Celebrating Wholeness

As we celebrate International Women’s Day this week and as I celebrate my newfound shift in thinking, I thought of writing something around celebrating wholeness.

What is wholeness?

To me, wholeness is embracing the full spectrum of myself: the planner, the go-getter, the loyal sergeant, the creator, the empath, the artist and the carefree child.

As I learnt the new possibilities of creativity, I found it extremely difficult to integrate this playful side of me with the serious, practical side of me. At times, I felt like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde – one moment, I would immerse myself in intense work and drive, and at the other, I would be perfectly happy contemplating for days, not worrying about those work backlogs and wish I could be on vacation forever. It was quite a confusing phase (thank God it is quite short!) for me. For a while, I was living in an EITHER/OR world – I thought I had to choose which way do I prefer to live – to be carefree or to be driven. It was draining to put a serious, professional face all the time, but equally, I have no idea how to show up as that carefree, sensitive artist in my life. In short, it was confusing and counter-productive.

Then, I stumbled upon a book about life in spectrum that changed my perspective – “SWITCH ON” by Nick Seneca Jankel.

Instead of EITHER/OR, I found the concept of BOTH/AND very intriguing.

I have heard the term “Creative Tension” few times before, but the chart below (from “Switch On” book) illustrates the concept beautifully.

How it applies to me is the ability to recognize that it is okay to operate in a dynamic mode and to learn to move through this spectrum – oscillating from the thinkerMe to the playfulMe. Have you experienced the blissful moment and then in the next cycle, you became so determined and committed to step into the next action? That is creative tension dynamic at play.

What is most important about this shift in thinking is that I can now embrace the spectrum, ride the waves and enjoy it at the same time, without feeling confused. I can send the cues to my body to let go after I am in the fifth gear mode. I can remind myself to play and relax, after working so hard. And the most beautiful revelation is that I can be a driver and be a carefree person. It is through embracing the kaleidoscope of these moments that I become richer and more whole.

For mothers, it might mean that it is okay to be playful with your child and at other appropriate time, be the discipliner.

For leaders, it might mean that it is okay to be sensitive to your team’s needs, and also be firm on the principles.

For achievers, it might mean that it is okay to give the best shot in your project, and at the same time let go of the outcomes.

For some women, it might mean that it is okay to show up in the world in a practical way, and also embracing the sensitive and nurturing side of us, in order to make a better world.

For me, it means embracing all the pieces that define me: a mother, a professional, a friend, an artist and a carefree woman.

That is how I want to celebrate the IWD this week 🙂 Happy International Women’s Day!

Leadership. Reframed.

“As you go higher up, it gets more lonely.”

This expression from one of my former managers somehow got stuck in my subconscious for more than a decade for me, without me realizing how much damage it has done to my mental model until recently. This also explains why I was reluctant to be in a leadership position for a while – it feels lonely, it feels like a burden.

But does it have to be?

It took a week of severe tension headache for me to realize that there is actually another paradigm that I have been yearning for leadership, especially for me and the other female leaders. Yes, you heard it right – a headache.

I had suffered from a severe tension headache from misaligned neck vertebrae. So, when my accountability sister, Carley, who is 13,000km away, called, I informed her of my medical condition. It turned out that the call was a gift for me – she was so kind to help me with a guided meditation to recognize the trigger and heal the underlying emotional pain (aside from the fact that I do still suffer from a misaligned neck vertebrae, physically).

From the guided meditation, I realized that the emotional pain was due to trauma and a lot of stress from my fear of higher authority, from fear of missing expectations, from fear of expressing my opinion, when it matters. This is almost always exacerbated when I work with a female leader.

I got curious. Why such dynamics? What is my belief in leadership that made me respond this way?

What do I want to create instead?

  1. I want to create a new model / paradigm of female leaders where we amplify each other. A space we bring other female leaders up together, honoring each other’s strength instead of dismissing them. I am totally cognizant that the current context and the structure in the corporate world requires resilience and competition to survive. Habitually, that might have contributed to this survival mode without us realizing it. I have heard so much from some of the female leaders that they do not think gender is an issue, it is all about their competency that made them so good – in turn, they become so judgmental on other women. (I made the same mistake!) What is new is that the realization that not all women have the same opportunities, so it is important for the other female leaders to lift them up and be open by honoring the uniqueness of what each individual has to offer.
  2. I want to create a space where I (and my team) can honor our own creativity and play. The future of work will require a lot of imagination and creativity to solve complex problems. I used to (maybe still am, but less) be very particular about process, deadline and risk management. I hate to generalize but I tend to see more of this pattern in female leaders, seeking for ultimate perfection. While these are still very critical for deliverables, there is another aspect at play that is worth exploring – imagination. The beauty of having a balanced model (alternating between discipline and creativity) is that it will yield better solutions. I am constantly reminded that brilliant ideas usually come when we are relaxed, not when we are pressured by the “shoulds”. Somehow, I feel more pressured by female leaders of their expectations – still learning how to manage that and letting go. 🙂
  3. I want to create a model where my team are able to express themselves better. No longer do we live in a world where a leader knows everything. The realization that a sum is greater than its part is super powerful. Equally, I am always in awe to see some of really grounded leaders who are effective, yet provide so much space for each team member to excel and shine- that is my role model when I turn 50.

Most importantly, by creating this new paradigm and model of leadership, I feel much more hopeful and much less lonely. It is not a lonely journey, but rather a journey of a group of people with a shared mission, TOGETHER.

I am curious to hear your experience and aspiration on this, happy to hear your insights.

Chasing Happiness.

Being happy can feel elusive sometimes. There is so much hunger in ‘chasing happiness’ yet the exact act of chasing happiness is the main reason why we cannot ‘achieve’ happiness – what a conundrum.

I joined the bandwagon of ‘chasing happiness’ more than a decade ago.

Feeling dissatisfied, I could not understand why I was not being happy despite career and family successes. It made me ponder if I was being ungrateful, since nobody seems to be openly bothered about not ‘being happy’.

The quest of ‘chasing happiness’ brought me to interesting paths – some require detour, some lead to interesting insights. Through journaling, personal development classes and books, I had a fascinating discovery: that I might have defined happiness too narrowly.

Naturally, as a true-blue engineer, I began to dissect the problem and began to see possible solutions emerging.

I find few of these frameworks and tips worked beautifully for me (hope you find them equally enlightening):

  1. Definition of happiness: This turns out to be the biggest AHA for me. When I started reframing the range of ‘positive emotions’ instead of ‘being happy’, suddenly many possibilities emerge. Rather than focusing on being happy, I started listing down all things (or actions) that make me feel joyful, in awe, satisfied, contented and accomplished. The list of things that made me feel positive suddenly grow by multiple folds. Being clear on these positive emotions had raised my awareness so I can incorporate more in my life. (And I learnt, I am not doing too bad in this arena as I previously thought!)
  2. Creating space to experience positive emotions: The power of setting daily intention of loving myself and creating ‘micro joy’ has been tremendously helpful. I know that reading, dancing, doing yoga, playing with my kids, connecting with people and walking in the park are the big things that create positive emotions for me, so I will incorporate 3 – 5 minutes of these activities throughout the day. The result? Magnificent. (I love things that require minimum effort with maximum results.)
  3. Physiology matters: There are many resources that point out that we can ‘trick’ our body to feeling joyful and happy. Simple things like dancing and smiling send powerful signals to our body and nervous systems that reset our stress response. My routine is either restorative yoga or qigong which have tremendously helped me cultivate the relaxation routine, which in turns, create the positive emotions.

Above all, I stopped expecting to be happy. 🙂

Family “Business” Plans. Have you thought of having one?

Some friends think we are taking the corporate culture back in our family life a little too far. We’d say, we are taking the best of both worlds (and having fun at the same time) 🙂

Why did we decide to create a family plan? For us, we just wanted to be conscious of the values we instil in our children and decide proactively on activities / programs to reinforce these agreed values. In my husband’s simple words: “If we do not decide on the children’s values, someone else will”.

How does one create a family plan and making it work? More importantly, how can one make it such a joyful exercise – something that everyone especially our kids will remember and embody the values? Some tips that have worked for us:

1. Decide which values you want to be as a family

  • Do you want your children to be an independent-thinker? Would you be proud if he/she demonstrate his/her highest integrity? How about entrepreneurial mindset? We love the traditional ones: respect, gratitude, honesty, balancing now vs future. The options are endless, as long as both you and your partner feel strongly about the values that resonate with you as a family. (Hint: What would be the values that made you feel good 20 years from now.)

2. Make it age-appropriate and fun.

  • When our kids were really small (ranging from 3 – 11 years old), we just had a simple 15-minute ‘family meeting’ by the playground (yes, they cannot sit still)! Put some pictures, tell stories, and examples on how each child can model these values (for example: Honesty: “I know mommy and daddy will not be angry at me when I tell the truth, so I will tell them the truth no matter what”). These had kept us honest, too.
  • This year, after 6 years of this annual ritual, we had a ‘longer’ meeting. I purposely planned a weekend getaway, spent time playing and we held our family plan over supper. We even added a little bit more reflections as part of our gratitude exercise to prime the session. Everyone had a ‘template’ of the values and they can scribble on what they think they will want to do / be to embody these values. Each child (and parent) did his /her own style of expressing the vision. What came out of that is a revelation that our children find this exercise a good family-bonding activity – that’s a bonus.

3. Follow up and schedule the activities.

  • I cannot stress enough that “a plan is a plan until we do something about it.” One habit that I found has been super-helpful in executing any plan is to put them in a calendar and schedule it. Or, any trigger that can help us in getting the habit programmed, after all, we are all humans and we regress. (Read Charles Duhigg book on building habit, it helps). We put an A3 printed Family Plan in our kitchen (at the smallest kid’s eye level) so we see it everyday.

Is it a difficult thing to do? No.

Is it difficult to start? Yes.

So, let’s start, and let’s not wait for it to be perfect.

P/s: Our ritual changes every year, even though we have been doing it since 2011. For me, I took this family plan as part of my “Create Memory” project of 2018.

New Year Resolution in ONE Word.

F25DE1A5-665C-46F9-81B4-6F45146B326BImagine. Just one word on how you want to live and experience the year.

Do not be fooled by its simplicity. In its simplicity, therein lies the power – the power of clarity.

So, I thought this is an interesting experiment – choosing one word to represent the year. Over Roti Canai and Teh Tarik with my family, we brainstormed what would our word be and what it would mean to each and everyone of us.

Mine was Discover. My husband’s was Support. Our kids chose their own word that resonated with them. Our family came up with our theme for the year – Together.

Fast-forward a year and it’s January 2018. Little did I realize the power of clarity and intention. My year of Discovery has been truly eye-opening and full of discovery – of course, nothing short of bumps and surprises.

What did I discover in 2017 – Year of Discovery?

  1. I discovered the ability to love myself – This is by far the biggest discovery. Ever. I am still a novice but continuing to strengthen this heart and compassion muscle every day. Thanks to the Feminine Power (FP) Mastery Program by Claire Zammit, I have been able to learn a system on accessing that old ability and very grateful for the experience and for the supportive community. I can go on and on with this experience – which I will probably outline in a different section later. In short, the key principles are to be able to reconnect with my child Self and to forgive myself. Through the practices, I learnt to accept myself in totality – the good, the bad and the ugly. Only then, I can accept others in the same light. Warning: This took lots of courage (and heartaches!). But the outcome is well worth it.
  2. I discovered that I don’t have to go and do it all alone – This is the second AHA for me. Being conditioned in a competitive environment (I am an A-type and an athlete), I used to believe that the ‘race’ is all a solo sport. Only when I questioned this belief, do I see that I had mirrored this false belief in so many different facets of my life. With that shift, I am continued to be amazed at how I found help in seemingly hopeless situations. This is work-in-progress. I regress from time to time 🙂 I do want to acknowledge that it helps so much to start cultivating the deep relationship with people who have the same mindset and shared goals. For this, I am so grateful to have wonderful friends and family who are in the same wavelength and supporting each other in this journey. In short, find your tribe.
  3. I discovered that I can bounce back – This is the most satisfying skill I discovered. However, I would not be able to achieve this without cultivating the self-love (see #1). When I faced adversity (especially at work these days), I would catch myself now, questioning “What can I learn from this experience?”. This has kept me focused on the solutions – and I feel that this is the most loving act I could do to myself.
  4. I discovered that if I amplify others, I naturally will amplify my Self – This is a completely new concept as I journeyed through the FP Mastery program. This just takes away the habit of dimming my light or dimming others’ light – it is not a zero-sum game. We are all unique and we all can amplify each others’ light by standing up tall together.

So what is your word for 2018?

Mine is to Create, hence the creation of this blog. Enjoy!