Persistence will get you there. Consistency will keep you there.
That was the quote that was staring back at me, one long internet search away. If you haven’t already noticed, I have started producing content 7 days a week. Sure, my blog has more structure, but for now, I’m scratching my head as to how I can keep up with quality content that isn’t just some fluffy, kum ba yah piece, aka empty nutritional value. Like sugar. But dang it, it tastes so good. Which leads me to…
Amongst my friends, I am known for my plans. Sometimes, I can be too rigid and unwilling to waiver from it. Adapt to it, yes, but never give up on the plan altogether. This has led to some dizzying success in all aspects of life – career, personal, relationships, hobbies, service, nearly everything I know. How has this helped me?
When it came time to complete my performance review, I often found that I would either be struggling to come up with content to fit a certain category or literally not have the time (when I was working long hours) to fill it in. Enter in, the weekly brag file. Every Friday, I block out my time from 9-10 or 10-11 to ensure I sat down and wrote all the things I was proud of myself that I had accomplished. Whether it was
- processing necessary emails faster,
- finding trends in data that lead to process improvements,
- coming up with social event ideas (that were later approved – I used this as means to test whether my pitch ideas worked or not and tweaked them for next time. Or relaunch the same one, with a different twist),
- using automation to speed up deployments
- redesigning reports to make it scalable for the future or
- pitching an idea (and success rate) to executive management
it was all added to the list. But sometimes even this was too much to ask in the rough weeks. So, in my planning sessions for the following day (usually on the train journey home or just before I left the office), I would highlight the one thing I was proud of completing that day. Then when it came to the Friday morning, voila, all my content was ready and waiting for me to grab and put aside. Then, when it came to the review cycle, not only did I have content overflowing from week to week, I could find trends in my own accomplishments to see where I was strong at things and capitalised on those!
I then endeavoured to do the same to the people that I would be asked to give feedback for. I noted every good and bad encounter I had, ensuring I told them about it during the weekly (ok, ok, daily) coffee catch up. Of course, if it was negative, I would pull them aside and ask them more questions. Which naturally led me to another discovery. But I will cover that later in this post.
One of the things that I am uber proud of, is the amount of time it took me to complete my Wing Chun training to become a Sifu (or teacher). To be precise, it took me 5 years, 10 months and 9 days. And I got through the lows and enjoyed the highs purely because of my training plan. With every grading, there were a set of things that required to be completed. I would then map out each of those to a training regime that would then demonstrate to my Shifu (teacher of teachers), how far I progressed. Plus, I would always take notes like crazy! I remember the look of frustration on his face when I’d duck down between swapping training partners to write illegible scrawl in my own short-hand to review with him after class. But then, unbeknownst to me, the quote above was taking place – I was persistent and consistent to help me achieve my goal. And my progress improved drastically which ultimately led to my short timeframe to become a teacher!
Back in 2013, I felt annoyed that I had not read many of the must-read books of the world and took it upon myself to read as many books as I can in that year. The minimum was 52 (one book a week) but I wanted to hit 100 or 102 to be exact (you know, two books a week) but that would mean I would have to delve into fiction books – I don’t know if you have realised, but I am not a fiction kind of guy most of the time. And whilst some of the books were short (yes, I read a couple of short stories that were still considered books of their time – Much Ado About Nothing, still pretty awesome), I proudly finished the year with 70 books. This included the entire Harry Potter series that was converted into books.
FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY, DO NOT READ A BOOK IF YOU ARE ALSO WATCHING THE MOVIE ADAPTATIONS. IT WILL ONLY LEAD TO HEARTBREAK.
Ok, I got that off my chest. Where was I? Oh yeah, Harry Potter. The books were thrilling and there were so many extra parts that (unfortunately) had to be left out. Damn my generation of short spans! But the challenge also introduced me to the “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” series. Oh my gawd. If you haven’t read it, please do. To be fair, it is jarring, but the book is definitely worth reading. Plus, as you ask your friends for recommendations, you find the other book lovers in your circle. That, and when you read a couple of books from the same author, you see the pattern forming. (I’m looking at you Stephen King. Ha. Who am I kidding, the guy is a successful author, doubt he’d care much about a blogger). Besides, what I did find was that I didn’t retain as much, so I have developed another system to fix it. More on that soon.
I started this blog on 1st of August 2012. More on a whim and frustration at the lack of my travelling but still on a whim. First, I set targets to get more people to read my work. How do I get people interested? Am I writing interesting content? What is interesting to people? What do they really care about? And as I decoded it, I started getting more readers, more likes, more views and year on year, it has just grown. From 2013 to 2014, I saw a 3,400 view improvement (consistent and persistent), 2014 to 2015, a mere 500 view improvement (I was consistent, but not persistent) and 2015 to 2016, a massive 1,600 view (persistent but not consistent). As for 2017? I have already broken my 2013 annual metric in every field and it’s not even the middle of February.
Then I found some unexpected benefits. Having taught myself how to write better (I am still learning), I realised that I no longer needed to put that dreaded “read receipt” on my emails. Some people were actually interested in opening my emails. Work emails. The driest things on earth. And I would know, my last gig was in Risk. There is only so many ways that you can make Risk sound sexy in a bank. But yet, I managed to do it. And my handover documents and training manuals were sought after because of the naming conventions I had. (To date, my favourite document remains, “When Good Docs Go Bad” or something similar. Whilst the fundamental issue has been fixed, that document name is still thrown around the support team and chuckles are brought up around friday night catch up drinks). Of course, this meant, that I was always tasked with doing documentation. Not the most interesting job, but I always found ways to make it more interesting to the reader and left them inspried to do their own research and improve the system/process.
In a way, all of this came down to one thing. What do I want to be remembered for? You know how I was talking about the first discovery in the Careers section of my post – well this is it. I realised that it all comes down to asking the right questions. Answers inherently are easy. But it’s the questions we ask that can determine the direction we take. Heck, I even wrote a massive post about this!
The other side of things, is that I realised that I wanted to give back, any way that I could. This is why I started mentoring students in their penultimate and final years. I could help provide some insight into what working life is like in a corporate environment. But it also had a suprising side effect. I was forced to answer the question: “If I had to start again, with no network, what would I do to get ahead?”. Little did I know that this practice would come in handy as I started to make a career shift of my own – a topic for another time.
Then, this lead me to the development of my own personal statement – “I want to leave the world a better place for having been in it”. And sometimes, you cannot make a massive change that can leave a mark on the history of mankind. But you can make a change to someone’s life, and it could start a ripple. You never truly know until you try. This is why I joined the SES.
I found that this was the most practical way to give back, whilst learning some valuable life skills along the way. Besides, if the proverbial shit did hit the fan, I’d rather be near a truck with all the life-saving equipment…
However here is the other thing. The flip side.
Downsides of Planning
Whilst I am starting to see, that being able to say “no” to other opportunities means, saying “yes” to yourself and your own goals, it does shut down some of the serendipitous chances that could occur. When I was training Kung Fu, I would train 6 days a week, often rushing back home from the city to train close to home. I gave up countless networking events, social catch-ups and relaxations for it.
Heck in the last 2 years, I used my 4 weeks of annual leave to train at the school the entire time. Starting as early as possible and being the last one to leave. Over that time, I noticed that I stopped getting invited to events even when I was free, because people just assumed that I would say no. It meant that I had to make an extra effort to stay in touch with people or I would risk losing that connection. But the best irony was yet to come.
Achieving the goal
The one thing I did not realise? How empty it feels to achieve that goal. I can pinpoint that precise moment on my grading video, when I realised that I didn’t know what to do next. The bell rang on the twelfth and final two-minute sparring round, and as I unleashed a primal scream of triumph, and collapsed backwards out of sheer exhaustion, midway through the fall, I asked…”now what?”. And I didn’t know. I spent, 5 years, 10 months and 9 days for this moment and it had finally come. I let the tears flow. Mixed from the satisfaction of achieving a dream and the disappointment that I didn’t know what to do next. Reflecting back, I now realise that I didn’t know that I had actually enjoyed the journey way more than the destination.
So I spent the next year goal-less. That didn’t help. It was, for me, the worst year of my life. But it can’t be all that bad. I did start this blog that year. And that’s when it hit me. It’s all about planning. There’s the awesome quote in the movie, “The Mechanic”, where Jason Statham loves the gun that his old mentor gave him on which it is engraved:
Victory Loves Preparation
On I went. I have now set up new goals for myself. Not far-reaching as “life” goals, but yearly goals – more manageable chunks: with milestones and checkpoints along the way. I’ve done this for all aspects of my life. And so far it’s been good. I’ve also become a little more flexible as to how I reach my goals. If anything will help me get there, then it’s good to be taken on board. If not, I will question it’s merit.
Oh, and the other system that I came up with for reading books? Taking notes. I ensure that I write a tonne of notes on things that stick out to me and post it on here. Like the time I read, “Winning Through Intimidation“. Not what people expect, and if they judge a book by it’s cover, then they throw out all the valuable nuggets with it.
Categories: Self Improvement Sundays