A popular saying about time starts with the words, "Time is the coin of your life..."
Everyone has their own perception of how many coins they want or have. Chronic procrastinators always imagine that the coin pouch is full at all times.
For these people who can't practice procrastination in a healthy, moderate way, the perception of having a full set of coins is probably very soothing.
This was definitely the case for me. However, I'm glad that at points in my life, I encountered the right advice at the right time and gained some clarity on this failing of mine. For me, that right time involved making mistakes that couldn't be fixed, or trying my best and falling in the hardest way possible because I didn't have the right practices.
Now, on a good two out of seven days a week, I feel charged up enough to lock down the brooding procrastinator within me and do enough work to keep my adult life and dreams away from total disintegration.
In particular, one timeless saying that helps me with this is....
"The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now." - Chinese Proverb
Whatever you consider your perfect moment to be, it has passed you by. Someone else has already IPO'ed that phenomenal AI-augmented, sustainable cold brew coffee and coffee peripherals business that you thought up in 2013. Someone has already started a family with the childhood sweetheart that you never felt ready to confess to. Someone else was on their couch one day when suddenly their brain went "baby shark, du du du du du du" and unspeakable horror was unleashed on the world soon after. It could've been you but you were busy value-adding to your life by watching every reaction video to the Avengers Endgame trailer.
Excellence ever only belonged to a genius few. Greatness already slipped through my fingers for the last time. But goodness can still be held in my hands. This Chinese proverb reminds me that the life, health and development I am experiencing now is greatly determined by how I spent the previous block of five years. Because I planted some seeds in desperation five years ago, new things began in my life and today I am an amateur photographer, a seasoned publications production specialist, and a husband to my wonderful wife.
Where should a person start planting seeds, though? A young man I once knew taught me that for someone like myself, most days there are only two answers: the choice that totally sucks, and the choice that just might not suck too much.
"... if you are clueless as to where you are right now..." - clickbait excerpt of my interview with Gen.
At my old job in an educational institute, one of my best days ever was when I was writing something for the campus magazine and interviewed a student, Gen (not his real name), who told me his life story.
Early in life, Gen hadn't done well for his exams, and had to go to a vocational school where many with weak academic results tended to end up.
In my country, academic results are quite an obsession and many conversations involving students invariably feature questions about where you study and who you will be in future.
As someone in a school looked down upon by many, Gen was often invisible in group settings. People were not eager to hear about him, and he was often sidelined or even excluded in many conversations, especially if there was an adult talking to any young peer who seemed brighter and had better prospects than him. Gen told me how angry he had been in those years, how badly the rejection had hurt.
By the time I was interviewing him, many years had passed since that period in his life. Gen shared how he had overcome many obstacles, how a few good people kept believing in him, and how he had never given up on himself. Neither he nor I knew that in just a few years, he would graduate from our school as one of its top students and become an inspiration to many.
When asked what advice he had for people from his alma mater, he said: "No matter what people say to you, or what they think of you, as long as you think you have a goal with long-term value or worth, just go for it. Don’t give up, even if it looks like it’s the end. If you’re clueless as to where you are right now, just pick the best option you can see, believe in yourself and go for it.”
The life story he so kindly shared made his words real to me. When I think back to this advice, I'm reminded that even when I'm overwhelmed and can't see far ahead, I can still commit to the best course of action that I can think of, and move forward a few steps ahead at a time.
"Sometimes, we need to take a step back and tackle problems one at a time, rather than look at them as an overwhelming whole." - quote from a young student
If all else fails, try to deal with your problems by solving one small piece at a time. This common advice has been expressed in various forms, but I particularly like the way this student put it in an article I once read.
Finishing a big project is like washing dishes by hand. No matter how good your technique is or how smart you are, the job only ever gets done one dish at a time.
That's how I'm trying to live life these days. I do routine chores when I feel overwhelmed and need to know that I've done something productive. I use quiet bus rides to write articles like this, and I try to put aside my anxieties and treasure this slightly less hopeful, but also much less fearful second best time of my life.
If you're anxious and you procrastinate often, I'd suggest thinking up just two options that you think you can manage, and choosing one and sticking with it. Find the plot of soil that means a lot to you, and plant a small seed inside of it today.
"The luckiest bosses in this world may be those with a sincere subordinate who works hard and faithfully supports them. But lucky subordinates don't earn their bonuses with sincerity. They earn them with results. "
-Passable Idea 01, AGS author
IN the context of the office, "Sincerity" is a one-way concept: how you feel about the work that you do for your boss. "Trust", on the other hand, is more multi-dimensional: it's about how your boss feels about the work that you do for him/her. What is the trouble that comes with being sincere at work? The answer is that sincerity is a virtuous sentiment that, like many sentiments, can make it all about 'U U U'.
I became dimly aware of this problem about 2.5 years ago during a closed door session where my boss was, with much agitation, questioning me about pending assignments that I owed him. As his frustrations peaked, he said something that stunned me: "You know, I trust Vanessa to deliver on all the projects I give her. I can't trust you." (Vanessa was my direct teammate.)
It was a simple statement, but I respected the man a lot and I'd worked very hard for him, so it cut deep. To make things worse, I had never imagined that he saw me this way. I'd always believed that I was fundamentally a good worker. But the truth, it seemed, was that he didn't feel that he could count on me.
Eventually, I moved on to other teams and bosses (though I've stayed good friends with this first boss). With age, I got more experienced and better at juggling work. Still, at times, a boss would pick at me for a small item that had lapsed. In those moments, I would always question why I got chided even though I'd already cleared many big and important assignments.
Somewhere deep inside, I was starting to vaguely grasp the simple answer to this problem. But the truth only crystallized completely for me, when I heard some wise advice during a special event attended by Lim Siong Guan, former head of the Singapore Civil Service.
When an audience member asked this distinguished leader about positive work habits, he said: “Most people don’t realize that the single most important thing at work is simply trustworthiness. Can you be trusted by your boss? Can you do the work he asks of you, meet his deadlines or negotiate with him in advance if you can’t meet those deadlines? People at work sometimes behave in a way that doesn’t reflect this understanding.” (quote is paraphrased).
His words helped me to finally see what I'd missed: Every assignment, no matter how small, can affect the well-being and social standing of the boss who gives it to me. And paying more attention to something as mundane as a timeline could do wonders to get me the trust that I'd always craved. Most importantly, I learnt that I had to stop seeing things in terms of how much sincerity and hard work I'd put in, and instead choose to see everything in terms of whether it built up or broke down trust between me and my boss.
From that point on, it became much easier for me to work smarter, rather than simply harder. And this, I suspect, is the underlying mental roadblock keeping many people from escaping the rut of working hard, instead of smart and hard. Many of us loyal workhorses actually know that we should find ways to act more intelligently, but we get too caught up in the heartbreak that comes whenever our efforts or kind gestures go unrecognized by our boss.
Maybe because of all the underdog stories we've absorbed through movies, we have come to believe this half-true idea that no matter how weirdly flawed or obnoxiously quirky we are, it's what's in our hearts that should really count most of all. In this romanticized world view, the tender-hearted soul that fails a ton of times but wins big in that one climactic moment eclipses any person who quietly but consistently comes through for people who depend on him.
When we feel that our superiors don't see that "heart of gold" inside us, we're easily tempted to think of ourselves as the victims... And a victim will see no need to rethink his ways.
Hard Work may not get you Trust
Sincerely Caring for Your Boss may not get you Trust
Being Reliable is what Gets You Trust
If a subordinate is sincere to his boss, then that boss is indeed blessed to have a worker who will never betray him. But that worker can only count on hope for his employer to recognize his good heart.
The subordinate who earns the backing of his boss and those around him by consistently recognising their daily needs, however, will one day be able to move mountains, because he finds he no longer has to move them alone.