Friday, January 21, 2022

Look Before You Leap (MY Eng #38)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lies', 'open a can of worms', 'light at the end of the tunnel' and 'trial and error'.

Last time round, I talked about how making mistakes is part of progression. There's more to learn from our failures than successes. If we're not tripping over our feet enough, it's likely we're not pushing ourselves to run faster and further.

Still, that doesn't mean we should jump into the thick of action with guns blazing, throwing all caution into the wind. Don't be marching into a field of landmines without doing a proper reconnaissance. As much as we've got deadlines to keep, time pressure shouldn't be an excuse to hand in shoddy work product. Prudence is the first step towards perfection.

It's good to aim for the stars. But be sure you've got your rockets in order before launching into space.

* * *

Yes, it's one of the catchiest advice out there: Look before you leap!

Instead of rambling on in abstract, let's pick some real-life specifics, shall we? Just today, I rushed to sending an email without double-checking as I normally would. Only after the email went out did I realise that I had clicked 'reply all' instead of 'reply'. So the email got cc-ed to a mailing list that was cc-ed along in the original email. Small error, but still infuriating. Fortunately, there's nothing exceptionally revealing in the contents. But what if I slipped up next time on an email of a more private and sensitive character?

Even with the advancement of instant messaging apps (Whatsapp), email remains as the predominant mode of communication at work. It's more formal, and more permanent. Don't mean to sound grouchy and nit-picky, but millennials really struggle with perfecting the art of email drafting.

Time and time again, the emails that I received from my students are littered with basic errors - typos, clunky and unclear language, lack of formalities and proper introduction, etc. I'm not sure why exactly is this so. When I was in school, we were taught how to write formal and informal letters in language classes. Not my favourite part in creative writing, but it's a painful pill that we all had to just swallow.

* * *

But the problem really goes beyond just emails and social habits. It's more to do with the mindset of youngsters. They're too impatient. Short attention span. Easily restless.

Yes, the rapid pace of our digital age bears a big part of the blame. There's little time for deep thinking. Quantity over quality.

As an old saying goes, only fools rush in. Most of our mistakes can be mitigated by taking extra care with what we say and do. Better to be safe than sorry.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Trial And Error (MY Eng #37)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lies', 'open a can of worms' and 'light at the end of the tunnel'.

It's good to set lofty goals. Nothing wrong being ambitious. Progression is part of life. We've all keep on moving to bigger things.

But often times, things don't work out according with our best-laid plans. Unforeseen circumstances. Personal miscalculation. Someone else dropped the ball.

So don't panic if something goes horribly wrong. Mistakes are bound to happen. Nobody is perfect.

Keep your cool, stay the course. Don't stop shooting for the stars just because your rockets fail to flare during the first launch.

* * *

A simple message, but a timely one. The pandemic has disrupted all our lives in many unexpected ways. Now, more than ever, it's important to keep in mind that living is all about trial and error.

Of course, being in error is never easy to stomach. It's a crushing blow to our ego. Unsettles our pre-conceived notions of our own competence. Makes us question about our choices in life. Failure is a deep pit that test the resolve of even the most resilient of us to hang on and keep climbing.

I've slipped up, countless of times, in 2021. Sometimes over spots that I expected smooth sailing. Being blindsided by hidden traps. Stumbling, falling, and bruising.

When we take a shot at a distant target, we're prone to have as many misses as hits. The harder the goal, the harder the fall. One can't lay claim to major success without facing few bouts of epic failure.

* * *

Should we be honest with our mistakes? Of course. There's no sense in covering up and hiding behind a mask without flaws. Don'r airbrush our imperfections. Don't sugarcoat the truth. Don't shy away from our inner demons.

Indeed, we often learn more from our failures than successes. Post-mortem is more rigorous when we're left licking our wounds. We're hesitant to fix things unless they're truly broken.

Embrace your errors. Experiment, explore. Expand your horizons.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Light At The End Of The Tunnel (MY Eng #36)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lies' and 'open a can of worms'.

Another wretched year, another wasted chance.

The COVID pandemic has been hard to most of us. Work disrupted. Health on a knife's edge. Cut off from our loved ones. Opportunities missed. Hopes dashed.

Yet, the worst seems to be behind us. Vaccination keeps infections low. Lockdown has lifted. Borders are reopening. Life, slowly but surely, has found a way.

Of course, we're not out of the woods just yet (another idiom!). Variants keep emerging and striking back. Fear still lingers in the air.

* * *

As the curtain closes on 2021, we're left waiting and wanting on the perennial question: when can we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel?

No one knows for sure. Even our best scientists can't quite figure out the end-game just yet. It's perhaps too optimistic thinking that COVID will be conquered by 2022. But most of us are getting back on our feet, ready to adjust to the new normal, come what may.

Personally, fate has been kind to me. I'm fortunate enough not to suffer as much as others, whether physically or mentally, economically or socially. A large part of my work has gone virtual - for better and for worse. The experience is not the same as before. But I'm learning to make do with what I have, and where I am.

Life could be better, but life is still good.

* * *

I don't know exactly what 2022 will look like. Uncertainties could drag on indefinitely. The night is always darkest before drawn (covered this idiom before).

I may not be at my best in 2021. But I'm changing my ways, finding new drives, and above all, hopeful for better things to come.

The tunnel is still dark, twisting and full of terrors. But look hard enough, and there's light brightening and beckoning us forward to a new exciting world in 2022. Cheers, people!