What Did I Tell The Kids?

Recently, I was invited as a speaker to a university event where we shared about our experience as alumni. During the event graduation dinner, my colleague, Maya said, “Look at them, I think we have come a long way ourselves, huh?” She nudged me while observing the kids dancing on the stage.

I smiled. “Do you know the term take a knee?” I asked her. She said no. So, I explained.

In the movie “After Earth”, When Jaden ran frantically out of fear in the dangerous earth, his commander cum father Will Smith repeatedly instructed him to “take a knee” until he stopped. And when he did, he realized he was poisoned by an alien insect on the back of his palm. He was dying. If he had not taken the knee, he would have run till exhaustion and dropped dead.

In the military, “take a knee” is an order given when troops are tired and need a break; or that action happens when troops are pausing to observe, orient, and decide the manner by which they will move forward against the enemy.

In life, we need to take a knee too.

Sometimes, we tend to be oblivious to how far we have journeyed because we get busy. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and we just drift away; We just move along.

“How do you take a knee in life?” Maya asked. Read More

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If Life had a manual, this is mine

I call this note My life’s little instructions. I wrote it for my 29th birthday.

Since then, I update it yearly as a birthday ritual.

This week, I turned 29 30 31.

#1 Everyone is fighting their own battles

“If we threw our problems in a pile and got a look at everyone else’s, we would fight to get back ours“, Regina Brett wrote in her book “God never blinks”.

A few weeks ago, during my team dinner with the boss, she said, “I wish I could invite you guys to my house, but my father does not like visitors.” We asked why.

“He suffered a brain injury and became atrabilious ever since. Sometimes, he lashes out at my mom.” I thought she had a perfect life, then I got a glimpse of her vulnerable side.

Everyone is fighting their own battles. Even Obama has constipation.

#2 The best way to trust someone is to trust them

A friend’s boyfriend cheated on her.

She asked me,” How could ever I trust anyone anymore?”

“Keep trusting. I know it is painful, but I would trade another betrayal than stopping trusting people. Why let someone’s misuse of trust turns you into one of them? There are more than enough people who love you. Trust them,” I said.

#3 Don’t compare life

My sister’s HR manager asked her in her interview, “How do you feel having high achiever elder siblings?”

My sister replied, “Good for them. Now, If you may, It is time for me to live mine!”  We have our own destiny and it begins when you stop comparing.

Never try to live someone else’s life; never try to chase after other’s destiny. Because you are awesome the way you are. Read More

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What If Today Was Your Last Tomorrow?

I was alone, stranded in the middle of a safari. The sky was painted bright orange and a soft blue – I couldn’t tell if it was sunrise or sunset.

How did I get here?” I shook my head hard but my memories were blank. It was as if God sneezed while He was painting my destiny but smeared off a chunk of my memories.

I dusted the dirt off my body and looked around, spotting a huge parade of white elephants. There was easily three dozen of them in various sizes – one as large as a hot air balloon! “He must be the alpha male,” I murmured.

Suddenly, gunshots echoed from afar. The earth started moving. I could barely find my balance. When I finally did, two dozen panicked elephants were storming towards me!

“FUCK!” I yelled. I ducked instinctively. I was bouncing up and down on the ground like a basketball during an earthquake.

“I had a really vivid dream!!” I later WhatsApp-ed my friend, describing the white elephants and their earth shaking stomping.

“Perhaps it was not a dream,” she replied.

A strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake had just rocked Sabah and shattered Mount Kinabalu. We were to hike the mountain exactly 24 hours later. The gunshots in my dream were, in reality, the sound of shattering glasses in my room. I came very close to facing the white elephants on Mount Kinabalu.

Over a hundred of climbers are stranded at the peak of Mount Kinabalu. Some might not even survive the sub-zero temperature at night. I prayed for their safety. Had I decided to hike one day earlier, I would have been one of them. I might not come home at all.

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I couldn’t help but think…“What if?

There are only so few people and so few things that truly matter in our lives.
“I would’ve called my family to say a final goodbye if Digi had the reception at the peak,” my friend said. We had decided to spend our planned climbing weekend near the beach instead. I sipped my latte.

“My parents would’ve been so heart-broken. It would break my heart to see my parents mourn for me,” she continued. “I think it is a blessing if our parents pass before us.” It reminded me of literature I read many years ago.

It was a book on the French revolution. At their final moments, a group of revolutionist captives was lined up heading towards a Guillotine – a tall, upright frame with a weighted, angled blade is raised to the top and suspended. The captives were to be locked at the bottom of the frame, their neck directly below the blade. Public beheading was a scare tactic to suppress the revolution.

There was an innocent young girl among the captives. She did not know that death was near. As the captives approached the deadly structure, the adult revolutionists pushed the girl to the very front of the line. I didn’t understand why the adults could be so cowardly.

It is love,” my literature teacher replied with a graceful smile. Read More

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How to love without saying “I love you”

It was the Valentine’s day. Roses and chocolates galore. I  was in a mall full of lovebirds and I wondered, “what is love on a normal day?

Then I got a text from my mom and she inspired me. I made this list.

1) For more than 20 years, my mom never missed a day waking up at 5.30 am to ready my sisters and I for school. She said,“I hardly go to school, so I am not as smart as other’s mom. But I do my best.”

2) My mom never allowed pet at home. One day, she changed her mind. My sister is an animal lover and she just broke up. My mom allowed my sister to keep the stray dog she had been pleading for my mom’s permission  Now, Brownie is my mom’s fourth daughter. My mom mixes Omega 3 fish oil along with chicken breast and fine cut cabbage for Brownie as lunch.

3) My mom started taking snapshots of Brownie because she knows I love seeing Her. She sends the pictures to me via WhatsApp every day. She keeps me closer to home.

4) My mom texts me every day to remind me to drink water, to have dinner on time, and not to leave office too late. Sometimes, I lie about my late dinner to give her a peace of mind.

Read More

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Of Skydiving & Pancake

Last year, I jumped off a plane. It was my first tandem skydiving experience.

Commercial tandem skydiving is easy and hassle-free. We went with an academy in Pattaya run by an Australian boss. We were given a short 10 minute brief on “what you should do if you want to get yourself killed” in a half-jokingly manner. He included “do not puke in mid-air” and “pee before you jump”.

My tandem buddy was an American by the name of John. He looked like he was in his late thirties.

John spoke in a thick west American accent that reminded me of sunny California beach. He also spoke fast and loud – sounded like a carefree cowboy from Texas.

There were 10 of us and the propeller-powered plane could only take two pairs of jumpers at a time; I went last so I had quite a fair bit of time to kill. John and I walked around the hanger to check out a collection of gliders.

“Hey John, what brought you to Thailand?” I knew it was common to have Farang in Pattaya anyway, but the question felt like a safe ice breaker.

“Well, life. Life brought me here. I started sky diving in my twenties and I got hooked. The jumps became part me ever since. I went around the world to dive; and at each place, I hang around a little while. Bangkok is my 20th stop. Or wait, or maybe 23rd. Well, I lost count.”

“Wow! It must be a heck of a life! Do you like Thailand better than any other countries?”, I asked. Now he got my attention.

“Son, this is a wrong question. The world doesn’t make you; you make the world. Thailand is as great as I want it to be, or as miserable as I want it to be too. It is up to you to make a lemon into lemonade…or a cocktail. I prefer it with extra shot though. ”

We laughed.

“How do you make the world?”, I asked.

He tapped his finger lightly on my forehead and said “Start with your head”. He pointed to the dark cloud that was forming not far away and I can vaguely see our plane in the sky.

“See that? What do you see?” Tiny figures dropped out of the plane.

“Storm’s coming and I will probably not make my turn later?” I said.

“Well, yes and no. I see a clear sky for a perfect jump after the storm moves west. Or if the storm does linger on, you just saved your own life. Either way, it is good for you!”

He went on. “Everything has no meaning until we assign them one. You see that?” He pointed to a bright yellow single seated aircraft at the far corner of the hanger.

“It is just an aircraft in our eyes, meaning beautiful mechanics part put together, at best. To him, it is a painful memory. The plane belonged to Mona”. As he spoke, he casually pointed to Alex who was busy getting ready to buddy my friend. Alex is the owner of the academy.

“Who is Mona?” I asked.

“His wife. Died.”

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What Lingerie Taught Me About Leadership

One of my most vivid learning on leadership has to do with lingerie.

The name is Daniel Franco. Once upon a time, he made lingerie.

It was an afternoon many years ago. I was at home switching between TV channels looking for something interesting to watch. This scene caught my eyes.
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A girl (whom I found out her name was Chloe later on) was sobbing and she said between her chokes: “You are such a good person; and to me, it is more important than being a great designer”. I downloaded the episode – what happened before and after Chloe’s sobbing scene made my heart warm and my eyes teary, even after years.

 

Here are 6 of my favourite quotes from the video and why.

1) “I think lingerie is sexy and I think it is supposed to come off!”
Follow the leader with a wrong vision and he leads you to somewhere. Follow the leader without a vision, however, he leads you to nowhere.

Between somewhere and nowhere – I would risk the former over the latter because  at least you are moving forward.

A leader without a vision is like running a marathon without being in the track, you are not even in the race. A leader with a wrong vision is a marathon runner on a wrong track, you can adjust route eventually.

My friend’s father said, “A vision is a painting you see in your head; when and if everyone else sees it, it is no longer a vision”. It is fine your vision is not agreeable by everyone, but you must have one

A vision gives birth to a purpose and purpose creates passion.

I remember one day during a casual conversation, I asked my marketing director,“how do you know I am ready (for a bigger role)?”

He said,“You always have an opinion”.

If having a vision is too far-fetched for you, start by listening to your opinions.

You will find clues because an opinion is a dressed-down version of a vision. Read More

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6 Lessons I Learned On My Way To The Everest Base Camp

It was March 2012.

I saw a Groupon deal with beautiful copywriting. It said “Relaxing scenic trek in Annapurna with yoga. Relaxes your mind and stuffs like that”. OK, relax and yoga sounded like the right keywords for a getaway. How tough could it be when it involved morning yoga and yogurt?

So I signed up with two buddies, William and Saha. They were marathon runners and I was a walking potato.

2 weeks into booking the trip, an after-thought kicked in.

“I would probably not go back to Nepal anytime soon anyway, so might as well do Everest instead”. So William proposed a “trade up” plan – Let’s go to Everest! Saha said “Sounds like a good idea!” and I screamed “Guys, we agreed on Yoga and Yogurt! Everest doesn’t sound relaxing weii!”

The truth was: the idea was exciting. But, I was never a trekker. In fact, I couldn’t even stay on the treadmill for 20 minutes without getting a heart attack from panting too hard. So, as exciting as it was, the thought was equally daunting. I was scared.

Eventually, I decided to #YOLO it.

I went to Everest Base Camp. I made it.

Here are 6 lessons I learned.

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1) If you are doing it for the first time, you will never be ready anyway.
Same goes for every other “first” attempt in life.

Remember when you first learn how to swim? As much as you can memorize the techniques – you would feel insecure until you got into the pool for the first time. Remember your first stage performance? After 200 hours of grilling practices – you would still feel a tornado of butterflies in your tummy. Same goes to heading off to Everest Base Camp for the first time. We trained, over-stocked our medicines, bought expensive waterproof socks, and a pocket knife in case we walked into a bear – we weren’t certain until we did it.

A comfort zone is a place where you’re in control because you know what to do. A comfort zone is a nice cozy place but eventually, you will get bored. Remember, progress is living.

Stop progressing, stop living.

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How To Get Back To Work After A Long Holiday?

Imagine this.

It is 6.30 a.m in the Monday morning. Chicago airport.

You just got off a 12 hours flight returning from a two weeks holiday in Thailand. Your head was still a little disoriented from the jet lag and of course, the hangovers.

You finally got your car. The engine made a few low-frequency humps died. Let’s try it again. This time it sounded like an old man’s cough and went into a coma. The engine died because you left your car idle when you were away.

For some of us, that grumpy car is as if your momentum after a long year-end holiday. 

Getting back to work after a long holiday can be quite a task.  Read More

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5 lessons I learned in 2014

Hello 2015.
Here are a 5 lessons I learned (and relearned) in 2014.

1) Find a Purpose bigger than planet Mars
I witnessed the Thailand 2014 political crisis protest.

Tell me, what comes to your mind when I say the protest? Most probably “blood sheds, conflict, death, and unrest”? True, but there was more to it.

I saw the other side of the #bangkokshutdown. The humane side of it. I joined the protests – perhaps I was lucky, the ones that I went to were so carnival-like that it felt like a street concert. Yes, there were concerts, happy gatherings, and some took their costumes very passionately. Most of these people have their day jobs, they were likely just making ends meet too. They gathered – invested their time, money, and energy without asking anything in return.

My friend’s mum opened up her kitchen and cooked for the protesters. Everyday, she prepared food for more than 100 people. I have colleagues who rather use up their annual leaves for the protest. Whenever I spoke to them about the protest, you can see sparkles in theirs eyes. Their faces glowed up. They were proud. They were happy. They were fulfilled. Those emotions and energy were contagious.

Why? They were serving a purpose bigger than self. Now imagine that the protest is your life, what would you do? When you find that purpose for yourself, the fire in the belly will never go off.

2) Happiness is a butterfly
I experimented with project 100happydays.

I had fun. Life was a little more excited when I was out looking for “moments and stuffs” to be happy about – like when someone asked me for coaching, when I dived with manta ray for the first time, and when I made myself a very nice breakfast; and of course, read a good book. I paid more attention.

Having that said, could I be genuinely happy the whole 100 days? No, fortunately and realistically.

I remember feeling reluctant with some of the posts and when I got to the last one, I ironically breathed a sigh of relief – “over n done n still happy”. Some friends who started the experiment with me dropped off by day 30; while some resorted to posting largely pictures of coffee and latte art only. I guess, they felt the same friction. The friction of chasing happiness.

Happiness is a butterfly. The more you chase after it, the more it flies away.  Perhaps, the trick is not to look and log happiness. Instead, we should learn to attract happiness. No butterfly wants to stop on a rotted flower. No happiness wants to enter a sour soul either.

Do you know what makes your soul rich and sweet? Do you know how to attract happiness? Or before that, What is happiness to you?

Read More

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