Monthly Archives: November 2012

“I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes”

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Do you know where you want to be 5 years from now? What your career will be like? Who will be in your life? The suburb, the country you live in?

I caught up with a colleague, who within our organisation is also my official career counselor. Her question came forward, clear and resounding. What is your 5-10 year plan? A decade from now, what will you do?

Caught off guard, and not knowing how to answer it in the most honest yet politically correct way, because certainly the answer was clearly not a ‘to make partner position within this company’, I blurted out ‘to own a business’. And as soon as the words left me, I immediately felt like that was the most cliche answer one could go. Safe cliche answer that is.

The truth is I don’t have a 5 year plan or a 10 year plan. But I used to be one of those people who did. When I was 20, a few months short before graduating from University, I remembered walking to the nearby park in Melbourne on a sunny, summer morning. Under a tree and in the shade, I wrote down the most detailed description of how my career and my life path will be like in 3 years, 5 years and in a decade. 3 years following that, I reviewed the list and refined it further. As priorities changed, so did my desires of the ideal life.

I still have that revised list. It reads something like “By 28 years old, I want…” followed by 5 things. One should think 5 things would be achievable right? I have about 4 months before I turn 28, and I’m looking at that list thinking a) maybe if I had written “By 28 years old, I HAVE…” instead that would’ve had a better outcome and b) I probably have 1.5 out of 5 of the items. 1.5! This is exactly why I realised I don’t have a 5 year plan anymore. And what are the 1.5 item you may wonder?

– To have an excellent relationship with my parents and siblings (check!)
– A mortgage on a property in Malaysia (urm.. does thinking, talking and checking out bank loans count? That’s 0.5 off the list)

But that does not mean that I haven’t achieved anything in the last 3-4 years when I last wrote that list. My life just took a different course and I achieved greater things which I had never dreamed of before. Something which I thought I will cover in my 2012 end of year recap soon.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking as the underlying purpose of that question was to ensure that I have a goal. Goals are intended destination that guides the decision that you will make in that given time period. These days though, my goals are more intangible. It just doesn’t come in a list with check boxes beside it. I have found what I love to do and I have a sense of where I want to take it to. If anything at all, I know with all my heart, what I want to be feeling in the next 5 years.

I call it my 5 year feeling plan. But how the heck do I explain that to someone who also happens to be my direct reporting senior? Yeah, owning a business is way easier to stomach then “I don’t have a 5 year career plan, but oh by the way, I DO have a 5 year feeeeeeling plan instead!”

A Vietnamese artist who was recently interviewed by the Channel News Asia on his artwork once said that his work is not to be understood. You don’t look at a painting and say “yes, I understand that piece of art” because to understand you must first define. And to define is to constraint your mind within the limits of your understanding. Instead he said his artwork is to be ‘felt’ so when one looks at it, a certain emotion or feeling is invoked.

What he said resonated so deeply that I could practically regurgitate that last paragraph in a heartbeat. No other beautiful way to describe how I feel about my own future too. So what if I don’t have a 5 year tangible plan? What matters is achieving the desired feeling about myself, my life, my career and my loved ones. It’s all about the feeling honey.

A weekend with Kiri Sutherland

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This weekend, my mornings was been spent with Kiri Sutherland at Upward Yoga studio practicing LED Ashtanga on Saturday and then attending her workshop today. She is a visiting practitioner from New Zealand and one of the 200 certified Ashtanga Teacher in the world. Coming back from the rigorous training in Vikasa where the all-famous Vikasa Salutations leaves many gasping for breath, I was craving for an equally intense teacher led class since. There is a stark difference between pushing myself in my own daily morning practice, and being pushed by someone else in a classroom setting. Kiri’s class was my first teacher led class since I had gotten back.

I don’t identify my practice with a specific type of yoga, and Ashtanga with its own rigorous set of poses (even in the primary series) always has me a little bit apprehensive. So when I decided to turn up at Ninie’s studio yesterday, I was warned that it will be a full primary series practice. Then again in hindsight, what else would you be expecting from say..one of the only 200 certified ashtanga teachers in the world right?

My first thought was “holy shit”. I diligently handed over my fee for the session (no backing out now!) and walked to the lockers to extract my phone and eventually tweeted something that sounded like “OMG, I just signed up for full primary series. We can do itttt…we can do itttt” as images of Sirsasana and arm balances flashed through my mind. It didn’t help that I had just downed a whole cup of freshly brewed Christmas Brew Coffee at Starbucks in an effort to kill of my migraine before the class. My thoughts were racing from one end to the other and the excitement of being able to practice in a class again made it feel like I had an orchestra of chatter up in my head.

The class opened with the soft spoken Kiri as she gently guide us through Surya Namaskar A & B and then the common poses throughout the primary series. We had lots of binding which I love and we went through the whole series of it – From Marichyasana A all the way to D. Hey maybe Ashtanga isn’t so scary after all. Kiri conducted her class with a lot of warmth, a lot of  gentleness about it that it felt comfortable. I think I might have forgotten it was an Ashtanga led class midway through the session!

The workshop today had a slightly larger turn out then the class yesterday with more in depth coverage on the jumpbacks and jump throughs she taught yesterday. My arms aching from yesterday, attempted more of these beautiful-to-watch jumpbacks and jump throughs but SO SO complicated when doing it unto yourself. One knee goes up close to your chest, through the gap between your arms,… and uhh what do I do with the second leg?? A few more practice, and perhaps with a little less calculated thought going into it, maybe, just maybe I will get it looking half as graceful as Kiri’s.

After the workshop ended, a few people hung around and I got to catch up with Ninie on her recent trip to Bali. At the same time I got to ask her about the infamous Chaturanga which I have been trying to do correctly since I realised in Anatomy class at Vikasa that my upper body strength requires lots to be desired for in a perfect Chaturanga. True, that yoga is more than just perfection in asanas, if ever perfection is attainable, but to be able to do it correctly and safely is obviously the ultimate goal.

Ninie, owner of Upward and also someone whom I secretly (or not so secretly anymore I guess, judging by my past entries on her classes) admire is now about 7 months into her first pregnancy. And even in pregnancy, she still keeps up with her practice and posted a jaw dropping practice in her 21 weeks.

I watched in awe as she set herself up into a plank and lowered herself mid-way to a chaturanga, shoulders strong holding her entire body up, knees and belly hovering close to the floor but never touching. “Ok now you try it” she said and I had to stifle a giggle as I set myself into a plank and said “even YOU can do it and you’re pregnant, you’re putting me to shame”. I think she chuckled a little before she said “well I’m pregnant, my tummy can’t really touch the floor anymore now!”

Both Kiri and Ninie reminded me today why yoga can be so humbling, and the gentle kind warmth that radiates from those who understands it well and practices it constantly is inspiring.

“Everything that shines ain’t always going to be gold”

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Growing up, the thought of making money and becoming exorbitantly rich never really crossed my mind. And then those teenage years came and when I entered high school I was inducted to a world where my friends were being dropped off at school by their chauffeurs , where their parents were members of coveted golf clubs so we got to dine there at a great discounted price and where every girl I knew wanted to look like the girls that appear in the Seventeen magazine.

Sometime in Uni, determined not to bend to this delusional demands of the crazy society, I remembered telling myself that I will always do what I love, and the money will come. Do what I love, and the money will come. And so came my first job with a reputable bank, the money then to a young 21 year old seemed plenty, the bonus, jaw-dropping. Then again looking back, I’m convinced it was due to the novelty of going from a student who earns zero income to a 4 figure sum that suddenly appeared in my account one day.

But I came home crying to my parents, I remembered sitting in the living room and just balling my eyes out telling them how unhappy I was whilst the both of them look on with the most bemused expression on their faces. A year shy of employment, a partial scholarship offer from the University of Queensland and after a fateful meeting with R, then the Resident Representative for United Nations Development Program, I handed in my resignation letter.

Then came my second career path as public health consultant. The people were great, and I got paid what I had asked for. The job were various, and meaningful. I was even given free reign to construct and conduct my own social research. But I could never shake off the tinge of worry that perpetuated every time my mum brings up the fact that the employees I chose to work for is NOT a large, world renown MNC,  hence how can I be possibly building a promising career track that will bring in recognition and status? On occasions relatives or family friends asked her where I work, I would always detect a tinge of embarrassment in her answer and quick diversion to a different topic .

2 years into it, and at a time when I began to questioned every single thing that forms my system of beliefs, I wrote my second resignation letter. This time to join a global consulting firm, at a 15% paycut and a slight demotion. Why? These days I believe it was mostly driven by the need to make my parents proud, so that they can answer with pride and a beam in their faces when someone asks them about their first born daughter. At that time though, I was driven by the need to learn, to achieve, to be someone. I was drawn by the 2 months bonus (which ended up having me tied down to the company for 2 years, a move that in hindsight always gets me shaking my head wondering why I was so gullible). I endured 2 years of long, gruelling hours that sometimes stretches beyond midnight, zooming down the Federal Highway because everyone else is already home and probably sound asleep in bed, being screamed at for a whole 2 hours in a glass room that obviously was NOT sound proof, and eventually finding refuge from a lookout point in a women’s toilet at a client’s site.

I am still here though. Enduring still, long hours and perpetual feeling of having completely no idea what I’m doing and why I’m doing it for. Just recently I had gotten the promotion that I felt I had sacrificed many mealtimes, shed many tears, and swallowed many antibiotics for. Never in the history of my career had I fallen sick so often. I have made the responsible, young adult decision that this is stability. This is safe. This will lead me to a house ownership and financial freedom. But will it? And at what expense?

Yesterday I wrote to my friend on BBM – “I always thought more money will mean a little bit more happiness. But I am SO unhappy right now. Why is this so??”

Last week our annual bonus was credited into our accounts. I took a look at the sum, and though for the first time I saw a 5 figure sum that actually wholly belonged to me, I felt nothing. Except perhaps a deep sense of dissatisfaction. Not because I am ungrateful for what I got and what I have, but because I felt what I had given up, is not being compensated as equally. My health, my sense of wellbeing and the confidence of being sure in what I am doing, how do you compensate any of that with a figure in your savings account?

And yet again I confided to my dad, that even with all this supposedly “good” things that are happening to my career,  heading to work in the morning feels like a march towards my grave. I know what I want, and it is what I had felt while I was away in Koh Samui. It is what I feel now when I lead a yoga class with clarity and peace. It is true, that everything that shines will not always be gold. Sometimes it resides in the simplicity of just being in the moment.