Good thing, bad thing: Or no such thing?

I’m currently reading the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark. There is a passage inside this book that I wanted to share with you, with regards to the issue of respecting others:

[S]cience fiction writer Mary Doria Russell once said in an interview, “What seems like bad luck at one point in our lives can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. And what seems like a wonderful thing can be a nightmare. My belief is, the story isn’t over until it’s over. Often events and decisions echo for centuries, and even millennia; they have unimagined consequences that can show up long after everyone has forgotten about them. Whether an event is ultimately a good or bad thing depends on when you decide the story has ended. To use a Christian example, the crucifixion of Jesus was bad news on Friday, but by Sunday, it became good news.” As Russell notes, we mostly live in that metaphorical Saturday in between — when we’re not sure about the right step on the road to a happy ending, and when we know that Sunday may bring a whole new interpretation. Acceptance, of ourselves and others, is therefore crucial.

We cannot judge others for nothing is never always right or wrong, good or bad — what may be wrong one day might actually turn out to be good on another.

Saucony Singapore Passion Run

Update: My Saucony Passion Run: I have run the run! Read all about it here!

I thought I might highlight to all runners (or otherwise) out there that the Singapore PAssion run is coming up on the 24th of May. My sis had actually brought this up to my attention, and I figured that if she was interested in this run you might be too. There will be two competitive and non-competitive race distances, 10km and 15km, plus a 5km fun run.

Saucony 100PLUS Singapore PAssion Run: 24th May, 2009. See you there!
Saucony 100PLUS Singapore PAssion Run: 24th May, 2009. See you there!

If you’re interested, head down to the PAssion Run website to register. Until the 31st of March, there will be an early bird discount of $6 so register early! Registration entitles you to a Goody bag supposedly worth $80.

I signed up for the 15km competitive run. It’ll be fun. See you there.

PS: If you noticed, the boy’s feet in the picture look awfully awkward. Is his right foot not facing away from his apparent direction of run?

Heaven as a Moral Hazard

I StumbledUpon this image of a man unicycling across two cliffs at Wellingtongrey.net and it reminded me of my insurance exams.

Image of man unicycling across two cliffs with sharks below.
Heaven: oversell it and it becomes a moral hazard.

As some of you may know, I’ve been taking insurance exams conducted by the SCI (Singapore College of Insurance) in order to hold the qualifications to be a licensed financial adviser representative; and, as some of you may know, I’m probably not going to be a financial adviser representative any time soon (yes, I’ve gotten another job).

The exams themselves have cost me close to a total of $400: a relatively large sum of money especially for someone like me who hasn’t started working. But do I feel a sense of despair and foolishness for plonking down this amount for something I will not use? Absolutely not. Fact is, I do use the knowledge that I have gleamed from studying for these exams (albeit not professionally). Take for example the image of the unicyclist. This image of reckless self-endangerment would have, on a good day, previously provided me a smile but nothing more. However, today it set off an aha! in my head, and I laughed out loud (loled). I understood the image on a different level. Why?

Well, after looking at the image it suddenly dawned on me how a belief in God was a form of insurance. Premiums are paid weekly, through visits to the church attending mass and so on. Depending on your level of devoutness, you’ll receive different benefits from this religious policy.

The more devout pay higher premiums (pray more regularly, or preach the word of the Lord), and thus get higher payouts in times of need (lost something? pray and rejoice! break a limb? pray and rejoice! lose a loved one? pray and rejoice!) The less devout pay lower premiums, but in times of need may suddenly find themselves lacking faith; if something bad happens to these people, the probability that religion will be the one to tide them over this tough time is considerably smaller — they may, in fact, sink into despair, because of a lack of faith.

But for both sets of devotees (whether more or less devout), both will go to Heaven, which is the ultimate payoff — although in this case it’s a lump sum benefit given to the self-insured, and not his or her dependents. For the most devout, it’s like a whole-life policy with all the riders attached. For the less devout, it’s like a simple term-life insurance without the riders (where the policy ends where the faith stops; if you stop believing just before the moment of your death, you may have wasted all those years praying your premiums).

The problem with this is that if Heaven is so great, wouldn’t it create a strong moral hazard? A moral hazard refers to a situation arising where by an insured party is more willing to take higher risks because the insurance protects the insured from risk: the insured could well be better off if something bad were to happen than if he or she were to remain safe! Perhaps religious authorities might look into this, and ask themselves if Heaven’s been marketed wrongly. Certainly, suicide’s not condoned, but reckless self-endangerment certainly isn’t.

Leaving Something on the Table

Today was a landmark day: today I sold my very first item on eBay — actually, it was my very first item sold anywhere. I had always wanted to know what it felt like to be on the merchant’s side of commerce; and today I had the chance to find out.

It was pretty unexpected stuff. I had only put up the listing for an hour before receiving a call from a potential buyer, who would after just three hours become the proud owner of what was my mom’s Sony Ericsson W902 mobile phone.

I had put considerable thought into my eBay listing. I researched what others were selling similar phones for (e.g. same phone model in a similar condition and with the same or similar accessories), figured out the minimum price it was being sold for, took $12 off this minimum and used that as my selling price. It was my way of “leaving something on the table“, something I learned from Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame.

With the $12 you save from buying from me instead of my closest competitors, I wrote, you may treat yourself and/or your loved one to a decent meal, donate the money to charity, or do whatever else you might want with it. The buyer thought it was funny; I certainly thought so too.

Right or Wrong, 对还是错?

In light of certain events occurring in the lives of a close friend of mine, I would like to quote author Zhang Xiaoxian <>:

在对的时间遇到对的人是一种幸福,
在对的时间遇到错的人是一种无奈,
在错的时间遇到对的人是一种悲哀,
在错的时间遇到错的人是声声叹息.

Roughly translated, it means:

Meeting the right person at the right time is a blessing;
Meeting the wrong person at the right time leaves you feeling helpless and exasperated;
Meeting the right person at the wrong time is a sad lament;
While meeting the wrong person at the wrong time leaves you with nothing but sighs.

In its original Chinese, the quotation above is truly quite beautiful. Its translation into English leaves much to be desired, since much of the poetry has been translated away. Alas, I thought I would share this, for you might, should you so desire, reflect upon where your own relationship might stand. Is this the right person; is this the right time?

Being Close to Greatness

A couple of days back I read a newspaper article in the Straits Times describing the way Liverpool beat Real Madrid 4-0 in the UEFA Champions League. Besides the hugely unexpected scoreline, another thing about that article had caught my eye: the clever way the writer praised the performance of one player while lambasting the performance of another:

Raul Gonzalez barely had a kick. The nearest he got to greatness was shen he shook [Steven] Gerrard’s hand.

Unfortunately the article was not attributed to an author, but I think he (or she), too, deserved praise for this wonderful use of language — it is what I believe a great instance of dry humour.

Prayers from Afar

Just yesterday I was told by LiShya that I was mentioned in the grace before her dinner. Here’s a huge shout-out to Josephine, Christie and Esther who led the prayers: thank you! To think that even while 3900 kilometres away and months since I had last seen you guys and I was still remembered in your prayers is an honour. And of course, I no doubt believe that it was also much to do with LiShya who keeps my flag flying high wherever she goes!

You cannot believe how loved I felt (and still feel). Thank you again.

Aspiring to be an Entrepreneur

I picked up a book written by a Malaysian entrepreneur (Sim Quan Seng) called Drinking Coffee, Telling Stories & Making Money a couple of days back. In one of the chapters the author — who appears heavily influenced by Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad — laments the fact that schools are not teaching children enough about becoming an entrepreneur.

Two passages from that book stand out. In the following quoted passage, the author talks about how students tend to, when asked about their career ambitions, write down employee-centric (inclusive of self-employed) careers. I have highlighted what I felt most interesting:

I remember the yearly task of writing down our top three ambitions. The words ‘teacher’ and ‘doctor’ would grace almost every list. The braver ones would scribble loftier dreams of becoming engineers or journalists.

Notice how the dreams of becoming an engineer or a journalist were considered loftier than being a doctor or a teacher. Has becoming a doctor become so commonplace that it is no longer considered a lofty ideal aspiring students can live up to? Is journalism really that hard a career to get into? I found this interesting because I had always felt that becoming a doctor was a pretty big undertaking. For example, in UWA, my student doctor peers have to go through a gruelling, stressful six years, while my journalistic friends go through theirs in a paltry three or four.

The author also then goes on to stress that becoming an entrepreneur is often neglected as a career choice by students:

Yet until, today, the word ‘entrepreneur’ remains unaccepted in classrooms. The select few who dare embrace this idea are often labeled unrealistic or worse, unambitious.

I have two points I would like to raise. Firstly, the word ‘entrepreneur’ is an annoyingly difficult word to spell. I must admit, it was only in University that I had finally gotten the hang of spelling this word correctly. Perhaps it is this difficulty in spelling the word, or even pronouncing the word (at four syllables it’s two more than ‘doctor’ and one more than ‘journalist’), that limits this career choice to the ‘select few’.

Secondly, in terms of academia, being an entrepreneur really isn’t much of a challenge. You simply don’t need academic qualifications for this job; what, then, should teachers then say to those aspiring entrepreneurs?

Perhaps it would be good for entrepreneurship if there were some substitute term for it. I remember back in my day before the entrepreneurship craze hit Singapore, I had always wanted to be a ‘businessman’. Though not technically an accurate substitute for entrepreneurship, it signified (to me at least) what entrepreneurship stands for today: it represented to me the act of creating something of value of which others would gladly pay for in exchange. Easier to spell, easier to pronounce, it is an ideal word to replace entrepreneurship.

In terms of academia, I think it prudent to counsel those children aspiring to be entrepreneurs on the merits of having a good education. They need to be taught how having a good education would benefit them even if they decided to take the entrepreneurship route, like how it would help them in running a successful business. And although one should be wary about inundating those young fellows with too much information, perhaps the benefits of academic-centric skills like knowing statistical analysis, market research, and even presentation skills should be something made known to them.

With these suggestions, I can already foresee ever increasing numbers of students picking up the business spirit, and all the while not neglecting the importance of a good education.

Your Ultimate Mission

Reading The Power of Story (by Jim Loehr) has made me think long and hard about the true purpose(s) by which I live my life, especially the chapter on finding my life’s “ultimate mission”. The premise of the book is that we all have some story about ourselves, and this story shapes our beliefs and guides our actions.

Depending on the story about your life that you tell yourself, you’ll meet “success” or you’ll meet “failure”. Not much of an insight, except that to Loehr success or failure isn’t so much an absolute standard, but is rather a relative standard, and unique to each individual. In other words, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

In the “ultimate mission” chapter, he describes a conversation he had with a client. This client was a relatively successful professional tennis player whom used to rank pretty high up, but was of late playing below her standards and sliding down the rankings. She had consulted him in the hope that he might help her in getting back her old winning form:

“What’s your story?” I asked her when she sat down in my office. “Why do you play?”

I could see that wasn’t what she expected.

To her credit, she entertained my question. After a couple of moments, she said, “I guess…,” then paused to think some more. “I want to be a success.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“To be number one in the world,” she said, rather unconvincingly.

“Okay. So you become number one in the world. When it’s all over, your tombstone reads, ‘She Was Number One In The World.’ You’d be good with that?”

She looked terribly unsatisfied. She shook her head.

I asked her again, “Why do you play?”

She took a breath and thought some more. “I’d like to have a nice place to live. I like nice cars. I love cars. Oh, God. It sounds so terrible. I don’t want that on my tombstone, either. You’re just confusing me.”

Eventually she settled on “I want to be sunshine.” She wanted to create happiness in everyone through her tennis, whether she won or lost. Suffice to say her playing improved, and she starting really enjoying tennis once again.

I thought that including the part about her “loving cars” was a beautiful touch on the author’s part. I love cars too, but I most definitely wouldn’t want that on my tombstone, either. Yet, having money, lots of it, has always been one of my greatest dreams. The problem of why I would want so much money had never really occurred to me. My story had been always that I liked money for its own sake, like a hobby — but instead of collecting trading cards or old coins, I like collecting money. I certainly wouldn’t want to die with “He lived to die rich” etched on my tombstone.

I think that this exercise in thinking about how your epitaph will read really aligns you with your ultimate purpose. In my own experience I have found that getting what you think you want in life, if it is not aligned with what you really want, can be a very hollow experience; and the achievement of these misaligned goals may well leave you worse off than before. Regarding this point, the author describes another client who had won $200 million in the state lottery:

You can guess what happened next, which is what happens with so many lottery winners. He very quickly had to jettison his belief that money brought happiness. Soon, he was overwhelmed by the day-to-day stress of managing his money and trying to establish a meaningful life purpose. When I next talked to him, he admitted that his feeling about himself and his overall happiness were considerably better before his financial windfall. If he had known then what he knew now, he said, he would never have purchased the ticket. His story’s premise — that money corresponds to happiness — was completely faulty.

I couldn’t help but think I totally understand. I’ve accomplished plenty of the goals I’d set for myself in the past, only to realise that when these goals came to fruition, it never really gave me the sense of satisfaction I had thought it’d have given me. For example, there was one semester in university where I did really well academically. Though I cannot say that I did not appreciate having achieved those results (I certainly was happy for a while, and it still brings back happy memories) I realised that nothing in my life had really changed. Achieving my that goal didn’t make me as happy as I thought it’d make me, and for a while I was left thinking, is this it? So perhaps it was the same with the guy above. Winning the lottery didn’t make him happy because he had thought financial freedom was his ultimate mission, but achieving it made him realise it wasn’t.

I can’t imagine how many of us also think like that — that when we are finally rich will we be happy. The only thing is that many of us will never be as rich as we’d like, and so we’d never know that our whole lives had been lived on the foundations of this false premise. Now’s as good a time as ever to really think about the true purpose of your life, lest you spend it all chasing empty dreams, dreams that whether achieved or not make no difference in your life or the lives around you.