Personal Change

Some months back, I asked Mr L if he would join me for a lunch catch up with a mutual ex-colleague, Mr T. We have not met in 14 years. Mr L was busy being angry about everything, his former employer, his PHd application being rejected by XYZ University.

Fast forward to June, I found out that if Mr L had joined me for lunch with Mr T, he could have walked his way into a job vacancy in Mr T’s company.

Is this how Krumboltz’s Happenstance works? Sometimes opportunities whiz by and miss us because we are engrossed in the past.

Lesson learnt today.

As an IJ, unplanned meetings drain me. But think of the exciting future that awaits you from the little step you take.


Designing the ideal chair for your partner client

Empathy, understand your client.

What I found designing for my partner (client), is that I was actually designing for myself. My ideal chair.

Her ideal, well, my client was not very forthcoming was, a Japanese style tatami chair.

What a surprise.

Ask, draw, check, and if possible, ask them to draw it out.

In career coaching, its the same. You may think you know the ideal job for your client,  it can be entirely different from what your client has in mind.

After a week in Kagoshima and Yakushima, known for its agriculture, I want to pay tribute to Japanese mastery and continuoius improvement.

Kagoshima is famous for its black Kurobuta pork perfected from the black Berkshire pig gifted by the UK.

Despite what you hear about over-worked Japanese office workers, a culture that coined the term Karoshi or death by over-work, it does not apply to farm animals. Pigs do get depression. Farmers know that unhappy pigs do not produce good meat. So they keep pigs happy with exercise and clean food.


This month while some are on holiday, Alibaba founder, Jack Ma made headlines advising young people the need to work 996, 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week.

Shortly after, he made an about turn when he drew a lot of negativity.

In a sense Jack Ma is not wrong. Malcolm Gladwell popularised the concept of “deliberate practice” or 10,000 hours rule that to achieve excellence, deliberate practice is needed. There is no true genius without hard work.

What is the difference between an overworked employee or a workaholic and a high performer?

Autonomy and
Sense of Purpose or Meaning.

Research abounds that working long hours with high stress is unproductive and harmful to the body. Source:

Hours do not translate to high stress.

Stress is caused by interpretation of the work, whether it is aligned to the individual’s motivation, sense of control and purpose.

Giving an individual more autonomy can ironically create more stress, if the individual has a low sense of self efficacy and external locus of control, ie they do not believe they have power to change their circumstances and are helpless victims of fate.

Some organisations have moved to using personality profiling to detect similarities in their top performers and recruit employees with a better fit.

Employees who link work to skills mastery, and career purpose are more engaged. (Daniel Pink).

To my 3rd year student who is wondering why he should bring home over the weekend for his internship:

Questions to reflect:

Mastery and Personal Excellence
1. Do the long hours contribute to personal mastery or deep skills?


2. Are the long hours the result of inefficiency, wasting time waiting for inputs or misguided attention?

3. How much of work can be automated?

4. Does personality differences make a difference in an ideal employee?

5. Is your boss abusing her authorities or is hard work the norm?

6. Do you believe you can make changes to your work and a personal difference? Self efficacy. Do you have an internal locus of control.

How will you know?
Keep a personal scoreboard. Track your activities. Do they match personal, department, organisation or community goals?

As they say, if you enjoy your work, you never need to work a single day.

Jack Ma to his employees:
“Don’t make me happy, don’t love me. Make your customer happy, make your customer love you, and I will love you any minute.‘”

Jack Ma U-turns on 996 work culture, says companies ‘foolish’ to force overtime

Source: my trek in the moss covered Yakushima

To concentrate, one requires directed attention. According to researchers Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, this limited resource gets depleted.

Holidaying in bustling, car honking Asian cities like Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chih Minh or KL gets me stressed by the loud noise. Given a choice I prefer padi fields of Bali with its restorative walks in Hue, Kota Kinabalu, Brunei and Sarawak, especially long walks in Japan calm me. Yet, being in New Zealand and Tibet although calming did not calm me.

What is it about a holiday in Japan that so fascinates me even though there are many other more interesting places in the world? I finally found my answer in an article by Courtney Ackerman on Rachel and Stephen Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory and the benefits of nature .

According to ART, a restorative environment possess 4 elements:

Being Away
Soft Fascination

Being Away
A change in environment gives the sense of being separate and transported from one’s usual thoughts and concerns. Although an individual does not need to be physically away, it can certainly be helpful.

Meditation, or changing focus such as reading a book, laughing at a comedy can help one be psychologically detached from present worries and demands, and distracted from the environment that is draining your attention and energy (Daniel, 2014).

Here, one’s attention is held without any effort expended. Restorative environments hold your attention without your need to focus or direct it in a certain way.

Two kinds of fascination according to Kaplan:

Hard fascination: where your attention is held by a highly stimulating activity; such activities generally do not provide the opportunity to reflect or introspect, since you are completely absorbed. Eg, vigorous exercise

Soft fascination: when your attention is held by a less active or stimulating activity; such activities generally provide the opportunity to reflect and introspect (Daniel, 2014). For me, thats being in an onsen, or swimming. Unfortunately, I cant have a pen with me.
This component refers to the quality of restorative environments that encourages you to feel totally immersed and engaged (Kaplan, 2001).

An environment must be familiar and coherent for it to be restorative. Although you do not need to have been to the environment before, it cannot conjur feelings of excitement, discomfort, confusion, or being out-of-place which will trigger your fight or flight or need to attend to the situation.

Whats your choice of a restorative holiday?

Can you recreate intermittent holidays before the big one?

Forest Therapy in Japan


Yesterday I revisited Queenstown Library, the first library built in Singapore. Its not fancy like the newer libraries in a shopping mall, without robotics. But it does have a cafe, easy self borrowing machines.

As I step into the library, waves of memories hit me. Bringing my then 3 yr old nephew to borrow books, hunting for self help books at a time when I felt so lost.

Revisiting the familiar can sometimes be comforting, at other times surprising.

Like going back to Shanghai after a year and realised so much has changed. Same mall, upholstered.

People change. Sometimes for the better. Do we give the same person the opportunity to be someone different? Forgiveness helps us do that.

You never step in the same river twice.

Bored with nowhere to go? Try the familiar, but with new eyes.

Creativity is seeing the same thing as everyone but seeing it differently.

What do you think of this saying?

Why Rereading Books and Rewatching Movies Is More Fun Than Expected – The Atlantic

Studies show that 40% of the anxiety felt by people in the world is focused on things that will never happen.

Apparently 30% is related to the past which we cannot change, 12% to other people’s criticism and 10% to health.

It is a very curious reality that only 8% of the time do we really worry about concerns that need to be faced in the here and now.

Dr. Amy Orr-Ewing
Festival of Thought, Singapore

Ive had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened
Mark Twain

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time
Reinhold Niebuhr


Photo credit: himself of the sunbird at our balcony

Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? 
Jesus quoted in Matthew 6: 27

What are you anxious about?