Friday, September 08, 2017

On fame and greatness...

Although not everybody will admit it, deep down inside most people want to become famous. Who wouldn't want their names to appear in newspapers or magazines or be featured on TV? Sure, there are a few media shy people out there but the truth is that most people would relish being famous.

The harsh reality is that most people — an overwhelming majority — will never become famous. Not even for 15 minutes. But that's ok. It doesn't mean you can't live a really meaningful life.

This NYT article: You’ll Never Be Famous — And That’s O.K., talks about that and makes many good points. Here's a really good one:
Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.
When we think of heroes or idols we admire, we tend to think of the big names like Zuckerberg. Or Steve Jobs. Or Bill Gates. Or Elon Musk. If those are the benchmarks we've set for ourselves, we will almost surely be disappointed.

Yeah, I like reading their stories and I am inspired by such larger than life personalities. But I'd rather have my heroes be teachers who made an impact on how I see things. Or a local business person who's pursuing their dreams despite the naysayers who say it can't be done. Or anyone who is genuinely nice and helpful towards others.

They might not exactly be changing the world but they sure are changing the world of the people around them.

Think about the teachers who made you see things in a different light. Or the business people who make you think: "Why don't more businesses offer such products or services?" And think about those people you sometimes come across who are so kind and sincere that it restores your hope for a society that has gone dog-eat-dog.

There's an Instagram meme I came across (see on the left) which is very apt for this posting.

How many of us get the chance to do big things in the first place? Very few. But all of us do small things every day. The question is do you do those small things in a great way or not? And if not, why not?

Give it all you've got no matter what you are doing. And if you do that, you will be impacting some people or at least someone in a positive way. Do enough of that and you would be leading a very meaningful life.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

On skills development

Continuous learning is about picking up new skills to remain relevant. Of course it's important. But what about existing skills that you already have? Do you still need to develop those further?

The instinctive answer is yes, of course you can always learn more and become better at what you do. But can you? What if you are already very good at what you do and there's not that much more to learn?

Let's take a famous chef like Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver. Sure, they could learn new cooking techniques. Let's say they were to embark on a course on Nyonya Cooking. For sure there are new techniques they could pick up because it's not something they would be familiar with. But that falls under the category of "continuous learning" which is stuff you don't yet know. The question I'm interested in is whether there is more for them to learn for stuff they already do know.

If Gorden Ramsey is very good at making poached eggs and mushroom on toast, would he need to further improve on that? Is it even possible to improve on his poached-egg-and-mushroom-on-toast making skills?

My thoughts on that: There are only so many ways you can make poached eggs and mushroom on toast and since he's mastered it (heck he teaches a Masterclass on it) what more is there for him to learn on this? Nyonya cooking, yes. Poached eggs... I don't think so. He's got that one down already.

I've pondered upon my own skill sets. There are two things I do quite well. One is writing. The other is judo. I write professionally and it's how I make a living. As for judo, I'm a former national champion and have represented Malaysia in two World Championships.

So, I've asked myself: Is there more I can learn about being a good writer? And the same with judo. The answer is not yes to both or no to both but yes to one and no to the other.

I honestly doubt there's more I can do or learn to further improve my writing skills. For sure I'm a better writer now than I was 20 years ago. But I probably honed my writing skills to a high level perhaps 15 years ago. During the first five years of my writing career I learned a lot about writing, mostly self-taught. I did this by studying and emulating the good writers whom I admired and by doing a heck of a lot of writing. As they say, practice makes perfect.

At first, because I was starting from a very low base, the improvements were very noticeable and rapid. I went from being an amateurish writer with potential to someone who was writing for local and international publications within a few short years. I became a section editor of a newspaper within those five years. Like I said, the improvements were vast and they were fast.

But after that, although I kept writing a lot and I kept reading a lot -- this never changed over the years -- there was no noticeable improvements. I had become as good as I could possibly be. That doesn't mean I'm the best writer in the world. Of course not but as far as my capabilities are concerned, I had peaked. No amount of practice or analyzing other people's writing styles will make me a better writer.

In contrast, I've been doing judo for about 30 years -- that's more than a quarter of a century -- and I'm still learning and improving every day. Each time I analyze a judo competition video clip, my skills as a judo player/coach improves. Each time I train in judo, I become a better judoka. Each time I teach a technique I already know so well, I discover a facet of it that I didn't realize before.

I feel I can't really improve anymore as a writer. The level that I'm at is what I'm stuck with. (Fortunately, it's a pretty good level). But with judo, I am constantly improving and I'm sure I'll be much better at it a year from now, even though my level of judo mastery is already at a very high level.

So, why is that?

I think it's because one art form doesn't really evolve much while the other does so and rather quickly. Good journalistic writing in 2017 is indistinguishable from good journalistic writing in 1997. Nothing has changed in terms of how you write a good news report or a feature article or an opinion piece in the last 20 years. The topics that you write about might have changed but the art and science of news, feature and opinion writing have remained the same.

In contrast, judo today doesn't look anything like judo in 1997. Not only are the rules different but the style of play, the techniques that are used, the strategies employed -- all very different. You don't even have to go back that far. Judo in 2007 is very, very different from the judo of today, in all those areas that I'd just mentioned.

So, in a way, there is continuous learning involved when it comes to judo. You actually have to learn new things. Even for those techniques that you have already mastered and know so well, there are so many changes to the way those techniques are done and how they contribute to the scores you can get that it does involve learning new things. Not so with writing articles.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


I was never really an academically-inclined person. I did well enough in exams when I was younger but I never liked studying much, especially as I got older. I think that's largely to do with the fact that I was studying subjects that I did not like. I went into Science Stream because that's what all the "smart" people are supposed to do. But I'm a right-brainer and the Arts Stream would have certainly been more suitable for me.

These days, I'm back to studying (and researching) again but on topics that I find interesting, notably social media for business use and judo.

Social media is such an crucial part of our everyday lives, it makes sense to understand it better. And to do this, you need to study it. Of course you learn things through trial and error too but that's certainly not enough. You have to learn from those who are experts at this. People who understand the nuts and bolts of it. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources online that you can tap onto. Some are free and some you have to pay for.

The same is true for judo. There's lots of free video content online but some you have to pay for. If you really want to learn, you must be willing to pay for good content, which will complement the free stuff you can get.

But it's not just money that you must invest. You've gotta invest time too. Sometimes that's the hardest bit. To put aside time for learning is difficult because of the opportunity costs. Time spent studying or researching is time that could be used for generating income, exercising, pursuing a hobby, being with friends and family or simply resting. All those other things are important too. And it's all too easy to forsake studying things when you are no longer in school.

But study and research you must if you want to continue to enhance your knowledge and skill sets. I had an early start in social media because I had to research it way back in 2008 when I was working for a telco-related research organization. But social media changes so fast and many new developments happen all the time. You can't rest on your laurels. Gotta keep learning.

Judo doesn't evolve as quickly as social media but judo does change. Rules get changed and new trends emerge while old ones fade away. As much as I know about judo, there's still plenty for me to to learn. As with social media, it takes learning from the experts (thank goodness for the online resources) and it take studying hours upon hours of contest footage. No way around it.

But because I am genuinely interested in social media and judo, I don't find it burdensome to study and research these topics. I find it tiring sometimes -- research is hard work -- especially when I've been busy doing other stuff during the day. But I don't find it a chore. 

Continually learning new stuff and discovering things you didn't know before can be very fulfilling. It certainly keeps my mind active. Thank goodness I have things that I'm interested in enough to want to learn more about them. How boring life would be without that.

Things change

It was a bit of a surprise to see Google News this morning, with its drastically changed layout. I can't say I'm a fan but it could be that I'm just a creature of habit and am not used to the new design.

The change in Google News is yet another reminder that in life, nothing stays constant. Things change all the time. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, and sometimes it's just different (not necessarily better or worse).

It's a big mistake to assume that whatever you like about something will always be there or stay the same. When I was working in Singapore, I used to love eating at a prawn mee stall that had what I thought was the best prawn mee ever. Then one day, it just disappeared. I guess it must have moved to another location. And with that, my favorite prawn mee stall was gone.

I've had similar experiences with websites. There used to be a really good, free judo video website that I frequented. One day, a big portion of its archives went missing. I guess they needed to clear up their servers to make more space for new content. Then, one day, even the new stuff was no longer accessible when the site closed down. And all of a sudden, one of the best judo resources online was gone.

Whether in the offline or online world, things never last forever. Assuming they will is a recipe for disappointment. But if you make a point to appreciate things as opposed to taking them for granted, you will be much happier. And when they are gone, you can still be happy appreciating the times when those things were available to you.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Great definition of content marketing

This is a great summary of what content marketing is all about by Rose Burberry-Martin, Marketing Coordinator for Chisholm, Chisholm, & Kilpatrick:

Content marketing informs, entertains, educates, and offers utility. It’s also there when people decide they want it, rather than trying to thrust itself upon them.