Chapter 1 July 2nd. 16:05 The counselling (part 1)

You are sitting in the meeting room. It’s been five minutes since the meeting was supposed to begin—but, seeing as it’s your boss you are meeting, lateness falls under executive privilege.  You never see the CEO waiting for his underlings, do you?

It’s the annual counselling session. Your boss usually starts the first  5 minutes with a few opening compliments, hastily half-remembered achievements. It’s his well-practiced prelude, the basic generic babble that leads to the more serious stuff.  Waiting for the ‘but‘… those 5 minutes feel more like thirty.  Because as you know all too well, anything that is said before that magic word is a lie.

Still, you’re expected to go through the motions.

This is a total waste of time. All anyone really cares about is the ‘rating’ one get at the end, and the hints at payrises and bonuses. These are never decided during counselling session anyway. Nonetheless, you know this needs to be done because as a senior executive yourself, you also do the same thing to your staff.  Yes, no matter how senior you are, you are always reporting to someone.

A big company, basically, is created from layers and layers of people doing very similar things. However, there seems to be a myth among junior level workers that their seniors somehow do  and think differently from them. After all, that’s why they’re senior, right?

Well, no. They don’t. Asking yourself “am I the same person I was as a graduate trainee”? Obviously you are – it’s only your position that’s changed. So realistically, there’s nothing fundamentally different between you as a junior, and now as a more senior person.  Same as everyone else.

However, there are always certain elements that affect the way people make decisions, no matter how senior or junior the person is.

For example, everyone is naturally prone to being lazy. So if there is a way for us to be lazy, we’ll usually do it (in some circles, it’s called the smart way). If firing person A instead of person B will cause less hassle, let’s just do it that way.

Of course, other things such as timing (luck) and peer pressure (perception)  matter too.

Nonetheless, you maintain that you want to do the right thing. You see all the articles about the difference between a “manager” and a “leader,” and how you are supposed to use this annual counselling session to motivate your staff, objectively evaluates their performance and develop a plan that allows your staff to flourish.

Well, that’s what it says in the books anyway.

Chapter 1 July 2nd. 16:05 The counselling (part 2)

But how do leaders actually motivate people?  Why do people even come to work?  More importantly, why do they choose to do what they do?

Having a ‘choice’ seems like it’s a pretty big deal. But is it? You think to yourself:

Do we really choose what we do? How much of a “choice” do we have?  What kind of say do we really have in the matter? If we do in fact make most of our choices independently and intelligently, why aren’t most of the people that I know happy with their jobs?

If everyone in a corporate world is prone to be lazy, does the same thing apply to life?

You know that unless you are the 10% at either end of the human ‘bell curve’ (normal distribution), you are really similar with the rest of the 80%. You are not particularly intelligent, hardworking or even lucky. You are not likely to commit any violent crimes but you are also not going to devote you entire life doing volunteering work overseas. Yes—by definition, you are the average.

So you go to school, hopefully get a decent grade and study a degree in university. At the time you decide on your major, you have no idea of the world, career, industry, or anything like that.  You pick the subject that you are most vaguely interested in, or (perhaps more likely), you pick the one that other people tell you is a good choice.

Talk about choices.

After doing just marginally well enough to graduate, you drift your way into an average job. You are not Harvard or Stanford graduates, no top investment banks will hire you. Google won’t hire you.  Of course it depends on which jobs you apply for within these companies. You must be qualified as a janitor in Google, right? (No, they outsource that part of the operations!) The point is, upon graduating, you have no idea what job awaits you, and what that job really entails. You land a job because the employer selected you.

Talk about choices.

And as you work diligently through your career, you move up steadily. Slowly but surely. Yes, it has everything to do with your performance, but it also has a lot to do with what’s happening to the guy that sitting above you. Is he moving on to bigger, better things? Is he retiring? Is he having an accident?

Talk about choices.

Back in the meeting room. Finally, the five minutes are over. Your boss has managed to get around to the all-magical ‘but‘, snapping you out of your daydreaming.

“But as a team, we did not accomplish the goals that we set at the beginning of the year.”

You know all too well the rules surrounding your boss’ use of the word ‘we’. It never really means ‘we,’ like you’d hope for. It’s you he’s talking about. You are the one who is the root cause of the problem. Of course, it’s then your privilege to cascade that down to your team.

It’s like the opposite of what happens in big league sports, really. Usually in team sports (let’s say football), the players get all the credit when the team does well. But when the team isn’t doing well, the first guy that gets fired is the manager. Why is this the other way around in big companies?

“But it’s a stretched goal, that’s what we agreed at the beginning, right?” you said.

“Yes, I know that—but that’s not what top management believes.  They expect us to exceed our goals,” says your boss.

You can sense he is trying to be compassionate. It’s ironic that your boss also reads that same leadership book you read. He is trying to show care. You are not sure how sincere he really is —so were you when you had to deliver the similar messages to your staff.

“The economy is really tough right now. We’re unable to give you a pay rise or bonus for this year.”

It’s funny how everyone becomes a macro-economist when they have to deliver the bad news.

You are not asking much. For everyone in the middle classes, you look for stability. You have your family, mortgage, loan repayments, and all those other delightful things. If the employer is going to guarantee you your job for the rest of your life, with a decent increment every year, you would take it right away, right? Yes, you want that incremental rise, no matter how small. Because you know inflation is what’s going to kill you. “Compound interest” is going to increase your portfolio incredibly but if it’s compound rate of inflation, it’s going to wipe out your wealth completely sooner than later. All you want is to match inflation.

Are you asking for too much? You just want a bit of security and stability. A bit of certainty, that’s all.

You then asked yourself—have you reached your peak? That so-called ‘career peak’, where your income level (because of all the years of compound interest on your salary!) starts to exceed your value to the company? You feel like someone with ten years less experience could do exactly what you do. They might even outperform you. Yes, experience counts, but there’s only so much daily routine that requires that unique experience. You feel like you get to hold on to the job because of your ability to fight company politics, rather than your ability to do your job outstandingly.

Overpaid, obsolete. These are the words that start to ring around your head.

Chapter 2 July 2nd. 17:30 The happy hour (part 1)

Can’t wait…

After such a dreadful counseling session, you can’t wait until happy hour. In fact, you decided to take off half an hour early. Just a little payback to the company.

Shaving off a few minutes arriving at the office in the morning, long lunches, early days off, “unidentified” client meetings (well, friends have to work somewhere, right?) and routine “sick leave” are all little paybacks, small compensations in the attempt to get even.

Actually, these are the perks you get as a middle management guy. You’ve earned it. You have some freedom. No one really checks on you—not everyday, anyway.

Of course, you know all the tricks as well.

If you decided you want to sleep in, you would avoid coming in at 9:20—because people come to the office at that time are just that. Sleeping in. So you come in at around 10ish—the right time that suggests to others that you just had a breakfast meeting with a client before coming in.

Perception is the most important asset you need to control and maintain in a big company.

As a general rule, if you’re going to call in sick, the best sickness is “food poisoning”. 1. You have the ideal reason why you need to stay home (and for being unable to reach the doctor and get the required medical certificate for the day of absence); 2. You can turn up to work the next day looking completely normal; and 3. Most importantly, nobody would ask anything about it—it’s just not right.

Of course, you always go to work when you are actually sick—because that’s the best way to show your dedication to your boss.

Anyway, why does it feel so important that you need to find all these little ways to get even? Well, let’s leave it for another day. Let’s get the first beer. It’s happy hour!

Same bar. Same beer. Same (almost) colleagues. It’s probably the only routine that you look forward to. That’s why it’s called ‘happy hour’ right? Because it’s happy time!

But does that imply the rest of your day (well, any time prior to the happy hour) is not supposed to be happy? If you’re already happy throughout the day, it does seem a bit odd you would call this particular time ‘happy hour’.

This makes you think: Is this why everyone like to talk about work-life balance? This is actually one concept you never understand. You always think, as a logical person, work by definition is really a subset of life, right? Of course, unless life is taken to mean ‘leisure’. But if that’s the case, why would you even compare the two? Comparing work with leisure? Are you serious? Isn’t this a classic case of comparing apples to oranges? But everyone talks about it.

Talk about conventional wisdom.

You tell yourself, “it’s probably smarter to ask, can you balance what you put into work and what you get out of it.”

And the same goes for life.

Wow, alcohol does make you smarter (also a philanthropist when the check arrives). Well, for a short period of time, anyway.

Well, back to happy hour. Actually, happy hour is not always happy. Sometimes you have to go to happy hour with your manager, and sometimes you go with your clients—especially the ones you need to build relationships with, or in another words, clients you either barely know or those you have been putting off!

But today’s happy hour is happy. You go to your favorite bar with your best colleague, who’s more like a friend. A colleague is really a strange relationship. It’s the first time in your life that you have to deal with people you don’t necessarily like nor have a chance to pick from—yet with whom you need to coexist. It’s kind of like your kids—except you don’t have the blood tie.

But you’re lucky. You have a few colleagues that you consider them as friends. No, friend is a bit much. You consider them comrades because going to work feels more like going to a battle. Also, you expect one day your comrades will take a bullet for you—and (maybe) vice versa.

More importantly, today you need someone to talk to. So today you only invited one.

Chapter 2 July 2nd. 17:30 The happy hour (part 2)

By the speed you’re drinking, your colleague, Keith, knows something isn’t right about that counseling session you had. But as a peer, it’s not proper to pry without you initiating it. So—time for some nudging.

“Tomorrow is my counseling session. Geez, I don’t look forward to these things,” Keith said.

“Nice one,” you think to yourself. It’s a pretty well-played nudge to let you start talking about the counseling session you had today. You’re impressed. Because after all, you were the one who brought Keith all the way up here. He used to be your subordinate, but now he’s one of your peers (and at the same time, you hate the idea that he could even become your boss one day). But you’re proud. You taught him a lot of things, including the art of astute nudges.

But at the same time, it’s occurred to you that this is perhaps why you’re stuck in middle level management. High flyers never hang out with their peers or subordinates. They hang out with senior people. Sucking up, as those envious unskilled novices call it. But you know better. It’s not simply sucking up; it’s about creating a bigger “mind share” in the heads of the senior people. You have to help these people remember you when the right situation arise—when they’re lazily deciding who to pick for promotion, for example. Or to put it simply, you need to help others to help yourself.

And yet, even though you know all the tricks of the trade, you simply like hanging out with people you like. So the conversation continues.

“Yeah, I had mine today and it’s just the same old, same old.”

You’re too proud to tell Keith it didn’t go well. You’re too proud to tell him you are not getting any raises or bonuses. You have no idea what Keith’s going to get. And the last thing you want to do is to let your colleagues know they are doing better than you. That’s corporate suicide.

“I mean—my team did pretty well. We achieved 90% of the targeted goal, and with this economy, that’s a pretty solid performance.”

Yes, you too have become a macro-economist.

And with that, you turn to other random topics, which is what the spirit of happy hour is all about. You play the macro-economist, you play the politician, you play the scientist, you play the philosopher. These days, it seems like everyone needs to have a view on just about anything in this world anyway. Which political party do you like? (Why is picking one out of only two such a big deal?) Do you support animal rights? Gay marriages? Is it not possible you simply don’t have a view at all? But you just do it—just say something—so the conversation can continue, happy hour or not. And all of a sudden, you and your colleague seem to have the answers to everything in the world.

In fact, let’s talk about anything except work—because work is the only thing you don’t seem to have an answer for.  At least not in front of another colleague. Sure, there are people who can’t stop talking about work at happy hours, but that’s mostly just moaning about their bosses. But you know better. This is the time to relax.

Negativity won’t get you anywhere.

Second beer.

Third beer.

This is feeling good. Having a good time with a friend, or comrade, cracking a few jokes (yes, all your views and answers to the world’s problems are just that—jokes). And jokes always become funnier (or workable) as the pints go down.

Wow, this is the life!

Maybe this is what people mean when they talk about that horrible balance between work and life.

So why can’t this be “life” all the time?

Obvious. You need to earn money to pay the bills including bar tabs.

So this is about doing something you don’t enjoy, and in return, making money so you can spend it on other things you actually enjoy? That’s why it’s called work-life balance? Whether you are making enough money to spoil (or tranquilize) yourself so you can stand all the nonsense you face at work?

“Actually what sort of things do I buy to spoil myself?”

Buying an apartment, a mortgage you can barely afford so you can show off your status in society. Buying things you don’t really need because, really, there are only so many things you can use, wear, or play with after work—because you almost always stay behind (or all that time checking your Blackberry at home, especially during family dinner). Eating so much food that you then need to pay for a gym membership to lose that weight. And as you know all too well, the key is buying the membership, not so much the turning up part.

This is getting too complicated. You simply need to make money. Let’s keep it simple.

But can you make work a bit less painful? Because as most of your friends tell you, they don’t like what they do. That’s why everyone hates Monday, Wednesday is called a hump day, and we all love a long weekend.

This has to be true, right? If you like what you do, no one should be paying you. Yes, even professional athletes or rock stars (the most noble and admirable of professions). A football player may enjoy the playing the game, but no one would enjoy all that conditioning and all the time-consuming exercises that come along with that, time that could otherwise be used for partying and enjoying your early twenties, right?

“But I like what I do!” you try to convince yourself.

“Well, I don’t like what I do, but at least I like the situation I am in at this stage of my life!” And you’re right. You have a very good job, and you’re envied by most of your friends. Note to self: always pick friends who are slightly worse off than you. You have a young and very happy family. You have a lot of very good friends (and a good handful of comrades). You have money to buy all that life-affirming unnecessary stuff. You don’t need to worry about shouting a bill (especially after a few rounds) and regretting it the next morning. You don’t need to check your account balance every time you withdraw money. You start to forget the exact amount you earn because the number is getting big enough that the last few digits don’t really matter. You love school reunions. In other words, you are doing really well.

“I’m different from those other losers.” You can’t hide your grin. This social status is really making you feel good. “I don’t have a mid life crisis—and if I do, mine will come in the form of buying a Porsche to pamper myself. And not a second hand one either.”

Happy hour is not exactly the time for soul-searching. But deep down you know something is still not quite right.

Anyway, it’s time to go home.  Let’s get the bill.

Chapter 3 July 3rd. 7:30 The hangover (part 1)

Ugh. It might well have been a pint too many.

Still, you insist you wake up on time—you never wanted to go to office late just because you have a hangover. Just one of those little rules you set for yourself.

A quick brush up and a shower wakes you up a little bit more. You know you should have drunk more water because it’s really the dehydration that makes you feel so bad the next day. However, as with most things in life, knowing is one thing, but making yourself committed to doing it is another.

Shirt, suit and tie. You can tie a tie in your sleep. Every tie is different but you sure know how to tie it perfectly. Practice indeed makes perfect.

You do it so often you never really bother to stop and ask—why a suit and tie in the first place? It’s not that you object to it. With a “uniform”, it’s far easier to pick what you need to wear than if the dress code were casual wear everyday (Casual Friday is a great example of how people struggle). But you don’t understand it. Yes, it’s supposed to look more formal—by tying a knot around your own neck?—but you also know many people who wear suits and ties and still look like they’ve just come in off the streets.

Taste matters. It also says a lot about your upbringing. Some people embrace it, whilst others try as hard as they can to change.

Of course, you know what to wear. You were brought up in the middle class, the middle class that only exists when the country and the economy are doing well. Tailored shirts and suits are a must. Color is important. Go for white, light blue or pink for shirts, and not greens, yellows or browns. That has to then match with your tie. A tailored suit also tells people a lot about your style. The fit, the color, the details. It actually says everything about you. And the business world is a world of appearances, after all. Smoke and mirrors.

What really separates people who dress well are their shoes and belt. Well-polished, elegant shoes really set you apart (but thick soles are a big no-no). It’s amusing when people wear tuxedo shoes, thinking they don’t need to polish their shoes. How silly. But there are a lot of silly people in this world. Another one is people wear black tie to a black tie party.  They just don’t know any better.

And then there’s the humble belt. People who buy a belt with a big designer logo, similar to ties, are saying a lot about their character. As deep as a puddle. They either have no fashion sense, or it’s someone else who bought the belt, or those who think getting that will upgrade their social status. Well, it’s quite the opposite. You don’t want designer logos on you.

“People should pay me if they want me to promote their product and use my body as a walking advert,” you say to yourself.

And you pay even more attention to details. Here’s a key tip to really make a key difference: really, really good socks. How often do you see people with the wrong color socks, or ones that are simply too short or too worn-out? If you’re willing to invest in socks, then nothing else on you is ever likely to be bad.

Dressing up makes you feel good. And you actually make yourself feel good every morning before going to work. It’s the simple things in life. Maybe this is what you need today, the perfect way to kick this hangover. (That said, it’s kind of painful to go to work, hangover or not.)

You kiss your wife and your young son and off you go.

Today, you decide to drive. But, as with any metropolitan city, driving to work is not the smartest choice. You get stuck in traffic, you pay crazy parking rental at the office and most importantly, you can’t go for happy hour after work! Well, you just had one last night, so driving today is a safe choice. And when you have a mild headache, driving seems a better choice than getting squeezed in the cattle-class public transport.

After parking your car, you go straight to Starbucks. You don’t really like coffee that much. In fact, what you really want right now is a nice bloody mary. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t dare besmirch the ritual of the morning coffee. It’s that little luxury you enjoy. Starbucks is supposed to be the “best” coffee around, so drinking that makes you feel you are entitled to the best. That’s the reason why people love iPhones too, right? It’s expensive, and if celebrities use them as well, they must be the right choice! You can’t afford their Ferraris, but you owe it to yourself to at least have their phones!

As you walk to the lift lobby, you see people (mostly your juniors) quietly nodding to greet you. You know this is a sign of success. You start to have people in the company who know you, but you don’t quite know them.

In the elevator, stand tall. You tell yourself to keep your head up. Never look down at your mobile phone or onto the ground. The minute you arrive in the proximity of your office area, you need to have that game face about you. You’re building perception around you, all the time. Not just when you talk to people, but every moment that you’re on display. Besides, you never know where rumors start. Be prepared, rather than be sorry.

Chapter 3 July 3rd. 7:30 The hangover (part 2)

“Good morning,” your secretary greets you.

You are proud to have a well-trained secretary. Most secretaries arrive just in time to the office and leave the very minute office hours finish. But yours always get to the office slightly earlier than you. Given your daily schedule, the majority of things need organising in that first half hour.

You’d expect today is just like any other day. You spend most of your time in the office checking emails. Yes, you are basically a glorified secretary. And at your level, you ignore about 50% of the emails, forward the other 30%, take about 10% seriously and actually reply to the remaining 10% (typically your key stakeholders in the company or your friends outside). Still, it takes time. Ignoring email is an art. You want to do it as quickly as possible without missing the really important ones. Sometimes you do deliberately miss some emails, but that’s a different story. Even responding to emails is an acquired skill. You don’t want to reply too quickly—that may show you have nothing much on hand. You also don’t want to commit anything in email, you want to talk (you’re old school like that) because that’s when you can be really vague. You never want to take a clear position—at least not all the time. You also avoid writing and responding to angry emails. You know people who write aggressively in emails are quite often the opposite in real life. Quiet dogs bite.

The headache is really getting to you.

So you take a little longer to read your emails. You really don’t want to let your team see you in such a state. You know that by now people know you had a counseling session yesterday, and when they see you hungover the very next day, imaginations will run wild. Rumors will start. No, no, you can’t have that.

You read through many of the emails you are going to ignore, including junk emails that somehow sneak through the corporate firewall and filters onto your mailbox. And today one of these junk mails caught your attention—“Call for volunteer!”

As a socially successful person, you understand it’s your duty (and privilege) to give back. You want to give back. You are just too lazy to do so. Yes, you say that you’re too busy with something (meaningless). You also feel hesitant about giving donations to large charities because you know most of the money goes to administrative charges. At least, that’s the excuse you use when you don’t donate as frequently as you probably should.

“Maybe I should do some charity work?”

But you wonder what you actually can do. You’re no doctor, dentist, teacher or skilled professional where your skills would directly benefit the people in need. You are not even strong, hardworking or caring! You’re just a mid-level manager who is “skilled” at being in a big corporation. Yes, you might have solid management skills but how’s that going to benefit anyone outside these four walls?

Ouch. The headache is really bad today.

You start to regret what you did last night. It’s one thing to regret a night of over-indulgence in alcohol. But what if you have bigger regrets in life—such as never accomplishing anything meaningful?

It’s a question you’ve been thinking quite a lot about lately.

Being a young father, you always wonder how you’re going to interact with your son as he grows up. There are so many things you want to tell him. You want to share with him all the challenges you had when you went to school, going to work, girls—the list goes on and on. But sometimes you wonder what if your son asks:

“Dad, what is the biggest accomplishment in your life?”

Simple, naive questions are often the most difficult to answer.

You immediately reaction to that question is:

“Well, the biggest accomplishment in my life is raising you up. You know how expensive it is these days to bring up a child?”

As true as it is, it’s probably not the answer your son is looking for. Nor is it an answer you want. And more importantly—not achieving something important sounds bad, but not knowing what to achieve is probably worse. And that seems to be your problem. You don’t know what you want to do!

All your life, you’ve lived a good, “standard” life. You’ve followed what your parents, or society, tell you to do. And you’ve done a great job at that. Everything’s gone according to plan.

But sometimes you ask, “What plan?”

You really don’t have any big ambitions. In fact, you don’t really have many interests. In anything. Sure, you’ve got some hobbies— watching football, having a good meal—but nothing you’d really want to dedicate your life to.

Same goes with your job. People say it’s important to do something you love. That’s easy to say. But your problem is that you don’t even know what you love to do. The more you think about it, the truer it becomes. In fact, so what if I find something I love to do?  What happens if I’m totally hopeless at it? In fact, what are you even good at? Writing and replying to emails?

You’re still young. At least twenty years before retirement. You ask yourself, “Do I want to stay in this room for the next twenty years of my life doing something that I can’t even tell my son is my biggest achievement?”

“I need to do something with my life.”

The urge of walking up to your boss and resigning always gives you an immediate sense of unique pleasure and relief. It’s not the first time you’ve had that thought either. You know everyone’s had that thought at some time.

Stay cool. You’re fine.

These sorts of internal debates have become a lot more frequent for you lately. Somehow you know you need to quit your job to really find out what it is that you want to do. But there’s too much at stake. You can’t make that decision without a really good reason—to yourself and to your family.

At the same time, you also know not making a decision is a decision in itself.

Everyday you made a conscious decision to not make a change. Even a change that would (hopefully) let you find what you want to do in your life. You don’t need to be a billionaire, climb Mount Everest or set all sorts of world records. You just want something you can tell your son you’ve accomplished, something that you’re really happy about. You want to be happy. More correctly, you just want to be happier.

It’s similar to drinking beer. It’s not about how much beer you can drink. That’s not going to make you proud because everyone has his or her limits. What you want is to search for your own optimal level of drunkenness. Yes, your level. No one else’s. And it’s life you’re thinking about, not beers.

Chapter 4 July 6th. 14:30 The Rubik’s cube (part 1)

It has been a tiring week.

You look forward to the weekend. It’s your safe haven, your however temporary escape away from ‘reality’. And especially given the nightmare you’ve put yourself into over the last few days (years, truthfully), you need a break.

Today, you’re going shopping with your son.

These days, kids are so much more fortunate. Well, at least kids that you know. They have all the toys they can even imagine. Actually, wrong—desire by definition is unlimited.

When you look back to your childhood, you didn’t really have any fancy toys. Throwing around a beanbag would occupy you for a good few months. Yet, these days, kids seem so different. You get showered with so many gifts when you throw a birthday party for your son, and your son faces peer pressure when he doesn’t have the same things all his other friends have. One way or the other, he gets a lot of toys. And when he doesn’t get what he wants, all hell breaks loose. It does seem like by having more, there is actually more to lose.

Of course you can afford it (and he knows it), so off you go to the toy shop again. Consciously or sub-consciously, you just want to give your son more than he deserves. You don’t know if that will make your son happy, but it certainly does make you feel good.

Guess it’s the same for adults.

As you walk into the toy shop, you see something you haven’t seen since your childhood. A Rubik’s cube. Yes, those 3×3 puzzles that no one ever seems to be able to solve. Actually, no. Everyone did find a way to solve it. They peeled the stickers and moved them to the right places. Yes, you did that too.

You vaguely recall that, once or twice, you did give it a real shot. One time you got lucky and solved two faces. You also remember that none of your friends from primary school could solve it either.

“Hey, this is one of my childhood dreams—to be able to solve a Rubik’s cube!”

So, along with all the expensive toys doomed to be instantly forgotten and discarded by your son, you bought your Rubik’s cube.

After your son falls asleep in the afternoon, you have a chance to unpack the cube. You don’t dare to scramble it up. The fact that every face is probably solved is an amazing view to you. You think to yourself, “I want to do this!”

In today’s information age, you go straight to Google and YouTube to look for answers. That’s something you simply don’t have back in the old days. The old days were full of secrets. You need to learn the secrets from the masters. Many businesses came into existence simply because there once were secrets. But not now. With a few clicks, you have the answers. You literally have all the answers in the world. There’s no more excuse of not knowing how to do something. It’s now all about whether you’re motivated enough to do it or not.

Of course, it’s not easy to go through thousands of guides/solutions. While some of them are decent, most of them are downright confusing. You read more. You watch more. Man, this is not easy!

“Why were we playing this when we were kids? This is so difficult!”

As you are about to give up, just like most of the people you know around you did, you stumble into a video showing the world records of Rubik’s cube solving. These guys solve them in seconds—six, to be precise. Typically, when you see someone do better than you, you come up with excuses for why. You reckon these guys are only good at solving cubes and nothing else. You love simplifying other people success. Nerds. Or in other cases, you like to call them lucky or their success is only down to their wealth. Whatever, they got to where they got to simply because of some random, unimportant reasons. (It makes you feel less small.)

Then you saw a video about this three year old solving it within a minute.

Damn, you ran out of excuses.  Oh, no, you got more.

“Hey, I am a busy man. I have better things to do. I shouldn’t be playing this stupid toy.”

You pick up your phone. Whenever you want to deep dive into some mindless mode, you check your phone for messages. A Whatsapp message just arrives.

“Hey, what are you up to?” Keith. He’s a single guy who has nothing much to do over the weekends. Just like most young people these days, they stay at home and play with their phones.

“Nothing much. I bought this stupid Rubik’s cube,” you said, making sure you don’t sound like you’re too serious.

“Wow, Rubik’s cube! I used to play it a lot when I was young too!”

“Could you solve it?”

“Of course not man, no one does. Only those crazily talented people!”

“Nah, I checked on the Internet, it doesn’t look that difficult,” you offer in a desperate attempt at redeeming yourself.

“Cool, I am getting one too. Talk to you later!” Keith, always his energetic self.

Now you have no choice. You really have to solve this. There is no way you’ll see Keith showing you how to solve it. After all, it was you who initiated that whole conversation.

Alright, back to Google and YouTube then.

Chapter 4 July 6th. 14:30 The Rubik’s cube (part 2)

Taking a deep breath. You tell yourself you’re going to solve this like a business issue. You start off with the basics.

You use your business instinct to pick which tutorial you should spend time reading. Naturally then, you first go to the official guide, and work from there. As you read you understand in a cube there are center pieces and these actually don’t move relative to each other. There are side pieces and the corner pieces. While the cube moves, the color on each of the pieces don’t actually move (it does sound obviously when you think of it that way). So you would never have a side piece with white and yellow on it because these 2 colors are opposite to each other.

These principles are important as you try to solve the cube. And that’s the same in real life. You need to understand and appreciate principles. But it seems like these days sometimes people over-emphasize principles without moving to real solutions to real issues. Principles can only help you so far—just like the principles in a Rubik’s cube.

There are different ways to solve the cube and the most common way is actually to solve it by layers. All the effort you tried when you were young to solve the cube face by face was actually wrong.

So you carefully learn how to solve the first layer. Make the cross first, then the corner pieces. Within a few minutes, you got it!

Hey, it’s not that difficult! Yes, it took you the more time than a three year old took to solve the entire cube, but that’s not the point. You solved one face!

On to the second layer. You recognize from this point onwards, there are ‘formulae’ you can follow to effectively solve the cube. Some formulae are short, some are pretty long. You try to reach ahead by reading all of them.

URU’R’U’F’UF

UL’U’LUFU’F’

FURU’R’F

RUR’URUUR’

R’FR’BBRF’R’BBRRU’

FFULR’FFL’RUFF

There are actually thousands of them if you want to solve the cube really quickly. But you only need to know these ones to solve the cube.

“There’s no way I can remember all these.”

Your son’s just woken up and you need to take care of him. Perfect timing. You can leave this till another day.

Over the weekend, as you meet your friends and family, you couldn’t resist bringing up this topic. And everyone you talked to has tried this before, but no one has ever solved it.

This gives you a bit more motivation.

The ironic thing is, after you asked whether they have solved it, everyone likes to give you an excuse to why they haven’t.

“Nah, I only messed around with it when I was young. It’s just a toy, I never really want to solve it.”

“Oh, I haven’t solved it but I heard it’s real easy as long as you remember some formulas.”

“Some guys can solve it in seconds. Those guys are crazy.”

The classic sticker-manipulation comes up once or twice.

People generally are interested.  But no one wants to say it’s too hard and no one wants to admit they couldn’t make themselves having a serious try. You believe it’s a show of people’s character, their attitude to life even.

You decide you want to be different. You want to be able to achieve this ‘childhood dream.’ When people ask you whether you can solve a Rubik’s cube, you want to be able to say Yes.

“Hey, I have solved the first face—it’s really good fun,” perfect timing, as you receive a Whatsapp message from Keith. You need his enthusiasm (and peer pressure).

So off you go the next few days. You learn, you practice, you fail. And the cycle continues. It’s more frustrating than you think. You spent ten minutes following instructions all the way up to the last step—and you messed it up. And the cube looks just like the beginning when it’s all scrambled up.

The more you think about it, perhaps it’s really because you haven’t faced much adversity in your life. Until this damned cube.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Thanks, Edison! You push yourself forward as you recall this quote. You gradually make yourself follow all the formulae, literally one step at a time.

Finally, one night, you solve it. Without looking at the formulae. Your wife has been complaining for more than a week now, that you’ve been suddenly devoting so much of your time into such meaningless little kid’s toy.

But you know this is not about a Rubik’s cube.

It’s not a meaningless little kid’s toy.

All your life you have been told to dream big. The world is huge and no one should ever put limits on anything—including the potential and achievement to which one can aspire. As in the old Chinese saying, never be the frog under a well, because there is only so much sky that can be seen.

But to dream big is intimidating. It’s so intimidating that it makes it more convenient to tell yourself not to do it at all. Wow, people solved the cube in six seconds. That just sounds like the perfect reason to not bother ever learning how to do it. But everyone is different. You know you don’t need to be compared to every other person in the world. You are only accountable to yourself. And it’s OK to set the goal to simply solving a cube, regardless how many minutes it takes you. What makes you better—and, more importantly, happier—is that you have achieved something, something that has been your dream for a long time. And by starting small, you are actually much closer to getting it done, simply because you’ve started in the first place.

Yes. Dream small.

And suddenly it seems you’ve also solved all the questions you’ve been asking yourself the last week.

As well as that meaningless little kid’s toy.

Chapter 5 July 15th. 11:30 The bed talk (part 1)

This is what it comes down to.

Talking to your significant other about what you are going to do. The bigger problem is that you have no idea what you’re going to do next. You simply know what you don’t want to do. Anyway, you need to talk to her.

After a full day taking care of the household and your young son, your wifebeing a full-time housewife (and there aren’t that many around these days)couldn’t wait to crash into bed. Who says being a housewife is easy? You might bring in the income but you know who’s providing the mental stability in this family. What doesn’t she control (for good or bad) around here? And what’s better than coming home after a long day of work seeing a happy wife? More critically, what’s worse than coming home after a long day of work seeing an unhappy wife?

Your job, with regards to this family, is simple. All you do is go to work in the morning and come home really late. By the time you get home, you spend an hour with your son before he has to go to bed. Even when you have more time at home, you spend time on conference calls, fulfilling your Blackberry addiction, read news on TV, your tablet, etc. You multi-task. Just like in a typical home dinner, you might look like you’re just eatingbut you also talk, think about work, read Twitter news on your iPhone while overhearing what the television has to say.

You do so much but you achieve so little (let alone simply enjoying the meal). And perhaps you aren’t satisfiednot because you don’t have enough, but because you are not getting 100% out of the things that you have.

So your wife takes care of everything. The only exception is if there is something that needs to be fixed at home. Your job then is to approve the expense. Kind of like the CFO, except that all you approve are the expenses from the CEO (yes, your wife). And because you are always busy at something,you never really have time to talk to your CEO at all. And as in any business, not spending enough time with the CEO is a bad idea.

But tonight is different. You need to tell her about your decision.

It’s not really telling her. You’re really after a consultation. Or, putting it more bluntly, you are asking for her (ahem) permission. And that’s what you like to do. As with any big decision in your life, you want to check with your wife: if anything fails, you know you are not the only one shouldering the blame. You didn’t even notice you’d reapplied your well-homed skills from work to home like this. But you are.

Tonight is also a little different. You hope your wife turns down your wish. You really do. If she does, you’ll no longer need to have to have all these debates with yourself. You have the ultimatum. Your wife said No.

What a relief!

Where do I start? It’s probably a bit strange to blurt out the news that you want to quit, and that you’ve absolutely no idea what to do next. So just like any other business meetings you have, before you get into the real stuff, you start with a bit of chit-chat, how’s-the-weather sort of thing.

“How’s your day?” you ask. At the same time, feeling horrible with such a weak start.

“Yeah, today is great,” she replies, the eternal glass-half-full. And that’s what you love about her. As she starts talking about her day, your mind wanders off (yet again!) back to the time when you got into a spot of trouble for feeling that way.

On your wedding day, as friends and families gathered, one person asked you in front of the crowd, “What do you love most about your wife-to-be?”

“She’s a fantastic person with a great heart and character.” You said it without thinking. You’d never rehearsed this and the words just came out like that. You paused for a second, rethinking what you’ve just said. OK, you passed your own verdict, it’s cool, what you’ve just said is fine. And all the families and friends concurred, too.

All except for your wife-to-be.

Apparently, it’s never cool to compliment your wife on her character (at least not in front of other people). Complimenting the inner beauty seems to imply there is not much ‘outer’ beauty to talk about. Especially on a wedding daywhich bride doesn’t want to hear that she’s the most beautiful person in this world? (Same goes for men, though they never would admit to it.)

“You should have said you love me because I’m beautiful!” Your wife thumped you on the shoulder.

“Well, that too!”

Anyway, all these flashbacks leave you with a good, warm feeling. But at the same time, what happened in the last few years? Especially after your career started to take off and then your son was born. You two never have much personal time. You two were both focused on all the important things. You really haven’t done any real talking for a long, long time.

So cutting off your wife as she continues talking about her decidedly average day: “What’s your biggest wish in your life, right now?”

Um… I don’t know. I’m happy with what I have…”  She’s genuinely happy? How long has it been since I shared that feeling? “Maybe to travel around the world with you? And of course with our son, too.”

“Really? This is your biggest wish? In your life?”

But she said it with such sincerity, you know it’s true. You ask simply because you can’t handle it. That’s all? An around the world trip is expensive (you can already begin calculating the total estimated expenses, where to go for budget hotels, airlines, the minimum number of cities you need to visit before calling it a round-the-world trip)but it’s something you can afford! Yes, your savings would take a big hit and there are other priorities, but you can’t deny the fact that you can afford it. And your wife’s life-long wish could be fulfilled!

You try to make sense of it all. Is it simply because your wife is content? Is that the magic wordcontentthe thing you need before you can be happy? To be happy, do you need to expect less to start with?

But you can’t just be content. Content is bad! Content means you are not pushing yourself to strive, to make things happen, to achieve more. That’s what you’ve been told all your life.

Or maybe your wife just wants to solve one face of a Rubik’s cube. Who’s to say that not good enough?

Chapter 5 July 15th. 11:30 The bed talk (part 2)

“It’s great you know what you really want to do…. I don’t” You feel defeated.

“Yes, you do! You love happy hours! May be your wish is to have happy hours every day!” She’s just great at getting that semi-mocking tone down pat“but I’m sorry, you can’t do that!”

“I want to do something else, I really don’t enjoy what I do right now.” You gave up, it all comes outyou just blurt it out without much of a needed segue way.

“I know you haven’t been happy for a while. Go ahead, look for another job then,” your wife chips in.

Well, so she noticed. She noticed you haven’t been happy, despite your conscious effort to hide it. Maybe you just haven’t hidden it well enough. Wait, no, you’re not talking simply about changing jobsyou want to quit the sort of things that you have been doing.

“NoI love the people in my company, I just don’t like what I do.”

You exaggerated a bit. You don’t exactly love your boss, colleagues and clients. But you have a more than healthy relationship with most of them. And you know you couldn’t be asking for more from a business world.

“I just want to quit…” your words fade gradually at the end but you manage to croak it out.

“Have you thought it through? Plan it all out?” your wife says in a more serious tone.

“Yes, I have.”

Of course you haven’t. But that’s not what you’re going to admit. You have to tough this one out. This conversation will be over soon! She’ll go crazy and tell you that you are out of your mind. And that’s it, it’s over, it’s done!

“Well, you have to do what you have to do. Do something you like. I trust you.”

Damn. That’s not how the script was supposed to go. She was supposed to say No! Sowhat happens now?

“But we’ll have no income!” you counter.

“I imagine you have some savings that’d last us a little while,” with a cheeky grin.

You’re not loaded but do you have some breathing space.

“But I don’t know what I want to do next!” You probably shouldn’t have said that.

“I’m sure you will find out. It’s not that hard to find what you like to do, right?”

You notice the keyword she uses is ‘like’, not ‘love’. Maybe you don’t need to commit to loving something right away? Especially when you don’t know what that is. Isn’t it just like any other relationship or interests? You start off liking someone or something before falling in love and, hopefully, you get to continue to build on that love? Loving something, especially a job you are talking about here, it’s not so much a 1 or 0, binary type decision? It’s more complicated. It’s a journey you go through to find out.

“But what if everything fails?” you desperately try to win this argument.

“Well then, go back to a job in the big corp world. Yes, we need to eat. So you need to have a jobat some stage. But you know you’ll be able to find one.”

That’s true, but not entirely. With your experience, it does seem like there has to be another job somewhere, although it might not pay as well as your current one. But there has to be something, right? The world is ginormous! Your understanding of this world is really nothing compared to the complexity that exists within it. It doesn’t matter how much you calculate or plan; apart from making yourself comfortable, you never really know what’s going to happen! Still, you know the sort of positions you hold isn’t really all about the skills required, but how people are networked (with everyone trying to cling onto their jobs). These chances are few and far between. It’s about claiming your turf. And once you have it, you don’t let others take itbecause it’s impossible to claim it back.

“Well, it’s not easy to find something like what I have now,” you are not giving up.

“But I thought you said you weren’t happy with what you have now?” your wife concludes. Maybe she’s tired, she wants to end this conversation.

Damn. The script has actually panned out exactly the way you anticipated. It’s just that you and your wife took each other’s lines.

“I should have made this decision when we were younger, definitely before we had our son.” Yes, your last resortdragging your son into the conversation.

“True, but you are not getting any younger.” That last nail in the coffin. Maybe after all, she’s the one who had already solved the Rubik’s cube long ago.

You’ve always been proud that you’re a very logical person. But the problem of being too logical is that you have the amazing ability to argue both ways. As a result, you procrastinate.

But tomorrow is different. You’ve decided. And you have the blessing you needed, too (sort of).