Up against reality

There are many cliches about being like water, filling the container you are in, according to its shape, being able to shape landscapes without pushing hard against, flowing along the path of least resistance. Except they are largely true about the attributes of water. The question is what does it look like for us to be ‘like water’.

Personally, I’d say it’s cognitive flexibility, the ability to basically change gears when reality calls for it. And it is not just about the speed you are travelling, but also how you’re travelling, the mode of transport, the exact vehicle you are in, the people you’re riding with. The ability to embrace reality so radically that it is not a sigh of resignation but as if welcoming an unexpected guest with some measure of exuberance.

Our expectations and ability to anticipate works incredibly well when we are often put in life-threatening environments – they save us from harm and keeps us alive. And they also work well in a stable world where routine reigns, and the same scenarios or circumstances recur. That’s why the best assumption to make while forecasting (if you don’t know better) is that things will stay pretty much the same. The struggle is when reality shifts, and you’re up against reality. When things don’t work out as you expected. How quick are you to drop your expectations and go with the flow?

The modern world demands that you get better at that. Not just superficially. Not the fake smile and polite pretensions when the unexpected guest turns up. But actually enjoying this new company, and being unburdened by the plans previously made.

Sustainable values

What do you think creates value? What is the difference between short term and long term value? Is value what makes us thrive or does thriving define what value represents? What our economy does in the present way of measuring output and product as value, is that it takes natural resources, labour, and capital to combine them and create value – mostly to people, sometimes to animals, plants and on rare occasions, to the environment.

At the end of the day, the system incentivises us to somewhat sacrifice the planet to feed and satisfy ourselves. The climate change as an impending catastrophe is just a type of warning sign for how we have structured our economy and to get us to think about how to rewire it. Pricing carbon is just a means of incorporating some kind of costs into our consideration. And there are many other taxes and tools we need to consider.

Our goal at the end of the day is to really cut back on harmful practices and ways of satisfying ourselves that is systematically taking out more than what we put back into the environment (including the rate by which nature is able to recover itself). Are we getting there yet? Probably it’ll be some kind of harmonic cycle, as with nature and systems that works along thresholds. But what I know is that our definition of what exactly is value, and what gives value, will be a key to getting there.

Pre-loved Laptop

Recently my laptop broke down. It was a Macbook Pro I’ve been using for close to seven and a half years. But for some reason, it just stopped working and got into some crazy restarting loop which didn’t even allow me to start MacOS Recovery. I might get it fixed some time but I didn’t have sufficient bandwidth to wait at a Genius Bar or the ability to wait for the laptop to come back before I work again (on my own stuff, not my job at Enea).

So I quickly made up my mind that I’ll get a new laptop but something second-hand. Probably lightly used so that I can stretch more life out of the laptop. And I did, through Carousell; the options and choices were more limited than having to choose at an Apple Store but most of these options like ‘Space Grey’ or ‘Rose Gold’ doesn’t matter to me at all. The specs that matters such as harddisk space and RAM were all clear and I could just find something that would suffice.

The effort then is focused on finding a reasonable price, and that the laptop is lightly used (as somewhat defined by the charge cycles that the battery has been through). I managed to find the laptop quickly and agree on a quick deal with the seller. I thought it was a win-win since the seller didn’t actually need the computer anymore and I needed one that I can work with, without being necessarily the newest, latest product.

On a separate note, I always wonder what ‘pre-loved’ was implying. That the product had been loved before? Or it has yet been loved? These new marketing gimmicky terms are confusing.

Perception management

It started with intra company media, stuff you post on the intranet, send in company-wide emails, the front you put up in front of bosses. There is the self that we bring to work daily, it is part of professionalism but as we make our identities increasingly an external rather than internal thing, we begin to lose ourselves more.

Then comes social media and you even have to manage the perceptions around private life. Not that private isn’t private anymore but it has become ways to humbly or not-so-humbly brag. And so there is pressure to present a self you want everyone to see. Genuine private life became even more private and perhaps darker in nature. Again, ourselves are somewhat lost.

Authenticity as a movement came out against this. All these perception management. Yet it can get abused and people acting unprofessional and giving in to their lack of discipline try to make themselves feel better by peddling around authenticity. I think the key compass here is your internal sense of identity. Where does it come from? Where and what is your anchor?

Taking time

I am sometimes guilty of trying to be efficient all the time. Yet things will always take time to be better. In fact, sometimes the goal of efficiency undermines being able to do something effectively because we are stingy about the time or resources that we have to spend – in service of efficiency.

Yet when I put on my artist hat, I cease to consider efficiency. Sure, there may be deadlines for my painting or Chinese calligraphy works but there is no need to rush through the creative process. Putting some time constraints can improve the works but more often than not, the hurried mood is counterproductive.

Same with cultivating and building relationships. Or growing, gardening, bearing fruits. These things all take time. Question is, are you taking the time? Or just trying to move on to the next thing.

Negative feedback

For Asians, it’s potentially more difficult to give than to receive direct negative feedback. And as I mentioned before, giving feedback should be a course. I have also suggested tips and ideas.

The problem is we don’t remember them because culturally, it’s just such a taboo; we don’t want to “hurt” others. It just reflects how feedback have been weaponised before in our culture so often and far too much. Whether in the form of “advice” from elders, or just unsolicited statements from distant family members.

The thing is, negative feedback can only hurt us to the extent we allow them to. If we don’t take advice from someone, why should we be taking their criticism?

Admiring the boss II

What do you ask of your boss? And are you where you would like to be as a boss? Or have you fully embraced your identity as the boss and realised you can’t understand why the staff reporting to you simpy cannot understand the constraints you are under?

Every choice you take boils down to 2 different directions: you are either reinforcing the status quo or trying to change it.

Which choice are you tending towards?

Who are we to college admissions?

What is your positioning? What is your strategy in this application? I asked my intern who was applying to certain colleges. I’ve been called upon to put up a reference for this young colleague and I really wanted to help, as best as I can.

So me being the strategy consultant I am, asked those questions. It drew a blank. And of course, it was a little confusing for someone fresh out of A Levels to think of “strategies” around college applications. Or maybe not if you’ve so much help and advice from those who have gone before you. That, I feel, is exactly what those families with resources are able to equip their younger ones with.

Maybe I was wrong, that we need a strategy or positioning because the only positioning should be to be ourselves. It will take more excavation of ourselves and asking who exactly are we rather than artificially creating a persona we must fit into. In being able to “position” our application as much as possible as being true to ourselves, might be the most precious thing you can give to the college admissions office.

Decarbonising the economy

Lifeforms on earth are mostly about carbon; mostly made up of it. The problem with our economy is not that we need carbon to get things going but that carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as “value” in the economy is created. That is only natural to the extent that we as humans burn similar fuels and produce the similar byproduct. It almost seem like we cannot really escape from that.

We have been moving energy around from one form to another in order to get work done since prehistoric times. In some sense, the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at higher concentrations really cause so much potential catastrophic harm to life on earth is a demonstration that perhaps the “work done” by humans is too much.

Perhaps it is time for us all to just pause, and recognise how much we truly really need in this world. Have we recognised that our attempts at relentlessness in the wrong direction can turn really disastrous?

Learning vs certificates

So you attended a course or workshop, finished all the work and participated in all the discussions. Did you learn anything new? Did you make the best of it? Supposing you did. Now they forgot about your participation, your attendance wasn’t on the record and you did not receive your certificate for attending/participating.

Did you actually took part? Was there a point in you attending it when all records says you didn’t? Does it make a difference if it was a requirement by someone else that you attended it? What if it wasn’t? If you attended by your own volition, would you care more or care less about the certificate?

What is the most important thing you would take away? The learning, or the certificate and the evidence of you being there? Were you showing up for yourself? Or was it something else?