Person

“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? 

Sister

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? 

Onions

I made the mistake of sleeping at 5am this morning — after a night-long binge read of The Path of Daggers (the 8th book in The Wheel of Time series) — even though I knew I’d have a long day of work, including a video shoot and a panel discussion. 

After a 12-hour work day, on very little sleep, I was craving comfort food. So I decided to make one of my uni-day staples — onion soup. 

One of my favourite vegetables, the onion is such a versatile ingredient to have in one’s kitchen. It’s also a vegetable that I happen to love. I’ve eaten it pickled, deep fried, stir-fried, boiled, roasted. 

I get cravings for caramelised onions — hot and freshly made, eaten from the pan while it’s still on the stove. That sweet flavour that finishes with a savoury punch. 

I relish the crunch of onions in roti bawang, in dating masak merah

Add red onions to a Maggi mee goreng and you get something that doesn’t taste like it came out of a packet. 

Combine roasted white onions with roast chicken and you have a delicious meal. 

Boil onions in milk to get a creamy onion soup, or in broth with other vegetables to get a warmth-filled ABC soup. 

A world without onions is certainly a less pungent, less flavourful world. 

Wolf

Over the weekend, I read a short story that sucked me in from the beginning, that felt so strange and yet, believable. 

In the story, My Sister is a Wolf Named Helen, the protagonist’s parents get divorced. She stays with her father, while her mother and older sister move away. Not long after, her father marries a woman who has adopted a wolf as “her daughter”. 

The protagonist reads books about how to care for pet wolves, none of which provide her with accurate guidance to deal with her new step-sister. 

After all, “Helen was not treated like a dog, and her behaviour seemed roughly to correspond with her perceived status in the household”, which is to say, the wolf in the story seemed fine with wearing shoes and clothing. 

Yet, there’s still a feral quality to Helen. As the story continues, we see that the protagonist, who is also the story’s narrator, becomes somewhat feral as well. Somehow, the parents don’t seem to care. 

As she passes through adolescence, her “eyebrows met in the middle”. 

“The hair grew too fast to pluck and so I let it go and let my legs and armpits perform a similar trick,” the story goes. 

I was reminded of another book I’d read years ago — Women Who Run with the Wolves — that spoke of the wildness within every woman. 

Beneath our smooth skin and soft bodies, we are wild creatures. 

Noshings #7

The goal this month was to get my Medium account up and running (I’m on, but inactive) — I’m behind, but I’ll catch up. But as part of getting inspired, I’ve been reading quite a number of article on writing and/or really getting into the habit. 

I loved this piece by Ali Mese, which encourages writers to “write to express, not to impress”. I love listening to long words that flow beautifully, but when it comes to writing, I believe in simplicity. The point is to get a message from one mind to another. 

This post from Tom Kuegler about how to create quality blog posts was a little kick I needed. It’s easy to get writer’s paralysis when you think too much about the quality of your writing (it’s never good enough!). But if you focus on quantity, you’re able to ship more often. And perhaps, there’ll be something in that mass of quantity that you can polish even further to achieve quality. 

Having data is always a good thing, as long as you use it. Harrison Jansma analysed a million articles on Medium to see which topics got the most claps (one of the measures of engagement). The data provides a good indication of how to measure your performance on Medium. 

Alex Danco has five writing tips to share. Besides focusing on quantity, he also suggests establishing a routine. “Ship something every week,” he writes, adding that an email newsletter is a good way to get started. 

It can be hard to stay organised as a writer with multiple ongoing projects. Praxis has a method for organising digital information. The system is called PARA and can be implemented with the project management tool(s) of your choice!

Sell

One of the recent Daily Stoic emails was a reminder to “live below your means”. This is something I remind myself to do regularly as well. 

Although I’m no Scrooge, I chafe at the thought of spending money on unnecessary things. At the same time, I also subscribe to Ramit Sethi’s idea of “living my rich life”. 

My main guide to spending money is understanding the why behind my spending. 

The Daily Stoic article talks about Julius Caesar, who “was constantly spending money he didn’t have to impress people he didn’t respect”. 

What’s the point of that? 

I like putting my money into things that make more money, that enable the creation of new experiences, that create some good out in the world. 

The article also cites Cato, who wrote in his book On Agriculture, that “a farm is like a man”. 

“His advice to the aspiring farmer is to build a house within their means—to put your money into your farm, into something that generates returns, not something that impresses your neighbours or assuages your ego.” 

Cato said, continues the article, that “it was better to cultivate the selling habit, not the buying habit”. 

“Selling meant you were making, buying meant you were consuming. How does a business succeed? By things going out the door, not in the door.”

Unrelated

In an excerpt from Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key, that was published on Salon, Holiday writes about “why ambitious people have (unrelated) hobbies” and the wonders it could do for one’s career. 

In the excerpt, he talks about how Winston Churchill found joy in painting, as well as laying bricks. Apparently, he “fell in love with the slow, methodical process of mixing mortar, troweling, and stacking bricks”. 

For me, bartending is my equivalent of bricklaying. The pace of work is not always slow, but there’s the same sense of structure and silence.

“Churchill was happy because he got out of his own head and put his body to work,” writes Holiday. 

I have been chided for having unrelated hobbies. Fellow entrepreneurs have extolled the importance of having laser focus. For a while, I listened. 

And my soul etiolated, slowly wasted away. 

I’ve been working at the bar for a year now and in that year, have done more work than in the previous three years. 

“You must dare something to gain leisure also,” Holiday quotes the philosopher Seneca. 

You have to risk career advancement to pursue leisure. But perhaps, you may find that your leisure activity feeds your soul, makes you happy, provides mental balance. 

How could those things be bad for career advancement?