0038 – back on track

I’ve turned into one of those people glued to their smartphones on the train. I just got my first smartphone a few days ago- a galaxy note 2. I’m determined not to play mindless games to pass time- rather, I’m going to spend my daily commute writing. That’s okay, right? I spent a week trying to be mindful and meditative during my commute but damn it’s hard, especially with the crowds and frequent stops. So it makes more sense to me to spend it reading or writing. That’s not so bad, right? As long as I’m learning or creating or both.



Well that ended there. Time for a reboot. When I started doing these word vomits, I was hoping to have lots of free time to write twice a day, 1000 words each, 15 minutes at a time. I had made a lot of assumptions about my environment and my commitments.

I’ve been busy lately. I got employed, I got a new home, I’ve been moving, adapting, learning. I have been a little overwhelmed and I haven’t made a lot of time or space for myself. On top of that, whenever I do have any time I tend to get a little perfectionist and think “really big picture” and this ends up paralysing me from doing what I need to do. So this is me bringing things back down to earth, going back to fundamentals- starting with my word vomits, writing every day.

On hindsight- committing to writing 2,000 words a day is ambitious and a little bit overwhelming. The target remains unchanged- the word vomit project will continue until I have at least 1,000 pieces of 1,000 words each, which will give me a total of 1,000,000 words- which is a nice number and just kind of cool to think about, big data-wise. It adds a level of measurability to the equation. (I’m not going to let myself fall into the trap of thinking that this is all that matters, of course).

There are a few other sources of value in my life that I ought to talk about- value to my writing. One is Facebook interactions. I’ve been semi-intentionally posting on popular threads like SAF Confessions and SMRT (Ltd) and it’s interesting to trial and error to figure out what works best.

A while ago Oliver Emberton on Quora described how, upon getting an answer that got lots of upvotes, he was determined to game the system- to figure out how it worked, to figure out the fundamental principles of interaction (fantastic TEDtalk)- and I was so bloody jealous, here’s a guy who came into the game later than me, but with determination and clarity he has risen meteorically within the community. Oliver’s blog is abetterlife.quora.com– it’s really good and everybody should read it. The best self-help/lifehack stuff I’ve seen.

But I shouldn’t get selfish or snarky. I should be happy for Oliver (and I am), and I should learn from him. And apply his principles. There’s no shame in collaboration, in learning from others. We should be happy when others are successful because it’s not a zero sum game.

So I suppose I’ve been kind of trying to do what Oliver did on Quora, in my own way, in Singaporean online networks- I’m trying to raise my profile, trying to get noticed. This can never be an overly formalized or mechanical process- you have to really enjoy it, really mean it. I do enjoy writing witty things on the internet. I do, and that’s part of why I think I’ll eventually build a huge following and get really good at it. That’s part of the plan. That’s not the end goal, though, the end goal is to use all of that attention and direct it towards things that deserve more attention. A better life, a sweeter marketplace, a more beautiful world of thoughtfulness and compassion. That’s always the end goal, and I should never lose sight of that.

I have so much to do. I have so much to be grateful for, too. I’ve been writing more for Poached Magazine and I do think it’s safe to say that we’ve been building our presence, building our brand. Getting Sam on board was a fantastic idea. Vannessa and Miranda are wonderful people to work with. I really look forward to getting more involved with everybody, discussing our strategy and philosophy for growth and expansion and cultural relevance. We have something good going and we could use it for good, too. That’s the goal. It points towards the end goal.

I said I got employed, I got a day job- I’m the blog and social media guy at ReferralCandy. I haven’t really sunk my teeth into it as much as I would like- there’s been a bit of a learning curve for me to make sense of the industry that I just jumped into. The tech startup world is fascinating, challenging and exciting- and it’s a perfect corollary to me wanting to be a writer.

Somehow everything has finally fallen right into place- I have a job doing what I love, I know the value that I contribute to the world and I know why I am paid, and I intend to develop myself and my company into something that more-than justifies that sort of money. I genuinely intend to use my position as the blogger of a tech startup to contribute towards a more beautiful marketplace for all. I really care about that. It’s a subset of my ultimate life goal. I also want to learn as much as I possibly can about programming and about the nature of startups and I think in the long run I’d like to help nurture and build these fantastic things. I’ve got a foot in the door and I refuse to waste it. I am so, so lucky.

Reaching the end of this particular vomit. I realize that committing to writing 2,000 words a day is scary. What I should commit to instead is to writing a single line. A single line, that’s it. I can always write a single line. That’s easy, that’s simple, that’s effortless. Once I start, I may choose to continue. I usually do. I almost always do. I can pretty much guarantee it.

So word vomits will be my attempt to do 1,000 sets of 1,000 words, but the commitment is to do at least a line, twice a day. How long will it take? I do not know yet. But I believe this will get me done faster than setting that arbitrary deadline. I hope to apply this “just start, start small, baby steps” mindset to my personal and professional lives, too. We’ll see how it goes.


0037 – changing circumstances

Wow, I haven’t done a word vomit in a really long time. It’s been almost two or three weeks. That’s a little bit embarrassing. I quite certainly fell off the bandwagon there. What has remained unchanged, though, is how I feel about it. I feel that it’s necessary, something that I need to do. And so I am doing it. I may not be entirely on track. But I am doing it. And I must keep doing it.

It’s interesting to pay attention to how easy it is to make excuses. Some of them are valid, but then and again- if you want something badly enough, you’ll fight to keep it alive. A huge part of it is about being smart- about paying attention to your environment, about changing your environment to suit your goals and intentions- because whether we realize it or not, we certainly do respond to the setting that we are in.

I also realize that I have to make time to do this, rather than wait for it, or hope for it. I’m squeezing it out now while she takes a shower before we head off. Why not, you know? It might not be the perfect time but there’s never a perfect time. You just gotta do what needs to be done.

I wasn’t expecting to be in the position that I’m in right now. I was hoping to get a job with SIA as cabin crew, as an air steward. I reasoned that it was the perfect job- I would be able to travel, the salary’s pretty high considering the qualifications required, and I would have downtime between trips to do all the writing I’ve been intending to do.

Again, I create this condition where I count on an ideal situation to manifest itself before I can write. That’s not how it works. You have to write no matter what. That’s the deal.

I got employed. I got headhunted by a tech startup, and today was my first day of work. I enjoyed it very much. I haven’t completely dived into the deep end yet, but I love what I see. I think the startup working environment is near-ideal for me. I almost didn’t want to go home at the end of the day, because I was working on something that I found interesting. I actually found myself wanting to stay, to finish what I was doing. If I didn’t have other things to worry about, I’d probably have ended up staying there until midnight, and find myself stranded with no way home except an expensive cab ride home.

But that kind of excites me. I think that’s a good thing, it’s wonderful to be in a situation where you love your work so much that you can lose yourself in it. Of course, one should always take pains to ensure that she doesn’t sacrifice her life for her work. Well, unless the work is more important than her life. There may be situations like that. But I don’t think that’s the position I’m in. I think that it’s much easier to hold yourself in check while in the midst of something you love- as opposed to trying to get interested and excited about things you don’t really care too much about.

She described to me today her frustration and general mental exhaustion from dealing with her current working arrangement. It reminds me of my experience as a storeman and general-purpose pinball during national service. Now that I have had some time to reflect on my experiences, I realize that Basic Training (which I uniquely only got to do towards the end of my military service) was the most meaningful and enjoyable part of my entire NS experience. Yes, I had less free time, but there was something about it- being a part of a unit, having a schedule to follow (and making it), getting things done together, knowing in advance what needs to be done- it was physically tiring but it was a beautiful experience.

In contrast, being a storeman-in-limbo was mentally exhausting. I’m not saying that being a storeman itself is exhausting- what was exhausting about my unique circumstances is that it was never clear how long I was going to be staying in any particular position for any period of time. While I was with the Commandos, I couldn’t fully invest in my experience because I knew I would have to leave sooner or later- I just didn’t know when. Same thing happened over and over again as I got posted around. I couldn’t set roots in any particular unit (though I still have a soft spot for my very first HQ CDO family).

I feel for military brats and other kids that have to travel regularly/endlessly, never being able to take root anywhere. (Though I suppose if you’re travelling around with the same people, you’ll at least be able to take comfort in your relationships with them- in my case I was being bounced around a large organization and my teammates and superiors would change every time. I learnt to detach myself from my experiences.

I enjoyed all the little interactions I had with all the men (and women) I encountered with over the years- I’ve been reading Jane Jacobs and she describes how, when a street kid gets disciplined or scolded by a public figure (like the owner of a shop), not only does he learn to avoid trouble, he learns that there are people out there who care about what happens to him. And this is a sort of social, public education that you can’t pay people to give- because it’s the concern or interest of people who AREN’T being paid to take care of you- that creates the intended educational effect.

Similarly, my NS experiences taught me that most of us are quite alright, we all have the same hopes and dreams and fears…

I didn’t finish this, I had to go away halfway. But This will make it cross 1,000, and I got to keep going. Keep going.