Blessing

Today, Ming and I talked about blessings in disguise. What I thought was a disaster last year turned out to be exactly what I needed, and didn’t know I wanted.

Looking back, all the experiences I had during the span of my career have led me to this point. 

As Arnold Schwarzenegger says, there’s no such thing as a self-made man. Throughout my life, I’ve had people who supported me. And even those who criticised and put me down drove me to do better. 

When I first started working in a media company, I was in a one leg kick sort of role, in which I had to write articles and advertising copy, strategise content and edit articles, coordinate media coverage for events, so on and so forth. But what I wanted to be was a journalist. 

When I requested a transfer, the supervisor in my two-(wo)man team told me that I “couldn’t be a journalist”, that when I walked into a room, I made people feel awkward. 

Her critique was delivered badly, but I made use of it anyway. Less than six months later, I was a journalist and while I may have made people feel awkward, I used that to my advantage. 

(It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. LOL)

Over the years (even in school), I’ve had my highs and lows. And I’ve learned that even at the lowest points, the journey’s not over. 

It’s over when you decide it’s over. 

Block

There are days when trying to do any sort of creative work feels like squeezing water out of a rock. It happens to everyone. 

But we have to learn to work through the haze and the “writer’s block” (or your profession’s equivalent). If you write for a living, this block is no excuse for not producing work. 

Perhaps you produce less than desirable quality. But there it is, a first draft, something to work with and polish up later on. Version One is better than Version None. 

On days when writing 200 words feels like an uphill climb, I am more grateful for the days when the words just flow. And I appreciate these days as well, because it means an extra workout for that creative muscle in my brain. 

Like physical muscles, we all have it. It needs to be exercised. It needs to be stimulated. When necessary, it needs to be rested. But it also needs to be pushed beyond what it thinks are its limits.

There’s a trick I use. 

I tell myself that I don’t have to write. I don’t have to churn anything out if I don’t want to but I’m not allowed to work on anything else. And I have to sit my ass down until I’m done with a first draft. No matter how long it takes.

What happens is that I may take longer than I usually do. I may procrastinate. I may end up finishing a bottle of wine. I may feel like shit. 

But the anxiety of all the things I have to do, the deadlines I have to meet, crashes down on me and spurs my fingers to start typing. 

And when I finally leave my seat, I have Version One. 

Collaborating

Last week, I pushed code to a shared repository. I did it with trepidation; it’s been a long time since I worked on a collaborative coding project. 

There’s a lot of difference between working on your own passion projects (that may or may not see the light of day), and working on something with someone else for public consumption with the knowledge that some other developer might take over the code someday. 

One, it requires you to understand code that someone else wrote and while developers with more practice might find this easy, my code literacy is unpractised. 

Two, you have to write code in a way that makes sense to someone else. Your variable names have to be verbose, you should include comments. Your commit messages have to say more than “make edit”. 

Three, the edits you make could affect the entire app, affecting the work that your collaborators have done. 

I only made a single front-end (cosmetic) change to the app, but there was fear as I typed “git push” and prepared to press ENTER. 

After pushing, I realised that I should have pushed to a branch instead, and after that requested a merge. 

My heart pounded. Nothing will break, my rational mind said. And even if it does, there are ways to fix it

Circumvention

In Daughter of the Empire, the story focuses mainly on a race of people — the Tsurani — who seem to have been written based on an amalgamation of different real life Asian races. 

They believe in face, honour and the obedience to social traditions that are passed down through generations. One of these traditions is that when a youth wants to join the army in a House (aka family), he has to be related to one of the current army members. 

Once sworn into that house, he will never leave. His oldest son will take his place in the army. But second and third sons are free to join another house. 

When Mara of the Acoma takes over as Lady of her house after her father and brother are betrayed and die in the war, her army is severely weakened. Nobody believes she will stay alive for long. After all, she is young — only 17 — and besides being a girl (lacking training on taking over the House), has spent the prior six months training to be a nun. 

There’s nowhere for her to gain new soldiers — mercenaries aren’t trustworthy enough to be part of the main army, taking in younger sons from other Houses could mean a spy in her House. Instead of accepting her fate, she comes to realise the difference between law and tradition. And she learns how to bend traditions to her favour.

She goes into the mountain and looks for “grey warriors”, soldiers whose Houses have ceased to exist. In the Tsurani culture, they have no master and thus, no honour. These men are yearning to die as warriors and all Mara has to do is find a way to let them serve her. 

Somehow, by surrounding herself with people who think of ways to circumvent — yet stay within the boundaries of — tradition, Mara survives and eventually, thrives. 

This series of books is my go-to anytime I am troubled. Even though it’s fiction, I’ve learned so much about strategy and negotiation and leadership. 

Business books are great, but if you really want to absorb something, learn it through fiction. 

Tools

Product Hunt is my latest default type-in website. You know how you go on autopilot when you open a new browser window and type in a URL? 

For a lot of people it may be Facebook. For others, it may be Gmail or Twitter or Pinterest. But Product Hunt is my rabbit hole — the website I log into daily, my source of inspiration and ideas. I even read their daily newsletters. 

Which is how I discovered Qlearly

I hate multitasking and because I am extremely forgetful, I tend to have multiple instances of Chrome open on my laptop at the same time.

Different windows for different clients, different projects so that 1) I don’t end up switching to an unrelated tab by accident and 2) I don’t forget what I’m working on. 

(The alternative to this is that I write notes to myself, usually on Trello, otherwise I would never be able to find those notes.)

But with Qlearly, I no longer have to do any of that. It allows me to organise my bookmarks, as well as my TABS

And with a Trello-style drag and drop organisational system, as well as a search bar, it’s the solution to every productivity-driven scatterbrain’s problem.

Are you on Product Hunt? What products have you discovered and loved? Tell me about it!

Girls

As a rough, tomboyish girl child, it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t have many girl friends in primary school. It didn’t help that I didn’t exactly go to kindergarten (lack of socialisation!) and I started school a year early (less mature). 

I was too rough, too dirty, too wrong to play with other girls. And this carried over into my teen years. 

Although I bonded with the girls in my netball team and while on the field, I was an equal, off the court, I slipped back into my androgynous, nerdy shell. I was never openly bullied, but I was far from popular. 

Growing up, I was that girl. 

The only girl on the basketball court, the futsal court, the only girl playing FPS games at the cybercafe. 

That girl who out loud, said things like “I get along better with guys” or “I don’t have time for girl drama”. Secretly, I wondered why it was so hard to fit in. 

But it’s been more than a decade since I finished high school and somehow, I’ve found my place among women who have been true blue friends, who have accepted me just the way I am. And I am grateful. 

It’s true that I’ve had horrible lady bosses. It’s true that there are women that I dislike. And it’s true that there are some women’s groups where I’m still an outsider. 

But isn’t this the case for men as well? Surely not all men like each other. Surely there are groups for men that aren’t all-inclusive. 

Why do we expect different from women?

Distillation

Writing is distillation.

It’s the act of taking something watered down and purifying it into something more potent. Something that has the ability to make you tipsy, to lower your inhibitions, to bring out the animal in you.

It’s a process that takes time. But it’s a process that I love.

All writing begins as an idea, steeped in the mind then left to germinate. It is discussed in length and digested, fermenting slowly until it bubbles over, ready to be turned into something real.

This first part is where the art is — choosing the individual elements that will go into the mix, turning it over and over, perhaps deciding what initial critiques to accept and which to discard, making sure the idea stays alive, stays bubbling.

The second part — distillation — is more technical. It’s about taking the core of the idea, pushing it to its boiling point and extracting it from the rest of what doesn’t matter.

Then doing it again, and again until what you have left is the heart of that initial idea, at its ideal strength, with all its nuance and flavours.

You release it into the world, and hope that it will make someone happy, perhaps make someone cry. That if nothing else, perhaps it will start a conversation.