Celebrating Friendships

A few years ago in 2016, deep in the throes of an existential crisis, I made a decision to begin making who I am on the inside align more with who I am on the outside. Having lived many years with a double self, one I showed to the world, and another I kept to myself; I felt lonely and pained that many people do not really know me.

I started this journey with apprehension. As I began to be more authentic about what I said and did with my life, I feared whether my friends could take the real me. My friend, Isobel, wisely gave me these words, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

It took effort and courage but I took mini steps to express my needs and wants more explicitly. If it was time for me to leave in the middle of a meeting, I tried my best to leave earlier. If I felt like eating something, I suggested the place. If I was asked to do something I did not want to do, I tried to say, “No.”

These changes were also reflected in more major life decisions, which shifted the direction of my life. For example, one of them was my recent decision to quit my PhD and leave my job. I may for a time thought that being an academic was what I had wanted to do, but I no longer thought this way, and so I honored myself by getting out of the situation.

The old me wouldn’t have entertained such a decision because she would have been overly worried what everyone but herself thought of it.

And could my loved ones take this new me? I was gladden to know that many could more than accept me. They supported and encouraged me on this transformation. They loved not just the me I was but the me I was becoming.

Today, I celebrate this with this photograph taken at the airport before I depart on my “re-set” trip to America (Thank you Christophe for this terminology!). I love this photograph as it represents friends from every stage of my life – secondary school, junior college, university, church, NIE, and freediving.

IMG_8254 (1).jpg

Many of you met me up and gave me gifts before I left. And many of you I unfortunately did not have the time to meet. But I was still overwhelmed by all your love and support. There’s too many of you to mention, but each act and word of kindness and support was received with much gratitude.

I want to say to you: Thank you for journeying with me and for loving and accepting me in so many ways. Thanks for liking my essence, who I am essentially, and being there with me. I also like your essence and I want to be there for you as you evolve into who you are becoming.

¡Muchas gracias!

Advertisements

Rebirth – A Renewal of Body and Mind

So I left my job and my PhD last November. Now, it is January 2019. About a month or so since then. What are some updates?

I am so happy to announce that the acne that has plagued me for almost a year because of stress is finally clearing up, and my skin is becoming clearer. New fine hair has also begin to grow on my scalp, where previously I experienced hair loss.

I have also ditched my Fitbit, which I bought last year to monitor my unpredictable and rapid heart rate, as I no longer need it. My body has become calm and I no longer feel anxious all the time.

This healing did not take place overnight after my last day at work. As you know, it took me awhile to find my footing after quitting my job. But as I took my body out of the environment that was causing it to wither and gave it time in a new circumstance… my body began healing on its own.

About two weeks ago, I also booked a one-way ticket to Guatemala. This completely changed the way I view my remaining time and life in Singapore. Realising that I only had about a month before I leave home indeterminately, made me value every “last” moments I have here with my family and friends.

Suddenly, there’s a heightening of sensations in each experience. I wanted to really experience being fully present with each encounter. I also became bolder. I said things with less filter to friends and strangers. I told people I wanted to meet them. If I want to say hello to an old neighbour, I said it loud and clear. I am less afraid of embarrassing myself or saying something inappropriate.

Life has become more beautiful.

I left my job and quit my PhD on a journey of healing and self-discovery “around the world”. I did not expect that even before I step foot out of my country, the journey has already begun.

A new season of life

Finally… a Sabbatical!

I’ve booked a one-way ticket and I have about a month and a half or so before I leave.

Together with my current shifting of my home, I have a newfound sense of purpose.

I am going to close a bank account, really “get rid” of as much possessions as I can. Oh man, you can’t imagine what a hoarder I have been. I am just too sentimental a person, and I have to learn to let go.

I have never left before and have never needed to do something like this in such a massive scale before. At my workplace, I did learn not to hoard because changing office was a hassle, the more possessions you own. Now, for my own life, this is even more important.

I also need to update my friends and prepare myself psychologically and physically. Physically includes determining what I am going to bring with me. I am a very light traveler. Because I’m small in size, I cannot carry many things. This would require some planning, like prioritizing light-weight items with more than one function.

I am lucky that I have learned how to take cold showers and I do enjoy them. Another part of the preparation is bracing myself to face whatever is to come in terms of conditions and being open about it. Because I am going to stretch out my remaining savings and make them last me as long as I can.

Psychologically, that one is the interesting one… To me, it’s the more important preparation. Some of you more logical minds, might not really understand what I have been doing. But it begin with me doing this Caliper personality test.

My really awesome and compassionate, consultant, Mabel, gave me such good advice that made me change my plans of doing another 5 years of study to what I am currently about to do – one year of traveling. Because I had done a similar test about 10 years ago, she compared my results and both revealed how burnt out I was. Gosh, I’m not going to live another 10 years and get another burn out!

Something has to change. It’s time to learn and grow and stop that pattern.

Another psychological preparation I did was to have an astrological consultation. I did not plan this in at all. I was brought up to be very square. My religious upbringing did not encourage me to explore spirituality in more open-minded ways. Yah, so this was surely the last thing on my mind. But, I found Robert Kimball, an amazing astrologer. Let me quote my review of him,

Stephan Arroyo writes that “the ‘astrologer’ is first and foremost a human being to whom others, for various reasons, look for help, guidance, and clarification”. I was fortunate that during a difficult time in my life, I discovered Robert by serendipity. He wisely and artfully related my birth chart to me, revealing not only great depth and breath of knowledge and experience, but also genuine compassion and empathy. He helped me to appreciate the complexities and challenges of my personality and opened my eyes to who I am truly meant to be. My time with Robert and subsequent ponderings about what he has said has given me fresh insights and new hope and courage to face my future.

Basically, what he did was to re-interpret my life for me. I can’t really put to words now how that was done or how impactful that had been for me. It was like he saw the big picture of my life when previously I could only see one dot at a time. He wasn’t put off by how complicated my birth chart was but helped me to see beauty in it.

Alright, yes, and the last thing I am going to explore is a Past Life Regression Therapy session. I know, you scientific minds will gawk at this point and wonder what the hell I am doing. I hope I don’t disappoint my Christian friends as well, but I am this open to new experiences! I am not afraid to follow my heart, test something and see what it really is, before making a judgment on it.

You know, since I left my job and my PhD, I have become a more open-minded (and happier) person. I have more time to explore and think about things. I feel that I am becoming more the person I was meant to be. I want to take this new person with me on my travels and continue to let her become who she really is.

I believe this is part of discovering my career-to-be.

 

The Importance of Groundedness

I thought of writing a blog post on this because it is difficult for me to describe how it feels like to be out of a job or unemployed. I feel up in the air. It is a period of uncertainty, where you have left your past but are not yet ready to step into your future. There is no schedule, except the one you make for yourself, if you make one at all. And here I am advocating that we make one, fitted just for ourselves.

Without one, I wake up in the morning and I don’t know what to do. I can do anything or nothing. There’s a sense of meaninglessness. It is not like those who have a job, they have an overarching purpose, and hence, structure, whether they agree to it or not. They wake up at the certain time, go to work, return, and then the cycle repeats, until weekends, where they relax, and the cycle repeats.

For someone without a job, there is no externally imposed structure, the one your work or boss sets for you. There is little difference between a Monday or a Friday, a weekday or a weekend. You don’t have to wake up at a certain time. It is easy to feel the aimlessness of life. And that was what I have been struggling with since I left my job until my good friend, Bee Li, gave me some support and help.

Bee Li sat with me after a day of me lying on my bed (with tears of helplessness flowing down my cheeks) and worked out with me some of my goals and purposes of this new season and to break them down into meaningful tasks that I can do to achieve these purposes. She asked me what do I need to survive the next six months. We came up with Finance, Emotional Support, Health, and Meaningful Task as four main categories.

Under Emotional Support, I have things like I will speak to my friends, I will meditate once a day, and pray; and under Finance, I have things like I will find a part-time job and I will spend money more cautiously. Meaningful Task is a big category that will involve me planning for my travels. It will involve me finding travel routes and making plans for them. It also involves me doing a lot of tidying up of my possessions and getting ready to be away for some time. While speaking to her, we also found out that my timeline of leaving Singapore in January was rather unrealistic because of the amount of things I needed to do before I leave. So that has been changed to February 2019.

So now, I don’t feel up in the air anymore. Each morning, I wake up knowing that each activity I do is fulfilling a purpose. For example, I went for a contemporary dance lesson today. Through this, I am taking care of my health and also doing a bit of self-discovery. (I never really danced before. :)) This activity is something that leads to me achieving a bigger purpose of this season of my life. Yesterday, I spoke with my boss to ask for a part-time job and I picked one I felt can reasonably fit into my plans. Again, I am working towards that bigger goal and purpose of this season by financing myself a little.

So, I wake up in the morning now, ready to face the new day. To me, this is groundedness – I do not do things randomly. The things I do are chosen and structured in a way that helps me fulfills my goals and purposes. It works both ways – my goals and purposes fuel my actions and my actions bring them to fruition. My head and heart are connected to my activities and plans. I am firmly planted on the ground and able to live and grow.

jyotirmoy-gupta-384342-unsplashPhoto by Jyotirmoy Gupta on Unsplash

Ended a Chapter

I’ve ended a chapter at my former work place – the National Institute of Education (NIE) on the 30th of November. I have worked there since 2010. It has been a very long time.

When I first started this blog, I was in the throes of the very first unemployment every fresh graduate would experience – when you seek your first job. This was the very reason why I started this blog, because I wanted to help myself and help others find their first job. I had very little confidence about my abilities. I think I look at jobs like it’s something grownups do and though I’m very grown up already, I sometimes still look at jobs that way. People work very hard, very professionally, and get very sick and tired from what they do.

I did not want anything to do with that. I wanted to love what I do. I am lucky that I found my job at NIE. It was here I learned to ground myself. I was too idealistic. At NIE, I learned to put my feet down and get my hands dirty doing the work – preparing to collect data, collecting it, reading literature, preparing literature reviews, reports, and journal articles. I was very lucky because I discovered I enjoyed writing and I had an ability to write. Besides the lovely colleagues and bosses I have, being able to write in my job was its saving grace. Because there was also a lot about the job that I didn’t like.

I got very comfortable, I was excelling. But the job became boring to me. I kept asking my boss for more opportunities and I even started doing a PhD. But… more than once, my heart cried out for a break. My heart plotted a sabbatical. My heart did not understand why my hands kept working when my heart was no longer there. My heart kept asking me to escape. My heart started to bleed. And I had to do something drastic, I felt, to rescue it. (If you’re familiar with the term, I had burnt out. And it had largely got to do with me hanging in there when I no longer wanted to do what I was doing.)

This was when I decided to withdraw from my PhD programme, something someone like me is not prone to do. I do not give up on my responsibilities halfway easily. I am usually very responsible. I like to finish what I begin. But it came to a point where I had to choose between my emotional health and physical well-being over being responsible to see something I have started through. I am not unfamiliar with anxiety or depression. I live with it all my life that I have constantly developed coping mechanisms and strategies.

But this time it felt different. I felt that whatever I was trying to do to cope was not helping. My emotional decline was fueling my physical decline, and there was very little motivation to help myself out of it. So at this point, I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to save myself, even if it meant starting all over again.

So I quit. I quit being a researcher at least for now. I don’t know if you realise how much courage this takes. I spent so much of my life trying not to be in this unemployed state because I really wanted to feel useful and I liked having achievements. But now, suddenly, I felt like I am back to square one.

I don’t sound very positive here, but I will try my best to rebuild my life and confidence one day at a time and I will try to chronicle my new journey on this blog.

I want to let you know that if one day this happens you to, whether deliberately, or accidentally… and you find yourself jobless with not much hope or confidence, that you too can find a way to rebuild your life, from wherever you are.

ryan-graybill-388794-unsplashPhoto by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash

Processing my thoughts…

The past few months have actually been quite emotionally destabilising for me. It is difficult to work when your heart is no longer there. It is very difficult for me to work. I am always very passionate and give my all. It is so difficult to have little to no interest to do my work. I realised it is hard for me to separate what I love from what I do. It is hard for me to just keep working to earn a living and then using the rest of my time and the money earned on things I enjoy.

Work, to me, must have intrinsic meaning.

But… I also learn, as I always do, something to wash down my idealistic passions, that life doesn’t always work that way. When I think about my constantly changing passions and how unreliable they are, and how I don’t seem to know what I want in life, they make me think I also need to be more strategic in my career choices and path and not easily give up something but to know what are the long-term skill sets I wish to keep with me or further develop so that I can rely on them to make a living.

So I have been ping-ponging between two ways of thinking. A deep desire to give up everything and leave and be as far away from my life here in Singapore as possible and a realisation that all that I have built up over the years here – my career, my friendships, are still important and relevant to me.

I’m asking existential questions on one hand, and on the other hand I have my feet firmly planted on the ground and thinking about concrete reality.

Maybe life is like that – it is a mixture of dreaming and awakening and just trying to hold both in a nice sort of balance or integrating the two.

I must say it is taking me quite some bit of courage to just continue living one day at a time. But I will do my best and survive!

I got news yesterday that…

My current job contract will end in December 2018. And this time, I have no intention of finding another job at my current workplace. I am prepared to let it end at this very place where it first started.

Why am I so sure?

I have periodically been thinking of changing my environment. It’s not that I don’t like my job or the people or the environment, but that I have gotten too used it to. There’s a need for me to try something new. A relocation to another country or a change in job scope appeals to me.

However, there is just one thing I need to bear in mind. I am currently pursuing my PhD at my current workplace (I work at a university), so I will still have some ties to this place and connection with my boss, who is my supervisor. I am not totally free yet, but once my contract ends this year, I will close a chapter that lasted 9 years of my life (if you include 2011 where I tried to leave but still did part-time work at this place).

Just how did I manage to stay so long at one place? I think I allowed fate and circumstance to lead me, rather than to actively decide where I wanted to go and where I would like to be. Making those decisions requires risk, which I have not be very willing to take for many years. I have been having a nagging doubt about myself that I can’t survive in that world out there.

But, this year (and next), I hope to be more brave and courageous, to put myself out there a bit more, to take some risks, and be willing to take some falls, to not be afraid to embarrass myself or make mistakes, in the pursuit of my dreams and desires.

There has been a desire within me to be in the news publishing industry – a safer desire would be to be a sub-editor, if they still employ such people, or a more dangerous desire would be some kind of journalist, though I know it’s a bit hard because I don’t have the required training. So that’s a possible option.

Another option that I imagined out of my hobby that I started in May 2017 is to be a freediving instructor. Though with a special touch – eventually I want to focus on how freediving can heal, freediving as therapy. This will align me with my persistent desire to help others, the reason why I have this blog.

And… like many girls my age, it seems, (oh, did I use the word girl on myself? I’m a grown up! A woman!), I still have a desire to work in a farm. I notice I am not the only person who has this desire. Maybe it’s a desire of people who grew up in cities and are detached from the natural life, that there’s something within us that keeps wanting to go back to the soil. So WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farms) is also something on my mind at the moment. I want to try growing my own vegetables and living a simple life.

So that’s me, doing a bit of dreaming. Let’s see how this will work out! Meanwhile, it has been a rather stressful period in my life, work wise. I have not been stretched in this manner in a very long time. But, I’m going to hang in there. December will soon come (if I do not die or get really sick before then) and then I can begin my new adventure!

Who knows, even maybe working at Starbucks (not that I like Starbucks, any cafe)?!

Small penguin swimming in water

Spreading my wings… to fly? to dive? to float?

Career Change?

I think one thing this blog never addressed is when is it time to leave? When do you decide a journey is to end and another adventure is to begin? When do we decide to change gears?

Sometimes we don’t get to choose. We get laid off. We missed a cherished promotion. Our relationship with our employers or employees take a negative turn.

Other times, it’s really up to us. Things are safe and secure, but maybe a little… boring. Should I stay on? Is it sufficient that this job brings in the money, and I’ll spend the rest of my spare time in more exciting stuff like hobbies? Or does the job need to be exciting too?

I never addressed this because I never had to change job. I think others my age are so much more experienced in this. I’ve been in the same job for almost 7 years. In this span of 7 years, many of my friends perhaps have already had 3 – 4 jobs. I think I am one of those rare breeds of yesterdays who kinda have something for loyalty and faithfulness to the company.

Or fear of leaving the shore, the comforts of a safe and sure environment, one you know the insides and outsides thoroughly. You already know how to play the game, you know how to win it. To go out there where you must figure out the rules once again…

That’s scary. That’s very scary.

I hope to give you an update soon, but there’s a burning desire within me for a career change. And if I do it successfully, maybe I will have more to share with you about this.

There comes a time when you wonder if these wings can spread and fly, and maybe you just want to test them out to see if they still actually can. Maybe I will fall to the ground in a loud thud. But at least I would have attempted to fly.

Parachute Lessons for the Job Hunt: Principles from ‘What Color is your Parachute?’

Job Search and Employment, Occupation Opportunity Classified Ad Newspaper Page

On 31 March 2017, the recruitment world lost a very important individual. Richard N. Bolles, author of the best-selling manual for job hunting and career changing, What Color is your Parachute, passed away at the age of 90. In memory of Mr. Bolles, this article recaps some of the key job hunting principles in his famous book.

Job Hunting is a Survival Skill

In today’s uncertain world, job-hunting is no longer an optional exercise, but a survival skill that is repeatedly used over one’s life. Familiar and frustrating to many of us in the working world is how our employers sometimes hire people who are poor fits for the job. This is a cruel but unavoidable reality as the one who gets hired is not necessarily the one who can do the job best, but the one who knows the most about how to get hired. Rather than lament about this, we can learn how the world of employment works and how to use this information to our benefit.

Think like an Employer

The way a typical employer prefers to fill a vacancy is opposite to the way a job seeker prefers to look for a job. To illustrate, a typical employer prefers a low-risk strategy of employing from within the company, someone whose work has already been proven. In contrast, job seekers generally prefer to use the resume as a means to find a job. An employer’s main concern is risk, reducing the chances that the new hire would be more a liability than an asset; while the job hunter’s main concern is time, wanting to reach as many employers as possible with a single resume.

Useful Strategies for the Job Hunt

Hence, some useful tips for finding suitable employment, include:

  • Focus your efforts on smaller (fewer than 100 employees) and newer firms.
  • Write resumes to get invited for interviews, not to sell yourself.
  • At an interview, the question “Tell me about yourself” is another way of asking, “What experience, skills, or knowledges do you have, that are relevant to the job I am trying to fill?”
  • The best time to negotiate salary is between the time the employer wants you and before they have gotten you, anything before that is too early, and anytime after that is too late.
  • During salary discussion, never be the first to mention a salary figure.

Knowing Yourself

Another important strategy is to take stock of who you are. A self-inventory reveals your multiple skills and experiences, enabling you to look beyond specific job-titles. This includes finding out who you like to work with, your favourite working conditions, what you excel in and enjoy doing, your mission in life, your favourite knowledges, level of responsibility you would like and preferred places to live. Use this opportunity for change to also seek a truer and more coherent life for yourself. As Mr. Bolles says in his book, “Make this not only a hunt for a job, but a hunt for a life. A deeper life, a victorious life, a life you’re prouder of.”

Compassion for Job Hunters

More than providing strategies and revealing to us how things work, Mr. Bolles was most aware of what job hunters often most need – encouragement, humor, and lightheartedness. It is easy to become overwhelmed and depressed when the job hunt stretches. He tells us not to be discouraged by turn-downs, as every “no” gets one closer to a “yes”. No two employers are alike, a rock to one employer, is a gem to another. Lastly, he reminds job seekers to practice self-care and to “never give up”.

Boxed Story

Richard N. Bolles first self-published What Color is Your Parachute as a manual in 1970 for unemployed clergy members. Since then, Mr. Bolles had re-written the book yearly since 1975, updating it according to the times, covering major events that shook the job-hunting world such as the 2008 financial crisis and the invention of the Internet. Unique to Parachute is the focus not only on the process of the job hunt, but also on the emotional and psychological labour that is involved in the search. As to how the book got its enigmatic name, it was Mr. Bolles’ playful response to people who told him “they were ready to bail out” of their jobs.

Stories and Selves

Young adults hanging out talking

I want to begin by proposing boldly that, in effect, there is no such thing as an intuitively obvious and essential self to know, one that just sits there ready to be portrayed in words. Rather, we constantly construct and reconstruct our selves to meet the needs of situations we encounter, and we do so with the guidance of our memories of the past and our hopes and fears for the future. Telling oneself about oneself is like making up a story about  who and what we are, what’s happened, and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

It is not that we have to make up these stories from scratch each time. Our self-making stories accumulate over time, even pattern themselves on conventional genres. They get out-of-date, and not just because we grow older or wiser but because our self-making stories need to fit new circumstances, new friends, new enterprises. Our very memories fall victim to our self-making stories. It is not that I can no longer tell you (or myself) the “original, true story” about my desolation in the bleak summer after my father died. Rather, I would be telling you (or myself) a new story about a twelve-year-old “once upon a time.” And I could tell it several ways, all of them shaped as much by my life since then as by the circumstances of that long-ago summer. (p. 64-65)

I find myself telling different people different stories over time about why am I in my existing career, why this particular half-time scheme, why am I pursuing a PhD on the side. I think our career and work takes up so much of our lives that it is useful to examine the stories we tell ourselves and others about them. There are those stories about how a child had a dream to be a doctor, to save lives, but thereafter on that path, through the backbreaking work and heart-wrenching encounters, realizes maybe medicine’s not for him or her; stories about how one really wanted to be a lawyer, a policeman, a teacher, but no matter how hard one tried, those doors didn’t open. The heart-aching stories of people who spent their whole lives pursuing a career that they knew they hated, but stayed on because of the fear of taking chances and because it paid the bills . And also stories of how people stumbled into a career they loved by accident. A letter written to the forum and then talent-spotted to be a journalist.

So many, so many possible interpretations of what is happening in our lives. This blog started out as a story as well. It was a story of a girl setting out to find a job, and how qualifications and a good CV were not enough, enough to get her interviews, but not enough to impress interviewers; and how finally a kind soul employed her (what a relief that not every boss goes for the brightest spark), and how she developed empathy for those who struggled to find jobs, because of her own struggles.

Reference

Bruner, J. (2002) Making stories: Law, literature, life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

« Older entries