Alright, it’s been a while that I’ve been gone but now I’m back. Hello thar.

In between spending an excessive amount of energy -

1. Dancing my ass off (metaphorical, not literal, unfortunately)

2. Eating (this might speak to my sad parentheses in #1)

3. Settling into my new role in marketing, branding and strategy

4. Adjusting to life in a new (york) city, and

5. Letting my hypochondriac brain worry about what I’m coming into contact with and breathing in, especially in the subway

… here I am. HERE I AM.

People often say that you needn’t wait for the New Year to cast a list of resolutions – that we should be crossing things off our bucket lists every day. I clearly disagree because I’m only human and need the inspiration of a clean slate to motivate myself into action. That being said, 2013 was an abnormal year for me filled with ups and downs, yays and boos, and I was the lead generator of that clean slate i.e. I encourage New Year’s Resolutions but like much of life, if you haven’t created a list, you have 365 days a year to turn around and create one… even if that list consists of… one.

Alright, in the spirit of creating some social currency, here’s my list:

1. Be healthy – mentally, physically, emotionally, above and beyond. And yes, implicitly, this is accompanied by the desire to lose weight. There will be an entire other post about this in the following weeks so if you’re keen on joining the crowds screaming for Body Image Appreciation, please don’t jump the gun.

2. Write a children’s book – I have pages and pages of stories I have tried writing and have yet to finish. And even as I write this, I am trying to think of a moral. If you have one, hit me up. If you don’t… or even if you do. Please support me.

3. Write everyday this year (and maybe more). More about this later.

A seemingly easy list but they’re all things I’ve tried countless times to achieve and have failed at (procrastinated at) miserably. It has come down to this – a New Year, and a (somewhat) public statement to keep me on track. That, and the untamable gnaw to keep achieving.

If you haven’t created a list, I do encourage you to create one – to think about achievable and realistic things you’d like to be doing this year. Not “should” be, but things just for you, that you’d like to do. Reward yourself with things you’ve never let yourself do FOR YOU.

And then, push that one step further and set a goal for yourself e.g. goal #3 above is something I haven’t done in about 5 years, or maybe even more. The kickoff for that was the first day of 2014 and (shameless plug) I’ve gone and started a blog, which I intend to blast with thoughts everyday. If you’d like to learn more about me as a person, please subscribe there.

If your goal is to run a marathon, don’t say, “Next week” or something ridiculous like that if you haven’t been training for it. Set yourself the goal of 6 months (or whatever) down the line, and start running tomorrow. As per my previous post, in case you need a reminder since it really was a while ago, BABY STEPS.

So, I reiterate:

1. Think of things you WANT to be doing – be realistic and shortlist. I find writing things down and telling other people about it helps keep me accountable. Figure out what you need and enable that support system.

2. Think of the reward(s) associated with achieving those things – for me, often, the reward is simple: the simple gratification of having done something just for me

3. Set a timeline (obvious point not to forget: it doesn’t have to end in December 2014! Maybe it’ll take you 1.5 years to train for a marathon!)

4. Get moving. If you need to envision #2, do that! I find that getting past the first couple of weeks of any new activity is my hump. Maybe it’ll be just as, shorter than or longer than that for you but I hope you look forward to overcoming it.

5. And if it’s not too cheesy, do what I do – Create a mantra

Really simple but not that easy to achieve. Let’s keep each other on track this year.

Over and out. Happy New Year, guys!

Sam

One of the questions I was constantly asked in consulting is, “What’s the ‘so what’?” For every piece of information I received, there was an accompanying, “Okay, so what?” and this basically translates to the idea of key insight(s).

Old habits die hard and I found myself wondering about the “so what” of my India experience. I had decided (without my usual level of consideration) that I was going to spend a month in India, training in one of the world’s oldest performance arts, tracked down an airfare I could afford, packed my bags… and then, a month later, found myself dancing like I had never danced before… And here’s what I’ve learnt –

Passion is important. Freshman essay intro question but what exactly is “passion”? “Let’s first define passion.” (Note: I want to do this for those who are jaded or struggle to feel anything more than their emotional baseline, and even more so for those who beat themselves up over this lack of “passion”.)

I personally don’t like definitions like, “It’s a feeling”, “It’s a need vs. a want”; I find them fluffy and intangible and difficult to relate to.  Instead, to get to the bottom of what someone might be passionate about, I like asking, “What is something you would do, even if you weren’t getting paid to do it?”

Laugh it up, you who say, “Shit, shower and shave”, I’m just going to ignore you.

What I really mean to ask for is a hobby, or something you consider more than.  For me, that’s dancing and writing. Even if I weren’t being paid to do either, I’d try very, very hard to reallocate some of my time from my other activities to make sure that I get to dance and write. If you don’t have something you feel this way about, I’d encourage you to think hard and explore.

Here’s why I encourage everyone to be passionate or interested in something outside of whatever it is that occupies the rest of your time (read: your job).

1. Discipline and Focus

I have historically not been very disciplined though I can be incredibly focused if the activity matters enough to me. I used to think that the fact that something has to matter to me for me to want to even dedicate my time to it indicates a lack of discipline. This may, in part, be true. However, I honestly believe that the discipline I’ve exercised in the things I do enjoy, has put me in good stead to deal with the things I don’t quite enjoy.

If you keep a blog, or a journal, go to the gym, cycle, work out etc. often (on a scheduled basis that requires some form of commitment), ask yourself why you got into that activity. If it traces you back to another activity e.g. “I got into Yoga (current activity) to help me with a dance (initial activity) injury.” Then ask yourself why you got into dance.

Have a good think about it. Again, honestly and introspectively.

It’s quite likely that you got into it because you needed a way to get rid of some of that excess energy (creative or physical), to lose weight or be healthier, or because everyone else was doing it, or you thought it looked interesting, or perhaps you were dragged to a class and found that you really enjoyed it. Whatever the reason may have been, next, ask yourself what compelled you to stay and keep going.

2. You’re never too old to try

When I was 6, I pleaded with my mum for ballet lessons. My brother had had a near drowning experience a year or two before and we ended up swimming  – “You don’t have the time” – a lot. When I was 17, I mentioned this to my cousin, who was a ballet dancer, and she suggested that I join an adult class if I really wanted to learn. I decided without even stepping foot into a class that I was too old and inflexible, and there was no point in me doing so.

I now wonder why there needed to be a point other than that it was something that I really wanted to do.

Recently, in India, I encountered women in their late 30’s to their 40’s stepping into a classical dance class for the first time. That’s no joke. One of them worked harder than any of us with prior dance training and I respected her more than the best dancer in our programme.

The fact is, if you give something your all i.e. thinking it through thoroughly and working your hardest to make it happen, there is very little that we can’t achieve. Now, let’s not be argumentative or naive – I said “very little” i.e. I don’t mean unrealistic activities such as becoming a rocket scientist if you’ve never even taken a day of math and/or physics in your entire life. No, you don’t have 100 years to live, to work on it tirelessly until you get there. With our finite lifetimes, differences in mental aptitude and intolerance towards failure and disappointment, we are limited. But hey! If you’re keen… no one’s going to stop you from trying.

3. Fearlessness

Or let’s not even go that far. Let’s go with Courage.

It really is true that our biggest barrier is ourselves. Take that ballet thing, for example. For as long as I can remember, I’ve created excuses that have stopped me from pursuing what I really wanted to. Why? Simple. Self-preservation. I have never wanted to seem like a failure to myself or to others. And I realise that it’s gotten me nowhere.

I wrote about this a while ago in my post about branding – that caring about what others think is only going to get in the way of figuring out and actually doing what you want. So, who cares if you look like an idiot trying to learn how to water ski, or that you can’t run more than 1km and are aiming for a marathon? The point is, you’re trying – trying to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, trying to do more, be more, to grow – you now understand yourself a bit better than you did before. And by default, this will contribute to your self-worth and your confidence.

Alright. That’s it from me today.

Over and out.

Sam

Well hello, thar. I’m spending my July in a secluded village in India, training at a classical Indian dance school (read: my posts may be slow but I’m still here).

Where we left off last was my promise to write about why dating is like shopping. Consider this analogy –

Your 5/10/whatever high school/college reunion is tonight. You haven’t anything to wear and decide to head to the mall to hunt around for something snazzy. Remember, that bitch/ex who made your life miserable is going to be there and you want to look REALLY good.

You get to the mall and shop around for a bit and find one or two outfits that you like. You try them on…

  1. One looks alright but you’re really not too fussed and decide to buy it (remember that there’s a Return Policy).
  2. At least one looks amazing but something’s missing; you want to keep looking, but keep your fingers crossed that nobody buys that one outfit you really like. Maybe they’ll put it on hold, maybe they won’t.
  3. All of them look horrible and you want to douse them in kerosene.

Does this sound familiar yet?

  1. Marriage and the potential divorce
  2. Breaking things off and maybe coming back to the relationship
  3. You keep looking / dating around

And then, the risk of societal pressure or the biological clock – an announcement comes in over the PA… the mall will be closing in 15 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, please complete your purchases; ensure you have all your belongings and head to the nearest exit… or however those announcements go.

Maybe you’ll decide to make a last minute dash back to the shop with Option #2. I wouldn’t exactly call this settling because it really was the best you could do. You didn’t have time to go to every mall and try on every outfit or grow bigger boobs in time.

Or maybe you’ll decide to settle for the one that looked okay. No harm in that either – it’s not perfect, but who needs perfect, anyway?

Or maybe you’ll decide to walk away empty-handed. That’s fine too.

Just remember that being picky and selective is good but indecision or hanging out for perfection is dangerous, and the latter, quite naïve. The concept of “true love”, or “eternal love” or all those other things have been all too often falsely sold to us. The fact is, what IS “true love”? Does “fake love” exist? And what good is “eternal love” without the desire to work for your relationship (please see previous post)? At the end of the day, the only way to really learn more about yourself, what looks good on you and what doesn’t, is to try it on. I now know so much better that I absolutely should not wear baby-doll tops or baggy jeans, nor should I be with someone who cannot express himself emotionally.

And sometimes, we’ll covet a pair of jeans that rejects us outright and gives us a horrible muffin top. So what? If it doesn’t fit, it’s not worth agonizing over (unless you really do have a weight problem them perhaps you should consider the gym for health reasons), lesson learnt, move on.

Good luck and happy shopping dating.

Sam

Next time: What I’ve learnt from pursuing a dream in India.

Remember how I said to find your Goosfraba? Songs like this help me. What I love about it is the humility and hope he conveys.

Whether you’re going through a hard time at work, a breakup, or some other event that troubles you.. I hope Sam Smith’s vocals help you clear out the cobwebs.

Happy weekend.

Sam

At the school where I grew up, only the popular girls started dating at a young age. There were many pretty, outgoing ones who even climbed the social ladder that way because they could. After all, at that age, physical appearance is valuable social currency.

Then, by senior year of high school, it seemed like even more people around me had started to date, girls and boys alike… not that many, now that I compare it to the amount of couples I know. But then again, the world is much bigger and much less incestuous than high school.

Growing up amongst boys, I was often the tomboy who resigned herself to the Buddy role, advising my friends’ potential suitors and watching my crushes win other girls’ hearts – ones whom they wanted.

I went off to college and left that world behind. However, along with me, I took my naiveté and preconceived notions of love and what it was to love. Then came the dating and learning about boys AND THEN, more than dating, actual relationships – the sorts that leave indelible marks on you, that become part of your baggage.

So, here’s a question for you – whether you started dating when you were 10, 13, 21… With whatever experience you have dating and / or being involved with another person romantically (through the entire spectrum of liking to loving them), what have you learned?

You can be as specific or as general as you want, but there’s a catch – try not to repeat points or have your points too closely related.

Mine… Here we go.

1. The Self – Your Self

I apologised to my first boyfriend a lot. For everything and anything, I always seemed to be excusing myself for something. (Not mistakes, just my insecurity hanging out its dirty laundry.)

And when we went on a break, I worked out like hell and hit the gym every day in my effort to “make him regret his decision to even suggest this”.  (I’m sure many of you have thought this at least once post-break-up. P.S. I strongly believe that closure is a thing in hindsight so don’t be so harsh on yourself about finding closure; it’ll happen when it happens.)

Oh yes. And every once in a while, I found myself asking, “Why do you like me?” (Not because I was trying to be cute and flirty, but because I genuinely wondered what he could possibly like about me. One guy I dated even chided, “Seriously, Sam? You’re really going to be a girl about this?”)

I’ve said this in some of my career posts and it applies to your personal life too – RECOGNISE YOUR SELF WORTH. Know your awesomeness but also acknowledge your shortcomings (related to #3). Anyone who makes you feel like a smaller person than you really are probably isn’t worth it. Even more so if you’re susceptible to letting that person make you feel that way.

It’s a pretty obvious fact but so many people often forget to check themselves and make sure they really are complete individuals before jumping into a relationship. And even if you aren’t (I mean, come on, we’re talking about Nirvana or Maslow’s 5th here.. and many of us aren’t that enlightened), knowing that it’s something you want to work on already puts you in the right direction to a healthy and sustainable relationship. Because that means you’re more likely to take responsibility for your decisions and recognise them as your own, and less likely to run around pointing fingers and being a disruptive twat.

2. Want vs. Need

Madly different things. A friend of mine cheated on her boyfriend not long ago, they broke-up, and she subsequently went through a phase of dating like there was no tomorrow.

Which is fine, if that’s what you want. However, I always advise that it’s valuable to spend time alone to figure things out. Most of us go through phases of mess (gawd knows I had mine), and sometimes we realise that during the mess; most times, after. But it’s important not to ignore what you might want in the long term… and more importantly, what you think you will need as individual.

(You don’t need to spend hours thinking about it but even as you read this now, challenge yourself to be introspective. And honest.)

So, here’s how you tell the difference between WANTS and NEEDS.

  • Wants are “nice to have”s.
  • Needs are “must have”s.

e.g. A significant other who respects me.

Guess which category this falls into? I guess that depends on the value you place on mutual respect. Or… you can mutually disrespect them… If that suits you. Your call.

Often, when I ask people, “What do you look for in a guy / girl?” I’d say I get 99.99% responses in terms of what they want. This is not to say that what they want is not ALSO what they need, but the difference is being conscious of the distinction.

The way I tend to structure my thoughts has led me down the path of this checklist: My 3 Levels of Attraction –

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional

Unless it’s an online meeting, the attraction probably runs in that order too as you progress from selection, to meeting and general conversation, to deeper sharing. I know that what I want falls into subcategories of Physical, and what I need falls into Mental and Emotional. But that’s just me.

3. Work Hard

Whoever wrote the fairy tale that told you love was easy, was telling the truth. Love IS easy. Falling in love is one of the easiest things to do if you let yourself.

However, relationships? Those are hard. Hard work.

Generally, the two are not so far removed from each other, as you would assume that if you love someone, you’d want to be with them.

However, there is all too often The Little Mermaid who loved with all her heart, with nothing in return. There’s been a lot of feminist critique about the Hans Christian Andersen story (not Disney’s version), surrounding the idea that she was a silly girl who gave everything for her prince, including her own life, in exchange for his happiness blablabla.

And yes, I’m sure we’ve all been through our own versions of one-sided loves, with thankfully, a much less dramatic ending. But that’s just love. And romantic love can essentially be one sided. And sacrificial. And poetic.

But being in a relationship? A mature relationship means knowing that you want to make it work because you want to be with that person, to grow with that person (companionship) – to use that SELF from #1 to grow with someone else, and the willingness to do anything to make it happen. The sacrifice here is logical. As logical as monogamy.

Absolutely zero poetry, 100% reality.

Sam

Next time: Why dating is like shopping.

Our world is built on brands. I often say I don’t care much for brands but I know that’s bullshit. And here’s why. Even if I’m not out hunting down a J.Crew or Marc Jacobs or [insert other brand name here], I still own branded goods because of the intrinsic value they hold. And that really is the power of the brand, isn’t it? That message they send to consumers, without explicitly shouting anything at them. What a dangerous little whisper.

Branding

I realise that part of the reason why I wanted to become a consultant, why I cared so much for that Ivy League education, was because of the brand the job and the school afforded me. With those names on my resume, I didn’t have to run around with a sandwich board that said I was a capable, functioning individual – it was implied. But of course, having those names wasn’t enough and I had to work to build my personal brand in other ways through experience, and targeting roles and tasks and all that other gooey stuff we splash all over our CVs. For the most part, I was building my brand, marketing myself for recruiters, the client, my bosses.

What happens when that brand association disappears?

And then, I decided to leave my job and pursue something completely different that didn’t hold the same sort of branding to that crowd of people. Instead of worrying about leaving behind a stable job and a paycheck, my biggest concern was, “How will I spring back from this once I throw all the branding I’ve worked for away?” It almost felt like I was wiping the slate clean, and to some extent, I was.

Affirmation and Self Worth

But what I didn’t note was that a brand cannot stand without affirmation. And my affirmation really was my skills and all those experiences I’d worked to collect over the years. Without realising it, I was failing to acknowledge my self worth. I’d gotten so caught up in the competition and trying to fast-track my promotions and constantly comparing myself that I had stopped taking note of my strengths.

(Note: The fear of not being able to find a job if I ever decided to go back to the corporate world is not entirely unfounded as some MNCs do like to see continuity in your CV, but the bigger question was whether or not that was the sort of culture I wanted to go back to.)

Comparing

Then, there was the ever-present question of, “What will my peers think? What will my relatives think? What will, what if etc.”

Those thoughts paralysed me for a while. Every time I imagined a future conversation with my ex-colleagues, I imagined them telling me about how well they were doing and all the luxury they were bathing in and how happy they were… and I just couldn’t see myself “losing”. To me, that’s what it was – I was losing. I was hypothetically falling behind in this imaginary race I’d crafted in my head. I didn’t even realise how imaginary it was until I asked myself, “Where’s the finish line?”

I didn’t have an answer. I would meekly think, “A boardroom? A CxO of a large (read: Fortune 500) company?” But is that what I really wanted? All I knew is that I was thinking in Roles and not Skills.

I’ve said before that we don’t really know what we want and often think we know what we want. But here was a clear indicator that my life then was not what I wanted: my unease and discontent.

Letting Go

Suddenly, I couldn’t see myself on that ladder anymore. I had shifted to a different ladder. And all those people I had been comparing myself to on that ladder, not so long ago? I left them behind.

There I was, for the first time in my life, standing on my lonely little ladder, realising that there will always be people who “WILL” and there are always people who “WON’T” i.e. there are always people who will / won’t [LOVE, SUPPORT, ENCOURAGE... and by default, all their synonyms] YOU. And as far as possible, if you can surround yourself with the people who “WILL”, then why shouldn’t you? And if you’re saying that you don’t have anyone like that in your life and you come from a bad place where people are always negative etc., then LOOK. There will ALWAYS be people out there who WILL and WON’T.

It was probably at this moment, as I stood alone as an individual, no longer jostled by the expectations I perceived others had of me that I truly recognised my self worth and stopped comparing myself to others in the negative way that many of us often do.

I won’t lie that it’s a work in progress since I still do sometimes find myself branding myself in a certain way for external validation. But every time I find myself regressing, I challenge my competitive self to exercise some mental strength – to try reminding myself mentally of things I do like about me. Things I’m working on that I enjoy. Things that I like about my life.

And as for all those questions I had about whether things will work out, whether I’ll get a job with a large MNC again, they’re still huge question marks. But I think what’s important is that I have embraced a comfort in uncertainty, a change in my mindset, and a willingness to live with an open hand.

Sam

Next time: What my last relationship taught me.

Aight. As per previous post, we all have different priorities. Say it with me. We all have different priorities. So, if you’ve spent most of your life comparing yourself to others as most of us have, don’t feel poorly about it, but perhaps it’s time to start letting go.

Once I realised that working 18 hour days and being cruel to my body conflicted with things that ranked pretty highly on my Priority List (i.e. work-life balance, ME time, health), I knew that I needed to find another job since the one I had wouldn’t compromise.

Here’s what I did:

1. I checked that I had enough savings to tide me over for a period I was comfortable with.

2. I sat down and listed all the things I thought I was good at, and asked people to actively TELL ME what they thought I was good at.

Unique

3. Along side this, I thought about what I enjoyed in two ways:

Job Venn

Another way to think about it is as:

Function providing you with transferrable technical skills
Industry providing you with in-depth specific knowledge about.. well, an industry (not necessarily a product since some industries may have both a product and a service e.g. Technology)
Pick one side to focus on – either Function or Industry. Idiot me tried to go for the Sweet Spot on first go and ended up wanting too much all at once. Baby steps.

I’d suggest looking at Function first because this coincides nicely with #2. If you can pick 3 things that you AND others think you’re relatively good at (yes, I even did Strengths Finder and retook the MBTI and at least 3 other tests that I thought would help me figure out what it was that I’m relatively good at.. AND one very helpful data point of delving into my childhood and really thinking about what I had always enjoyed and been good at growing up. As kids, we’re a lot less discerning of the activities we choose to engage in and do them out of sheer interest)…

4. Synthesise. So! If you can pick 3 things, try to see if there’s a common thread between each of them. For example, I have always enjoyed writing, dancing, and psychology. The common thread I identified was communication and storytelling. Pretty broad terms, I know.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there were other skills that I had been honing subconsciously purely out of my interest in communicating and storytelling.

Really generally: structured thinking, audience agenda, judgment and relevance, etc. etc. COME UP WITH YOUR OWN TERMS. Seriously. Stop thinking in terms of words on your CV and you said it – “Think outside the box”, and really allow yourself to recognise your self worth.

Use these skills as a compass to direct you towards a filtered set of Functions you think you might enjoy.

5. Make ends meet. Now, I don’t want to call this looking for a new job because perhaps you’ll create your own. When I told my parents that I wanted to leave my job, my mum freaked out, my dad just stared at me, and I bawled cried. Then, they said, “As long as you can make ends meet.” And it’s true. Everyone has a different risk appetite so if you’re not comfortable living off USD20 a day, then don’t go be a street artist and expect to be happy. Just don’t.

If you prioritise your financial security, then deprioritise matching your job and skills perfectly, and COMPROMISE. Find something that fulfills your other needs e.g. a job that may be similar to the one you’re in now but perhaps with better hours or… whatever it is you’re looking for.

It’s a bit of a juggle but the more you understand about what’s important to you, the more you’ll know what you’re willing to compromise on.

Good luck!

Sam

Next time: Branding, comparing, and letting go

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