Monday, June 19, 2017
Monday, May 29, 2017
We all have beef with someone, it ranges from frenemies to arch-rivals. It is easier to get supporters for those we hate, dislike and fun to mock someone, than to relinquish one's hedonistic pleasure in seeing the other suffer.
From exes, to ex-friends, the people we encounter all have valuable lessons to offer. I am not referring to the usual rhetoric "s/he taught me so much about myself, how I can be the bigger person" type of revelations. Those are reflexive exercises. What about actual lessons? Those nuggets of words that were spoken by someone less than desirable but nevertheless we have to admit to be true. Direct lessons from the very person we love to hate.
I have a few, and I'll be happy to start the ball rolling and admit that I have come to appreciate the wisdom of those we do not like.
1. My ex-boyfriend
Our very first argument was over a person's work aptitude. I was an idealistic academic who believed that everyone deserved a shot an employment, citing post-colonial and post-structuralist discourses. My ex is the exact opposite - a potent realist who works in recruitment. He meets and interviews more people in a week than I do in 2 years in my research.
His conclusion is that some people in certain buckets can do it, and others don't. The line is drawn clearly between the has and has-beens.
At that time, I found that idea preposterous, almost infringing upon the very definition of access to equal employment. Yet, having been to the workplace for a couple of years now, I can fully appreciate where he was coming from. The wool over my eyes revealed both my ignorance and arrogance. I was viewing the individual through the lenses of my privilege - a privilege provided by having access to better education than most people.
Not everyone is cut out to do the jobs they think they can do. Not everyone enjoys the successes of entering the labour market. Like what Haresh Sharma illustrated in his play, "those who can't, teach" - not all students can be saved and some will fall by the wayside. It is a sad fact that is the outcome of many structural and individual factors outside of our control.
2. My secondary school ex-friends
There was a period of my teenage years, during O'levels, that I had no friends (except 1 or 2) because my own group abandoned me for an obscure reason (I pissed them off apparently).
Back then, the deepest moment of my teenage life, I felt like no one accepted who I truly am, and it was a fight or flight moment. I tried to adapt and readjust my worldviews, to see how most people see things. Eventually, I gained EQ and social-awareness.
However the direct lesson I learnt was actually from one of those confrontations I had when one of them said, "you make people feel stupid, and you make them feel like it's their fault. Yes, we are not as smart as you, but so what?" Little did I know that my criticism of their work and other personal stuff made others feel inferior. It is an obvious point on hindsight. Of course repeatedly pointing out someone's mistakes is going to give you backlash. However, the younger me didn't have this experience because I've been too preoccupied with what I think is right - that correcting each other and improving is what we do as friends. It never occurred to me that well-meaning words can become cruel cold reminders of a person's own insecurity. Not everyone is equally accepting of personal criticism. I was fortunate to learn this lesson at 16, and 12 years later, I still remind myself to be fair in my comments, even when others have made serious mistakes.
3. My if-you-know-you-know people
After my mum fell to her stroke, the worst part was my family's inability to grieve properly because this group of individuals were "busy" with their own grief that as the survivors of this traumatic incident, we had to drop everything to accede to their demands.
Ultimately, I have never bore so much disappointment in a group of adults. Being 19, I grow up, hitting your early-adult years, hunger for wisdom and guidance as I navigate an increasingly murky world, made more messy because no 19 year-old has to face her mother in coma. You never expect the people whom you'd assume all along to be there for you, to be the very people who let you down.
This is perhaps the only incident that also has a reflexive angle - I learnt that we cannot rely on anyone. If they are there to help me, then I'd be pleasantly surprised but I don't expect it from anyone.
Having said, I've learnt directly from this, how not to treat your own parents. Seeing the ways some people shuttle their own parents off to take advantage of a family tragedy, is both remorseful and distasteful. It is a small fortune that we turned out okay and I am forever grateful.
4. My ex-manager
A lot could be said about this ex-manager. I personally don't dislike her as a person, and there were meaner bosses whom I've learnt nothing from. However, despite her short temper and sometimes frayed instructions, I can honestly say that her lessons in working smarter has certainly paid off.
I have learnt much excel shortcuts, how to report data efficiently, as well as more effective communications. While I don't agree with her supervising style, I can see value in her work. While I have gone on to learn even more from others, but she was the one who truly gave me the toolbox an underskilled-and-over-educated grad student sorely needed.
I think the same can be said for many circumstances, and some people might call me a moderate. However, I think if we spend so much time ensuring the person we beat down never stands up, we lose an opportunity to learn something valuable that in turn strengthens our position. Assuming your goal is not driven by hedonism, and that your goals all along is in service of a purpose other than your ego, then it is sometimes necessary to take a step back and learn from the other, whatever the discourse, positivist or post-structuralist, right-wing or left-wing...
Thursday, March 23, 2017
I think there are plenty of articles that have covered toxic people at the workplace, written by professionals who have way more experience and exposure than I.
I'll take a stab at this not because I want to add to the merriment of advice that's already out there, but to draw analogies between personal lives and working environments that overlap and remind my future (and your) self when times seem bad.
My first encounter with a toxic environment was when I've just graduated from JC and took a temp job at Woodlands industrial park as a sales admin assistant. 3 months felt like 3 years and I wanted to quit every day but my mother insisted I stayed on. My mum has always been about tough love but on some sadistic scale, it made my bullshit for nonsense a lot higher (which was her goal anyway). It was later, when my organisational behaviour lecturer introduced this idea of a "toxic work environment" that I started to have a frame around the experiences I was feeling.
There are tons of literature about dealing with bosses that take score. Bosses that are unreasonable and unsympathetic. Bosses that seem not to care, or give appreciation to what you are doing. Bosses that are bossy, passive aggressive, or worse, vindictive. Plenty of people's push factors are often their immediate supervisor. For those head-strong subordinates, they leave their jobs in self-preservation. Others resemble women (and men) in emotionally and physically abusive relationships. The individuals internalise the discourse and abuse hurled at them. After a while, you believe that you're not good enough, and that no other employer out there would want you because you're "so lousy". The worst cases are when these abused employees that never leave and start the abuse themselves when they stay long enough to be promoted.
Workplace abuse is a boo-boo topic at any HR office and an uncomfortable situation to be in. I often have a 3 month-rule. If the employer continues to attack your work quality personally, have enough self-love to leave and start fresh in mind with another employer.
("you are a graduate and you can't even handle simple admin"..."I don't want to see your face, you annoy me."...or nonverbals like neglect with old shoulders when confronted with an urgent request)
Victims of abuse tend to follow a path dependency especially when over time, this type of partner is all they know how to love. So sometimes it helps to have a critixal checklist of questions to uncomfortably ask your prospective employer so as to protect yourself. It helps to voice out your experiences with workplace abuse. It's not a sign of weakness and any prospective employer who thinks that way will probably not be suitable for you. Voice it in a way that empowers (I refuse to be treated with no dignity, did you know he said...) rather than come across as a complaint (she gave me too much work, I had to work until 2am) because the latter doesn't show that you know what you're doing. So, if you list down the reasons for leaving in a list and many of them sound like petty complaints, you know perhaps you should revist your working style instead.
I have 2 personal beliefs. One, never work with friends, and second, never mix work with the personal.
It's one thing to invite your colleagues to a wedding or party, but another to reveal personable traits such as your person judgement on certain issues (or worse, even other colleagues as that would just be gossiping). It's okay to share general views and another to express something like, "I think BDSM is cool and everyone should try it." I never cross the blood-brain barrier of work life and personal life.
For one, what happens if you DO gossip about others, what makes you think they won't turn on you? Perhaps your follow-up thought would be, they'd gossip about me anyway, why shouldn't I join in to ensure I don't keep tabs on them?
Come on lah, if people really want to speak badly about you, you wouldn't know it and even if you do - what do you intend to do? Follow up and confront them about it? Then whole thing falls apart and you're stuck with 0 "friends" and 0 trust from those around you; and have to walk away licking your wounds.
Keep your record clean, above board, partake not in the toxicity of this high school gossip shit, and just shrug away comments that come your way that are meant to fish for a response. Make it about work all the time; joke about work and maybe Trump, but never sink into the quicksand of unhealthy finger pointing and judgement. Toxic colleagues will want lure you into their world, like a band of druggies and their gossip is veil false security, an addiction, that makes you feel that you're in-the-know. I'd rather have no "friends" at work, than companions like these.
Ultimately, in time, toxic cliques and groupies will drive away good colleagues and what is left is a pile of bones that will eventually be discarded. I've seen it happen twice now, and favouritism will be the downfall of any management or business. By the time it happens, I'll be frolicking with some dolphins off the Australian coast.
I find that Singapore generally have this "maid-mentality". What do I mean by this?
They think that just because they pay someone, they own and get to dictate when domestic helpers shit, eat and sleep. They expect them to go "beyond their jobscope" to also help you clean their backside. Some clients do this all the time - this unhealthy relationship is what drives many account servicing people out of their jobs and into a mental institution.
It wears any person down. One drink, two, and suddenly you're saddled with a health problem brought about by the many recesses of "the pressures in life".
Recite this: I do not deserve to suffer for the pains of others.
And walk away.
Simple as that, anger and malice requires a dance partner, let the chilling hurtful words slide from your back, don't ever let the water enter and fuel that deep dark place of doubt and insecurity.
Fuck it, fuck off, fuck them. Politely of course.
If people with money (money that isn't even theirs) cannot learn to be proper human beings, then they can jollywell learn. If the good stay silent, the evil will win. Hasn't the holocaust or any genocide taught us enough already?
It is not about war, it is to take an active role in making the world a better place by taking small steps.
Eventually, as long as any toxic client makes it personal, when you're losing sleep not because you can't bring in the deliverables for them but because they spite your very being, it's time to grow a backbone and escalate the matter. I have hope that decent bosses will see the issue as a negation to good business, and I have seen senior management manoeuvre such behaviour to their advantage by going to their bosses to ask for their people to tone down or else.
It's all about power, and not every client is powerful, and not every account servicing is a slave. Look at your organisation, the annual revenue, the major source of funds that pays your salary, and decide for yourself if you have to be subjected to this abuse. For the middling people like ourselves, escalate whatever issues and let the bigger players pull their agenda. You don't have to suffer or bitch about it.
In any case, the best way to neutralise any toxic, is a reagent. An alkali neutralises an acid, bonds untangle into harmless components of water and gas. Similarly, individual components are innocent in itself, but under the right conditions react together to cause harm. Adding water, or a dilution, only brings down the concentration but does not its latent potency. Don't feed toxicity by avoidance or feigned ignorance. Tackle it, subvert it, even if you are the smallest fish in the pond, in your own way, in your own style.
To all the lies, deceit and hidden insecurities - I'd say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Monday, March 13, 2017
My last entry, I wrote about being more forgiving with ourselves, to look into the paradoxical nature of our desires. It may seem counter productive that I write about the thirst for constant improvements.
About the same time as my last post, I had a deep chat with a good friend about the unlikeliness of our careers. We both didn't take the obvious route into teaching, civil service or similar functions given the long run of pattern in our department. We both consciously looked for external experiences, and now that we've left school for a couple of years, sort of discussed why.
"I was getting boxed in and comfortable, I had to get out."
I am not saying that teaching, civil service and jobs associated with these are boring, or part of an unchanging times. Indeed many of my classmates have travelled for work more often than I do, and the jobs they do are certainly meaningful and interesting.
For me personally, it was something so familar (almost my whole family is in the civil service), to learn anything new quickly, the easiest was to try new things.
Comfort, the home you return to after a long day, the warm shower that welcomes you into its embrace, the familiar smell of your sofa as you sink deeper into slumber.
I think zones of comfort are necessary to keep us sane, we all need a "break" and time to recoup ourselves. Doing familiar work might be the easiest way to remain productive and earn a living. Yet, once you are ready, a metamorphosis must begin, the butterfly must leave its cuccoon and like the eaglets that were forced out of its nest by their mother to fly or die, we need a kick off the cliff once in a while.
I think consequently on the other end, people relish in forever being challenged, and that becomes the only thing they know. They run too fast, forget that people behind need to catch up with you. They sprint for the finish line and are already eyeing the next race before the one they are on are over. This never-ending line of doing and challenging means a new equilibrium is created, the comfort zone becomes one that is in constant motion. The challenge is not the pursuit of growth, but to grow by understanding and come to terms with oneself in peace, solitude and recollection.
Regardless of your personal circumstances, as much as it is important to step out of the box, for some others, it's necessary to also return to it and take stock of your medals and legacy.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
I wrote a term paper for Sociology of Food module, a literature review and analysis of obesity in "western" contexts, the obsession of body image and our relationship with food.
The conclusions after my review were still striking today as it were 4 years ago.
Paradox and being unfulfilled
The TL;DR version is this:
We have always obsessed over what we cannot have. In recent times, the abundance of food, the proliferation of multiple cuisines crossing borders and the sheer existence of choice in our modern day supermarkets, we choose to constrain ourselves. The woman or man who is fat, becomes a symbol of a lack of self control and ill-disciplined. All traits that are seen as negative and undesirable in the capitalist economy.
Ultimately, my point here is not to highlight that being fat has no real health concerns and dangers. It is to highlight the normative - the judgement if you will - of society on fat people.
In times of uncertain food supply, being plump is a sign of wealth and fortune across many cultures. Force feeding before marriages, getting fat on purpose just so that you "fit in" etc.
Using our relationship with food, I'm highlighting the paradoxical tendencies on our personal selves, and by extention the zeitgeist of our societies.
We want order when there's chaos, and anarchy when there's too much control. We want love when we're in lust, but fear commitment when we have given promises. We are unhappy when we are surrounded by fortunate circumstances, yet also think that earth is a living hell during times of war. We go under the knife to look beautiful, and yet scorn a beautiful (artificial) of being plastic and fake.
We are very unfulfilled creatures, and I am starting to wonder if we sometimes conflate "settling" with this insatiable appetite for perfection. The more we have, the more we crave. Is this why the Siddharttha became the Buddha?
We need to not be so hard on ourselves.
We live in one of the most peaceful times, and yet face the gravest issues pertaining to politics, economics and nature. Cynicism was always present in society, but never at such a scornful level that it is today.
I think history lessons and critical thinking caps are double edged knives. As much as we criticise, we also need to be more critical - including our critique of ourselves (I'm not good enough) and others (what a loser). We need to turn our critique on its own head and introspect that our internal dialogues are just that. I feel that we need to start from the stance that we are wrong until proven right. We must not fall into the trap of confirmation bias. Just because 5 people say you're lousy, doesn't mean you're entirely lousy. The 6th person around the street might dispel that confirmation bias and that is enough to tell yourself that you're not wholly shitty. You might be, granted, have areas of improvement but you are not a total loser.
We shape the way we see things, and thereafter, the choices we make. Which translates into the actions we take that defines the world.
You are enough =)
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Apologies for the long hiatus, and certainly I've been meaning to write more regularly, including my epic 2 week Australia drive from Sydney to Adelaide. There's been a multitude of changes, including on the family front, that required my attention first.
Side note, I've been also trying to find something to write about. January and December has honestly been quite quiet months, that there just haven't been.
So yesterday, my friend and I had this chat about how she can't cope like, her more experienced colleague, with the multitude of projects that seem to keep coming. No app or software can help her keep track of the pace of things that demanded her attention. She asked me how I managed to cope (she calls me an octopus for my seeming ability to multitask) with it all.
I don't have any "guru" tips, but I can share my experience with "multitasking" and what goes in my mind. How to switch gears quickly and shift tracks as soon as possible.
First and foremost, practice. It was cliché back in 1990s - the number of times I've been told that practice makes perfect - by the time 2010 came, that good advice has taken a backseat for innovation, thinking out of the box. Nevertheless, you become good at projects or managing a multitude of tasks because you have been doing it for a long time. With exposure to different types of demands on our time, we hit hard lessons and from those lessons we learn and become more efficient. The people we see who are "gifted" simply have years, starting from childhood (piano, tuition, social life, homework....) to get better at it.
Well if you've missed the boat there, you can always start now, which brings me to my next point.
Vision. You must have vision of where you end-game is. If life is a map, and the demands on your time multiple checkpoints and your attention the toy soldiers you use to move around on that same map, you start to think of time and attention as very scarce resources right?
It's the same, with a sense of urgency, that arises from scarcity, we become very picky or at least not so yielding to all the demands from us. It's also important to know what we want, because like every story, it must end, and we take the position of a director where we must know where your work will end up after all this work. So use your imagination and visualise where you want to end up. It's the same for small company projections (get 5% uplift in sales of product X) or big life decisions (do I see myself growing old with this person? What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?).
Lastly, once you know where you want to go, what limited resources you have, you can then use the below pragmatic rules about juggling.
1. Task list or to-do-lists are crap (for me)
To-do lists makes you focus on linear progressions. It is great for homework but not so much for real-time stuff. In reality things move in parallel. By the time you finish your list, something has changed and you keep rewriting things over and over again but find yourself having no time to actually do them.
Instead, plan all your actions in a gantt chart, or for simplicity, I put them into my calendar ahead of time. It takes the worry off me that I'll forget something later and a nifty calendar alert 2 weeks before give me ample time to work on it. By blocking time, you also practice scarcity and force yourself to plan leisure in!
2. One feet in the pool, one feet on the grass
Always have an antennae permanently tuned to what's outside your 3m radius. Have one allegorical ear out for developments (or game-changing gossip "She's leaving!", "He's a new joiner and he'll be taking over this big client") that can potentially affect your work. Plan in your mind what options you have if it affects you. If you have no options and it affects you, at least you know you can't do anything about it and life carries on. No fret.
3. Allow new things to come in on a case-by-case basis.
Today got time for meeting? Let me check - see that the calendar has too much stuff, nope.
Today got time for CLIENT meeting? Let me check - new client worth 10 times more - YUP.
Reality is as such. Of course you don't have to go by monetary value, personal values come into play as well. Whichever scale you use, at least always have the right to say no when you are tapped out.
4. Stop being fucking nice
I used to be bristled by how some people are "rude" about their time. Just 5 minutes also cannot?
Yah, sometimes it's really cannot.
While I believe in rejecting people plainly and very politely, it doesn't mean you have to be nice by allowing people to trample on you. Bosses, colleagues or friends, be firm and polite. Being nice just gets you no sleep and poor performance.
5. Ditch the personal project management tool for some space to think
I have no qualms about.project management tools by the way, absolutely no reservations of a much needed system when you need to manage multinational projects.
In my style of working, those personal project management tools take up time to update, refresh and strike off. Personally for some of my friends it works - and if that's how you work by means go ahead. My point is don't force yourself to use something that doesn't feel natural.
Take time off to think and reflect on how you can work more efficiently, how do you make life easier for yourself. How do you increase capacity without increasing costs to yourself (time)?
These are just some of my WIP approaches to juggling in life, and like most humans I do fail from time to time. #notashamed As my best friend can attest, I actually suck at multitasking.
Just keep going and I hope this serves to help you in some way or another. In any case, like a wise aunty colleague once told me, "工作做不完的啦~" (Work is never-ending).
Monday, November 14, 2016
In the episode of the Crown where Churchill, a prolific painter himself, criticised and insinuated that his portraitist had lesser experience and aptitude than he (lesser works a year, his lack of knowledge of pencil and paper types for a sketch). His portraitist, went back to do research on Churchill's numerous works. He returned and pointedly told Churchill that his painting constantly returned to the subject of his pond. He asked why Churchill was so engrossed with the pond. Churchill sees art as battle, to win over the subject matter as conquer. The pond with is dancing lights, was difficult to capture completely. The artist made a passing statement that the way he framed and painted the water, revealed that Churchill wanted people to see something that he feel people didn't see. It was calling for the viewer to see beneath the muddy surface for something. Something might not be there. Churchill was visibly struck, it was a quiet scene, yet resonated loudly under my shell.