4 January 2017


Taking a breather to reflect on the year gone by.

The festive period between Christmas and New Year is usually a period of rest and reflection, but a last-minute business trip to Hong Kong meant there was no such comfort this year.

In 2016 I:
  • Broke free of things that held me back or slowed me down
  • Grew my company and took on new employees
  • Started two businesses with two giants in the industry
  • Personally sold my flat (I get a real kick out of this) and bought a place closer to work
  • Completed on two other investment properties, now both stabilised and generating income
  • Completed on my first development property, making good progress
  • Got engaged to the love of my life (saved the best for last!)

I failed at so many of the things I tried to do this year (at least five times as long as the list above, looking at all the folders in my Dropbox), it's just nice to see that 2016 still looks respectable if you put all the good bits together. 

20 November 2016

Sunday morning

I write this seated in the office, with the hum of the lights above and the tip-tapping of my keyboard for company. I have just finished with an investor pitch which I will present in a couple of hours. 

Sitting back from my laptop, I had a sudden recollection of a Sunday morning over a decade ago. It felt like a previous life: a time when a company meant three platoons of soldiers, when I had less hair on my head and less to think about within it, and the perpetual smell of sweat hung in the air. 

My memories of the army are mostly blur now, interspersed with short instants of almost absolute clarity as if they happened yesterday. And this is one of them -- a memory of a Sunday morning:

The birds are chirping their familiar early morning song - daa-daaa-daaaaaa-da-da-da. 

The smell of dew in the air. 

A dim sky, still grey before dawn. 

I get out of bed. There is only me and one other cadet in camp today, another unlucky guy with the same punishment. I can't remember what he did, but my crime was misplacing my bayonet. We do the flag-raising ceremony together at the break of dawn, one carrying the flags and the other hoisting them up on the flag-poles in the company parade square. After that we mind our own business. 

I am seated with a book at the desk in the duty room. There is a quiet peace and contentment within, which is unexpected because I am on guard duty on a weekend rather than in bed in my own home. The camp on a Sunday is nice and tranquil without the usual chaos of shouting and of boots pounding the ground in cadence.

But I know that in a few hours' time, as Sunday came to a close, my fellow cadets will be streaming into camp, complaining all the while how short the weekend is. Chaos will resume, and there will be another full week of it before the weekend break, and I will no longer be able to hear myself in my head.

I push that thought to the back of my mind, and try to focus on my book, willing for the day to stretch out longer...

I have that same feeling now.

9 May 2016

Hello again.

Stumbled upon this old blog and the timing could not have been more apt.

As the big 3-0 approached a faint anxiety had started welling up deep within. A milestone was now within sight but I was unsure if I deserved to claim it. As a friend put it, I was still searching for my 第一桶金 -- the first bucket of gold that would turn life from a grind to a game. 

More importantly, I was still searching for my reason for being. I had recently given up my shares in a business I had helped to build up, because while it filled my bucket it also brought me further from ikigai. It looked as if I would celebrate my big 3-0 by being the big zero.

But visiting this blog again and looking at the most recent post, written almost three years ago, felt like a big pat on the back. It gave me a new perspective on my failures: they were every bit as important as my successes. Combined together, I finally felt like I deserved to be three decades old. 

Because almost three years ago I sat down in front of my computer, empty and desperate and stuck; stuck firmly to the slow-moving treadmill to mediocrity, glued down by my own fear and insecurity. And all I could summon from myself back then was a copy-and-paste of a cartoon that railed against being average, before I slunk back to bed (or back to work -- it all felt the same) and continued my slow spiral into myself.

Then came Life's wake-up call. 

Life does not wake people up with a gentle cajoling; it jumps on your groin and right hooks your jaw as you sit up screaming, then it drags you firmly out of bed onto the ground and gives you a few good kicks in choice places while calling you names for good measure. When Life was done with me, I wondered how I had not gotten out of bed earlier -- it seemed so easy to, looking back at the bed-turned-crime scene, from my new perspective down on the floor in a miserable heap. 

So I got up and set off into the outside world, and all my fears turned out to be totally unfounded and within a few weeks I had been abused, swindled, and taken advantage of. But amidst all this I discovered things within me that I didn't think I had, and it brought a joy that no one could take away.

Armed with new knowledge - the best kind, learnt from painful mistakes and so never forgotten - I dusted myself off and signed up for a second round at the school of hard knocks. This time I found more success, which in hindsight caused me to take longer to realise that I was being abused, swindled, and taken advantage of again (except this time I knew enough to bring the fight to court and win).

It would have been a smooth and elegant transition, as a piece of writing that this post is, to say that it was the third time lucky for me, which only makes it more aggravating that it wasn't. At the third time of asking I had found the right ingredients -- reliable partners, friendly colleagues, a lucrative business model -- only to find that I was cooking the wrong thing. It was a potato chip type of business - makes you fat without nourishing, so that even when you succeeded all you felt was emptiness and sometimes even guilt. It definitely didn't have ikigai in it.

Which is why, at the ripe old age of nearly thirty, I am staring at the drawing board again (literally -- I recently bought a whiteboard off Amazon to do my business planning). 

But thanks to this trusty old blog, I can look back at my path of destruction - failed companies and lawsuits and all - and recognise that each of them is an achievement, another piece that didn't work in Edison's lightbulb. I had left my four walls, physical and mental, and entered the arena where I savored intermittent success between bitter defeats. And I stayed true to myself -- no punching below the groin, no giving into the temptation of money over integrity - even if it exposed me to underhand blows. I had nothing to apologise for or be shameful of, and everything to be proud about. 

Looking forward to 30, and may the next 30 bring me closer to ikigai (I wouldn't mind a bucket of gold along the way either).