Life isn’t a race.

With less than an hour to 2012 … and the final countdown about to begin, I feel a little anxious about 2011 coming to a close.  The clock is ticking. The heart is beating faster. One final post for the year. What do I have say to you boys?

Families that play together stay together!

Having just spent a wonderful holiday with the family over the last few days, what came to mind is this … Son, I want you to know that life is not a race.  You don’t get extra credit or ‘karma points’ getting from ‘here’ to ‘there’ in the shortest possible time.

Life is a journey to be enjoyed, experienced, and fully lived. So, take time to smell the roses, land a helping hand, smile to your neighbours, do what you love, love what you do, take the road less travelled, do some silly stuffs, have some fun, and above all, enjoy the present moment, especially moments that you share with your loved ones.

Someday, when you have a family of your own, be sure to make time to play with them. Think of the countless moments of fun that we had shared, and remember that “Families that play together stay together.”

Love,

Your Playful Dad

Blood is thicker than water.

Waterfall in Batu Pahat

As I watched the two of you having fun together over the last two days … trekking to the waterfalls in Batu Pahat, swimming and Sumo wrestling at Port Dickson, it made me think of my relationship with my own brother.

Uncle Kelly (a.k.a. Big Big uncle) and I are nine years apart, and we grew up in two drastically different worlds. He spends most of his life in our hometown, while I have been away for more than half my life, only to return as an occasional visitor.  We are like two distinct species of fish – freshwater vs. saltwater.  But no matter how different we are, once in a while, when we meet again, I could still sense the special bond between us.

Such occasional experiences had me convinced that blood is indeed thicker than water. I hope that someday, you will understand what this old saying means, especially when you grow apart from one another.  And I have faith that the good times you have spent playing and fighting with each other during your younger years will forge the bond that will hold your brotherly ties for good.

Grand Lexis - Port Dickson

Promise me that you will love and care for one another, no matter what, OK?

Love,

Your Brotherly Dad

The Sumo Brothers

The Power of WHY

“He who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I first came across Nietzche’s words some years back in Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl survived the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust, and later founded Logotherapy – a form of psychotherapy centered on helping people find meaning, especially in difficult situations.  In essence, what struck me the most was the profound simplicity in the relationship between HOW and WHY.

Put in another way, if you could get clear on WHY you want to do what you do, the HOW will naturally follow.  Also, if your WHY is big or strong enough, no obstacle in the HOW can possibly stop you. And if you find yourself losing momentum in what you set out to accomplish, it might be worthwhile to pause and revisit WHY you wanted to do it at the first place.

Keep asking yourself “Why am I doing this?”, “Why does it matter?”, and “Why now?” … and experience the power from gaining clarity on the WHY – the true underlying reason for your actions.

Love,

Your Inquisitive Dad

The Meaning of Christmas

For many years, Christmas had meant different things to me … attending Christmas parties, getting together with friends that I don’t usually meet at other times the year, frantic and almost always last minute search for gifts (both for loved ones as well as for a silly ritual called gift-exchange), etc.

Christmas Midnite Mass @ St Mary of the Angels 2011

But this year is radically different.  Rather than drinking, eating and partying, I opted for something more solemn.  I attended a midnight Christmas mass instead, at St Mary of the Angels – my first since baptism last Easter.  And Christmas took on a whole new meaning.  It reminded me of the true meaning of Christmas, one that is often lost in a world where this special day becomes a festive event that businesses could take advantage of with promotions and specials.

Now, regardless of whether you embrace the Christian faith or not, I think it is vital that you acquaint yourself with the true meaning of Christmas.  Here’s a lovely poem that captures its essence splendidly:

The True Meaning of Christmas by M.S. Lowndes

Jesus Christ was born this day
So many years before
He came a servant to the lost
Though he was Lord of Lords

We celebrate this joyous time
Reflecting on His birth
Not born in a mansion, but a stable
As if He had no worth

He came so He could identify
With the human heart of man
And gave His life as a sacrifice
Offering a better plan

A plan that reconciles us back
To our loving Father God
Bringing hope and redemption from
Sins ruling iron rod

For this is the only reason that we
Should celebrate this day
To become focused on anything else
Would take the meaning away

So let’s arise with joy in our hearts
And share it with everyone
The meaning of Christmas will always be
The birth of Jesus – God’s son

I hope you enjoyed the poem and experience Christmas in a new light from hereon.

Love,

Your Christmassy Dad


What Dad wants you to know about LETTING GO

I spent almost the entire day clearing the storeroom today, something that I had procrastinated for a long time.  My aim is to impress your mother with a storeroom that she could actually walk in and access the things she needs.  Before today, it is so full that the door could hardly be closed.  Now, there is actually leg room (although not a lot) and things are stacked more neatly.

Spring cleaning turned out to be more rewarding than I had expected, although I much prefer to be doing something else.  But I know that ‘doing the mundane’ is also part of life.  The day has been physically draining and mentally relaxing, but emotionally challenging. Conceptually, the process seems simple …

  1. Empty the storeroom
  2. Decide what to keep, i.e. Should I keep, give away, or discard?
  3. Place the items to be kept back into the storeroom, and get rid of the rest
As expected, simple isn’t necessary easy, especially with step 2.  There were several items  which I haven’t used for a long time and unlikely to ever use them again (e.g. the ‘doctor suitcase’ which I bought myself with one of my first pay cheques, old magazines that featured articles I had written, stacks of handwritten notes made as I was conceptualising my businesses, old name cards, etc.).
Eventually, sentimental value prevailed over practical utility. I ended up keeping most of them in a box labelled – memorabilia.  And I learnt that ‘letting go’ is an extremely complex endeavour.  While it is possible to put physical items into a box and store it away, we can’t do the same with memories of our past experiences.  Our memories are accessible anytime, easily triggered by external stimulus.  And when too much of the undesirable experiences are brought back to the present, it can leave us with a heavy heart – one which could benefit from occasional ‘spring cleaning.’
If our brains were functionally normally, we don’t easily forget, especially negative experiences, for they tend to leave a more indelible mark in our mind.  We can’t just empty the mind in the same manner as clearing a storeroom or erasing data from a hard disk. With matters of the heart, we need to practice the ‘art of letting go.’
To let go of something is to release our grasp. The most common ‘thing’ that ought to be let go of is resentment.  Resentment is essentially the result of unexpressed anger. It’s one of the most common barriers to happiness.  Left unaddressed, resentment is highly toxic and causes a strain on our relationship with another.
Is there anyone that you resent, even in a small way?  Try letting go of such feelings by inhaling deeply, holding the resentment in your tightly clenched fists, and letting it go as you exhale gradually while you release the tension in your hands. Repeat it several time and watch your anger or resentment dissipate each time you release your grasp.
Does your heart feel a little lighter now?  You now have a remedy for a heavy heart.  Letting go is a solo exercise, you could do it on you own anytime and anywhere.  Remember to use it when needed.
Love,
Your Lighter Dad

What Dad wants you to know about GIVING

I was thinking about the notion of ‘giving’ during my late night run today.  Perhaps it was triggered by the spirit of Christmas … with images of Santa delivering gifts to kids who are eagerly waiting.  And then I pondered about my attitude towards giving … how selfish or selfless I have been when I give, when I have been generous and when I held back, and how I feel towards professional fundraisers who earn a living by taking a commission out of the donation they collect for charity organisations that otherwise may not have benefitted, who will I give or not give to, how much will I give, etc.

As I kept on running and pondering, a familiar message came to mind: “You can only give what you have.”  How true. Give what we have. It need not always be MONEY (in fact that’s the easiest thing to give away, especially excess money).  Something else that we all have is TIME, except that we get so busy these days that we hardly have enough time for ourselves, let alone to give some away.  But unlike money, time isn’t something we could physically handover to another.  When we dig deeper, it’s  actually ATTENTION that we are giving. When we make time for people whom we care about, we give them attention. And what do we really attend to?

Here’s my conclusion: it all boil down to attending to another’s NEEDS.  In essence, the act of giving becomes truly meaningful and fruitful when in doing so, we attend to the needs of the recipient, and not our own need to be generous or charitable.  If we were to put all these insights back into the context of the earlier message of “You can only give what you have,” one of the most important thing that we do already HAVE is the capacity to attend to another’s needs as well as our own.

Now, I know this may sound a little circular and perplexing … try something out, will you? Look around you and pick someone, think about what this person really need right now, and do something to attend to this need (it could be a hug, a smile, a helping hand, or even a few dollars).

Enjoy the gift of giving … that’s my gift for you today!

Love,

Your Giving Dad

What Dad wants you to know about COMMITMENT

Son, Dad is extremely tired and sleepy tonight … but I didn’t want to go to bed without leaving you a post.  When I set this blog up as ‘Daily Conversations with Dad,’ I really meant daily. And I intend to keep my word, for as long as I could.  That brings to mind something I wanted to you to learn, a quality I find so fundamental to a person’s success – commitment.

Commitment - the Gear Shift

Commitment makes life work. Commitment is the secret ingredient that translates our words and intentions into actions, which in turn bring about the results we experience in life. It’s like the ‘gear shift’ that distinguishes a Ferrari stuck at neutral (roaring loudly but going nowhere), from an engineering wonder fulfilling its potential as intended by its designer.

Without commitment, promises remain unfulfilled, dreams not made real, and life not fully lived out.  Without commitment, projects remain incomplete, goals unmet, and businesses fail.  Without commitment, conflicts remain unresolved, relationships stay broken, and families fall apart.

Commitment enables your mum and I to stick together for over 15 years, through thick and thin, goods times and bad.  And commitment enables her to wake up early every morning to send you to school, even on her worst days.  It is a force that is to be reckoned with, tapped into, and properly harnessed.

I want to share with you one of my favorite quotes on commitment from a passage taken from Scottish explorer W.H. Murray’s book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. Speaking of the beginning of his expedition, he expressed that they hadn’t done anything yet, but then clarifies:

But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.  I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Today, I want you to think about something that you dream of doing or becoming, commit yourself fully to realising it, and begin it boldly but taking just one small step towards it. Now, go do it!

Love,

Your Committed Dad

Make sure the spare works!

Last night, I watched an old episode of NCIS where agent Gibbs tricked a marine to confess to murder by daring him to jump off the plane with a spare parachute that he knew was sabotaged.  It didn’t mean too much to me then, until I found myself out on the road with a flat battery in my phone. What made it worse is that the spare battery (or power source) that I had been carrying in my haversack is flat as well.

What use is a spare if it isn’t working? Worse still, it gave me a false sense of security – I became less rigorous about checking my battery life before leaving the house.  Rushing to meet a new client, I had to borrow a charger at Coffee Beans just to charge it up enough to let me access my contact details.  Five minutes of recharge and a cup of latte saved the day.

After the meeting, I headed straight to the hospital for my medical review, and found myself driving on the express way, with a fuel indicator that’s been blinking on empty for the past 2 days. I was thinking, “The spare fuel is going to run out anytime soon.”   Furthermore, it was raining and I didn’t exactly know the way (guilty of being over reliant on the Maps app on my phone).

The thought of having a car stalled midway and no phone to call for help, and possibly missing the appointment (I was quite anxious to know my test results) gave me a scare. I got off the express way immediately, headed for the nearest Esso kiosk, refueled before the car dies on me, and arrived at the hospital on time.  On hindsight, it turned out that the route I had taken was the most optimum way to get from where I was to where I needed to be. St Gabriel must be watching over my shoulders.

So, what have I learnt from all these? I’m grateful not to have to learn it the hard way. Make sure the spare or backup works … be it a spare battery, tyre, computer, cash, pen, spectacles, underwear, etc. Develop the habit of checking that the spare is available and functional, because when we need to resort to using it, we are usually at the brink of desperation.

I’m going to make sure I backup my work more diligently, check the pressure of the spare tyre in the trunk periodically, have my emergency power source fully charged at all times.

Might sound a bit paranoid, but hey, better be safe than sorry. What about you?

Love,

Your Semi-paranoid Dad

How to make New Year Resolutions that actually work

As the year comes to a close, a topic that springs readily to mind is ‘New Year Resolutions.’ Well, there are so many jokes being cracked about New Year Resolutions that it is likely to fade into history … becoming an ancient ritual practiced only by the traditionalists.

I know many people who got so fed up with making the same resolutions over and over again, year after year (like lose weight, quit smoking, change job, spend more quality time with loved ones, etc.) till they eventually gave up.  Only a few stuck to their resolutions with determination, steadfastness, tenacity, perseverance .. and reaped the reward from looking back at the end of year with a sense of pride and fulfillment as they said to themselves, “I did it!”

The question I have for you is, “Which category of people do you rather be?”

Put in another way, would you rather live with the reasons, excuses, or complaints about how useless New Year resolutions are, or enjoy the results from making them work for you?

Results or Reasons? You choose.

This time last year, fed up with reasons, I chose results.  Rather than keep trying to ‘exercise more regularly,’ I decided to commit myself to complete a 10km race (that’s double the furthest distance I had run in my life in 40 years!). Plus, I thought running will help me shed some weight too.

But you know the story … I hesitated to sign up for the race for awhile, and by the time I decided to go, the registration is closed. It’s been fully fully subscribed. What’s left was either the half-marathon or the full distance.  Thankfully, with some sense of realism, I opted for the former … not without some apprehension.  Your mother was somewhat concerned, and warned me not to push myself too hard (men with a big ego tend to do stupid things to the point of dropping dead).  “Think of your family. Don’t you die on me over this, it’s not worth it,” she said.

Standard Chartered Marathon 2011

This story has a beautiful ending. Eventually, I did it.  And what made it possible, were a few things that I thought are worth sharing with you.  It might also help give some insights on how to make New Year resolutions that actually work. Here there are …

  1. Pick something that is really meaningful to you.  Focus on an area of life that you feel strongly about. Being over forty and overweight (BMI score says I’m obese), health is a clearly big thing for me, although not so in younger years. Running is simply the means. It’s being healthy and fit that I was truly after.
  2. Be specific. “I’ll exercise more regularly next year” isn’t good enough. My resolution was:  “I’ll run 10 km in the StandChart Marathon in December 2011.”
  3. Declare it.  Don’t keep it a secret. Share with someone who will hold you accountable (preferably in a supportive and encouraging manner, not mockery).
  4. Create a structure.  Relying on ‘will power’ to realise your New Year resolutions is too hard work.  We are creatures of habit and convenience. Create a ‘structure’ that helps you establish a routine or ritual. For me, the 16-week training plan that I downloaded from the marathon website, a playlist on my iPhone, a pair of comfortable sneakers, and a running belt to hold my phone and water provided the perfect structure I needed. Each day, I looked at the plan, and try to clock the time as prescribed. I hadn’t always complied (70% is good enough), but I never missed any rest (non-running) day.
  5. Envision the ending.  Lastly, I held a vision of me crossing the finishing line, and hugging you boys and your mum with my sweaty body.  That kept me going the whole time during the entire 2 hour 46 minutes ordeal. Thank you for being there to support your old man.

What have I learnt from all these? New Year Resolutions actually work … if and only if, you are willing to work them.  Now, I could tell my ‘success story’ with pride … that’s a lot more fun than making up excuses about why I hadn’t ran.

So next year, I’m committed to complete the full marathon. What about you? What are your New Year Resolutions for 2012?

Love,

Your Proud Dad

What do you want to be remembered for?

I’m in a soul-searching mood today … especially after a lovely retreat hosted by auntie Gennet and Jacq, our new neighbours.  Although the retreat focused more on being grateful for 2011 and clarifying our intentions for 2012,  I can’t help thinking about the ‘big questions’ that I have been ignoring for sometime now …

  1. What do I want to be remembered for when I’m gone?
  2. What legacy would I leave behind?
  3. What would I hope to hear your mother and you say about me?
  4. What would I say to God when asked “What have you done with the gifts I have given you?”
  5. What is the biggest regret in my life if I were to die in the next hour?

For the first question … three words came to mind: Truth, Choice, Action.  Collectively, they underpin my life’s work as a catalyst for the transformation of individuals, organisations, and hopefully, in time to come, societies.

I believe that transformation begins with …

uncovering, confronting, and accepting the truth, followed by making a conscious choice that is aligned with our deepest values and authentic intentions … which leads naturally to new actions that will bring about the desired changes, results, or new realities.

It’s as simple as that, but not always easy. Give it a go. Pick an area of your life that is not working as well as you desire, and test run the Truth>Choice>Action process. May you experience the profound impact it could possibly bring. Meanwhile, let me continue my reflections on the remaining questions.

Love,

Your Soul-searching Dad