Tuesday, 28 January 2020

The prodigal girl

Have you heard of the parable of the prodigal son? Of how he left home with all of his inheritance, squandered it away, and eventually decided to go home and apologise to his father? Of course, we all know it was a happy ending. To the prodigal son's pleasant surprise, he was welcomed with open arms, and a feast was thrown in celebration of his return. Now, let me tell you a much bleaker story about the prodigal girl...

Once upon a time, there was a girl who grew up in a sheltered home. She was well-loved, and had no lack. Like the prodigal son, food was put on the table for her every day, she had a whole wardrobe of flamboyant clothes, and even travelled to far places! Of course, she had her occasional squabbles with her family - that's what families do - but she was generally a happy person. Not until her coming of age.

As she grew older and started to have a mind of her own, she came to realise how much she was missing out in life. Instead of counting her blessings, she started to covet for what others had that she didn't. Perhaps, it was a quarter-life crisis. As the days went by, her unhappiness compounded at an exponential rate till one day, she snapped. She packed her bags and left to explore the world on her own.

And it was a fascinating world indeed. Some days, she woke up to the sound of the waves lapping against the shore. Some days, she woke up to the hustle and bustle of the city. And on other days, she woke up with a hangover. But as with everything else, the law of marginal utility started to kick in and in no time, she sorely missed home. She wondered what home was like without her; wondered if home was still even there.

Some time later, she decided to check it out for herself and to her dismay, it was no longer there. She searched high and low, and asked the neighbours if they knew where her family went (after all, home was the people and not the building) but no one knew.

Crestfallen, she walked away to continue her journey of life on her own. She still woke up to birds chirping, waterfalls pouring, and other things that made her heart sing. But none of which she could ever call home.

So, this is the story of the prodigal girl and how she became homeless. I hope that one day she will find some place she can call home again.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Organisation with a heart ♡

How would one describe the public sector? Some would say 'a heart of service', 'welfare' or 'compassionate'; while other would say 'inefficient', 'bureaucratic' or 'uncompromising'. I guess it all depends on whether you are looking outwards or inwards. To its beneficiaries, the public sector shows compassion and kindness, or at least attempts to put on such a facade. But to its workers, it tends to appear cold, harsh, and even heartless at times (and I am speaking with the perspective of someone who works in the public sector).

At the birth of an organisation, the vision, roles, rules and relationships (what we call the V3R framework) are being set. However, as human beings, we tend to have different interpretations of the same vision, role, rule or relationship; and hence, problems and conflicts arise. To remove ambiguity and ensure that everyone is 'on the same page', standard operating procedures (SOPs in short) are written and are expected to be abided to at all cost. And as more problems arise, more areas of ambiguity are uncovered and more SOPs are written.

Over time, before every action or decision is made, one has to go through a series of SOPs to ensure that there are no negative repercussions for him or her. As a result, the room for individual discretion narrows significantly and any diversion from the norm warrants an investigation or some form of punishment. As someone who values freedom and kindness above everything else, I believe that while it is necessary to have a set of guidelines on how we should act and make decision, we should learn to take it with a pinch of salt. It is not the law; and even the law requires some level of human discretion. Furthermore, just as the law is not timeless, SOPs need to be reviewed, and challenged, over and over again to ensure that they keep up with the times.

I think my point is, we cannot and should not dehumanise the organisation. We cannot remove human agency from the organisation. While setting SOPs do indeed help to remove ambiguity and improve efficiency in certain situations, they should be practised with kindness and, frankly speaking, some common sense. The organisation is not a building, or a set of rules. It is the people who make up the organisation, no matter how big it may be. And so, it is absolutely possible to have an organisation with a heart.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Travel Haikus

Rows of wooden casks.
The scent of roasted barley.
Best pint of Guinness.
-Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

Drunk and angry fans,
"Take me home, United Road."
Full time whistle blows.
-Old Trafford, Manchester

A cold, silent night.
Glitter spilled across the sky.
The fire that burns.
-Sahara Desert, Morocco

Frozen in the night.
Green hues dancing above head.
My heart skips a beat.
-Reykjavik, Iceland

Latin inscriptions.
I still hear the ancient cries,
and tourist chatters.
-Colosseum, Rome

Sea of white and blue - 
that is where my heart belongs.
And my regrets, too.
-Santorini, Greece

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

My New Year resolution is to stay alive and well

2019 has been a tough year, the toughest thus far I must say. And because I'm extremely exhausted - imagine a person who has just completed a full marathon without prior training - I will cut to the chase.

I came back from the UK in August 2018 after completing my masters and by the end of the year, I was already worn by the change in pace of life, expectations from others and my own ambitions. On 1 Jan 2019, I wrote about how I was tired of putting on a facade that I've got everything under control and wanted to be true to myself.

2019 has come and gone and the truth is, I think I've walked a full circle and am back at the exact same spot where I started. I'm not talking about my career and personal development - these are things that I have invested a lot of time and effort in and while it has paid off, I realised they do not define the core of who I am as a person. The fact that I'm still as bewildered as before attests to that.

Instead, I think I'm talking about finding myself. How can I be 'true to myself' when I don't know what it means to 'be myself'? For some people, it is clear as sky. They know exactly what they want in life. Perhaps it is starting a family, or owning a successful business, or fighting for a cause that they passionately believe in. For me, truth be told, I really do not have a clue. And I think many other young people are experiencing the same thing as I am, and why mental health has been such a prevalent topic these days.

While one's career and personal development are important, I have found that they are peripheral in one's pursuit of happiness. According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, once safety and security, and a healthy self-esteem that stems from personal accomplishments, are attained, a human being would strive for self-actualisation, which is to achieve one's full potential. At the end of day, what gives life meaning, I believe, is the ability to be the best versions of ourselves. And that varies from person to person, be it being the best mother you can be to your child, the best soldier to your country, the best partner to your spouse or someone who chooses to live for him or herself.

Reflecting on 2019 has made me realise what our issue is. We spend all our time investing in our careers and personal development, and trying to achieve 'self-actualisation' without ever pausing to think what it is that truly makes us happy who we are. The result is that we spend an entire life fighting for something we have never really wanted.

While I pledge to continue doing my best for my country, my organisation, the people around me and myself, I hope that I, and everyone else who is reading this, will not compromise on constantly finding yourself in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life. And keep reflecting on whether what you're fighting for is indeed worth it, especially if it is taking a toll on your mental well-being.

So, instead of announcing all the lofty aspirations that I (inevitably) might have, I'm proud to say that my ultimate New Year resolution for 2020 is to stay alive and well!
© Melody Sim | All rights reserved.