Shuttle bus and staff canteen musings 

I wanted to read on the private shuttle bus but I chose ‘tender is the night’ by f scott fitzgerald and it’s such a sleepy book. Anyway, I am writing this under the influence of hot coffee and flu medicine, so I am not too sure what the combined effects will be like. Kind of like a stasis mood. The staff canteen is a rather calming area though, the seats are wide and there are many tables meant for group discussion. But the food stalls- I can only see five, out of which one is a fruits stall and the other is a drinks stall. Not too sure what my diet will look like for the next month if I’m still here. Probably a mix of duck noodles and burrito-sandwiches. 

I asked my colleague yesterday about a boss. It is a really political situation because that boss used to be from my team, but now she is a subject matter expert for the government sector in the company. I really want to do work for clients that will make an impact on the environment around me, and I’ve come to realise that it is not global FMCG companies, but VWOs and the public service/civil service. It is easily said but not easily done, because the pipeline for work isn’t controlled by me or my colleagues, it depends on which networking events the bigger bosses go to. And over the last year apparently the project mix that the team works on has changed. The skills sets are also different, because the only resource that we have is human beings, which means that when people leave the company, they bring their skill sets along with them and we can no longer pitch for certain projects. So anyway, after speaking to my colleague who have worked for that boss before, I decided to send that SME an email, asking if I could help out for the next VWO proposal. She hasn’t replied and I am not sure if she will ever reply, but I hope that the politics won’t get in the way of my work. Especially when the tone of voice used by the bigger bosses is like “we must never mention that person’s name”. 

Work aside, I went back for TCM yesterday morning. I have the thyroid checkup on Thursday morning, and I leave for Indonesia on Friday morning. It is at 8am which- frankly, I am really tired out by all the travelling to and fro Changi. Exhausting. But it is a much more calming environment than the CBD area where you have this massive wave of corporate drones who are stressed out about their work and their lives. 

Speaking of work and life, I was talking to the same colleague yesterday if he felt any existential anxiety about being 27 years old and only have 1.5 years of work experience- he did four years of diploma, and adding on compulsory national service, and also a university degree. He said he felt that life got more stable and quieter as he got older. To which I replied, “I am having this existential mood right now, because I am 23 and I feel like I am getting somewhere, but I don’t know where yet.” Maybe the ‘where’ is just the staff canteen of Changi biz park. 

I was trying to comfort myself over the weekend when I was sitting at my desk with coffee and a pile of banking related information to read. It is not that I mind reading them, I don’t. It is more of wondering if this is how I am going to be spending my Sundays from now on- seven hours in church doing classes and sermons, and then rushing back home to get work done. And my Saturdays are often no better- trying to get articles out for comms work, or rushing proposals, and thinking at the back of my head I really want to just sit at the beach with my notebook and watch the sun set, and watch the birds peck at dead turtles. So picturesque.  

Trying to balance work, both chargeable and non-chargeable. Trying to balance my ‘ECA’s- you know what’s one phrase that I really hate? “Impression management.” I have had three different people tell me about that this week. And I hate it because it makes me think of scared rats tip toeing around hoping that people will think well of them and their work, and then they will get promoted to sit on the throne of rats someday. Guys we are still going to be rats. It doesn’t matter how ‘busy’ I look as long as I get my work done on my own time. It doesn’t matter if my utilization rate is only 40%, as long as I do good work and I am helping out on other projects for the other 60% of the time. It doesn’t matter that my boss thinks I should focus only on work (and ignore the people aspect)- I focus on what I want to focus on, it is my life. And the same boss quit the company a week after he said that, that isn’t a very good example of a role model employee. 

But in line with maintaining a good impression, when my boss said “sorry I couldn’t tell you earlier” I just said, “it’s okay, remember I said that I adapt well. Will just take things as they come.” Which is true, I don’t panic (until the last minute then my brain fizzes out) and I just accept things as they are. But I don’t appreciate people (in general) telling me about impression management when other colleagues are telling me not-so-good things about them, and the impression that I have of them isn’t great either. Like when A told the whole team about how B did really well in the company and then B told us that she felt burned out and she regretted not fighting for her boundaries earlier on. B is leaving after two years in the company, and it is her first job. Isn’t it ironic- how everyone wants to make a good impression, but so far no one seems to be managing their own lives well? 

I don’t mind hard work, but I also know that work will not be my whole life, and I have to consciously shut off on the weekends and I have to remind myself that no one will remember this four years from now. But I know that four years from now I don’t want work to be my only identity. It is not what ‘what people think of when they see me’, but rather, have I lived well, and can I look at what I have done without feeling ashamed of how easily I caved in to other people’s requests. 

TL;DR: Will not volunteer for things which are urgent but not in my areas of interest, will not be obsessed with what other people think of me as long as I am doing work that I can be proud of, and I have the right attitude (receptive to feedback). And I will be proactive (even if it means going into certain political situations) about the projects which I want to do. This is adulthood, and adulthood means drawing boundaries and not worrying about how my actions will cause others to have more work to deal with. They are paid 10x my salary just to deal with political situations.

Eleanor Roosevelt 

Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: ‘A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.’

But there is another basic requirement, and I can’t understand now how I forgot it at the time: that is the feeling that you are, in some way, useful. Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” (Catherine of Siena)

Long day today haha, I had toddlers class this morning- a few more kids joined, number of helpers decreased because a few couldn’t make it. Elliot was crying (over what I still don’t know, think he was just overwhelmed) and there was no one to help him so I left the two toddlers I was in charge of for a few seconds, went across the room to scoop him up, and then brought him to where I was sitting so I could finish helping the two kids with their craft. I couldn’t recognize him when I took attendance in the morning because he had a haircut, now he no longer resembles Shaggy from Scooby Doo HAHA. Andrew was really cute today, he wore blue overalls and a yellow t-shirt inside so he looked like a minion. He did his usual ‘I’m-going-to-lie-down-on-the-mat-during-storytelling’ routine lol. Had to make sure that no kid stepped on him.

Then I went for sermon, went back to help prepare materials for the next class- it involves a lot of hole punching, cutting and tying of twine string, double-sided tape and brown yarn. It’s really a lot of work just to prepare two cups each (that resembles Mr Egghead) for 75 children. Then bible study class which just ended. I’m going to finish this post then start on client work, and then write the Phuket guide for the team leaders briefing next week!

For bible study class (a thirteen week long class), we did verses from Matthew 6, Mark 5, and sermon was on Hebrews 8.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

-Matthew 6: 25-31

Pastor L. led the sharing of Matthew 6, he shared about how he felt inadequate whenever he got into the lift and he pressed the button for level 3, whereas someone else would press the button for a much higher floor, like level 30. The thing about HDBs is that the worth of your flat goes up by 1-2k with every floor, and so he calculated the difference in worth of his flat and the other guy’s to be a cool 150k. Just because he got number 500+ for his BTO number. And he shared- we always worry about things. We worry about our grades in school, our promotions at work, how other people see us. We worry about being single for life, not being able to find a life-partner, our marriages going badly, not having enough money. We worry about not being able to upgrade to the next iPhone or not having a shiny enough car when CNY rolls around. We worry about our health. We wake up in the morning and worry about our never-ending to do list. All the things that we have not done, all the negative things that people probably say about us. It is an endless list of worries.

But if we were to look at what God has given us- the difference between being born in Batam and Singapore alone is immense- the public transport, healthcare system, security, cleanliness, politics, education. Do we, mostly as middle-class folks sitting in an air-conditioned room on Adam Road, really need to be so stressed out about our lives? As Christians, do we need to worry? If God cares for even the sparrows and the lilies, will he not care for us all? But the feelings of inadequacy, of quiet desperation, seem to always be there. He shared that Jack Ma said that when he was at his richest, he was more unhappy than when he was only earning 90 yuan a month.

I know objectively that it is not money that I struggle with. Because I graduated with only a debt to my parents (who kindly cancelled it last week, so I am only paying for my food and board with $500 a month), I know that I don’t have to worry about survival. But I still worry about not having enough money to do the things I want to do- take a year off and travel around China, for example. Or spend half my time volunteering with kids and animals while working, because I will definitely not get promoted and I will not get selected for projects. No one wants to work with someone who is only in the office half the time, or even just five days a week. Everyone wants someone who can do work over the weekends.

I worry about my bosses all secretly thinking that I’m a lousy person, both in performance and potential, even though one of them told me last week that I will do really well in the current company, “whether or not you want it”. Because I told him that I don’t want to fight for promotions- it is silly, trying to prove your worth to a board of partners. It seems like a fight about how much we are worth as human beings. It is not about how collaborative we are, or how many opportunities we create together, it is about A benchmarked against B and it is not in A’s interest to help B with his work. Right now, I am worried that I won’t be able to meet my deadlines this week because I will be in Indonesia and I also am worried that I won’t be able to bus down from Changi BP fast enough before the wifi-router renting company closes at 7pm. I am literally worried about the quality of my wifi connection from Batam to Singapore. If I drop my laptop into the ocean I’ll laugh at myself, it will be so damn ironic. Or like, having lunch with someone I like and then getting transferred to Changi (and not being able to see him for a month) the moment I get back to my desk. Sigh.

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

-Mark 5: 35-4

M. mentioned something during bible study, which is that the disciples, while they saw many things that Christ did to drive out demons and to save other people, those miracles did not happen to them. And so, they doubted his ability to save them, or his willingness to save them. Both the power of Christ and what he is willing to do are questioned. I was thinking to myself- I don’t know if I have witnessed any great healings or even small healings happening to other people, everything so far can be explained by just human faith, kind of like a placebo effect. I trust that the Bible is true, and I also trust that God will not forsake me. But that trust is on a superficial level, even though it is heartfelt, because I have not experienced anything that makes me go “okay this is a miracle”. Personally, I don’t have the faith that Christ has. He had complete confidence that his God will not forsake him, whereas I feel left alone whenever my moods come and go. He might care for everyone else but not necessarily for me, y’know?

It is the same feeling I get when I see some girls who are tall and pretty and gracious and statuesque and I think, wow I look like an oddly-baked potato next to them. Is there really any value in what I am striving for? I am too spontaneous sometimes, not thinking through my words before I speak, and sometimes I am too reserved, not asking enough question. I can be awkward and also too serious, I am unsure of myself and I definitely eat too much dim sum and mantous every week. I am sometimes in my element- the feeling I get when I am writing, or creating client deliverables and it’s like “I am meant to do this”. Sadly the feeling doesn’t last for very long. I am not a corporate person, I don’t know how to be one. I am not sharp and opportunistic neither am I hungry for prestige and money anymore. I think I used to be, before the world slowed down.

What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here?

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Tracking my anxiety

(Wrote this three weeks ago, but did not think it was an appropriate time to post it.)

My last appointment with the doctor was in 2016 January, which means that it has been a good 1.5 years since I last saw her. Before falling down, dean’s list, before my internships and my job search, before going back to church, before my food allergies recovered. So much has changed and so much has stayed the same. Perhaps it was a good idea to skip all bi-yearly check ins, perhaps it was a bad idea. I don’t think things could have gotten better by themselves but I also don’t want to run back to medication the moment I feel uncomfortable, it is always a balance that I am trying to maintain, between self-reliance and living in a discomfort that others will not understand.

From what I remember, there is no clear line marking when I started feeling uncomfortable in crowds. I think it was in July 2016, when the new semester was about to begin and I was doing my internship at a small ecommerce company. I started being more reticent, lower energy levels and I started not wanting to be around people for too long. More closed up, like a small mollusc. The feeling of coldness and blushing more while talking in large groups started somewhere in February 2017, the anticipatory anxiety that I would get before each meeting and class presentation, staying out later and later at night because the night sky is calming and there is no one on the streets.

Then in July 2017 I started getting frequent panic attacks which were triggered by no particular reason. Imagine a golf ball that ranges from cold to icy cold, it is almost a whole-body experience. Sometimes I forget how to breathe because it is so painful and uncomfortable, and my breaths are really shallow. Sudden movement is not possible, I just want to stay all huddled up and make micro actions with my mouse on the excel sheets.  Sometimes my throat closes up, swallowing saliva is painful and it is easier to not talk and I just nod like a goldfish. Then the manager asks me a question and I recover just in time, but the voice is all scratchy and I think ‘fuck what if it gets worse and I am doing a client presentation and I can’t even speak properly’.

It is a deep fear that something is wrong and it is something that is in my bones. I don’t know how to describe it and I wish I could, but now I guess it comes and goes. Sometimes it is manageable and I can go on, sometimes it is just so uncomfortable that I have to stop what I am doing and cough just so I can move my throat. It doesn’t make sense, I am not afraid of anything, everything is going well, there is no reason for it to come back and be worse than before. There is no reason for me to be afraid to get into a car, even though I know that the air will feel heavier and I will feel so out of place in there, with my friends, even though I have always been fine with it.

Sleep is bad too. It is difficult to sleep, too easy to be disturbed by noises in the middle of the night. My neighbour has a dog that is very keen on making random noises. Sometimes I wake up without feeling like I have actually slept, especially after a long day of feeling like my nerves are on the outside of my body and I am so tense.

But I guess I have matured as well, I don’t give up when things get difficult or boring now. In the past I would just switch to something else, but now, I am in this tough space where I am doing things but am not getting better at them, there is not much in the way of hope for my mental health but I am still staying on track. I used to have this mentality which was all or nothing, either I got well or I would end this on my own terms. Which is really melodramatic but also practical because I would rather live a short life, than a life that is drawn out with half the day being affected by feelings of gloom and a really low mood. The isolation doesn’t change even though I am much more connected to people now, in the sense that I know more people and am doing more activities than what I used to do. Sometimes I am just so tired of the life ahead of me. It has been so long since the last episode- I define an episode as something that affects that way I live and work and something so sudden and painful that I will remember it for a few years at least.

Don’t surrender all your joy to an idea that isn’t true about you anymore.

-Cheryl Strayed

Review: August, 2017

I have a backlog of things that I want to write about- the past week was relatively more relaxed for work, but I am trying to sleep earlier and this also includes an after-dinner activity of watching a Chinese TV drama called Young Sherlock Holmes, broadcasted in 2014. So writing got kind of pushed to the back of my priority list. Anyway, this is a review of August, hastily done, might contain a fair bit of grammatical errors because I really need to start clearing my to do list.

“Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.”

-Anne Lamott

August was a month filled with friends, work, and emotional discoveries. You know that sort of ‘aha’ moment when you scrutinise what you have been doing for the past three weeks? And finally understand why you don’t really like doing those things, or why you find happiness in some things and want to continue doing them? I realised that for the department rec club activities, I only volunteer for things that revolve around writing and children (corporate social responsibility). I don’t really like doing logistical planning, although I am good at it- finding things, sourcing for resources, details, budgeting etc. To me it is operational and it is something that everyone can do, it doesn’t require a special skillset.

I know the people better now, and their comments on things can be quite funny. For the planning of dinner on the first day, T asked D if the hotel is aware that we are definitely booking their restaurant, because we have to make sure that there are enough seats and that the menu is the right sort (halal, food allergies etc). D paused for a microsecond and then replied, “close to being aware.” There are so many details to take note of when planning logistics because we are involving people who are fresh hires, and also partners who have been in the firm for twenty years. From things like the number of vans and the allocation of people to teams, to things like availability of cold drinking water if we are going to be travelling around Phuket, these things need to be threshed out one by one because of budgeting reasons, and also because it is a department trip and each unit has their own quirks.

It has been an interesting journey with the rec club so far, even though it is voluntary and none of it will be counted as part of the performance appraisal process. But that is life, and I want people and relationships to be part of my life. I don’t want to be a corporate drone. I enjoy writing sincere letters to people, and I feel that it is a way to get in touch with my emotions and practise emotional honesty and vulnerability, hence I’m doing the comms part. Rather than have a really perfectionist and KPI-driven personal branding, I would rather people know me as a person who likes to work with children, on projects that have an impact on humans and who values the practice of honestly expressing oneself. Not going to kill myself over political situations or the fear of not getting promoted.

It is difficult to hold back from volunteering for other things, but August is also a month where I am learning to balance my work better, to set boundaries for my time and to not let work eat into all of my weekends. I am a pretty slow person so I don’t mind working on the weekends, but it must not be an expectation and it has to be self-initiated. So if I leave early to meet friends, I am going to make up for it on the weekends and that is fine with me.

Speaking of humans, I met some really nice people for lunch this month. I will be spending the next month at Changi (seems like my life is either Tuas or Changi), and I am glad that I got to know quite a fair number of people before getting transferred to the client’s place. Although my food bills are not going down, it is something that I don’t mind because it makes my life better. Love aloha poke bowls and fish soup. But a mental note to self, no matter how sad I am about my day, I will not, will not, will not, WILL NOT, use other people as a scratching post for my emotions. Enough said. Perhaps it is a good thing that I got transferred to Changi.

Church activities wise, we are going to Blue Mountain Kelong in a few days! I have to get a wifi router egg thingy so that I can do my work there, and hopefully I won’t get bitten by too many mosquitoes. Also, toddlers class resumes tomorrow, I’m really hoping that Kaeler will be in a better mood tomorrow. I discovered yesterday that the person who is booking the room for cell group every month at my company was from my DG, it’s not some random person who isn’t a Christian, it’s just that the DG got too big hence we split into two. There’s bible study class tomorrow, we’re doing Mark, which reminds me that I have not started revising it yet.

Yesterday during DG E said something along the lines of “the laws are different from the bible”. Which I agree, we might know God’s laws (ten commandments etc), but we might not know God as a creator and loving Father. We can be given many laws but it takes time to change a person’s heart and to approach the bible not as a set of old and fixed rules, but as a set of parables for us to learn what he meant for us humans to be like. Grace, love, compassion, hope, and faith. However it takes a long time, it is a journey that not everyone will commit to because of the stigma attached with Christianity. That the Christians are not like Christ.

Also- I haven’t been exercising a lot but anyway- will post an update about anxiety tomorrow. My health has been steadily going downhill as of July 2017. I can’t do anything about it, but at least I have the money to pay my bills.

Thankful for:

Friends, food, advice from bosses, and opportunities at work to learn. I have a clearer idea of what I would like to do at work (not just business transformation through consulting services). I would like to invest more time in working on government projects and VWO projects, because I value impact. Working for global FMCG companies can be exciting because of the scope of the project, but the value to me is low. We’ll see if it is part of my life to end up where I would like to go. After all, I’ve only been at work for two months.

I just listened for a long time; she went from crushed to defiant.

“I have what everyone wants,” she said. “But no one would be willing to pay.”

“What do you have?”

“The two most important things. I got forced into loving myself. And I’m not afraid of dying anymore.”

Anne Lamott