the house can be good for the soul. Perhaps it's just the right amount of break. Any more and perhaps it's not so good. But for here, for now, I shall be thankful -- even for time to be alone, for a while.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last Day of 2014

Driving to work this morning, over empty roads under the wide blue sky with occasional white fluffy clouds, I thought about what a year-end this has been. It’s my fourth year-end in Australia, and my best so far:
  • 31 Dec 2011: Still fresh in Australia, I was just starting a 12-month job contract on the other side of the city, commuting long distances, and unsure what the future held in this new continent.
  • 31 Dec 2012: At the tail end of that 12-month contract, I was under high duress due to the mega project I was managing.
  • 31 Dec 2013: Job searching after a second 12-month job contract came to a premature end due to lack of project funding.
And now here I was, end of 2014. I now have a permanent job, work that I enjoy in a company close to home. I now have a little boy at home, an actual social life and a home that has matured over the time we’ve lived there -- and there's an exciting year to look ahead to.

I might not work out as frequently as before, but I still put in an occasional session here and there. And I cook regularly now -- last night I made my first loaf of bread ever (with some help from a breadmaker). Having the permanence of a job and income takes away a lot of insecurity and transience out of the planning for the future.

I’ve had year ends in Malaysia, Singapore, Germany and Australia. And who knows where my year ends will be in time to come? If nowhere else but Australia, I would have already lived a life well-lived, experienced much... and yet there is much more to look forward to. And that’s how year-ends should be: looking back at good memories, looking forward in anticipation.

2014 has been a year filled with ups and downs – as with any year – but looking further back to when we first moved Down Under, we’ve come a really long way. There’s much to be thankful for, and surely much more in times to come.

There’s a dinner party with my family and parents and friends to bookend the year tonight, and launch us cheering and toasting into 2015. And what a year that will be: my first full-sized mega project for this company, and my MBA class starting in just under two months’ time. It is about to get really awesome. At the end of 2015, I will have some really awesome experiences to look back on. And it all begins in just a couple of hours.

It’s a “well done” for 2014; your job’s not done yet (it should be really done), let’s get ready for a Truly Awesome 2015.

Have faith, Be Brave, and Soar Away. :)

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Standing at the Edge & Peering Beyond

We only have 70, 80 of we're lucky, 90 if we're really lucky, years on this Earth. If we're lucky, we're born in one of the better countries in the world, healthcare is good so all of our health needs are met when we're young, and we grow up in a emotionally stable supportive home, where we learn to value ourselves and trust in our own abilities to engage with the world out there, and overcome any tough situations that come our way. We get a good education and then a job, find a partner we love and build a family and recreate a safe, loving, and supportive home for the little ones.

Still, we have 70 maybe 80 maybe 90 years on this Earth. How then, are we to live our lives?

We could live in the country we're born in and are familiar with and succeed within that environment. Many people have. Others move to other countries, and build another life there and thrive in that new environment. Still they have a good life, and live 70 maybe 80 maybe 90 years. 

Life, if you've noticed my repeating it, is short, and before we know it, we've gone a long way through those 70 (or 80 or 90 years). We want those years to be filled with good memories. Time well spent. A life well lived. 

But what is time well spent, a life well lived? For some it's charity, helping other human beings. For some it's to serve a religious calling far beyond the temporal lives we have for a purpose that is aligned with their beliefs of eternity.

Perhaps another not invalid way to live life is to have multiple experiences in life. Good experiences of course but also varied and deeply meaningful. Living in different countries, experiencing different worlds within this same one world, immersing oneself in completely different environments to embrace the rich varieties that different cultures and continents overflow with. 

We might not all be rich and drive million dollar cars and live in houses or even apartments with a view over Lake Zurich or Sydney Harbour, we might not even have the opportunities to ever live the neighbourhoods we were born in, but if ever the opportunity does come, I wish for all of us to have the courage and the self-trust to straighten our backs, stand, step up and reach out to hold onto that opportunity, not knowing where it will take us, but believing that no matter what happens, we will all be the better for it, because we have dared to believe in ourselves and our abilities to overcome it all.

Right now, on the plane back from Zurich to Bangkok, I don't know yet what will happen once I arrive back in Melbourne. Maybe the routine humdrum of daily life will make me forget the dreams and possibilities I've seen the last one week in Europe, maybe I will snap out of my infatuation with Zurich and Europe in general and laugh at how silly and childish I have been been to dare tell Rolf of my idea to move there in two years' time. Two years is a long time and after two months, two weeks or even two days, I might not want this dream anymore. But at least I have had this one week, where I have stood at the edge of my own universe  and peered beyond into another world, another life, another possibility for the future. And have been so enriched and filled with wonderment of the possibilities there are out there for another type of future, another type of life.

It has been a deeply meaningful week and one I would dare bet would prove to reverberate across many more years of my life to come. How thankful and blessed I am for what I have experienced these past few days and how pregnant with amazing possibilities the future now holds.

Once again, I can truly say I love my job, and I love this journey I have traveled so far; I love my life. 

Have faith, be brave. And soar. 

AC, 22 Nov 2014, Thai Airways flight TG971 from Zurich to Bangkok. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Perhaps Someday Again

Debb e-mailed me from Holland this morning. She had settled into her old job there, and she was going off soon for a 10-day trip to Greece and Turkey.

Her life now reminds me of the life I used to live in Germany. The romance of living in a foreign city in a foreign continent, the wonders of getaways to see new sights -- and yet, having now lived through it all before, I know there's also the loneliness of solo dinners, the emptiness of a tiny dark apartment in a quiet city.

I'm now a fair way away from Greece or Turkey. But Greece, Turkey, Munich, the whole of Europe -- they will always be there. I can go back anytime. 

I don't know for sure, I told Debb, but I hope I'll go there someday again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beginning of Another Journey

Running makes the week go by faster. This morning I completed my third run after a prolonged furlough. It certainly feels good to be up early, and get my body moving again. (More accurately, it feels good post-workout.)

And just like that, it’s already mid-week. Winter feels like it’s well and truly over now, with the temperature breaking 20 deg C for the next few days’ forecast. And with the higher temperature, there’s more sunshine as well, and light blue skies. The world feels changed once again.

Sitting here in the same office as the past seven months, work is still unchallenging, but I now realize the benefits of a short commute to work. It frees up a lot of time, energy and petrol money for other rewarding uses of my time, chief among them: spending more time A.

Spending more time with your kids when they’re little – add that to the list of things that most  never do enough of (others: eat healthily, exercise, save for retirement, etc). I’m trying to maximise the benefit of the hindsight of others.

Another reason to be thankful for my dull job now: after attending last night’s MBA preview talk, listening to the current students, I realized how much effort working full-time and studying part-time will require. And there probably isn’t a better job than the current one to be a backdrop to my MBA. So I’m not going to rush into a big change for now, at least till I complete the MBA program.

Less busy job + flexible work hours + easy-going boss + short commute to work + no work travel = more time for family & part-time studies

I’ve been wanting to complete a MBA program for the longest time now. Back in 2004, I started a part-time MBA course in Singapore, only to withdraw to move to Germany. Ever since then, it’s been one life change after another. Perhaps it’s finally now time to settle down, dig in, and actually do it, 9 years after I first started.

Last night, before I left home to drive to the course preview talk, I felt a tinge of excitement – and just a little bit scared. Once again, it felt like the beginning of yet another exciting journey. Can’t hardly wait. :)