Tag Archives: life lesson

Terrific Turbulence

13 Oct

India was great.

After many challenging yet enlightening months in India, I returned home to a new project, new residence, and new mindset. I am very grateful for the experiences I have had whilst overseas, and for the many new friends made – come visit me soon, okay!*

I don’t wish to cheapen the experience by summarising what the best, worst or most challenging moments were. I think I shared just enough in previous blog posts to provide at least a little insight to my strange life over there.

Nor do I want to undervalue the worth of those experiences. Instead, all I feel I might safely say is: please see it for yourself. But make a note not to see only the “tourist” side of India. Go experience real life. The good life, and the not so good. Talk to people. Really, really see India for yourself.

*Please note: that was not a question.

But being home is better.

Going back on my word a little, I will say that one of the best things about spending a longer time in India is that it has given me an interestingly different perspective on the things that surround me back home. Seemingly simple things like the quiet traffic or the drinkable tap water have become a source of comfort. The personal space is relieving. But the price of groceries… a damn shame.

Reenergised through all of this, I’ve started on a new project – a really exciting campaign – that you will hopefully hear more of soon. For now, trust that jumping between lives and projects is a little turbulent, but mostly great fun.


Welcome to Delhi

16 Jul

It’s 6am, and it’s already 30 degrees outside. You’re in the backseat of a car, and the driver’s idea of “air conditioning” is ensuring all the windows are rolled down. You’re not wearing a seatbelt – not because you’re rebellious, or even because seatbelt wearing is not mandated by Indian law, but because the seatbelt is missing. As your driver takes you down the highway, on the way to the Agra bus stop, he pulls over suddenly, hops out, and walks down the road. You wonder to yourself, is he going to help out the truck driver who’s clearly stranded on the side of the road? How nice of him! …no, he keeps walking. He’s in the middle of the road now, staring at something, picking it up. He returns to the car, doing a quick check of the underside. As he hops back in, he casually places that “something” in the passenger seat, removes a wrapping of gaffa tape from the hand brake, then continues driving down the road. After a while, he calmly announces “the brakes failed…”.
Yep, Welcome to Delhi.
Lesson #1: Keep Calm.
On my “backpacking adventure” in India a month ago, I was faced with a number of life’s important lessons. The first of which is too keep calm, because there’s just too much that’s beyond my control.
In truth, the lesson started about 18 hours earlier. Whilst still in Pune, on the day of our departure, I had learned that the plans to travel right up into the Himalayas had fallen through, and I had to cancel over half of the bookings. I was upset with myself, not too happy with the travel agents, and in the middle of an emotional breakdown. With the support of my wonderful partner, we were able to redesign the trip in a last minute rush, and even make it to the airport on time.
I had almost calmed down, when we discovered that the cab to pick us up from Delhi airport had been and gone, on account of our delayed flight. We were left waiting late into the night for the driver’s return – after all, they expected us to pay for his earlier visit – whilst I closely clutched our belongings and warily eyed everyone and anyone with suspicion.
The arrival at the hotel didn’t do much to calm me down. I was tired and cranky, the air too hot and too thick, and yet we had to wait for our passports to be scanned, amongst other dull proceedings. Finally, we were led to a somewhat-air-conditioned-room for a dreary 4 hours of sleep.
Things were not off to a good start, and I was definitely stressed. Yet the car ride that morning triggered a change. We had no seat belts, were relying on faulty brakes, and I was okay. The realisation that my stressors had all been quite out of my control left me without the ability to panic. I kept calm and, suddenly, the adventure was enjoyable.
Lesson #2: Go Your Own Way
One of the most irritating things about being a tourist in India is being targeted by touts. They might hustle you into their rickshaw, or personally walk you into a shop, mysteriously steer you into pricey souvenir stores (though sometimes not a bad thing), and away from the more interesting experiences of walking through the markets or pretending to be an ordinary citizen.
The store keepers of the touts’ shops are politely worse. Short of actually demanding that you buy things, they turn sales into an art form. Leaving a store empty handed requires a lot of determination, patience and tact. If I ever want to study sales tricks, I plan to watch these guys at work for a day or two.
The lesson learned is to pave your own way, which sometimes leads to doing the opposite of what the touts suggest. When aiming directly for the main bazaar in Delhi, we actually had one such tout tell us not to go there because of a “fight” that had broken out there a day before. It was “unsafe” and we would apparently do better to follow him to the store of his choice. Another tout followed alongside us, offering handy tips to scare us away from the market such as “wear your backpack across your chest”. Sure, this might have seemed like reasonable advice, but I assure you that the safety of our beings, as well of our belongings (particularly our wallets!), was much more secure amongst the confining backstreets and alleyways of the market, than amongst the touts and tourist shops *Phew*. Had we followed their advice, we would’ve missed out on the sights and sounds of a real market, the much better prices, and the quaint experience of meeting with a lost backpacker looking for a last minute budget hotel – what a character!
Lesson #3: Resorts in-the-middle-of-nowhere Are Probably A Bad Idea
Particularly for more than one night.
This part of our adventure was hastily patched together after our cancelled Himalayan expedition. It featured two nights near the Jim Corbett reserve, in the hopes of arranging an elephant safari. The resort was so out of the way that we’d driven past it by about a half hour before realising we had little idea where it was. Once getting there, we also realised we were so isolated from anything of interest, that beyond the 2 hour safari, we would have nothing else to do.
Whilst it was a delight to escape the noises and crowds of everwhere-else-that-is-India, the lack of real adventures left something to be desired.
Lesson #4: Have Fun
Originally titled “It’s Okay to Fail”, thanks to my stressful experience, but already covered in this post, accepting failure is also about having fun. Although the “adventure” had many failures and underwent many late changes, it was still successful, in the sense that it really was an adventure. Particularly the part where we got engaged at the Taj Mahal *swoon*.
So go on, have fun, I dare you.

The Next Steps (my learning journey)

23 Jun

After the strong finish point of my previous post, the youngest voice in the room, I’ve decided to look for inspiration on how to take those next steps. I recently picked up a copy of The Passionate Programmer, and whilst I am not a software developer, I find it still has plenty to offer in supporting my journey.
The text had me in its grips from the foreword, and just kept drawing me in. One of the key points made is that “a person who wants to become great is far more likely to be great” – that to treat your job just as a job is unlikely to lead to happiness, let alone success. The passion that comes with wanting “to be great” subsequently offers a lot of drive and energy for achieving just that.
Whilst I do recommend reading the book if you have the opportunity, I would briefly like to share just three of its tips that have resonated well with me:
  • Find a mentor
    Whilst there are many opportunities for self-driven learning (i.e. endless reading, attending events, and so on), experience has taught me that without someone else to bounce ideas off, I have no idea what I’m missing out on.
    Let me explain this another way: The way we think has often been described to me as drawing from four aspects of our knowledge – (1) what we know that we know, (2) what we don’t know that we know, (3) what we know that we don’t know  and (4) what we don’t know that we don’t know. — At this point in time, I am unsure of where this concept first originated, and hence who to attribute it to.
    1. Obviously the first, what we know that we know, is knowledge that we apply when we can. For example, I know that mingle is a pretty useful tool, and I know how to use it. I use this knowledge daily.
    2. When I don’t know that I know something, it often comes as a surprise – information that is stored in the back of my mind, that I absorbed at some point and have retained, that jumps to consciousness when I need it. For me, this is primarily medical information, as when I was younger I entertained a love of biology books and, a few years after that, would often help family and friends study for medical/biology courses. Right now, whilst writing this blog, nothing related to medicine/biology comes to mind, mostly just vague ideas, but I know from experience that if somebody were to ask me about, oh, what ibuprofen is or what interacts with calcium supplements, or maybe even about kidney diseases, I would probably pull the answer an accurate, informed answer from the depths of my memory, and each time it would surprise me, yet I would know it to be right.
    3. When I know that I don’t know something, I can seek out the information myself. This is when reading and self-learning is most useful. For example, at the start of this year, I did not know what mingle was, and at some point I knew that. It was then that I looked it up on the internet (like you likely will too – go on, click the link!), found out more about it, and trialled the software.
    4. The problem with the above example though, is that I first needed someone to tell me of something new, for me to know that I didn’t know about it. There are endless collections of thoughts, facts, ideas and knowledge that I cannot even fathom – to learn more about them, first I need some inkling that they exist. For example, I bet you didn’t know that you didn’t know about this concept. And now you’ve gone from (4) to (3) knowing you didn’t know to (1) reading about it here and now knowing that you know. This is where you most need triggers for your curiosity, and where a mentor can help out most.
  • Practice 🙂
    Not by doing what is comfortable, but by stretching your limits and trying new things. This may mean presenting at a conference, when you’ve only ever presented to your university class. Just go do it, and treat it is a learning challenge.
  • Learn to fail
    It’s not really about failing, but about being okay with potential failure. If we don’t feel capable of coping with it, chances are we won’t try in the first place. Recently, I was organising a vacation trip through the North of India, but I wanted it to be perfect. Knowing that I did not know enough to make it perfect, and knowing that I was certain to fail in actualising my feeble plans, I hesitated, and hesitated again, and kept postponing the bookings. Finally, a month before I was intending to travel, after realising I was going nowhere, I contacted a local travel agency, in the hopes that they could help me. I was relying on their expertise to prevent certain failure. When I ceased getting timely responses from them, I just waited. Knowing that something had gone wrong, I did not want to follow up with them and get the bad news, I preferred to hope it would turn out all right. In the end, things had gone wrong, and my entire vacation had to be replanned, but I only came to grips with this the day before I was due to fly out.
    Failure has its benefits – the primary one being that failure is often a learning experience.
    Additionally, failure is not as scary as we often make it out to be. The damage of my failed trip planning was little – it just required some replanning. This occurred much later in the process, but could just have easily been tackled months earlier. The damage caused by my lateness in facing the failure – major out of pocket expenses, due to the lateness of rebooking.


The youngest voice in the room

9 Jun

I was recently invited to partake in a 3-day strategy meeting, to assess and make recommendations for the future of our graduate program. That’s pretty exciting for me, because the graduate experience is something I feel quite passionately about. Then my eyes were drawn more closely to the words “strategy meeting”. I took a look at the names of the other invites, and saw People Leads and Recruiters, and well known employees and old-timers. What then, was my reaction?
“Uh-oh, looks like I’ve been invited by mistake, I should let them know to amend the invite”.
So I went from being exciting and thinking “this is exactly the event I want to be part of”, to assuming it’s a mistake and I won’t belong.
How did that happen?
It wasn’t that I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea, or that I wasn’t competent enough to go, and I definitely wanted to be a part of it. Yet there was an element of surprise: Why would an employee as new or as young as myself be requested to aid in strategy development?
Upon arriving on the first day of the meeting, I found myself confronted again. A colleague even asked “what are you doing here?”. The question was intended to uncover what perspective I, and other attendees, was providing, but I found it a little unnerving. I ran a mental check:
What was I doing here? Do I need to justify my presence? Will I be listened to?
I had a valid view to represent. As a recent graduate, a recent student, my views and my buy in would be just as important as any other.
Not only that, but I could offer the infamous fresh perspective. As a recently new hire, I had lesser view of what had been done in the past, and so less temptation to grasp onto the familiar. I also had a range of other experiences to draw from, that allowed me to offer unique insights. My presence had value. My presence had reason.
This leads me to wonder – are the opinions of the fresh faces being sought out often enough? Or should we continue to lean towards the veterans?
Yet more importantly, how often do new joinees avoid getting involved, because they feel their insight won’t matter?
At present, I only have anecdotal evidence – having been an intern twice, and now a graduate, and having worked and trained with other new joinees, I understand that we often feel we don’t know enough to start voicing our opinions. It’s best to sit back and learn from the experts, that’s what they’re there for, right?
I say that’s not good enough.
No matter what our experience levels, we have something to share, and plenty to learn.
If I’m not confident enough to share my own view, I’ll learn by questioning others’.
My plan is to get more involved in SIGs, giving presentations, or running workshops, if only to raise more questions.
My plan is to not run away.
My plan is to share my perspective.
What’s yours?

What’s your principle?

12 May

I came across this brilliant talk by Brett Victor via Vinod’s blog and, like Vinod, I waited about a month to watch it. There were always to reasons to put it off, the primary one being that it’s just under an hour long, and I needed to find enough time to first stream it, and then watch it. Finally, after going back through my archaic list of things to do, I saw this and thought “ah, what the hell, I’ll never get it off my list if I don’t give it a go.” My one advice after watching it? Watch it. Watch it now. It’s amazingly worth it.

The talk touches on a range of principles, including but not limited to software development, engineering, artistic and problem solving. More than that though, it’s focuses on finding the right principle to guide your life.

So what’s your principle? More importantly (to me), what’s mine?

When I look back on all I’ve done, the roles I’ve played in life, and the driving factors of my decisions, my initial reaction is to say “oh, well I must like to solve problems”. Then I think of how I’ve never actually solved a rubiks cube – I’ve definitely tried, and I know there are plenty of sources to help me understand how to do it, but I tend to just give up instead. It just doesn’t interest me.
“Oh, so maybe it’s because it’s been solved before, maybe I like to solve new problems?”. Then again, I do find important lessons in reinventing the wheel – I think it’s cool to be able to understand something, and then share it with other people.
“Ahh, people! I’ve always loved working with people but … only those who are open to learning”. Yes, I think now I’m onto something. I think my principle is to enable others to grow their own ideas. I’m not focused just on helping others learn, not really. What I am interested in helping people question themselves, their ideas, and inspire them to develop those ideas further.

So now that I’ve reflected on that, I think it’s safe to say that hearing about your principle is more important (to me), after all.

Switch off to switch on

11 Apr

Having recently relocated on assignment, I am finding it super easy to be with my computer all the time. I turn it on first thing in the morning, and it’s the last thing I interact with before going to sleep. There’s little to stop me, as I’m no longer going over to friends’  places, meeting up with them at the shops or movies, going out for a drink, and so on. I’ve boycotted my regular life and, behind the pre tense of settling in to my new location, am instead interacting with it electronically. My laptop is now an even greater connection with both my work and personal life – pretty convenient, huh? And yet, it poses a dire threat to my ability to remain focused at any point in time. Whilst at work, sure I’m thinking about the project, but I’m also wondering how my savings are going, whether I should buy another guitar, where I should travel to this weekend and, of course, how my friends are going. Whilst back “home”, I might appear to be relaxing to a movie, but I’m also monitoring my emails, waiting for a response, or trying to plan the next working day.

Whilst multi-tasking can seem to be a point of success, giving the illusion of achievement, it is becoming more and more recognised as a deterrent to productivity (click here or here for examples).

One of the simplest solutions is to create opportunity in the workplace for uninterrupted focus. Many, many blogs and articles detail the ways in which in to organise your day to aid focus and thereby aid creativity and productivity, but I particularly like the ones written by Mark McGuiness, such as this one.

And yet, if we are becoming more aware that multitasking is, for lack of better wording, bad, and that all we need is a schedule that allows us to focus… then why are we still succumbing to the allure of being busily unfocused?

That would be because the simple solutions are actually not so simple. It may sounds ridiculous at first, but it can be quite difficult to shut off your email for an hour, to turn off your phone, and to focus solely on a problem. This may be partially because we are afraid that we’ll find the problem at hard really difficult to solve, and at least if we were distracted the whole time we’ll have an excuse that promises to replace the feeling of inadequacy. Whatever the reason, focusing on one thing, just one thing, can be very hard.

So how we can our increase my mental capacity for focus? Meditating seems like a pretty cool idea, and almost feels obvious when you think about it, but what about daydreaming?

I won’t say that everyone should daydream at the workplace but… it’s a pretty neat way to switch off. By daydreaming, we can train our minds to ignore distractions, with almost zero effort. Once we become a little more confident in our ability to block out distractions, we will not only increase our focus for meditative and problem solving tasks, but we may even become a little more capable of switching off emails long enough to solve a problem in one go.

Help, I’m in a foreign place and I don’t know what to do!

1 Apr

I arrived in Pune, India, a couple of days ago, and have so far familiarised myself with two locations: my accommodation, and the office. I can successfully walk between the two without getting lost, yay! I’m also more than happy to eat at the restaurant downstairs until I get my bearings. But hang on a moment… how do I get my bearings?

Furthermore, what do I do when the weekends come? Sure, I want to see all the touristy sites, and I’ve had zero difficulty determining what and where those are (like the Pataleshwar Cave Temples or the Sinhagad Fort). I also have complete faith that I can get into any rickshaw or cab, and the driver will be able to take me to those landmark destinations without getting lost. Cool!

But how do I get back? What if I can’t explain where my accommodation is, or recognise the area upon my return?
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered whilst in India, it’s that simply knowing a street address is rarely enough. To be able to get anywhere, you’re best chance of reaching the right destination is citing the equivalent of suburb, block, main road,  the name of the nearest major intersection and/or an appropriate “landmark”. In my opinion, that’s a little too complex for a newbie.

I’m sure many of you will be thinking “well duh, Google it! Get an app! Buy a paper map!”, although in truth you might not be thinking in rhymes. The main problem I have with relying on maps is that I am prone to losing my bearings – and believe me, I don’t want to get lost on my first solo venture! The next problem is that it doesn’t really tell me much about the area, and introduces a sense that the city is made only of roads and destinations. I want to get to know the culture, the vibe, and the little landmarks of an area, the same way that I do back home, and I don’t believe someone else can tell me what those are.

What then, should I do? Well…
My personal preference is to start small:

  • Go for a short walk, but limit it to to one block from your accommodation.
    …It’s harder to get lost on this first walk, but also provides a basis for identifying the area later on, and helps me get used to how others react to me (after all, I am a foreigner).
  • Go for another walk now, but take in another block. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
    …The benefit of this is that each time you do this, you (a) become more acquainted with “base”, (b) stretch your awareness of the area just a little more and (c) consolidate a mental map of the area so you don’t need to rely as much on a physical one.
  • Read the local paper
    …to find out what’s important, and what local events are running. For instance I’ve discovered that each Sunday there’s a “bazaar” on in one of the malls. I’m not sure what to expect at this point, but I’m quite excited to head there quite soon.
  • Collect recommendations
    …Ask locals (colleagues, neighbours, even shop staff) to recommend a place of interest – not just the key tourist spots or where they like to eat out, but where they get their groceries, buy gifts, go to worship, or like to go on weekends.
    I find these to be more valuable than what any old map, directory or website can tell me, because recommendations stem from others’ personal experiences, not from marketing or tourism campaigns.

So now I’ve become a little more familiar with where I am,
and tomorrow I hope to push that boundary just a little further,
until I’m as wise as any local around.