23 January 2021

First post in the new year! *confettis*

I don’t have anything in particular I want to report today. I just found myself with an hour on my hands and thought: hey, why not blog! So here I am.

While I’m here, let me write about what’s on my mind.

The past few months have been an exercise in endurance and dissociation. The good news is: I’m getting much better at it. The bad news: the end is not yet in sight.

I’m talking about setting up my company and preparing the move to Vietnam, which I’m still hoping will happen in March. Before I decided to set up a company to get an investor visa to stay in Vietnam, I was warned that it would be a long, arduous, and frustrating process.

And I’d say that it has been, but not necessarily because of the process itself. The process is pretty simple. The problem, I think, is the support—or lack thereof—I’m getting to navigate it.

The solicitor I hired to get the job done is getting the job done. So on one level they’re doing their job. But they could be doing so much more. When you hire an expert, your expectation is that they will walk you through the process, tell you what you need to know when you need to know it.

As you can probably guess by now, this has not been my experience.

Every step of the way has felt like a “guess the right question” game. Because if you ask the right questions, you will get the answers that you need. (Though of late, my questions are beginning to go unanswered.)

The problem, of course, is when you’re faced with a new process, you don’t necessarily know what you don’t know and need to know. Which has left me in a bit of a quandary.

Even the simple question of how I’m taking payment from my client is unclear. The legal company finance set-up in Vietnam being cumbersome doesn’t help. But the bigger problem is not getting briefed about the whole picture when I needed it.

So now I find myself in a situation where I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to be able to finance my living expenses. I thought I got it all figured out back in September 2020 and had forgotten all about it, until I received a crucial piece of information from my partner (not my solicitor) a few days ago.

And that’s thrown everything up in the air. A matter I thought I’d settled long ago again becomes an open case. Something I need to figure out. And when you’re navigating several processes at once, having an extra thing to figure out is not good news.

That’s the exercise in endurance part. Since September now, my mind has been asked to process ever more information, come up with ever more questions, make ever more decisions on matters in which I have no experience or legal knowledge of. With inadequate support from the people I’ve hired to guide me through the process (thanks guys).

With each hiccup, my mind has gone in overdrive, trying to grasp a situation with a dozen moving pieces. And there have been many.

So, company or not, I’m definitely coming out of this process with a much more enduring mind/brain/thinking capacity—whatever you wish to call it.

The second exercise has been in dissociation. And I’d say it’s the more important exercise from which I will benefit for the rest of my life.

(Ironically, I have my solicitor to thank for this. And I have a sneaky suspicion that in the very long run, this will be their legacy to me, and I will truly thank them for it. In the immediate run though, they’re just a basketful of frustrations. And grateful isn’t how I’d describe my predominant feeling towards them.)

To get back to my point, these past months have given me ample opportunity to practice dissociating my emotions from the many headaches I’ve faced. With each revelation of an obstacle, each near-miss, I’ve learnt how to not get drawn into it emotionally.

To a point where my feeling train now goes like this: first, surprise (What!?) Then panic (Shit, shit, shit. How do I solve this!?) Then slight annoyance/frustration (Damn you person X). Amusement (It really does get worse!) And then just: Ah well. Shit happened, now gotta fix it.

The thing is: that feeling train comes and goes quickly. The succession of feelings is quite intense when it’s there. But once it passes (and this is usually in minutes, though for worse offences this could be hours), it passes. Gone, nada. I don’t simmer in frustration or anger at my solicitor or whatever has broken in the process.

And that’s made my life much more pleasant than it could have been.

Yes, the anxiety of going through the myriad of processes not knowing when something might break is still there. And I guess the next step for me in the path to becoming a Dissociation Master is to learn how to let go of that anxiety as well. But there is no frustration, no anger.

Just meh.

And I love it. I love that I’m able to not be constantly frustrated with my solicitor, that I’m able to laugh about it to myself. That this process isn’t doing my head in (as it probably would have had it happened a year ago).

I’m not sure why I’ve gotten better at emotionally handling things. Maybe it’s the meditation… it probably is to a non-negligible extent. But I think the endurance is also feeding into it. My mind has been tested so much to the point where it’s grown numb. And I think that numbness is spilling into my emotions as well.

There goes my wacky theory.

The mind will always find something to worry about. But paradoxically because I’ve had so many things to worry about in the past months, my mind seems to have become numb to them, and what would have been intense worries is now a much more manageable low-level anxiety.

Also, because shit keeps hitting the fan, I’ve developed perspective. What seems pressing/world-ending in the moment often isn’t. And the next day it just becomes another problem to solve. So I allow myself a brief ride on the feeling train, and the next morning it just recedes into the background. And I find other things to occupy myself with.

I’m thinking: while all this is going on, I might start building my company website. It’ll be a fun thing to do and divert my attention away from the mess of the company set-up.

Or I can just continue writing my book. That’s a different endeavour altogether. I started writing it the other day. This in itself was a milestone. But I haven’t gone back to it since.

Taking more subtitles work would also help. That would certainly turn my attention away from company stuff to subtitling. It’s quite an immersive experience and having to manage the time between my full-time job and subtitling will give me plenty to think about.

Anyhow, this has turned into quite a long post and I can feel myself starting to ramble. Let me recap:

  • Higher endurance
  • Better dissociation
  • Low-level anxiety
  • Finding diversions

How has the new year been for you guys? I hope you’ve had fewer headaches than I have.

But who am I kidding? We all have our own headaches, and plenty of them.

As my boss would say, life is about trading bad problems in for better problems. And I’d certainly say the problems I’m having now aren’t bad at all.

Love,

Val

25 December 2020

I love Christmas. Always have, and probably always will.

Growing up in Thailand, Christmas was fused with New Years into one long, festive holiday season. Christmas/New Years equalled presents. Fairy lights in the garden that dad and I would painstakingly put up (and even more painstakingly remove). My school of 13 years, being Catholic, used to have Christmas celebrations. We also had friendly, but fierce annual competitions of which class can glue/staple/tape together the most elaborate Christmas board.

Then I went to study in the UK and Europe, where Christmas was always a magical time of year, and I just loved soaking up the atmosphere. Lights on Oxford Street. Christmas decor in malls. Christmas markets. Mulled wine, hot chocolate, presents around the tree. I loved it all.

So today being Christmas, it’s a special day for me. And I’ll take this special opportunity to reflect on my experience of 2020.

The Move

West Lake, Hanoi, December 2019.

2020 was supposed to be the year of the big move to Vietnam. Thanks to Covid, this has not happened. But preparations never ceased and I never wavered in the decision. Now finally the jigsaw pieces appear to be falling together and I’m set for a March 2021 move. Fingers crossed all goes well.

The Job

September 2020, Bangkok.

2020 was a life-defining year for me career-wise. I landed the job of a lifetime, and often I still can’t believe I’m working for Mark, an author whose work I truly admire, and now that I actually know him in real life (albeit only digitally for now), really a genuinely awesome person.

The Friends

Fancy staycation with my closest friend, December 2020.

2020 has been a year of deepening new friendships and reconnecting with old ones. It’s probably the year where I’ve had the most fulfilling social experiences. Funny that in a year where most of the world is locked down and socially distanced, I’ve had my most active year socially. I’m thankful the Covid situation was quickly under control here and I was able to have those many lunches, coffees, and dinners with friends.

The Family

The home office, much of 2020.

2020 was also a year of spending time with family, from Agoda going remote in March and much of the remainder of the year. I was living at home, eating mom’s cooking, working comfortably in my new home office set-up (pictured is my swanky new laptop stand which I’m very pleased about buying).

Val’s Bespoke English

2020 was also the year I launched Val’s Bespoke English, my premium tailored English tutoring service.

I’d been teaching privately for many years, but 2020 was the year I decided to formalise it and properly advertise.

And I’ve been pretty pleased with the results so far!

All in all, 2020 has been a pretty good year to me. A year of new experiences, new beginnings, and personal growth in various ways.

Here’s to 2021. May it be kind to all of us.

Love,

Val

5 December 2020

It’s been a roller coaster of a few months, in some ways and not others.

I’ve pretty much settled into my new job, which by now is 3 months old, though I still am amazed every time I’m having a conversation with Mark. It’s pretty surreal to be communicating with your favourite author on a daily basis. But this part of my life has more or less stablised.

The roller coaster has mainly been regarding my move to Vietnam. First it seemed like everything was set and all I had to do was set the train rolling, then there was a snag, then there was a breakthrough, then I was dragging my feet for a week or two because I was so apprehensive about navigating the muddy waters, then there was another breakthrough, and now finally the process has officially started.

My application to start a company in Vietnam was submitted to the authorities earlier this week, and after a bunch of paperwork and applications for various approval letters which thankfully my solicitor will take care of, I should be clear to fly to Vietnam in March 2021.

This is much delayed from the original move date of July 2020. Even when my partner and I had accepted the reality of Covid, we still were aiming for September 2020… and then Christmas, then mid-January… you get the idea.

But those were all dates we set ourselves, guesstimating when the Vietnamese border would open for commercial flights from Thailand. We were hoping I would be able to enter Vietnam by those dates.

March 2021, however, is based on an actual timeline of how long each approval process would take. The process kicked off this week. Now, finally, the countdown clock has started.

Another roller coaster has been with my social life. The past 4 months have been a whirlwind of meeting up with a core group of friends and getting to know them better over long dinners and drinks. I’ve enjoyed this immensely, and I think it only hit me a few weeks back that life in Vietnam will be very different socially. There I won’t have this wonderful group of people I’ve only recently started to call my friends, and it made me feel a little lonely. I felt so down that I actually missed my parents, which is new to me. I hardly ever missed my parents before, even when I was living in the UK for many years.

It was a tough week of feeling sad, lonely, and demotivated, but the feeling has passed. And now I’m back to enjoying my social life, but also my solitude. This week has been a week of staycations. I was staying at a business suite during the week doing a ‘workcation,’ and enjoyed the solitude immensely. This morning I checked in to a proper fancy hotel for a relaxing 3-day staycation with my best friend. And I’m writing this while waiting for her to arrive.

It’s going to be great. I already love the room and the service.

Hope you all have been well and your life has been rolling and/or coasting nicely.

Love,

Val

18 October 2020

So, I’m almost 2 months in to my dream job working for Mark Manson, and I’m loving it.

I’m part of a small team of just really awesome humans behind his website MarkManson.net where we try to put out an article every week, doling out “life advice that doesn’t suck”.

To be part of this team behind the scenes, working passionately to churn out content that could go on to influence and make the lives of a bajillion people better, it’s unreal.

And the job itself is pretty sweet. It’s a remote role and very flexible. I have set targets and a content manager who helps manage deadlines. And I just focus on churning out research on a variety of intriguing subjects. So far I’ve done (among others): self-conscious emotions, cognitive biases, the impact of social media on mental health.

I also get to give input to new articles in other ways. Even mundane-sounding things like catching typos I’m pretty psyched about. Just to know I’m contributing to making Mark’s content top notch is like, whoa.

Oh, did I mention he’s one of my all-time favourite authors? So yes, pretty sweet.

I’ve been spending the last 2 weeks refining my approach to the job: both the research side of it and (probably more) the time management side. The freedom with which to manage my schedule comes with responsibility. And even with a job I’m this passionate about, there is always the temptation to stop working a little earlier, take it easy.

It’s been a constant battle with that. Not an insurmountable battle, but something I always have to keep in the back of my mind. In this crusade against procrastination, I’ve enlisted the help of a time tracker, which I’ve found fascinating. For the first time I’m literally seeing how I spend my day. It’s an awesome tool.

Almost 2 months in, I think I’ve pretty much got it down. I know how to manage my week, how to manage my day. I know my way of working effectively: 1.5-2 hour spurts, with short breaks. So far I’ve hit all bar one of my deadlines, some of which mildly challenging, and delivered research I’m proud of, that has gone towards a couple of articles.

An unintended side effect of this awesome new job, however, is that I’ve focused so much on doing a good job at it that I’ve somewhat neglected my own endeavours. I haven’t blogged or read for pleasure for 2 months.

A 2-month break from my blog, however lamentable, is something I’m used to. I had gone for months without blogging before, so that doesn’t surprise me.

A full 2 months without reading a single book, however, is just… In the last 1-2 years, I’ve consistently read 2-4 books a month. So to realise the other day that I haven’t finished a single book since the end of August… not a good feeling.

I’ve been carrying around Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments with me (the hardback version even) for 2 months, but I’ve only read maybe 5 pages on one single afternoon. I just haven’t felt the desire to read otherwise.

This could be because I’ve been reading so much as part of my work that I don’t want to read more in my free time. But it’s not a trend I’d like to continue. So will do something about that. Maybe 30 minutes in the afternoon in between my work spurts. Yes, that could work.

Not in the morning as my morning routine already lasts hours: read the news (the Economist and the New York Times), learn Vietnamese on Duolingo, meditate (not always, but usually, in this order).

Now, where do I fit in blogging? Hmm…. that’s another question entirely. I haven’t touched my new business blog since the beginning of August. Damn.

Ah well, I’m here now, and that’s a start.

That’s enough of an update for now. How are y’all doing?

Love,

Val

25 August 2020

8 days later and my head is in a completely different space.

Last Monday I was worrying over the quality (or lack thereof) of a research summary I had submitted one day before, after working on it all weekend with scarcely a break.

This research summary was one of three tasks I was given in Phase 2 of a job application.

This application was for the job of a lifetime, a Content and Research Assistant for my favourite author, who happens to have sold tens of millions of books worldwide and topped the NY Times Bestselling list.

Last Monday, I was worrying incessantly that the summary I cobbled together wasn’t good enough. That I wouldn’t shine brightly enough to be selected for a phone interview.

Well, as it turns out, my fears were unfounded. The author’s words when he invited me for the interview were: “you crushed it. Incredible work”.

Then followed an interview last Thursday, a video call that was so surreal I could hardly believe it was truly happening.

I felt the interview had gone brilliantly, but that didn’t stop me worrying and emailing the author twice to correct something I misspoke and clarify a different point.

Yesterday was excruciating. The author had said he would make the decision and extend the job offer on Monday NYC time. Which could have been any time from 7pm yesterday my time.

This morning, at 2am, the anxiously anticipated email arrived in my inbox. I got the job.

And I’m over the moon. Strangely, I didn’t burst into tears like I did when I got the invitation to the interview. Just, calm. And happy. Pleased with myself and proud.

Out of who knows how many people applied, I made it. And I start next Tuesday.

It’s curious that, as one who blogs extensively, I never thought to pursue a paid career in writing. Not until the call for applications landed in my inbox did I ever think such a career an option.

But now here it is. In my hands. From Tuesday, I will be paid to write.

I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet. I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. Maybe I’ll be hit by a wave of euphoria later, maybe not.

But yes, hello new job. Hello new boss.

Back to full-time work for me! The past 3 months have been nice, but to return to working life with this job is more than I can ever ask for.

So I shall enjoy my few remaining days, and start fresh.

Love,

Val

17 August 2020

It’s going to be a different kind of post today, more me writing reminders to myself that you, dear readers, may find cryptic.

I’ll explain all this in time. For now, let me just process all this mumble jumble of thoughts the best way I know how: by writing them down.

Here goes:

  • Step back and reorient myself. Remember where I am and where I want to go.
  • Nothing is a “make or break” deal.
  • The only person who should determine my worth is myself.
  • It’s okay to not be good at something.
  • If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.
  • It’s okay to feel down or sad sometimes. Embrace it. It will pass.
  • Mood Meter is awesome. Use it.
  • I make my own life.
  • It’s good to have friends. Good ones are especially… special. Cherish them.
  • It’s okay to get frustrated. Just don’t blow it out of proportion.
  • Remember to write. Not for others, but for myself. Writing brings me joy. Do it often.
  • No more all-dayers. Manage your energy. You know better than to have no breaks or skip meals. Silly, silly Val.
  • I am me. I hold the wheel. No one holds my life hostage. Don’t make my life conditional upon something/someone external.
  • I won’t get everything I want in life. And that’s fine. Really.
  • “Life is short. Life is sweet. Life is all that matters.”
  • Just enjoy the ride.

And that’s it for the cryptic reminders… for now.

Hope you’re all doing well!

Love,

Val

10 June 2020

I can’t believe it’s been over 3 weeks since my last post. And here I thought not having a 9 to 6 would give me ample time to blog.

How wrong I was.

A lot has happened on my end, so I thought I’d give you a quick summary of the past two weeks since I quit my job. I know you haven’t asked, but I’ll do it anyways.

  • First things first – I officially left my job. On Friday 29th May I went to the office (which I hadn’t set foot in since leaving for the long weekend on Thursday 12th March – little did I know…) to pack up my things and adopt (I asked, so it’s not stealing) a good number of Agojis

One of said Agojis now lives with my Kindle – how cute is he!

  • I had coffees and dinners (plus one sleepover) with a bunch of people, mostly from Agoda. In the process I was plied with much delicious home-cooked meals (beef tongue tacos, bouillabaise, peach crostata – the list continues)

  • I had 3 job interviews – 2 for Bangkok and 1 for Ho Chi Minh City – one of which I think went pretty well (fingers crossed I hear back within the next few weeks!)
  • I delivered 4 subtitles translation projects
  • I taught 2 students and experienced 1 gone AWOL
  • I started my cross stitch project which I bought almost a year ago and hadn’t touched since

  • I started a new blog because I had only 6 (3 of which active) and that’s clearly not enough
  • I bought some business books and started reading one
  • I started learning Vietnamese! Today marks Day 7 of my streak

Okay, now that I see everything listed down, no wonder I didn’t have time to update this blog.

In short, it’s been a pretty good, but busy 12 days. Starting to wind down a bit these past few days though, which is good. What would be the point of quitting a job to have more time if you don’t take the time to rest and enjoy being leisurely?

How have you been in recent weeks?

Love,

Val

18 May 2020

I want a break. Dare I say need a break?

In stark contrast to the buzzing high of last Friday, now I feel depleted, de-buzzed.

Not surprising considering I really haven’t had much of a weekend. I spent it working on subtitles and teaching, and really only got to stop working around 3:30pm on Sunday, when I went out for a walk and listened to a podcast.

A wonderful podcast by the way, as is usually the case with this series. The topic of authenticity is one I usually find interesting. A colleague (soon-to-be former) was listening to it the other day and thought I might be interested, so she flagged it to me.

She was right: I was interested and promptly listened to it on my walk yesterday. Note to self: thank her for the recommendation.

Anyhow, with the lack of mental rest over the weekend, I’m not feeling much motivated to start the work week (it’s Monday morning, 6:44am as I write). The good news is I did get pretty decent sleep the past two nights – the longest sleeps I’ve had in weeks.

With 2 and a half hours left to go before my work week starts at 9am, I think I’m going to switch off for a bit. Maybe listen to a podcast, or read. Yes, most likely I’ll read.

I mistakenly bought the book “The Shape of Water” some months ago thinking the movie was based on said book. Only to realise last week (maybe 2 weeks ago by now) that it’s the other way around.

I normally don’t read books that are based on movies, but since I already bought it I thought I’d give it a chance. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It’s fast-paced and engaging – and dare I say alluring.

Yes, 2 hours with The Shape of Water will probably give me the break I need, and get me ready for the new week.

Hope you all had good, restful weekends.

Love,

Val

15 May 2020

I’m on a roll.

Every week I send my manager a list of completed and upcoming tasks, and never before have so many tasks made their way to the “Completed” column.

Last week – despite it being a 2-day work week due to public holidays – I managed to finish many, many things. And this week – a full 5-day week – I pretty much moved every major task from “Pending by end of May” to “Completed”.

A few bits and bobs remain here and there, but 2 major projects have completed transition to their new owner – with all stakeholders informed.

1 major project is about to transition – the transition pack is just undergoing reviews from the team before being sent to the new project owner.

And my biggest project – the Employee Engagement Survey – is transitioning smoothly with an expected cut-off date of next Wednesday.

I even finished updating 10 articles on the People Team’s Help Page site yesterday, a task I didn’t think I’d get around to until the last week. It took much less time than expected (though it wasn’t any less boring).

Oh, and on top of that, I reviewed 2 learning courses and helped test our new Agoda Careers website.

I’ve ticked off so many tasks that I’ve started asking for new ones, and promptly received one yesterday. It’s an interesting task that will add value – and I appreciate the opportunity to contribute.

A colleague yesterday said that I’m experiencing the “pre-exit productivity high” and she’s absolutely right. I even feel the mental buzz, the excitement of tasks accomplished and (I think) well done.

On the non-Agoda front, I’ve also been spending my mornings before work applying for jobs. (It feels okay to do that now that I’ve submitted my resignation and have a clear end date) The job applying thing began almost as a coincidence, but once I got started the ball continued to roll.

I’m actually quite enjoying updating my CV to highlight achievements tailored to every new role I’m applying to (and the roles are wide-ranging) as well as writing the cover letter to go with it.

I’m averaging about one job a day, though today (unless something really catches my eye) I plan to take a break and catch up on my Economist newsletters which I’ve neglected for much of this week. They’re piling up in my inbox – I don’t like when things pile up in my inbox.

So yes, that’s about where I am right now. Buzzing away at work and on LinkedIn.

How is life for you? Are you also looking for a job? Focused at work?

Love,

Val