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 will 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.


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

Capabilities, Expectations, and Limits

Ecker (1985) described three attributes of employer-employee relations (Figure 1). The first, employee capabilities, is the “sum total of everything the employee brings to the work setting which can be used to perform his or her assigned task”. The second, expectations, is the “employer’s standard of performance for the task”. The third, limits, is established by the employer, “a domain in which employee capabilities can be expressed and employer expectation can be realized”. In Ecker’s view, only capabilities is an established reality, and both expectations and limits relate to how that reality is dealt with by the employer. (I personally think that capabilities is not something fixed, especially from a skills-perspective, but a good boss and job fit, can greatly expand an employee’s capabilities.)

Ideally, all three attributes should have the same magnitude (Figure 1). Maximum performance and employee satisfaction is attained when the employee’s capabilities meet the employer’s expectations, and the limits set by the employer allow the employee’s capabilities to be fully expressed, and the employer’s expectations to be fully met (p. 104).

In a less ideal situation, the employer uses a management strategy – management by control – that does not allow enough space for the employee’s capability to be realized. This happens when the employer sets expectations that are beyond the employee’s capabilities, resulting in “the employee struggling constantly against unreasonable demands, and the boss perpetually frustrated with unmet expectations”. Then, the employer regulates by “setting limits on the employee’s activities within the job”, further hindering the employee from doing the job well.

In management by control, the three boxes do not coincide and may look like Figure 2. The result is that “not only are the employer’s expectations well beyond the employee’s capabilities, but the boss has imposed such tight limits that the employee is not even permitted to work up to the capabilities he has”.Figures

Even though, the goal of this section in the book was really to help employers, and consequently, employees, face less stress in the workplace, the reason I have extracted it and blogged about it here is that I find this model very beautiful, and helpful for thinking about job hunting or job recruitment. Perhaps, we can look at it this way, we want to find a job where our capabilities match up to the employer’s expectations, and at the same time, find a good match, in terms of someone who sets limits that are just right for us, and do not hinder the employee from bringing the best he or she has to the task. For the employer who usually only focuses on the potential employee’s capabilities, a good question to also ask is whether his or her personality, and/or the working environment, poses any constraints that limits the employee from shining and excelling. It is not always the employee’s fault when something goes wrong. A good employer will also examine his or her management strategy.


Ecker, R. (1985) The stress myth: why the pressures of Life don’t have to get you down. Herts: Lion Publishing plc, pp. 103-107


I’ve been doing a bit of tidying up during Christmas day and New Year day. Today, I started to put aside some of my church materials and University notes to be discarded. And it’s at this point in time that I realized, I am not going to be a:

  • Youth Worker or Church Staff
  • Sociologist or Historian
  • Biologist or Ecologist or Evolutionary Biologist or Naturalist
  • Urban Planner or Architect

I had kept the relevant notes from school, because I had harbored hope that if I had the knowledge in these fields, perhaps one day I could switch to one of these careers.

It is with some enlightenment and sigh of relief when I packed away these things, certain that these were not the paths for me.

Back then, I would have never guessed I would walk the path of an educational researcher. I would have never guessed I would be interested in Education.

I also noticed the common thread among those disciplines that caught my interest – what captured me was “structure”. The reason why I liked taxonomy, urban planning, and architecture was because I was fascinated by structure. I like things that had a fixed pattern to them. They were very beautiful to me.

*sigh* This year I’m going to be 30. And I guess, what I have helped myself to do this past 29 years was to eliminate those jobs mentioned above. I can be a hobbyist, to enjoy the fruits of those disciplines, but no, I will not pursue those as my career. Life has led me to be an educator, and though I scratch my head and wonder how can someone like me become an educator, I will embrace this path of life, until I receive further direction from above about where this path leads.

humiliation is temporary

… before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are created.

I love the fact that the word humus – the decayed vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants – comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility. It is a blessed etymology. It helps me understand that the humiliating events of life, the events that leave “mud on my face” or that “make my name mud,” my create the fertile soil in which something new can grow. (p. 103)

Palmer, Parker J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Vocation as a Gift

I just read this and am so touched by it. In my church, we celebrate individuals who are willing to give up a comfortable life and their careers to do missionary work. Last May, during our church conference, the visiting pastor challenged us, “Those who are willing to give up anything for God, come to the altar right now.” I couldn’t bring myself to go down, even as I watch the throngs of people strolling to the front. At that time, I thought I had finally found my calling in academia, I found a job that I enjoyed. I was willingly a workaholic because I loved my work. To be very honest to myself and God, if at that point God wanted me to give it all up, I would be quite unwilling. So I did not go down to the altar.

That concept of vocation is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be “selfish” unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.

Today I understand vocation quite differently – not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. (p. 10)

Regarding finding your true self, about what you were meant to do already written in your nature, as God’s message to guide you, I believe in that. Why is it that I so long to go overseas to live, yet I have friends who have that opportunity but so desire to stay put in Singapore? Is it something within us, guiding us. Why is it that some people try to hard to make it work out where they currently are, they have decided to stay put, and rejected offers from other places, but they continue to be so miserable? Bullied by one boss after another? Is it a sign that it is time to move on?

I gladly accept my vocation as God’s gift to me today. 🙂 And know, I will continue miles onward to find who He truly made me to be.

Palmer, Parker (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco

« Older entries