A Part of the Equation

Lately, I’ve been questioning what’s expected of me at thirty-eight. What’s the norm for someone at my age? I honestly couldn’t tell you. I know what it’s like to be me, but is it because of my age or who I am?

As a kid, I recall attending my twenty-eight-year-old uncle getting married. It made an impression on me because there was an argument instigated by religion also, I remember thinking to myself, that must be the standard age for marriage. I had over a decade to go and it seemed so far away.

Twenty years later, I’m just a man sitting in a cafe, typing away, posting an entry on his sad little blog.

I believe our lives are all merely consequences of successful childbirth, with no inherent goals or objectives. If you want your life to have meaning, then you need to give it meaning. Life is your journey from the cradle to the grave.

You didn’t choose why, how, where, and when you were born, so no point fretting about that. You can’t choose your exit conditions either (to a certain extent, I’m aware of suicide but even those attempts can fail). Everything else in between is fair game. 

How you live it, and what you do during your time on this earth is up to you. Do you want to find the cure for cancer? Make that your goal. Do you want to tuck in your collared polos, wear socks with sandals, and strap a fanny pack across your chest? You can also make that your goal.

Every time I stop to think about how far I’ve come in life, I feel like I haven’t changed much. In my mind, I don’t feel too different from George a decade ago. It’s probably more obvious to the people around me.

My goals (or lack thereof) in life haven’t changed. Simply knowing that I don’t have to think about whether there’s food on the table or that I have a place to come home to is good enough. I don’t need much else in my life but ‘much’ is relative. Through the homeless’ eyes, I’m living the dream.

I’m not saying that the benchmark for living a good life is outdoing the homeless, but there’s nothing else I feel the need to accomplish. There are many things that I would like or want to have, but I can live without them.

The expectation for individuals to meet societal milestones based on age is arbitrary and often unrealistic. These pressures only serve to breed unhappiness. There’s no inherent obligation for anyone to adhere to these standards.

The only time I have to live up to or exceed expectations is at work. Because I’m contractually bound and a steady paycheck allows me to continue living happily.

Maybe because I am privileged enough, I can say these kinds of things. I was born and raised to thrive in an environment hospitable to the kind of person I am. But I’m doing what anybody in my situation would be doing – embracing it.

You know those uncles you see walking around malls with white-framed spectacles, funky haircuts, and loud clothing? The first thing that usually comes to mind is, why is that old person trying to be trendy? As someone who’s at that age, I’ve come to understand why. 

They don’t care about what other people think and I’ve started to relate. As long as my nipples aren’t showing and I’m comfortable, I’m good to go. We old folks are just wearing what we feel like wearing.

Also, what are thirty-eight-year-olds supposed to wear? Is there a handbook out there that I’m missing? Is someone going to tell me how to dress my age? Will I wake up one day with the desire to follow the universal uncle dress code? I think the uncle dress code is to not give a shit.

I still enjoy the same types of cartoons, games, movies, music, shows, books, comics, humor – that I started consuming over a decade ago and I don’t see that changing. What are old people supposed to like? News on TV, oldies, and all that shit we called boring when we were kids?

Am I suddenly supposed to like old people things? What are old people things? I’m old and I like pan mee and coffee. Does that make them old people food? Like some alternate-universe Midas, does everything I touch become old people things?

It dawned on me as I wrote this blog post that there’s no guidebook for being thirty-eight. I am who I am not solely because of my age but in spite of it. And as adults, some of us are in the same boat, figuring things out as we go.

Goals and dreams give life purpose, but they should be self-assigned. Do we need to aim for the stars? Perhaps sometimes, having our feet firmly on the ground is enough.

Add That to the List of Things I Need to Get Better At

One of the fun things you get to do at my job is have casual conversations with the CEO. He doesn’t have enough time in a day to spend with everyone, so he started organizing meetings with groups of staff to get to know everybody better. My turn took place earlier this week and it was an enlightening session.

He shared about the company, how we got our current office, what the industry and our competitors are up to and several anecdotes over an hour. But what left an impression on me was how he ended the session. He said (I paraphrase), “If you were me for a day, what would you do?”

My mind blanked. I had no clue what to say. “I’d give George a lot of money!” I blurted out. Not the answer he was looking for. So the question was directed to my colleagues until it was my turn again. “I don’t know what to say,” I confessed. “But if I think of something, I’ll send you a message.”

“Sure”, he replied.

At first, I didn’t think much of it. It was a casual question, right? For fun, get to know the staff, and see what they would do if we were in his shoes.

But then I started to overanalyze it, like I always do. What if this was some sort of test?

After some quick research, it turned out that it’s a pretty common question people ask when they want to see how others think strategically. Upon learning that, I was like, “Ohhhhhhh.” Guess I bombed the test.

Not that it mattered, I was unprepared, and if you know me, I’m not great at answering questions on the spot. Especially if it’s about something I’m unfamiliar with. Running a company? I don’t even know where to begin.

Okay, that’s not true. I know a little bit. You see, before I became a book purchaser at Big Bad Wolf, I was brought on to help set up and run a charity organization. I’ll spare you the details, but basically, it never took off due to some issues. Eventually, I was asked to join Big Bad Wolf and since I was already working with the people there, I agreed.

But during those six months, I helped set up the charity as a company. I had to get the company name registered, open a bank account, and do a whole bunch of miscellaneous things that I don’t remember anymore. So I did have some related knowledge. But I digress.

Like I was saying; I’m terrible at answering questions on the spot. Especially, if I’m unprepared. Which was something I told my boss during my 1:1 last year. He mentioned that I seemed to freeze whenever he questioned me. I replied, “slow brain.” He asked if I was serious, I told him no but I asked to be informed of questions ahead of time so I could prepare.

I’m not witty. Thinking of dubious nicknames for people, I can do (alliterations are awesome) but when it comes to work-related queries that matter? Struggle city. It’s one of my weaknesses that I want to work on. The other is procrastination – but that’s a story for another day.

Taking my time to think of things to say is one of the pros of online dating. You can spend as long as you want thinking of a good response. There’s no need to answer quickly (until you go out, but by then, hopefully, you have your ducks in a row). Unfortunately, not every situation in life gives you time to formulate an answer.

Like those times I applied to be an air steward, back in 2008. I was stumped during the first round of the interview process. All the tryouts were gathered in a room and were asked a question to proceed to the next stage. In both interviews, I failed the first round.

In the first interview, I was asked, “What’s more important to you – money or power?” In the second interview, I was asked who was my favorite actor and why. Stupid, irrelevant questions to me back then, because I didn’t know their true purpose (you could tell, I didn’t prepare). But I left both interviews feeling puzzled and confused.

Turns out they were testing my critical thinking skills and personality based on how I answered. Which brings me back to my chat with the CEO. If I were him for a day, what would I do?

Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything. Even if we did, there’s no guarantee it would improve the company’s position. With every change, we could be facing new problems instead. I’m confident about the company’s direction and leadership. Even if we don’t make a triumphant exit, that’s okay. I’ve learned a lot in the past two years. It’s been a fantastic ride.

Is it challenging? Yes. Time consuming? Yes. But that’s how most jobs are. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to be part of this journey.

Sure, it sounds like a cop-out answer and exposes my lack of ambition or vision, but I genuinely know I don’t know enough to take the wheel for a second. Sometimes I’d rather not say anything at all. I know my limits.

Things can be better — but they can always be better. That’s life. It’s human nature to never be truly satisfied.

Am I overthinking what was meant to be a casual closing statement? Maybe. But I’m glad it gave me something to write about.

The Vampires Come at Four in the Morning

As I age, I find myself thinking more about mortality, life, and how I spend my time. Not sure why, but it might be a consequence of growing old. After all, I’m reaching forty soon, the right age to depart this world. Before any ailments and debilitating illnesses have a chance to set in these old bones.

Gone are the days of sleeping through weekends. I’m usually up before lunchtime, sometimes even early morning. I force myself out of bed to get shit done.

Now that forty is not so far away, I find myself reconsidering that deadline. Especially since I’m now in the best shape of my life, thanks to gymming thrice a week. Although each session only lasts about an hour, I find the time constraint helpful in keeping me focused and not wasting it.

Yet, efficiency eludes me at times. I still find myself daydreaming and procrastinating when I should be working instead. I also spend late nights working, mostly to catch up on work that I didn’t do during the day but also because I enjoy working at night. It’s quieter and nobody bothers me.

When I want to eat at a restaurant but there’s a queue that’s too long? I skip it and go eat elsewhere instead. I often find that most restaurants aren’t worth the wait. There’s always an alternative place around the corner with no queue.

I don’t mind eating meals alone these days either. I don’t have to wait for people to finish, plus I get to read and eat at the same time without being a jerk.

“Time is a man-made construct.” The units we use to measure it are all man-made. We defined the seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, and so on to represent one of the fundamental aspects of the universe. Time goes on regardless of what we do, we’re just passengers along for the ride.

For simplicity’s sake, we won’t take into account how long a person has been alive or how long they have left. Regardless of wealth, status, or background, everyone is given the same twenty-four hours a day. Time is the great equalizer. How everyone spends their time? That is the difference maker.

Whether we want to use our time to achieve our goals, help others, or waste away – it’s all up to us. There are no rules for what we should do with our time. However, it is the major limiting factor to what an individual can accomplish.

Entrepreneurs have great ideas they want to execute. But usually, they don’t have the time to do everything by themselves. Technically, they could learn all the required skills to be a one-man show, but it would take an unreasonable amount of time to see meaningful results.

Since they have the money to spare, they hire other people who already have those skills to help them with their goals. These employees can spend their time doing things they already know. Collectively, they make up a company and together, they work to carry out the founder’s vision.

Just like our passions and interests, it is up to us to allocate time to pursue them. There’s no such thing as not enough time. If can feel that way, but in the end it’s a choice. Like, I look at all these talented kids on YouTube making music and other content I wish I could produce and feel jealous.

But then I tell myself I shouldn’t. I have the same amount of time as that kid, maybe even more. If I wanted to be as good as them, I would need to put the hours into practicing the right techniques and so on. To think otherwise would be to complain for the sake of complaining.

Since I don’t do that, I obviously don’t feel like it’s important enough for me to make the necessary sacrifices. And that’s what life is all about – choices. The sacrifices we make. Like tasks we have to accomplish at work, we decide what to prioritize.

Which ones do we want to accomplish sooner? What can we cut to make the task easier? What’s non-scope?

If we really want something, we’d be willing to give up a lot of things for it. That’s just how humans function. If we’re desperate enough, nothing’s going to stop us. But most of the time, we’re comfortable enough to not want to make a change or put in any effort. So we end up stuck and not progressing.

Of course, there’s no reason to rush anything – unless you set yourself a deadline you wish to stick to. We can still accomplish our dreams of getting better at things with incremental steps. Break down those large monumental dreams into smaller chunks. When your goals become bite-sized, they’re easier to complete.

Be patient and take your time but be consistent. Thirty minutes a week improving a skill is better than spending zero minutes. Over time, the thirty minutes add up to hours. The next thing you know, you’ve spent more hours improving yourself than whining about it.

Ultimately, life is defined by our choices and sacrifices, shaping our experiences and achievements through how we use our time. You don’t have to succeed immediately, but you need to start somewhere and keep going. A little bit each time will eventually get to where you want to be.