The clearing that lead into the light

The last two weeks saw me dedicating my time to serving the nation. Those two weeks being away from my job, be with friends who served with me during the two years of national service and doing light duty had allowed me to clear my head and helped raise my mood. Of course I won’t say it was a perfect streak. There were days when I had low mood, but with my friends around, I still felt better as compared to what I have gone through for the past four months.

That’s where the title of this entry came from. My head felt lighter and clearer. I’m less withdrawn too. In hindsight, this whole episode can be seen as part of my growing pains. Yes, there are antidepressant and therapy sessions involved but at least I’m proud that I didn’t take the easy and irresponsible way out. I saw that I had a problem and needed professional help. So I went to get it.

And I’m not going to compare myself with others. Everyone has got their own strengths and weakness. I’m not a genius, the fastest thinker around or the best performing employee of the year and I’m not going to proclaim to be any of those. I’m just going to focus on what I do best, be humble, develop more skills and bring them to the table to contribute in whatever way I can. Comparing is just a waste of time and being sensitive to the result of comparison is one of the few contributing factors that let me down this dark path. Right now, all I ask is people giving me the space and opportunity to learn and grow at my own pace.

Another good thing that came out of those two weeks was that I started a new writing project, which to me is a major win considering how worthless and useless I felt just a few weeks ago. Every setback was really painful for me then. And this time, instead of jumping straight into writing, I went the route of outlining and planning out my approach. Some lessons had to be learnt from jumping straight into a project without some sort of a plan and then failing not just once but several times over the years.

At first, I did it with pen and paper. Then I typed out the outlines and plan onto Apple Note. I’m still in the process of digitising the rest of the content. And when I do have some additional ideas, I will pen it down on paper first. Overall, this project is kind of like a phoenix rising from ashes because it is based on the previous project that I scrapped two months ago because I felt the story was heading in the wrong direction. The theme remained the same while changes were made to the characters and settings.

I’m also trying produce more useful, technical contents based on my professional experience. This, I believe, is a good way for me to communicate what I’ve learnt and in turn help others. Previously, I mentioned that I volunteered some of my time to write technical articles for a company. The process was enjoyable and I’d like to continue that for other companies too. I’m on a look out for such opportunity and will get in touch if I find that I can contribute in a meaningful way.

Lastly, I was officially requested to help out in another project so that the official deployment/rollout end of November can be as smooth as possible. There were enhancement and modification to be made for a specific module before the rollout. And I am the best person to do it because I was the one who designed, developed and supported that module since that project’s inception. Now, it’s all about clearing that last mile and seeing it through.

Dont wait

We spend a lot of our time waiting for shit to happen. It could be we are waiting for the bus to arrive at the bus stop, waiting for that cup of coffee or waiting for that friend to arrive for a lunch appointment.

In hindsight, it’s a such a tremendous waste of time. But here’s the thing. There’s nothing we can do about it. The things I mentioned are out of our control. It’s something that we have to learn to accept and let it happen.

Easier said than done, right?

I know. It’s difficult because I’m still struggling with that. As far as I remember, I like to control aspects of my environment so that I get what I want. However, age has this effect of showing you it’s just stupid. Attempting to control anything else but yourself will only make you miserable.

So… let’s give up our control and mindlessly wait!

Right.

It’s one of the stupidest choices you can make because you are giving up opportunities to grow.

For those who know me knows that I work as a software engineer. In this line of work, you can’t afford to stop. The moment you stop or get comfortable, you will be replaced by something new or fresh. Technology is progressing at an exponential rate. And this fact is what deter some people that I know from this line of work because it’s hard to have a decent life. At least based on what I’ve been told and personally experienced.

Even then, it didn’t stop me from falling into the trap of getting comfortable and doing what I already know. You see, I started out as a Java programmer, switched to C# and now wants to go back because I love that language more than any other languages I’ve used. Furthermore, I saw that it’s time for me to specialise.

But there was no action because I went with waiting. Didn’t go for courses any more or bothering to read up on the latest stuff. And I’m waited, stupidly might I add, for the opportunity to switch the programming language that I use. No more pet projects too.

And look at where it got me.

I couldn’t secure any job interviews with the companies I really want to join.

You might think this situation only applies to developers or engineering fields. Have to be very careful with that. Because, as far as I know, no business, field or industry remain stagnant for a long time. Everything is a fair game when it comes to disruption. Look at how Uber disrupted the transportation industry. Or AirBnb disrupted the accommodation business within the tourism industry.

So the question is, are you going to wait until the day you are disrupted and find yourself out of job?

I for one don’t want that to happen.

So, it’s time to start from scratch again to build up my experience with the programming language I began with.

And no more waiting!

This is why I’m spending time to read up on Java again and using it to build pet projects. It doesn’t matter if the project idea has been done to death by other programmers. The key thing here is that you learn how to code in that language again to solve problems. You have to demonstrate to your future employers that you can write in that language without issue. And the good thing is I’ve got my own startup idea that I want to work on with my friends. It will be a great opportunity for me to practice.

Maybe for your case, you are working in a highly-specialised field and it’s not practical for you to be having a side business or side projects to learn or relearn skills that you don’t really use in your day-to-day job anymore. But it doesn’t mean you can’t learn other stuff. There are many other things that you could learn to make yourself a more well-rounded person.

For example, in this day and age, emotional intelligence is the most important skill anyone should have. Unlike technical skills, no amount of courses or seminar is going to teach you emotional intelligence if you don’t actively practice it in real life with your friends, family or peers. I for one know that I’m no good with that and it’s one of those things I’m constantly learning during my day to day work and interactions. Because I know that if I don’t work on this, I will alienate a lot of people and make it hard for people to work with me to achieve some goals. I can’t wait for something really bad to happen before I start practising.

Or, here is another example. Maybe you find that you are a very creative and chaotic person. You don’t really plan anything out because it doesn’t seem to affect your work. Yay, you are a pantser of sort. high five Therefore, you don’t really bother yourself with it. But does it mean you wait for something bad to happen before you learn how to be organise?

Because you see, having the ability, or some resemblance of ability to plan, is very important to achieve goals or targets. I’m a pantser and acknowledge the importance of basic planning. I do that from time to time if not my work process will be very chaotic. And the ability to plan or be organise could be the difference between you and some other creatives who are trying to show secure some sort of contract, sales or opportunities.

So what you could do is to go for courses on planning or even do it in your daily life. Like your groceries. Or getting the tools you need to do your work. Or plan out your finances. Whatever it is you can find to practice planning, just do it.

Don’t wait for things to happen. It might already be too late. Do it now.

You deserve it

When you live with low self-esteem your whole life, there are many times you just feel like you don’t deserve good things in your life. Good things like a good salary from your full-time job, a bunch of great friends, or an abundance of opportunities.

It can stemmed from constant exposure to comparison with relatives and friends in terms of education, wealth, the house you live in, the type of clothes you wear, etc. Or it could even stem from how you are talk at by people around you.

And so over time, you believe that you actually feel like you are nothing and whatever you do don’t amount to anything. So you put in less effort and feel depress. Ultimately, you find yourself making decisions and take actions that feed into this vicious cycle of diminishing your sense of worth and value.

You know what? You probably deserve that because nobody can really make you feel that unless you allow it to.

I know because I allow that to happen in my life. I allow people to tell me that I’m worthless and useless until the point where I believed them. And so my actions actually reconcile with those beliefs. It also affected how I negotiated for things in life. And the biggest pain point stemming from that is how much you are paid for the work you do.

It’s actually rather embarrassing to admit that I undervalued myself in terms of my salary because I thought that I don’t deserve the higher pay because I concluded whatever I did before landing at my current job was useless and non-transferrable. I came to believe that my short stint at my previous company meant I don’t deserve the higher pay.

And it came to bite me in the ass recently. The news and what my friends have been saying about the state of the industry and how well other software engineers are paid finally got to me. I feel like I’m finally not paid what I’m worth. And then there’s the realisation that the things I do are really too simple. Yet, I didn’t want to take on more stuff because I thought I wasn’t paid for it. Honestly, it’s an interesting contradiction to see and the motivation to do anything really takes a beating from going through this.

Now that is really a stupid thing to do.

It’s the truth that the biggest hurdle to anything you want to achieve is yourself. You just have to believe in yourself and your ability to take on anything. If you have been doing something for years and years, honing your skills repeatedly and going for various kind of training, there’s really nothing out there that you can’t solve. All you do need is trust yourself to solve it using whatever resources at your disposal.

This was why I finally made the leap to quit my job last Friday. I feel like it’s probably time I take on something more challenging typically found in a startup environment and expanding out from just purely development role. Mentoring is something that I can consider doing. So now I am currently serving out my two months notice period. My manager, of course, is now attempting to retain me by throwing in a bunch of carrots. I will adopt a wait and see attitude to that but deep down, I really doubt the company’s ability to meet my request. Thus, I didn’t stop searching for new jobs. What is depressing is that I haven’t been getting any response from potential employers. However, I can’t give up just yet.

The key take away is this: believe in yourself, push yourself out of your comfort zone by a little and adopts a growth mindset, you probably deserve whatever good things that’s to come your way. Just ask for it, and you shall receive. Even if you didn’t, you also won the game. You won by stopping yourself from believing you deserve nothing good.

To grow, just 5 percent more

Personal growth is really just an umbrella term for improving oneself across different aspect. It could be your skillsets, knowledge, interpersonal relationship, emotional intelligence, and many more. Depending on the aspect that we want to improve on, we could go for short courses, get advice from friends and have them monitor our progress, or even learn it from videos indirectly.

Many times, we fell into the trap of attempting to grow quickly when we were at the beginning of that journey. There could be many reasons for that. The best reason I could think of is, impatient. The other reason is spite.

And I’m writing from my own perspective because those are the two reasons why I want to grow quickly despite it being irrational and not practical.

You see, it all stem from being hurt when someone points out a flaw, mistakes or something that you have or made. Then you feel like you want to shut them up for good and shove their words back down their throats. And so you went full swing into fixing the flaw or mistakes someone mentioned.

At first it would go well. You are happy to practice. But it won’t last long. The passion or the drive to change just fizzle out one day. Nothing sticks. Your old habits come back again. Mistakes happen again. And the other party wins.

Or in other words, you dropped out of the infinite game all because you don’t understand or get the real why you need to improve on certain things. You had failed to reconcile the purpose of the change with your personal ‘Why’. So, your attempt to change in such a short time is simply playing the finite game to achieve the goal of proving the other party wrong just because you don’t feel good about it.

Therefore, it’s very important to calm down, understand what was the issue and how you can reconcile with your personal Why. By that, I mean how does that change or growing in that specific direction helps you with your personal mission.

After that, you can actually make plans so that you can improve yourself at a steady pace. And to make that growth even more effective, all you need to do is apply 5% more effort, energy, attention or awareness in whatever it is you are doing.

The idea of 5% more was introduced to me two years ago by an ex-boss of mine. It was from the book by Michael Alden called 5% More: Making Small Changes to Achieve Extraordinary Results.

Back then, he was attempting to get all of us to be at the top of our game. To deliver quality work. To be more resilient when it comes to stress, etc.

So I bought the book and read it because I really wanted to be better then. Only managed to read till mid-way of the book before I gave up. Since then, I have moved on from the company, had to deal with multiple episodes of situational depression, and went back to a software development role. And in hindsight, fictional books are definitely more interesting.

But I digress.

Even though I managed to read half of the book, the idea behind it was simple. In whatever you do, all you need to do is apply 5% more of whatever it is you need to. Time. Energy. Attention. Focus.

Let’s put 5% into perspective.

You have already spent an hour on a task to create a report and you are about to complete it. Just the last page. However, you decided to call it a day and go home. You promise yourself that you will come back to finish that last page the next day. The next day comes and then new tasks came in that are of a higher priority. The task you promised to finish yesterday now sit undone. Later in the day, your boss tells you he or she needs that report on the desk in five minutes time. So you scramble to finalise the report. But because you are in panic mode, you forgot what was the report truly about and now you have to spend more time to understand it first before finishing that last page.

Now what if you have spend 5% more time on that report the day before. 5% more time isn’t a lot. Considering that you have already spent an hour on it and you are left the last page. 5% more translate to 3 minutes. If you had spent that 3 minutes the day before, do you think you would suffer now?

And what about 5% more energy, attention or focus? If you apply it to your tasks, do you think the end result will be better? Maybe it could be a simple adding of margin to a report. It doesn’t take a lot of effort right? But it could potentially make it easier to read or more presentable. Your client could be subconsciously impressed. Or maybe you could have picked out several spelling and grammatical mistakes in your writing by applying 5% more attention to details.

If you are consistent with the application of 5% more as part of your personal growth, you may just find yourself putting out high quality stuff without even thinking about it. All because you have trained that muscle well.

Not to brat but this application of 5% more is how I am able to write better, cleaner codes than my colleagues despite being younger than them without being intentional about it and write out test cases that fulfil the criteria without much thoughts.

To achieve mastery is to do it for free

As they say, money makes the world go round. It is precisely because of this that most people chose to keep mentioning money as the most important thing in the world.

They are not wrong. Without money, there’s a lot of things that you can’t do. No food for you. No access to water. No house. No clothes. And you can’t even get anywhere on public transport if you are utterly broke.

But if you are an idealist like me and someone who put emphasis on the experience and lessons learned more than anything else, you can’t help but feel that the people around you are sick. Sick in the mind. It’s especially so if they mentioned that everything you do should give you money in return.

Let’s put this into practice.

If let’s say all your writings are behind a paywall. By that I also mean the very first article that you ever wrote to be published. Not only that, you have just also just graduated from school with a Degree in Creative Writing and have no working experience publishing a piece of writing for another person but yourself. And submission to the professor as part of your coursework is not counted.

What do you think will happen to you?

It would be very obvious that as a writer, you won’t be able to grow because no one will pay to read a newbie’s stuff. Not only that, the market is full of contents created by other writers and they are mostly free. So why should anyone pay to access yours?

For me, there’s an example I could use. For those who follow me long enough knows my day job is a software creator. My Honours Degree in Engineering (Computer Science) could get me through most doors of companies based in Singapore. But how did I graduate in the first place? Before entry, I spent time creating software, doing my own pet projects to experiment with something new. That was how it made me better than most of my peers when it comes to programming. If I hadn’t done that, I could honestly tell you I will struggle through the course. Even after graduating and working, I continue to spend time to read up on some of the latest development in technology and software.

And just over the weekend, I setup Docker on my Macbook and run a container inside of it. The container is host to the Microsoft SQL Server. And why did I do that? I wanted to understand what is Docker all about. Been hearing all about it but never used it anywhere during my work. And if I waited for my company to finally used Docker in one of their projects and have me onboard, do you think they would want me to play with Docker considering I have no experience?

Besides all that, do you know that I also mentor some of my colleagues in coding despite them being way more senior than me in terms of age and work experience. Auditing their code style is also something I do without really being “paid” for it.

Now, the big difference between them and me is the passion in software creation. To them, it’s just a job. To me, it’s part of who I am since I see myself as a creator. And to be any good, I have to continue to improve by learning anywhere and anytime I can. Same goes for my writing. Don’t even need money to push me forward.

With this, I hope you can see that to even be any good at what you do, you can’t expect to be rewarded now with money. You’ve got to have the interest and passion for the thing you are doing. Furthermore, life is all about playing the infinite game; to continuously grow and be better than who you are before. If you want to wait for money to spur you to do anything new, well, you will become stagnant very quickly.

And that is you playing the finite game.