Meeting you at the crossroads

March 2009 seems to be career change month. I’ll be starting a new job in April, while quite a few people I know are either quitting or planning to – as soon as they get a gig lined up, of course. One dude, G, is being pretty brave and sent in his resignation without securing another position.

Traditional advice is to get another job before leaving your current one. From my experience it really isn’t the best thing to do. When your job takes more from you than you can afford – endangering your physical or mental wellbeing or impeding your personal growth, move on.

The longer you stay in a bad situation, the harder it is to leave. One girl I know dithered about leaving her unfulfilling job because she didn’t want to take a paycut to change industries. Some sacrifices are justified. Maybe you’ll have a lower salary now, but if the new gig is a better fit, the tradeoffs will be worth it in the long run. Said girl still isn’t truly happy (she is the perennially dissatisfied sort)but at least she’s happier.

Some people assumed I left journalism for the money. I’ll be frank – at my current job I took a minor paycut though upon confirmation, my salary would be bumped up significantly by a cool half grand.

So why am I leaving then? Because I realised that though working from home is ideal for some, right now I need structure and people around me. There were days when I thought I would go mad from the lack of interaction in my daily routine. I prayed for guidance, for strength, for reassurance. So when a door opened unexpectedly and unlooked for, I took a chance.

It wasn’t about the money. It never is, for me. The job, the environment, the people, the projects I’ll be involved with all matter. When it came time for me to decide whether a move was the right thing, I prayed as I always did: “If this is what You want for me, open the door. Else shut it firm and keep me from harm.”

I believe that God doesn’t always give you what you want, but He will, if you trust Him enough, give you what you need. That you don’t provide for yourself – He does, by giving you the means, the strength, the help or the company. And in the darkest of times, He is not absent. He is right there, with you, hearing you and helping you understand that life may not be the scripted fairytale we want but hope is always there. Hope in His love, His guidance, His compassion.

So to my friends beginning new journeys, I wish you all the best. May you find comfort and guidance whichever path you take, however terrifying it might be. As my friend S says, “Jump first, fear later!”

Tha Crossroads – Bone, Thugs-n-Harmony

Saying what needs to be said

I hate walking away from anything. Because I believe in finishing things, in holding on until it hurts too much to go any further.

Sometimes, though, you have to be honest with yourself and everyone involved when you realise the stakes, and the price, is too high for you to pay. It’s only March and already I’m starting over, ending one adventure and changing direction in another.

It’s hard to swallow my pride and admit to myself that I just wasn’t the best fit for a role. But I guess it’s better I admit it, open the door that’s suddenly opened for me and leave room for more worthy successors. I see the writing on the wall and it’s telling me “There is where you should be, not here.” A path is laid out for me to walk on and I see now that its beginnings had been laid so much earlier.

In work and in love, sometimes you just have to understand that you’re not “The One”. You might have been a good candidate, but not the best candidate. And it works both ways.  Sometimes an employer, or a lover, might keep you around because you fill a space. But at the back of their minds, no matter how hard you try to fill that space, you can’t take the place of an ideal that you aren’t.

I’m afraid.

I’m excited.

I’m sure.

Take all of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all your so called problems
Better put ’em in quotations
Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to saaaay…

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you’d be better off instead
If you could only
Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to saaay…

Have no fear
For giving in
Have no fear
For giving over
You better know that in the end
It’s better to say too much
Then never to say what you need to say again
Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open… wide…
Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to
Say what you need to
Say what you need to say…

Still not here

When overtaken by arrogance, I often make fun of the small-minded and people unable to grasp either the big picture or possibilities.

But I am guilty of another sin – not being able to live in the present. Everything in my life is so scripted. Uptight, wound tightly, defensive to the point I snap, revealing that my supposed easygoing nature masks my inner control freak.

It’s hard dancing to a song when you’re not listening to the beat, not letting the music envelop you. We’re all guilty of ignoring the song that’s playing and instead wondering what will play next, what tune to recommend to the DJ  or whether maybe you/your brother/your musician friend could do a better job of it.

Perhaps it wasn’t coincidence I stumbled upon Katie Goodman’s “Improvisation for the Spirit". A self-help book utilising the tools of improv comedy? Pretty novel, I thought and it didn’t hurt the price was marked down at the MPH Warehouse sale.

Goodman describes the first four skills of improv thus:

1. You must be present and listen carefully

2. The pink elephant rule: don’t negate

3. Affirm and add

4. Always be willing to surrender your plans

The second rule stirred feelings of guilt. How often had I shot down ideas without fully listening to them? Ignored thought and just dismissed ideas out of hand without at least giving the person some due consideration?

I suppose one reason people choose to remain ignorant is the truth that the more you know, the more painfully aware you become of how little you actually do know. The process of learning is becoming, for me, a mirror reflecting back my shortcomings.

If I’m still a work in progress, I dread how much work there is yet to be done.

Still trying to find that happy medium

The most dissatisfied people I know always seem to be complaining about the things they have to do as opposed to what they want to do.

Sometimes it’s as innocuous as getting in at work early when all you really want to do is sleep in.

It’s not pleasant being torn between two different, opposing directions. My biggest conflict at my previous job was feeling as if I was serving Mammon when I wanted to serve God.

Where is the middle ground? How do you resolve your ideals and the practicalities of day-to-day living?

I guess in the end it boils down to priorities. Narrowing things down, deciding what I really want.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of wanting what you have got, instead of longing after what you haven’t.

I don’t always find that happy medium; a lot of times I am just as dissatisfied as the unhappy people I see.

But there are days I come so close. My heart feels lighter and despite the weariness of my body, I feel an indescribable ease of soul.

To be, and be happy just to be. Right here, where I am, who I am. Until tomorrow comes and I feel the need to kick myself into doing better. When the deadlines come piling up, the obligations start weighing on my consciousness, or old antagonists remind me they exist.

But right now I feel as though I am just one wing’s breadth short of flying.  Almost, but not quite, perfectly content.

There is a way to be good again

So I was sharing with a friend my desire to do good works and promote volunteerism and CSR. He scoffed, “You’re in the wrong industry, and probably the wrong country.” Maybe he has a point about the latter seeing as a recent report showed that locally listed companies scored poorly where CSR was concerned.

I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised.

See, my biggest ‘failure’ as I think of it at The Mag was not being able to push the whole concept of CSR within the organisation. Oh, we were happy to ‘support’ our clients’ CSR pushes by writing pithy articles and politely feigning interest. But it was always about the money, the bottom line, the next thing to keep our clients advertising.

It’s hard enough trying to make ends meet in the industry without promising coverage and time to, say, a charitable foundation. The most I could ever go was write about causes that mattered or making the odd snarky reference in my editor’s note. As far as I could get away with it, I let others write advertorials while I wrote meatier features on Net Neutrality and other topics I felt mattered more than megapixels.

But it always bothered me – that nagging little feeling that I could do more, and be more. I tried working for the UNHCR and found quickly that though I loved the refugee cause, I could do more for it outside than inside the organisation.  Leaving the UNCHR gave me more opportunities to speak about refugee issues than I ever had while I was working for it. There was too much red tape, too much worry, too much stress and strain.

Does social responsibility have a place within the ‘flack’ industry? Weber Shandwick makes interesting points about why organisations can’t afford to ignore CSR:

“CSR is not easy. It isn’t a product you can just buy, which is why that email I received was so revealing. It is a state of mind and must form part of the "core DNA" of a company if it is going to be worthwhile. Ideally any company’s commitment to corporate responsibility will be endorsed and owned by those at the very top of its leadership.

CSR is a particularly difficult area for the PR industry. Ask most CSR practitioners or NGOs and they will tell you categorically, even scornfully, that CSR is "not about PR". In a sense it is a fair point. There must be substance behind the spin. If it is a half-hearted attempt to keep NGOs at bay, it will not generate value for money or raise profile. In that sense there is no point in using PR if there is nothing substantial to communicate.

On the other hand, all substantive actions will be wasted if companies do not hire the best in the business to communicate their CSR work loudly and clearly. In addition to its societal benefits, CSR is providing entirely new angles for businesses to communicate with their audiences.”

My strength, and weakness, is my idealism. No matter how cynical I may seem to some people, I really do believe that doing good matters. If everyone stopped, gave up, and just wrote off good works then there would be no one to fight for the poor, the disenfranchised, the disabled, the helpless, the voiceless.

What I hope for might not be realised in this lifetime, but I can cling to the hope that it might be realised for my grandchildren. Whether or not I have any is immaterial; I want to make the world a little better for my having lived in it. That’s my only dream that has remained through all the years of heartache and disappointment. So don’t shatter it for me, please?

Sad, uncomfortable truths about singlehood

I usually make merciless fun of all those relationship books I see in the market. “The Rules”, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” and all that ilk annoy me. But I ended up reading Unhooked Generation: The Truth About Why We’re Still Single and it’s given me a lot to think about.  Unlike other books and their quasi-research, author Jillian Strauss has actually put a lot of thought and study into the reasons why so many singles are single…even if they don’t want to be.

I like how filly.ca’s review sums up the uncomfortable truths contained in the book thus:

“Straus explores how we long for ‘the one’ yet approach dating in a ‘multiple-choice society’ where we believe that relationships should be immediate and are replaceable. We embrace casual sex and live in a society that treats sex as a commodity, and as a result undermine what sex with ‘the one’ could be. Men and women try to balance both traditional gender roles and the more egalitarian roles of today and end up with totally unrealistic expectations.”

The reviewer’s mother gives one bit of advice which makes more sense of any of “The Rules”: “You don’t find someone that fits your life. You find someone and figure out how you make it work for both of you.”

Reading the book, it’s easy to recognise the patterns a lot of us end up in. I see them in myself and the many still-singles I know. I saw that in the last guy I dated, who I realised later was pretty much emotionally unavailable.

“I’ll see you when I see you.” Earth to Erna, Commitmentphobe alert.

I guess the reasons why a lot of us serial-date is because we’re afraid we’ll be stuck with a no-hoper like that. But all these lonely people playing the field, never committing and always keeping an eye out for someone better…it’s sad. Sex and the City sad. You know Carrie wants to find The One but No One is ever good enough. Whine whine Ooh pretty shoes whine whine. That’s Carrie. And she’s the role model for women everywhere? Good grief. No wonder we all need books to get our love lives sorted.

While I don’t believe you should settle for someone abusive, emotionally retarded, or a douchebag, I also don’t believe that you should date around just because you can. You meet someone, find a little bit more about that person, hang out and see if something develops. If it doesn’t, move on. If you don’t give anything of yourself at all to a relationship, then how can you expect for it to develop at all? But if you’re the only one giving, walk. Just walk.

It would be nice to meet someone, but until I do, there’s little to complain about right now. I’m making a career change, getting involved with the theatre, spending time with good people, and finally being comfortable with my faith and who I am. And thankfully, I’m not spending any of my time watching Sex and the City. Manolo Blahniks are overrated anyway.

What kind of fool am I

No, not an emo post. Just an old song that’s been covered by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and, funnily enough, James Brown. It’s from the musical Stop The World – I Want To Get Off.

The musical’s rather tragic – the main character searches for an elusive happiness that drives him to find solace in the arms of many a woman. But in the end, he finds that what he wants he had all along in the love of his wife.

Aren’t we all fools sometimes? Without the wisdom of discernment, hanging on to the unnecessary and letting the important slip through our fingers. I’m good at dishing out annoying unsolicited advice, but I’m always a fool when it comes to love. My career path has been just as tumultuous as my affairs of the heart, but I wouldn’t change a thing. If even the smallest thing changed, I might not know the people I do now or done the things I’d never imagined doing.

One painful lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes you do get what you want, and it isn’t what you imagined it to be at all. That it can sometimes hurt you more than it gives you joy. Or sometimes you find the joy was an illusion and the reality more painful than you ever imagined.

I’ve learned that I don’t have all the answers, that I can’t always go it alone. But if I trust and believe in the One who does have all the answers, I’ll find them. And if I don’t, that’s OK too.

What kind of fool am I
Who never fell in love
It seems that I’m the only one that I have been thinking of

What kind of man is this?
An empty shell
A lonely cell in which an empty heart must dwell

What kind of lips are these
That lied with every kiss
That whispered empty words of love that left me alone like this

Why can’t I fall in love
Like any other man
And maybe then I’ll know what kind of fool I am

What kind of clown am I?
What do I know of life?
Why can’t I cast away the mask of play and live my life?

Why can’t I fall in love
Till I don’t give a damn
And maybe then I’ll know what kind of fool I am

Why I won’t work past 11pm

A friend asked on Facebook: “Which is more important? Wealth or health?”

I was frank and told him that if he ignored the latter, he’d be in no position to chase the former. But in our current economic situation, I see even more employers squeezing their employees dry and leaving them useless husks. What do you do with husks? You throw them away.

We enslave ourselves to our employers, groveling, scraping and ruining our health to bring in the paycheck. But when you fall ill from countless nights of late work, from long bouts of stress, from poor food and little sleep, will you call on your employer…or will you call on God?

To quote George Monbiot, “You know you have only one life. You know it is a precious, extraordinary, unrepeatable thing: the product of billions of years of serendipity and evolution. So why waste it by handing it over to the living dead?”

I’m making a very conscious effort to be in bed by 12am, 1am at the latest. Some may say that I’m being idealistic or impractical. I tell them “Are you going to pay for my doctor’s bill or hold yourself responsible for the MC I’m going to need?” When I was younger, I could burn the midnight oil and stay up until 5am, sleeping for two hours before heading off to work. I can’t do that anymore. And I won’t. Whatever needs getting done, will get done, in the day, when I am sane, alert and propped up by a lot of coffee.

So when other people try to guilt me about the poor souls working late nights and being ‘productive’, I snap at them and say “Go to any old folks home and ask them about their rheumatism, their arthritis, their aches and pains. None of them will tell you they wished they slept less when they were younger.”

Sleep is not for the weak. It is for those who realise that, one day, they will be.

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Sometimes to see, you must go blind

I am sitting here typing on my tiny Eee PC because my desktop PC’s hard disk has died on me. So has, unfortunately, my newly-installed Streamyx line.

And to think people keep exhorting me to get Streamyx when I know, and they know, it patently sucks. To top it all off, my left eye is red, swollen and so sensitive, I’ve resorted to keeping it closed. Yes, my computer, my DSL and my left eye all don’t work for me right now.

It’s forced me to think about a lot of things – the unhealthy amount of time I spend at my computer. Yes, I have a job that requires me to be at my home PC but I don’t have to be too sedentary. I’m getting chest pains and I think my muscles have begun to atrophy. I’ve cut down on all my other projects outside of HMMW. Not without some regret, I admit.Why have any projects at all, some ask. Because to have no life outside work – it’s sad. Your job should never own you. “But it puts money on the table!” Wrong. I believe God does.

But so I don’t feel like I’m going out of my mind, I’m plonking out tunes on my keyboard. It is strangely satisfying. You can’t think of anything else – not my job, not the show, not even my darn rabbits – when trying to get my fingers to collaborate. The other beauty of it is I can’t think too hard. The harder I force it, the more I strain, the more likely I’ll flub the tune.

So I need to work on my work/life balance. Pray more. Discipline myself to do my Pilates/Ashtanga and not let my muscles atrophy. Get on that damn bicycle.Sing because I miss it, because I need it.

And now my body demands (despite forcing me to sleep the entire morning) I continue to pay back all the sleep debt I owe. Good night.

The curious case of the human heart

Brad Pitt (flou/blurry)

Image by IBWK via Flickr

Just came back from watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Irene. It wasn’t a film I’d been excited about watching because the storyline just seemed too ‘out there’. Surprisingly, the script worked and Brad Pitt was incredibly watchable. There’s even this one scene that reminds us just why Pitt is such a box office draw – the man is just almost too beautiful to be real.

And the romance between Pitt’s protaganist and Cate Blanchett’s Daisy is palpable, believable and very well-written. Blanchett is brilliant, perfectly depicting her character’s different life stages, from the flighty, giddy 20-something to the tempered, weary, middle-aged and then finally to her final moments.

“You have to let go.” That phrase from the movie haunts me because it’s so true. And I’ve had so much letting go in my life, to the point I find it hard to hold on to anything anymore and yet get so torn up about some losses.

My parents lost the house when I was little; I lost the comforts of never worrying about material things. So I never bothered too much about money or ‘stuff’ because I knew that they go, they probably can be replaced and best not to hoard or hold on to things.

But attachments are harder. I am slightly upset with myself that I’m still not quite over the ‘breakup’ I had in January. We only dated a month and sometimes, it still hurts. I find myself wondering why I can’t so easily get over something that I should be over by now – it was only a month, after all.

What hurts just as much is knowing that he’s likely not affected by it at all. That he doesn’t think about it, or me, that he’s swallowed up by his work and myriad other attachments. That I was just something shiny that kept his attention for a while and then once I no longer filled a temporary void, I was discarded like used gum.

I wonder if I’ve ever used anyone that way…I don’t think so. Sure, I’ve been tempted but I could never do that to anyone. If I know that I just don’t feel enough to do more than hang out with a person, I don’t lead them on. I draw the lines and even if I have to be blunt or cruel, I tell them straight off that I’m not interested. There was this one guy I went to dinner with just once and he was enamoured. Then came the constant texts which I gave terse replies to – but he didn’t get the hint until I finally just told him that I didn’t want to see him. I was single, jobless and transport-less. It would have been easy to use him as an errand boy or driver, just have him temp until I found someone real for the job.

But that’s never how I do it. I abhor the notion of using people as ‘fillers’. But I knew I would be one, right from the start. That I wasn’t The One, just Some One. And I don’t know whether it’s not really just my ego hurting and not my heart.

Nothing lasts. I was mostly happy for a month. Of laughter and music and long conversations. And it ended. I was replaced. And it hurt. I’m still not over it, but I’m getting there.

Riding a bike will also involve letting go – learning to coast, learning to stop pressing the brakes, and learning to let my body guide turns. In my head, I know how it all works but the practise is a lot more tricky. I guess it goes for matters of the heart just as well.

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