Collective

“It’s human to want more,” Paul Jarvis wrote in one of his latest email newsletters about setting goals. 

“A lot of successful entrepreneurs want to convince you that if you aren’t aiming to dominate markets, crush it, and put every competitor out of business, you’re letting your apparent lack of self confidence get the best of you.”

But I’ve been questioning this idea for some time. While I do experience a very human desire to compete, I sometimes manage to stop myself and wonder why. 

Oftentimes, it’s because of an irrational sense of fear. 

As a writer, I have lots of friends who in the traditional sense, may be considered competitors. But if I take a moment to see it from a different angle, they become potential collaborators instead. 

One of the many things I’ve learned from working at the bar is that there’s space for differentiation, that we have to trust in our own abilities, and that there’s so much space to work together to elevate the industry as a whole. 

“Commerce is collaborative, not a zero sum game for me.”

— Paul Jarvis

For the last couple of months, I’ve been exploring ways to collaborate with others and I’ve come to realise that collaboration works best for those who are individually strong. 

It works for those who are confident enough in their own abilities to know what they’re bringing to the table. 

Reduce

Last year, Ming and I challenged ourselves to question all our purchases. 

Do we really need this? Or is there something forgotten that could be refurbished instead? Is it something that we could do without? 

Is it something that we would really use? How many times a week will we use it? 

So many of us work a job we don’t like, to spend money on things we don’t need. And I’ve been wondering if it’s because we aren’t always conscious of what we buy. 

There’s a reason that “reduce” comes first in the “three R’s”, followed by “reuse”. 

While buying biodegradable, compostable, or even recyclable items can be a good thing, it still takes time and energy for that kind of waste to be processed. 

By questioning every potential purchase, Ming and I realised that we would rather spend money on experiences and on time together, rather than things. 

That we would rather buy things we really wanted and could see ourselves using for years, rather than cheap items that have short lifespans. 

I wouldn’t call myself environmentally-conscious. I’m not that socially-conscious either, I think. 

But the idea of owning something that I don’t need, that I don’t use often enough, makes me feel uncomfortable. 

Why spend that kind of money?

Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my life to look like. The kinds of people I let in, the vibe I allow into my space, the work I want to do. 

In one of his latest articles on Medium, Ryan Holiday writes about the metric he uses to make decisions about things. He thinks about what he wants his “ordinary life to look like most of the time” and whether those things will allow more or less of that. 

It’s what I’ve been aiming to practise in my life as well. 

“People think they have to live a life they don’t want for a long time so that eventually, off in the distant future, they can live a life they do want.”

– Ryan Holiday, You Could Have Today. Instead You Choose Tomorrow

The privilege of choosing what you want your life to be like is “more accessible than we think”, Holiday goes on to write. 

And it’s true. 

We have the ability to choose between working a high-pressure, long-hour corporate job or a job that we enjoy. We can decide whether we want to spend our money on things we don’t need or to invest it instead. 

For me, optimum happiness lies in that space between wanting more and knowing what’s enough. 

I’m trying to tailor my life accordingly.

Heroines

As a writer, you know you’re in the middle of a really good book when almost every sentence you read makes you feel torn between wanting to continue reading or closing the book to start writing instead. 

How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis is a book like that. In this book about books, Ellis reexamines her favourite childhood heroines from fiction to see if they are really as heroic as she remembered them to be. 

For example, was there that much to love about Cathy Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights? Was Jo March in Little Women really that much of a wild thing? Is it a good thing that Anne from Anne of Green Gables grew up? 

I’ve read most of these books and loved some of these heroines as well. And now I’m wondering if I would still see them the same way. 

I always loved the fact that Jo married an old German professor that could “handle” her. And now I wonder if my reading of Little Women was coloured by my daddy issues. 

The thing about the classics is that they grow with you. Every reread is almost like reading a different book, depending on what stage of life you’re at. 

It’s been a while since I’ve cracked open the spine of these books and How to be a Heroine makes me want to dive back into these stories again. 

Strategy

Ask anyone who’s lived or worked closely with me and the coffee cup thing will come up. By that, I mean I can go up to a week without washing my cup. 

Coffee in the morning, turns into coffee-flavoured water, then possibly soda, and at some point, more coffee. Why wash it when I’ll use it again, is my rationale. 

It may not always seem like it, but I am lazy. I’m lazy af. One of my pet peeves is doing things that make no sense or is a waste of energy. 

This is probably why I’ve only had bosses who either loved me or were constantly frustrated by my behaviour. 

The thing is, “busywork” happens so often in the workplace. Offices are rife with people who don’t know what they want, don’t know what they want to achieve, have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. 

Or perhaps they have trouble communicating all that information. 

Which is why I loved Martin Weigel’s article on how strategy is narrative.

“At the end of the day, strategy is the art of getting other people to do something,” he writes. 

He goes on to say that strategy is an imaginative act. “Narrative is how it thinks, expresses itself, and brings others along.”

For that you need words.

Identity

For years, I let people tell me who I was. 

“You’re smart,” teachers told me, even when I was convinced that I was not. I’ll prove them wrong, I told myself. So I studied for my exams, just to show that I couldn’t do it. It turned out that they were right. I just needed to “apply myself”. 

Perhaps people know me better than myself, I thought, in my teenage brain. So I let myself be told that girls couldn’t make it as a mechanical engineer. I let myself be told that I was an academic, that of course, I had to have a PhD. 

I let myself be told that I was bitter and broken, that I was a little girl lost. 

But in uni, I realised that I couldn’t stomach any more years of formal learning. The thought of being in school any longer than the required three, was nauseating. How would I get a PhD, I wondered, especially after I learned what getting a PhD involved. 

And then it slowly crossed my mind that perhaps people didn’t know me as well as I thought. Perhaps, I knew myself best. 

Perhaps it was time to be whoever I wanted to be. 

Job

If I’ve been running a profitable business and decided to quit that and work a job instead, does that make me a failure?

I think about this on and off. 

In the last few months, I’ve toyed with the idea of going back into the media industry. It’s been my main passion for as long as I can remember, and even as I worked on my business, I always had journalist jobs in my peripheral vision. I missed it. 

In Whisky Tango Foxtrot, Tina Fey’s character expresses jealousy towards a journalist from a competing news channel who had been at the frontlines of a bomb explosion and had ended up in the hospital. When I watched that scene in the movie, I knew what it was like to feel that way. Bodily harm is tolerable, missing out on the scoop is not. 

I recently rewatched Nightcrawler and realised that the first time I watched it, I hadn’t picked up on how creepy Jake Gyllenhaal’s character was. All I saw was a journalist who would do anything to get a story. 

For so long, I’ve been like the little mermaid under the water, wanting so desperately to be part of the world above. 

Does it make me a failure if I want to try my hand at that again?