A mix of different things started me on my own journey to discover what it means to really live.
It began with the feeling that something isn’t quite right about the “straight path” as sold to us by our society; the influencers are shiny – big smiles, nice accessories, spiffy dress / house / kids / etc. But there is something ultimately dissatisfying, where the way just wears you thin and you gradually disappear into a shade or a wisp.
Being blessed to have gone to a good school, this however was part of the straight path sold to me and my classmates, many of whom I now see plastering photos of their glowing families and condos all over LinkedIn and Facebook. Peer pressure has always been there in the background growing up, but seeing all the wonderful things others had and were doing ratcheted up the sense of FOMO. Feeling “humbled” by their promotions or new businesses hitting revenue targets (are they expressing their humility or was the post meant to humble me instead?), I found myself constantly questioning – I am good enough, right? I should be the one to have my photo plastered on the papers – or whatever passes for papers nowadays – right?
At what point did I somehow get “lost”?
On the other hand, I think of the grind of hours lost, the compromises of “authenticity” needed to get there. I also remember some wise words that were given before – “play only the games you can win”, and “whose rules are you playing by?” Even if I do step back from the materialist rat race, am I really doing it for humble bragging purposes? If I no longer sacrifice my hours to the grind, are they instead lost down an alternate wormhole of tweets, likes or frags?
A Growing Longing
A certain religious teacher in Roman-ruled Middle East put forward an idea of “an abundant life”. Tantalisingly short of details though, so I suppose we’ll need to find it out through trial / error, observation and mutual experimentation. Much more difficult than reading a manual or textbook, the Singaporean way. Why?
I suppose we also could grind through finding it out with sheer force of will and hard work. But aren’t we supposed to be more productive and efficient about doing things nowadays? Truth be told, I am also a little bit lazy and much prefer “life hacks” like a 3-hour work week and achieving financial freedom by age 35.
Maybe all the contradictions and complexities of life are more than what we can grasp with our minds. The abundant life could be possibly better discovered through simplicity. Not with Nietzsche’s uber-mensch or Maslow’s self-actualisers, but in the wisdom of the monastic order and in the vein of many Eastern philosophies – these have much truth, though not the whole truth.
A Simple Path
That is, instead of chasing after the next thing and the incessant buzz,
perhaps the way to accomplish more is to do less.
In my experience, these three anchors here have really helped me:
Slow down - Observe. Ask questions. Re-orientate yourself towards the real goal.
Savour the present - Instead of chasing an illusory future, gently cradle the solid here and release the future into the waves of now.
Serve - you take the welfare of others into yourself, you will also expand. Celebrate individuals. Not separating into tribes and demonising the other, or insisting that those on the same side be consumed by a larger whole of uniformity.
So that’s why I’m here. I might not write as much (sorry Jenni!), but I’d love to just try, listen to people just trying, and share about how I’m trying - the paradox of how we might actually achieve it if we didn’t try too hard on our own, but doing it together, our tiny bits add up to a larger whole.
Recent Lessons Learnt
I jumped out of my previous job in the middle of the COVID crisis. Everyone told me I was very daring but in fact, I kept second guessing myself. Was it a sign of weakness, of defeat? On the other hand, I presume there comes a point where living an abundant life means acknowledging your weaknesses and walking away from games which require an untenable cost to win.
On the bright side, a sabbatical, enforced or otherwise, offers an excellent chance to regroup and learn. I share here some important lessons which I picked up:
Identity: Failure of / in a business does not mean I am a failure
Relationships: Gratitude for them, how they are more important than achievements
Gratitude: Finding gold among ruins
Authority: Submitting to authority without selling out
Defend my staff
Keep your objectives / priorities clear
First resources, second operational excellence, third strategy
Being organised about saying “No” (I should at least tell your boss all the other things which I have said “Yes” to… and propose priorities and solutions)
Truth / Integrity
Impact – great chance to make an impact since I know what doesn’t work!
Building people and systems
Excellence + Growth mindset
To keep me to some kind of writing schedule at least for the next few months, I plan to post a short reflection every one or two weeks on each of these lessons on our Facebook page. I welcome your thoughts and responses to these points. Do join our fB group and contribute your experiences!