Friday, September 25, 2015

Work in Progress

Here are the possibilities in your youth. One is that you go after your dreams and you should be happy even if you fail at achieving your dreams because you follow your passion. If you play it safe and not go after your dreams as you feel that you have to be realistic and pragmatic, you might be comfortable in life, you may not be happy with the choices you have made. The other possibility is you work hard at acquiring or perfecting some skill before turning it into a passion. It is obviously a skill that you think you can potentially get very good at. But will the skill be one that can sell and earn you a comfortable living?

Hard work matters. It is trite that one must strive in order to thrive. The harder you work, the luckier you get is not just a cliché. I remember as a seven year old, when I finally figured out some phonetics in Malay language that I had been struggling with, I was so jubilant that I started calling out my mother to tell her  “I’ve  got it ” as soon as  I reached my house door. My interest in the Malay language did not  last. So what makes one persevere in one subject or a hobby but not another?  When come to choosing a career path or a job, some people  may not have a particular interest and they are in a scenario where they find that they have no passion for their work and they merely do it for a living. On the other hand, some may want to pursue their passion but find that it is not practical or feasible to make a career around that passion, so they will have to be contented with pursuing it as a hobby.

Imagine if you could go back to the past  looking at your future which is  now, what would you be thinking? As the famous quote says Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." - Soren Kierkegaard  
But  how do you lead your life forward so you do not live in regrets? A friend highly recommended  a  book entitled What I Wish I knew When I was 20 written by Dr. Tina Seelig. It is one of those books that I feel like running out and get a couple of copies for my friends who have grown up children like me .

Dr. Tina Seelig in her book writes: “ The process of finding the gold mine where your skills, interests, and the market collide can take some time.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a favourite topic for school essays. For me that was  a  lifetime ago. Seelig has met many students who literally show her a detailed map of what they plan to do for the next fifty years. Seelig writes, ' Not only is this unrealistic, but it's sadly limiting. There are so many unexpected experiences ahead that it's best to keep your eyes open instead of blinding yourself to the serendipitous options that might present themselves.'

I am  often amazed  and  wonder how some people can plan so well as I cannot even plan for the next five months. For me the future is an unknown. When I was in my youth, I had trouble visualizing because I was an indecisive person. I was rather clueless about what I really wanted to do from the moment I graduated from the university. As I was circumspect about exploring the alternatives , I returned to my hometown and settled down. Decades later, I realized that  I had been too much of an existentialist that  time has literally slipped through and I am still trying to make sense of my life. 

I totally agree with  Seelig that  Passion is a big driver. It makes each of us want to work hard to perfect our skills and to excel.” In Chapter 6 of her book , the author illustrates  at length why we should not discard the unexpected findings and be afraid to get into uncharted territory as the anomalies tend to lead us to new breakthroughs and remarkable discoveries. Seelig quotes the statement by Randy Komisar who ‘claims that his career makes much more sense when viewed through the rearview mirror than through the windshield.’ as the statement is true for most of us.  I certainly feel comforted by the statements ‘ When you look back on your career path the story makes perfect sense. The road ahead, however, is always fuzzy and full of  boundless uncertainty. It is easy to get frustrated by the lack of visibility ahead.’ However the author also quotes Randy’s suggestion as to how to increase the odds that great opportunities will come your way. It makes sense when she states that ‘you should work in organizations that grant you access to a stream of interesting opportunities.’ She also suggests that it is important to reassess your life and career  relatively frequently and sometimes it’s time to move on to a new environment in order to excel.  It is important to identify the intersection between your skills, your passions, and the market by constantly reassessing where you are and where you want to go and experimenting with alternatives in order to find the right roles so that you can tap into your passions and potentials in a constructive way. She writes, “ Don’t worry that the path ahead appears out of focus- squinting isn’t going to make it any clearer. This is true for everyone. Don’t be in a rush to get to your final destination – the side trips and unexpected detour quite often lead to the most interesting people , places and opportunities.  And , finally , be wary of all career advice, including mine,  as you figure out what’s right for you .’

What I Wish I knew When I was 20 is definitely a must-read book. Chapter 5 “ The Secret Sauce of Silicon Valley” drives home the message that quitting can be empowering and not a sign of weakness so learning when to call it quits is crucial and also it is important to quit gracefully. I particularly enjoy reading the anecdote in  Chapter 7‘Turn Lemonade into Helicopters’ about how she had offered to show someone new in the neighbourhood  the recipe to make frozen, canned lemonade and in turn she and her colleagues were treated to a spectacular surprise  ride in the person’s private helicopter above the city, up to the surrounding mountains, and over his family’s ski resort.

There are no short cuts in courting luck your way. We are told to be innovative, experimental, tune in and pay attention to our environment so we can  find fascinating things around every turn. The recipe for success is not limited to hard work and dedication, being fearless, accumulating experiences  and  keeping an open mind  are amongst  the ingredients for opening doors for yourself.

There are plenty of wisdom in the book What I Wish I Knew When I was 20.  Seelig is  generous in sharing her personal experiences and anecdotes besides  telling us about real people’s fascinating success stories and  how they recover from failures, overcome barriers and adversities and that most problems are remarkable opportunities in disguise.  I absolutely agree with Seeling that how we view the world around us very much depends on our emotional state.  I tend to go for hair cuts when I feel edgy and down and I often tell my hairstylist “ It's not the hair it's just me.” Simple food tastes heavenly and hideous accessories  look  gorgeous when you are happy.

No path is preordained, and Seelig imparts with what her father has told her.

'Reflecting on his life, my father determined that his most important insight is that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously nor judge others too harshly.  Her dad wishes that he had been more tolerant of mistakes he made and those made by others, and that he could have seen that failure is a normal part of the learning process.'

 I am comforted by the passage:
Uncertainty is the essence of life, and it fuels opportunity. To be honest , there are still days when I ‘m not sure which road to take and am overwhelmed by the choices unfolding in front of me . But I now know that uncertainty is the fire that sparks innovation and the engine that drives us forward.”

In essence, we are encouraged to challenge assumptions, constantly  reassess ourselves and be prepared to get out of our comfort zones, re-adjust  and be confident. Very positive insights and forward thinking  indeed.
San Sebastian

As I write the post, I googled and read about Randy Komisar, the venture capitalist’s response to the following questions on Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers  KPCB’s website click 

Make a call to 20-year-old Randy Komisar, what kind of advice would you give to him?
'“Trust yourself. You don’t have to become someone else to succeed in life.”

Define your own success and don’t surrender to the expectations of others. Don’t worry about what you can’t change and don’t concern yourself with the ultimate questions of  life’s challenges, focus instead on the here and now. Know yourself in order to know others. And don’t be fooled by money. It can empower greatness if you are truly great, but it comes at a steep cost and can be a burden that keeps you from living a meaningful life. In the end, it’s the relationships with others and your help for those who need it that will define your happiness. Trust in goodness.'

If you can leave one  message to make the world better, what would be your message?
Be kinder. Move beyond yourself and deeply empathize with others. We are all in this life together and no one will get out alive. While our generation is obsessed with how we can make and consume more, twenty-five hundred years ago the world’s best thinkers on every continent wrestled with a much more powerful question,“how should we live our lives?” I think it starts with losing your ego and being kinder to each other in the process.  

Spot on.

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