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.