Aug 10, 2020

False positives on the introversion scale

 For many years, I thought the types of interactions that tire me out are mainly the ones that involve many awkward silences and not too many topics of conversations that can be discussed. 

Lately, however, I have noticed that even when a social interaction is had in a chaotic environment, the social interaction requires a lot more energy. There are times I have met friends who I am highly comfortable with at home and outside. The difference in the energy I use up is very obvious to me in the way I feel after we part ways. 

In situations where I meet a friend at a busy mall or coffee shop, I get tired within 2 hours and am ready to return home. For one, it takes more energy to focus on my friend while there are a number of other environmental stimuli thrown at me. Second, I find that just being in a place where there is a lot of activity drains me of energy as opposed to meeting at home or in a quieter less frequented public space. 

With coronavirus, there are also additional stressors when meeting outside. In Singapore, it is compulsory to keep masks on other than when you eat at a restaurant, which means that for the most part, talking and being clearly heard requires a lot more physical effort than it used to minus the masks. For me, I also try to ensure I am not standing too close to people / sitting at tables that are very close to each other just as an extra precaution. Not to mention, I am constantly sanitising my hands when I touch something. 

Realising that my energy drain often comes not from people but from crowded spaces makes me wonder where I really fall on the introversion scale. Many a times, introverts assume that if social interactions tire them out quickly, they are rightly categorised as an introvert. However, what if it isn't the social interaction that tires them out? What if it's the chaos in the places they tend to meet? Or if their outing involves physical exertion, what if it's the physical fatigue that is tiring them out? 

Other factors come in too - I find that there are certain types of interactions that drain me more than others, no matter what the location. When I meet friends who want to spend time gaming, for example, I get tired much faster. Similarly for small talk - I tend to get tired when the conversation revolves around nothing meaningful in particular. However, in situations where I am in a meaningful conversation or doing an activity I enjoy with other people, very little of my energy is drained. In fact, often times I feel energised after such interactions. 

So before we label ourselves and let that dictate our day to day choices, I would highly recommend thinking through what type of interactions are energising versus draining, because that could go very far in enhancing one's quality of life and social interactions!

Aug 2, 2020

Moving houses in your mid 20s

I recently found a new apartment that I move to later this week. 

Interestingly, this is my first legit move. Over the past few years I have moved atleast once a year, from one dorm room to another, or one furnished apartment to another. But this time, I find myself moving houses after 2 years. 

The differences are apparent, and not just a product of having lived here longer, but also as a product of being older, which makes moving in my mid 20s so different from moving in my teens or early 20s. 

To begin with, a third of my stuff is suddenly kitchen utensils and cookware. As a college student, I owned 1 mug, 1 plate, 1 bowl, 1 fork and 1 spoon. All these would easily fit into one of my two suitcases amongst my clothes or my two pairs of bedsheets. 

And speaking of linen, I find myself with far more towels, sheets, blankets than I will ever use. But in an attempt to not be wasteful, I keep them with the intention of using all of them someday after my favourite ones are either torn, stained or just too old to be effectively used. 

Every move I have done before has involved lugging my suitcases down to the driveway, where I stuff my things into the trunk of a Grab or Uber, and in the backseat with me. My last move was to a building right next to mine, so that didn't even require a cab. But now, I have 2 standing lamps, 2 side tables, an ergonomic chair, 2 floor chairs, 2 dustbins and a standing fan. I didn't want my Grab rating to go down, so I hired a Go Go Van. 

Since I have hired a Go Go Van, I need to transport all my stuff at once in the lorry that arrives this Wednesday. Since my suitcases are no longer capable of holding all my belongings, I now have to find cardboard boxes. I have never used cardboard boxes to pack before, so it has been a novel experience to master packing those. 

The new apartment has a closet and kitchen cabinets, but it doesn't have a bookshelf or storage space for all my wine glasses. So I need to buy furniture to keep all my things in, another new aspect of moving that I never had to experience. There was always room for my two suitcases in previous moves. 

Clearly, my baggage has increased over the years. Is it called growing up or spoiling oneself? Not sure, but I certainly dread the next move when I have all those bookshelves and storage units to move to the next house I live in. 

Jul 19, 2020

The ideal work life balance

The term work life balance is one I hear often. Companies use it to convince employees that theirs is a good workplace. Friends use it to tell each other how important life outside work can be, even though it doesn't show up in tangible forms in the short term such as a monthly paycheck.

For me, I first understood this concept when I was working on my startup while interning at a different startup in Israel. Much of my weekdays were spent interning at a startup and my weekends on working on my startup. I quite enjoyed both, but it did certainly take a toll a few months in. I came across the term when my roommate at the time, a few years older and wiser than me, suggested I consider not spending as much time on work as I do now. 

The concept of spending less time on work and more on travel, leisure, relaxation, netflix or whatever else this life outside work included came off as strange to me at best. I wasn't clear on what I could achieve from this other than lower stress levels and perhaps increased productivity that would in turn help me work better. It didn't take me more than a year or so to learn how there is so much more to this. 

It was when I found myself devoting a 100 percent of my time to my startup that I started to miss the other aspects of my life that I saw my friends experience - travel, late night hangouts at college, hobbies that aren't going to push your work life forward, and the list goes on. More so, in times when my startup wasn't doing so well, my whole life wasn't great, because my work was 100% of my life. 

At that point I started to see work life balance almost as a diversification strategy - one where my "life" can be diversified into a few different components. When one component isn't going very well, there are a few others to balance each other out. If work is only 50% of life, and the other 50% constitutes life outside work, a bad day at work doesn't feel as bad as it would be work was 100% of life. 

A lot of the times, the personal life side of things includes one's friends, family and "me time". For me, I realised that the life outside work has to be much more than that. Traditionally, one's life purpose is derived from work. No matter how little time you spend on work, that itself can make work a more important part of life even if it constitutes a small percentage in hours. So even if you spend half of your waking hours on work, and the other half on friends, family and me time, the purpose that work gives you can give it more than a 50% weightage when it comes to how a good or bad day at work influences your mood and emotions. 

So to truly have a balance, I think life outside work has to constitute some purpose and/or meaning for it to truly balance out work. That could come from a lot of things. For those who are parents, life purpose or meaning could come from parenting. For those who have a solid network of friends and family, it could come from that. For me, I felt that the balance only really happens when I have a bit more going on in my personal life. These could be hobbies or side projects - ideally a mix of both. Having some sort of interest to pursue outside of my main job that could eventually turn into a part time or full time profession of it's own really helps me lower the influence my work has on my life. In the past, yoga teacher training and volunteering with a non profit have been very helpful to me in balancing my life out. Hobbies such as learning a language or being part of a book club help too, but not nearly as much as a more serious side project. 

This is not to say that one has to balance out their lives such that work has lesser influence. I mean, high risk high reward right? The more eggs you put in one basket, the bigger the reward might be at the end of the day. So for those are more of go big or go home, work life balance isn't a great idea. It takes away the time and resources they would need to go big. It is always a good idea to have a support network, but the purpose of a support network may no longer be the balance their life, but rather to propel their career in times they need more emotional support. 

For me, I have found that putting too much time into my work doesn't work for me in the long run. It increases my stress level and frequency of burnt out, putting me in a situation where I am not prepared to run the marathon. I have noticed that this is not always true for everyone - some are able to work 12+ hour a day all their lives without too much else going on in their lives. I think these types of people do really well in professions that demand more time - like medicine, law, banking, entrepreneurship.

But for those who are seeking a work life balance, it is key to think about what life outside work would hold meaning and purpose the same way work can bring purpose to our lives. For it's not so much the number of hours, but rather the meaning behind the hours that strike the balance.

Jul 13, 2020

Creativity makes my life better

Just a few days ago, I started work on a mini personal project which involved more creativity than my usual day does. It involved editing a video and adding any musical or artistic touches to it. These are not areas my eyes and ears have been trained in, but I still think its fun to play around and see what magic I can make with my limited skill. 

Whilst doing that this past week, I noticed all sorts of side effects of adding some creativity into my otherwise non creative routine. While I often read, design PowerPoint presentations and do those sorts of things that exercise a tiny bit of my creativity, it is highly limited and not something I spend a lot of time on. Spending a few hours this past week doing something creative led to improved quality of conversation, increased curiosity and the desire to pursue more creative endeavors. 

When it came to conversation, I had more to say and humor came more easily. My conversations overall felt more entertaining, at least to myself if not to other people. I asked more questions, which led to further quality conversation. 

More so, the whole creative endeavor felt like a drug in some way, one that I wanted more of when I was done. It wasn't just fun in the moment, but I liked the life it brought back to me after all the stay at home and lack of the usual stimulation that I was used to getting living in a bustling city. 

It also made me realize how the lack of creative work in my life had slowly but surely negatively impacted my life quality outside of work. It made me think of how important it is to keep those elements in my life whether its a part of the work I get paid for, or the part I do in my spare time. 

Going forward, I hope to find more ways to keep creativity as a part of my everyday, even if its just for the sake of it! 

Jul 5, 2020

So what you would like to do this weekend?

The part of the world I live in is inching back to pre-covid times. Now that inter household interaction is allowed and many public places are open, there is opportunity for meetings and social outings. 

I found myself enjoying these outings quite a lot a few weekends ago when they initially become a reality again. It was nice to go eat outside and have a bit of noise around. It was also nice to exchange insights with friends and hear their perspectives again, which had reduced to an extent despite phone interactions. 

However, a few weeks into the old normal, I find myself quite missing the times I could spend more time at home, with myself. Not that I am complaining about being able to see my friends and loved ones again, but I certainly feel more pressure to see people now that it's a possibility again.

It's interesting to think about the subtle societal pressure of socialising that especially comes with being a young person in a city. For myself, I could certainly choose not to go out and say no to every social outing that I'm asked on, but it would come at the cost of a smaller social circle and fewer friends, which can be a dangerous situation to put oneself in especially if you're an immigrant living without family. 

In a way, saying "I don't want to socialise this weekend" too often to too many people is a way to dig yourself a grave of loneliness which is very hard to come back out from. Friends who want more social activity than you can give them will naturally gravitate towards other people who can give them the level of social activity they need on a regular basis. 

In that sense, I think it's harder for introverts to form friendships given that they won't always desire a high level of social interaction that may be ultimately required for a strong friendship to emerge. Sustaining a strong friendship is more sustainable for introverts, but only if the friends they make are happy with the level of interaction they can regularly get from the said introvert. 

It makes me think that perhaps a solution is to always set low expectations with friends such that they don't ask or expect you to be around them too often. I personally love the concept of friends who you text a lot with (almost everyday) but see in person only once in a while (once a month). That way, you are constantly in touch with each other and surrounded by love, but at the same time, you get time to yourself when you have the chance for precious downtime. 

That practice is easier to put in place at the beginning of friendships, but I think it is worth trying even with existing friends to make existing friendships more durable and sustainable. 

So the next time someone asks me "So what do you want to do this weekend?", I think I'm going to tell them how excited I am to see them next month. 

Is migration bad for anyone?

Recently I started to read Good Economics for Bad Times, a book recommended by Bill Gates and written by Nobel Laureates ...

One of the early chapters of the book talks about migration and its benefits. I knew migration was generally a good thing in that it benefitted the migrants country of origin as well country of residence, but I didnt realise the large extent to which migration is good for the world. 

To begin with, migrants make more than they would make back home. Often times, they send money back to their home country which helps the economy of their country of origin. Their kids, whether or not they come along, can get a better education and higher level of expsure to the world. More so, migrants add value to the economy of their country of residence. Low skilled migrants often do jobs the locals won't do, such as cleaning, gardening, domestic help. A lot of this allows for the local workforce to take up higher level jobs. The locals who were originally a factory worker can now manage the migrants who are doing their former job. Mothers who otherwise would have to stay home for child care can hire a migrant as a nanny and go to work. In the case of high skilled labor, often times, there are not enough locals in a population to perform tasks that the market needs, which high skilled migrants are equipped for. In the case of Silicon Valley, developers are in high demand and all positions would be hard to fill if it wasn't for migrants.

However, this isn't the story we hear on a day to day basis. When it comes to reading the news, it's not rare to hear about another developed country trying to reduce immigration. Immigration hasn't drastically increased much since the 1960s. Migrants account for 3 percent of the world's population. However, migration policies seem to get tighter. 

So why are migrants opposed by sections of the world population? One of the common misconceptions on the basis of which policy makers announce anti immigration policies is that they threaten the local population's employment rates. Based on the book, the numbers have hardly shown this to be true for low skilled immigration. Low skilled migrants often take jobs that locals dont want for pay that locals wont agree to. If migrants are taken out of the picture because of new immigration policies, their employers either switch to some form of automation or stop production of that product altogether instead of hiring locals at a higher wage. In the scenario that locals and migrants are competing for the same job, employers will often prefer the familiar ie. the local population anyway, which means the migrants are the losers of that type of situation. 

There are also other benefits migrants bring with them. Other than adding to their destination country's GDP, they also spend money in the destination country on food, shelter and other goods and services they require. This often creates jobs for the locals because of an increased demand. These jobs are typically created for the strata that most needs it - such as restaurants, barbers, shops, etc. In the case of high skilled migrants, many of them are willing to go places that the locals wouldn't. Relatively rural areas benefit from high skilled labor such as doctors, lawyers, etc which they otherwise wouldn't have as easy access to. 

One of the arguments politicians like Trump use against immigration is national security. Its unfortunate that many terrorist attacks come from the Muslim population. However, many of the immigrant populations of the past were not welcomed either when they started immigrating, such as the Germans and the Chinese in the United States. It almost seems like there is a threshold beyond which a certain migrant population becomes familiar, and is no longer a threat. For this to happen, however, there has to be some level of contact and integration of the population, such as mixed schools or neighborhoods where migrants live alongside locals. This may take some time to happen and lead to increased alienation and hatred until there is social integration. 

All in all, the book really made me think about why migration earned such a bad reputation in the first place, despite all the benefits it has brought to the world. Is this just another pure case of hatred and xenophobia? That's the only possible answer I can see. 

Jun 16, 2020

My empty mind

A few weeks ago, I did an online meditation course in which we met every day for a week for two hours to meditate and discuss various different techniques. 

After doing that course and reflecting on outside work activities that I truly enjoy, I came to realise that there were many activities I engaged in that were more for the purpose of keeping me busy than legitimate interest. At the time, I didn't think I had too much to loose by committing to activities that I didn't have a strong interest in. I picked up Chinese  class because knowing to speak chinese is generally a good to have. I went to learn rollerblading with friends because it's cool to be able to rollerblade. In other words, I was as easy target for activities that weren't essential to my survival or even to my well being, but were just "nice to haves". My thinking was that worst case, I would loose time and money that I may not have spent on anything useful per se anyway. 

However, lately, because of lesser activites to choose from and the consequence of my meditation course, I found myself loosing interest in some activities that I once thought were a good use of time. They suddenly lost meaning, and the initial allure they had of keeping me busy no longer felt like meaning enough. So I ended up dropping a few activities and not picking up new ones in place. As a result, I had fewer things to do and more time on my hands. 

In some ways, this felt quite strange because I was used to having every minute of every day full with activities. Even during moments I had something to do, I noticed an emptiness because I had fewer things to think about and lesser multi-tasking to do than usual. My mind was noticeably less busy at all times, which almost made me feel less useful to world. I hear that many people tend to feel more valuable if they are busy all the time, so that is likely the same societal norm that made me feel less useful. 

At first I thought of this as a negative thing that I should try to resolve by reading or learning more with my spare time, which would at least lead to my mind being less empty, even if I weren't being productive all the time per se. I also started to socialise online a bit more, which certainly made me feel more busy.

But recently, when Singapore announced that it would be significantly reducing measures implying that we could socialise again, I suddenly remembered that feeling of having a lot to do. Somehow, that feeling of being busy no longer feels good or meaningful because there is no space in my head to think about things that actually matter to me. There are times when I want to think about equal access to education for people in poor countries, because that is something that truly matters to me and feels meaningful. But it's been a long time since I've thought about that given all the time I spend keeping myself "busy" with things that I don't care half as much about. Having a lot of activities to do again almost felt like noise that keeps me from thinking about things that truly matter. So as far as I can, I'd like to try and keep my empty mind while I can. 

Jun 8, 2020

Going back out

Last week, on June 2, Singapore officially came out of it's 2 month long circuit breaker. While I always anticipated this moment to involve some sort of celebration, it didn't. 

If it wasn't for the news, one may not have felt any difference at all actually. Phase 1 makes a difference only for a select few who work in manufacturing jobs. Also, it impacts those who live apart from their parents in Singapore, who can now visit their parents. 

The anticipation is for phase 2, which would lead to more opening up and allowing for households to mix with each other. It would mean fitness studios can open, and so can more offices with restrictions. Phase 2 is expected to be the new normal, so to say, until a vaccine is discovered. 

I can see myself being quite happy with the type of lifestyle phase 2 would bring. A lot of time would still be spent at home, but with the options to see friends once in a while. 

However, going back out doesn't feel as happy as I imagined it would. Within the first week of phase 1, we see as many as 15 cases of covid among locals per day, which is expected to increase. Many of these were discovered thanks to random testing, not because 15 people were showing symptoms and suffering. 

Going back out would once again bring back the possibility that anyone we are interacting with could have the infection, whether or not they show the symptoms. Given how long people have been locked inside the house, I suspect that people will mingle not just with one set of friends, but with multiple, which will exponentially increase the possibility of them catching the infection. 

Other than the constant stress of touching railings in public places or holding on to the handles on public transport, there is the stress of wondering where the person standing next to you in a public space has been before. Have they been infected? Are they asymptomatic? Do they look unwell? 

When these stressors existed pre-circuit breaker, they somehow didn't seem as stressful. At that point, we didn't yet know the sheer number of asymptomatic cases in the crowd. Now, we have more research showing just how many people could be unknowingly infected, which is surprisingly high. 

It doesn't change the chances we have of getting infected, which is likely similar to before unless our bodies have already become immune. However, it does make me think of the idea of going back out with more caution and worry. Perhaps, I won't be the first one back to dining out or to the yoga studio. 

Jun 1, 2020

Engaging online audiences isn't just for instructional designers

Lately, I have had the chance to attend all sorts of webinars and online workshops. On a day to day basis, I attend team meetings, Zoom sessions with family and friends, or Netflix parties. 

At the same time, I see an increasing pressure on schools and universities to produce engaging experiences online that not only mirror the engagement of in person classes, but far surpass it to maintain the value of an institute that now faces competition from other institutes. This engagement could come from excellent facilitation, or a well designed class (or both).

I have come to notice that while the pressure remains on schools to produce this engagement, there is less or no pressure on other institutes like companies holding online team meetings, webinars held for the purpose of education or marketing, and on other online meetings of personal interest groups. It's not that it isn't important for people to be engaged in those circumstances, but there is lesser to loose in those scenarios compared to what schools would loose if students were to stop enrolling. 

I recently attended an excellent workshop - one where there was a form of interaction every few minutes, every question was answered, and people willingly commented in the Zoom chat as the facilitator conducted the session and asked questions. The level of engagement in this session was energising. 

When I started to attend other sessions after that one, I started to notice the lack of energy and of facilitation skills. I never realised that some of the simple tricks that are used in engaging online workshops and classes can be carried over to any other online congregation of people, whether it's a meeting, a casual chat with friends or a webinar. 

Now it is highly possible that online meetings and webinars are equally engaging as in person meetings and conferences, which is not very much. So perhaps there is no real urgent need for change. But I wouldn't be the only one to say that there is a lot more scope to make meetings and webinars more engaging in a way that everyone benefits more from the time spent and doesn't exit from the experience drained of energy. 

Simple things such as adding in a few activity, ensuring interaction every few minutes, creating space and time for questions can do wonders for an online experience. Online tools often allow for this in more ways than physical meetings do. For example - Zoom allows for reactions such as thumbs up, hand raises, comments all while the facilitator may be still talking. In real life, these reactions might be harder to gauge for a facilitator, whose only way to gauge the audience's reaction might actually be the expression on their faces or asking listeners to raise their hand when they have a question. 

Engaging online audiences isn't a one time instrumented experience that has to be worked on by professional instructional designers who put in conscious triggers to engage the audience. It's a habit, one that anyone facilitating an online meeting can pick up and keep using. 

May 25, 2020

Shedding Baby Skin

Last Friday, after a long week or work, I was washing the dishes. Just as I was finishing, I started to notice that my fingers were spongy, similar to how they get when I spend too long in the shower or a swimming pool. Later, I saw that the skin on my finger tips for very dry and bits of the skin were coming off. They felt rougher than usual, which is a feeling I had never known before. 

For the longest time, my friends and family called my hands baby hands, because they are tiny and soft. Usually, the soft skin we have as babies sheds as we get older and our hands get rougher. Mine never did, and at one point I happily made peace that they would never harden like they do for other adults. 

But alas, at the age of 26 I finally see it happen. I am not particularly upset about my skin becoming rougher. But it does make me think about some lifestyle changes that Covid has forced me to behave more like a traditional adult. 

Before lockdown, I barely spent time at home, let alone doing housework. Washing dishes was maybe a thrice a week affair, whereas now it feels like a thrice a day affair, given that every little dish include a cup of coffee is consumed at home. A lot more time in spent cooking and cleaning too. Before lockdown, eating out was common, and my cleaning lady did the most wonderful job cleaning the house once every fortnight, leading to all my time outside work hours being entirely my own. 

All the time I would spend on eating out, or various other activities with friends was very much an extension of college life, where seeing friends every few days was part of life, and having a regular routine was rare. Friday and Saturday nights were never spent at home, unless someone cancelled. Other than the fixed work hours, it was hard to predict what I'd be doing at any other hour of my waking day or night. 

Ever since the lockdown began, it has become more important to have a routine so that I remain sane and reasonably productive. I find myself waking up at the same time everyday, and sleeping around the same time. I order groceries online every weekend, and cook nearly every meal. There is a lot more housework now that I spend all my time at home. More cooking and cleaning. 

None of this seems negative to me, but the idea of a routine, household chores and cooking every meal, is one I thought of as a far away concept, adopted by adults in other stages of life that weren't yet in my immediate friends circle. It's the type of routine and placid life I imagine, not for myself per se, but for other, mature adults. 

So yes, coming back to my main concern of the day, baby skin. I see it slowly shedding as I become used to this new lifestyle. I don't know if it's a temporary dryness, perhaps one that will go away if I moisturize enough, which I have been doing everytime I wash my hands or clean the dishes now. Or perhaps it will shed until my whole hand, not just my fingertips, are rough, similar to other adults. Part of me certainly hopes that it stays. 

May 16, 2020

An introvert's challenges in quarantine

I think of myself as an introvert. While I love interacting with people, my energy deteriorates quickly. 2 hours into a social gathering, I am ready to lock myself in a room that has no other human being in it. 

When the quarantine period, know as the circuit breaker in Singapore, started, I found myself quite calm and relaxed with fewer outings and much lesser social interaction. 

For an introvert, it is quite a pleasant surprise to find that there is no pressure to socialise anymore, from oneself or from other people. I would happily spend the weekend reading, writing, napping, exercising, eating good food, etc. 

However, I slowly started to socialise more over Zoom and phone calls. Given the time at hand, it didn't seem unreasonable to agree to online gaming sessions, phone catch ups, etc. 

I recently noticed that my social interactions in quarantine are the same in terms of hours as they were before quarantine. In some cases, my social interaction is now even higher than before because we are no longer limited to friends in our immediate geographic vicinity. In fact, socialising with friends nearby isn't so different logistically from socialising with friends living on the other side of the planet. 

As a result, I find myself with more socialising options every weekend, where people who live far away are as happy to hang out with me as the ones nearby. This wasn't always the case with my friends who live far away. Before Covid, they would have plenty going on with friends who lived nearby, therefore spending lesser time on relationships that require video calling from home on a Friday or Saturday night.

Another facet I've noticed is that social interactions tend to be more condensed and stressful online than they are in person. 2 hours of in person interaction feels like 1 hour of online interaction to me. When one meets a friend in person, there is no compulsion to fill every second with conversation. If you go out for a hike with a friend, for instance, silences are acceptable and there isn't a need for conversation the whole time. However, in an online conversation, it is awkward at best to be on the phone or a video call with each other without saying anything. 

Perhaps it would help if introverts like me were to change the medium of our social interactions such that they are less stressful. Personally, I am happy to have a text conversation spread across days or weeks, because that takes less energy from me than a phone or Zoom conversation. Some may also argue that we have the choice to say "no" to social interactions, but I think that can very quickly lead to dissatisfaction and loneliness, one that is not out of choice but out of compulsion as a consequence of repeated rejections to social interactions with friends. 

May 9, 2020

Reading versus Netflix

With so much time to spare, especially on weekends during this quarantine period, I have been deliberating ways to spend my time. There are plenty of things to do despite being confined at home.

One of the key things I like to spend my time on is learning. On weekdays, I find that 1 hour a day is more than enough, but on weekends, I find myself in a sort of absorption mode nowadays where I can spend all day learning. 

I was thinking about the various ways to absorb knowledge, and realised that there are two key ways I absorb information nowadays: reading (books, magazines, articles) or watching Netflix (documentaries, docuseries). It made me think, regardless of whether one's purpose is entertainment or to learn, is reading necessarily better than Netflix? After a few days of experimenting and reflecting on it, I found that for me, reading is better than Netflix. 

When I read, I find my imagination put to more use than while watching Netflix. There is a lot I am meant to imagine, which helps me be more creative even in hours that I am not reading. 

Even though documentaries take shorter to view than reading a full book, I find that the amount of information that reading per hour is still the same, because books tend to go into greater depth. A good way for me to gauge whether I'd like to read about a subject vs watch a movie about it is to determine how much depth I want. 

More so, I find myself emotionally and physically more exhausted after watching TV than reading. Watching TV really takes a lot of my attention and many more of my senses are involved in this process. However, while reading, it's just my sight. When I come out of reading, I generally feel less exhausted and left with more energy to do other things during the day.

When it comes to reading vs watching TV for the pure purpose of entertainment, I've had similar experiences. I tend to get very drawn into TV shows to the extent that I feel what the characters in the TV show feel. If a character in the TV show is about to get attacked, I also feel the fear that the character must feel. This takes away all my self awareness, which is why after the show ends, I am numb to other things. At times, I am impatient and expecting of more entertainment, because life suddenly seems slower now that the show isn't part of my life anymore. 

On the other hand, when I binge read, I also feel a withdrawal after reading a book, but it's not one that leaves me tired and irritable. Rather, it's one that leaves me feeling curious and enthusiastic about my next book! 

May 3, 2020

7 day meditation: Being in the here and now

This past week, I went through a 7 day meditation course. We met 2 hours every day over a Zoom call. There were 24 of us who came in with the objective of learning meditation techniques. Led by the same teacher whose Yoga Teacher Training I signed up for, this course was meant to help us create a sustainable meditation practice. 

As a beginner, who has only experienced meditation in the form of guided meditations during yoga class or using the app Calm, this was basically new to me. While the meditation during our live sessions was guided, we were meant to also meditate 1-3 times a day outside of the class time without any guidance. 

My main takeaways from the past 7 days: 

1. Be in the here and now: the first rule, is the watch your breath (be in the here), and stay in the present (be in the now). On top of that, focus on your spiritual heart, which is a point in the body that you choose to focus on during the meditation session. 

2. Monkey mind: Our mind can be described as the monkey mind because it jumps all over the place, and we follow it. In actuality, we should strive to get to a point where our mind is not leading our awareness around, but our awareness controls our mind. 

3. Detach, detach, detach: When our mind comes up with thoughts and feelings while meditating, we can observe them as if we are observing another person with those thoughts and feelings. The fact that we can observe that other person with the thought or feeling implies that we are not that thought or feeling. This idea encourages us to detach from feelings such as irritation, anger, pride by observing the mind that experiences those emotions and recognising that it is not our identity. Another great way to detach from these thoughts is to recognise these are just products of the mind and are temporary, that will come and go. 

4. Focus on the breath: While meditation, ultimately, you want to just focus on the breath and the spiritual heart. In the beginning, there might be a lot of observing the anger, irritation, thoughts, happening. But eventually, those should just become background noise while you focus on breathing and being in the now. Everything else around you, including the room you're in and the body you're in should disappear from your awareness, which should be concentrated in the spiritual heart. 

5. Boredom is a construct: Many report that meditation is boring, especially as you get into the later minutes of your meditation when the urge to check the time becomes stronger. Boredom is a construct, one that we don't have to believe. 

6. Sitting posture is important to stay focussed: When we sit cross legged or in a kneeling sitting pose during meditation, the slight engagement in the core and the effort to keep our back upright helps us avoid lethargy in a way that might put us to sleep. If we were lying down or leaning against a backrest during meditation, it might put us to sleep during the meditation practice!

7. The four stages of meditation: When you first start to practice, you are seeing a lot of different experiences that you are trying to discern (stage 1). Then you develop a muscle that lets you practice detachment from all those different experiences of the mind (stage 2). Stage 3 is when you start to disidentify with the body and the mind, and start to distance your awareness from those things. The last stage is wisdom, which is when you realise the true, eternal and infinite nature of who you are. 

Following the meditation course, I certainly found myself more awake during the day even if I hadn't slept as much and with an increased focus that didn't make me feel exhausted when I came out of it. I still think I'm around stage 1 or 2 and have a long way to go, but just the act of sitting still for a few minutes everyday undoubtably has its benefits, whether or not you are an expert at being in the here and now!

Apr 26, 2020

The value of celebrating special occasions

Now that I don't go out as much, my life has become a lot more routine. Not in a bad way, but in a sort of predictable way. I know what my day will be like at the start and at the end. I quite enjoy each part of my day at the moment, but every couple of days I feel the need to add a "fun element" in. 

In the past, the "fun element", like going out for a movie, a drink, an activity, a hike or to a new restaurant would happen so often that I never felt like I needed it because it was always available to me. 

Now, that going out is harder and options for fun activities more limited, I find myself wanting to switch things up every few days, such as wanting to order in food, watch a movie, have a glass of wine at the end of the day. These are all things I consider fairly simple, but they aren't things I do everyday, and therefore they are unique and fun for me in my current phase of life. 

It made me think about how traditionally, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions were celebrated by going out for a fancy meal, seeing loved ones and so on. Until now, I didn't really see the need for a special celebration when those things happen, because I found myself going out for meals and seeing loved ones every week regardless of whether there was something to celebrate. A boring week was as good a reason to go out as was a good week. 

However, being in this period where we can't see our loved ones or go out, I can see why celebrations can be special, especially for those who don't see their loved ones or spurge on dining out as much as I would do. 

It certainly makes those occasions more unique and special. 

Would this lead to me going out less or celebrating special occasions more? I don't know yet, but it certainly makes me appreciate the mini-celebrations I used to have every few days in my pre-covid life! 

Apr 19, 2020

Quarantine: Pushing the walls outward

I've been reading a wonderful book called Gentleman in Moscow, which is about a man put under house arrest in a hotel for 40 years. It's been very relevant as we all finish our own quarantine sentence on the accounts of covid. 

At one point, the main character who is quarantined recognises that he has the choice to either have the walls of the hotel push inwards and make his world smaller, or push the walls outward until they his world expands, into the city of Moscow, Russia and eventually the whole wide world. It is then that he adopts a more curious and exploratory mode towards his life under house arrest.

Seeing friends and family go through this period of quarantine, I notice parallels in the attitude individuals adopt when they are locked inside their homes. 

There are the kind who are downright upset about having to stay home, and spend a fair amount of time complaining on social media about the negative implications of a lockdown, whether it is for themselves, or for the larger society. In some countries, people even go so far as to protest in the streets against lockdown. Some of these are the rebels who challenge the status quo for logical reasons, while the others are just venting their frustration because they do not like this change in their life. 

There is another type, the kind who are not actively complaining or miserable, but are in a state of limbo. They are trying to find temporary hobbies to keep themselves entertained and pass this time. They are not happy or unhappy, and are patiently waiting for the time that this quarantine comes to an end and life goes back to normal. 

And then there are the kind who are using these times as opportunities to do social good for society, or even just for themselves. I really admire these people, for two reasons. Firstly, their resilience is so admirable  - they are adapting to the situation and accepting the new reality quickly. Secondly, they are not just finding ways to adjust, but they are finding ways to excel in this new environment by spotting opportunity. 

I came across a few examples of this that I really liked: 

  1. A NUS medical school graduate builds a tool to help doctors communicate with Bangladeshi migrants who are being treated for COVID:
  2. Virtual meditation course by my yoga teacher. With his studio closed until the circuit breaker ends, he now devotes time to virtual lessons and programs, that came up overnight: 
  3. Coursera launched a tool that matches courses on it's platform that are similar to university courses that were supposed to be offered this semester. It's wonderful that students whose universities don't have enough resources to put courses online can use this to still keep learning: 
  4. Masterclass offers 1 for 1 annual passes. This isn't an innovation per se, but it is kind of them to offer such massive discounts. A lot of their courses are so apt for quarantine!
  5. Similarly, Linkedin Learning offered free courses on remote working for companies that were transitioning to WFH:
  6. Grab Food started offering island wide delivery for some restaurants in Singapore, which is a wonderful way to expand business for restaurants that are suffering at the moment. Not to mention, their increased demand for delivery was solved by their reduced demand for ride sharing:

The only way you can start spotting new opportunities is by fully accepting the new reality as it is and embracing it. I love how all these companies and individuals have adapted so quickly and not just survived a brutal pandemic so far, but thrived and helped the community strive. 

Apr 12, 2020

Reflections of a recession newbie

The last time the world experienced a major recession in 2008, I was in 8th grade, not even old enough to understand if the recession was impacting my immediate family. Or rather, still a child far away from any job prospects to worry about the immediate impact a recession would have on me. 

Now, experiencing one that is far worse than the one we experienced in 2008, there are a few surprises about a recession that I am encountering on a daily basis.

1. Lay offs and salary cuts are normal. It's not unusual for someone to say they got laid off or got a cut in their salary without it sounding horrific, like it would sound to me a few months prior. 

2. The idea of you loosing your own job becomes a possibility. Although my job is relatively safe and stable, the uncertainty of how long the recession will last and the domino effects we will see in the long run leads to an unconscious mental preparation that "it could be me someday". 

3. The difference between essential and non-essential suddenly stands out so starkly. Seeing gyms and exercise studios closed, but grocery stores crowded as ever, gives me a reality check on what is essential to our survival and what isn't. For me, a gym or yoga studio is much more essential to keep my lifestyle, which no longer exists in the same way it used to. I would visit my yoga classes far more than the grocery store, but now, I see fitness institutes bleeding money as they are shut down due to lockdowns. 

4. From a business standpoint, it makes me think of "real pain" versus "nice to have". As much as entrepreneurship grows, and we see interesting types of fitness studios, dog cafes, entertainment centres grow and make money, they are still "nice to haves" which disappear overnight in situations such as these. Not just pandemics, because those don't happen often, but a financial recession, which do happen every few years lead to businesses that are built on real pains surviving much more than lifestyle businesses that we as humans can survive without. 

5. There are some businesses that "luck out" given the situation. Netflix and other online entertainment companies aren't necessarily essential. Neither are e-learning companies (yet), as much as I'd like them to be. However, this recession was triggered by a pandemic that necessitated the need for online entertainment and remote ways of learning, which is why some businesses which ordinarily wouldn't do so well in a recession, did well in this case. 

6. The world begins to feel like a more empathetic place, where people genuinely understand what the others are going through, atleast to an extent. Everytime I call another stranger for work as a sales person, I can feel the genuine concern and empathy no matter where they live or work. In a personal context, when someone tells me they are about to be retrenched or just got retrenched, I don't feel pity as much as I feel empathy. Some people even display an effort to be of help to people who are in worse off situations compared to themselves. I don't know if this would still be the case if it was a recession minus the pandemic, but atleast at the moment, that's what it feels like. 

7. As always, the poor are hit most, but in the worse possible currency. It isn't just that the poor loose the ability to afford shelter, food, clothing. But they also loose more lives, which is the worst possible currency to be dealing in. In the case of COVID, it's the close living quarters and lack of access to medical facilities which could make health a more immediate threat. Even it's looked at as a pure recession minus the pandemic, starvation, hunger, suicides become more prominent in the poorer sections of society. 

8. "Luck" feels so important, more than ever. I didn't deliberately choose to work in Singapore in the technology sector which is relatively safe compared to other industries such as events companies in Europe or the US. I was simply lucky to be here when this recession started.

These reflections make me wonder how people got through even worse periods in history such as wars, where a recession was just among a long list of worries, and the threat to human lives lasted longer than a few months. Such experiences have a way of stopping time and making you feel much older both at once. 

Apr 5, 2020

The merits of novels

Until recently I wasn't into novels, because I wasn't sure what to get out of reading stories that weren't true. As a child, I read every novel my parents would let me buy - they were an addiction, similar to how Netflix shows feel to me today. But after the high school work load took over and I started to fall behind in areas like science and math, any free time I had deserved a much "trashier" form of fun, like TV or gossip with other teenage girls. 

And then I went through another phase as a young adult - I started to prefer books that were non-fiction, because they provided some form of knowledge that proved the time I spent on books to be well spent and fruitful. These included self-help, how-tos and autobiographies. Since they were all based on fact and not fiction, I felt it was ok to spend time on them. 

More recently, I was inspired by a close friend from college to start reading fiction again. When talking of the value of fiction, she said that she actually got a lot from reading fiction. She often felt that the characters she read about were relatable either to herself, or to other people she knew. Even though novels aren't based on fact, novels that are written well are able to draw comparisons to the real world that she learns from. 

I decided to give it a shot and read "My Brilliant Friend", a book by Elena Ferrante, an Italian novelist recommended by a cousin. I was in the midst of reading Richard Branson's autobiography, but I was finding it hard to get through, so I decided to switch over to the novel. In the beginning, it was difficult to get through the pages, and my speed was admittedly slow and distracted.

But as I got more into it, I started to see more value of reading a well written novel. 

Firstly, I found that it became easier to find words to describe certain thoughts or feelings. While it shouldn't matter in theory, having words really helps enhance one's understanding of self better. 

Second, I found that I was able to communicate my thoughts to other people better, and it became easier to think of words to use to accurately say what I wanted to. This helped me quite a lot in phone calls I do for work. 

Third, my imagination and creativity became more forthcoming than they used to. It's easier to understand new ideas now and come up with new ones. In the past, I would often struggle to come up with blog post topics every week, which made me go on a long hiatus. Now, it feels easier to come up with thoughts and ideas I'd like to pen down. 

I think reading this type of novel, which is especially well thought out and well written, is different from the type of fiction I read as a child. The type of fiction I read as a child (Five Find Outers, Malory Towers, The Naughtiest Girl in School), were all well written too, but they are meant for kids. They certainly improved my communication abilities, but at the time, I didn't find myself thinking to deeply about the different perspectives those books provided. I also didn't find them relatable in a way that I saw myself or people I knew in the characters. To me, they were fairly distant characters who transported me to a different reality. 

Now, I'm on the third book of Elena Ferrante's series, and am excited to explore different types of novels that I never paid much attention to! 

Mar 28, 2020

Social distancing can be surprisingly soothing

Lately, with more imported cases coming into Singapore, the government has been announcing stricter measures, including closing of bars, banning non-essential trips to mall, banning gathers of more than 10 people and a 1 metre distance with people in all public places.

While we can still go outside the house, this does lead to some unavoidable social distancing, given that there are more constraints on going out, such as limited choice of places to go to, and shrunk capacity of places that are still open because of the 1 metre distancing.

I find that I am actually not unhappy with the impact these new rules have on my life. Social distancing and having fewer places to go to on the weekend makes my life more peaceful in general.

Life in a city tends to be quite bustling. Even weekends, which are traditionally meant for rest, can end up being quite busy in a different way, with socialising and other fun activities that the city has to offer.

This weekend feels different. After even my gym shut down last week, I woke up yesterday and found myself not too concerned about what time it was. Generally, I'd go for a yoga class at my gym every Saturday morning. Yesterday, I woke up with no place I had to get to, and it was really nice to be able to decide what I wanted to in the moment, rather than being dictated by my pre-determined schedule.

It's not just that there are fewer places to go to, but there is also lesser pressure to go out and socialise. Work from home is highly acceptable, and saying no to social outings is considered responsible. In non COVID times, I certainly felt the pressure to go out and see people, at least twice every weekend, even if it meant compromising on rest.

It's not like I dislike seeing people. In fact, my mind really enjoys it and feels more stimulated when I hear different perspectives from friends who I don't see during the week. But my body often feels tired and in need of rest. Still, I choose to go out, because in my mind, it is important to stay social.

All these new COVID related measures have led to less socialising and a slower pace of life, which gives me more time and space to think, read, write. More so, I find myself picking up hobbies I never thought I would pursue, even though there was a always a small intention at the back of my mind to try them - such as painting, or binge reading fiction.

I wonder, if after this mass quarantine ends, it might be worth it to make an active effort to slow down and keep up the social distancing one day a week, just to retain the sense of peace one can get from staying home.

Mar 17, 2020

Do I need more friends: Side effects of coronavirus work from home

My company has mandated a work from home policy for the next two weeks. I do genuinely appreciate their thinking of our safety, which is why I was quite relieved when they noticed the spike in imported cases of coronavirus in Singapore and decided to make all of us work from home for two weeks.

The first time I did work from home, which was about a month ago, I was quite happy with it. I got my alone time, was able to be productive, get more sleep and cut down on commute time. Infact I enjoyed it so much that I wrote a blog post about it.

However, this time, it feels different - firstly, I am beginning to feel like I need much more physical activity other than an hour of exercise a day. Sitting around all day isn't so nice.

Secondly, I find that my requirements for social interaction do indeed go up quite a bit while I am working from home. I feel the need to interact with a set of friend(s) every day after I end work. It's not that I need to go talk to people for the sake of not getting lonely. After all, I talk to people all day in my sales job! But rather, I start to feel a bit dull as a person if I don't go out and get new perspective from talking to other people. It feels like I am inside my head all the time!

This isn't a stark difference that I noticed right away as I started my work from home, but after my second day, I started noticing that I was becoming less creative and was focussing my mind on fewer topics that were already top of mind for me. When I meet friends or colleagues, I get out of my own head quite easily and am happy to talk about things they are thinking of. This brings in a rather fresh perspective that I quite enjoy!

Not having the regular interaction with friends or colleagues makes me wonder how life would be if I were to work for myself, or do freelance work for a bit. Being in the same space and not interacting with people as a part of my routine can really make me feel less interesting and creative, which isn't an issue short term, but can be one long term.

In the past, the effectiveness of remote work has been questioned by technological and productivity aspects - such as inability to communicate effectively or productivity lapses if workers are not in an office space. And I think humans have done an excellent job getting over those.

So in the first world, productivity and technological barriers are less of a challenge. But to me, the bigger challenges personally come with being in a physically constrained space (such as your house), and not having non-work related conversations with colleagues/friends, that could bring fresh perspective.

I personally haven't got to a point where I can have non work conversations over a video call or phone call. Meetings are generally set up with an intentionality, a fixed agenda (+1 for productivity), so to me, deviating from the agenda feels rather uncomfortable. I trust that some day I will get to a point where I can have the friendly banter I need over a video call.

Regardless, it is clear to me that these are conversations I certainly NEED, whether I speak to colleagues at work or friends after work. In times of coronavirus where I work from home, I wonder - do I need to see friends everyday after a day of work to get outside my own head? It seems unusual to be organising every day weekday evening activities or dinners, so it's not something I have gotten to. But as the work from home goes on, I think, that maybe, I need more friends.

Mar 8, 2020

What is "extra" about extra curriculars?

I started to learn tennis at a very young age - three years old, to be precise. I would practice against the wall while dad would play with his coach or his friends in the bigger courts. Slowly, I graduated to the bigger courts and event went to a tournament at the age of 9 where I won a bronze medal at mini-tennis. I continued to play all the way until the age of 16, after which hitting the books became more important than hitting the balls in the heat, that seemed to only get worse every year.

Even though I played tennis atleast once a week for 13 years - I never got very good at it. I was never that advanced a player. My strength and speed were average at best, and I was never really committed to the sport. I only played because it was one of the extra-curricular activities that didn't require too much thought or attention beyond the few hours spent on the court every week.

I think my lack of attention to tennis was partly because I didn't see a purpose to it beyond physical exercise. It wasn't like I was trying to become a star tennis player or get something out of it, so there was no reason for me to get better. Tennis being an "extra" curricular activity simply made it one with no real goal or purpose.

I kept thinking that way until a year ago. Around the time when I turned 25, I happened to go to a shitty yoga class. I'd started going for yoga classes at the age of 18 because I liked the way my body looked when I practiced yoga regularly. Eventually, it became a way for me to relax and find peace of mind as well. At the shitty yoga class, I kept thinking of all the things I would do differently if I was teaching it - I would remind everyone to be more mindful, use instructions that helped everyone get deeper into the pose, introduce more stillness and less movement, probably play some music, adjust students more than the teacher did.

And then I thought - maybe I could teach part time. I went home and quickly found many part time yoga teacher courses. After a 200 hour part time course, you could become a yoga teacher. Very quickly I also found the course that was a good fit for me. I signed up for it - but had a few months before it started.

In the few months leading up to the course, I worked hard to get my body to a point where it could match the level of an advanced yoga practioner - at the time, I believed that this was important to become a yoga teacher. While I don't think this is important anymore, I do think that this effort led to outcomes that were important for me - it taught me how to use my body better during sports.

While doing yoga and trying to get into advanced poses, I would need to find the right way to use my body strength and flexibility. I find that this skill has helped me a lot in other sports too, which got me excited to so many other sports I can't wait to learn. I recently started learning to swim - it was far easier to learn now than I remembered it being the last time I tried, which was just a year ago. Somehow, I was less afraid and more confident that I could mould my body to do all sorts of things.

Last weekend, my friends and I went rollerblading - it was my first time, and I fell multiple times, but somehow I was able to get through the hour without giving up and picking up a basic level. Just today, I was talking to a friend about learning krav maga. While I still don't see myself becoming a professional swimmer or fighter, the joy I get from learning these new activities in incredible, partly because its so different and refreshing from my usual day of sitting in front of my computer.

I think it isn't uncommon in Asia for kids to consider art, music and sports as extra curricular activities which don't need as much attention as math and science. So when we grow up, we don't quite get to enjoy all these things as much as we can, just because we never developed the skill required to appreciate and enjoy them.

I know that these are skills that don't bring in an income as often as math and science does, but I do think these greatly enhance the "life" part of my work-life balance. In my spare time, these are the types of things that make my life feel more holistic, exciting and creative.

It makes me think that our school system and cultural emphasis on academics brings us up to be humans who don't yet know how to fully use the hours outside of our income generating work! If I were to do my childhood over, I would spend a lot more time and effort mastering sports, art and music, just so I could have had more years with an appreciation for those things.

Feb 29, 2020

The styles and ways of yoga teachers across cultures

Having taken yoga classes in 4 different countries (US, Israel, India and Singapore), and gone through atleast 20 diffferent yoga studies and been in classes of 50 different teachers, I've seen a wide variety of yoga teachers. It is interesting to see how the styles of teachers vary so much with their personalities and cultures, even though they usually go through similar kinds of training.

The most surprising difference to me is how much the mood of the class can vary. Some teachers are more spiritual, and try to make their class more mindful, present and calming than others. These are teachers who usually get into yoga straight without having a background of fitness or sports. Personally, I really like the classes of these types of teachers because time flies by when you're in their classes, and you walk out feeling much more peaceful than before. I noticed these types of classes most often when I was interning in San Francisco for a few months in 2017.

In Israel, yoga teachers were very good at getting you to engage your muscles in class. The Israeli classes I attended were spiritual too, but given how strong most Israelis are compared to the rest of the general population thanks to their army background, their classes were much harder physically, and their instructions provided students an excellent way to start engaging the muscles in your body. I would feel my legs shaking after these classes and would generally need to eat before and after the class. After going to a few of these types of classes, I found I had lost a lot of fat and gained a lot of muscle. There were also noticeable differences in everyday movement such as sitting and standing - my body felt lighter and everyday movements were easier. I miss these kind of classes and wish I could find more of these.

The kinds in India were surprisingly unique - as the place of origin of yoga, the poses and styles are much more traditional in classes in India. Often, the classes don't involve as much flow, and they go at a slower pace. There's a lot more focus on breathing exercises than in classes I've seen in other parts of the world. Personally, I found these classes to be easier physically, but that's just from my limited experience of yoga classes in India. I also found a uniqueness in the style of instruction - teachers often tell you how a pose benefits your body while you're in it. It isn't uncommon to hear "this is good for your lungs, heart and thyroid glands" type of comment when you're in a pose. I personally like teachers mentioning why we are doing a certain pose because it gives the class a better sense of purpose.

In Singapore, I see a lot of emphasis on vinyasa classes which involve flowing from one pose to the next. In other countries I've attended classes in, vinyasa is just of the styles of yoga. But here, it feels like it's one of the main and most popular styles. I like it because it makes my body feel stronger and more mobile, but having said that I miss the diversity of classes. A lot of the yoga instructors in Singapore are also into other forms of fitness, which is why it is not uncommon to end up in a yoga class that feels more regimental. Sometimes, instructors will count the number of seconds you're to remain in a pose, which is a very different style. I personally don't like it when instructors count the seconds in a pose, because it makes it harder for me to focus on my breathing during the class and makes it feel like we are waiting for the torture to end. Most instructors in Singapore are not the spiritual kind, but I have come across a select few who encourage mindfulness from the beginning of the class and talk through savasana in the end.

Lastly, I have noticed two other major differences that don't seem to be country specific. One of them is sense of humor - some yoga teachers like to make their class funny and see their students smile, so they often crack jokes and tell stories as the class goes on. I like those teachers because their classes are pure fun! The second difference is background music - some classes are silent ones with no music in the background, while others have soft music playing. I like the classes with the soft music. Somehow, those that are quiet feel a bit unnatural and awkward, maybe because I am not so used to complete silence.

With my yoga teacher training coming up in April, I am excited to see how yoga teachers develop their unique styles and ways!

Feb 23, 2020

I think I can work from home

As of today, I haven't been to the office in over two weeks. Thanks to the newest epidemic on the block, Linkedin Singapore had us stay away from the office. Two of the towers next to ours had employees test positive for the coronavirus, so as a precaution, we have been working from home.

Some media has described this situation as the world's biggest work from home experiment given the number of employers advising employees to stay home. It's certainly true that this is the longest work from home experiment that I have experienced. 

When I received the notification of the work from home two weeks ago, I had mixed feelings about it - while I was happy that we would be relatively safe from the coronavirus, I also had bad memories from my past work from home experiences. Surprisingly, the past two weeks have been quite pleasant! I realised that there were some key differences that I needed in my work from home experience to make it productive and desirable for myself. 

Lone remote working does not work for me
In the past, whenever I have been the only person in my company working from home, I feel rather lonely. Knowing that all my colleagues and friends are at their workplaces while I am alone at home made me feel some kind of FOMO. I didn't think I was necessarily missing out on "fun" that they were having at work, but it made me feel odd to be at home when everyone else I knew was at work. With the coronavirus situation, it's become a norm to work from home - all my colleagues were working from home too, and so were many of our customers, and many of my friends. Given that we were all going through the same experience, there was no feeling of exclusion. More so, everyone working remotely leads to more tele-communication over chat, so our Teams chat was quite active throughout the day. One of the days, I met a friend for lunch, and another day I went swimming earlier in the evening than I normally would, because I knew other people near me also working from home. 

It helps to have deadlines or targets
When one is part of a startup or running their own startup, the targets and deadlines are much looser than in corporates based on my experience. When I worked from home in the past for my own startup or other people's startups, there weren't fixed deadlines or targets I had to meet. I could afford to slack. Now that I'm at a bigger company that has a stronger culture of targets and deadlines, I can't afford to slack! So even if I'm working from home, I won't get up from my desk in the middle of the day to go do laundry or cook lunch, because I have tight deadlines I need to be at my desk for atleast 8 hours a day to meet. 

Having fewer types of tasks helps
Switching between different types of tasks is always tricky for me. I feel the pain of transitions from meetings to focussed tasks to creative tasks to writing emails and so on. There is a certain discipline required to code switch effectively, which I am able to harness better at the office. My current job scope is relatively narrow compared to my past job scopes at startups. Most of my job involves making calls, setting up meetings, and writing notes from my meetings. So there isn't too much switching involved between different types of tasks, which makes it easier for me to focus through the day. 

Time bound work day is sooo important
Much of my past work involved working with people in different time zones, so I would wake up to many emails, which I would reply to before I was even fully awake, and then I'd go eat breakfast, come back to my desk and so on. There wasn't really fixed duration that I would work and a fixed time when I could stop and go do other things. I often had night calls, which meant I would come back to my desk at some point after 8 PM. This made it extremely hard for me to work from home because I didn't always know when I should be working and when I shouldn't. With my current job, my hours are based on APAC time zones - which is largely from 7 am to 6 pm. So I would work from 8 am to 5 pm most days and then leave my desk to do other things like exercise, get dinner, read, netflix, etc. 

I was surprised to find that this work from home experience was not only bearable, but also really nice in some ways! I liked that I didn't have travel time to work, didn't have to dress up too much and could control the temperature of my work environment (I am always cold in air conditioned environments, so I really appreciated being able to keep the air conditioning off). 

Also, I am an introvert - so I need some alone time in between calls to recoup. It is much easier to get that alone time at home than when in office, as much as I enjoy interacting with my colleagues at work! The stress levels and interruptions were also lower, leaving me with more energy at the end of my work day to focus on personal things - like reading, exercising, or thinking about personal projects. 

It makes me think about how remote working is an increasing trend across the world - at times, companies provide it as a way to give employees flexibility (to working parents for example). Other times, its a way for companies to cut down costs, in which case they may hire a workforce in a different country where salaries are lower. Other times, companies are fully remote and let employees work from wherever they want (like the ones in this list). Based on my short experiences so far working remotely, I think that environments that are fully remote are far easier to work in than those that are partial. Partial work environments where only some employees work remotely are really difficult for collaboration. Not to mention that remote employees may feel left out knowing that their colleagues in the office are seeing each other everyday and grabbing lunch together. Fully remote environments on the other hand level the playing field - everyone is equally connected or disconnected and communication + collaboration channels are set up to serve a remote work environment. 

This experience working from home makes me more open to taking up remote jobs in the future and working with companies that aren't in my vicinity. It's exciting to discover that there are plausible ways that one can sustainably work from home and enjoy it, because it means I don't have to limit myself to projects and opportunities that are within a 50 mile radius, like I would have before!

Feb 16, 2020

How I learn what I learn best

Recently, I came across the 70-20-10 model of learning that organisations often follow while talking to a Linkedin Learning prospective customer. It is fairly common for organisations to want their employees to learn 70 percent from doing their job, 20 percent from interactions with other people at work, and 10 percent from formal education events.

After hearing this several times, I started to reflect on ways I learn best. It was puzzling to think of this, given the strong objection again every learner having different learning styles. Research has pointed out that we don't have individual learning styles that differ from person to person and the whole concept of different learning styles is a myth (example).

However, I find that I have some preferences that may differ from that of other people's learning preferences. I don't think this has anything to do with the way my brain is wired, but I think it has more to do with my personality traits and habits.

I found that for me, I actually prefer to learn 30 percent from formal lecture or reading, 50 percent through social interaction with friends, and 20 percent through books. This may change in the future as I discover other ways of learning, but for now, this is how I learn what I learn best:

1. Formal learning: I learn best when I receive relevant information that I can immediately apply to my job. For me, I prefer to receive this information in video lecture or reading form rather than a tip given to me in passing by a colleague, manager or mentor. The reason I prefer a formal mode of delivery is that while I am reading or viewing content, I am in absorption mode and I am actively looking to receive and retain information. Also, if I am reading or watching a lecture, I have already decided to adopt a reasonable level of trust in the person or institute delivering the information, so my barriers are lower than someone giving me a tip in passing. When a colleague or friend gives me a tip in passing, I tend to consider it first before deciding if it's relevant and appropriate for me to apply. But when I am in absorption mode and have already established trust with the source of information, I am ready to apply that information to my day to day. At times, it won't work given the nuances that come with subjectivity in everyday life, but at the very least, I will test the advice given through formal training a few times before putting it off.

2. Social learning is a great way for me to learn too. When I meet friends over the weekend, I find myself learning a lot from them! Often the type of learning is different than the kind I mentioned in (1). It's either to do with bits of information about current affairs, or opinions related to current affairs, or life hacks. But either way, this is information I really really value, for the reason that it's impossible for me to find another way to gain this type of information elsewhere. While I could subscribe to BBC alerts or read The Skimm more regularly, I find that the best way to learn what's going on in the near and further away parts of the world is to meet people who care about these types of things. I also learn from people who talk about their personal struggles - often times, I find people's personal struggles to be quite relatable but quite alien at the same time, which gives me a wider perspective and more open mind.

3. Non fiction books for non professional learning. I read autobiographies and other non fiction books to gain knowledge in other areas. I really enjoy reading these and get a great deal of satisfaction from reading books, especially if they are by people who have achieved a great deal of success in their field. There is something about reading the writing of very successful people - the difference in their attitude really comes across in their writing. Some of my favourite books by successful people are Unstoppable by Maria Sharapova, Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Last Girl by Nadia Murad and The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee.

Feb 8, 2020

Watching an epidemic

With the new coronovirus all over China, and partly over Singapore, I feel like I have front row seats to watching an epidemic become a pandemic.

It's been interesting and scary at the same time to watch it unfold.

2 weeks ago on Jan 23, when the first case of coronovirus surfaced in Singapore, people were scared, but not as scared as they are now, since the person who had it was someone from China, therefore implying that it hadn't really spread too much in the local population. Masks and hand santisers were sold out within hours all the same, because a few people bought many boxes. The government had to put limits on the number of masks and sanitisers one person could purchase.

At the time, Singapore felt like a country trying to fight the virus together by taking precautions that prevented spread in it's local population. There was quite some anger and irritation towards Chinese tourists who were visiting Singapore.

Personally, I was scared because I had never experienced an epidemic. It's strange to try and avoid a virus - it's something you can't really see or know if it's around you. So it leads to a perpetual fear at the back of my mind whenever I am out in public. I also felt quite annoyed that there were Chinese tourists flying in knowing that they could be infecting their co-passengers and a population that hadn't yet been touched by the Wuhan virus. But I tried to be reasonable and remind myself that those Chinese tourists aren't to blame for a virus outbreak.

A few days ago on 4 Feb, we saw some Singaporeans with no travel history to China or known contact with someone from China contract the virus. That's when people started to really panic. That meant that the person next to us in the train could have it. That's when people went from being protective about the local population, to being protective towards smaller groups, like their own family and friends.

This Sunday morning (9 Feb), after 7 new locals were announced to have the virus, I saw people bringing bags and trolleys of groceries home, in case the time comes that everyone outside is infected and we have to stay home, similar to what the Chinese are experiencing now. I hear that people were at grocery stores hoarding canned food and toilet paper as early as 7 AM. I usually order Amazon Prime, and delivery slots have been fewer lately since many folks seem to be using online delivery.

Image result for wuhan virus singapore hoarding
Grocery hoarding

Having said that, the Singapore government knows how to handle these things - they went through SARS in 2003 and have clearly prepared for another epidemic since then. The airport had thermal screenings for passengers in flights from China a few hours after the first case. All the people coming from China were asked to self quarantine for two weeks, which is the incubation period of the virus. Anyone who didn't comply risked legal implications. A few days later, they stopped all flights from Wuhan, and a few days after that, they stopped all flights from China. Now, everyone coming in from any part of the world through any mode of transport is going through thermal screenings at the ports. Many office buildings have thermal screenings as well to make sure no one with a fever walks in.

What's most interesting to me is the contact tracing - apparently, that is one of the best ways to prevent an epidemic from getting worse. Once Ministry of Health identifies someone who is infected, they contact everyone that person has been in touch with so that they can prevent those people from potentially infecting others. One of the challenges of the coronavirus is that it spreads even before symptoms show. So anyone could have it and be passing it on, but it's possible they aren't showing any symptoms yet.

One of the side effects that comes with contact tracing though is fake calls - yesterday, the Ministry of Health issued a notice saying that they don't ever ask for financial details over the phone when doing contact tracing. It seems like there may be some people out there taking advantage of the fear and trying to get financial details out of people under the pretence of being the Ministry of Health doing contact tracing.

Coughing in the office is a no no. People who are mildly sick, even if it's a clear case of a common cold, aren't coming to office. When someone coughs or sneezes in the train, people step away from them without any shame.

On any other day, I would say the step away when someone sneezes type of behaviour is very unkind. But I think this type of fear in Singapore actually helps people stay a little bit safer. It's culturally inappropriate to sneeze or cough in public in times like this, so the ones who are even mildly unwell don't dare show up to work.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister's office released a video in which PM Lee assured everyone that we had enough food and toilet paper - so no need to hoard. He also said that if this gets worse, hospitals would prioritise those with health complications, since we may not have enough beds in hospitals for everyone infected. I hope it doesn't get to that stage, but I do expect it to get worse for the next few days atleast. He also encouraged the population to not blame or discriminate against the Chinese.

While I continue to go to work and go out for groceries or to gym classes, I am avoiding making social plans at coffee shops or restaurants to whatever extent I can.

Jan 25, 2020

My first two months at a big tech company

Today marks the anniversary of my two months at Linkedin. When I started this new job on Nov 25 2019, I also started my first ever corporate job. I had spent all my professional life working for either my own startup or someone else’s, which is why this experience has been very new for me! I noticed a couple of differences, and also a few similarities. 

Some of the big differences I noticed: 

  1. There is a position for everything: My first observation was how Linkedin had positions devoted to everything! I noticed a lady always near the lunch area, and realised after a few days that she was incharge of the food. There was someone always at the reception, and there was someone in charge of making sure we got to our desks on the first day. Coming from a startup where all those roles were managed by the same person, this was new to me, but also introduced me to the sheer scale of things at a big company! Whats more, there was an abbreviation for every different role! In my first few days, I tried googling the abbreviations I came across, only to find that these roles have different names at each company! I am more used to the abbreviations now, but the number of positions still amaze me! 
  2. Narrower roles with big impact: In my first week, I was mostly just shadowing and learning from other people in my team. I started speaking with customers about Linkedin Learning in my second week. My role was to understand their needs and then see if they were at the right stage in their company to adopt Linkedin Learning. If they were, they’d get passed on to a product expert who could give them more details on our product. This sounded like a pretty narrow role to me when I was initially introduced to in my interview process, but one that I was very keen to learn. However, by the end of my second week, I had spoken to so many companies about their learning and development needs that I didn’t think twice about whether or not I was making any impact at Linkedin. I felt that the impact I was making was still large given the sheer number of people I spoke to everyday at Linkedin, even though the percentage of my impact on the overall company is lower than it was at the startup I worked for before. 
  3. Cross team collaboration feels different: At startups, one person can equal one team. At Linkedin, there are so many people and teams, that speaking to another team, such as marketing, feels much further away than it did before. Sometimes teams are on a different continent entirely, so speaking with another team sometimes takes more effort. There is also some effort involved in finding the right person to speak with at a big organisation. At a startup, one person often manages everything under their function, so it is straightforward to find them and collaborate. Having said that, collaboration is equally valued and encouraged in both the work environments.
  4. Questions are more easily answered: At startups I’ve worked for before, answers weren’t as easily available, because none of us had figured out many things about the industry or internal processes. When I’d have questions about how to approach a relevant lead to pitch the startup’s product, I’d need to look for resources or people to find the answers. At Linkedin,  resources are abundantly available for these types of things. Most of the time, I just ask myself who might know the answer to my question at Linkedin, and then I usually find someone within a 5 metres radius to answer that question for me. While I enjoy finding my own answers at startups, I like having immediate answers too. It leads to my coming up with harder questions once the easier questions are quickly answered.
  5. We have multiple all-hands: At startups, it is common to have one townhall or all hands every month. At Linkedin, there are so many different teams and organisations within Linkedin, that I have already attend 4 different kinds of all hand meetings, each of which I find very inspiring! In the past two months, I have attended a global all hands, global sales all hands, APAC all hands, Singapore all hands and an APAC sales all hands.
  6. People move roles so quickly: In my first month itself, I saw people switching teams. Internal review cycles happen every 6 months, which lead to many promotions and internal transfers. Some people leave to go to other companies too. At startups, it’s common for people to stay in the same role for several years, but the roles in itself evolves very quickly as the needs of the startup change. 
  7. Targets matter more: In startups, there isn’t much historical data to create targets scientifically, which is why targets can at times be lofty. Other times, targets at startups aren't difficult to achieve, but there aren’t enough people or expertise to achieve them. At Linkedin, there is an entire team devoted to setting scientific targets based on historic data. I wouldn’t say the targets are easy to achieve in any which way. But they are more realistic and there is usually a legitimate plan on how to achieve them. Most days, I am just focussed on getting closer to that ONE type of target that I have, as opposed to a few different goals that I was used to from startup environments. 
  8. Focus is more on growth than survival: At startups, the emphasis is more on survival and getting to breakeven so that the company’s revenue is equal to, if not more, than it’s spend. At Linkedin, the focus is entirely on growth. While in both cases, the actions and direction are similar, the feeling is quite different.
  9. We don’t just have a help desk website for our customers - we also have one for employees: On Day 1, i was told that if I needed anything at Linkedin, like figuring out how to make claims, or check my payslip, or request personal time off, I can go to our online help desk. It has articles on everything administrative that an employee needs to know. At startups, there tend to be one or two people handling all these administrative matters, so a startup employee doesn’t need to do much more than walk up to the admin person’s desk to get things sorted!
  10. There a bazillion different apps and softwares we use: At startups I’ve worked at, there are maybe 4-5 different tools used by any given team (tops). But now, there are so many specialised integrations and tools I find myself using for work. It took me some time just to figure out the names and functions of all these different tools that I could use for better productivity and results in my work. We also have a few trainings that taught us how to use these tools. At this point, I am not sure what’s an integration and what’s a tool by itself. 

Having said that, there were a few things  I found to be similar to a startup.

  1. Collaboration is equally important. Even though roles are fairly individual in my new team at Linkedin, working together is always better than working alone, because it leads to better results, either in terms of our personal learning, or in terms of getting better deals. 
  2. I love the people I work with: Bigger companies are known for having a more competitive culture. Maybe I got lucky, but I really like and admire the people I work with as much as I did at the last startup I worked at. 
  3. Impact on the big wide world still matters: A perception I had of bigger companies before joining Linkedin was that they care more about money than impact. Atleast at Linkedin, that is very untrue. Linkedin puts a lot of emphasis on it’s larger goal of creating economic opportunity for everyone. A lot of emphasis also goes into volunteering and donating to non profits. I was surprised to find that Linkedin matches every employees donation to non profits 1 for 1. 
  4. Spending habits: I felt that bigger company’s employees may have more extravagant spending habits. I am not sure why I thought this way, but I realise that this is not true at all in the people I frequently interact with at Linkedin. I was really glad to observe this, because on most days, I really value frugality. 
  5. I still work the same amount, if not more: There is a common perception that startup employees work long hours. I think that can be true to some extent, but I hadn’t really found that to be true for business roles in startups. At Linkedin, I still work the same amount, but perhaps at different hours since I now work with a different market (now APAC, previously worldwide). I think I might actually be working more at Linkedin, because I am still getting used to my new job and learning how to be more productive in my new role.
  6. People tend to have varying professional goals. For example, not everyone at a startup wants to continue being with a startup all their lives. Similarly, I come across people at Linkedin who want to stay there for long, some who want to eventually explore different types of work, and some who want different roles within Linkedin. 
  7. Varying interests outside of work: I am glad to report that both my old and new colleagues have interests and hobbies they are passionate about after work! I really enjoy people telling me about the latest marathon they ran, or a new certification they are getting to become a professional coach!
  8. People are equally hardworking. I have been blessed to be around people who are incredibly hard working and make sure that the job gets done in both types of work environments. I think that might be a Singapore thing, and a habit that I am really happy to be surrounded by. 

I’m sure I’m going to gain a deeper perspective as time goes by at Linkedin, but for now, those are some of the key differences I’ve observed. I am excited to keep learning and growing with Linkedin in the time to come.