038 To Live Longer, Enjoy Work A Little More

I have long discovered that skilful performance at work is a great source of happiness. This week, I would like to share a personal experience about discovering joy from work.

  • Ready Or Not, The Heat Was On!

My voice was broadcast via the FM radio waves four days ago. It was supposedly a 10-minute interview strictly based on pre-determined questions. Nothing to be worried about. I was constantly reassured prior to accepting the interview.

But it turned out to be an exhilarating 20-minute-conversation that was totally un-cuffed from the onset. Just minutes before stepping into the studio, the affable DJ said,

“I am thinking of taking this angle for our conversation. Tell us about the onslaught of technology on education. And how your company stays relevant with all these changes.”

Great questions. The only problem was I had no answers on the spot. Time to think on my feet quickly. Ready or not, the heat was on.

  • A Triumph Over Personal Shortcomings

More questions came fast and furious. Thankfully, my thoughts flowed logically and words came out coherently. At the end of the interview, my mind blanked out like a flattened battery.

Throughout the interview, friends and family were cheering for my better-than-expected performance.

I decided that the clear-headed thing to do was to listen to the recording carefully myself. Be my own critic. Not surprising, I found problems: traces of Chinese accent, pronunciation errors and awkward pauses.

A good friend and the best English teacher I know, Christina Yee who often corrects my English at my request, was delightfully candid in her comments,

“You sounded composed and confident. Diction was clear too. (But) there were grammatical errors. As for pronunciation, since you’re in the education business, there is one word, you must get it right. Children is to be read with a “d” sound, and not to be pronounced as chilren.”

That was exactly the kind of feedback I needed most. I am not someone easily embarrassed by mistakes. I had experienced more embarrassing moments.

Another friend Jessie reminded me of the problems I had with the sounds of “l” and “r”. Seven years ago, when I asked students to clap for others in an award ceremony, it sounded just like I was saying, “Crab, please.” Oh no! (laughs).

Nonetheless, I have found great satisfaction in this triumph over my flawed spoken English. Finally, I did it!

  • Joy At Work Comes From People Who Mattered

Preoccupation with my short-coming, however, created unnecessary anxiety that almost distracted me from focusing on what’s truly important. What mattered most was for who and what I had to say.

That was the sound advice from a friendly neighbour Gillian whom I spoke with at the gym a day before the interview. Citing an example of a pastor who is less-proficient in spoken English but wins over his congregation with clear messages delivered with conviction, Gillian cleared the clouds in my mind.

Taking her advice, I cast my misgivings aside and focused at organising my thoughts in concise words, which paid off handsomely in the end.

A big thank you to my supportive friends and families. Special thanks also go to those at the workplace who have helped make this interview a success! I feel so blessed to be in the company of so many wonderful people! And the feeling of continuous self-improvement because of so many people is simply great!

William W.K. Tan

31 March 2018, Saturday

11:00 pm

011 What Happened Over Ten Weeks Of Blogging

Ten weeks has passed since I started blogging. Here are the results.

What these figures mean to me are:

1. Blogging checked!

Eleven posts published over a time span of 10 weeks! That means I managed to write consistently an article every week without fail. I guess, I can now tick off blogging on my bucket list.

2. A Great Start!

Together, the blog attracted 600 visitors and almost twice as many views over a period of 10 weeks. That translates to about 60 people reading the post weekly, and it seems that you like it enough to read it more than once.  This is surely an encouraging start for a beginner blogger!

  • Harvesting of friendship

You are among the first who I have invited to my blogging journey. I have no idea how long I can continue and how far it will take me. But I know that I am already enjoying this journey because of you.

Many of you are kind enough to message me your thoughts and feelings after reading my blog, which has become the part I enjoy most after publishing each post. Such exchange got us to know more about each other in barely 2 months than we did in years.

I believe the greatest gain I get out from blogging is the harvesting of friendship. Long-lost friendships are reignited, existing friendships are growing and new friendships are flourishing. In effect, it even bring joy to home, workplace and the neighbourhood.

  • At Home 

My 11-years-old son was pleasantly surprised that his Dad blogs. The first thing he said after reading my blog, however, was a word of caution, “Dad, you really have to be careful with your grammar and spelling.”

I laughed heartily as I knew he would say that. But the best part was the conversation that followed.

After reading my struggles with friendship in post 06: “Lessons on Friendship”, my son felt comfortable enough to share the problems he faced with making new friends and keeping old ones since he changed school almost 2 years ago. 

Like father like son, I thought. We cherish friends, but not adept at the art of friendship yet. Nonetheless, having a heart-to-heart conversation with my son really made my day. 

  • At Workplace 

When my colleagues read about my plight of being all alone in hospital for days (Post 06: Lessons on Friendship), the most laughable response was “I will surely visit you the next time you stay in a hospital!” 

The same post also generated other more thought-provoking responses. A friend shared how betrayals by friends in business had made him wary of friendship. Another friend told me she concluded that maintaining friendships are futile endeavours, which is why she is learning to enjoy being alone. I would never know all these struggles they have outside work if they have chosen not to share with me. Instantly, I felt their trust in me.

Although we share different views about dealing with the challenges about friendship, their candidness allowed us to foster mutual trust and develop a deeper appreciation of one another not merely as colleagues, but also as friends.

  • In The Neighbourhood

All this while, I enjoy a cordial relationship with my neighbours. We greet and smile whenever we meet. But we seldom make conversations, as everyone always seem to be in a hurry. Things went up a few notches since I shared my blog with a few friendly neighbours. Just a couple of days ago, we shared a cup of tea together!

After I posted on a homemade remedy (post 10 “Homemade Remedy: Tangerine Peel Brown Rice Tea”), I was delighted that a neighbour texted to ask if she could sample it. I was more than happy to share with her and another neighbour who we regularly meet in the gym.

My neighbour reciprocated by sharing her own concoction of homemade “Bentong” ginger tea (ζ–‡ε†¬ε§œθŒΆ) which happened to be one of my favourite teas. And through her, I got to know another neighbour who generously shared his testimony of an effective detox program that he had undergone in Thailand recently. These are small acts of kindness that got started when people start to know each other better. 

My neighbour and a new-found friend C told me his observation, “By opening yourself to others through your blog, you are also encouraging others to open to you. It takes a lot of efforts and courage to do so, but it is really good.” 

  • Using pockets of time 

Not to over-exaggerate my efforts, blogging is actually quite manageable. You might be wondering how much time I spent on writing each blog post. Well, it really depends on the topic, mostly between 1-3 days. I simply write as and when there are pockets of spare time and work towards a self-determined deadline to complete by Wednesday.

Mostly, I make use of the time when commuting to work on public transport. I also blog often at the airports and on flights when travelling overseas. So, the trade-off I made on blogging is lesser time spent on online entertainment, but the returns have been tremendous.

William W K Tan 

20 September 2017

Written in Mumbai, India.

Personal Notes:

Trapped in the hotel now because of heavy rain. Schools are closed and flights disrupted. Hopefully, get to return home on schedule tomorrow.

006 Running Out Of Friends

I never quite know how to make a convincing argument for spending time on friends, especially over family. After all, the truth is no matter how strong a friendship can be, its significance seems to pale in comparison to family ties. 

  • What are friends for?

Yet, we instinctively understand that friends are necessary for human flourishing. At the very least, the presence of friends provides a sense of familarity and safety that is needed for harmonious co-existence. And at its very best, friendship can blossom into a springwell of goodwill and strength derived from the extent friends are willing to do for the sake of friendship itself. At any rate, it seems self-evidently true that a life nourished with friends is more satisfying than a life without any.

  • Will you regret not spending more time with friends?

Still, maintaining friendship is a tricky business. Most friends come into our lives by chance, and often they slip out of our lives as and when they like.  Along the passage of time, people find new friends to replace old ones, as if the former is a convenient substitute for the latter. Friendship is seldom enduring and its transient nature casts serious doubt on the value of spending time on friends. 

Out of practical considerations, prudence teaches us to spend time on only a handful of chosen friends, rather than counting the headcount of friends one may collect. However, only time can discern lifelong friends apart from the passer-bys. As time passes, we may find ourselves losing more friends than we can handle, especially when even the most cherished ones are gone unexpectedly. No wonder one of greatest regrets people have at old age is said to be “not spending more time with friends” when they could.

  • Running out of friends

I did not realise my folly of not spending adequate time with friends until quite recently.  In a self-imposed exile for nearly a decade, I had skipped every class reunion with old friends and turned down almost every invitation to social gatherings that might rob whatever precious time I could give my family. And neither did I made any effort to connect with friends using social media. Soon, the number of friends I had dwindled drastically, and alas, eventually the phone calls I got outside work and family, were only those from the representatives of bank institutions and insurance companies.

I was unalarmed with the dearth of friends until I was hospitalised one year ago. Lying on the sick bed for five consecutive days, each day passed with my longing for the company of friends grew stronger. But no one came, not even a single colleague from the workplace. I realised, at that instant, workplace friendship is fundamentally different. I understand why people prefer to keep private and professional lives separate, but I couldn’t help feeling sad as there are colleagues that I genuinely like and count as friends.

In desperation, I called up a close friend since college days, “Hi, buddy, I am in a hospital for a surgery. Nothing serious really. Just thought if you have time for some catching up.”  I felt somewhat embarrassed.

To my delight, my good old friend visited me immediately without hesitation and I enjoyed his company tremendously. Thank you, my friend, I will never forget. And thank god, I  still got one friend left, I thought. 

  • How did I run out of friends?

How did I arrive at such a dismal state? You might have already guessed the reasons: Marriage, Parenthood and Work. On hindsight, however, I realise the root cause was something else– a lack of proper appreciation of friendship.

Entering marriage and parenthood in my early thirties, I was prepared for a reconfiguration of my social life to fulfill my new-found duties as a husband and a working father. What I was unprepared for was the double whammy of my first-born child being diagnosed with developmental disorders and an abrupt change of job nature that increased the frequency of my overseas travels sharply. My life tailspinned into chaos before I could put home and workplace back into order after years of efforts. Spending time with friends became a luxury that I could ill-afford for a long time.

  •  Lesssons on friendship from friends

Although I was once near the brink of bankruptcy on friendship in the domestic front, I have made some unexpectedly enduring friendships abroad over those years, and am starting to see some good results at home ground in recent months after making changes.

Among my new-found friends and old ones, some have become my mentors and counsels, and a few others see themselves as my apprentices. It all started as purely work relationships, but have blossomed into something more because of shared values and mutual trust. Having like-minded friends at work is enjoyable and raises productivity. Even after the work is ceased and people have parted ways, the relationship will continue to grow as long as both parties develop a genuine liking for each other to make continuous efforts to deepen the connections. 

I have learnt a few precious lessons from these friends, both new and old:

1. Friendship enriches a person and becomes an asset only when it is based on shared values and mutual trust.

2. Workplace friendship may turn into a liability only if it is grounded on convenience and calculated interests.

3. One must genuinely like a person, whatever the circumstances, to become lasting friends.

4. Do not mistake reciprocity of kindnesss as a transaction of give and take. Friends are willing to give and give for the sake of friendship alone.

5. Your friends may not always be there for you when you need them most. But if you truly cherish your friends, you can feel their presence even in their absence.

Thank you all for encouraging me to keep on writing in your WhatsApp messages. Please share your comments here or chose to follow my blog if you find it thoughtful and sincere enough.  I am curious to find out also for how long and how often can I keep up this efforts to share with you, my family and friends.

William W.K. Tan

16 August 2017 10.20 pm