Hello there! Three and a half years was a long time to have kept silent. The have been times when the voice in my head strained to be heard, but there was always something important to get done. It is good to be back and writing again!
I have spent the last three years learning and growing in my new workplace, and here are 5 thoughts from my journey to the Wild Side.
Since my last post, I have moved from Marketing in Mastercard to Insights & Strategic Planning in Mandai. The role is significantly different from what I used to do. From integrated marketing communications, I have pivoted to a role that is centred on strategy and understanding consumers. I had wanted to augment my experiences to become a more complete marketer and business professional, and this was the perfect opportunity. In Mandai, I took the time to immerse myself deeply in the work, to understand what needed to be done, to build relationships with my new colleagues, and to contribute wherever I could. It’s rather apt that my very last post back in 2016 was about “doing more”!
It has been an amazing journey at Mandai. It’s hard not to fall in love with working in the Singapore Zoo. People are mission-led and passionate about how their work protects wildlife, and the environment is simply beautiful. Professionally, I had ample opportunity to grow while leading the consumer insights function, spearheading innovation efforts such as introducing Design Thinking, and being a part of the corporate strategy process.
Recently, I felt the strong urge to write again. After contributing at work for so long, I feel like it’s time to come back to my passion for sharing what I have learnt along the way. In this awkward not-long-yet-not-too-short duration of three odd years, I have faced some personal challenges and some deaths in the family that made me rethink what everything was about.
The funny thing is, my past self kept coming back in different ways to answer my own questions. I rediscovered old posts that I wrote on this site, or old Facebook updates that spoke to me over the last few months. That made me realise that I should start writing again, if only to serve as a prescient advisor to my future self. I hope that others would benefit from this as I did.
Here are 5 key lessons from a journey in the wilderness. If you ever feel stranded and are searching for a greater purpose, this is for you.
1. It is okay to be lost.
Have you ever wondered what does it means to be lost? Think about that for a second. You can only truly be lost if you are trying to go somewhere, and “here” is not where you think you should be.
Maybe you are not where you want to be from a career perspective. Maybe you are not doing work that you think you are good at or resonate with. Maybe you have simply been too busy to even have the luxury of thinking about such things.
You know what? That’s probably entirely normal. We have all been in a situation in our lives when we wonder about alternative possibilities, could-haves and should-haves. I would even go one step further and say that it’s actually a good thing to feel lost once in a while.
Feeling lost means that deep inside of you, you know where you need to be. Perhaps it’s a goal you decided on a long time ago that you just have not been hitting yet. You might want to feel a certain way about your job while you are doing it. Or you might have certain expectations about your peers in your job environment. Perhaps you aspired for greater work-life balance. Whatever your situation, you might be feeling lost because you are not where you want to be yet. And that is okay!
Being lost gives you the opportunity to evaluate afresh the objectives that you have set for yourself in life and recalibrate.
Life is calling you back to your dreams. Don’t stay in a state of uncertainty simply because you did not take the time to take a hard look at where you need to be. Begin today!
Personally, it took me months to shake off this feeling. I spoke to my boss, colleagues and friends and asked them about my strengths and weaknesses from a third party perspective. I revisited my past experiences and really examined how I felt about them. What came out from this experience was a rediscovering of myself and things that really drove me. I had a better appreciation of how I tick, and what would give me joy.
Have you taken some time out recently to listen to yourself? You might find that unbeaten path you had been meaning to take for a while but just did not.
2. You are right where you need to be.
Somewhat paradoxically, after taking the time to rediscover myself, I realised that I was right where I needed to be. Without conscious deliberation or thought, a lot of my work and effort were centred on things I found meaningful.
To give you an example, one of the key things that drive me is building good relationships with others at work. My firm belief is that we can achieve better outcomes if we all work together and consider different angles and viewpoints. Reviewing what I had done for the last two and a half years, I realised that most of my work was just that – talking to different teams and bringing the different pieces together into a wholistic symphony.
I used to struggle with the sense that I was putting my finger in other people’s pies, but I have come to realise that that is my exact strength and passion at work when seen from another angle.
We don’t need to go somewhere else to be where we need to be. Sometimes all we need to do is to realise that ‘here’ is a pretty good place to start.
3. Skill comes with time and deliberate action.
A conversion I had with a friend is etched in my mind. This friend of mine is a secondary school teacher, and he was sharing about how he encourages his students to study. He mentioned that we often take for granted the things we do, and see them as typical or normal, but they might not be. He was referring to the simple act of studying. The number of hours that we put into our books builds up a reservoir of knowledge and a ‘muscle memory’ for studying that others might not have simply because they never had the discipline to do it before.
This is the same with any other skill. Malcolm Gladwell in his New York Times Bestseller “Outliers” mentions that we take a total of around 10,000 hours to master a skill. Have you ever considered what you have done for 10,000 hours already? I certainly have. Reading books for one, is something I have done all my life. Some people find it amazing that I read so many books. I can assure you, it’s a matter of deliberate practice.
Another area of my life that I am trying to build up the discipline of deliberate action is in Jiu-Jitsu. I began to be serious about it 2 years ago, and I have been slowly putting in the hours to make sure I get it right. I love it because there is no hiding behind a smart mouth or pretension in Jiu-Jitsu. You are either better than someone else or not, and at the end of the day, it’s the personal journey to excellence that matters.
In these two years, I rediscovered things I have always wanted to do, and started to do them. Kayaking, learning the guitar, travelling, and Jiu-Jitsu, of course. It made me realise how difficult it was to get really good at something, but it also made me realise that progress is made one step at a time, with us simply putting one foot ahead of the other.
4. Every challenge is a learning opportunity.
As a Singaporean, it can be hard to take challenges in my stride.
I have an ongoing conversation with my boss about having a growth mindset, where every challenge is seen as an opportunity to learn and stretch yourself beyond where you are today. In many ways, I have benefitted from being put into situations where I’ve had to find my own way and be resourceful.
As part of a rapidly growing organisation, rules change before you can learn them, and at the end of the day, it boils down to being focused on the objective at hand and knowing who you can rely on to know things and get things done.
5. You are making a difference.
I wonder if this sense of not making a dent in the universe plagues everyone, but it certainly occurs to me sometimes. It can be hard to think that anything you do makes a difference when you are caught up with the day-to-day scheduling of meetings, answering of emails, fighting of fires.
Put in the heart though, and you might just be surprised.
I spearheaded a design thinking project in my company, designing the new children’s zoo. As it was one of the few integrated projects that required multiple stakeholders for input, the process was long-drawn and full of lengthy negotiations between teams to make sure that the space captured everything we needed while providing an exceptional guest experience.
Months after we submitted the final design brief and the architects took over, in a meeting, the CEO asked where the slide down to the lower levels was going to be. This was an idea that we had presented in the design, but had been taken out by the architects due to space considerations. Even though it was a small comment, I was heartened to realise that our recommendations were heard and stuck to the mind of my CEO.
This is only one of many instances where I was surprised by how people really took the inputs from my work, and made a change to how they did things. You are making a bigger impact than you realise. The only question then is whether you use that impact for good.
And that was the 5 things that I learnt while working at the Zoo! There are definitely more lessons, and I’m sure there would be more opportunities to share as we go along.
Take the time to find out who you are, what you want to learn, and know that you are making a difference where you are. Make that difference a positive one!