10 on ’15 10 lessons from 2015

1. Tired but true – health is wealth.

I’d been a 5th year repeat student on this one. At 36, its really becoming apparent how I need to nurture my health. I can feel it in this fragile, battered body. The right shoulder’s achy from all that mouse use. Lower back loose from sitting down too much. Give or take, we’re usually 10 year younger in habit than in body – so I can’t keep working like I’m 26. So I’d been learning to adopt age-appropriate lifestyle habits. Key is fine-tuning my radar to better listen to what my body tells me and needs. Exercise 3 times a week. Eat mum’s home-cooked food. Use a standing desk. And lastly, sleep is the foundation of all things – 8 hours, minimum. Period. 10 if I can afford it. It’s often more a necessity than a luxury.

2. Martyrdom is over-rated.

I’m done with creative suffering. No more “Through my pain, I shall fight my way forward. From my sacrifices, I shall be known.” Bye bye the way of the Martyr*. The way of the Trickster is the better way. Game it, play it, have fun with it, instead of suffering to solve it. Would I still do it if I didn’t achieve my goals? Would I still do it if no one benefits? Of course goals and impacting lives are important, but no need to be so serious. It doesn’t have to be grim duty. Have fun. Laugh. Keep things light and joyful.

3. Curiosity is the first mover, not passion.

To be honest, there were more than a few times this year when work felt dry and lifeless, burdened down by the anxiety to making a living. Having the opportunity to work and travel in Indonesia had been a huge boost for me. Travel stirs curiosity, keeps the creative spark alive. New people, new culture and new places always force-jolt my senses to open up and be curious again. Follow the treasure hunt* clues of that little voice saying “Eh? That’s interesting…” and if I follow the curious clues enough, inspiration comes. So inspiration needs to be intentional – choose “I must” over “I should”.

4. Growth (not) at all costs.

Getting out of our comfort zones is usually thought of as a good thing to do because it helps us grow. But when might it be a bad thing? How do we know if wanting to grow and change is just a lack of self-acceptance? Personal growth is great and all, but it cannot do without kindness to self. Pushing past one’s limits and getting uncomfortable is part of the game, but how do I also flow with my own nature? What are my natural dispositions that I can tap on? Is working alone that bad? Do I really need to network like crazy to succeed? How much is too much, when pushing myself to work on a weakness?

Yet, on the flip side, we often get shoved things which we run away from. Things we truly fear (but is good for us anyhow, like bitter medicine). For me, it was conducting training. I never felt I was in my element being a facilitator conducting training. But. It. Keeps. Coming. We get what we need, not what we want. Making a business decision to also do training gigs was the pivot my business venture badly needed, but hell did I go into it kicking and screaming. It was inevitable. Then after some humbling striving, Life comes along and drops those not-so-subtle hints on you, like this one particular project…

I’d always suspected that there was something of a pattern going on in all of my work, throughout the entire past 10 years of my career. And it always seemed to involve me going to the other shore and bringing back something to build mutual connection between two vastly different worlds. The word “bridge” always came to mind. Recently, a bunch of friends whom I’d been coaching and working with intimately gave me Tower Bridge nano blocks as a present. That I had been a bridge between their world of engineering and the other world of design. It’s too uncanny. Goosebumps level uncanny. So there you have it. I am a bridge. Perhaps this is what I’m called to do. So, growth at all costs and not at all costs.

“Your soul wants to grow, that’s why it seeks out the experiences you call struggles.” – May The Thoughts Be With You by Charlotte Reed.

5. Meditation has its seasons.

My meditation practice had went through ups and downs. I went through periods where my practice waned to nothing. I got tired of the seriousness of a full lotus sitting posture. Went on half lotus, then no lotus, then sat less often and shorter. I got bored and stopped turning up at the practice sessions with my mindfulness community. An inspiring foreign teacher appears and disappears. Then just as it seemed like a road of no return, my practice found its way back. I could feel the vitality, the renewed sense of well being. Practice is alive and organic, pulses and pauses, ebbs and flows. Just like everything else is in life. It’s ok and it’s normal. And I’m glad for it.

6. Working with my hands is my buried treasure.

Writing is my lost pirate treasure. I just realized I had it buried it long ago. Slowly finding the map and my way back to it again. I don’t want to be a great writer. I just want to write. To save myself, from myself. Sketching is my buried treasure*. When I sketch, I feel a quiet joy that lingers long past the sketching. How I got high on UI for 2 projects this year! Making things by working with my hands is my mystery treasure. Through writing, sketching, building, I find my way back to knowing my true name.

7. Making enough is more freeing than I realized.

What happens when you made enough for the year? Having reached my financial target sometime during the year, I experienced a new-found sense of possibility and freedom. What would I do then, once the bills are paid? What are the thousand different ways I soar, with my fuselage full? I never had enough before, even when I always had. Because when you’re working for someone else, you always have to work, even if you made enough. Now, I can choose to take it easy. Take a break. Don’t take a break. Do side projects. Do more projects. Do nothing. Do something different. Anything.

8. Doing what nourishes me deeply.

A day with my beloved community of mindfulness, my spiritual family. An evening at the feet of a special tall tree in Botanical Gardens, my secret temple. Mindfulness and Mother Nature, my favourite urban relief ritual. I go there to lie down on the grass, to come back to myself. The trees, my lungs. The earth, my rest.

Recently, I’d been strangely drawn to the ocean. It calls. And. I. Must. Go. Like a man stranded in a desert thirsty for water kind of being called. My best mate says ocean nourishes earth and I have a lot of earth in my chart. I’ll take that explanation. It does nourish me, in a way I cannot explain. It’s been one crazy year, after all. I do feel depleted, not just in body and mind but spirit too. After wading and flowing and surfing with the sea, I never felt more relaxed. Thirst gone. And I feel more alive than ever. Ocean nourishes earth, sea nourishes me.

9. In death I saw the Singapore that I want to live for.

LKY’s passing in SG50. Life and death on a national scale. What a moving year it had been. In LKY’s remembrance I was transfixed by the outpouring of Singapore, where everyone came together to support one another in difficult times. #passitonlky was me and my friends’ way of responding together, of remembering by doing. With SG50, I witnessed how we can have fun together, from the lame (#simisaialsosg50) to the sublime (#supermamasg).

The Singaporean narrative is the stories we tell each other, about each other. May we always have loving, caring, inspiring stories to tell each other, about each other, after this year. March on, Singapore. You were inspiring this year.

10. The opposite of scarcity is sufficiency, not abundance.

2015 started off in the dark valley of scarcity. I just started my own design consultancy. An audacious and crazy move. Anxiety about survival followed. Poor coping followed. Health waned and everything started to fall down the same route as it did for the past few years. I was watching a repeat telecast of the same story. Thankfully, by sheer divine intervention, things turned. I got gigs. Friends helped with word of mouth. I made my profit target and fulfilled my promise to my wife. I got awarded a HDB flat that I can afford, just barely. In the end, I was provided and protected. Just barely. It’s a marvel to wonder how it all unfolded. The universe gives what we need, just barely. Enough to survive to tell the adventure. Oftentimes, the odds seemed never in my favour, but through our dance with it, we got on the hilltop of sufficiency. It doesn’t always work though – sometimes in life, the valley gets deeper and deeper. So for getting on that hill, I’m humbly grateful and in awe. That hilltop though, is not abundance – I didn’t get that much. If sufficiency ever resembled abundance, it would be because of how the universe can squeeze out enough for you against all odds. A miracle and a marvel is what makes sufficiency feels like abundance. And a miracle to marvel it was.


(*Lots of references to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. You have to read it.)

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