Chinese New Year reflections

Untitled-1This year, I turn 25, which means that according to the Lunar calendar, I am turning 26 years old in the Year of the Dog. Over the past few years, with the rise of YouTube and social media, I’ve seen plenty of memes and viral videos that talk about nosy Chinese aunties and uncles who only have the same few questions to ask every year (of which most are unpleasant). I’ve never really been able to relate to them because I was raised in a strict Asian household (think no-boyfriend-till-you-start-working kind of strict), but now that I’m actually working and living on my own, these questions seem to have taken a life of its own, and are quite literally the only thing I’ve been hearing over the past few years. That, coupled with the fact that I’m home again has given me plenty of time and space to reflect on how everything, including myself, have changed.

1) “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” – Kylo Ren

Being home has always evoked a deep sense of nostalgia in me, and I start reminiscing on the good and the bad every time I’m here. There are certain corners of the city that bring back vivid memories, and some tastes and sounds take me back to a part of my life I try hard to suppress. For some reason, these memories don’t bother me in the slightest when I’m home in PJ, but every time I’m in Kuching, it’s like a floodgate of unpleasant memories have opened up, crushing me under its sheer weight. This trip back home has seen my past come back to haunt me in many ways; taking the shape of an ex, a bad childhood memory, and love lost. Through all that, Kylo Ren’s words keep echoing in my mind, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” It’s during these times that I realise one thing: that I have enabled my life in PJ to become my only escape from these bitter memories.

2) Everyone’s going to have something to say

When I was growing up, my metabolism was amazing, and no matter how much I ate, I never grew much, except in height. Every Chinese New Year, I’d meet relatives who fly in from different parts of the world, who look at me in disbelief and ask questions like, “why are you so skinny? Do you not eat?” or even those going as far as saying, “You look so unhealthy. Skinny is not pretty.” I never let that affect me too much growing up, because I knew I couldn’t do much about it. When I was in university, I brought up the topic of going to the gym to my mum and she even asked, “Why, so you can lose more weight? As if you aren’t skinny enough already.” After more than just a few futile attempts of convincing her that it wasn’t to lose weight, I gave up and went to the gym anyway.

Ever since I moved to KL though, my lifestyle has become more and more sedentary. Working at an advertising agency (in the field of social media, no less), is crazy – the hours are long and you hardly get any time to take care of yourself. Some nights, I work till midnight working on pitches, and mealtimes are irregular, to say the least. On weekends, I work on freelance projects to earn some extra income, so this has resulted in me putting on a couple of pounds in the last few years. This trip home, all I’ve been hearing is, “You’ve gotten fatter” and “Don’t you control what you eat?” Through all this, I’ve learned that family is, and always will be, the most insensitive people; your harshest critics. I’m trying to not be fazed by this, because people will always see what they want to see, and you know yourself best – no one has the right to make you feel inferior without your permission.

3) Everything I thought I knew was wrong

I’ve been living with my boyfriend for the past year or so, and suffice to say, we’re almost like a married couple now. Truth be told, I have never imagined our relationship to head anywhere else but marriage, but with the sudden influx of “when is it your turn to get married” questions from our relatives, it’s made me ponder about whether or not marriage is right for me, and how I’m expected to know if he’s the man I should spend my life with. You see, I grew up in a less-than-conventional household, where my parents have always been at odds with each other ever since I was born. They separated when I was 13, and have never really been able to patch things up for long, even up till today. Although I grew up feeling resentful of this, I always had a vision of marriage that was untainted and pure – until I came home this Chinese New Year. Observing my family through a different, more grown-up lens has opened up more questions about marriage and relationships than I’d hoped to have, and I hope to be able to regain clarity soon. Where Yang and I will be headed to next in our relationship? I don’t really know, but only time will tell.

4) It is entirely possible to outgrow your hometown

I’m not sure if this is a symptom of living in a small town, but being out of Kuching has made me realise how much I’ve changed – I no longer want to indulge in discussing about people and what they’re up to, and instead, I value the friends who are willing to spend their time talking about the more insightful things in life; like religion, and life’s purpose. I’ve also learned that you can take the girl out of the high school drama, but you can never take the high school drama out of the girl – because all I’ve been hearing over the past few “catch-up” sessions is third (and even fourth)-hand information about people’s private lives. I’ve also realised how different I am today compared to the person I was two years ago; my outlook on life has changed drastically, and the experiences I’ve gathered over the past two years has moulded me into an entirely different person from who my parents were when they were my age. To a certain extent, I feel like I’ve outgrown my hometown, and I feel like an awkward outsider every time I’m home.

5) Some things never change

That being said, the one thing that keeps me coming home is the few friends and family I hold near and dear to my heart – the ones who were there when I was sick and suffering, and during the happiest times of my life. They are the people who keep me sane in this sleepy breakfast town.

 

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Why New Year’s resolutions are important

GCGP9478 (4)I know I’m about a month late, but here goes.

Recently, because of the New Year, I’ve been seeing divisive statements made on social media about New Year’s resolutions. Some people say they don’t believe in them, but there are others out there, like me, who try to keep to a list of resolutions every year. I’ve never really taken time to reflect on why I believe so strongly in them, but after going through a whole round of goal-setting and performance reviews at where I work, I started to realise why.

Large, established organisations like mine have a structured performance review system set for their employees so that the latter are constantly engaged and motivated to do better. These goals aim to give the employees clear KPIs so that organisations are able to evaluate if employees are doing well enough to get a promotion, a hefty pay raise, and/or even a big year-end bonus.

I can’t speak for other companies, but how it works where I am is that at the beginning of every year, we set clear goals that we want to achieve by the end of the year, something that is abbreviated as SMART; meaning they need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-limited.

This essentially means that we need to ensure that we outline our goals and ensure to be as specific and realistic with them as possible, giving ourselves a deadline to achieve it. Where I work, our SMART goals can be as personal as losing 5kg by the end of the year, to winning at least three pitches, and even something as life-changing as getting a promotion – so as long as you are serious about working towards it.

At the end of the year, our supervisor goes through this list of goals together with us, giving us feedback about our performance and letting us know the ways in which we can improve. Having an organisation that is invested in your personal as well as professional growth also means that there is someone monitoring every goal you set, and that your managers are there to keep you on the right track.

If this works for multinational organisations with structured hierarchies, I believe this system works for individuals as well. Every year, I set extremely clear goals for myself that I know I need to achieve by the end of the year, and so far it has worked in my favour.

For instance, when I was in university, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to graduate with first-class honours. Although there were many incidences when I felt like I wanted to give up and stop putting in so much effort, I persevered anyway and managed to achieve my goal, because I had people who were monitoring my progress, ensuring that I got to where I wanted to be.

You see, having a set list of goals that you want to achieve works because it serves as a daily reminder that every day is an opportunity to learn and better yourself. It gives you an end goal, but the reality is – it never really ends. Once the year ends and a new one begins, it signals another round of goal-setting, “leveling up” once again.

It doesn’t just teach you to be ambitious, it also teaches you that once you’ve reached your target, it’s time to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. Every goal is a milestone, and sometimes, we’re too caught up in the rat race that we forget to stop and remind ourselves that what we’re doing is noteworthy, that we’re making good strides.

That’s also why the end of year is a time for reflection for most of us; a time when we look back at the year that has passed, the milestones we’ve achieved, those we haven’t, and how we can improve on them.

New Year’s resolutions don’t really end. It is a continuous process that requires diligence and accountability. Of course, things happen and sometimes, things take a turn for the worse, but for the most part, resolutions are the reminders we need throughout the year to keep ourselves in the right mindset and attitude towards growth.

Passion is overrated. Here’s why.

IMG_E7280It’s January, which means it’s the start of a new year – it also means a clean slate, being able to start afresh, with new resolutions and aspirations in tow. In 2017, I created many great memories, and some not-so-pleasant ones, but most importantly, I carried one very important lesson with me: passion is overrated.

I used to be a strong believer in doing what you’re passionate about, because that would instantly mean you’d never have to work a day in your life – or that’s what I thought. I was sorely mistaken. A year into the life of a working adult, and I quickly realised that being overly fixated on passion means you are limiting your own potential, inhibiting the discovery of strengths and weaknesses you did not know you possess.

I left my first job because I wanted to pursue my passion, and that was writing. Writing used to fill me with such optimism and comfort, and I used to believe it was an act of service, being able to weave words together that people could easily relate to. Simply put, it was my way of connecting with others. When I finally got a job as a writer, I was extremely excited, until I quickly realised it wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be.

There were many factors that made me believe it wasn’t the right place for me – and I was right on all counts, but I will not divulge too much about that. The opportunity then came for me to return to my previous company, with a small writing role, on top of other mandated tasks. Fast forward a few months later, and now, I have been entrusted with responsibilities I did not know I could shoulder, and that’s only because superiors saw something in me that I didn’t.

If I had been so persistent about only doing what I was passionate about, I would have been very narrow-minded, rendering myself incapable of exploring tasks that were way out of my comfort zone. I definitely would not have discovered certain strengths and weaknesses in carrying out these tasks as well.

If I had chosen to brave through the misery of working in a lousy work environment for the sake of passion, my mental health would have suffered – and I would not truly understand the feeling of having a good team and supportive bosses behind me.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do what you’re passionate about. What I’m saying is that there is no value in being obsessed with passion. If you are so fixated on the idea of only doing what you’re passionate about, you then limit yourself from learning and trying out new things.

Over the past year, I’ve learnt that there are many ways your passion can manifest – whether it is at home, over the weekends, or as side jobs. For instance, one of my main job roles now is to work on content strategy for various brands, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing completely. To ensure my soul is constantly nourished, I am still a freelance writer on the side, and I intend to continue writing, for both myself, and my blog.

This year, in 2018, I have made a vow not to let what I think is my passion get in the way of learning new things, both about myself, and the world around me. This, then, means I choose to be bold, to always do things that scare me, because that’s how one truly grows.

The importance of a good home

photo_2017-10-25_16-13-14In all honesty, I’ve never been one to dwell on my living conditions, for a very simple reason – they’ve never been that dire anyway. It wasn’t until I was left with no choice but to move out and find a place of my own, did I realise that it’s not all that easy to find an affordable house you can call a home, especially not in the city.

Faced with more than just a few options, I had a big dilemma ahead of me when I plotted my move in 2016 – and I settled for the cheaper option. Granted, the “cheaper” option meant staying in a 400 sq ft studio apartment that’s so new it was still under construction and lacking Wi-Fi connectivity, but that didn’t matter to me at my first job. All I wanted to do was to save back on a couple of hundred bucks every month.

Of course, when my parents came to visit, they were appalled, to say the least. “How can you live here?” they asked. I always told them they were overreacting. Sure, the hallways are a little dim and the walls are painted grey, but that’s the decorator’s attempt at being edgy and futuristic. Nothing was leaking, and it wasn’t like there was mould on the walls.

I did not suspect that anything was amiss about this place – I could live in it, and that was all I needed. What I didn’t realise was that it wasn’t a place I could come home to every day to relax and unwind. Having no Wi-Fi connectivity meant I needed to rely on my 4G internet, which was capped off at a particular quota every month. What’s worse was that connectivity was poor on the 30th floor of my condo, which made working from home an impossible task. What a waste of my work-from-home benefits! There were no means of entertainment, and cooking meals was an uphill battle because of the limited space and amenities.

I lived like this for a year – until it was time for my contract period to end, and we decided to move out and find a new home. Market rates for studio apartments in Petaling Jaya are now going for RM1,500 a month, and it took a lot for me to come to terms with that fact. It helped that I got my first pay raise – and I could, then, afford about RM1,000 a month in bills and rent.

But what did I get for paying an additional RM250 in rent? Reduced electricity and water rates, a swimming pool, gym, access cards, better security, and added comfort that I never had in my previous condo. Although I am still staying in a studio apartment, it’s a corner lot that’s over 500 sq ft, has great ventilation, and two stove tops that make cooking such a joy. Now, I get to make home-cooked meals every night, and enjoy the cool, night breeze with a view overlooking the city that’s hard to beat – and I’ve never felt more positive!

“Live within your means.”

What makes a good work environment?

2017-10-01 20.42.21I’ve been in and out of three organisations over the past year or so (including my internship), and I’m not saying I’m proud of it – but I’ve learned a great deal. My very first full-time job was at an advertising agency as a social media manager. My client was a major airline brand in the country. In all honesty, it was a difficult job. I left the office late every weeknight, and during weekends, I was on standby, waiting for the next big crisis to happen. It was as if I did not have a peace of mind – every time I wanted to go out, a PR crisis broke out – and I had to be one of the first responders at all times. It came to a point where crises happened so often that I had to bring my laptop out with me even when I was watching a movie at a mall, and nights were spent worrying about another crisis erupting. It did not help that social media management was not what I had intended to do – I had a dream of becoming a writer, but I did very little writing in this role. I expressed to my immediate manager that I wanted to write more, but my request fell on deaf ears. I had no choice but to resign.

Even then, I managed to maintain a great relationship with the people there, including the man who recognised my work ethic and ability to deliver – my Managing Director. Once there was a writer’s position open, he called me immediately. I said yes, without hesitation.

A supportive team

Through all the adversity I endured during my stint at my first job, I felt pressured – but I always knew I had a dependable team. My team members consisted of a group of strong, independent women who were far from selfish and self-centred. Every time I struggled with something, they went above and beyond to lend a helping hand. When I was on leave, they made sure I enjoyed my leave days to the fullest and tried not to bother me – even if that meant they had to put in extra hours to make up for it.

A boss that recognises you based on meritocracy

This may sound like a no-brainer – but I do not like nepotism, favouritism, and corruption, even if I am on the positive end of it. I feel extremely guilty if I am put in a position where I am being favoured because of my ability to shine my bosses’ shoes. I would much rather get by through meritocracy and by virtue of the work that I produce. At my first job, I was liked and well-remembered not because I kissed up to my bosses, but because I strived for what I wanted – and that was growth. It took me three months to be well-adjusted to my colleagues and bosses. Prior to that, I was quiet and timid, and I worked without trying to socialise with my colleagues. I thought, by then, that I was a lost cause, and would never get anywhere – but in fact, it ended much differently. In that short period of time, I was recognised for the quality of work I put in, and even though I did not make much of an effort to start conversations with my colleagues, they respected me and welcomed me with open arms, no matter how long it took for me to warm myself up to them. For that, I am eternally grateful.

A boss who truly cares about you

It is common to hear things like, “the company cares about you” from your bosses. All my bosses have said the same. I’ve always been cynical, and never believed it to be true. My first boss did not use his words to convince me, but his actions did all the talking. How many of us have bosses who would stay back a little later each day to have conversations with his employees? How many of us have bosses who are genuinely concerned when they ask you how you’re doing? How many of us have bosses that would do anything to keep an employee from leaving? My first boss did just that.

I know of bosses who take resignation as a personal vendetta against them, believing that the world is always out to get them – but sometimes, resignation is a personal conflict, and has nothing to do with the company. Yet, they take it to heart and say nasty things like, “you’re going to regret this someday”. I have experienced bosses from two different spectrums, but guess which one of them gained (and retained) my trust and loyalty?

The work you’re doing is meaningful to you

I’ve always wanted to write for a living. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you just that. Many people ask me why I would go back to an organisation that made life difficult for me during the time I was there – but I always answer the same thing: that I am returning because I would much rather slog for hours in a healthy, positive environment, than enjoy a fair work-life balance at a place I feel absolutely miserable in. At the end of the day, which struggle can you justify? Which job is worth the sacrifice? My answer is not difficult to guess.

Your needs are acknowledged and recognised

In one of my jobs, I was severely underpaid, yet, I was expected to bring a certain level of expertise to the table. I expressed to my immediate manager then that I was in dire need of a pay raise – I had been working for a while now, and I was doing a lot more than the average employee at that company. Yet, my needs were neither acknowledged, nor recognised. My requests were met with vague responses such as, “We will see”, “Maybe”, and “Umm…”. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was being taken advantage of, because other people were getting increments in salary – people who were particularly good at polishing the bosses’ shoes (figuratively, but who even knows?). When I was offered a new position after that, I was adamant on getting a pay raise, and because the hiring manager saw that I had the skills and expertise needed to justify it, I received the raise I wanted (and deserved).

No work environment is perfect, and I am living proof of that. I’ve been in and about, up and around – but I think I’ve got it now – a position I’m happy in, that pays relatively well, that is more empowering than it is demoralising. Things are only looking up from here, and I sincerely hope that everyone gets to experience the same. We spend at least 8 hours at work daily, so why not make sure it’s the best damn 8 hours you’ll spend every day?

Adulthood

2015-01-11-10-58-08-1.jpgYou’d think that in your mid-twenties, you’d have it all figured out – your career, your finances, your life… But you don’t. It’s only when you’re blowing the candles on your 24th birthday cake that you realise – you haven’t done anything you can be proud of. My life has whizzed by before me, and I am struggling to find where it went. I used to have big dreams and ambitions, but that’s before life got in the way. Commitments. Work. Self-doubt.

I used to be so sure of what I wanted to do – I prided myself in being the most self-assured person I know. All that changed when I stepped into the world of adulthood and realised that nobody truly cares about your dreams and ambitions but yourself. You get thrown into doing things that have no meaning behind them – and every day, you question why you’re doing it, why you’re sacrificing your entire life for something that brings little to no meaning to anyone.

Is it for the money? That can’t be, I’m not earning all that much anyway.

Is it out of love of the industry? Nah, I’ve seen that it can be cruel. It eats people up, inside out. Including myself.

I over-glamourised adulthood. 10 years ago, I was desperate to grow up – to gain financial independence and live life the way I wanted it to – but I never realised that the harsh realities of life keep you from doing just that. Sometimes, there’s no one to blame but yourself. You overthink things, and that gets in the way of your success. Crippling self-doubt seeps in, and you quickly realise that maybe you’re not cut out for this after all. Aren’t there people out there more deserving of your dreams? I’m sure there are. Sometimes, I am so sure about my convictions that nothing anyone says can make me falter. Months down the road, I realise I was wrong all along, my decisions were misguided, I was impulsive, I made the wrong choice – and that ruins me.

I’ve been blessed with an incredible support system, something I know many millennials lack today. Yet, it is an internal struggle every day – is this where I want to be? What lies ahead of me? Am I good enough for this?

I guess I’ll never know.

An introvert’s guide to having a live-in (and working!) partner

2017-10-01 12.57.22If you’ve been following my blog, you would know that at one point in my short life, I was in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend. Fast forward a year later, and here we are – living together in a city, once foreign, that has become our home.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’d also know that I am extremely introverted. It takes me longer than the average person to warm up to someone, but once I am comfortable, I am a completely different person.

In all honesty, after that bout of long-distance, I wished nothing more than to close the gap between him and I. I guess I got my wish when we both decided to pursue different career paths in this city – him in the field of coaching and development, and me in the advertising industry.

As someone who deeply values time alone, it was a drastic shift – from doing everything on my own and for myself, to having to do things together; to take another person’s needs into consideration. Thankfully, Yang is a creature of compromise, so I’ve been the more difficult one in this relationship.

When I was working at an agency, it was difficult to make time for him. Weeknights were spent in the office, and weekends were spent hunching over my computer, working from home.

That all changed when I decided to take up a job at the organisation he is working in, but as a writer. Now, I had to face him 24/7. It didn’t help that we had similar skills, so that meant that we had to work in similar capacities. There was a huge overlap in roles. What little time I had alone at work to focus on building myself, had become a place for my relationship as well.

It was then that I truly understood why two people who are in a relationship are discouraged from working with each other. It was difficult not to bring work into our relationship, and carry our emotions from our relationship into the workplace. I had to constantly see him, and time together was very much devalued – and reduced to a working relationship, even at home. I could not even find the capacity to grow – and I felt like I was constantly being held back by a weight that was pulling me down.

I made the decision to back out of this toxic environment, and work on my career in a separate space. I feel much more liberated now, but it gave me a chance to reflect on my three short months having to be around Yang all day, every day. I’m not saying nothing good came out of it – but now, I truly understand the meaning of giving and receiving space as a couple. I used to think spending all my time with him would be the most ideal situation in my relationship – but I realised that it’s not about quantity, but quality.

Next month, I will be beginning a new journey at the advertising agency where I began my career – and I am absolutely thrilled that I was given the opportunity to start anew, thanks to my supportive boss (more on that later), but I digress.

The whole point of this post is to remind myself of the things I did throughout the three months we spent every waking (and sleeping) hour together, in an attempt to keep the relationship fresh and interesting; tips for the future I will need to pull out of my magician’s hat should I ever need it again someday. They’re quite likely all cliches, but sometimes, it’s the cliches we tend to overlook.

Compromise

Relationships are give and take, even more so when you’re living with each other. Chores are split in between us, and bills – especially so. We’re like two complementary cogs in a machine – when he sweeps and mops the floor, I clean the bathroom. When I cook dinner, he washes up – all in auto mode. Once you get into the rhythm of things, it gets easier to draw the line. We also make sure to never let finances get in the way of our relationship, yet, if ever one of us needs the extra boost, the other person would be there to help. What helps as well is when we give in to each other’s cravings – for dessert, McDonald’s, and fried chicken… Okay, he gives in mostly to mine.

Impromptu dates

I’m not going to lie – dating becomes difficult when you spend all your time together. There is hardly any separation between time spent together, and quality time spent together. What we lacked in quality time, we made up for by having impromptu dates – be it catching a movie (one of our favourite past times!) or stopping by Fatty Crab at Taman Megah when all we wanted to have was a hawker meal at Ming Tien.

Talk it through

Admittedly, I did not do enough of this in times of trouble with Yang. Although it would have been a more effective way of problem-solving, I tend to keep to myself so I have time to collect my thoughts, before I jump into a conversation. Yang, however, prefers talking things through, which is not always easy for me. I soon learned that we each have different ways of coping with issues, but it is always important to deal with your emotions rather than have it manifest on the inside.

Never lose sight of why you fell in love

As harsh as it sounds, I would always have to remind myself of the things that made him special to me, and why this relationship means a great deal more than others that I’ve been in. It wasn’t difficult to see – but there were times I failed to realise it. From all his small gestures, like pouring me a glass of water before bed, to doing all the chores that I did not like – all I needed was to take a step back and take notice of everything. Mindfulness is key.

Make time for yourself

Although it was difficult, it was important that we spent time apart from each other. Whether it was me penning my thoughts down by the computer, or him at the gym, time alone always gives us the space we need to reflect on ourselves. It keeps us in check, so that we don’t lose sight of who we are, and what we want to be.

Now that I’m starting afresh at an old/new workplace, I am looking forward to a renewed relationship with my Yang – one that is centred not on the amount of time we spend together, but the quality of it. Wish us luck!