Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Life-Changing



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.

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.