The Joy of Success

Happy 2021, fellow humans! I hope this brand new year has been treating you well so far. Having survived the rollercoaster year that 2020 was, I think we can all agree that this brand year is absolutely worth celebrating as our giant reset button.

If there’s one thing the global pandemic has taught us, it’s that we need to be crystal clear what it is that truly brings us joy. No, not merely what “sparks joy”, like Marie Kondo says of random household items and pieces of clothing hidden in the back of our wardrobes. This is a different kind of joy – a deep-seated joy that has become so valuable in our minds, only because it seems to have become even more elusive in our world.

Many people are finally realizing that money alone cannot buy you joy. Physical isolation and loss of loved ones have driven home the sober message that we should never take our human relationships (and pets, plants etc!) for granted. At times like these, we finally see that having good health is a luxury we can’t ever put a price tag on; our families and precious family time is something many of us hadn’t noticed we’ve been missing out all along until we start feeling the effects of being overworked. Mental health and wellness never seemed more pertinent until we start experiencing burnout and fatigue on a whole new level after sitting at our computer desks for well over 10 hours a day.

Perhaps the best explanation of what brings us true joy is knowing we’ve succeeded in life. Not the traditional barometers of success like owning fancy houses, cars or job titles.

No.

Don’t get me wrong – those are nice to have, but the most valuable kind of success is the one that fills your SOUL, your very being with an overwhelming sense of contentment.

We’re talking about the real kind of success where you know that you’ve done your part and truly contributed to the world with our lives:

To quote the esteemed Ralph Waldo Emerson,

“What is success? To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”

In 2021, I hope all of you find that elusive joy that fills your heart completely. You’ve got this!

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Somber November

Thanksgiving week is finally upon us here in the US. In a normal year, this is the time where most families would be excitedly gathering and making plans on who will bring which dishes – turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and the works – to the family dinner.

However, 2020 is not a normal year by any standards (quite the contrary, in fact). Instead, this year many of us will be spending time confined within the safety of our homes while the pandemic rages on in the country. There is a feeling of somberness and uncertainty in the air – families who have lost loved ones are grieving in silence, while others who don’t yet know anyone (at least on a personal level) with COVID-19 want to gather with their families to celebrate, and yet feel guilty for doing so.

Last night, I attended a vigil service on Zoom for one of my husband’s relatives battling COVID-19 in the hospital ICU. It was a grim affair – the ICU nurses create and host a Zoom meeting from a bleakly-named account titled “Educator Critical Care Unit” where the patient’s relatives and friends are all invited to dial in, sometimes with a pastor helping to lead prayers and hymns for the patient. Everyone tries to sing in unison, but different bandwidth speeds mean that the sound is disjointed, crackly audio cuts in and out, and people get frustrated wrangling with technology while trying to battle grief. People were crying, talking, asking questions all at once – total chaos. I saw how elderly relatives struggled to figure out how to even download the Zoom app on their phones, let alone find out how to input the meeting ID and password. I witnessed how one of the elderly church members had his video camera on, but could not figure out how to get the computer’s mic working, and so he had to use his mobile phone to call his son, who then unmuted his audio from his own end so everyone could hear what the elderly man was saying through the phone via the son’s laptop instead. Sure, technology can be a boon, but at times like these, all I can think about is how many people – especially the elderly – have been left behind in the wake of tech’s progress, and how much more all of us CAN and MUST do to help bridge this gap.

I do not know this particular relative well, but I’m told she was once a lively, outgoing woman in her early sixties. Yet, all I saw on the webcam last night was a poor elderly woman, unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator, heaving shallow, shuddering breaths while ICU nurses checked on her drips and tried to make her comfortable. It was heartbreaking to see, and devastating to imagine how this is the bleak reality for many families now who may possibly have to say goodbye to loved ones and relatives via a web conference call. We are still praying for a miracle for her to pull through, and overcome this virus. If you are reading this, please take care of your loved ones – stay home whenever possible, and wear a mask to protect both yourself and others as well.

We can all do our part to curb the spread of the virus. The more we band together and practice responsible hygiene + sanitation, the more lives we can save while waiting for the vaccine to become publicly available. Let us not become complacent, but keep vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.

This Thanksgiving, I am truly grateful for all the frontline healthcare workers who put their own lives at risk daily to care for the sick and vulnerable. They are the true heroes of the pandemic. Let’s support them however we can. It’s the least we can do.

#HealthcareHeroes

#ThanksgivingWeek

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An Ode to October

Can you believe that November is finally here? I know most people are anxious to get the rollercoaster year that 2020 has been over and done with, but I personally enjoy reflecting on the months that have passed and truly internalizing all that has happened so far. What about you?

October has been a good month for me. I finally made the (frankly, terrifying and bold) decision to move on from a team that I dearly love, where I was doing meaningful #HumansofIT community work I am deeply passionate about. Instead, I’ve chosen to dive head-first into an exciting new job (in the midst of a global pandemic, no less!) to work on a new piece of technology that I currently know next to nothing about (having worked on primarily mature technologies to date) and would have to learn from scratch.

Most onlookers would probably scratch their heads, thinking, “Why would she go do this?”. I most certainly pondered that for a long time as well and discussed with many of my mentors before coming to my decision, but I’ll try to distill my reasons below and hopefully it will inspire you to review your own career journey, too. Remember though: No two people’s journeys are the same, so never compare yourself with others. Do what’s right for YOU in your current phase of life, and with your existing circumstances and unique challenges in mind. Check out this fantastic blog post by one of our Humans of IT Community members + MVP Megan Walker on this very topic, which I encourage you to read as well.

  1. Being uncomfortable is how you know that you are growing

Moving to a new job is never easy. Believe it or not, even for an extrovert, it can be super intimidating! Now compound that with the impact of the global pandemic, which means you could quite realistically be working from home from a full year and never getting to meet your new coworkers face-to-face during that time. You will not be able to recreate those surprisingly productive hallway conversations, experience grabbing lunches together in the building cafeteria to build camaraderie, or yell down the hallway of your office hallway to help one another with a quick question. That said, instead of focusing on the negatives and being mired in anxiety, try reframing the situation instead:

  • Give yourself kudos for taking the uncomfortable path and know that you are growing as a human because you are doing things you’ve never done before. A mentor once told me, “If you can do your current job with ease, then you’re already 6 months too long in role.” I’ve pondered on that piece of advice a lot since – it’s a good gut-check to know if you should be challenging yourself to learn and grow. This mentor of mine is very intentional about her career development, and sets up quarterly reminders for herself to stop, pause and reflect on where she’s at in her journey, and whether adjustments need to be made.
  • Be kind to yourself especially for making tough decisions in the midst of a pandemic. It is OK to feel anxious and afraid – after all, it’s only human. Take a moment to acknowledge those feelings, internalize it, then consider your next step on what to do next so you can move forward.
  • Celebrate the fact that we have technology to connect us, which means that you are free to schedule coffee chats with coworkers outside of the country, not just those you work in close proximity with. You can now be more intentional about gaining perspectives outside of your core circle of coworkers, and broaden your horizon by meeting with people you normally would not have scheduled time with because you were too busy caught in the day-to-day of your immediate circle.

2. Time is of the essence

I don’t know about you, but I’m a massive planner. While some people prefer the scenic meander-in-the-park approach to life and career (which is awesome if it works for you!), I believe in having a plan and not simply coasting aimlessly through life. If anything, 2020 has shown us that life is indeed unpredictable, and we are all here for only a very finite period of time. Make sure that you squeeze as many valuable experiences as you can out of it. Want to learn something new? Go for it. Want to get to know people in an area of technology or expertise you have zero clue about? Do it. You will emerge all the better from it. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Failure? Rejection? Embarrassment? Those are gifts that help shape you into who you are. The only thing worse than all of that is regret for not having given it a shot.

Be bold and dive right in – trust me, you will live to tell the tale, and inspire countless others along the way. This new job in the mixed reality space is coming at a perfect time in my life as I begin an exciting new decade in my journey (my 30s!) – perhaps there’s a big milestone age in your life coming up that you can aim to line up a new experience with as well.

3. Make a plan

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m a planner but that doesn’t always mean that plans magically fall into place for me either! It takes mindfulness to shut out all the noise, and consider what is important in these next few months as I begin on this new journey.

Things on my checklist include:

  • Who do I need to talk to/get to know in the next 30-90 days?
  • What should I read up on/learn to familiarize myself in this space?
  • How do I establish credibility in this area? Can I find allies to help me navigate the ropes and help me ramp?
  • When do I ask for help if I still need more assistance after figuring out as much as I can on my own? (P.S. contrary to what many people think, there is power in asking for help. People often want to help too, because it helps reinforce their own learning and knowledge of the subject matter, so don’t be afraid to ask!)

One thing that I always tell my own mentees is to be authentic and vulnerable. Treat others with sincerity and be earnest in trying to learn from others. People can smell inauthenticity and fake enthusiasm from miles away. Nobody likes a know-it-all; in the spirit of having a growth mindset (read this book by Dr Carol Dweck), strive to be a learn-it-all instead. When you’re genuine about learning and being better, you’ll know that you have experienced true transformation, and these are the lessons that will remain with you for life.

In summary, I am grateful for all the lessons and closure to a beloved chapter that October brings. As we go forward into November, I am excited to see what new learnings, friendships and life experiences await.

I wish all of you courage and boldness in discovering (and celebrating!) your inner discontentment, and may you chart own adventures in the path less travelled!

#NewBeginnings #CareerJourney

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Why Non-Tech Passions can Fuel Your Tech Career

It’s a fact: Non-tech passions can FUEL – not hinder – your tech career.

You heard me.

Surprised? It’s true. You don’t have to only talk or be interested in tech 100% of the time. If that is what you personally enjoy doing, great; power to you. However, I have always believed that it’s actually better if you have a diverse range of hobbies outside of just tech because you get that unique multi-disciplinary perspective.

Last month on the Humans of IT Community, I invited a few inspiring folks in the tech community who have non-tech passions and non-traditional tech backgrounds. Whether they built vintage mini PICO-8 games, had a gig in musical theater or custom-designed their own clothing line, one thing all these folks had in common was that they eventually found their way into tech. More importantly, they didn’t just stop there – they discovered their own way of blending their non-tech superpowers with their tech ones!

When I was a 15-year-old student at a Christian all-girls school in Singapore, I had a form teacher named Mr Anthony – a strict, stoic man who (back then) was frankly quite terrifying and had the uncanny ability to make teen girls cry with his lectures, only because the things he said were not only profound, but they were hard truths. Even though at that age most teenagers are often not amenable to constructive words of advice, one thing in particular that he said has always stuck in the back of my mind.

There are many routes to the same path,” he would say, his brows furrowing intently. When students came to him seeking advice on what courses they should take, or internship opportunities to pursue, treating every decision like their lives depended on it, he would firmly remind them to avoid pigeonholing themselves into one category or area, but instead be open to following their passions. After all, they will never steer you wrong. There’s that famous saying, “Do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” – in the same vein, if there’s something you enjoy doing outside of your “day job”, eventually you will always find a way to infuse that passion into the work that you do.

In my time at Microsoft so far, I’ve met so many people with interesting career paths – military veterans turned cybersecurity professionals, former Catholic nun turned Ethics and Compliance manager etc. Most of them were unplanned; these individuals simply followed what they were passionate about – eventually things clicked together and they found the right opportunity/role to bring their passion (and authentic selves!) to their work. You can, too. It starts with knowing what your passions are outside of work, embracing them and bringing that unique lens into all that you do.

Do you have a passion outside work that you don’t often talk about? Perhaps you have a skill that you think nothing of because it seems so “basic”, but could in fact be something people find valuable? Write that down, and tomorrow when you log into work, think about how you can infuse that passion and hopefully in doing so, make your work a little more fun + meaningful 🙂

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How do you feel?

Be a light for others

This is a question that I’ve seen being asked more frequently these days, instead of of a typical, casual “How’re you doing?” which many often say as a merely greeting without really wanting to know how you’re doing. Personally I’ve always found that a bit odd. Why ask it if you’re not actually interested in the answer?

Maybe it’s time to truly care about how others are feeling, especially during these challenging times. Perhaps this is a wake-up call for the world to realize that we need to have more empathy, embrace humanity in all its shape, sizes, colors and forms, and to ultimately be a good, kind human being. There’s a well-known mantra called “Don’t be a jerk” that many strive to live by, but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending on who you’re talking to), it does not always come easily for folks.

What are you doing today to educate yourself on topics like systemic racism, diversity and inclusion and human rights? Authors I’m personally eager to learn more about and whose books I will be reading during our company-wide Juneteenth day of self-reflection coming up this Friday, June 19 include “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo and “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F Saad. If you don’t know where to begin, just pick one to start. Find a friend to help keep you accountable on learning about these critical topics, and consider starting a book discussion within your local communities.

It can feel overwhelming with all the news, dialogue and debates going on social media. Are you taking the time to self-reflect, process and internalize what’s going on in the world? Have you paid attention to taking care of your own mental health as well? If you’re an underrepresented minority who is feeling exhausted and overwhelmed at having to carry the load of explaining what’s going on in the world to coworkers or folks who aren’t interested to do the legwork and educate themselves, it’s OK to say no and redirect them to resources so they can put in the work to learn. PBS Socal also released a great list of resources to check out for both adults and kids.

It is my hope that the events of 2020 is a catalyst for real change, and that things will slowly but surely improve from here. As humans, let’s do our part and start by driving changes within our own communities and together, our efforts will change the world.

Be brave, friend – you got this!

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“You need your own website. Social media platforms could shutdown anytime!”

How to Summon Willpower

These words by renowned speaker Dona Sarkar (who happens to also be my colleague!) in one of her personal branding talks on the Microsoft Ignite Tour was what literally sparked the creation of this website. What’s the big deal, you ask?

Well, this has been a project I’ve been procrastinating on for the longest time. Yes, for those of you who know me, this might seem ironic as I’m typically always raring to go and jumping to get started on exciting new projects.

Not this one, however. I left this one sitting right on the bottom of my homework / To-Do list for the longest time. Every time a pocket of free time opened up (which doesn’t happen often, mind you!), I would inevitably always find something else to prioritize instead.

Funnily enough, all it took for me to finally realize that I probably should get to it was a $100 employee morale gift card from work. There was a flurry of excitement as people in my team discussed what they would use it for. Yet, it was almost like a real kick-in-the-butt that had me thinking, “What should I buy with this $100 to invest in myself, and share my knowledge and experiences with others?”.

This was the answer. Not a brand new Nintendo Switch game (although I will say, Animal Crossing has been one of the best purchases I’ve had in recent times, especially with the COVID-19 lockdown and having to practice social distancing at home!). Not an online class, since I’m already up to my ears in online classes and learning with my Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) program. I wanted a platform where I could share my own thoughts and perspectives – heart-to-heart as a human, outside of the typical corporate work hat that I usually don on public engagements and events. I’ve found that the best lessons often come from those who share authentically and are upfront about their own failures and learning journey, but it’s not always easy to do in a world where we’re often expected to be perfect and polished. No one is 100% perfect or polished.

It brings me to the question that most people (including me at times!) struggle with – “How do you summon willpower to get things done?” As humans, we don’t need a lot of encouragement to do things we already love or enjoy. For instance, I don’t need someone to coax me to read my favorite books or to play Animal Crossing – I just do it. It’s for the tasks that we’re daunted by, or have a fear of the unknown about that we tend to put off. What if you could reframe that fear into something that challenges or excites you? Here are 3 tips that might help:

#1: Reframe Your Thoughts

Instead of, “I don’t know how to create a website; it’s too hard”, try thinking, “This is an opportunity for me to invest in my personal brand. I’ll look up resources to help me bridge my knowledge gaps. Who can I talk to to help me understand this better?”. Or instead of “I’m afraid to fail”, why not try reframing it as, “At least I’ve tried, and can now better understand how it works!”. You might even be surprised to find out that perhaps it wasn’t as difficult as you expected! Reframing your thoughts can help you view daunting challenges as exciting opportunities instead, which in turn reduces the inertia for you to get started.

#2: Recruit the help of accountability partners

Consider also recruiting the help of accountability partners to help keep you on track. Find a friend and task them with the responsibility to keep reminding you of projects you said you’d do, but have been putting it off because you were afraid. When there’s someone else keeping you accountable, it can help motivate you to finally #DoTheThing.

#3: Write out your plan

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to write out a plan, instead of just keeping it in your head, or putting it in your phone. Physically writing it out – pen on paper – can help your goals seem more real and achievable. Try it out for yourself – the experience of seeing your project listed on paper (preferably somewhere visible so you’ll see it often and be reminded of it) is a satisfying one indeed. Put it on your to-do list as well – you’ll relish that moment when you finally get to check it off your list!

I hope these steps are helpful, and can help you develop your own willpower-summoning powers. Remember, all of us have to start somewhere – why not get started today? You’ve got this!

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