Staying Home? How to stay sane

With most countries going into the restricted movement order or lockdown, more of us are getting familiar with the concept of working from home (WFH). For me, I have not had any problem working from home, but I do see that it can get challenging from some of us who are not used to it (just yet.)

There have been many tips written on WFH productivity (e.g: set routine, designate a separate work place etc), and I don’t intend to repeat most of them. However, I wanted to share some tips on staying sane as a working mother.

(Disclaimer: My children are all grown up, so I will not even pretend that it will be easy for mothers with young children. For those in this category, you have to set your expectation lower that you are likely not going to be able to sit more than 2 straight hours working and that you will require extra support.)

First: Pre-planning is key!

A day before the effective movement control order, the kids and I had a fun family breakfast meeting on the agreed schedule. Since they are used to the self-monitoring concept and also have been empowered to make their own choice, it was quite natural for them.

Here is the summary of their proposal (from my teenage boys and tween daughter):

  • Morning prayer
  • Family breakfast time
  • Independent study / work: 8.30 – 3.30pm
  • Family / Fun time: 5- 7pm
  • Dinner and prayer
  • Free time

We decided to not worry about specifics but be guided by these block schedule and our own commitments. Each child needs to reflect what commitment he/she has (mostly academic work or their passion project).

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Using the same principle, I have also asked my team at the office to get their preferred time and frequency for group check-ins. This would be much harder if we did not have a strong work culture, trust in the team and also a way to monitor and report out the work progress: hence, I would say that these pre-requisites must take place way before the implementation. We had the opportunity to start doing this more naturally beginning of this year – so the transition was not particularly hard for most of us.

On top of pre-planning, we need to take into account other enablers to make this successful. For me, the food preparation was key for the children and the IT infrastructure (including cloud storage) was important for the team at work.

Second: Flexible is equally critical

Quickly, midway on Day 1, I found our plan is not 100% foolproof 🙂

What do I mean by that? As a human, we all need interaction and I am very sure that even all of us in the office would not like to be glued in front of our computer for 4 straight hours (save for some other critical roles like surgeons that require laser focus in long extended hours.)

What we learned is to cut some slack without losing its intention for the specified time block. We ended up taking 10-minute breaks, checking on each other, making jokes — and happily resumed our work/ study after that. (Also, sometimes they kids will mock me during my teleconference. 🙂 )

I also found that I work better if I don’t cram all the virtual zoom meetings back-to-back. Spacing out 10 – 15 minutes in between or moving around help to keep my sanity (and also keep my step counts!) It sounds common-sense but it was not as common when I was engrossed in work.

Above all, be human

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

This is my biggest lesson learnt for the last 2 weeks. I have learnt to insert and entertain some ideas of fun and love in our daily schedule and do more of those. Even during work breaks, I decided to entertain jokes from our residence court jester (i.e our second boy) and also to make sure I incorporate exercise, and time to do things that I enjoy such as swimming, yoga, reading books during our free time at night.

For those who want to feel accomplished, I highly recommend learning new skill (I am reading a book on Ultralearning which is super fun) or carve out your own side project (cooking, baking, painting). For others, the night time is an ideal time for quiet reflection, and connect with God. I am not a subscriber to Netflix binging and have not done that yet (because it is just not my habit), but if you are into something that you like, feel free to do so (but remember, be balanced!).

I also found that this is also the time to really connect with myself and the people that matter. Share your care, ask friends how they are, send encouraging words – I was surprised how touched I was when some friends as far as in the US reach out to me with well wishes.

In summary, be prepared, be flexible and be human. It is a challenging time, but it is also an opportunity to reset - just the way Nature resets itself now.

God bless and stay safe!

Goodbye 2019, Welcome 2020!

When we did our 2019 family reflection earlier this month, I openly shared my disappointment in meeting some of my “Align” projects for the 2019 (Align was my word for 2019). My 11-year old daughter then said “mommy, is it because your aspirations are too complex?”, pointing to my long to-do list.

Take two

I did the reflections again last week when I did the family annual photobook and relooked at my own definition of “success”. Instead of “complex” definition, I asked myself a simpler question: What did I learn from the 2019 experiences and do they contribute to my “Align” intention? The answer was a clear YES.

Here are the top 3 of my “Align” reflections:

1) Align with “Who I want to become”

Admittedly, I had been struggling to come up with 3-year and 10-year vision. After many iterations, I needed to reframe the question from “what do I want to do” to “what do I want to become”. The slight tweak in the semantics opened up more possibilities and now I feel more congruent in the vision. It is much easier to define my character, and my contribution, than planning something that is hard to predict in foreseeable future.

2) Align with the things that “give me energy”

This remains a continuation of past year’s experiment on what brings me real joy and energy. I became more mindful of the people I surround myself with, the promises I make, the stuffs I own and the way I spend my time. Let’s say, I did major “Marie Kondo” in many parts of my life (and our family life) this year.

Surprisingly (which is not surprising at all), I find that those good old advice still prove very worthy, such as weekly planning and daily prioritization and reflection. This way, I feel more in control of my energy and whether the time spent are aligned with my intention. Overall, I am only at 70%, and looking forward for more energized and focused life in 2020.

3) Align with the concept of “blessed life”

This is probably the most vague but also turns out to be the simplest. Blessed life to me is really living mindfully and being at peace, by grace of God. Sometimes, I feel that we get trapped by “external noise”, be it validation or just artificial measure of success. At the end of the day, I realized blessings can span from help from unexpected sources during my trying times to signs to the questions I had been asking.

In summary, I am grateful for all the lessons and experiences in 2019 that helped me align in critical areas of my life.

So what is my word for 2020? “Focus” – as a response to my daughter’s observation and also the lessons of moving one step forward.

I shall “focus” my energy on things that matter and spend time with people that matter. Here’s more to a more productive 2020!

Three Lessons from the Holy City

I have to admit that I have been putting this story for a while since our visit to the Holy City, Mecca, last December. But, today’s casual chat with a friend at work urged me to pen the thoughts down before I lose these insights. My intention is really to share the three powerful lessons with hope they may facilitate you to find your own AHA moment from something simple in life.

For those who may not be familiar of the Umrah rituals (or mini Hajj / pilgrimage for the Muslims), Tawaf is one of the pillars and mandatory ritual as part of the Umrah. This involves circling the Kaaba seven times counterclockwise, which seems to be quite simple on the surface – yet the flash of insights from that ritual are not that trivial (at least to me).

Lesson 1: There will be always relief – ALLOW things to unfold once you set the intention

Given the big crowd at the end of the year, I had some hesitation whether we could even have the opportunity to do the Tawaf comfortably. Even the kids openly expressed their “anxiety” before we arrived in Mecca – to which I acknowledged openly and also encouraged them to set the intention and hold a prayer to make it bearable.

We were lucky to arrive from Madinah around 10pm and started our ritual soon after. However, the crowd did not seem to subside even at midnight. Somehow, in that 2 hour window, we stuck together as a family (and as a group with the rest of the group members who are travelling with us), and somehow the 7 rounds seem to be smooth and bearable.

What was the secret?

Later only I realized that since we had set the intention that there will always be relief, we tend to see “empty spaces” (or relief) during the Tawaf. It is not any easier but the intention helped us recognize the opportunity more clearly and seize it. This just validated some of our life experiences where sometimes help seemingly come from unexpected sources – when we really set the intention and believe that God (or Universe for some) will help us. And the key is really to allow help to come.

Lesson 2: Once set in motion, let go of the outcome

On my third Tawaf a few days later, I decided that I would not worry about how long I will take to complete the 7 rounds (and this was done at noon, when it was hot and between lunch time). For an A-type person who always keep tab on KPI and timing, it was actually not an easy decision to make for myself. But I decided I am going to have fun experimenting this and see how it will turn out when I am focused on the process, but not the outcome (i.e how fast can I complete it).

It turned to be a powerful lesson on trusting the process.

The moment I let go of the outcome, I was more focused on the ritual and was more at ease. There was no expectation of when I would finish it and gave me a breather to just pace my speed and to focus on the prayers during the ritual.

This remains the hardest to implement in real-life, I admit. It did give me a glimpse of peace if I learn to focus on the task at hand, without clinging onto my own set of expectations.

Lesson 3: Your journey is yours, don’t worry about other people’s journey. It is not yours to worry.

By far, this is the most powerful insight from this ritual. You can imagine that it is very easy to get triggered when you are being pushed constantly (and sometimes for no apparent reason) in the big crowd while circling the Kaaba.

As part of the spiritual and mental preparation before this ritual, I had reminded myself that this is something that I need to learn – learning not to judge and learning to focus on my own journey.

As a result of this, my strategy was to imagine that everyone had the same good intention in this ritual and that I can choose to focus on my own reaction and behavior. It does not mean I condone to his / her untoward behavior, but I became very aware of my own feeling and quickly let the judgement pass -of course, for practical purposes, I would just step aside and let the ‘storm’ pass. (No pun intended! :))

Boy, that made the whole ritual much more peaceful. So, reminder to myself now that I am back in the daily grind – there will be storms created by other people, but let them pass and not perturb your own peace. We are capable of creating our own inner sanctuary when we focus on our journey.

To my friends who are planning for Umrah this year, may your ibadah be blessed!

Thriving in Workplace and Home

My spouse and I recently had the opportunity to share a few lessons and tools on enabling us to thrive in workplace and home as a dual-career family. The most popular question from the participants is that while they want to thrive in both environments, they wanted to know how to prioritize and juggle the conflicting priorities.

Since this seems to be quite a popular question, I thought it’d be good to share some of the key takeaways here for the benefit of the larger group.

The most foundational step when it comes to thriving in workplace and home is to have the belief that we can thrive in both. The semantic of “work-life balance” somehow gives the impression that something has to go. The reality is that our life is dynamic and that “see-saw” balancing act always oscillate from time to time. As a family, we made a conscious decision very early in our partnership that it will be “work-life integration”. By using the word integration, we are conscious of the choices and priorities that we make and we are committed to stand by our principles at all times.

With this foundation laid, as a dual-career family, we see thriving in workplace and home as running a “Life Enterprise”. This means that we approach everything as running an enterprise, we integrate both with the other life aspects, using the tools and processes to run as a unit. This includes setting the family guiding principles based on values, systems, support, and decision-making matrix. In a simpler form, it means we are mindful and intentional over the things we do, be it at work or at home.

We believe in preserving the core while being flexible in executing.

To run the “Life Enterprise”, we have observed that these “pillars” have significantly helped us set it up effectively:

1. Build your support, processes and systems: For our family, we have set-up many systems to automate, delegate and prompt our important tasks. Of course, just like any enterprise, we need to start somewhere and further refine the systems as we go along. Some examples of the systems include the morning breakfast system, laundry management system, house-cleaning support system, homework support (which is minimal except if it was Bahasa), monthly bills payment system, kids’ annual stipend system and our property management system. We even have a travel checklist and toiletries & travel essentials ready to-go whenever we decide to travel (near or far).

2. Plan and prioritize: We cannot stress enough the importance of planning and prioritization. Given that our time is finite, we have to be mindful of what gets done and what gets dropped. As a life enterprise, rather than prioritizing in silos and in isolation, we would rather look at the bigger picture and that means balancing our family, our life and our career. I can expand this topic on its own – so I will deliberate more in a different entry on time management. 🙂 Hint: Things get done when scheduled in your calendar

3. Habits and rituals: We admit that we are creatures of habits and our willpower can bring us only so far. Hence, we believe in creating daily habits and family rituals to increase the chance of success in integrating both worlds. We believe in being role model to our children, hence setting up core values and use those as our compass has helped us tremendously. We also believe in consciously creating our family identity: the family rituals will help us through this journey and bind us in a more meaningful way.

4. Create open and honest communication: This is the most interesting journey so far for us, as we build this life enterprise. We joked at the learning session that we observed that the number of “silent treatments” and “unnecessary fights” have exponentially decreased over years, as we learn how to fight well. We learnt how to be transparent and communicate our needs openly. We need to understand where the other person comes from, what is his/her motivation when expressing their stand and how we can work together in co-creating the solutions. As we learn to fight better, we created deeper bond and mutual respect for each other, as partner in this life enterprise.

In summary, a slight shift in perspective will yield completely different strategies. And above all, this fits nicely with our persona – my spouse and I find meaning in the partnership and we get the joy in growing together.

Finding Purpose – a futile search?

This quest of finding purpose feels futile to me for quite a long time. Unfortunately, the more desperate I was, the more confusing it got.

Like any other person on a quest, I searched everywhere. I journaled, I read books, I talked to people, I listened to inspiring speeches. I even Googled! But – nothing. It got more confusing.

What I forgot to do is to search in one place that I usually avoid – within me.

By grace of God, instead of avoiding, I mustered the courage last year and set the intention to start the journey of discovery. I am happy to say that there are glimpses of ‘purpose’ that I found in this journey and my intention here is to share some of the key lessons with you.

What are my three key lessons in ‘finding purpose’:

  1. Semantics is important. I have now learnt that the way I frame and define ‘purpose’ is critical. I found that purpose is not about ‘doing’ but it is about ‘being’. I have since then re-framed purpose as “what do I intend to be and how will I show up on a daily basis, using my unique gifts”. Instead of pressuring myself to be the hero and saving the world, now I define my purpose as someone who gives a voice in conscious living and positive parenting / leadership. The compass helps when making small decisions on a day-to-day life. (These decisions add up!)
  2. I did not find purpose overnight. It is indeed a continuous journey. But once I reframe it as ‘being’, it took away the expectations to find THE purpose. What is more important is to be open and curious in the journey, allowing it to unfold naturally. I have never expected that allowing myself to be curious and to play is the best way to connect the dots. It still amazes me how things unfold when I decide to be curious and take the next step (which most of the time seems ridiculous at times. This blog is one of so many examples of curious ideas that popped up.
  3. Purpose requires commitment. We all have a unique gift to express but without fierce commitment and discipline, a vision will remain a vision.

In summary, what I found in this journey is that purpose is created consciously, one at a time. It blends our strengths, our joy and our contribution. It requires commitment. It requires me ‘to be’. Sometimes, I need to let things unfold and see the magic. Yes, a departure from my expectation when I started 🙂

So, what’s yours?

9-Months Journey: A Reflection

As we closed our 9-month Mastery program yesterday with the closing call with my circle sisters, my heart just overflowed with such gratitude and wonder on how it has transformed me in this journey of fully embracing myself.

If I were to say what is that single shift – it is really the ability to create a deeper and more compassionate connection with myself, which in turn creates more compassion on others. With that shift, I had been able to hold multiple perspectives and get to the generative mode especially in times of conflict. The key that unlocks this is really to observe our old patterns and to name the limiting belief – and at the same time, extending compassion and radical self-responsibility to go there, to reframe and to question the belief.

I know the shift is subtle but at the same time significant. In one of the meditation practices, I was so surprised by my own observation that I did not know how to react to that wounded, small-Self, which is primarily the cause of my fear of getting to the bottom of it. This understanding alone has allowed me to give the space to re-learn and re-connect.

Of course, this is not without much commitment and relentless efforts. In all the three power centers we learnt, I felt I still had a long way to go in developing the second power center – which is really to trust my intuition and co-create with the Universe. However, I have learnt to surrender and to actually ask for help from the Universe (or God, whichever you believe in). What I have also learned is to embrace the imperfection, and at that exact moment, set my intention and clear my energy before I ask for guidance – it feels much more doable then expecting it to be perfect. I have also learned to remind myself to continue “giving” despite all my worries and the world will give back in unexpected little ways I could not imagine (and they do a lot of times!). Some of these blessings manifested not in the external success definitions, but really those definitions that really matter – it is indeed a blessing.

Never under-estimate the power of support

I would not do justice without mentioning the superb support from Claire, the coaches and other Mastery participants. But more importantly, the weekly circle calls with my Pod sisters.

Why is this so?

The structure enables us to cement the lessons by sharing and reflecting our own insights before going back to really practicing it in our daily lives. The greatest gift is to absorb and learn through each other’s stories and lessons. I feel that by reflecting their brilliance, I also learn how to appreciate my own brilliance. For that, I am eternally grateful (and honored) for such genuine care and compassion we displayed to each other. I also enjoyed the space we have created as a pod to speak from our heart, to stand in our center and just the loving way how each other supported our journey in their own way. (By the way, this probably deserves its own page so I should probably save it for another day :))

So, what’s next?

My commitment is to continue nurturing myself through daily practice of morning exercise, journalling, daily energy clearing and meditation. What I wish to celebrate is the depth of my being and that I am learning to recognize the ways I can contribute in a more conscious, soulful way – which is more grounded rather than external-focused.

What I want to create next is in the area of conscious leadership especially for those in the technical line and business. One more interesting area I am exploring is in the area of conscious parenting and balancing my role as a working mother. I enjoyed the conversations around thriving in workplace and home. More to come!

Integrity – how far would you go?

The global community today lauds integrity and transparency in business and government.

But today, I don’t want to talk about integrity from that perspective.

Instead, I want to talk about the integrity with ourselves – personal integrity.

What does it mean by having “personal integrity”?

I define personal integrity as an alignment with our values, clarity on what we stand for and how we embrace our weaknesses and strengths – to show up fully to be of service to others.

If you ever felt conflicted, unease or just simply frustrated without understanding why, there is a small probability that something is nudging you to realign and reclaim your self integrity.

It has been a challenging journey for me to discover this path because it has not always been easy to dig deep into the dark closet and face my own shadows. What eventually drove me to get into the uncomfortable territory and face my own shadow is the vision to be a better mother, a better leader and most importantly, to be at peace with myself.

Recognizing that this is an ever-evolving journey, I realized that it will never be complete and one can only go as far as he / she wants to go. In my own journey, these question have helped me to re-center and ground myself closer back to integrity. I hope it will help you to re-center (and remember to take a deep breath!):

If I see my compassionate Self, what would I do as the next step?

I love this most because this is the gentlest question and I usually start with this first before I ask the rest of the questions.

What part of me contributed to this situation?

I have been in many conflict situations and my habitual response would be to blame the other person or the situation (who doesn’t?). However, after much practice, zooming out to see which part of me contributed to the conflict has enabled me to stay true to myself. Owning up, instead of feeling victimized shifted the blame energy and increased my understanding why that happened. A lot of times, I have to seek God’s help for me to see it clearly and see my own shadows. As a result, it usually will dissolve the negative energy in me, which helped me to frame a much more productive and generative communication. Of course, the journey continues and I am still practicing.

Is it aligned with my values?

When I feel charged with some issues, I caught myself being so judgmental on the other person’s opinions. Again, it takes a lot of muscles to just breathe and step back. This question helps me reframe and bring me back to integrity. Most times, I know that some of my actions and my feelings probably violate my own values, so this question keeps me honest.

If I believe that the Universe supports me in staying true to myself, I wonder what would be the best option?

After having deep (and mostly painful) reflections from the earlier questions above, I like to progress with this question since it evokes wonder and play. It is really to change my state of seriousness to something more open, yet still effective.

Looking back at the so-called perceived weaknesses, are there signs of strengths and how can I use to contribute?

I use this sometime to make me feel better. Recognizing that sometimes I may be too hard on myself, so I tend to see things in a negative light, under pressure. This question challenges my assumptions and beliefs, to dig deeper and see that some of the features are my strengths, instead of “perceived” weaknesses. For example, I used to think that my emotional sensitivity is my liability at work, but now I realized that when harnessed properly, it provides a headstart to create deeper connection with people around me.

Hope this helps you (and do not forget to take a couple of deep breaths!)

So, how far would you go to have personal integrity? I would invest my time to do this since my intention is to create a deeper connection with myself and be more congruent (my 2018 goal to “create”).

The Shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a psychotherapuetic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period of time.

– Carl Jung