10 January 2020

Ten days into the New Year is as good a time as any to reflect on 2019.

2019 wasn’t particularly eventful (or maybe it was since I changed jobs… but in view of meeting my better half in 2018 and more life changes to come in 2020, a job change pales in comparison). However there were some key learnings and (I’d like to think) growth. Here goes my attempt at summarizing for posterity:

One: I change my mind easily

This discovery about myself came through the series of work-related u-turns I underwent in 2019.

First I became unhappy with work at my previous company, so much so that I had a mild (?) outburst with a colleague and my partner which involved a good measure of hysterics. The frustration and feeling of pointlessness came so suddenly that the next day I told my boss I was planning to leave the company in the next 6 months. I had my mind made up.

And then as the months wore on, as I started seeing the fruits of my labour (I had launched a mobile learning program and feedback was coming in from participants), I changed my mind and thought: work’s not so bad. Let’s stick with it. I still wasn’t keen on corporate life but decided it was good enough for the time being.

Then, once again, mid-year I did a u-turn and this time really did decide to leave and began job searching, which brought me to Agoda, where I currently am. I was excited for the change but was still in an exploratory mode: let’s give corporate another shot.

Then life at Agoda is so unexpectedly great that, lo and behold, I changed my mind again: now I love corporate. Okay, maybe love is a strong word. But I can certainly easily see myself doing this for a large part of my remaining life. Which is basically a complete u-turn from where I was this time last year.

In short, yes, I change my mind easily, and completely.

Two: Speaking up isn’t that hard – even I can do it

So, two of the challenges I had back at my old company were speaking up in meetings and speaking up when I’m not happy about something.

In the first case, I simply wasn’t very good at cutting in in a flow of conversation. The team had a number of outspoken people and meetings tended to be a round-robin of them sharing their thoughts or disagreeing with one another. I always waited for an opening, a pause that was long enough to chime in. But this almost never happened. With the result that I was mostly silent in meetings unless spoken to directly.

At Agoda, I’ve gotten better at this. I’m not sure how or why. But I’ve learnt to cut in. I’ve gotten used to speaking up as another person is tapering off. And now I’m actively participating in meetings. It seemed impossible before, but now that I’m doing it… it’s really not that complicated.

The second issue is a little trickier: speaking up when I’m not happy. My partner has often observed my fear of confrontation and attempt to avoid it at all costs. I remember still all the fuss I was making at my old company when I wasn’t happy with what a colleague did but was finding a million mental excuses not to “confront” them about it.

I’m happy to report that this has changed at Agoda. On many occasions, I have spoken up when a colleague (even those senior to me or above me in the chain of reporting) did something that frustrated me or I felt was not acceptable. And in all cases it has led to good results. A stronger relationship and smoother working experience.

And in no instance did it feel like a confrontation. One colleague even verbally expressed their appreciation that I did so: if not, they wouldn’t have realized and continued doing it, which would have soured the relationship eventually.

Three: It’s about priorities, not balance

A few months into my time at Agoda, a female executive came to speak at the company. Of all the many cool things she shared, one thing stuck:

It’s not about work-life balance. It’s priorities. At different times of your life, priorities change. Maybe now it’s work. But if you have a baby, they will become your priority. So it’s not about balancing equally. It’s about knowing what your priorities are and allocating your time and effort accordingly.

This sharing shifted my perspective on how I view work and life. I did always use to think of it as a balancing act. But once I heard this, I agreed completely. It’s about what your priorities are at any given moment.

And knowing this, it makes decisions much less complicated. For example, coming up this year is a big life decision. Instead of doing a mental cost-benefit analysis, I simply ask myself: what matters more? And the answer is clear.

And from then, everything flows effortlessly. So yes, life decision made. Let’s see how that (to use work-speak for a bit) gets executed on and what the rest of 2020 has in store.

I can probably come up with more learnings, but I am a firm believer that less is more. Plus, three is kind of a cool number.

What has your reflection been on 2019? What does 2020 hold in store for you?

Love,

Val

3 November 2019

I may have a problem recognising stress. I don’t know how widespread a problem this is among professionals, but I may be one of the sufferers.

For weeks now I’ve openly acknowledged that my brain is in a state of “heightened activity”. What I mean by that is it’s constantly whirring and buzzing in the background – processing, making connections, coming up with ideas. Which is a somewhat pleasant feeling.

But I guess at some point I should recognise that heightened brain activity can turn into stress. Maybe it’s further along on the same spectrum. Or maybe it’s a different spectrum which however is closely interrelated.

No idea which is which. Or maybe it’s neither!

In any case, I must admit that the pleasant effects of heightened brain activity have worn off. And now I’m just tired, and maybe… stressed?

I have some theories as to why I have such a hard time admitting I’m stressed (if indeed I am). First, I’m not actually sure what stress is. And therefore I don’t know if what I’m experiencing actually qualifies as stress. Second, I guess I associate stress with negativity and therefore am reluctant to admit that I’m stressed. Somehow that seems to imply that I’m not enjoying what I’m doing (not true) or that I’m doing too much (probably true).

Anyhow, at the end of Friday my brain was certainly a mumble jumble of mess. As a result, I’ve opted to postpone working on subtitles and turn this weekend into a re-charge.

Most of yesterday (Saturday) was spent reading (I finished another excellent Ishiguro book!) And this morning I chilled with my dad over morning coffee (I might have also offloaded a little about work). And in a few hours me and my parents are watching Lion King the Musical – really looking forward to that.

Weirdly enough, yesterday as I was looking for an article to set as reading assignment for my English student, I stumbled across Mark Manson’s piece on how to be productive by working less. Reading that made me reflect on what I’m doing at work – or more accurately, what I may be doing wrong.

I don’t think it’s right to have five and a half hour meetings – yet that’s exactly what happened on Friday: we went straight from 3pm to 8:30pm (hence the mumble jumble brain mess).

In retrospect and having read Mark’s article, I think there was a more optimal way of accomplishing what we did in half the time, if even that. And maybe the (maybe) stress could be caused by how I’m doing things? Or the (maybe) stress is leading me to make sub-optimal judgements that turned into 5.5 hour meetings?

Anyhow, having had this realisation, I’m starting the new week with a new resolve: no more 5.5. hour meetings. Luckily I have a very supportive manager and a mentor at work – I’ll be going to both of them for thoughts and suggestions on how I can do more in less time.

And also how I can prevent “work creep”. What has characterised these few weeks of heightened brain activity is work thoughts creeping up after hours and during weekends. I’d be doing something and suddenly I’d have an idea: Ah! I should do this for that project! Completely out of nowhere.

I take this as an indication that my brain is thinking about work in the background, which really shouldn’t happen. I want to find a way to switch off my work brain. I think it’s healthier that way. And I’ll be going to my manager and mentor for help on that.

Having said all that though, I’m enjoying work immensely. There are so many new and exciting things to do. And the people are so much fun to work with. And now, thanks to placing second at the People Hack competition which I’ve written about here, I’ve got a project of my own: my Agoda baby!

Three months in and I’m leading a project that could make a difference, seeing my idea come to life. I think that’s pretty cool. (And also likely a major contributor to this stress/no-stress state I’m in.)

“With great power, comes great responsibility,” as the wise Uncle Ben said.

Not that I’m saying I’ve got superpowers or anything. But I’m certainly feeling the weight of responsibility in driving this project to successful completion.

Maybe I should just admit: I’m stressed. Then find ways to overcome it. No point dithering and side-stepping the issue. The longer it takes me to recognise the state I’m in, the longer it will take me to address the issues and move past this.

Plenty of people around me have noticed that I’ve slipped into an untenable state: my partner, my manager, even my manager’s manager. And all have expressed their concerns and suggested I take steps to move back into healthy work-life balance zone.

Okay, I’ve made up my mind: I’ll bring this up with my manager in our check-in tomorrow and ask for help: “I think I’m getting stressed. How can I address this?”

Yes, let’s do that.

Love (and hoping you’re not in the same dilemma I am),

Val

30 August 2019

It’s almost the end of the month – I think a good time to check in and share how life’s working out in the new professional ‘hood.

I’ve been at Agoda for almost three weeks now, and I must say: it’s great. I had extremely high expectations (which is probably not a good thing when starting a new job, but hey) coming in, and all of them have most certainly been met!

The greatest thing is the people. They are as smart and driven and disciplined as expected. It’s as if I had cloned the people I work with best at my old company and filled the office with them. It’s refreshing. And most (if not all) have a great sense of humour to boot!

The projects are also interesting. They center around themes I’m interested in and the people (again) on the projects I’m sharing ownership with are open to ideas and take a lot of initiatives. In fact, and this is something I’m extremely proud of, one of my co-owned projects moved from zero on Monday morning to full framework by Thursday late afternoon. And this is not the first, but the second iteration of the framework. Things move fast at Agoda.

Being in my favourite mall is also a big plus: oh the lunch options. And coffee, so much good coffee. So much so that I have to watch my spending. It has gone up considerably since moving to Agodaland. Gotta make sure I have some of that paycheck left at the end of the month!

Talking about paychecks, I’ve been putting off going to the bank for a few weeks now. I want to talk to them about investing in funds. I’m a complete newbie at this, but it seems sensible to put aside a not-too-substantial portion of my earnings in a (reputedly) well-managed fund and let it grow. The first paycheck came in this morning. So I should probably do that soon before I spend all my money.

Oh: and this is completely random but something I’m very excited about. I might be getting a new phone today. I have been meaning to buy a new phone for a while. The old one is still functioning but getting annoyingly slow. And the Android OS is frozen in time (as per maker’s agreement with Google) at 5.1 which feels like a crime now that Android 10 is on the horizon.

My partner bought a Mi8 back in February and according to him it’s a *beep* great phone. I also was recently recommended a Mi9 by a trusted source. (I usually go by people’s recommendations rather than Google’s) So I discarded ideas of a Galaxy S10 or an Oppo Reno and zoomed in on a Mi9. Once that decision was made I swiftly made calls to shops that I know stock Mi phones (there aren’t that many) and was promptly disappointed to find out they were out of stock everywhere. Even at the Mi store. However, I left my number and yesterday got a call (in fact, two – if anything they’re good at following up!) from the store informing me that a new batch has arrived. So I’m going in after work today to have a look, and if I like what I see? Kaching! (That’s the ring of the cash register.)

Anyhow, not sure how a work update turned into new phone talk. The pen follows the wanderings of the mind, I guess.

Hope you’re all doing well and had a wonderful August. Though we’ve got two days to go, here’s to a great September!

Love,

Val

6 August 2019

So I stopped for a month. Entirely.

Ooops.

For the month of July, my exercise consisted of walking and chewing. Not bad forms of exercise, but certainly nothing like rhythmic cycling. I could definitely feel the lack of freshness and energy that come with the bike. And also the horizontal expansion of body parts.

Yesterday was my first time back at my gym, doing 45 minutes of cycling with my favourite instructor. (Seriously, he’s awesome). And I was very happy to discover that my muscles, just like the North, remember. I was even able to cycle super fast to double-time beats at some points. That’s about where I was when I left off a month ago.

Though now that I think about it… I’ve done over 30 cycling classes. Is it normal that I’m still not able to follow the beat for the whole class? Hmm…

Rhythmic cycling is a constant battle with yourself. Push yourself a bit harder. Cycle a bit faster. Make your movements a bit bigger. Tap, push. In, out. Right, left. Make a V. All the while getting lost in the music thumping from the loudspeakers. I love it. And during the time I was going 2-3 times a week, I think I was getting pretty toned! Though the enjoyment is so great the getting toned past feels almost like a by-product.

So two months ago, on 3rd June, I wrote about how “things happen over a longer period of time when you’re an adult”. (This did materialise into an unfinished post on my main blog, as promised.)

I also mentioned, in the same post, that I may have good news to share “in a few weeks, maybe a month or two”.

And good news to share, I have:

I’m starting a new job next Tuesday!

Drumrolls. Confettis.

I’m really pretty psyched about this new job. I had written about my application and interview experience in my other blog (I do have a lot of blogs, don’t I) when I verbally received the offer last month. But since no contract had been signed at that point, I didn’t want to mention what company it was.

But now the contract has been signed, my Workday account (a self-service online portal where you do your employee admin stuff – that probably sums it up) set up, photo and bio provided to the CPO to share on their Facebook Workplace (no idea what shape or form this takes, guess I’ll find out next week!). So now I’m very happy to share that:

I’m moving to Agoda!

Drumrolls. Confettis.

To be honest, this move was completely unexpected. It’s really quite remarkable how a casual browse on LinkedIn turned into a proper application. And the series of interviews which I’ve described in detail in my other blog were a whirlwind.

I’ve gotta say this: their application process is watertight. Everything moves like clockwork. There literally is no time for the candidate to question their decision or waver.

Not that I would, question my decision I mean. I was pretty decided early on that I wanted to join the company. For four major reasons:

  1. The people – they’re sharp as a knife and talk straight
  2. The industry – getting to work in the fast-moving online travel industry is a pretty attractive prospect. Plus, I love hotel booking sites
  3. The data-driven nature – this is an aspect I’ve always felt was lacking in my current job. In fact, in all my past jobs. I’ve never been much of a data person. And I think a data person is a good kind of person to be
  4. The role – an expansion of scope to cover talent management as a whole, not just learning and development is unequivocally a good thing

I could probably name more. But those four alone are enough to seal the decision.

So I’m now in my last week at work, in fact last three days as I’m flying off to Hanoi to be with my partner on Friday. A four-day weekend. Flying back on Monday night and starting at Agoda at 9am on Tuesday. It’s going to be intense. But I didn’t want to sit around doing nothing for a week and start the following Monday.

I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet. I got an e-mail from Agoda yesterday about my first day. Also yesterday was my handover meeting with my boss at DKSH. But apart from that it’s business as usual. We have a team farewell dinner tonight. Which should be fun – I’m looking forward to it.

So yes, big news. And I am very happy.

Hope you guys have been well in the past month.

And oh, spending three weeks with my partner was absolutely fantastic. It was the longest amount of time we’ve spent together yet, and it bodes well for our future life together once we move to the same city next year.

Love you all and until next time,

Val