Saturday, September 11, 2021

Walking On Eggshells (MY Eng #25)

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' and 'chicken and egg'.

Last time round, I said that I'll stop picking on chickens and move on to other flora and fauna.

I lied.

Sorry, but I just couldn't resist. It's not that I'm running out of idioms (trust me, I still have a long laundry list). This one is lesser-known, yet equally useful in everyday lingo. Public education prevails over my private conscience. And anyway, I'm sure my dear readers are a sporting and unforgiving bunch, right? Right?

* * *

But the choice of idiom here has context. By going back on my word, I put my credibility under the spotlight. Who doesn't find themselves saying one thing, but having to do the opposite? Yes, some of us love to live dangerously. We love walking on eggshells...

We can't avoid stepping on minefields (figuratively, speaking), despite the warning signs. Sometimes, traversing on dangerous territory, dancing on thin ice (another idiom!), is all part of our line of work.

Or for some of us, it's just a matter of personal lifesttyle choice. As a Bond villian and femme fatale puts it elegantly: "There's no point in living, if you don't feel alive". We hang ourselves out to dry in the open. Actively vocal and visible on social media. The more that we expose ourselves in public, the more risk attracting intense scrutiny and judgment.

Take this blog of mine. I've run into a trouble or two for the provocative stuff that I post. Some people just takes things too literally. As an infamous Gotham villain once rhetorically asks: "Why so serious?" I've come to peace with the fact that people nowadays are easily triggered and offended. I can't be over-thinking and over-censoring my words, for the sake of random strangers halfway across the world. To paraphrase: "There's no point in writing, if I can't speak my mind."

* * *

I can go on and on. But enough of ranting. My feet is feeling ticklish already. An egg or two is about to crack open, so I best be moving on...

But you get the idea. Eggshells are everywhere. It's hard to avoid if we want to move forward. If we're afraid of stepping on ants, we'll be forever frozen where we stand, paralysed in terror. And as the creed of shadowy cult of a much-awaited movie this year intones: "Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me."

Those who fear eggshells are those who fear to live. Indeed, there's no point in living, if we can't brave through our fears.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Chicken And Egg (MY Eng #24)

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' and 'don't put all your eggs into one basket'.

Okay, last one about flightless birds that go 'cluck, cluck', I promise!

How did we get here? Counting chickens before they hatch, not putting all eggs into one basket, and now this. Both largely touched on the same theme - risk-management. Not jumping for joy too soon, not being overly optimistic on slim odds. There are probably more avian expressions to draw from (eg walking on egg-shells). But best to draw the line before chicken-lovers start accusing me of discriminating against the poor defenceless birds, and going against my own advice about not putting all eggs into...

You get the idea. Best not not to keep repeating myself like a broken record (another idiom!). Let's not beat around the bush, and get all ducks into a row (see, I'm picking on other animals and plants too)...


* * *

When a situation goes wrong, we often wonder where and how did it start going wrong. Getting to the root of a problem is the first step to solving it, after all. But most problems are complicated. We have trouble even pinpointing the exact starting point. Did X cause Y to happen, or Y caused X? When things get really messy, we call it a 'chicken-and-egg' situation.

Which came first - the chicken, or the egg? That's a tough pickle for even scientists to figure out. The astrophysics equivalent is the 'Big Bang Theory' - did our universe really start off with a giant explosion? There are no easy answers. It's a paradox, see? Nature tells us that all chickens hatch out of eggs. But eggs are pop out of the buttocks of hens. So where did the first egg or hen come from (whichever side you're leaning towards)?

This ain't a language class, much less a fortori a science class (I've always wanted to use that Latin word in a proper sentence, pardon if I'm getting it wrong). The point is here is that most our of everyday problems are akin to the chicken-and-egg conundrum. We just don't even know where to start. There's a limit to how far back we can rewind, and where we can go. Some things are just lost in the mist of time, or hidden behind 'no trespassing' signs.

Sometimes, we have to accept that there are things that are simply unknowable (or difficult to unravel without time and energy that we cannot afford to expend). It's fine if we can't conduct a full-fledged investigation. Move on. Pick up the pieces. No point beating our heads against the wall and going in circles (double idiom!).

* * *

Is it important to figure out the root cause to our life problems? Definitely. That's a given, the default position.

Still, the quest for the truth shouldn't detract us from thinking of practical solutions. Often times, blaming a problem as a 'chicken-and-egg' situation is just a convenient excuse to avoid or delay action.

In short, don't chicken out from your job. Whether the chicken or egg came first, life still needs to go on.


Saturday, August 21, 2021

Don't Put All Your Eggs Into One Basket (MY Eng #23)

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' and 'don't count your chickens before they hatch'.

Keeping with the same theme as the previous ocassion, we're still stuck on chickens and eggs (a subtle hint for the next entry in this running English idiom series). This one's probably more familiar to most people - and self-explanatory.

Okay, let's get the contradictions out of the way. I know, I'm fond of preaching on being razor-focused, going all-in, taking a 'go hard or go home' approach to one's life pursuits. Don't spread yourself too thin. One task at a time. Multi-tasking is (more often than not) inefficient for deep work.

But look, no rule is absolute. And in any case, the idea of spreading one's resources here is more on a macro level rather than micro level. So both approaches are still reconcilable.


* * *

The idiom simply means what it implies. Don't put all your bets on a single horse. Diversify your portfolio. Eggs are brittle objects. Puttinng them all into a single basket risks losing them all if the basket breaks.

Most of us already practice this sound advice. Like applying to enrol into multiple universities. Or applying for multiple job openings. Or making multiple swipes on Tinder (okay, let's not go there...)

The idea seems simple enough. Keep your options open. Make a shortlist. Come up with Plan B and C. Don't put all your hopes into one place. To increase your chances of success, and also to avoid the pain of disappointment.

That said, a balance needs to be struck. Don't aim for too many targets at once. Remember the tragic tale of the dog that got greedy trying to grab an extra (but non-existent) bone when crossing a bridge and catching its reflection in the water? There are exceptional times where we just can't afford to expend extra time and effort on more than one target. Ultimately, all depends on the weight of the new undertaking, and whatever is already on your plate.

* * *

Of course, just like all other piece of advice, execution is much harder than theory. The challenge of managing our workflow lies in knowing how much tasks to take on, and when to take on the next. It's normal to overestimate the magnitude of a task, and our own capacity.

So perhaps it's best not to be greedy - like the dog with a large bone in mouth - to bite more than we can chew (another idiom!). Or in avian terms, don't collect more eggs than you can carry or fit into your basket. The world has no short of eggs. So don't go catching them all just to let them slip through your fingers and smash into a splashy splat.