I have been experiencing a high level of anxiety for the past week or so. There are periods of time when I am particularly high-strung. I’m learning to recognise these moments.
I’m learning to develop strategies to deal with them.
The Nov 12th issue of the Daily Stoic email newsletter spoke about tranquility and was a good reminder on building my “inner citadel”. Marcus Aurelius cultivated his by journalling.
Ada Palmer (a historian, professor and novelist), who was highlighted in this issue of the newsletter, uses a strategy that requires “stopping, reframing, changing perspectives”.
She sometimes imagines life as “being a guest at a banquet”.
“Many great platters are being passed around for you to take from, but occasionally one arrives already empty, everyone else has already taken it all,” she says.
She reminds herself that the food “was a gift” from the host, that “you didn’t really need it, there is plenty of other food”.
“Sometimes just thinking about that can make me less upset by something,” she says.
“Cultivating your inner citadel doesn’t mean reaching a point where one is immune to life’s disturbances,” goes the Daily Stoic.
“It’s about having your systems in place, your battle-tested line of defence ready to fend off those disturbances when they inevitably show up.”
I’m trying to improve my systems.
I binge-watched Taco Chronicles today — finishing up five of the six episodes that I’d yet to watch. What a delight it was, even more so because I’ve been working at a Mexican-themed bar.
Each episode of the series features a different type of taco. The tacos “narrate” their stories, while the viewers are treated to gorgeous footage of meat being cooked and tortillas being flipped. There are interviews with experts, of course, as well as with eaters at the different taco shops.
The episode that resonated with me was the one about the taco de guisado, corn tortillas wrapped around some kind of stew. A shop serving these tacos would typically have between 5-30 different guisados that one could choose to fill their tortillas with.
It reminded me of our local chap fun (mixed rice) shops in Malaysia, where one would also have a whole range of dishes to choose from, to eat with rice.
Like the taco de guisado, chap fun is a cheap, filling, complete meal.
Seeing something like that existing in Mexico, across the world from where I am, made me think that although people around the world may eat differently, there is also a lot we have in common.
We may use different ingredients and spices, but at the end of the day, what we want is a complete meal.
One of the things I struggle with is keeping my CV up to date. Besides constantly shifting roles and new startups, I also find myself dabbling in quite a few things that are career-relevant, but don’t always fit into the grander scheme of my CV.
So I decided to set up a “live CV”, that’s not as public as having my own homepage, but also easy enough to update and share.
I used Notion — which is a tool I’ve been wanting to experiment more with — to set it up, and I’ve fallen in love!
What an amazing tool, with a level of versatility that some website builders don’t even have. There are limitations, of course, but nothing I can’t live without.
Because Notion combines databases and documents, among other things, I’m also using it as a no-code tool to build my cocktail recipe database. I’ll probably use it for my personal editorial calendar as well.
With its collaborative features, it’s also amazing to use for team documentation, work flows. I can also imagine myself using it for a production file (for video production) or even podcast scheduling. (I guess these are content calendars, of sorts.)
I’m also looking forward to when Notion has custom domains, which is “on their radar” (although not high priority).
But as it is currently, I’m already sold! Definitely adding this to my stack!
In the past, I have encountered people who thought they were the only persons that mattered — that only their wishes and goals needed to be met. That their problems were always the fault of someone else.
I’ve learned that these people aren’t the best to be around. I’ve learned to recognise red flags like these, and keep my distance.
“This temptation to believe that we are everything, that we are immune to the constraints or flaws of other people is the source of so much pain and misery in the world,” goes the Nov 8 issue of the Daily Stoic newsletter.
Even as I see this behaviour in other people and learn to be wary of them, I am also wary of this behaviour within myself.
The newsletter highlights the fact that many Stoics, especially those who were in leadership positions, spent time “working on their egos”.
This issue reminds us that “ego is the enemy”.
“Of what we’re trying to accomplish. Of the people we’d like to be. Of relationships. Of kindness. Of the ‘objectivity’ and rational thought that Stoicism prizes.”
As we climb up the ladder of success, or find ourselves in positions of power, we must remember that it could all disappear in a second.
“We are not everything. We are ordinary. We are mortal. We are not exempt.”
Yesterday I made pico de gallo at the bar.
It’s been one of my tasks for a couple of weeks now and after I was done last night, my colleague (who teaches me so much) said, “Your diced tomatoes look good today.”
I was elated.
For someone who never spent a lot of time in the kitchen growing up, it was an achievement to make something from scratch, efficiently.
It’s not that I come from a family that doesn’t cook. All the women in my family cook and they’re the types who cook in huge amounts to feed the entire family.
Enough pork trotter stew to feed 20. Enough fried bihun (Chinese vermicelli) to last 15 people an entire weekend. Jars of Christmas mince pies to give out to all the neighbours.
But somehow, I found myself in my 20s, not even able to chop veggies correctly.
At the bar, as my colleague watched me fumbling with the knife, she just showed me how to use it properly. Then told me to keep at it.
It didn’t matter that I sucked when I started. She didn’t say “You’re too slow!” and chase me out of the kitchen. “You’ll get the hang of it,” she said.
Yesterday, I took a little over half an hour to make enough pico de gallo for the whole night. That’s less than when I first started, and my chopped veggies look more decent too.
Practice makes progress.
“I don’t know what I want for myself next year, besides what I’m already working on,” I said to a friend via WhatsApp the other day.
There are seasons when my work and personal lives become so intertwined with one another that I can’t tell the two apart. During these times, it feels like career achievements, work successes are all that matter.
But after a while, not fulfilling personal goals leads to a kind of despondency as well. It’s like neglecting yourself and your wants.
I’ve done that in the past. Do it too long, and everything else feels meaningless.
There are times when business achievements are aligned with achieving personal goals, but sometimes personal goals go beyond.
For example, a business goal for the year might be to hit a certain revenue. But my personal goal with regards to that business might be to inspire a particular legislation amendment.
Then there are other personal goals that are totally unrelated to work. Things like: am I still learning? Did I grow in the ways I wanted to? Have I spent enough time with the people I love? Did I see enough of the world this year?
Setting business goals are vital. But I’ve learned that goal-setting is an important thing outside of work as well.
Now that we’re almost at the end of the year, I find myself struggling again to answer the question: What kind of person do I want to be a year from now?
I’ve been re-reading the earlier books in The Wheel of Time series and coming back to it after all these years, it feels like a different story.
When I read it, as a teenager, I was fascinated by the system of magic — called channelling — and the idea of ta’veren. I was more engaged by the relationships between the three male characters and the women they loved.
But reading it again now, I find myself drawn into the little political games that the Aes Sedai play amongst themselves. I’m more curious about the cultural differences in the different countries — from the Seanchan to the Sea Folk to the Aiel.
I also found myself more interested in the relationship between female friends, rather than lovers.
In Winter’s Heart (book nine in the series), two of the main characters — Elayne and Aviendha — go through a ceremony to become “first-sisters”.
It’s not an easy ceremony. There are trials to go through, which start from the time they are summoned.
And by the end of the entire process, the women are in tears. As I read, I found myself tearing up as well.
In this day and age, it’s so easy to call someone a friend. It’s easy to say someone is “the family you chose”.
But how far are we really willing to go for them? Do we have the awareness to recognise their flaws and our enviousness? Do we have the courage to disagree and perhaps fight?
Do we have enough love in our hearts to look beyond all that and still see a sister?