(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

2018, shall we say, was a year of polarities. It was equal parts confusing and clear. It taught me lessons on opposite ends of the spectrum, and it brought me joy that wouldn’t be contained and despair that seemed endless. All of this, of course, resulted in growth so rapid that I seemed to be a different person week to week. I seem to have come out fine on the other end, though, so I’ll just call it the year of the Hadron Collider.

First, Some Facts
  • Completed a record low number of Harvard courses, which I am not proud of and absolutely dying to get back to.
  • Moved out of my parents’ place!
  • Became mum to two little ones that have completely taken over my life.
  • Read a total of about 5 new books. Yes, shocking. I’ve reread quite a few volumes though! Nothing like comfort reads to go home to when things get overwhelming.
  • Travelled to Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan (Taichung and Taipei) in addition to the usual haunts Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Vietnam for work.
  • Took on new titles at work, and with that, more opportunities poured in.
  • Ventured into new businesses that will continue to grow in 2019.
  • Landed two features in major newspapers for the team!
ON WITNESSING

OK, so I can’t not talk about the two little ones that have entered my life. I would like to say they are a huge investment and that I would love to have some more spare cash in my life. I would like some more time, and I would love to have my space back to myself. But good grief, the love they give. It seems every cell in their body is primed towards loving, and every bit of love I can give never seems enough to what they give and promise to give me.

And so I learnt to juggle. I learnt to juggle between my priorities to make sure I don’t miss out on key moments in their life. I made a commitment to love them, and I will continue to do so to the end of my life. If that means taking the day off at 4:30PM and coming back to work when they’ve gone to bed at 11PM just so I can bring them somewhere, I’ll do that. If it means spending more money on a car (and less on everything else) so I can ferry them around to spend time with them, I’ll do that. If it means making special arrangements so they can have their needs met, including building an ecosystem around them, I’ll do that. Whatever it takes to witness the best of their lives. And to give them the best of mine too, not just the end-of-day moments when I’m already tired. It has been oh-so-rewarding.

Apart from my two little loves, witnessing the life of those around me has brought more clarity and questions to mine too (see, year of polarities). I used to believe there is one most efficient and effective way to live, and so I pushed and pulled people that I believed had potential to those high-and-far-away places with me. That often resulted in deep frustration on my part and lots of confusion on the other party’s part. The paradigm shift came when I realized not everyone optimizes their life for efficiency and efficacy. Some do it for happiness. Others for money. And yet others for impact. And these things can sometimes compromise efficiency/efficacy, and my job in their life is to bear witness to who they were, who they are and who they can be. To remind them of all these. Instead of dragging them on a journey, to let them walk it with their own two feet and be there to gently, quietly and humbly witness. I hope this makes me a better friend, mentor, daughter, partner and confidante. 🙂

ON CHERISH

Cherish came from a book I read by Gary Thomas earlier this year that completely changed my ideals on relationships. For the first time, nobody was telling me how to save the relationship. It taught me how to maximize the relationship and I remember going, “Damn, this is exactly what I was looking for.”

Where my vows now stand at loving, honouring and cherishing, it used to be simply, I’d love you. Love is not enough. It will never be. I find that honour and cherish come in where love sometimes fails to fill the gaps. And this year, I learnt exactly how far the gaps in love can be.

From a very early point in our lives we are sold the concept of romantic relationships to be something (whether it’s something to be spurned, achieved or acquired as a hygiene factor in life), and many of us try to tick off the checklist. For me, I always dreamt of being with my best friend, and I’m glad that’s how it turned out, but best friend doesn’t cover the other spectrum of identities you would want a life partner to take on. In 2018, I discovered, your relationship is yours to define. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself, but how far have you pushed it? I pushed mine to the extreme — we dissected identities, we analyzed childhood dreams, we pursued ideals and scratched off many an experiment. At the end of this incredibly painful but enriching journey, we finally have an iteration of what could sustain us for a lifetime. Something that’s growth-oriented. Something that doesn’t promise clarity, but promises presence. Something that meets both of our ideals without sacrificing each others’ interests too much. Something that doesn’t combust every other day. Something that promises to not just love, but to honour, and not just to honour, but to cherish.

I’m excited for 2019 and the iterations it will bring. We’ve come across so many no’s that it’s hard not to say yes. We’ve never been conformists and probably never will be. It will be the path less taken and that’s bound to be prickly and possibly quite emotionally lethal. But time and time again we’ve managed to find true north simply by looking inward and choosing to go all-in once more, and I’m confident that it’ll carry us forward (even if for 75% of 2018, I wasn’t quite so confident :P)

ON THRIVING

Thriving leads us to what I call man’s meaning in life: work. Work was such a journey in 2018. I began the year in a role that I was struggling to find value in, even if I enjoyed it immensely. Chief of Staff is probably the title of all the one’s I’ve taken on before that has stuck closest to heart — I loved not being in the limelight and being able to very simply just get things done. The drive to get things done, to get things moving and progressing is a very central theme in my life, and the title Chief of Staff gave me the wherewithal to do that, with the ability to reach into any part of the business I wanted to. I loved being able to jump in a firefight. I relished the vision that I would lead a team of super-capable executive assistants and just go around resolving bottlenecks. And yet despite the satisfaction, Chief of Staff seemed to me more like a luxury than a necessity. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I could contribute value if I wasn’t particularly skilled in sales, had lost touch with hiring, and was absolutely hopeless at project management.

And thus I became a very reluctant CEO. All the problems that I had dealt with as Chief of Staff became magnified as CEO, because now, it was my company. The loneliness settled in almost immediately, the chilling knowledge that nobody cared, and nobody would care about the company as much as I did. In leading previous ventures it had never been so acute, and I found myself yearning for someone to relate and to empathize. Thankfully, my pillars of support were always there when I needed someone to just bounce emotions or ideas off of, but the suddenness of the change also forced me into action and lifted me from the monotony that the first half of 2018 brought.

The second half of 2018 could be summed up in one lesson, concisely and succinctly put in one of David Whyte’s poems, “Sweet Darkness”:

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
 confinement of your aloneness
 to learn

anything or anyone
 that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.
- David Whyte, Sweet Darkness (River Flow)

Learning the significance of this wording changed my outlook on work forever. “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive” is very specific. Hatred of what other people were doing, no matter how justified, doesn’t bring me alive. Neither does frustration at stifling processes. Hitting back when people tried to wound me didn’t bring me alive. And thus, as I concluded, they were too small for me. I learnt this even as I realized that trust must be given cautiously (does it feel like I’m learning life lessons in reverse?), that to some being two-faced can be a legitimate way of surviving and there’s nothing wrong with that, that to others growth can be a murky word, but then again maybe status quo is a personal choice that shouldn’t be immediately and irrevocably struck off anyone’s list of options.  The conscious shift in mindset from one of focusing on every fight turned into one of focus. Focus on impact. Focus on achieving what is core to my identity, things like changing the way work is fundamentally done and measured, things like making an example of balancing work with my priorities at home, things like nurturing and nourishing the desire to contribute to a cause bigger than myself. The same laser-like focus that led me into countless circular arguments both in-person and in my mind could be redirected to constantly acquiring knowledge on problems that interest me, even if I’m not working on them directly, such as food sustainability, social mobility, and what true value means in a capital-driven economy.

Travelling a lot this year helped with broadening my horizons greatly — as long as I’m going out of Singapore, it is never stress-free, so achieving a net gain on any travel is rare to begin with. Having said that, the Hong Kong – Taiwan – Korea trips this year were truly eye-opening in terms of people we met. Many outstanding founders, VCs, LPs, business people from all walks and sorts converging on one trend, blockchain, and its potential in their industries. Learning how they’ve historically conducted business, getting an industry 101, and hearing them speak of their aspirations for blockchain in their businesses gave us so much more data to be able to think about and expound from in our own. Those insights have been very valuable, but what cannot be valued are the friendships that sprung from the community. I’ve got a feeling I’ll be seeing all of them a little while longer 🙂

2018: CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

2018 has brought incredible pain. Pain that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. But then again, which year hasn’t? Some years more than most, but those are the years in which I grow more than most. And in a life where I’m optimizing for efficiency & efficacy, I can see that the end goal is, ultimately, growth. To continue building a philosophy around life itself. I will never prize joy over pain, and I will never, after the lessons of 2018, choose confidence over humility and things that are too small for me over the greater things in life. In 2019, I choose the thousand unstable probabilities over the one stable truth. I choose to witness, to cherish, to thrive. And most of all, I choose arete.

Adieu, 2018! I finally feel like I can properly let you go now. 🙂

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