Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Luxury Vacation in the East Coast of Malaysia

I recently went on a much needed vacation in Terengganu, Malaysia. The east coast of Malaysia boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and many resorts and dive operators help create the perfect weekend getaway experience for those who need it. I'll be writing about my weekend at the Tanjong Jara Resort and how a weekend of decadence has spoiled me for future trips to the islands.

We started our journey from Kuala Lumpur at 6am and took a leisurely drive to the resort. It took us six hours with two comfortable stops in between. The roads are in great condition and if you start early, the journey is enjoyable.

We arrived at the resort at noon. The driveway welcomed us with artfully landscaped greenery which felt authentically like a Malay "kampung". With mounting excitement, we walked into the gorgeous lobby and were served welcome drinks while porters assisted us with our bags. Once the formalities were dispensed with, a hotel staff escorted us to our rooms. There were five of us on this all girls trip and our escort asked for our names. He asked for each one of our names, repeating them carefully and nodding his head in greeting. I realised then that we would experience a weekend of beauty, indulgence and excellent service.

                                                               The Lobby
We lunched at the Nelayan restaurant. The food was delicious and they served gorgeously styled local Malay food as we laughed and ate and enjoyed the view of the beach and the sea right next to our table. We then headed to the spa. My friends and I love exploring different spas whenever we travel and I am a seasoned connoisseur. I was blown away. The impressive entrance didn't do it, neither did the magnificent room with a gorgeous skylight they put me in for my session. The excellent welcome service didn't either. It was the massage. Gosh, it was heavenly. My therapist was highly skilled and adjusted the pressure and her style according to what my body needed. She knew what she was doing and was trained to provide the best service a customer could ask for. Kudos to these guys for a job well done. It was well worth the investment.

                                                     Entering the Spa

We took a snorkeling package out to Tenggol Island and enjoyed the experience immensely. We headed out in a private boat accompanied by our guides and a cook. He dragged an ice box full of fresh fish with us, then as soon as we arrived at the island and embarked on our morning snorkeling trip with excitement, the cook proceeded to grill fresh seafood on the beach. Can you imagine coming back to the beach, high on our swim, exclaiming about what colourful coral and fish we saw, walking up to a beautifully set table for lunch. It was a feast and I felt so pampered.

                                             The Jetty - headed to Pulau Tenggol

                                                     Lunch at Pulau Tenggol

The resort is beautiful. The tagline, "Unmistakably Malay" is perfect and everything within it is designed to showcase the Malay hospitality, vibrant culture, fantastic cuisine and successfully takes the visitor on a journey to discover the roots of this culture. A walk on the private beach is calming and somehow gives you the opportunity to either be with yourself or to enjoy moments of laughter with your family and friends. It is designed to cater for everyone and it successfully represents "cuti-cuti Malaysia".

                                              Having fun before dinner at TJR
                                                 The private beach at TJR.

Make It Matter! Finding Fulfillment In Your Work.

First published on www.loyarburok.com on July 18th, 2012. 
I am on a wonderful adventure at work; one which is sometimes exciting, sometimes frustrating, and immensely rewarding.
I frequently meet new people, and am lucky enough to gain inspiration from many of them. These individuals are everywhere, in every culture, in different countries and in different walks of life. They are successful individuals who are passionate about what they do. This is the key to finding fulfillment in your work. If you know what you are doing, know what it will achieve, and you believe in the outcome and the goal, you will care.
How do you do that? How do you make it matter? I thought I’d share some of the lessons I have learnt these past months and I hope it moves you to care — just a bit more than you already do.
I recently met a judge in one of my trips to a neighbouring country. I was meeting him to understand how he conducted legal research. It was late in the evening, and we had already been waiting for an hour outside his chambers. There was a party of lawyers and a couple who couldn’t stop arguing. They were in a custody battle for their eight year-old. The child was in the judge’s chambers and she had been there for a while. When she finally came out, she was holding a fistful of candy and she had a big smile on her face. I thought, “Shouldn’t she be more depressed or afraid? She just spent an hour with a complete stranger in such an intimidating setting!” I entered his chambers and saw a bowl of candy and a colouring book on his desk. This judge wanted to know how the child really felt and fared. He wanted to know what the child really thought and he took pains to ensure that the interview setting was anything but intimidating.
When we embarked on our conversation, he said “it is easy to just quote the law, but someone needs to care about the child”. He obviously cared, and by doing so would have done a much better job at what he was tasked with. He made an impact on the child, made an impact on me, and perhaps gained a sense of fulfillment with what he did on that day. He made it matter.
We spend a significant amount of our time on tasks, duties and responsibilities. Often, we are overwhelmed by the immediate tasks at hand and we lose sight of the goal. We end up thinking about the specific functions which we need to perform and it becomes a routine. We execute these functions perfunctorily and think no more about it.
When this happens, we don’t excel. We don’t take the extra leap of creativity and innovation. We forget that these tasks can be fun and rewarding. We tick them off like we would do check-boxes.
Take a step further and dig a little deeper. When you embark on a project, a task or job, find out what you are working towards. Take the opportunity to learn. You may not always get a natural teacher as your boss or superior. This doesn’t mean that you stop learning. It merely means that you need to seek answers. Ask the right questions. If you don’t know how, do some reading and research and then come back empowered with more knowledge so that you can ask intelligent questions.
Find out what the ultimate goal is and understand it. Once you do, you will go beyond merely performing tasks but will think of more creative ways to achieve that goal. Your boss will appreciate it, take notice and seek your opinion because you care and that shows.
Think beyond your role at work and think beyond your immediate responsibilities. If something needs to be done and you are best positioned to do it, make it known that you are willing to take on something new. This makes your job much more exciting and fun. It takes you away from the routine at work and presents you with opportunities to learn. Focus not on what you are told to do, but what you can do to achieve that ultimate goal. Make it matter.
Many candidates I interview ask me, “How often do you send your employees for training?” I guess my company provides an adequate training program for employees so I do usually have an answer for them. However, I strongly believe that there are learning opportunities in any job and any career, and they present themselves every day. You just need to find them. You need to care that what you are doing will make an impact. You need to understand what that means. Once you do, you are part of a larger picture and you become more important.
When you have an idea and an opinion, present it. Be confident, not arrogant.
Seek answers and inspiration outside your comfort zone. I was thrown into many new situations this year and many of them made me uncomfortable. The discomfort stemmed from a lack of knowledge and as a result, there were times when I was unsure of myself. I asked the people I met and sought inspiration from them. Many of them are friends, most of them were strangers. I learnt something new at every encounter. These gave me ideas, fresh perspectives and I forgot that I had these challenges. It made the problems inconsequential, because they became possibilities.
Surround yourself with people who inspire you, and people with a positive mindset. It is easy to say that we need to think positive and look at challenges in a different light. It is harder to actually live it.
However, when you are surrounded by people who exude positive energy, and you are constantly in the thick of conversations which revolve around possibilities, your mindset changes for the better. You won’t sweat the small stuff; instead, you will find it easier to focus on what matters.
It is not rocket science, and I highly recommend this state of mind. Try it, and you will see that it works. Then, share it and celebrate it. Make it matter.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Farewell, Michele. You will be missed.

I usually don't write about what upsets me. It doesn't actually benefit anyone and we could do without more negativity in cyberspace. This time, it is different. What I am about to share is extremely upsetting and personal but I share this in honour of a beautiful human being who entered my life for a short amount of time and made a huge impact. 

Michele Vivona entered my life two years ago, when I joined the LexisNexis Marketing team. She was the Senior Vice President for Global Web Strategy then, had 20+ years of experience working in various parts of the organisation and was a friendly face and brilliant marketer. Six months ago, we started working together on a project - she would dial in from Seattle, USA and I would do the same from Kuala Lumpur. We exchanged ideas, challenged each other, joked, laughed and exchanged pictures of our pets. We bonded. 

She was someone extremely senior, a brilliant individual and an extremely busy person. She made time for me. We met again in Japan earlier this year and we bonded even more. I had many questions about my career. She had wise answers to guide me. She believed in me more than I did and she demonstrated that. I was someone on the other side of the world - naive, impressionable, hungry for knowledge. She was experienced, seasoned and probably chuckled inwardly at some of my petty concerns. 

Michele cared about me. She showed me time and again that she cared. She was present when we hung out in person and she was present when we were apart. I felt her support, her encouragement and she always made it clear that I made her proud. 

She was a beautiful human being. Her life was cut short and her passing is still a shock to all of us who knew her. I selfishly cannot fathom why my time with her was cut short but I cannot change that. I can celebrate her and tell as many as I can about her. I can take lessons from who Michele was. I want to grow up to become her. She was awesome. 

Rest In Peace, Michele [1964-2012]. 


A Week in San Francisco: Intimidating, Inspiring, Exhilarating!

I am back from one of the most memorable trips in my life. I say life because I genuinely feel that the lessons I learned from this trip are life lessons and I find it impossible to place them into a “work bin” just because my company paid for it and I was supposedly on a business trip.
It all started when I received an email from New York, informing me that I had been nominated to attend the LexisNexis Global Leadership Summit in San Francisco in March 2012. It is an event typically attended by LexisNexis business leaders across the globe, so attendees would consist of CEOs and MDs who report into our Global CEO, Mike Walsh who would host the meeting.  It is an annual gathering of the greatest minds in the organization – the big leagues.
How then, did I fit in? This year, they decided to include employees they called “high performers”. The aim was to reward people like me and also provide us with an opportunity to meet with the leaders in the organization, teach us a thing or two and motivate us to do better.
One month before the summit, I received an email, asking me to moderate a 90-minute customer panel session on Day 3. I panicked (I kid you not!) and then tried to calm down, and panicked again! I was going to do this for an audience of 138 big big bosses across LexisNexis worldwide. I shot an email (still in a state of panic) to my boss, MD of Asia, Shawn Clark asking, “whaaat? why?” and he calmly and confidently assured me that I was the best person for the job. If you ever wonder what kind of boss you want, here’s my enlightened answer: Look for a boss who knows you better than you do, sees you for the potential you have and pushes you to achieve your fullest potential, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone. Shawn gave me a pep talk via email, then asked me to snap out of my panicked state and gave me sound advice. ”Just prepare“, he said. So I did.
The summit was an eye-opener for me. It was run like clockwork, timed perfectly and designed to push the boundaries of innovation and creativity, make us think and plan really hard, help us meet new colleagues and really get to know them. We were encouraged to bring our smart phones and tablets as there was a specially designed app which we accessed throughout the summit. It contained personalized agendas for each of us, a welcome video by our CEO, a Who’s Who list of attendees, a blog page on which we could post comments and updates, daily photo montages and more!
We were taken on site visits to the various companies within the Silicon Valley. It blew me away and gave me an immense amount of inspiration. Our businesses shared success stories on various aspects of the business, encouraging us to share and learn from each other and showcased our latest technology and innovation. I learned about LexisNexis – the company, our goals and our vision. I learned that we had relatively young leaders within the organization – most of them are in their 40s. I discovered that a huge portion of them are women (woohoo!) and that our leaders are brilliant, down-to-earth individuals who are also passionate about their work and the company and determined to succeed. I was intimidated and inspired.
Day 3 arrived very quickly. It was time for my panel session. We had the top people in the largest law firms in Asia, US and Australia and a highly respected General Counsel on the panel. I opened by explaining that we hoped to learn from our customers, then innovate to create new products and solutions for them and proceeded to introduce the first panel member. The 90 minutes whizzed past and then it was over. The audience applauded, my fellow presenters on stage reached out to shake my hand and others started joining us on stage to have deeper conversations with the four panel members. It was over. Shawn was the first one to come over to me, whispering “Good job” and I thought “phew!”.
Throughout the rest of that day, people kept congratulating me on a job well done, telling me how it impacted them and made them think. I was flustered. I thought the session went well. I did not realize it went that well. It was one of the scariest things I had ever attempted. I am so glad I was pushed to do it.  I learned a bit about myself, gained an immense amount of confidence and earned the respect of my colleagues and bosses! It was overwhelming. That night, I received an award for “Excellence in Creating Customer Value”. The summit officially closed. It was such an awesome day.
                   Receiving the award from my boss, Shawn Clark, MD of Asia 
I spent the next few days on holiday with my friends. I attended a kids’ softball practice, went to the Golden Gate Bridge, tasted sourdough bagels and Ghirardelli chocolates, enjoyed fresh Dungeness crab, went shopping, made new friends and reflected on my week. I am an extremely fortunate individual – I work hard, feel passion for a job I love and I am recognized for my contributions. As a result of this, I want to do better, want to make my leaders proud and so I continue to grow and learn and hopefully do better.
I can’t wait for my next intimidating, inspiring and exhilarating adventure.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Past and Present in Prague

I often wonder if we Malaysians give enough thought towards preserving our past. As we modernize and globalize, it is often easy to overlook the past.
We demolish old and run-down buildings and don’t think twice about building spanking new ones. We clear forests, relocate settlements, blast tunnels out of hills, all in the name of development.
It is as if the past and the present can’t co-exist. We call it city planning when we widen roads, build highways and tear down shophouses to make way for commercial squares.
I often wonder — if we just try  harder, wouldn’t we be able to blend past and present just like they do in Prague?
I spent five days in Prague last summer, and experienced the sights and sounds of a city steeped in history, where its people celebrate the past by reliving traditions, retelling legends and myths, while enjoying the comforts and conveniences of the modern world.
As I entered this fairy tale city, I feasted on the sight of wonderfully ancient buildings prominently featured throughout the city against a backdrop of modern buildings and amenities. It was a magical sight guaranteed to make one gasp, but it was also clear that this was a progressive, modern city catered for today’s inhabitants.
They added to their city as they evolved with time, but they cleverly built around their history. They did not demolish, burn, tear down.  They preserved them lovingly and did a wonderful job blending the past and present for the future. A few landmarks stayed in my memory and I thought I would share them.
                                               Sunset @ The Vltava
                                               Picturesque Prague  
Charles Bridge
Construction began in 1357, and was only completed in the beginning of the 15th century. This was the only way inhabitants crossed the Vltava, the longest river in Czech Republic. In the past, people would cross the bridge on foot or on carriages and commerce and trade thrived on the bridge itself and the surrounding area. Imagine street performers and people selling their wares to all who desired to cross the bridge.
Today, city planners have built additional bridges across the same river, those which enable modern day vehicles to pass. There are trams, cars and buses, all effectively ferrying people from one side of the river to the other.
However, Charles Bridge is still beautifully preserved and features prominently in the city. All visitors get a good view of the bridge, and everyone gets a chance to admire it from far and up close. The bridge is closed to vehicles but I took a wonderfully long walk across the bridge, stopping to enjoy street performers, buy trinkets and souvenirs, take pictures and enjoy the experience.
It co-exists with the modern day world and adds character to the city.
The city planners had the foresight to plan for the future with the past in mind and so people like me can enjoy it. How brilliant.

                                                      Charles Bridge
                                Street musicians entertaining us on the bridge

The Astronomical Clock
Located in the old town square and built in 1410 by Master Janus, this is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world, and the oldest working one. Once completed, the clock attracted visitors from around the world. Travelers from far wanted to see the clock, and the town council at the time earned a lot of money from the trade which these visitors brought to the city. Imagine the old town square as a hive of activity, locals selling their wares and trade robust. The city became wealthy, and people prospered.
One day, the town council members, fearing that Master Janus would make another clock somewhere else to compete with this one, conspired to blind him. They lured him into the clock tower and shoved red hot pokers into his eyes, causing him pain and anguish. When he realised what was done to him and why, he painstakingly made his way to the top of the tower and broke the clock, taking his last breath at the same second. The clock remained broken for a century, said to be cursed by Master Janus.
The city suffered as people stayed away from the cursed clock and no one would fix it, fearing that the town council members would commit the same treachery on them.
Whether it is pure folklore or actual history, I enjoyed the story and found it fascinating. The guide who took me for a walk around the square told it with passion and reverence and I couldn’t help but feel enlightened in some way. It definitely added to my overall experience of the city. I stopped for coffee at Starbucks and the people there knew the story as well. It was common knowledge and not only did the people of Prague preserve their buildings, they also took pains to share their legends, myths, stories and history with the next generation, and the next.
Every hour on the hour, everyone would gather beneath the clock. A trumpeter would blow his horn, the clock would clang and everyone around would cheer and applaud. This is a tradition which started from the day the clock was completed and the same tradition is now carried out today.
Modern cafes surround the tower and modern day vehicles dart in and our of the square as people go about their business.
The trumpeter still blows his horn and his present day audience still cheer him on.
What a perfect blend.
                                                  The Clock Tower

           The crowd waiting anxiously for the trumpeter to blow his horn

Note: First posted in www.loyarburok.com on 21 Feb 2012. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Little Taste of Japan

Mention Japan and people start talking about sushi. That was what happened when I found out that the LexisNexis Asia 2012 Kick Off would be held in Fukuoka, Japan. My friends who love Japanese food (ie: sushi) started getting excited on my behalf while I was busy preparing for the meeting. I gave sushi little thought. It didn’t help matters that I did not like sushi (yup, I do now!).
After a week in mundane, quiet Fukuoka, I thought it was time for me to dispel the sushi myth — that a visit to any part of Japan is a totally new journey to a totally new existence. It is a delightful attack on your senses, not merely taste and smell and sight but the heartfelt connection with every individual you meet, the attention to detail in every aspect of daily life, the invisible but powerful sense of pride and honour in all undertaking. It is enviable, this existence. I wish we could import that to our existence.
I hope I brought a little bit of it back home and I sincerely hope I spread the word — that Japan is not all about sushi.
                                          Hakata Station at night
The People
I’ll start with the people. There is an ingrained sense of pride in everything they undertake. They are proud of their work and they do their utmost to bring honour to what they do. Translate that to the clerk at the checkout counter in the supermarket, the waiter at a restaurant, the bus driver, the officer at the information counter, the cute guy at the front desk of your hotel (you get my point). It did not feel contrived, the perfect customer service experience that was accorded to every person they met. It did not feel like they did so because their supervisor was hovering over their shoulders.
It felt like they treated you with the highest honour because it was what would give them a sense of pride. It was utterly surreal and humbling to the discerning. One particular moment will be etched in my memory for a long time.
On the first night, we were treated to a glorious traditional drum performance during dinner. I was blown away by the pure energy, spirit and passion which exuded from the three drummers. These drummers were traditionally asked to perform during new year celebrations and formed an ancient part of Fukuoka culture. The lead drummer commanded the scene, flanked by two others to his right and left, teasing the audience with slow and fast beats, building up to a crescendo of beautifully orchestrated drumbeats that got all our hearts beating fast and furious, gloriously awake and tuned into the pure energy of their performance.
I could see the passion that they had for their craft. The two drummers fed off the energy of the lead drummer, giving him their full attention and respect. It was amazing to watch! Even when they were not performing, they were focused on the music they were producing, visibly enjoying it and feeding off it. They were at one with their craft. It was an honour for them to share it with us. It was an honour for us to be a part of their existence. It almost felt like we were intruding. It was unbelievable.
The Food
Fukuoka is famous for its hand-made ramen noodles and I wanted to experience it. It was definitely an experience!
We went to a restaurant called Ichiran and as soon as we entered, we were directed to a vending machine (yes!). I pushed the appropriate button to select my ramen dish. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just punched the button with the most appetizing picture on it and it worked for me. The machine then printed a cute little coupon which I took to the dining room.
The room featured individual booths and I sat in my own little booth, equipped with soy sauce, my own hot water tap, another little menu from which I would further customize my order. I stipulated how soft I wanted my noodle, how much of the “secret sauce” I wanted to add into my soup and a host of other additions to my dish! I scratched my head a little, snapped out of my confused state and went with the flow. It was wonderful!
My dish arrived and I referred to the detailed set of instructions on how to enjoy my ramen in my booth. I followed these religiously and delighted in the experience. You first take a sip of the soup, without stirring the contents. You then stir it thoroughly and then take another sip. I immediately tasted the difference. The secret ingredient was at the bottom of the bowl and stirring it brought out the flavour in the soup.
I then proceeded to slurp my noodles and my soup as instructed. It was heavenly. I now understood why I had to be alone with my ramen. I had to pay it the respect it was due, focus on my bowl of ramen and enjoy it. Boy, did I enjoy it.
Again, I experienced the utmost respect accorded to a craft. The making and serving of a bowl of noodles and the attention to detail, from the ingredients sourced to the way in which it would be consumed. It was all an experience and it was all designed to pay homage to a craft. It was amazing and for me, rare.
I was overwhelmed, not by the taste of the dish I just consumed. I was overwhelmed by the passion with which it was created. If only this could be the case for all who create. If only this could be exhibited by all who contributed to a cause. There was a sense of achieving the ultimate objective in everything the Japanese embarked on. It wasn’t exaggerated. It was matter-of-fact.
I tasted more wonderful meals, more exotic (to me, they were!) dishes and yes, the sushi was wonderful. I enjoyed the tea they served, the sashimi and hot pot unique to Hakata City, tasted blowfish sake (it was a bit weird) and met many wonderful people along the way.
It was my first experience of Japan, and it will not be my last.
            Vending machines where I ordered the ramen - seriously cool.
                       With Margaret & Nick at Ichiran with our ramen

Note: First posted on www.loyarburok.com on 30th Jan 2012. 

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012

Many people are reflecting on the year that is coming to an end and I thought it would be wise for me to do the same. I grew up this year. I had to often figure things out on my own, make tough decisions, impart informed advice to people whom I knew depended on me and present a calm and collected exterior through it all. So I grew up and will now share a few of the lessons I learned.  

Lesson #1 : Look In The Mirror
Know yourself - strengths, weaknesses and the complete picture. Take the time to look in the mirror, look inward and decide what you need help with and what you can handle yourself. If you push yourself, try harder, would you be able to overcome the challenge? Most times, you'll learn more about yourself - most importantly that you can accomplish a lot. If you decide that you really do need help, don't hesitate to reach out and ask for help. Identify the person who can help you best and get the help you need. Often times, it may be just advice from a person who has seen more, knows better, is wiser. Take it in, act on it, learn from it and grow. 

Lesson #2 : Pick Your Battles
You may be eager to take things on and you may see a lot you want to change. No one can do everything. You shouldn't either. Take a step back, prioritise and decide what is most important, most impactful and focus on those. Delegate if you can but if it is a battle you must wage yourself, plan it well and decide if it is worth the energy spent.  Don't wear yourself thin and end up not making the impact you wished you could. 

Lesson #3 : Stay Positive 
Find the other side of the coin. It exists. You may not see it immediately because you are clouded by frustration and impatience but it is there, hidden away. If there is a problem, mull over it to find a solution, consult with your mentor and then decide on an action plan. You will feel better, hopeful. There is always a way to right a wrong and there is always a lesson you can learn from it. Always. If you can't salvage the situation, acknowledge it and move on. There is no point dwelling over it. There are more battles ahead of you, so focus your energy and attention on what is to come and not what is past. 

The list is endless but these three really helped me appreciate the year that has just passed and look forward to the year that is upon me. I hope it helps someone else who's growing up too.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Big Apple

I love visiting new destinations. I have very set ideas of what I think I would like but my perceptions constantly change when I travel. It throws me off my comfortable high horse and grounds me and I absolutely love it when that happens. 

I must write about my experience in New York City. I was scheduled to go to NYC for our Annual Global Marketing Summit last year and while I excitedly practiced for my all important presentation at the meeting, I was nervous about traveling alone to what I thought was the "big bad city". I had heard stories about how loud and rude people were and about how intimidating the whole experience would be. 

Of course, I had friends who were die hard "Sex & The City" fans (I am not one of them) and they excitedly instructed me on the "must see" places, all related to specific scenes of the show, mind you. I rolled my eyes during those sessions and still couldn't shake off my nerves  but yet was determined to spend at least a week in the city on my own time. 

As I write about it today, I can hardly remember why I was that intimidated. I was no stranger to traveling solo and had visited other cities without a fuss but I was so sure that I would be this stranger in a city of worldly inhabitants who would impatiently brush aside my questions as I tried to find my way in their space. 

I was so wrong. It was (and still remains) one of the most exciting, liberating, refreshing experiences of my life. I landed in the most wonderfully delicious melting pot of people, sound and sights I could ever imagine! This was the land of immigrants. How could I have forgotten that? I encountered tons of people who spoke in accents not immediately recognizable - just like me. There were people who had lived there for ten years, people who grew up there and people who had just arrived. No one batted an eyelid when I spoke to them in my Malaysian accent. At the check-out counter as I was paying for my purchases, no one asked if I was there on holiday (sorry, vacation), no one asked how I could speak proper English (I got that a lot in London) and no one cared who or what I was. I fit right it. I loved it. 

I loved the fact that I could hardly find chain restaurants, chain pharmacies, chain hardware stores, chain anything in that city. I loved walking into a family owned bagel shop, ordering quickly and loudly as the patriarch yelled my order on the top of his lungs. I loved laughing at my Singaporean friend as she went hunting for a taxi line while I just waved my arm and yelled "Taxi" to hail the all familiar yellow taxicab. 

I loved the energy that flowed through the city. It was as if I was being pulled along on a thrilling roller coaster ride and I couldn't stop. NYC celebrates individualism in the most matter-of-fact manner and you don't even realize it is happening. Here in Malaysia, we are often taught to toe the line, mind our words, be team players, keep quiet, be nice, play safe, be like the rest. In NYC, I felt the most incredible sense of independence, one of the most freeing experiences of my life. People are different and they are encouraged to be so. As a result, I met the most out-spoken, creative and confident bunch of people and all of them had the same energy - the same drive in them but at the same time, they were each very different. I envied them.  

I visited the usual touristy sights, hung out with old friends, found new friends, sampled awesome food, grumbled about having to tip (I don't think I will ever get used to that), rolled my eyes at some ignorant people I met and soaked it all in, happy, so happy that I was wrong about the city. 

                                                            Love the city. Love it. 
                                                             Times Square at night! 
                                                 The Statue of Liberty

It was merely a week and I don't presume that life in the Big Apple is always glorious, so I am not advocating a rush to relocate to this city. What I hope to impart is the wonderful effects of exploring a new place with an open mind. Every place you visit has a soul. This one affected me in ways I did not expect and I highly recommend a visit.           


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

You looking for the perfect job?

If there is one topic I can adequately comment on and have earned the right to do so,  it is the current crop of job seekers who carry their iPads with them to interviews, forget to print a copy of their CV and ask if I can validate their parking ticket for them at the end of the session. These kids (yes, I say kids because I feel ancient next to these youngsters) exist in the warm cocoon of over-protective parents who believe the sun shines from their kids' behinds and the world should be ever-so-grateful that their child has decided to join the workforce. 

Gone are the days when a candidate would declare a willingness to learn and work hard if given the chance. Now, I have kids (if they behave like adolescents, I will label them as such) wearing stick-on lashes and flowers painted on their nails telling me exactly why they didn't like their previous employers and what they expect from me, their prospective employer. One male candidate had one burning question for me - "Do I need to cut my hair short?".

I have candidates who proudly tell me that they do not like copy writing (I kid you not!) but decided to pursue a career in Marketing because they have an interest in "advertising". Most people I meet declare that they do not like to read and do not hesitate in telling me how their previous employers refused to empower them at work. They exhibit no passion, no enthusiasm and no drive to succeed. They are also far from qualified, brandishing fancy diplomas but hardly able to string a full sentence together in proper English. It is a sorry state of affairs. Thus, I am writing to the rare individual who has recently entered the workforce and who is seeking to build a successful career. 

Dear young job seeker, if you are beginning a journey, ask yourself what you want to gain from this journey. If you decide on a course at university, do so because you at least have a healthy interest in the subject. If you don't absolutely hate it, then try to understand it and appreciate what you are studying. If your tutor does not make sense, ask someone else to help or demand a better teacher. If you work for a multinational corporation and don't speak and write proper English, you will be handicapped for as long as you are in service. You will break out in a cold sweat when asked to present to your bosses. Your work will continuously be rejected because you did not spell or construct your sentence correctly. You will simmer in discontent because your more articulate co-worker receives accolades. 

You cannot rely on mum and dad to fill your pockets with cash forever and they are not doing you any favours by not giving you a knock on the head when you give up on your job after two months because someone said something to you and you didn't like hearing it. It is always tough in the beginning. Consider yourself lucky if your boss pays you attention and spends time teaching you. Don't create walls around you and don't limit yourself to what you think you like doing. Innovate and push yourself. If you don't know how, let others push you to do better. Work hard, work with vigour and with passion and care about the results you are supposed to drive. 

Look beyond the immediate challenges and strive to improve yourself every single day, every time you embark on something new. For goodness sake, read! It is the best thing you can do to get better at anything that you do. Pick up a book, a good magazine, a journal, a white paper! Participate in conversations, ask questions, suggest improvements, show your boss that you care about your job, your company and its' business and shame your colleagues into doing the same. 

I guarantee that you will have a fulfilling career. That is, after all what every job seeker wants. Not the perfect job - it is after all, relative.     


Monday, December 26, 2011

Full Circle After Ten Years

I met with someone recently. She is a senior member of the judiciary in Malaysia and I was first introduced to her ten years ago when I first started work as a trainer in LexisNexis. She was an officer in the Attorney General's Chambers and I was a fresh graduate with a brand new LL.B who thought Lexis.com was one of the coolest things on earth.

At a time when online legal research was considered new technology and unfamiliar to many, this person was determined to master the art of online research. We both embarked on a tentative journey; me - the fresh faced young teacher who was in awe of her student and her - the wise student who knew she would reap the benefits of her lessons. She would call me when she was baffled by something and I would agree with excitement when she invited me to lunch after our lessons.

The years passed and I undertook other roles within the company. We kept in touch as she moved to other posts within the civil service. After many years, we met again. It was a wonderful reunion and we began to catch up on what we had done since our last encounter. After I had updated her on my life, she quietly listed every move and every post she had been assigned, leading up to her current post. She took pains to explain how she incorporated research, both international and cross-jurisdictional into her work and how she in turn successfully pushed for change and improvement in the way legal research was conducted in the various institutions she was working in.

I listened intently, perfectly happy learning how her life had turned out and was simply glad she was willing to share it with me. At the end of her story, she paused, looked me right in the eyes and said "Gaythri, do you see what difference you have made in my life? I would not have been inspired to do all this if it had not been for you, patiently guiding me along when I needed it."

It was the most wonderfully shocking statement anyone has ever made to me. Perhaps because it was so unexpected or maybe because it was coming from someone whom I respect and admire immensely. It choked me up (still does) and all I could say was a sincere "Thank You". I touched her life in the tiniest manner ten years ago and what I thought was a day at work turned out to have a life-changing effect on someone.

It renewed my determination to have passion for my work and in all that I do. It is never routine and it is never fleeting, the imprint you leave on others - so long as you care and give your best to it.