Back to writing

It’s been such a long time since I last wrote anything here (blame the whole ____load of work that’s been coming in; hint: sounds like “ship”) that I’m suddenly all self-conscious about it.

It reminds me of a period of my life where I used to wear running shorts all the time. I wore them in camp (i.e. army camp — I was serving national service at that time); at home; occasionally when I sent out for short food trips; and, of course, for runs.

Then for some reason I stopped. For four months.

Then I tried them again.

“Wow, your pants are sexy,” exclaimed my dad, unused to how I looked in them having not been in them for so long.

It’s been almost ten years since.

Since that statement.

Since I last wore my sexy short running shorts.

I suppose though, that there is one difference between my writing after a long absence and my wearing running shorts.

If someone said my words were sexy, it’d probably be 10 seconds before I wrote my next.

Why you will fail to have a great career

This is a beautiful talk, one that addresses something I’d felt strongly about since I started thinking seriously about my professional life back when I was studying at Temasek Polytechnic.

I remember sitting in the lecture hall, listening to an entrepreneur who had been invited to speak to us business students. During the Q&A, I couldn’t help but ask if his business success had come at the price of family.

I can’t quite recall what he said, but I suspect it had something to do with it not being quite the answer I had hoped: “no”.

It’s been more than a decade on. Having been through two years of National Service, another two overseas at UWA (University of Western Australia), marriage, and five years of relatively productive work, my question remains. Still unanswered.

But this time, the perspective’s a little different. I’m asking it from the inside. I’m living the answer, writing it as I go along. So far so good, but I think I’ve got a little bit more capacity for that weirdness; that abnormification; that passion to burst onto the scene.

So when my child questions why I haven’t lived my dream, I won’t have to say, “because of you.”

I’m an analyst. I analyse.

Tired and socially exhausted after a very nice company dinner (a common predicament for introverts), I was looking forward to some me-time on the taxi home. But it was not to be — the taxi driver was a little chattier than I’d hoped.

Having seen me catch his taxi amongst a group of foreigners whom presumably were my colleagues (yes, they were), he was curious as to what I did — “what do you work as?” I told him I worked in the education industry, and briefed him a little on what my company did.

I then went into a little bit more of the specifics — what my role entailed (“I’m a sales/business analyst. You know… business, IT, data, analysis…).

But I saw he wasn’t really getting it (“you analyse?…”)

In the end, I went on to the fall-back option of saying, “I work in sales and marketing.” (I’ve faced this issue many times before. See my post “What do you do? I’m an analyst.“)

And he got it. It seems he got it real good.

A most unexpected look of shock followed by abject pity came over his face. “Boss,” he told me, “I used to work in marketing. But look where I am now.”

I noticed we were in a taxi.

“Boss,” he continued (“I’m a boss!” I thought to myself), “before I started driving a taxi, I used to work in marketing. Earning big bucks. Then my company restructured and I got retrenched. I earned too much.”

He paused, as if reminiscing of the good ol’ days rolling in dough, then said, “You know, in marketing, as long as you earn money by only talking, anyone can take over your place and do your job. Let me give you some advice: don’t just stick to marketing. Go out and learn more.”

I realised that no, he didn’t really get what I did (yes, I work in sales and marketing; but no, I don’t do “marketing” per se).

And I couldn’t help but debate in my head if he meant “sales” and not “marketing”.

My head pounded. Was it the wine? Probably not.

I half-opened my mouth wanting to say something. But you know what? He looked so happy (1) reminiscing about his glorious past; and (2) revelling in the present dispensing career advice to a chap who desperately needed it; that I couldn’t bear to break the spell by saying “you got it all wrong, sir.”

So I nodded in silent agreement, and promised to look beyond marketing. A promise made good as soon as it was made.

I’m an analyst. And I’m bloody glad I am.

People Watching

People watching used to be a favourite hobby of mine. Sitting at a café, observing without judging.

Then technology came along. And I don’t observe people so much anymore.

I mean, you can’t observe both the screen and the people around you, can you?

A real pity, really.

Technology has filled all those little spaces that “just being” used to fill. The spaces between the things that needed to be done and the places that needed to be visited.

And unfortunately the spaces where ideas used to roam free and germinate.

In the name of safety

I read a post by Alex Tabarrok today, regarding  school safety in his son’s school (via the Marginal Revolution blog) today. The post is really a letter that he’d written to his son’s school principal, regarding the introduction of security guards and cameras.

From the post (emphasis mine):

When going to school requires police, security guards and cameras how can I encourage my child to travel to foreign countries, to seek new experiences, to meet people of different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds?

I live in Singapore, arguably one of the world’s safest countries.

In Singapore, each of us is assigned an identification number at birth. This number is used extensively to record our activities in both private and public services. I never thought much about it until I studied in Australia and realised they didn’t have such a thing there, and that it’d have been to them a serious invasion of privacy.

I thought it weird and inconvenient — how did they manage to live without one for so long?

We have cameras everywhere here.  Cameras mounted on street lamps (presumably to monitor traffic); in trains (one in each carriage) and train stations (five, six, or more, clustered together, each facing in different directions); and other public spaces — parks, elevators, shopping centers. And with citizentry brandishing phone cameras and car cameras and posting videos on errant behaviour, his monitoring goes on just about everywhere really.

But I don’t really notice them. Maybe I used to, but not any more. They make me feel safe. Like a drug.

We have gates. Lots of them. Almost all houses have them — those that don’t are the exception. Similarly, all apartments by default come with grill doors in addition to the main, heavy-duty, fire-resistant door. Apartments without grill doors, if any, tend to be situated in gated communities. And they have security guards.

It’s normal to have such security measures in place, isn’t it? At least I think so. It’s not like we have a decent police force and a generally low crime rate here.

Wait a minute. I think we do.

What Alex Tabarrok says is true. Though I feel perfectly safe in Singapore, it’s pretty much at the expense of feeling unsafe in just about everywhere else. How can I encourage myself to venture out into the unsafe when it goes against everything I’ve been brought up to believe? That even without these security measures in place, I will be safe?

In the name of safety I cannot say how many places I’ve been unwilling to travel to. Places people considerably more vulnerable than myself, but brought up in a different environment with a different perspective on safety, would go to at a whim.

Places I wish I could bring myself to go; things I wish I could do.

But it’s not safe.

My year in review: On Writing and on Being

As we approach the end of the year and the beginning of the next, I’ve started thinking about resolutions and how I might make 2014 different (and better!) from all the other years I’ve had (almost 30 now).

2013 hasn’t been the best. And though I wish I could say to you, “I won’t bore you with the details,” and that’s why I’m not telling you the details, it’s more of a I don’t know the details either but it just doesn’t feel like the best year I’ve had. And if it doesn’t feel like the best year, then it certainly wasn’t.

You ever heard of the NLP (neurolinguistic programming) saying that the meaning of your communication is the response you get (i.e. the success of whatever you communicate is dependent on the feedback of the receiver of that communication)?

Well, it’s like that. I could have the best bloody year of my life, but if in the end I didn’t feel like I’ve had the best bloody year of my life, then I didn’t have the best bloody year of my life.

What I can say though, is that the general idea behind those feelings is the thought that in 2013 I’d taken myself too seriously.

Maybe you could call it a quarter life crisis (thereabouts; not that I expect — or necessarily want — to live to a hundred and twenty), but there were many points in 2013 that I kept questioning my own motives; was filled with self-doubt; and maintained an extreme self-consciousness.

My usual joviality and punny nature couldn’t shine through, whether in person or on this site, where half-assed poetry and humour used to reign.

I’ve gotten serious and professional. Maybe that’s understandable if you knew I was looking to switch jobs in the earlier parts of this year and the later parts of the last. Maybe that’s understandable, if you knew I was trying to position myself as an expert in my analytics field.

But it’s not representative of who I am. I’m not a one-sided, analytics-crazy professional.

I’m an interested student of life who stands in awe of dramatic scenery; who reads and writes poetry; who loves reading puns as much as writing them; who reveres good art and philosophy; who digs science and appreciates the scientific method; who wishes he could play a musical instrument as well as he typed; who’s into fitness and running; and who just happens to be really into technology, business, and analytics, and is rather good at it.

If you were to take my last 30 posts on you wouldn’t really know who I am. You’d get an overrepresentation of “professional” articles that talk about IT and science and business.

I’d read that niche blogs get more readers, and that more focused content gets more repeat visitors. I’d read that if you want to get hired you write articles that might interest your potential employers, and that writing “professionally” would help your personal brand.

I wanted more readers. I wanted to get hired. I wanted to help my brand. So that’s what I did.

Visitorship did go up a tad. And maybe what I’ve written does appeal to a certain audience. And maybe Study Group hired me based on (honestly, I don’t think so — pretty sure it was because of this advert).

But what I’ve found is that there was just so many things that I find interesting and/or that I really wanted to share but couldn’t because they just didn’t fit into the “theme” of analytics or big data, a theme that I thought would be better for the “image” of yours truly.

If I read that the glycemic index of sugar is lower than whole-wheat bread, I couldn’t share that if I could only post “analytics-focused” articles. Or if I read a killer poem like Shel Silverstein’s Masks that made me cry, I’d have to keep it for “personal use only”, telling only the people I know on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter, not the arbitrary bunch of people who stream in into

Not being able to share all I thought worth sharing has made me unhappy.

2013 has been an experiment in professional writing. In professional being. It’s been nice to have tried, but it isn’t necessarily good for me, I think. Haven’t been this unhappy for a long time.

2014 is going to have to be a year I take myself less seriously. A year of more fun. More puns. A year of less Serious Lee (seriously, get it?!), and more Donn Lee.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone.

Push On

I just realised that I haven¹t announced that I achieved my IPPT Gold last Saturday. Third one in three years. Full points for all three too.

I almost make it seem easy.

But the fact is, it was anything but.

For the past couple of months I’ve been training really hard for this and the half-marathon  coming up this Sunday (the “army half marathon”). I’ve amazed myself with disciplined long runs and early-morning interval sprints, mixed with properly executed HIIT, towel-pull-ups, rope jumping, box jumps, and other classic strength training devices.

Still, I almost didn’t make it. Despite all I’d done, despite how much I prepared for this, I almost gave up on the Gold after the first lap of the 2.4km run. I just didn’t feel comfortable.

Too hot.

Too sleepy.

Too much water moving about in tummy.

It was just all too much.

This has got to be at least my 20th “all-out” 2.4 run (the others are just for fun or training or nothing serious). And yet I’ve never really gotten used to really running the 2.4.

No matter how much I’ve prepared for it, the run itself is always gut-wrenching; stomach-turning; bloodcurdling; and prone to thoughts of giving up.

I guess it’s useful for people who look on in awe at people who do get the Gold to think, sure, it’s easy for them. But it’s not. At least not for me. Thoughts of how much pain I’m going through and of giving up hardly leave my mind at all.

Perhaps the difference, then, is that even with all my fear and thoughts of failure, I push on.