Saturday, February 1, 2014

Measure Someone By Their Journey

Yesterday, knowing that January will end and February was looming in only a few hours, I spent some of my time reflecting back to what my life has been like these past almost-22 years. If I were to say anything about it, it was that it has been one heck of a ride.

I have grown. I have matured. My mind now thinks in ways I never thought I would - with such complexity and regard to life and the human nature which I never thought possible. It seemed only yesterday that I felt blissful, free ignorance with all that I do. Today, those experiences are now mixed with wisdom, insight and thought.

Around five days ago, I was interviewed for an award by a panel whom I last met back in 2011. One of the interviewers made a remark that they have all my records with me, so I'm pretty much covered.

Horrified, I said, "You still remember me from the last interview? Haiya, that's so embarrassing."

I think I surprised the interviewer. "Why is it embarrassing?"

"Well, thinking back to all the things I might have said back then... I was so young."

"So now you're not young?"

"I'm older now."

"It's alright. What's most important is knowing you have matured since then."

I smiled. "I have definitely matured since then."

"Then there's nothing to worry about."

After the interview, and until now, I always think back to this particular moment. If I'm being honest, this year, this January, I've had a lot of people saying things to me which I never thought of. A leader in my company said I'm lucky to have some of the insights and advice that I was given, because some of the realisations which I already have only reached him in his fifties. Another manager said she'd be delighted to be working with me because I seem to understand and see the depth of value of what we're doing. Someone else, very recently, said that he observed that I have a very high sense of self-actualisation.

Are these comments true? I have absolutely no idea. You, dear readers, probably see more in me than I do myself. I have no way of judging myself, and the only way for me to see how much I've grown is through this - my writing. Reading what my thoughts were in the past, and what or how they are now.

They say you shouldn't measure someone by their successes, but rather by the journey that they have gone through. My journey, in a nutshell, looks something like this:

1992 - 1998: I was born. I learned how to read and write. I grew up. And my family was complete by the end of this period, with the birth of my youngest sister in 1998.

1999 - 2004: These were my golden years. I entered primary school and made friends. I went into various activities, various competitions. I got into fights and received kiddy love letters. I played outside and enjoyed childhood to the max. I also experienced how painful it can be to move schools, and the joy I get when I make new friends. I learned things, I had fun. I also studied my hardest in 2004 for my UPSR, with tears running down my cheeks often because my mom was so strict with my learning.

2004 - 2008: If I were to put a name to this, I'd say these are my Unrecovered Years. I will never, ever, ever get to go through what I went through in these four years. I was in the UK. I learned to adapt to a culture inherently different to mine. I learned to stand on my two feet as a Muslim, in a school where we only had 24% of Muslims, where perhaps only 5% of them were Malays (by the time I left, I was among the only left). I experimented a lot in these years, trying out a lot of courses and lessons, trying to discover my passion. I was nurtured as a writer in these years by my amazing school librarian, Mr. Case, who is still an important person to me today. I made friends that lasted, even until today, and I hope will remain with me forever. I discovered some very big anchor points on who I am, and I developed my confidence - to be who I am, no matter where I am.

2009 - 2010: I have little to say about these years. These were my transition years. Getting used to being away from family for the first time. Being very independent for the first time. Discovering that my true passion does not lie with Law, but with English - with learning.

2011: I formed my identity in this year. This was the year where I was named a Tunku Scholar... to have my foundations shaken that yes, I am one of the leaders of tomorrow because our fathers and grandfathers won't be with us forever. This was the year where I truly, truly discovered my love for my country. Where I stopped longing for my old life in the UK. Where I want to do all I can to help society, and touch the lives around me with happiness. I was no longer searching for who I was in this year. I have found it.

2012: This year was the year I worked my hardest. Bringing up EPC and APB. Developing myself. Testing my limits, working so hard I had late nights and sleepless nights. Discovering my potentials. Discovering my passions. Discovering what truly matters to me and what's important. Mentally, I prepared myself for 2013, where I knew I'd be leaving UiTM and step into the adult world... even though I was younger than everyone else. In this year, I wanted to leave behind a legacy.

2013: This was the year of accomplishments. Of finishing my thesis and finally graduating. Of starting work and understanding the intricacies of the business, of the culture. Of being a part of something much, much, much bigger than my own self. Of receiving awards and saying goodbye to friends. Of knowing that now, equipped with my degree, I will venture forth into my own life, uncharted, with nobody to steer it but myself and my choices.

2014: And so, we come to the present day. And my aim is for this year to be a year of discovery. To develop myself in areas that I am weak. To equip myself with knowledge in areas where I am not familiar with. To learn more about myself, about the world, about others. A year of learning, and, as always, as I have always strived to live my life, to experience life at its fullest.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Strive for Self-Actualisation First - Not Last

A few weeks ago, I was given the honour of being able to have lunch with my CEO, after an amazing leadership sharing session from him which, insyaAllah, I will share with you all sooner or later.

If there's one word I have to describe my CEO, it's that he's passionate. He believes that you should do your job because you love it, and that if you don't have the passion, then the door is wide open for you to walk out. During lunch, he explained this concept so we could understand his perspective. He said that there will always be people who work for money. In fact, he gave us his personal experience dealing with someone who has been working in the company for five years but wasn't satisfied because his basic pay wasn't high enough. "He wasted five years of his time in the company - five years which he could have used to accelerate faster than any newcomer to the company - dwelling over something like money."

To him, money can always be found. "Follow your passions, and as long as you pursue it well, as long as you believe in yourself and don't short-change yourself, the money will come to you." He said if you work for money, what will you do after you gain it? Let's say you aim for a specific car, or if you work so hard to get a certain amount of money.. After you get it.. So what? What other need will you be satisfying after that, when you've finally gotten what you want?

That was when he dropped the bomb on my head.

He asked if I was familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I said of course I was. After all, the hierarchy was addressed in so many of my classes throughout my three years doing EPC. And he said this:

"Before you work, turn that hierarchy pyramid upside-down. Look at it. That's what you should work with."

For a moment, I was completely loss for words. Because he was right. He said self-actualisation, knowing exactly why you're pursuing what you're pursuing, is actually the highest need of all. The rest will come once you figure that out. Once you know why you're doing what you're doing, the confidence and passion will show by itself. It will show. And when that happens, you'll be connected with those who share your vision, your passions, people who truly believe in you and that's where you'll get your most precious relationships. Safety will come after that, and as promised by Allah, your basic physiological needs, which He has never failed to provide.

He shared many more things with me today, both during lunchtime and during his leadership session. But to me, this was the greatest lesson he taught me today. I shall hold onto it, from now 'till forever. I hope that if this is new to you, you'll be able to benefit from it as I had, too.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Presentation & Communication Skills 101. Lesson 4: Check your posture

Communication comes in three forms: Verbal, Vocal and Visual. Verbal refers to the words that come out of your mouth. Vocal refers to the tone you use (among a few others). And Visual refers to your body language.

Did you know that Verbal, your words, only have 7% of an impact to your audience?
Did you know that everything else, your Vocal and Visual, counts for 93% of what you communicate?

Surprising, isn't it? This is why I don't focus on giving grammar lessons here. This is also why some internet gurus don't seem to carry any impact in real life. What you communicate isn't as impactful as *how* you communicate it. And today, we'll look at body posture.

In my Professional Presentations class, I remember my lecturer (Dr. Dinna) giving our class this rough exercise of repairing our body posture. "Shoulders back, until you feel the pull at your tummy!" was what she always scolded us with. Not only is it healthier for you to keep your posture right, it also helps with your confidence levels. You will look confident, but even more so, you will begin to feel confident. When you act a particular way, your brain will start to believe it. Like smiling when you're sad, and the signals will actually make you happy. The same goes with confidence. Keep your posture right, and you'll begin to feel that confidence within you.

From here onwards, try to make it a routine. Stand straight, shoulders back, head level. Sit with your back straight, and don't slouch. You'll be amazed with how confident you'll look/feel, how much more credible you'll appear. This isn't just about feeling good about yourself - it's also about presenting yourself to the world as the best you, and communicating that you're comfortable and happy with yourself. :)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Presentation & Communication Skills 101. Lesson 3: Pause

Usually when we talk, we can't help but use fillers. Fillers are words like 'umm', 'uh', 'mm' and others that you use when you're thinking about what to say next. In normal, everyday conversation, this is fine. But in an interview, or when you speak to your boss or during a presentation, this can make you seem less credible, less professional.

So how do we stop saying 'uh'? The answer is to pause. Clamp your mouth shut, bite your tongue, do what you have to, but every time you catch yourself using 'um', stop yourself immediately then take a breath. Even in an interview, it's absolutely fine to do this Let's look at two situations:

Situation A: "So, tell me something about yourself."

A: "Umm.. My greatest passion is to help others. Ever since I was young, I liked to involve myself in charity events..."
B: "... My greatest passion is to help others. Ever since I was young..."

Situation B: "What leadership roles have you played?"

A: "I was my club's President for a year. Uh, I also led our debate team when we went to the regionals..."
B: "I was my club's President for a year. ...I also led our debate team when we went to the regionals..."

Notice the difference? When you pause, you seem thoughtful. When you use 'uh' or 'um', you seem unsure.

It's not easy to stop using fillers. I'm working on that myself. One tip I have is to have someone catch you when you start using 'uh'. I do this at work, and when my colleagues hear me say it, they'll tell me and I'll say my sentence again without a filler. Another way is to have a friend count how many 'um's you say whenever you do a presentation. Every time,try to make sure the numbers are less and less until you master it.

Remember: When you pause, you seem thoughtful. When you use 'uh' or 'um', you seem unsure.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Clothes for Working Life. 10 Tips for Malaysian Muslim Women. :)

Looking presentable is important. There's no such thing as being Muslim hindering your ability to look nice. In fact, if you want me to argue, I'd say it's because you're Muslim that you should put a little more effort in dressing more nicely. Quoted from

In an enlightening hadith (prophetic narration), the Prophet ﷺ tells us that no one with an ounce of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise. In seeking to understand what arrogance means, the companions asked “O Prophet of Allah, what if a person likes to dress well?” The Prophet ﷺ responded, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance is rejecting truth and looking down on people” [Muslim]

The reason I'm writing this post is because this is something I've been learning for months now. How do I look nice and respectful? Modest, yet confident? Covered, but charismatic? I was thrown into the corporate world, and was given the opportunity to always meet those who have been working for ten, twenty years. Most are managers, senior managers, general managers, and above. At first, I was quite horrified with my job because I knew I didn't know how to dress the part. But then I took it as a learning opportunity - to observe how the higher-ups dress, and pick up a few pointers from there.

1) Baju kurung is always nice. We're lucky to have been born in Malaysia, where our baju kurung is accepted as one of our formal attires. Whenever you wear baju kurung, you immediately look more formal, professional. Throw on a simple cardigan or a blazer and you're set for big meetings. If you go a step further into studying baju kurung, you'll begin to see how some colours make you look younger, how some patterns make you look more mature. Spend some time in Jakel or Nagoya and look through the cloths, taking note their effect on you.

2) Pale colours are more conservative. White, cream, tan, grey, pale blue, pale green - these colours can never go wrong if you're looking into buying blouses. You can own one of each colour and mix and match with a skirt or slacks, and you'd already have a few sets of clothes to rotate around and still look nice.

3) Patterns are great - just not too much on you. This doesn't apply to baju kurung, but it applies if you want to wear slacks/skirts with a blouse. If your skirt has patterns, your blouse should be plain. If your blouse has patterns, your skirt/hijab should be plain.

4) Spend on black shoes. Every day, when I head to the surau, I pause and take a good look at the shoes scattered outside. Usually, colourful shoes are those that are frayed, while black shoes always look a little more expensive and taken care of. Colourful shoes have cheap brands, while black shoes always seem to carry a bit of a brand. And what I observe is that when you go higher up the ladder, you tend to wear more black shoes and less coloured ones. My point: shoes are meant to last. Instead of buying 20 cheap pairs of coloured shoes that'd look old and worn in a few weeks, I'd seriously recommend pooling that money into buying expensive but comfortable black shoes that you can wear with everything, which will last a year.

5) Start your wardrobe with essential staples. There's no such thing as pooling all your money to buy a perfect wardrobe, unless if you're earning RM15,000 a month. Start with staples first. Staples are essentials that can last you for weeks while you slowly add more into your wardrobe. If you Google women staples, you'll find a lot of suggestions are mostly similar.

Here I'll list what I think are our essentials for Malaysians:
  • Black skirt
  • Slacks (light and dark)
  • A plain white blouse
  • One or two blazers (one slightly dressy, the other classic)
  • A simple, light-coloured long cardigan
  • A few pairs of baju kurung
  • Black shoes (with heels)
  • A few blouses
  • A nice black baju kurung/dress/jubah for dinner/functions
  • A good, plain black bag

Eight months into the working world, and I've just bought my first black skirt today. You don't need to have all of these when you start working. Save up bit by bit, and buy a good quality one that will last.

6) Wear coloured hijabs. A few weeks ago, I went into an image and branding class. We did an activity where we had to describe our first impression on people, and I notice that those wearing black hijabs are always labelled as appearing serious, unfriendly, intimidating - even when I personally know them to be the bubbliest in the department. Black is a classic colour, but wearing it as as a hijab is not your best bet. Soft colours always look nice. My personal favourite is a two-tone grey/silver hijab that goes with everything I wear.

7) Know your make-up. This, I'll admit, is one of the hardest for me to be disciplined in. I'll do my normal routine every morning, but after Zohor prayers, it's extremely hard for me to take those ten minutes to work on my make-up again... which is quite terrible. But like I said, even I am working on all of these tips as I go along. I've had the good fortune of attending a Bobbi Brown workshop when I first joined my company, and let me share with you this: your blusher is more important than your eye make-up. Most of us are born with pretty eyes with black eyelashes that we don't need to focus too much on mascara and eyeliner - I use neither. After your usual powder, apply your blusher and lipstick and you're ready to go. No need to go overboard - just a tinge of the colour, and this takes less than ten minutes of your time.

8) Spend smart. I know I've written in detail about shoes, but I just want to have another point here to stress the importance of this. I, personally, have been a victim of opting to buy something cheap when I should have invested just a little more for quality. When you buy clothes, don't look too much about the price - look instead at the value. Let's say a pair of shoes you want to buy is around RM200. If you're going to wear the same pair of shoes eight hours a day, three/four/five days a week for the next seven to nine months, do the math - is the investment worth it? If it is, go for it. In the end, you know what's worth investing. Spend well, spend modestly. A good investment that lasts long is less wasteful than spending on something cheap all the time that eventually accumulates to a lot.

9) Simplicity is always appreciated. This is just my personal feeling, but I dislike shawls and pashminas at work. I'd wear it outside of work, when I'm out with my friends or doing my NGO activities, but I'd avoid it at all costs at work because of its complex nature. Some people can pull off wearing shawls with style, making it appear neat and simple, which I appreciate. Some just make me feel like I'm suffocating. Simplicity and neatness is always nice to see, in both men and women. Strive for this.

10) Discover your own style. When I first stepped out of UiTM and into the corporate world, I felt stressed because I just didn't know how to dress and portray a good image. Now I'm having fun with it. Believe it or not, you have your own style. There are colours and styles that will look amazing on you, and not on others. When you experiment, you'll learn what you like, what you don't like. Over time, you'll develop your own style. Until you get there, treat it as a learning experience. Treat it as a fun activity for you to continue discovering yourself.