Dream Big Process


You know those conversations that take a total of 2 minutes, but stick with you for hours and hours after? I had this amazing conversation today with a teenager who is entering those exciting years of their life where everything is a new possibility for where they might find success. We were talking about dreams/goals for 2017 and this teen’s dream is to be the best in their class and to win a particular competition.

I suggested perhaps there could be other dreams/goals for 2017 that are completely within their control… Not an action that requires a competition to decide or a ranking to prove (because there’s always going to be some better and worse than us). I suggested a goal like the number of hours of practice each week, spending time actually enjoying the task at hand.

Well the conversation didn’t end very well because to this young, ambitious firecracker, it felt like I was raining on their parade of big dreams. This teenager was just going to do what needed to be done to be the best and win – and that’s that. Why bother with menial stuff like focussing on practice hours?

I want so much for those big dreams to come true. But I also wanted to share a leg up in life – big dreams are actually arrived at by process. I wish I knew that earlier. I wish I was choosing things as a teen because I enjoyed the actual task, not just the outcome.

Process isn’t just getting to an outcome, it’s learning to be on the journey, it’s learning to learn, it’s learning to master, it’s being ok with failures and triumphs along the way, and realising that there is no destination – there is no end because it’s all part of the process.

The thing that’s stuck in my mind from this conversation is my background knowledge about this teen. They are desperate to be heard – desperate for success so that they can claim their worth. But without this building block of knowing how to engage in process, every new dream for this teen is like a ‘get rich quick’ (or more like get skills quick) scheme. And when they inevitably give up after not getting their big dream outcome, it’s another punch to their already fragile gut.

This hasn’t been sitting well with me, because not everyone can have the privilege of years of musical lessons, or sports coaching, or language lessons. These seem to me as a common place for children to learn the starter skills of process, and without those experiences or similar influences in someone’s life, where can they learn process fundamentals?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that my tact will change, because I love talking to people about their pursuits. I’m going to start pronouncing that silent word that follows the phrase ‘Dream Big’. Because the real phrase, and the real path, to achieving goals and dreams is to dream big process.

I guess that’s where my head will have to rest at for the moment.

What do you think? How can the joy of process be shared if the glory of outcome is all we talk about? And what would you say to this teen?

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There’s an antidote to jealousy

I grew up a terribly jealous child, and I’m glad that it’s something I’ve found an anecdote to as an adult (there are happily far fewer tears over ballet trophies now). I put jealousy and generosity on the opposite ends of a scale, and I have found you can shift yourself to generosity either by effort or conscious choice.

The point of wanting to practice generosity is that ‘like attracts like’, and it’s hell of a lot more fun to be around generous people than jealous ones. Also, when you can be generous with others, you can be generous with yourself, and then failure isn’t such a big deal. I’ve found that loving the process (and not just the outcome) suddenly makes sense when I’m not constantly comparing myself. And strangely, when I love the process, the outcome is better in the end!

Getting to generosity by effort:

When you get to a place where you are working hard enough that you can appreciate the boundaries of your talent and time, you often find yourself able to praise and promote others. Because there’s no shame in knowing your limits after finding them, and there’s so much to appreciate about those who can go further. There’s no losing in that scenario – sometimes disappointment that you’re not the best – but always pride in your effort.

Getting to generosity by choice:

And when you are jealous and judgemental, there’s a lot of valuable information in there. What is it that you feel you could be good at, but aren’t making the effort to explore? Why are you feeling like you are in a zero sum game and someone else’s success is damaging you? When you can answer those questions, you’re well on your way to a better place.

Here’s the craziest thing of all – sometimes the answer to my jealousy question is letting go of ‘fantasy Sarah’ and the crazy ideas I have about how ‘fantasy Sarah’ should be living her life.

That’s where the choice comes in – if this is something that’s for ‘fantasy Sarah’ – can I let it go and be happy for others to pursue it? Because if the answer is yes, I can consciously choose to let this thing go, and what do you know, I swing back into generosity, because “good for them, it’s not necessarily something I would value and invest the time and effort in, but they certainly do, and look at them go for it!”

And if I can’t let it go, then it’s time to get to work (revert to option 1).

What this means for everyone

Well, I think this boils down to one thing – people may find themselves to be jealous and critical (it’s just one of those mosquito emotions), but it’s a choice to stay that way. There’s a certain freedom and dull responsibility when there’s always a choice, isn’t there?

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Forgiving yourself for your full time job

How amazing are biological rhythms that we just accept, like REM cycles, tides, moons, seasons – flowers that open and close at certain hours of the day. We say “yes of course, these things should have this rhythm because they are from nature and part of nature and are participating in the natural order of things.” But when it comes to ourselves, we forget we are from nature, we forget we are part of nature, we forget we are in a natural order of things. We must compete and fight and find glory and excellence in ourselves. We think we tap into our wild side, all the while forgetting what the wild is really like. A plant doesn’t strangle another plant for its own glory, it has no concept or interest in glory, it merely does so for survival. It is fulfilling the purpose of being that one particular plant. So why fight and work tirelessly to seek out things we neither need for survival or fulfilment of our purpose?
I’ll tell you why – because we hear about things like portfolio careers, and see the current dotcom boom as websites are snapped up for $1 Billion Dollars, and are people who have weathered recessions and GFCs and terrorism and wars on terrorism, and have seen the hard work of our qualifications melt into the new status quo, and can wake up and read the news, celebrity gossip and see our vain friend’s selfies all before 8am. The competition, the fear, the intensity, it’s all right there – a relentless beating of the drum. We keep getting told over and over that our purpose is not enough, that we need to aim higher, be harder, better, faster, stronger. ‘All’ isn’t the job and the family, having it ‘all’ is the job, the family, the blog, the daily jogs, AND the adorable dog.
I dunno, this is just a really long winded way of me saying, if you work a full time job, go easy on yourself that you’re not also writing a book and running a blog and living in a hospital-grade-clean house and having a fabulous social life to publish on Facebook. It’s ok to just do the simple things like surviving and fulfilling the purpose of being you. And survival doesn’t have to mean that whole bullshit happy clappy business perk up of ‘don’t just survive, thrive’ – it can also mean the very basics of being a human being – working for a roof over your head, food on your table, being with people you love and using your natural gifts for good. I have never looked at a plant that has survived an Adelaide summer and thought, “if only it had pushed itself harder.” I don’t know why I keep looking in the mirror and saying the same thing to myself.  
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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10 Ways to Cope When Change You Need Isn’t Happening

Maybe you’ve noticed a tweet here and there, or have read into a post of mine? If not, here’s my current predicament: I’m applying for my partner’s residency visa in Australia. It costs an arm and a leg to do, takes a century to complete, and damages the relationship you’re trying to preserve in the process. While you’re at it, they look into every single element of your life and you feel like a cadaver being cut open by med students, except your brain’s not dead. Basically, it’s shit. And I want it more than anything because I need to get off this island! I’m burnt out. I’m overwhelmed. I’m over it. I want to go home with my partner and start a better life.
This is a change I need. This is a change that I have set in motion. This is a change that is now out of my hands and going through the manual mincer with blunt blades called bureaucracy. And in the meantime while we wait (going on 8-9 months now), my head is slowing caving in. But as far as I can find, there’s very little advice on coping with change when it’s something you want and it’s not happening. There’s SO much advice on coping with change you don’t want. There’s a ton of advice on achieving change in your life despite adversity. But nada on dealing with your shit life while you wait, and wait, and wait for the change to maybe, perhaps, ‘this email will be replied to in the next 10 days’, ‘if you don’t reply within in the next 28 days…’, ‘I will be your new migration officer’, ‘I need further documentation on items…’, ‘this case is being transferred to office…’, ‘I will be your new migration officer’, ‘please quote your case number’, ‘I need further documentation on items…’, ‘please feel free to fill out an anonymous customer survey.’

So, they say “write what you want to read.” Here is what I wanted to read:

10 Ways to Cope When Change You Need Isn’t Happening

1. Get support for any addictions you may have. Whether it’s over eating, alcoholism or codependency, this shit is going to rear its ugly head when you face yet another set back (i.e. the document you have issued to the first migration officer isn’t complete enough for the third migration officer). Your support group will get you through this emotional mine before it starts becoming a destructive physical manifestation in your life. I don’t think I could stress how important this is to anyone. And if you are starting to notice things you used to control becoming uncontrollable under the stress, now is the time to seek support.
2. Block out the crap that upsets you about your current before-change-life. Those Facebook pages you ‘liked’ that roll a stream about how fucked up it is here, ‘unlike’ them. It’s just introducing more anger to your day. Those people who give you a look like you’ve started slumming it when they find out your partner is not the ethnic majority or white, cut them out of your life. Under racism simmers a waste-of-your-energy. I don’t listen to local radio, read local news, or look at local websites. For all purposes, Singapore politics and popular opinion does not exist to me. It may seem like ignorance and weakness, but right now I’m a mouse swimming in a bucket of milk – I need to focus on the swimming before I start panicking because I noticed that this milk has turned sour and will never become butter.
3. Stop dreaming about your after-change-life. Stop planning, stop meeting people in preparation for future networks, stop thinking about the logistics for moving, stop watching tv programs that trigger your dreams. You are in your current life, and it’s shit, but it can be made bearable if you work on where you are. The time for dreams and excitement will come when the change happens. In the meantime, you are intentionally taunting yourself with things out of your power to achieve. That’s a dumb way to live.
4. Take back the announcement about the change. Explain that there have been complications, and for the near future, at least 12 months, circumstances will not be changing in your life. Whether it’s true or not, that powerful sentence is the key to avoiding lonely times as friends prepare to move on from you and invitations dry up – haven’t you left yet? Put it on Facebook, tell it to people when they ask how it’s all going, and just make sure that the general vibe around your social life isn’t one of purgatory. 

5. Inconvenience yourself for your mental health. The most upset I’ve ever been was after shopping at the local supermarket. The rudeness, staring and being shouted at by the checkout-grandma (because she was annoyed I didn’t use a basket without realising she had collected all of them behind her), left me weeping uncontrollably when I got home. I don’t shop in the heartlands any more. I shop in the expat supermarkets that cost twice the money, have enough shopping baskets and the other customers have witnessed a blonde female before. I’m going to stop taking the MRT in peak hour too. It’ll take me triple the time to get home after work, but at least I won’t have tears in my eyes after yet another short balding woman places her whole body against mine and proceeds to drop her dandruff on my clothes. Singapore has a balding dandruff problem in its female population, I kid you not!

6. Step up your personal presentation. Start for the vanity, keep going for the sanity. Exercise, get your hair looking fabulous every day, exfoliate, whiten your teeth, plan sharp outfits, throw out old underwear, polish your shoes. Captive animals can still groom themselves.

7. Break the loop of mulling over the short cuts you could have taken to make the change happen already. I don’t want to convert, but under the Sharia Law enforced in Singapore, I would have to convert if I wanted to marry my partner. It’s an easy wound to pick at with thoughts of how much faster this migration process would have been (and probably far less intrusive) if we just had been married first. It’s a stupid wound to pick at. Acceptance of this shit situation is only going to come from acceptance over the path taken, and this includes trusting that you really did try to make the smartest decisions you could at the time.

8. Explore ways to practice peace. The discontentment burning in my belly is making me a very angry person, and anger makes me a bitch that nobody likes to be around. Practicing peace right now seems such a foreign concept to me, I am so angry about so much of my life. Religion isn’t my thing either. So I look to a man that inspired me so much as a kid; Nelson Mandela. He’s going to become my patron saint of acceptance and practicing peace. He sat in that jail 27 years, and while I doubt he was at peace with the situation, we was a peaceful person in the situation. 27 years! I have some serious grace I could be channeling in my 3 year stint in Singapore. If you’re religious, now might be the time to dig for divine peace.

9. Pain is weakness leaving the body, your resilience will make you stronger but not happier. My time in Singapore is not bringing me much happiness. I am burnt out and in desperate need of some square meter space to myself! You would think my point before would mean that peace will increase my happiness. But no, peace is just accepting that my negative factor is high. There are two sides to happiness, the negativity and the positivity – they are not related, increasing one will not decrease the other, and increasing one will not increase the other. So making peace with the amount of negativity in my life isn’t going to increase the positivity. And this step is about making peace with the fact that the amount of positivity in my life will probably be jack shit, but that it’s ok. The change may never happen, and I may never be properly happy again – perhaps even worse case scenario I will have to choose between my partner in Singapore and my mental health. It’s ok not to be a cheery person all the time. It’s ok to be grateful for good things in your life and still feel neutral. You’ve made enough peace to ward off being unhappy, but now you’re also making peace with not being happy.

10. Refuse to let the shit situation make you a shit person. Serve others. Practice gratefulness. Give incredible gifts. Try to be polite in an impolite society. Laugh lots. Force yourself to smile for no reason. Look at photos of loved ones. Keep in touch with important people. Make birthday phone calls. Write funny FB statuses. Ask for help, and allow people to help you. Cook great meals. Drink fabulous cocktails. Dance around the house. Donate your spare change at the supermarket. Just do things that a normal good person does, that means they still have a beating pulse, a conscience and a purpose to live.

I’m living it, I really hope you’re not, but if you are, comment or email me. I’d love to hear how you have/are coping with limbo! Sharing is a service (look at point 10).

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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What’s It All About Al-friday – Charles Van Doren & the 1950s Game Show Scandal

You know – what’s it all about Alfie?

Why do we do what we do? Why do we go to work? Why do we practice HR?

Lots of important questions to answer on Fridays, as a reminder at the end of the traditional work week of why we are working, and what our life is really all about, before entering the weekend.
All the Answers is a wonderful article written by Charles Van Doren, the famous cheater on a 1950s gameshow “Twenty-One”. It’s really stuck with me since reading it, because it embodies that human spirit I wrote about last week of survival and rebuilding.
Obviously I wasn’t around when the scandal went down, so I never felt the betrayal of a loyal follower who was emotionally invested in the spectacle. I could understand the bitter disillusion when your favourite television personality has lied to you the whole time. What an innocent age it was in the 50s when a nation was shocked by TV execs doing dodgy things… what a cynical age we’re in now, where it’s just expected.
Anyway, here is a man who made a terrible mistake in his early life (and for that, I take pity on him). He lost his job. He faced public humiliation and popular opinion of anger.
And yet, he continued to live life. He had a family. He was in love with his wife. He worked hard at what he was good at.
He survived, kept his head down, and rebuilt.
His eloquent writing makes it an enjoyable read, but really, this is happening to people all around us. Perhaps it’s happening to you. Perhaps it has already happened to you. 
Whatever, however, whenever – have a good weekend with the people you love.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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