Tag Archives: life

For the sins of our ancestors

All parents damage their children.

One of my earliest memories is being a helpless bystander to an argument between my parents. In particular, at the end of it, being told to choose which of them I wanted to live with.

It didn’t happen. For better or worse, they’re still together, decades on.

In some ways I’m not very good at being in a relationship. I guess I just am not all that good at partnerly communication. In my very first relationship, I became acutely aware of some of the ways in which I behaved and how those habits echoed those of my parents. Years on, I still struggle with those same issues.

Like it or not, I inherited that emotional tempestuousness. It’s probably a blessing in disguise that I struggle to get words out, because honestly, some of the ugly thoughts in my head in my worst moments should never be uttered. I know, even as they occur to me, how hurtful they are, and that they’re not necessarily fair. Succumbing to the heat of the moment would be awful. I don’t want to play that game.

Do you struggle with any particular traits you’ve inherited from your parents?

Leaps of faith: On stepping out into the unknown

leaps of faith nzmuseTwo years ago I was sick with wanderlust, chafing at the bonds of a reasonably awesome life and scared to risk it for adventure. T was a little sceptical and struggled at times but became a convert along the way.

A year ago I came home sated, knowing I’d made the right choice, and ready to get on with the next phase in life. I was content knowing that all things considered, there was nowhere else I’d rather settle down, with memories nobody could ever take away from me – even if, in the case of certain cuisines, those were bittersweet and unobtainable over here :)

It was a leap of faith, leaving. Leaving New Zealand with less money than projections suggested we needed to travel the way we want to travel, counting on earning enough on the road to sustain us. As life would have it, that aspect worked out almost eerily perfectly.

Thinking back, I’d been working up slowly to that big leap of faith. Baby steps.

Moving in with T, early 2007.

Signing on to be the head of a flat, with my name on the lease and relying on 2 other flatmates to pay the rent (which I’ll never do again), circa 2008.

Giving up a good, stable job for a new, riskier one in 2011 (the sign that sealed it for me was the office relocating essentially down the road from our house; I wouldn’t have taken a job at its old, out-of-the-way premises).

Changing industries this year (a series of signs pointed me in the right direction). I worried whether I would be happy; I thought there was a good chance, and my instincts were right – I never looked back.

And in July, we took another leap of faith, deciding T should quit a toxic job - before potentially being pushed out – with nothing else lined up.

It was less than ideal given it would make 2 short-term jobs in a row (the first having ended for reasons beyond his control) and the fact it had taken 3 months to land this one. Trusting that something would come up, and that being free of that mental burden was worth the hardship, was one of those tough calls you resign yourself to when you have an equal partner to consider.

This has not turned out the way I’d hoped so far, but I don’t necessarily regret this. Just hanging on to my core belief that things always eventually work out.

These past two years have been a rollercoaster, really. I never imagined marriage (in our case) would be so exciting – or stressful.

Awhile ago I stumbled across a blog named Surrounded by the Sound. Their last post is from 2013, two years after their return home from a yearlong RTW trip, and their experiences echo ours so very closely … Struggling with unemployment. Enjoying working for The Man and realising the peace that comes with being a steady employee. Relishing life, moreso than before we left. Amy sums up life Pre-Trip and Post-Trip beautifully:

The Trip, as it has become known, seems like a movie we watched about someone else’s lives, yet not a single day goes by without some memory or connection to our trip popping up in some fashion.

Like them, I think we may struggle to define our before-and-after lives. Odds are that our trip is going to be the most exciting thing we ever do; the time period from which we draw all our best stories. While that might come off sounding a little sad, I’m actually okay with it. I don’t need to live an extraordinary life. I want to live a happy life. And for me, that is largely a quiet life.

I don’t know what our next leap of faith will be or when it will come. But I’ve built up those risk-taking muscles and gotten used to gritting my teeth. I know I’ll need to draw on that again at some point, probably when I least expect it. Because … Murphy.

When did you last take a leap of faith?

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

It’s been well over 10 years since I first saw what real life cutting scars looked like.

I hadn’t known her all that long, but the one thing I did know was my friend, like me, was smart, thoughtful, mature and had a lot going on inside – it’s what drew me to her. I remember being shocked and feeling completely at a loss for the right thing to say.

They say that self-harm is usually about control. Taking back, or regaining a sense of power. I imagine the same is probably true of most other destructive behaviours, from domestic abuse to workplace bullying.

It’s something I’ve never been able to fully grasp. One of those things I got the concept of, on an intellectual level, but didn’t understand on a human level.

And then one day, not so long ago, I found myself sobbing in the car as storm winds outside buffeted the car. Gazing out from the marina over the harbour, where the sea changed from green to blue, as vehicles whizzed over the bridge to the right. As the gusts agitated the choppy waters, I thought about what it might be like to float away. As I gasped for breath, I felt unbearably hollow inside, like there was an empty, endless well of blackness where a beating heart should have been. With nothing there to anchor me in that moment, I suddenly got it. Feeling so utterly helpless and so overwhelmed by emotion, it dawned on me that this was what the kind of thing that would drive a person to turn those feelings inward.

It’s not an epiphany I ever counted on having. Not one I can say I am especially glad I reached, either. It scared the hell out of me.

This is probably where I pause to reiterate that no, I did not seriously contemplate hurting myself. I’m a wuss, I’m squeamish, and I’m vain. I cried like a baby the other day when I slipped and hurt my knee (which was one enormous mass of bruises for at least a week). I find all bodily fluids pretty revolting. I’m still bummed that my legs never fully recovered from all those bug bites in Asia.

The other realisation I had was that maybe I’m not as emotionally resilient as I thought. Oh, I hold it together all right. I’m a hell of a lot better at being an adult than I am at anything else. I have my grownup shit together and I can maintain it pretty easily. But when things are turning to custard, if you crack my surface, you are tapping into an endless pit of tears and despair. It’s hard to judge, of course, but I feel a well-adjusted person would probably be a fair bit more … stable.

It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself over the years. Thinking back to other hard times, I was similarly able to cope day-to-day by withdrawing into myself, but when things really got to be too much, I crumbled like sandcastles. Today, those months are a blur – really, there’s nothing to redeem them, and so I prefer not to revisit those times. There’s no point. I survived, and moved on.

We tend to view the past with rose-tinted glasses. Who wants to look back on a long list of sad or horrifying memories? It’s a sanity mechanism, really; otherwise we’d probably never have more than one child by birth or go on to other relationships after a first heartbreak.

I don’t really think there is a way for me to not feel so acutely. It’s just how I’m wired. For this reason, I try not to dwell. It’s a tricky thing, giving yourself the space to acknowledge and just feel those big, heavy things – without letting them take over and succumbing to them. Generally they don’t tend to respect office hours – metaphorically speaking – so it’s about keeping them on a tight leash. Tucking them away into a little corner and ignoring them, for the most part. Occasionally it all bubbles to the top, and a proper meltdown is then required, but as a rule, fencing them off is what works for me. If I let them fly free all the time, I simply wouldn’t be able to function properly.

When it feels like you’ve hitched your wagon to a losing proposition and everything is coming up tails, there simply isn’t the time to roll over and be swallowed by the darkness.

Going through this in my 20s: hard enough. I simply can’t imagine dealing with this kind of thing at 11, 12, 13, like my friend must have. And my personal darkness is purely situational. The sources of my misery are beyond my control, but shouldn’t last forever. I know the same is not true for everyone else.

The one thing I do know is hurting yourself is not the best way to deal.  When the chips are down, I write. Maybe for you, it’s talking to someone. Whatever your outlet is, find it.

Let’s talk about failure

… and success, and how we measure and perceive these things.

Every so often I see updates in my LinkedIn feed from someone I met through work a few years back. He’s reinvented himself a few times. Since I’ve known of him, there was a job that didn’t work out, a couple of entrepreneurial ventures (at least one of which folded) and he’s now landed in another different industry. It’s the type of job people don’t do for love and I realised that every time I see a post from him, I feel a little sorry for him.

On the most recent of these occasions, I paused and asked myself if he would want pity. Somehow I doubt it. He’s providing for his family. And ultimately, what is more noble than that?

Often, we don’t write about failure until we have moved past it and gone on to achieve great things. It makes everyone feel good – the writer can comfortably pat herself on the back and the reader gets a warm fuzzy shot of inspiration. It’s much rarer to read about from right there in the trenches, as it’s happening.

So far, T has failed to get back into sales (the kind he wants to do) – at this stage, odds are it’s just not going to happen – and massively expanded the job search parameters. I have to wonder… how many people (including myself) who say they would do any job, even at minimum wage, would actually be able to pull it off and get hired at such a job? You may not consider yourself above a low level job, but you’re not the one who gets to make the hiring decision.

I haven’t talked to people at work about the struggle I’m feeling. The panic of falling further financially behind every day. The mix of embarrassment and resentment of the current state of things. I listen to the struggles they discuss – their partners’ demanding jobs and stress levels – but it’s tough for me to sympathise. I’d hazard a good guess they’re running on around $150k household incomes (maybe more in some cases), both settled in their careers, not worrying about living in shoddy rentals forever. I know everyone has their own problems, and at least we are fortunate to have our health and some awesome travels under our belt.

The best pep talk I’ve read lately comes courtesy of Seth Godin:

Make two lists.

One list highlights the lucky breaks, the advantages, the good feedback, your trusted network. It talks about the accident of being born in the right time and the right place, your health, your freedom. It features your education, your connection to the marketplace and just about every nice thing someone has said about you in the last week or month.

The other list is the flipside. It contains the obstacles you’ve got to deal with regularly, the defects in your family situation, the criticisms your work has received lately. It is a list of people who have better luck than you and moments you’ve been shafted and misunderstood.

The thing is, at every juncture, during every crisis, in every moment of doubt, you have a choice. You will pull out one (virtual) list or the other. You’ll read and reread it, and rely on it to decide how to proceed.

We recently had a death on his side of the family, quickly followed by a birth just a fortnight later. Both incidents really helped me get some perspective (though I must confess, they also induced a teensy bit of panic too on the finance side).

Sometimes, though, it really seems like everyone else has managed to ride a straight path to success and we’re still mired in the squiggly line.

 

 

Have you ever ‘just known’ something was the right thing to do?

Have you ever 'just known' something was the right thing to do?

I’m curious.

Because I haven’t.

When people get engaged after just meeting each other, or decide to move to a city after spending a few hours or a few days there, I just shake my head.

As a chronically indecisive overthinker, I cannot truly understand that kind of certainty.

I can’t think of any decision I’ve ever made that I was 100% sure about, from choosing a job to choosing a house to rent, from getting married to going travelling for an extended time.

Sometimes I think it must be nice to ‘just know’.

Communication: The hardest thing in the world

Communication- The hardest thing in the world

Years ago, when I was going through a rough patch at home, my mother told me that “if you want to study Communications, you better learn to communicate well”. I had honestly never considered myself a bad communicator – who does? – but from then on I became hyper sensitive in this regard.

Communication is one of those things that seems SO simple in theory, but is much harder to actually get right.

Over the past few months I’ve learned just how hard it is to do effective organisational communications properly – both on a company-wide scale and also at team level.

For me, it’s all about understanding. Getting the context and background; getting to grips with the why. Knowing where everybody is coming from and thus ensuring their concerns are addressed and their needs met. Otherwise, I reckon your chances of success are a lot lower.

While I’ve never been a manager – and have no desire to – I can understand why someone might feel compelled to micromanage. When you’re frustrated and not getting the results you need, I can see why your instinct might be to crack down.

Honestly, that has always been my MO relationship-wise. And unsurprisingly, it’s not always effective.

Even after almost a decade together, this was my brainwave on Friday morning on the bus to work last week. If I wouldn’t behave that way in a work context, why should I apply it to my partner?

Instead of snapping when I got home, I kept a lid on it. While I knew I would be justified in doing so, that didn’t mean it was the best way to get results. I approached things by asking, “What can I do to help you at this point?”

Magic. Of course, he knew I was doing as much I as I could. I didn’t even need to prompt the obvious next question - what did I need from him? He brought it up of his own accord, voicing all the things I needed to hear and that I had been thinking, without me forcing them on him. We both KNOW what I need, and he knows what he needs to do – and that he hasn’t been giving 100%.

Of course, I wish it hadn’t had to come to that. But no relationship is perfect, and I’m not going to pretend ours is.

The thing is, being in the right isn’t always enough. Going on the offensive will only lead to the other person getting defensive. As Dale Carnegie teaches, start by changing how you behave. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: A manifesto for realists

cal-newport-boromir-passion

We all know that famous Steve Jobs speech from Stanford – the one where everyone seized on the palatable, soundbitable angle: Love your work. Don’t settle. 

As Cal Newport writes in the early pages of his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, our generation is rather obsessed with ‘following our passions’. But ironically, that’s not at all what Jobs actually did. Had he done that, Newport says, Jobs would probably have wound up as a teacher at the Los Altos Zen Center. Apple was the result of a lucky break, a small-time scheme that took off, albeit one that Jobs no doubt eventually became passionate about later.

What’s actually more important and more telling about that Stanford speech is what Jobs says about joining the dots in retrospect:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Having just finished the book, I’ve got a few thoughts to put into words. Bear with me!

The dark side of the ‘passion’ mindset

Chasing passion is often unrealistic and in many cases only leads to disappointment. Newport cites a few studies to back up this argument:

One surveyed a group of students and found the vast majority did not have passions that mapped to work/career paths – most were instead related to leisure or hobbies.

Another found that among employees who all held the same  administrative role with nearly identical duties, there was a fairly even split between those who saw their work as a job vs those who saw it as a career or even a calling – and those most likely to think of it as a calling were the ones with the most years on the job.

And yet another found that job satisfaction numbers have been trending downwards over time. “The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it,” he writes.

Give, and you shall receive?

What I took away from the book is that mastering your craft – which we should all aspire to – is its own kind of reward. Get so good that people can’t ignore you and will pay you accordingly … and job satisfaction follows.

It’s the same philosophy Newport has outlined on his blog; the book is his attempt to flesh this out with living examples and further depth.

It’s a pragmatic approach that no doubt most of us know deep down holds a lot of truth:

Focus on what you can offer the world, instead of what the world can offer you.

Derek Sivers, ostensibly a guy of many passions who’s done a bunch of different things, is one of the ‘masters’ in the book and is quoted thusly: “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules: Do what people are willing to pay for.

The law of financial viability, then, is one to bear in mind. I’ll never forget a conversation that went down in our dorm room in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Four of us were sitting around talking: me, T, a ditzy girl from Connecticut and an intense Southern guy who travelled all over the world organising and running races (marathons and ultras). We were discusing how he managed to scrape together a living doing this (he definitely wasn’t doing it for the money) and inevitably, the “passion” word came up.

“So, do what you love and the money will follow?” Ditzy Girl piped up eagerly, obviously waiting for a high five and rah-rah chirpy confirmation.

But rather than immediately jumping to affirm this, Running Guy paused.

“More like, do what you love and figure out a way to make money from it,” he said seriously.

The missing piece of the puzzle

The biggest thing I felt was missing from So Good They Can’t Ignore You was that vital first step. What do you do if you have NO idea what you want to do? (This is the ongoing problem in our household, specifically on T’s side.) How do you get started? Do you just try to get a foot in the door somewhere, assuming the basic elements are bearable – that there’s some room to grow, you don’t actively hate the industry, and you don’t hate the people – and stick with it, beavering away on the quest to achieve mastery and become a highly valuable professional?

One of Newport’s examples, Pardis Sabeti, touches on this: “I think you do need passion to be happy. It’s just that we don’t know what that passion is. If you ask someone, they’ll tell you what they think they’re passionate about, but they probably have it wrong.” From that, Newport concludes that it’s a “fool’s errand” to try figure out in advance what work will lead to that passion. Alas, that point isn’t taken any further.

Yes, he demonstrates that many of his example ‘masters’ took awhile to find their exact direction, but they generally started down the right sort of track early on; it was just a matter of honing in from there over time. It’s not super clear how they found that track to start with. Newport does acknowledge at one point that it’s very hard to start from the bottom in a new field, so if you’re genuinely floundering, maybe the key is simply finding a field that you can tolerably devote yourself to.

Finally, I don’t think that the ‘craftsman’ approach and the ‘passion’ approach are mutually exclusive. They can actually play in quite well together, which I don’t think Newport adequately acknowledges. Passion, or at least interest, was definitely an element for many – though not ALL – of the examples of happy ‘masters’ cited in the book. Take the screenwriter, the archaeologist, the geneticist. One does not complete a master’s/PhD without at least some interest in their subject! In an effort to draw clear lines and take a strong, controversial stance that sells books, passion gets thrown totally under the truck.

In closing: If you read his blog Study Hacks, you probably won’t glean much more meat from the book. He also gives a good overview in this 99U talk.

Cal Newport: “Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice from 99U on Vimeo.

5 things I learned while I was 25

Today I turn 26. Here, I present some life truths I learned this past year. They are MY life truths, anyway; some may apply to you, too.

Thou shalt always wear a bra. You never know when you might have the urge to take a dip in a river.

Eyeshadow makes the best eyeliner. That’s for ease of applying, specific colours, and staying power.

Even old dogs can learn new tricks. Who knew my stance on pets would change so dramatically last year? A month hanging out with five dogs on a farm and I’m a goner. Or that I would embrace merino, overcoming my deep-seated aversion to wool. Seriously, merino is the most amazing fabric – despite all the pieces I’ve read (and written my fair share of) about various NZ companies doing amazing things with merino clothing.

I am probably always going to feel somewhat conflicted about my race. I never know quite how to feel when a shop assistant approaches me and greets me in Mandarin, or a random person (security guard/bus driver/passerby) chucks out a ‘Ni hao’, or an Asian person comes up to me on the street and starts asking me something in a language I don’t understand. Also, in a weird way I’ve finally come full circle; knowing Chinese would definitely be a boon at my job – though even if I’d been interested in learning it as a kid I don’t think I would have been very successful.

Aspiring to more is what defines me. I’ve been thinking about this (inspired by Natalie’s post) and decided that the one thing that best sums me up is I’m always looking to the future, thinking about what comes next and how to get there. And to that end, I’m also starting to think beyond my own little selfish bubble. With age, I’ve finally begun to truly understand how people become political. My top passions are still words, travel, and personal finance (and food might sneak in there too) but increasingly, urban issues are becoming a real priority for me. So much so I’m starting to wonder how I might be able to work in that space at some point down the line. I aspire to live in a world class city, and I feel like Auckland has made so many strides lately; we just have to start working on transport and housing. What we need are more sustainable choices – investing in transport beyond new roads, and bringing the standard of properties up to a basic humanitarian level.

Why I love living in the suburbs

There is a certain local blog I’ve started following very closely (with transport being one of Auckland’s biggest growing pains as the city expands, I’m keen to keep up with what’s happening in that area).

One thing that does frustrate me is the sometimes excessively ideological stance it takes. City life = good. Suburbia = bad. Walking and biking and of course, public transport = good. Cars = bad.

Absolutely, we need to reduce car congestion particularly at peak times – and I think that’s our biggest opportunity in regard to public transport. But for the majority of Aucklanders, a car is still going to be almost a necessity for your leisure time. (Even more so for people who don’t work in the CBD and generally need to drive to work.) I don’t ever imagine there being enough demand for a regular bus from, say, town to Bethells beach, and I sure hope there never is, to be quite frank. That would be horrible – I can’t even begin to fathom it.

Most of us do not live in the CBD, and I’d say very few of us want to. (Not bashing the CBD! Just stating a general truth. The most desirable areas are undoubtedly the immediately surrounding suburbs rather than the CBD itself.)

Personally, the closest I’ve ever lived to town is Epsom/Mt Eden (about a 15-20 minute bus ride). Here’s why:

Location/proximity

We have to balance the ease of getting to work for me AND him. We are probably always going to work in very different parts of Auckland, and he will probably never be in a situation where public transport makes sense for his commute. It’s also ideal for us to live close to friends and family, who are all central-west/west. His side of the family has no car of their own; we always go to them. He also spends a lot of time with friends; the time and petrol costs when we lived over in Epsom sometimes got a bit silly.

Food

The best Asian food is found in the suburbs. None of my regular favourite restaurants are in town. YMMV depending on your tastes. Also, grocery shopping is wayyy better in the suburbs, both in terms of supermarkets and cheap grocers/butchers. When T’s sister lived way out west we’d bundle visits with a trip to the massive Lincoln Rd Pak’n’Save, the supermarket to end all supermarkets.

Room to breathe

This might sound a little weird … and I completely understand if you don’t get it. Having grown up in a suburban area, these are the kinds of surroundings I’m used to. We spent about a year living in an apartment building when I was still a student and it just didn’t feel right. It’s not about raw floor space; after all our current one-bedroom flat (which is kinda like a big sleepout between two real houses in front and back) is probably about the same size as that apartment. It’s about little things like stepping out your front door and being outside. A little garden. Not having neighbours literally on the other side of the wall/floor/ceiling. That’s what feels right to me, probably because that’s how I was raised. And while we’re on that note … the beach and bush that we like are an easy drive away. I love that.

I was also actually going to say that it’s cheaper out here, but that’s not necessarily true. There’s always a glut of tiny shoebox apartments available for rent in town, but again for that breathing room/lifestyle aspect, we’d pick the suburbs any day. Caveat: I don’t mean the sprawly, soulless type of suburbia where you have to drive for ages to get anywhere – that end of the spectrum sucks – but the good kind, that’s near transport links and shops and parks.

It’s all about balancing and tradeoffs. Commuting is a bit of a pain, but it’s not like I’m not used to it, like every other Aucklander. We’re not after bar hopping, shows, and going to trendy places. Out of the years that I spent working in the suburbs, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times we ventured into town in our own time. CBD living doesn’t interest us (at least not with the CBD in its current state, for all the progress it’s made in the last decade). I love working in town, but am happy to go home to suburbia.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

how to balance having a family and career

The more thought I give to having kids, the more I realise we are screwed.

Stay home and miss out on income and retirement contributions (only for a few years sure, but that adds up to a lot).

Keep working and struggle to juggle everything (I find it hard enough to run our lives as DINKs, let me tell you).

If T could increase his income, maybe I could stay home and freelance – I’d earn less, but something is better than nothing .

If I remain the bigger earner, well, I don’t know what he could do on a self-employed basis if he stayed home. If there was an easy answer, his stints of unemployment in our time together wouldn’t have been so bad. Also, I shudder to think what kind of scene I would come home to at nights. Great dinners, no doubt, but probably a filthy house (and grubby, if happy, kids by default).

And what if, as Her Every Cent Counts made me consider, a difficult pregnancy/birth physically affects my ability to work?

I feel totally torn between two trains of thinking: One: I work in an office – the world wouldn’t miss a beat without me – how can that ever compare with raising mini human beings? Two: I really like what I do – even if I’m not saving the world – do I have to feel guilty about that?

Also, I need adult interaction. My tolerance for children is even more limited than for people in general, and needs to be balanced out.

On a slightly different note … My parents were around wayyy too much when I was a kid. They both worked full time when we lived in Kuala Lumpur, but after moving to NZ, they both mostly worked part time or at home. It annoyed the hell out of me back then.  On the other hand, we all know people whose parents were never around. That usually doesn’t end so well either.

Mine were too strict; other parents weren’t strict enough. I am determined to find a balance, but I am well aware I am destined to fail.