Change the world

Consider this thought I had: I am alive and free to do just about anything — anything — I want, but I’m not. Rather, I’m stuck on a course molded by years of habit, reinforced by the smallness of my imagination and what I deem possible or impossible.

This thought came to me last week as I was making my way back from work, hitting me like a male elephant in heat – hard, unexpected, and totally beyond my control – in the most unlikely of places: under a block of flats so devoid of life and energy it reminded me the dreamscape from Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

I remember stopping in mid-step and glancing over to my right across the carpark where a woman was carrying a bag of groceries. For some reason or another, I realised I had the option to walk across to her and strike up a conversation, walk by her, knock her, ignore her. Unsure about the origins or reasons behind those thoughts, I ignored them and went on my way, but before I knew it, I came across an old-ish man going through some books with a young-ish man, and similar thoughts popped into my head: I could actually interact with these people, so why do I insist on limiting my life to those who are already in it? Why?

Just for the heck of it, I deviated from the path I had been using for the past year… highly interactive digital worlds in games can draw great acclaim from critics, but you’d never get one as interactive as the real world. And this deviated step I took, as small an action as it was, it’s significance wasn’t lost on me. I had created a new path from out of thin air.

You wouldn’t believe how much at that time I thought about how possible it was that I’d leave a huge positive impact on this world. I still do.

I like what I do, but…

Today I had dinner with Wilson and Zixuan. It was the first time in many years (I’d think it was ten) that we’d had dinner together, the last time probably when we were still in Montfort Secondary.

We chatted about the usual things: our jobs (or lack of); other people’s jobs and their salaries; and money in general. Sure, we talked about marriage too: “wah, he’s married?!” exclaimed Zixuan and I to Wilson’s remark on Perry’s (another ex-classmate of ours who had been invited to our dinner today but couldn’t make it) marital status. But the novelty of the fact that one of our friends was married expired seconds afterward, after which the topic boomeranged back to money.

In the middle of our dinner the topic of my job came up; I was asked what I did (“it’s not really what a business analyst does, is it?” asked Zixuan) and how I was finding it.

I told them what I tell the fiancee all the time, “I like what I do, but I just don’t feel like I’m getting paid enough for what I do.”

I suppose it might well be a universal feeling that we’re underpaid and deserve more (so universal, in fact, that I recall having seen mugs sold in shops with the slogan “overworked, underpaid” more than once), but I do feel underpaid for what I do. The reason why I put up with it is, well, because I actually enjoy what I do, and I’m damn bloody good at it too.

I remember listening to an audiobook by Brian Tracy which told about how many self-made millionaires would continue to do what they do even if they weren’t paid for it. “If you had a million dollars,” I think Tracy asked, “would you continue doing what you are doing today?”

Well, duh, “of course I would!”

The thing is, I don’t have a million dollars, and that’s the very thing prompting me to consider my options. What I’m really looking for is not only for work that I’d do even if I had a million dollars, but also one that’d get me a million dollars in the first place. And at this rate, it’s certainly not going to be here.

On Efficiency: When can the slowest be the fastest?

I’ve got a neat little tip here on thinking about efficiency.

Here’s a question for you: When can the slowest, be the fastest?

It’s when being “slow” in one area allows you to achieve significant speed gains in another, creating an overall increase in efficiency.

Allow me to explain.

As you may know, I’m currently working as a (slightly pseudo) business analyst. Part of our work involves creating systems or progams to help process reports (including VBA programming, Access queries, Excel spreadsheet manipulation, and others).

Sometimes I come across situations where I have to choose between creating a program that takes the system 10 minutes to process, or one that takes the system 5 minutes to process but requires manual intervention along the way (for example, date changes or the entering of any sort of data).

If you were in my shoes, which would you choose?

I almost always choose the one without manual intervention. Firstly, because manual intervention needlessly introduces the possibility of human error (which when it does happen can take a long time debugging); and secondly, because having the program fully automated buys you time to do other things. It is this second point that I’d like to stress.

Taking the situation I mentioned above as an example, the automatic system effectively gives you 10 minutes of time, as it allows you to be away while the program runs. On the other hand, the manual system takes 5 minutes of time since you have to be present while the program runs. There’s a fifteen minute time difference here.

Always look at the bigger picture when deciding if the “slower” option truly is slower, for it may just allow you to be faster in the greater scheme of things.

Every once in a while

Dreams on SandI’d get a sudden feeling of hope of a better future.
As if it was now that the life I was living
Would start more closely resembling
The life I was dreaming of.

But like the ghosts of people past,
These feelings fade,
Leaving me only with the knowledge
That they had once existed
And nothing more.

(For my dreams are written in sand,
Going out with the tide each day;
Going out till there’s no more sand
To wash away.)