Ask not how the prospects are, aim to have a curtain call without regrets

不问前程如何 但求落幕无悔

This quote stuck with me since I watched “The Empress of China” a few weeks ago. The title of my post is literally the translation of the quote above. I thought it was quite meaningful and it reflects the continuing theme of the drama series very well as the female lead strives to lead a life that does not defy her morals or values even when the prospects might look dim.

The quote holds real life lessons for us as well. How many of us are living our lives based on who we are? Instead most of us are worried about prospects and work to please so that our future is bright. Yet when we ask ourselves, when the curtain calls, would we have lived a life full of regrets?

That got me thinking. I am rather fortunate to be able to find a job that holds meaning for me, and I try to live my life based on what I think is right. Keeping myself to my values and trying not to lose sight of myself. Doing the things that I think matter and trying to maximise my influence so people follow.

While my job aspect has been rather pleasing, I cannot say the same for the other aspects. Indeed there were things that I wanted to do but I procrastinate, and I ended up wasting plenty of time elsewhere when I should be doing other stuff. These undone tasks would indeed be my life’s regret if I continue.

So, do what you want to do, because you only live once? But I think the chinese poetic quote sounds so much better than yolo. Just saying.

The Year Thus Far

I’m taking a little bit of time to resume writing in order to clear my mind to focus on the more important things that I should be looking at this year. Last year was a more successful year in terms of keeping to my new year’s resolutions. I realised that I failed miserably this year because I was getting distracted. Another reason was that I had neglected to write down the things that I had wanted to achieve this year. Last year, I blogged about it.

Because I wasn’t focused, the time went by quickly without me knowing and we are at the end of May already. Time and tide waits for no man, yet I chose to frivolously spent my time on things that do not matter as much. Instead, I should have focused on building my career and charting out my goals.

So here goes:

[To Resume] One book Per Month

I have read two books this year and both of them are on investments. I have started reading “The Intelligent Investor” (only a few pages), and I am also in the middle of a textbook on Reliability Modelling, which I am making slow progress. Soon it will be Jun and I need to catch up on 4 books before I become on track. However what I am doing this year is a little different. I have identified a few areas that I am weak in or need more knowledge on. This year, I am focusing on:

  1. [Book 3 and 4] Investment – Two books so far and to complete “The Intelligent Investor” and my “Technical Analysis Explained” book this year.
  2. [Book 5] Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats – I saw the book being sold in MPH/Times.
  3. [Book 6] Six Sigma – To identify a book
  4. [Book 7] Networking – To identify a book
  5. [Book 8] The Power of Forgetting – I saw this book by “Mike Bryster with Kristin Loberg” at the book stores and I thought it was interesting.
  6. [Book 9 and 10] Books for fun: (1) Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and (2) What Should I Do with My Life by Po Bronson – Saw these books and thought they were interesting and that I should read this for the sake of reading something different.

I still have 2 spaces for other books though. I realised I have dropped “Productivity” themed books from my reading list as there are not much extra tips and tricks that I can learn. Along the way I have come up with a method I am comfortable with although it is not perfect. I have also dropped leadership books as I have yet to even master the books I learnt last year.

[To Kickstart] Small Coaching Sessions: One Way to Improve / month

I realised I wanted to spend some targeted time coaching my subordinates. Yet I have not been effective because I rarely plan what I want to say to them. As a result I have wasted precious time making small talk when I could have delivered a small coaching session which would have been beneficial.

[To Start Doing] Investment Analysis: One case study a month

I have wanted to start doing this since last year but have never moved. I need to find a way to make this a habit. This is for the future and to achieve financial freedom.

[To Write] My Own Book

I wanted to do this since the start of the year and complete this by the end of the calendar year. Yet I have not written a single word although I have started planning the content. To make this work, I need to make it a habit. To do this, I need to write something on a daily basis before writing becomes an automatic thing to me. I have about half a year left, and I need to make this work.

I kept to only four goals this year to make it manageable. These four individual goals are important to me. I have not mentioned my other goals involving my spouse to be, for that is something we will have to plan together.

I think I got more clarity after penning down my thoughts. 🙂

The Senior who wrote a book

Recently, I got to know that a senior of mine, who was in the fourth year of university when I was a freshie, actually wrote a book. At first I did not think much of it and was just impressed that he took time off to write a book. Today, he provided a link to his website, Finding Home Inside. I realised it was a blog which contained many articles which he had written. In it, he introduced his book and mentioned why he took the time to write it. Looking at the way the book was introduced, with a photo of the book itself, reminded me of internet marketing and that I wanted to write one this year. However I did not do anything to begin this effort. As I looked through his website, I realised he used crowdfunding to fund his publishing costs. I started to look forward to see his book in the book stores. What got me thinking – and writing – was that I wanted to do something similar, although not for the same reasons. I wanted to write something based on my experiences and what I learnt, to benefit people, and at the same time, try out some internet marketing as a hobby. But the thing is, he wrote a book and sold it, while I haven’t written a single word. He wrote about how he was at the lowest point in life, with only twelve dollars in his pockets, and I guess he just went ahead to do it. Compared to him, I feel small inside. Another approach he took that was similar to my style was including some books he had read. While I see that there are only two, it reminded me that I read one book per month last year, and I wanted to share what I had learnt. There were so many things I wanted to do, but I didn’t, because I procrastinated. Hopefully I would pick up the habit of writing again, with this small step of updating my blog. To dreams and beyond. Thanks to my senior who got me thinking again.

Trying out a new routine & The need to feel Hungry

Since yesterday, I made it a point to try to sleep at 11:20pm. This is because I wake up daily at 06:20am. This arrangement would allow me to sleep for 7 hours a day, which many different online sources seem to say is the minimum required. I have been feeling tired for the past few months as I sleep at 12 and wake up at 6:20.

When I woke up today as a result of the additional 40 minutes, I feel more refreshed and energetic. There seems to be a spring to tell me it is time to wake up and “Sieze The Day!”. I shall see how this continues for the next few days.

Apart from the new sleep routine, I have also tried to cut down on unnecessary wastage of time spent on the internet doing nothing fruitful. Perhaps this conscious effort helped in ensuring that I am writing a post instead of surfing forums and re-watching YouTube videos. I hope I can continue though. I have also continued to read a book which I bought previously on Six Sigma, and perhaps it would be the book of the month for May.

The previous book that I read was about Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). I believe in NLP as many of the changes I experienced in my life that led to my academic successes seemed in-line with NLP principles. Part of it is the living “at cause” as opposed to “at effect” which I mentioned briefly in my previous two posts. I was also more optimistic in the period where I started to work harder for my studies.

But that is not the main reason why I needed to mention it in this post. The reason lies with the final chapter in the book that asks “How much do you want it”, or as I always say “How hungry are you”? There is a book called “The Secret” which said “Anything that you want from the Universe will be given to you”. But I think we need to justify that because there can be many wants, but only a select few in which you are hungry enough to do what it takes to get there. As with goal setting, we have to identify on how much we want it, lest it becomes a dying flame and all we have at the end of our lives is the memory of the smoke.

With that, I am going to re-do my mind map of the legacy I want to leave behind as a new way to reaffirm my personal goals.

A reflection on self improvement

I wanted to write in order to talk about self improvement. Recently I was toying around with an idea of forming a group with like minded individuals who are passionate about self-improvement and sharing of knowledge. The group will also be a form of peer support, providing advice when needed. It is like a mentor program, except it will be by peers. Perhaps in the future the group could evolve to include much younger members (when we are all older), when it will transit to a mentor support group. However, other than a like-minded colleague, I have yet to met anyone who would be even interested in this.

Over the past 3 months, I have read or have begun reading 3 different books. In January, I read “The First Time Manager in Asia” and wrote a post about it.. In February, I read “The 5 Levels of Leadership”. I did not complete it though. I finished reading Level 3: Production and figured that I had some improvement to go in this aspect before I should proceed to the next level. However, someone I met told me that it is always good to be aware of what the next level is even if you are not in the position to understand and appreciate the level itself.

This month’s book is “The Fine Art Of Small Talk – How to start a conversation in any situation” by Debra Fine. I have began reading and taking down notes; however I have yet to apply it even though I had situations to. This is an area which I had identified as a weakness of mine and I have to do something to minimise the weakness. That is essentially what self improvement is about, improving strengths and reducing weaknesses.

To conclude, I have been diligently reading one book a month and occasionally I take a look at my mind maps in order to refresh my memory on the concepts learnt. I am glad to have taken a good start to keeping my goals for the new year and look forward to completing the year 2014 as a much improved person. I am also hopeful to influence others to set such goals for themselves as well.

The Passion for Programming

I’m writing this again because I was suddenly reminded of the passion I used to have for programming. I was surfing the net as usual when I saw an email telling me about a major upgrade to this calendar app which I supposedly used to have. I went to click on the website and after a few clicks, I stumbled upon the “Team” page where it lists down all the programmers that worked on the project. And… I just felt like a part of me was woken up from a deep sleep. Yet I know I purposely hid that part of me as there was not much opportunity to use it given my work and my personal life thus far.

But I used to love programming. I picked up HTML when I was 13. I know that isn’t programming but that was my first computer-sy related venture. I wanted to build sites so I started figuring how to build websites. In the first generation of pages, every bit of information was listed in a long scrolling page. Next came frames and slowly everything evolved to the internet that we knew of.

I didn’t do much until after NS when I learnt that a good friend of mine has his own website. It sparked me to get my own domain name (hence this URL instead of the default one) and a host. I created my blog on the host and began picking up CSS and improve on my Photoshop skills. Soon, I picked up a little of PHP and MySQL and I built NextTutor, a tuition pairing website.

In university, we had to learn C and subsequently C++ to build simple applications. I learnt Matlab programming to do my image processing assignments. I learnt how to use Visual Studio to build GUIs  using Visual Basic. I picked up Java programming for my FYP.

Now? I have forgotten most of them as I had not touched them for a long time. But the programming methodologies and concepts still stays. It is easier to pick up on programming as well. I believe the foundation also allows me to re-pick up on these languages when I want to.

I’m currently learning Excel Programming to improve my workplace productivity. It is taking me a while as I cannot afford to spend time on it during work hours. It is like a feeble attempt to reach out to one part of me that used to do such things. And it still excites me too; that I can build something which other people can use. Something that will help cut down on time so others are freed up to do more work.

Think about it. What’s your hobby that you should do once in a while just to give yourself something to be happy about?

Reflection in Year 2013 and Goal Setting for 2014

At the end of every year, people think back at the past 12 months as a form of reflection. The new year marks the start of a new beginning, at least emotionally wise. People set new year resolutions as a form of moving forward and some break them almost immediately. But the exercise still holds merits as those who stick to their plans diligently would be rewarded in the future.

As a means of follow up, these are the resolutions I had at the end of 2012:

1) Read 1 book a month – I was not diligent enough
2) Pass my PCT exam – Yes! I did it!
3) 23 points for IPPT – Sadly to say I had not done this
4) Improve at work until I am at least pleased with my performance – I am satisfied but I know I could have done better
5) Write more regularly on this blog – Which I did not
6) Get started on my investments – Yes I did, but the many events that happened this year made it hard to keep up

At the end of 2012, I was officially posted into my workplace. Hence 2013 is the first actual year where I am not on-the-job training, although I had been in the workplace since May 12. 2013 was the year where I grew to be more effective at work, learning more about the various aspects and becoming more decisive as a person. I learnt to take the responsibility of my decisions and effect changes in areas that I believed in.

I made some changes in my workplace as I oversaw the shift in office for one part of my team. Renovations were completed and I was free to institute any concepts that I had. We came up with a task list board that was based on the David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. We divided tasks into different bins sorted by its status and reflected through colour coded magnets. It was a place where we could have a good overview of what was supposed to be done. The challenge lies in having dedicated review timelines and getting personnel to follow the board diligently to ensure that all tasks are completed on time. It is easy to institute a process but hard to get people to follow.

I have also tried to set up a small wooden board where people can write dedications on the help received from members in the same department. That isn’t well received though as I was the only one who spent effort putting up acknowledgements. It would have been better if we all started to acknowledge each other’s efforts. One possible idea from other “Workplace Happiness” books is about having a symbol (like a figurine) where we could put on employee’s desks to symbolise as the employee of the month. However in a change-resistant workplace, how can we institute something for others to follow? Personally that is where I thought my leadership needs some development.

In the April-May 13 period, I created a feedback box and I wanted to generate anonymous and frank feedback for every member of the flight. However procrastination kicked in when I couldn’t find a good opportunity where most of my team is around for me to make such an announcement. In the end, I decided to push ahead with whoever is available and emailed the rest of them with instructions on how the entire feedback mechanism will work. It was only implemented in Dec 13. I started the feedback box with myself as a trial, but I have yet to get the feedback forms from every person in the team. It is my wish to complete for every member of the team before we restructure and split up.

I made changes to the Start-of-day-briefs and tried to make things more efficient. However I find it hard to get people to update the excel monitoring sheets properly given their huge workload. It does seem like there is an issue with getting on top of their workloads and on prioritisation.

I was featured on the Brightminds magazine as an Air Force Engineer who had taken the mid term MDEC study award. It allowed me to do something which I wanted to do, which is to spread my thoughts to a wider group of people and to help tell other people what being an Air Force Engineer entails.

I also wrote an article for the RSAF safety magazine. My boss had recommended me for the assignment, and I took the opportunity to further a concept which I had jointly developed with my colleagues at work. We wanted to have a C.A.R.E.S concept at work, which stands for Committed, Appreciative, Responsible, Empowering, Supportive. Through linking the C.A.R.E.S concept with enforcing safety, I hoped to spread the idea so that other people could take it up to improve on their workplace. I had also deliberately chosen to write the article in the eyes of a newly minted Senior Military Expert and took steps to emphasise how important it is for the juniors to know the higher intent and to carry out the intent in the area of safety enforcement. I hoped that eventually I would be able to touch the hearts of a few people. The article was slated to be published in Oct 13, but the organisation decided that it fit the subsequent month’s theme better and so I am still waiting for the article to be printed.

Out of work, I wanted to do self-development. From reading of past posts, I had started the 1 book a month resolution at the end of 2012. At that point, I had started on a few e-books and other physical books. However I realised that I did not fulfil the 1 book a month requirement. At some point in time, I had slacked off. However I still managed to read a few books in the year. One of the more important books was about workplace happiness. I had gained a better insight on what makes high performance teams (read: happiness) and the steps to take to make people happy. I had also read books on taking minutes in meetings and also on the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. In Dec 13, I purchased two books, (1) The First Time Manager in Asia by BH Tan and (2) 5 Levels of Leadership by John C Maxwell. I am in the middle of reading the first book and I have learnt more about managing teams. It is an entry level book which everyone should read. I am looking forward to reading the second book in order to get people to follow my concepts and ideologies.

I didn’t manage to keep up with my goals. Simply because they weren’t S.M.A.R.T., which stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound. I had set goals for fitness but failed to keep to them. I had set goals but I didn’t display them prominently enough to remind myself of them. In the new year, I set more realistic goals for my fitness. I will run two times a week and at the earliest opportunity to so that reasons such as meetings, weather etc will not prevent me from achieving my goals. I will also be recording them down to monitor my performance. The Wiki article on SMART introduces another addition, which is SMARTER, for evaluate and reevaluate. I guess having a form of record for me to review my goals would help make my goals SMARTER.

In the year 2013, I got engaged. The previous post was about my engagement on 21/12/13. In 2014 I would probably be busy trying to plan for the wedding in 2015.

In 2013, I started reading The Edge which I had paid money to subscribe to. I have read many good articles from The Edge, but sadly I have yet to internalise and beef up my financial knowledge. I would probably need to work on it more.

This year, I also purchased my very first car and home. Buying big ticket items requires much thinking through and planning for. However, I learnt the most through the actual purchase. I had gained a better insight in particular of what I want out of a car. Luckily the car I had purchased had a good price tag and the performance of the car had pleased me. Buying a house, on the other hand, seems more straightforward when I am buying a house from the government. The paperwork required were processed properly and efficiently and there were no problems. I guess I will be learning more lessons if I choose to upgrade to a private property in the future.

Having reflected on my entire year, it is time to make some goals while keeping in mind to the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. principle!

My goals for the new year will be:

  1. [Workplace] To read one Logistic Orders daily (knowledge gaining)
  2. [Fitness] To run twice a week at the earliest opportunity
  3. [Fitness] To regain my Silver in IPPT by May 14
  4. [Personal Development] To read one book a month and mindmap them
  5. [Workplace] To do the Individual Development Action Plan with my team members (One every two weeks)
  6. [Invesment] To research on and analyse 1 company per month. Evaluate the best price to enter into the stock market.