Monday, January 11, 2021

Missing The Wood For The Trees (MY Eng #1)

This is a start of a new series. Hopefully. If there's interest for its continuance.

The full title of the series is 'Mind Your English'. No, this is not an English class. Not entirely, at least. This series has a dual purpose for readers: (a) bring a positive change of your mindset; and (b) improve your English vocabulary. The first goal takes primary focus.

So don't expect learning about the rules of English grammar (my sentences aren't spellcheck-proof). I haven't studied English literature (unless movies like 'Price and Prejudice and Zombies' count). English simply happens to be my primary language, and the world's lingua franca (my elementary Latin comes from my legal training). So my focus on English is purely utilitarian functional.

And yes I'll be using plain and simple words, with the occassional dash of jazz to drive home a point. No big bombastic words for the sake of showing off my range of vocabulary (which is rather wide simply because I enjoy reading, and beating my older relatives in Scrabble when I was a kid).

* * *

Okay, enough of introductions (and making poor excuses of my not-so-great English). Let's get on to the first idiom of the series - missing the wood for the trees

In fact, this idiom is partly conveniently explained in my introduction itself. The part of me caring more for English as a means of effective communication, rather than the love of the language itself. That's not to say to I despise English, of course. Rather, my philosophy is grounded on pragmatism - that the primary purpose of language is communication. Not just communication of information between people talking, but also communication of ideas through the written word (e.g. books).

The term 'missing the wood for the trees' simply means losing sight of the purpose of an actvity due to obsession over the process. Purpose over process. Substance over form. Results over rules.

The idiom shouldn't be interpreted that details, rules, and theories don't matter, of course. Grammar keeps English within the bounds of comprehension between the speaker and listener. The point is that we shouldn't misunderstand the bigger picture simply because of a single distorted pixel.

This caution is critical to those with an important message to convey - bosses, teachers, or any leader. Poor communicators obsess over getting small details right, no matter how insignificant. So much so that their obsession detracts everyone else from the true essence of the message.

For example, I'm now taking a course on 'research'. Most lessons are rather common-sensical. And yet, the course is filled with technical jargons that dominates the attention of both teacher and students. FAQs range from "What keywords should I use in this section" and "What will be tested in next week's quiz". Few people really asks questions like "I'm researching about X, should I use technique 1 or 2?"

Can't blame anyone in the class. The syllabus is designed in such a rigid way that every single box must be ticked. Worse, students are spending more time and energy learning about 'how to do research' in theory, rather than doing actual research itself. It's like a classroom of kids reading instruction manuals about bicycles (e.g. different types, prices, parts) for a whole semester before actually being allowed to ride on a bicycle. I just learnt to ride a bicycle on my own when I was six. So did all the other kids in my neighbourhood. Our biking passion came from riding our bikes, not by reading about bikes.

* * *

I'm sure you can think of many more examples from your own experiences. Prioritising grades over practical training. Prioritising attendance over work productivity. Prioritising over technical accuracy over substantive weight. The laundry list goes on.

All of us are guilty of missing the wood for the trees. The reason being that it's simpler to count the trees rather than to survey the true value of the entire wood. In short, stopping short at counting trees is lazy. Don't be lazy. Don't miss the wood for the trees.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Making Time For Myself And People (2021 Goal)

I'm not big on making New Year's resolution. I can't even remember the last time I celebrated a New Year's Eve countdown. Year-end has always been hectic for me. Christmas passed by as a flash.

Still, 2020 has been a crazy year, and I should really look towards 2021 with a heightened sense of renewal. I'm neither young nor old, but stuck in a weird in-between age. Never mind, my mind is still up for a paradigm shift!

* * *

From 2021 onward, I will make more time for myself and others around me.

Sounds rather simple. But people who know me well, know me as a ghost (or a person possessed by one). I have this distant glaze in my eyes. I get restless and impatient easily. I'm prone to cutting short small talk, or just lapsing into total silence. In short, I'm rather aloof and reserved.

Even last week when I finally returned home for Christmas, I was too caught up with events and deadlines. Only my body was there, my mind was wandering elsewhere. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

I'm not sure what needs changing. My ikigai keeps me alive. And my ikigai requires me to keep busy everyday, and focused on the duty that's entrusted in me. What's this ikigai, you ask? Here's how's I've explained before:
"It’s a Japanese word with no direct English equivalent. Loosely translated, the word means “the reason of being”, or more poignantly: “the reason for which you wake up every morning”... Our ikigai is not static, and can change over time. Our ikigai shapes our life goals and plans. Our ikigai can manifest in many forms – fighting your clients’ case in court, spending quality time with your family, or even tending to your Bonsai garden...Every morning, I unfailingly wake up before 9am. Without an alarm. No matter how late I slept last night. Even on weekends. That’s how excited I am to start a brand new day. That’s how passionate I feel about life. Ikigai is the secret to my happiness - as well as yours."

So isn't the solution aimply to add more ikigais into my life? I don't think there's a strict rule setting a maximum quota. But setting too many goals in life is just setting up yourself to failure for each on one of them. It's fine having multiple KPIs, but they must all still relate to an overaching unitary goal...

* * *

I won't be changing my ikigai, of course. I haven't even come close to realising it. Still, a big part revolves around making others discover and realise their own ikigai. That's one of the driving reasons why I'm still writing on here.

But having a big broadcast message is just one way. I should really get up and close personal. Talk to people, one-on-one. Hear their problems on a granuler level, and offer more practical advice. Stay in touch more, and stay in step with their lives.

So that's my simple goal for 2021 - staying in touch with people. Don't freak out if I suddenly give you a buzz after a long absence. Stay safe, talk soon!


Monday, December 21, 2020

Goodbye 2020, Hello Brave New World

We're not out of the COVID-19 pandemic just yet. Vaccination is still a distant light at the end of the tunnel. One thing's for sure - that 2020 will go down as the biggest turning point of modern history so far.

Much has been said about the needless loss of lives, failings of freedom, and rising spectre of tyranny. Let's not dwell in the gloom and doom on the macro scale. On a personal level, our lives have been invariably changed by the pandemic, directly or indirectly, for better or worse.

Of course, much of the change has turned out for the worst. Dwindling paychecks, uncertainties at work, fear for our loved ones, and so on. But in tragedy, there's always a silver lining. There are some valuable lessons that we can draw to withstand the challenges to come in 2021 and beyond.

* * *

Take our work. Yes, our livelihoods have definitely suffered. Some companies will push hard for retrenchments that they've been toying for years but to afraid to try in normal times. Some industries are harshly picked on more than others. Some of us are facing pay-cuts - or even losing jobs - simply due to bad luck beyond our control.

And yet, the squeeze is good. Unsustainable businesses will fold. Pointless positions will disappear. Let's be honest - we're all secretly rubbing our hands in anticipation for that lazy colleague to finally get kicked out for good. The universe is finding its balance. Life, as always, finds a way. Over time, the pandemic will gradually flush away the toxicity simmering in office.

Next up is social relationships. Interestingly enough, the pandemic set off a chain of events which led me to rekindling old friendships, and forging new ones that would never been possible if not of the pandemic (e.g. virtual mooting). Sure, being grounded at home took away some networking opportunities. But by and large, virtual communications opened up more doors than it closed. I found myself 'teleporting' across different time zones from America to Europe. In normal circumstances, I couldn't have afford attending those events anyway.

Above all, it's during times of trouble when people's true colours. This didn't quite happen to me, but I see it happening to other people. Decades-long partnerships breaking apart, new ones rising from the ashes. The pandemic broke down relationships that should've ended a long time ago. It gave some of us the courage - once our backs are up against the wall - to say: "Alright, that's it... WE ARE SO OVER!"

Last but most important of all - self-identity. In moments of isolation, I had time to do a lot of soul-searching. Reflecting on my past mistakes. Wondering if I'm on the right track. Forcing myself to look into the mirror - and the inner demons that burned behind those sleepy eyes.

Have I changed for the better? Maybe not by much. The road to self-discovery is long, winding, and painful. I'm still poking through the pieces. Some parts are jagged, and requires some delicate handling. I still get ahead of myself. My scars haven't quite healed. Still, I'm making progress more than usual. Oddly enough, the standstill of the pandemic offers the breathing space I needed to carefully reorient my direction, and choose my path wisely.

* * *

Yes, we're not out of the woods just yet. Chaos still reigns. No one quite knows what next year holds.

And yet, I find myself being in a sweet spot. Right in the eye of the storm. A quantum of solace.

And judging by all the changes enveloping other people's lives, I'm not alone. So let's all mourn for our deep losses, but also celebrate this rare flash of epiphany. We're at the cusp of change. The turning point of our journey. It's now or never, folks. You only live once. Seize the moment.

Thanks for the wake-up call, 2020. Let's cheers for 2021!