Monday, January 25, 2021

The power of small changes

I'm doing a classic SMOL post here (lol!), so interpret however you wish. Here it goes:




Thursday, January 21, 2021

Blogging about blogging

Ever since I resumed blogging this year, I have been quite disciplined in writing. Each article takes about 1 to 2 hrs time to write, edit and essentially just be ready for publishing. This doesn't include time to brainstorm for articles. Hence, you can see it requires a certain discipline to churn out consistently. I'm trying to hit about 2 articles per week, usually published on a Monday and a Thursday to spread them out. 


The writing and editing is the easy part of the job. What's the hardest part? It's to come up with ideas to write on. And for this kind of creative process, you can't just set a goal and say I want to come up with 10 great ideas by this week. It just won't happen this way. It can't be forced like that. Some days you are wet with ideas, and some days you are just dry as a bone. In the past, whenever I felt that I have a brilliant blogging idea, I'll just leap up and type out a draft straight away. But these days, being busier, I have to quickly jot it down digitally before I self-censor or forget about what I wanted to say. 


Self-censorship during blogging is very real. There are so many drafts stored in my blog that failed to publish because halfway during the writing, I decided that it's not worth my readers' time (or my time to write). The article is either too lame or just too painful to flesh it out. These will go straight to the bin. If I keep doing that, it'll be a phenomenon known as writer's block. I read a book that says that to fight this ailment, we just have to keep writing and stop the self-censorship. Oh, and having a routine helps too so that the brain knows that say, after drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, it's time to do some writing. After a series of really lame and bad blog articles, something fresh and unique will (usually) appear. Then we can proceed from there. If I have no bad ideas at all, I think I haven't tried hard enough. There is a saying that an expert fails more times than a newbie had tried. Or a Chinese expert ate more salt than the rice a newbie ate. You get what I mean.


Over the years, I found that the drier periods usually coincide with days when I didn't have time to read. I think reading is a habit that keeps on giving and compounding throughout my life, and in this case, it helps tremendously in blogging as well. Reading is like brain food. If you don't eat food, you don't have energy. If you don't read, you don't have materials to write. As simple as that. My main brain food is reading. I think for others, it could be podcast or youtube or people that you meet up. Whatever floats your boat, man.

There is a certain sense of freedom in not caring about personal branding
and to simply blog without an agenda. It's like financial freedom, but on blogging.

To streamline the work process for blogging, I came up with the following steps:

1) Read daily and consistently to get ideas. The goal of 52 books per week still stands after all these years. In addition to that, I am also getting warmed up to the idea of audiobook summaries and podcast during transit times. Book summaries (I'm using Blinkist) are just summaries of books that are condensed into less than 10 pages. I used this service to get the main ideas of books (especially those themes that I normally wouldn't read) and if I really like it, I'll read the book from cover to cover.

2) As soon as a blogging idea comes up, note it down. I am using Google keep because it allows me to sync between desktop and mobile phone, but it can be any other note-taking app. I prefer digital app because of the syncing, and also because while I don't always have a pen and paper with me, I am very likely to have my mobile phone with me at all times. Since I wanted to write 2 articles per week, I need to have at least 2 ideas added per week to my note-taking app.

3) If I know in advance that I have a block of time (roughly 30 mins), I start to flesh out the ideas noted down in the previous point. This need not have to be free, undisturbed time. I can write while waiting for food or any other such times. Being a parent means free time is a luxury, so sometimes I'll have to multitask and flesh out articles when watching my child watch cartoons, for instance. It's not ideal, I know, but hey, not every minute spend with family is quality time. 2 to 3 such sessions of 30 mins each should be sufficient to flesh out an article. Unless I'm doing a creative post, like writing poems, or short stories, then it might take a very very long time. But it's fine because then, I'll be having lots of fun :)

4) Since I'm writing way ahead of self-publishing deadline, usually a week ahead, I have the time to edit and add some pictures. My picture quality can be improved, I know, but currently, my addition of picture within the article is simply to break up the passage into digestible chunks for easier reading. There are many should-haves regarding pictures - I could have selected more relevant pictures, arranged and edit more attractive ones etc. In fact, I have a grand plan to include my own drawings or illustrations, but it might add an extra hour or two. We shall see how that ambition goes. I've always wanted to do a long term project like drawing something every day and see where that takes me. But I'm afraid it might be too much of a commitment right now. KIV.

5) Publishing. I know some days are better for publishing than other days. Heck, even some timings are better than others. So far, from trial and error, it seems that the best timing is just after lunch. I guess a lot of people just returned from lunch and still getting their gears warmed up before starting work. So they will check their social media platforms to procrastinate a little. I don't know, it's just a wild but reasonable guess. It's not very important also, because these days, this blog is not written with the aim of making ad revenue, or for exposure, or fame. I'm not slamming people who are doing that, and personally, I've done that before too. It's just that at this stage in life, I don't need this anymore. I just want to consolidate my thoughts, gift aways some ideas and maybe, receive ideas in return. The plus point is that I can also freaking write whatever the crap I want to with nary a care about my 'branding', hahaha


That's all folks, enough of this meta-post on blogging about blogging. Live long and prosper.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Big fish small pond OR small fish big pond?

 If you have to choose, would you rather be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? 


I ask this question because my students just had their O'lvl results. After so many years in this line, I tend to get less excited about their results. I fully understand how getting a great result will lead to undesirable consequences in life. I don't know whether to be happy about good results or be sad about bad results anymore. I'll explain more.


This student of mine, let's call him John, got a fantastic result of  L1R5 of 8 points. That is a freaking good showing in the O'lvl. It means almost all the subjects scored an A1 (the highest possible grade), except for 2 subjects which are A2 (the second highest possible grade). Fantastic right? So naturally, John will want to go to the best JC. But I know John since primary school; he's quite a nervous wreck and will often breakdown due to stress. As in, really breakdown, go nuts, need to visit psychiatrist kind of break down. If he goes to an elite JC, I'm worried about whether he will suffer another depression episode because we all know how crazily hard Singapore A'lvl JC course can be. 


So the question again: is it better for John to be a small fish in a big pond and go join a more neighbourly JC and be the top dog there? Or is it better for him to be a big fish in a small pond and go join that elite JC and possibly be crushed by the competition there and suffer any mental breakdown?



I tend to favour the small fish big pond idea, especially since I know John's 'pattern'. The education system is not worth shedding tears and blood, with the real cost of having a mental breakdown. I think the most important thing is to survive the education system with your confidence level intact. You do not want to come out of your schooling year thinking you are not capable of success. I've spoken to some NA/NT students and it's quite sad. After years of being hammered by the system, they have a tendency to think that their lot in life is only this high. They don't want to aim high because 'people like them' can only get this far.


In the past, I've seen a very clever and bubbly girl who got 250+ for PSLE, went to a top integrated programme school and got crushed alive. Does it happen to everyone? Of course not, but as parents, you really have to know the personality of your own children and most importantly, how they handle stress and adversity. Some will crumble and avoid stressful situation, while others will fight even harder. Choose carefully. Being in a top school does not guarantee anything with regards to grades. From what I've seen, most of the elite school assumed that the students have outside help (aka tuition) and so will go at breakneck speed.


For John, I've spoken to the mum about all these issues that worry me. She knows it too, so we'll be keeping tabs on him (if I'm still tutoring him, that is). I don't know which type of fish he'll choose to become, but I sincerely hope it'll be a salmon that swims against the current, jumps repeatedly over white waterfalls, in order to reach their destination. Because that is one fish, big or small, that is a real survivor. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Expert versus Newbie

I've been a full-time tutor for 18 years and that's a very very long time. I think if I have a kid early, some of my youngest students can be my children already. Over the course of 18 yrs, I've progressed from a newbie tutor to a more experienced one. I've probably seen the same question in exams over and over again for decades. Therein lies the problem. I find that I'm more impatient over the years, and less willing to try new methods because of past success. I mean, why fix something that works?


It's the problem of the transition from a newbie to an expert.


Being an expert makes doing things a lot easier and faster. After all, an expert has done the same things so many times and had seen so many permutations of the same problem to be able to solve it at an instinctual level. But it comes at the expense of being open-minded and seeing every problem as a nail just because you have a hammer. An example will be those lao jiao investors who had seen the stock price of Creative during the dot com bust and Lehman brothers crumble down before their very eyes, blow by blow. They will think they had seen it all until they realised, just an instant too late, that they had not. It's especially hard to be an expert in an open complex system like the stock market where the outcome is based on many different individuals with different motives and emotions. Are you sure you have seen all the permutations in your years of experience in the stock market? 


On the other hand, being a newbie makes you a little more fearful (okay, granted, there is another type of newbie who is reckless and ignorant, but not readers of this blog I hope) so you tread with caution. You listen and read up more, you stay curious and humble in order to absorb like a sponge. In other words, you sacrifice efficiency in order to learn. I remember devouring libraries of books on investing and trading, but now I hardly ever read one. Or that for every hour of lessons I have with students, I need to spend 2 hours preparing. Now, it's maybe 5 to 10 mins preparatory work per hour of actual lesson?


From ITG.Builder


The issue comes when an expert stops learning. He becomes stagnant and gets left behind by the changing wheels of time. A newbie, however, learns and learns, and eventually, he might become an expert. His destiny is that he too, will stop learning and ceases to be relevant to society. So, how do I break this chain?


I think the most important part is to recognise that you might not be an expert in the first place. In a closed system where the solution is not determined by other players in the system, it is easy to become an expert. A few years in such an environment will enable one to see most of the tricks of the trade. I think being a tutor is mostly a closed system. Year 1 as a tutor might find me sweating because I don't know how to answer a question, but by year 10, shame on me if I still don't know some underlying trends or derive some shortcuts to hack through a difficult topic. I probably would have seen most of what could be set in a topic by now. But in an open system where there are many players, each interacting with one another, it is incredibly hard to be an expert. You might be an expert, for some time, until the system adjusts to a stage where your edge is eroded away. A shining example of that is the stock market. As a trader/investor, you better don't think you're an expert. Always a newbie, always learning, always be that little cautious. The market is not your mother to feed milk to your wide gaping mouth. If you're not careful, it'll steal the milk bottle plus the baby under your nose.


Don't ever fall for the illusion that just because you are an expert in one domain, you are an expert in all domains. Not by a long shot. Most expertise, if any, are extremely localised and specific and thus not transferable. So don't think that because a celebrity actor endorses a hair treatment service, it's a guarantee of its effectiveness. Most likely, she has the expertise in acting, but certainly not in hair treatment. Likewise, having expertise in mathematics (e.g.being a top student) does not guarantee expertise in teaching mathematics. So when I know of parents/tuition agencies wanting a stella academic track record before hiring, I smile silently. They might very well end up with a walking textbook who excels in doing math but sucking big time at teaching it. 


Do something new and be a newbie in some new fields. This will keep you grounded and humble. The feeling of being a newbie is transferable, unlike expertise in domains. I think it's because if you suck at something, the feeling of being a loser hurts you more than the euphoria of feeling powerful as a winner. Hence, being a newbie in a new field might keep you grounded in the domain that you are an expert in. How about surrounding yourself with smarter, wiser people? If you see a diffusion of knowledge as the net movement of information from a person of higher knowledge to a person of lesser knowledge, being in such an environment creates the greatest knowledge gradient between you and the group, so you maximise your learning by being immersed in knowledge, so to speak. I guess this cuts both directions, so don't be the most knowledgeable person in a group. If you are there to stroke your ego, please continue. If not, move on and find a smarter and wiser group of friends.


The best of both worlds is to become an expert in being a newbie - someone who constantly puts himself in an environment to maximise learning, who is humble enough to recognise his own inadequacies in the field, and who is curious enough to keep learning despite...no.. in spite of, past successes. 


So there, that should be my new year's resolution. No...  this is bigger than a new year's resolution. This should be my lifetime goal.

Friday, January 08, 2021

The competitive edge that my parents imparted to me

Having written about how my competitive edge as a parent is in my last post here, I now flipped my perspective around. What skills or values had my own parents imparted to me so that I gain something that will help me in my life?


When I first thought of this question, I wondered how to answer this. I don't really know the answer right away. As I am writing this post, I still don't know how I'll answer, so this exploratory writing will hopefully shed more insights. One of the most important reasons I came back to blogging is that writing allows me to converse with myself, thus clarifying my thoughts. 


My parents are atypical. They don't work in offices and hold no titles, and had been self-employed a large part of their life. My dad stopped working when I'm very young because of health issues and it's my mum who had to put food on the table, so to speak. So she hustled and done many kinds of gigs, all the while taking care of the family. A large part of my character is moulded just by observing and seeing how she handles the adversity of life.


One of the most important things she imparted to me is about money. She didn't sit me down and lecture me about finance 101, so what I learned was by purely by observation and inference. My mum gave me a very little amount of pocket money so I had to be careful with my money and I guess I've always been careful with money since young because of that. She did something right (and I'm going shamelessly copy her when teaching my own kid), which is to give a whole month's worth of pocket money to me. If I didn't keep a watchful eye and did not budget my pocket money carefully, I'll have more days than money near the end of the month. I'm proud of the fact that this had never happened to me before in my many years of experience as a 'money manager'. I think it's because I've been handling my own money pretty young and I've learnt to budget at a young age, albeit unconsciously, that this habit gets stuck throughout my adult life. There are some money lessons that I have to unlearn in the course of adulthood but the foundation of spending less than what I earn is like engraved in me.


My parents work from home and it's not often that they are not around. So I get to see them very often. I used to hate it that my parents are always around at home when I was younger because I don't like that my parents are constantly watching and nagging me in a way that parents always do. But when I'm older, I realised this arrangement is not common at all. Most parents are working in offices and are not around. I guess I learnt two things from here. Firstly, it's okay to work from home. I've no bias against people working from home and had no wish for any bombastic official designation, like directors, executives etc. These empty titles hold no meaning to me. Hence looking back, it seems that I'm primed to be a full-time tutor. The similarity between my parent's stay-at-home self-employment and doing their own hustling is too uncannily similar to mine as a tutor. Secondly, I can take care of my family and work at home at the same time. I don't have to follow the traditional gender role of a father earning money while the mother takes charge of the family. My mum pays the bills AND take care of the family, as such, I have an excellent role model to follow. So I shall and so I did. 



It's not all roses though, so where are the thorns? I made a wishlist of things that I hope my parents could have imparted to me but did not. However, this is not an exercise to find fault and assign blame. I take full responsibility for my own personal development. Still, I could have shaved a few years off my own circuitous road to learn the things I know now. Here's the list:


1) How to grow my money besides working and saving hard. It took me a long time to know such a concept. Things like property investment, stocks investment, or any other kind of investments.

2) The concept of insurance. Again, I took a circuitous, probably expensive route, to learn about this

3) Career advice, including what areas of study and what are the career prospects. There weren't many resources back then (internet was just a fledgeling in those days) and most of the time, I'm like blindly following others, who are probably equally blind too. I am an excellent student, and I probably could have taken a scholarship or two, but I wasn't aware and wasn't pushed. Who knows where that could lead me to?

 

Again, I stress that this is not a fault-finding exercise. I can totally understand how my parents are occupied with day to day survival issues and wouldn't have the energy or time to worry about future thriving issues. So, being a parent myself now, I will learn and correct from the 'mistakes' my parents made so that the next generation will be even better equipped.


We can see further only because we're standing on the shoulders of giants that came before us.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

What's your competitive edge as a parent?

 As a parent, I always wondered what I can pass down to my kid in order that they have an advantage later in life. I have a student who works as an occupational therapist. She has a kid (yes, I know I'm super old because even my students are married and have kids of their own!) and I saw from social media that the kid can walk, squat and crawl, plus all the daily activities at a younger age than my own kid. That makes me think that the special skill that she can impart to her kid is somewhat related to her own career.


There are some parents who are rich and I hope what is passed down to their children will be about having a rich mindset and how to start businesses and so on. Not money. I think having too much money passed down to the next generation can be debilitating and demotivating. The right amount of inheritance should be an amount small enough not to make a huge difference to their life decisions, and at a time when they don't need it. I can fantasize just how nice it'll be if my parents are super rich, and my car and property are fully paid by them. But that's just it... a fantasy.  I don't think I'm that rich, neither am I a business owner, so what exactly can I pass down to my own children?


I hope good values and character will be one of them. I will be more proud of him helping others and having a heart, rather than being the top of his cohort (of course, it'll be best if they have both hahaha). And yes, that includes picking snails off the pavement on a rainy day in case someone runs over it. How do I ensure that? I think a lot of lessons, especially those involving values, are taught to children without specific instructions. You don't need to have 1 hour of moral & civic lessons every week to teach values to them, because they will learn based on how you act, rather than what you say. Hence, if I want my children to have good character, I must be exemplary in conduct 24/7. If saying thank you and please and helping others in need is as natural as breathing at home, I'm sure my children will absorb that and see this behaviour as normal.


The next important trait to pass down is how to learn anything independently. I believe strongly in this because I think in my kid's generation, the new illiterates are those who finished their learning in formalised institutions (like schools). To be able to learn anything requires a loop of trying and failing and trying again until success is achieved. Hopefully, my years as a tutor can be an advantage in this aspect. I also intend to show my kid that I'm learning all the time. Either reading, or practising on the piano, or whatever else might interest me in the future. I can't expect my kid to be a life-long learner, yet I'm slacking and watching TV on the couch every day, can I?


The last thing I want to impart to my kid is about health - both physical health and mental health. Health is the underlying foundation upon which all other things are built on but is often taken for granted. At the earliest possible age, I'll introduce meditation to my kid. I know it'll be a great tool to manage mental health and I wished I had been introduced to it sooner. Regarding physical health, my child is a very active person, so I hope I can very easily introduce him to regular exercise. I think starting a life-long habit of exercising will be a superb habit that compounds greatly for my child in the future.


Am I going to send my kid to enrichment camp for robotics and coding? Very unlikely. If I have it my way, I'll rather send him to a meditation camp or a sports camp, rather than a coding workshop. But I reserve the right to change my mind later, hahaha

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Bullythebear is back

I'm back!

After a hiatus of months, I am back, at least for a while. I think I am sufficiently insulated from the rest of the blogosphere now, and a big part of the social media network. I am quite detoxed and thus ready to start a new chapter in my blog. Whether that chapter will lead to me winding up the blog (possibly, but quite unlikely) or entering it again with more fervour, it's hard to tell. I don't even know where the next fork in the road will lead me too, frankly. In a way, that's exciting but never fearful.


One of the main reason why I stopped blogging is that I realised that I no longer needed acknowledgement. Especially from strangers. There was a period that I was posting my returns, savings, books read and so on. On reflection, why did I do that? Hao lian? Trying to one-up others to show that I am more capable? If I'm honest, there is a small part of me that derives pleasure in besting others. I get high while others get low and the whole world is no better off. I am contributing to an economy of envy and jealousy and I don't want any of that anymore. In the past, I can rationalise it by saying I'm motivating others but that's just not going to work for me anymore. SO, going forward, all that ding-dongs are going to be excised from here. I'm still trying to find the right balance for me and how better to do so by doing some exploratory writing.


By all accounts, this is a strange year. Covid-19 wracks the whole world around, creating unique memories that I've never experienced in my life. During the worst of the lockdown, going to shopping malls remind me of the nuclear apocalyptic game Fallout. Mannequins are still posing in their vacant pose exhibiting wares to nobody. Some are covered in plastic sheets, which in turn are covered with a layer of dust. Carparks are nowhere near-maximum capacity and the malls shut down most of the lightings there to presumably save on costs.


From ITG.builder


Despite all the inconvenience that the lockdown brings, this year is very memorable. Easily the top 5 years in my life. Why is that? I think this year is the year that I put my health before all else. I scheduled exercise time before my work. This marks a shift in my thinking because I always put work first. The one big reason is to be able to live healthy enough to see all the milestones achieved by my son - graduation, marriage, his own children. Just thinking of that makes my heart all warm and nice. I don't want to make a living anymore; I want to start living and spending more time with my loved ones. I want to spend time with my son in the years that count, knowing that one day the interaction between us will just be different from now.


The lockdown also means that everyone has to wear a mask and avoid social contact. Hey, this is entirely in my element, and like a fish to water, I swim comfortably in this new normal. There's no issue with me grappling with work and family because of work-from-home law because I've always been doing that. In fact, I'm slightly saddened that online work is changed back to face-to-face work. Still, all good things must come to an end. So do bad things.

That's all for me for now. Live long and prosper.