Saturday, December 26, 2015

This Almost Never Happens

This almost never happens here. There's a downpour going on outside right now - the monsoon tropical downpour sort that we used to get all the time this time of the year back in Malaysia. I can hear the pitter-patter of the raindrops on the outer walls of the house, the roof, the windows as the rain makes contact and ricochets off the surfaces then forms little streamlets that run down the sides of the house and drips onto the floor. The air is cool, and aurally, it feels like we're just engulfed under a huge cacophony of a waterfall.

It evokes a sense of relief, of catharsis. My bones feel like they're jiggling along with the raindrops and my skin is cool -- not cold -- just cool, like I'm in a swimming pool. I love this sound - it's what I grew up with.

We almost never get this here. In Melbourne, the rain is usually soft gentle droplets or else violent thunderstorms that last only ten minutes or so. This downpour has been going on for a few hours, and I hope it won't stop. I like this, it evokes a sense of another place, another time.

I can't stay and dwell on this feeling though. Today I will send Mary Kueh to the airport. She's taking the 8:30am AirAsia flight back to Kuching via KL. She's been with us for just over a month now - she arrived 25 Nov. She came a stranger, she leaves a friend. It's just one month, but I'm somewhat saddened by her departure. As with MIL's leaving tomorrow as well.

Ending after ending, then next Thursday, the year will end as well. We will draw the curtains on 2015, and soon I will be another year older, the kids will be older as well. And instead of wondering what 2016 will be like, instead of asking what we are looking forward to, we will be in the midst of it, staring it in the face, engulfed in it.

This has been a good year, albeit with a somewhat anticlimatic ending. I steamed through the EMBA course - staying a course of HD scores in all eight units - delivered the largest project at work, and we welcomed the arrival of baby Ch, and we had help for a month after she arrived. It went well, and there's a lot to look back on and be thankful for. 2015 was a good year.

2016, however, doesn't look or feel as exciting. I am not as optimistic as this time last year. There's still the rest of the EMBA, sure, but it's starting to feel like the best is already behind us. There are only 4 units left followed by 2 projects, but what's that compared to 8 units this year? And at work, there are only minor projects left -- nothing of the scale I completed this year. And at home - C and the kids will stay with me until Easter (end March) and then they'll return to Malaysia to spend the bulk of the year, leaving me here alone in Melbourne.

I suppose one silver lining will be that my EMBA ends by end August already, and thereafter I can plan a massive holiday to somewhere exotic like New York, Turkey or Japan. That's something to look forward to. The other change that could happen is a potentially sudden one - a change of jobs. While it's cosy and smooth sailing at the current workplace, it's also mindnumbingly easy, I'm no longer having fun there. Time for a change, and as with any job search, well, it could all happen very quickly. But unless it's a great job in a great company, I've been through job changes before, and I'm not even excited about that anymore.

2016 is not even here yet, and yet it feels old already. Like I can see where this is going, and it's not that great. I want an awesome year, and this is now how it feels like.

Perhaps we have to get out of Melbourne, or this suburb. Move to another city, halfway across the world. Maybe I just need more holiday breaks, go away somewhere that has monsoon rain that will engulf, refresh the senses. And come back refreshed, reminded of the colours, the facets, the flavours of life out there in this big beautiful world.

This almost never happens here, it almost never happens to me. But sometime somewhere it will for me. It might not feel exciting, I might feel out of luck; for 2016 I need to make it exciting, I need to make my own luck.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

An Act of Defiance

The best reaction to disappointment is taking action, focusing on future response rather than past events, rather than replaying negative emotions.

Since yesterday morning, the setback has been replaying in my mind, slowing me down, wreaking all sorts of havoc and creating gross inefficiencies: inability to focus on my MBA project work, not very productive at housework or pretty much anything at all. Being preoccupied mentally and emotionally in a setback can sap one's energy and vim -- and shadows of lethargy and depression begin to emerge.

After much grieving and and breaking down of words said and recent sequence of events, this morning I began to put together an action plan. I'd been asked to speak next to a higher level manager. This will be my opportunity to set right the conversation and communication, and make my pitch for a grand vision of the strategy for the future growth of the region. And how I will fit into that grand vision of things to come.

I sent out a meeting invitation to the manager, and jotted down my thoughts and graphics over two pages of my notebook, practiced my speech verbally.

Taking action focuses the mind on the solution, opens up new and novel possibilities to respond to the situation, allows me to craft the conversation and drive towards a vision of positive outcomes. 

It is an act of defiance -- of refusal to succumb to the situation.
It is an act of self-empowerment, of taking charge of the situation, and taking control of myself.
It is a mark of resilience -- of standing firm in the face of tough headwinds.

From this setback, I will refuse to lay low and wallow.
From this setback, my wisdom and tenacity will grow.
From this setback, I will survive, I will overcome, and I will conquer.
From this setback, I will become stronger.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Anatomy of a Disappointment

Up till this morning, I was still looking forward to the upcoming grand adventure. Although the deal was not yet done, the chances had looked really good, especially after last Monday's discussion with Zurich.

Today, after days of waiting for more news, I checked back with local management -- only to find that the last discussions had taken an abrupt turn for the worse: during a meeting of the managers, there was a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth, and that has resulted in the overseas posting being much more uncertain.

R said to me today that he felt like a fool, and he sounded apologetic that I'd been caught in the middle of "all these political games".

From a probability level of 80%, it has now dropped to a 40% level, or perhaps much lower. This time, the deal is not dead yet, but I'm already on the bottom of this emotional roller-coaster. The mood at home is now much more sombre; my energy level sapped.

It's difficult to avoid getting caught up in emotional turbulence in times like these. The good of it is that I'm even getting close to grand opportunities like these, and that there has been such strong reactions from management.

Attracting levels of controversy such as these mean that these are movements that matter, not merely trivial unimportant events. There are lessons that I can and will draw from this episode, new insights emerging as I reflect on them over the next days, weeks.

There won't be any final answers anytime soon, and that only means more uncertainty. It's no fun to live with uncertainties such as these (see The Torture of Waiting, 24 Nov 2004). It's also critical to avoid turning despondent.

Nothing is broken, I've not lost anything I already had -- this disappointment is over the failure of gaining something that was never mine to begin with.

If it does happen, it would be a bonus, if not, I'll get on with my life, work hard in my MBA and other opportunities will come my way.

I've had twists and turns in my life, emotional highs and lows, and this is just another one of those. It's neither surprising nor unusual -- just disappointing nonetheless.

I've been through sharp disappointments before, this is hardly new territory. Only this time, I've had my whole family involved. I'll need to shelter them much more from the vagaries of the corporate world and all these areas outside my circle of influence.

I'll recover shortly, for now, there are the five stages of grief I have to go through. And then I'll pivot pivot pivot and focus on the next window of opportunity...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Another Grand Adventure

13 September 2015, Sunday. It's just under a week since that video-conference last Monday with R in Zurich. I didn't know what to expect. I spoke to R regularly, usually monthly about a variety of work issues. So I thought it would be some work or project questions he might want to ask me.

Instead, he asked me The Question. I think I gave a cautiously optimistic answer. It was brief - maybe 10 minutes, maybe 15. There wasn't much to tell at that point, all he needed was an indicative answer, and the details were going to follow.

Once the meeting was over, I was in a tizzy. I phoned C but she didn't answer. Then I phoned Pa Ma. They were as surprised/shocked as I was. And then it was a 48-hour session of discussions -- with C, with P in Boston, with the university. Only 48 hours and then I was back on the line with R again. He'd ask me to take a week to consider. I couldn't wait - so I told him after 48 hours: the answer was Yes.

Yes to moving to yet another country with yet another foreign language, culture, tradition, festivals, people... Yes to another yet another brand new adventure in a brand new land, a brand new sunrise, a brand new us, a brand new me.

I woke up this morning still in excited anticipation of what was about to come. It's just under a week, and I've made it clear that it's a move that'll only happen nine months later, but already the anticipation alone is worth the decision.

Another grand adventure is about to begin...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


It’s now the last few hours of the last day of the first half of 2015. It’s been an amazing half-year, looking back, I am instantly filled with awe and wonder. Awe, wonder, and gratitude for the amazing journey that I’ve been so privileged to have undertaken.

It was filled with hard work and has culminated in a string of life-changing moments in the past weeks in the three areas of my life that have been most important to me.

At work, my largest project went live last Thursday and it has been running smoothly ever since. I told my Boston colleague how on the first day, I'd run the machines and delivered the first parcels produced myself, how it felt like delivering my own baby. The production line will add millions of revenue to the factory. It's a big deal, not just for me, but for the future of the plant in Australia. And it feels damn good to be the project manager who delivered it.

Back at school for the past half year, I'd struggled and often felt overwhelmed, but last Saturday, I woke up to news that I'd earned High Distinctions for the third and fourth subjects -- making it a four HDs out of four subjects so far (80, 80, 84, 88). One lecturer had surreptitiously told me that I earned the highest marks in her class. It's a major confidence booster, and a major validation of my own capability, my limits, and my identity.

And finally at home, C and A have been away back in Asia for the past two weeks. They've had a good break in sunnier warmer weather, and by end of this year, little A will have a baby sister.

It's been the most amazing experience, and it's been nicely capped off by these wonderful achievements. It's been a good half year, it's definitely changed me forever, exorcised many ghosts of failures past, given me a springboard to aim higher, go further and be a lot braver for the next half of the year.

I am regaining faith, I am regaining strength, it is now time to soar. Are you ready? Let us begin...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Going Live

Today, we had a project launch. It’s the biggest project I’ve completed since I moved Down Under. (I ran one other larger project but my contract ran out before the end of that project.)

I spent a lot of time in the production line today, running the machines myself (under the instruction of the operator), packing the final product, then sending them off to the conveyor belt that brought the packs to the shipping containers.

It’s good to finally complete a big project after all this while. It’s satisfying. When, at the end of this long day, I sent out an e-mail announcing the first products shipped out, it was the culmination of over half a year of hard work. It’s a high point in my career, certainly a high point of my time thus far in Australia. 

I don’t know how much longer I’ll remain a project manager – perhaps a year or so more and then perhaps that will be end of almost 15 years of that part of my life. It’s good to savour the achievements now, celebrate the successes. There will be a time when I will stand aside and have other responsibilities, and I will miss the thrill of running projects.

It’s been a long day at work, it’s been a long few weeks and months preparing this line. It’s dark and cold in the midst of winter, I am exhausted, and there’s still uni statistics exercises to work on. But just for a brief moment in the middle of a very challenging year, it’s certainly a wonderful wonderful feeling to be able to declare that, at least for this part of the journey, we have arrived. 

And deep in my heart, there is a quiet certainty that this is just the beginning: there will be many many more such moments to come.

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.