Category Archives: Work

Free From Ego

A recent read (this) led me to contemplate about how much I let my ego get in the way of the things I do .

“Over-investing your ego in your results is unproductive and unnecessary. If you think the failure of your ideas is a personal failure, you’ll take too few risks, risks that could ultimately pay off. But if you can learn to separate yourself from your ideas and your work and see them as something separate from yourself, you’ll feel you truly have the right to be wrong.” – Steve Pavlina

I thought this was really poignant because it very closely describes and articulates why I fear failure so much. Why I even fear responsibility to a certain extent, because with more responsibility it means that there is also a greater chance of… you guessed it, failing.

Recently, as a member of a local professional body, I was tasked to help out with editing of the association’s newsletter. It was a job I thought I’d be well-suited to do. I’m generally organized, communicate well with people through emails, and make sure everyone keeps to their deadlines to make sure the publication makes it out in and on time.

What I did not forsee was… when the time came for final rounds of edits to be made and a few colleagues kindly offered to help me look through the publication one more time, I was aghast to find that… there were MORE things to change. Things I had not noticed were inconsistent, things I had not thought of looking at until they were pointed out to me. The horror. It totally collided with my view of myself as an organised, on-top-of-everything, time-keeping freak.

Then I came across the podcast/article on OLD, and the quote above, in particular, struck a deep chord with me. I had been over-invested in my ego when I accepted the role, that was clear enough to see. And because of that, I linked discrepancies and perceived lapses in the job as personal failures, as personal flaws. When it does not have to be this way. It could be simply a job everyone is tackling together, for the ultimate goal of getting the publication out.

And when I think deeper, I see how much I have learnt from placing myself out there, from accepting that I have missed out these details, and from re-organizing my perspective so that I look out for such things better in future projects. Without being “wrong”, or flawed, I would not have had the valuable learning experience.

And now I have a beautiful, wonderful opportunity to work on something for self-improvement: To do my work wholeheartedly without necessarily seeing them as an all-encompassing part of who I am. The work may fail, we may stumble and trip and fall along the way, but it need not define who we are 🙂 Yay for that.

 

On a separate note, it’s off to Bali for the mother and me for the next 5 days. Perfect time for rest, reflection and recharge!

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Happy Non-Teacher’s Day

This year, I celebrate my identity as a non-teacher.

On the Wednesday of the last week of August, as schools around the island closed for half a day to celebrate and honour their teachers, I reflected on my identity of not being one.

I looked at instagram posts by ex-colleagues and friends, sharing their proud moments, their pile of letters and gifts from students, being award titles like “Most Caring” or “Most Inspiring”. I looked at them and I felt a little tug. I could have been one of them. I WAS one of them.

What was that tug? Jealousy? Nostalgia? The longing for something you think you might like but know that you would not want it so much once you have got your hands on it?

Maybe a mixture of all of the above.

As I contemplated my mixed feelings on a day I had always had mixed feelings about (because I was never fully secure in my identity as a teacher), I also contemplated on the person I am now.

I thought about the decision I made to leave a particular system, though I realise now that leaving the system does not necessarily mean leaving the identity completely. So many aspects of who I am now and what I do as a music therapist still manifest from the teacher in me, just in a different context and in a different industry, with different goals and intentions.

And as I told a comrade, “the institution we left has its own system of rewards to get us to do what they want. Because we have opted out of that system, it means that we may not get those rewards, but it also means we are spared from the confines of that system.”

And that is certainly something to celebrate. Because freedom to be who you are and to relate to your authentic personality in what you do is something priceless. Certainly not something you can measure in gifts and awards and letters, no matter how heartfelt and touching and affirming they are.

That said, I was very touched by the call from 2 ex-students. It’s always nice to be remembered.

So… on a day when I would have celebrated (or tried to celebrate) my identity as a teacher, I instead contemplated on who I am, who I want to be. And relished in the freedom of being able to do so.

“That Was Hard.” – a Lesson in Self Compassion

“That was so hard! You did amazing for what you were given to deal with!”

These words meant a lot to me for 2 main reasons.

  1. It’s not our cultural norm for someone to acknowledge how hard the things we have to do sometimes may be. I mean this in a widespread sense, not job-specific sense. But when your job is sometimes seen as nothing more than “having fun” and “making music with kids”, it can be even harder for people to understand why you feel like you have a hard time. So, having someone who understands when we have a difficult session, and acknowledge that it was hard, can be enough to move me to tears.
  2. I learnt that acknowledging and accepting when something is hard does not necessarily include admitting that I’m incompetent, which is one of my greatest fears. I learnt that acknowledging and accepting when something is objectively and naturally hard actually opens my mind to think about what can be done to overcome the difficulty of the problem, without getting too personal about it. Without thinking that if this doesn’t work = I’m a complete failure. Simply acknowledging the mountain-like nature of the tasks we have to do (Eg: Engage 6 kids at once on the same task, each of which have a different developmental delay diagnosis and/or have ASD and a cognitive age estimate of below 12months..) can go a long way in accepting that sometimes we don’t get the kind of completion and success we want, but can still learn and grow from the experience.

After that line was said to me, I felt so touched that the challenging nature of the situation was acknowledged, and I felt myself become more open than ever to take in suggestions for change and improvement. And some of the suggestions given were really good.

Of course I would have accepted the suggestions given anyway. But if not for this line, I don’t think I’d feel as confident about moving on, and might have even internalised some negative messages about myself. Not exactly the most healthy thing.

So today, I am thankful for this lesson in Self-Compassion. May all be well and happy!

To Know What We Want

On a Friday evening, I met up with an ex-colleague. And we talked about the usual things. And among the things we spoke about, I realised one thing.

Knowing what you want to do with your life is a great privilege.

It’s so easy to assume that everyone knows what they’d want to do with their life. Who wouldn’t know what they want?

But the truth is that it’s much easier to know what we want at the material level than at a deeper level. It’s easier to decide what kind of movies we want to watch, which brands of clothing and bags we like, than to know what moves you, motivates you, and inspires you. And to have the circumstances to realise our aspirations are even more rare.

So today, I am thankful for the simple fact that I know what I want to do with my life (for now), and that I am equipped to live closely aligned enough to those aspirations.

Perfection will never be permanent, and maybe all we will ever have are glimpses of it. But knowing where we are in proximity makes all the difference.

What’s Your Grief?

It was a staff training workshop. The social worker conducting introduced the topic as “Relating to parents of children with special needs”. She spoke about the grief process, and correlated that to the grief which parents of special needs children experience too, as they deal with the loss of the “ideal”, “normal” child, and have to cope with a special child instead.

One of the activities we were asked to participate in is to come to terms with an aspect of the grief or loss in our lives, to use that as a stepping stone to which we can empathise and relate with the parents. We were each given a small piece of clay to work with.

“What does your grief look like?” We were asked, after the lights were dimmed and we were asked to close our eyes to sink into a reflective mood.

I spent the first few minutes of this trying to think of a time of grief and loss in my life. Yes, we lost my grandfather a few years back, but that was not grief. Maybe… the lost of a friendship? But… I think I had gotten over that pretty concretely too.

And then it came to me: What about the loss of Self?

That thought immediately opened the floodgates of memory, to all the times I had to purposely lose my authentic self because I felt she was not good enough, all the times I felt that the self within had to be pushed into a closet and not shown to the world. All the times I had reprimanded that self and asked why can’t you be better, why can’t you be more “normal”?

And while some losses are experienced once, there are also losses that fall into the recurring category. And I think the loss of self is one of them. Recurring on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day.

Every morning, especially on work days, I intentionally lose a part of Self. The part that I might not be too confident about. The part that I feel the world might not accept. The part that is deemed “not as useful” in the “real world”. For practical purposes, I lose my Self.

And I don’t think I’ve ever grieved over it, though from the thought processes then I think I would really like to and it also felt like I needed to.

By this time, the clay in my hands had become a little box.

Probably the box I put my self in whenever I feel that she’s not needed in the world. When she needs to make way for the masks, the little wayangs, the occasional show of extroversion.

And somehow, holding that box in my hand, giving a form and structure to my loss, did help. At the very least, it got the thoughts going.

“Now, mould your clay to represent how you might cope, or have coped, with your loss or grief.”

It didn’t take me too long to follow that one.

The box emerged with wings at its sides.

For her to take flight. Maybe she hasn’t really dared to come out yet. But when she does, hopefully she’ll see the wings there, ready and waiting for her to take and use them, and she’ll soar high above, unafraid of the world seeing her for who she really is.

Maybe. One day.