This year has been a most remarkable one.
On the work front, I have just completed one full calendar year at Razer (I joined Aug 2016) and it has been an amazing non-stop adventure.
Now, I don’t write ever about work on this blog, but I am always thankful to have a job where there is so much to learn, and daily opportunities to change the world. For example, it was incredible to be part of an IPO and launch a new smartphone category all in the same November week!
On the personal front, what made this year special was how much I dived into books, and let go of things I never thought I would.
On Reading More Books
I traveled frequently for work this year so I spent a lot of time on the plane reading many non-fiction books on my Kindle. Some folks might say that they read a lot of articles on social media – as do I – but books provide a very different sort of reading experience from websites and blogs.
A book costs money (unless it’s a library book) and demands commitment of your time and effort.
So many online articles are written to be throwaway pieces, and modern writers (young or old) may not have been taught the power of persuasive writing or intensive copy-editing.
Many online articles seem to be a mix of hasty opinions, cross-linked stories and SEO-friendly text, which is why we hardly remember these pieces.
Books are also a zeitgeist of their times and society, and hold important lessons for us in how and when they were written.
I compared and contrasted the ancient myths as retold by Edith Hamilton (Mythology, 1942, which paints the psychological roots of Greek gods) and Neil Gaiman (Norse Mythology, 2016, a vivid retelling of Odin and family that the Marvel movies constantly struggle to do so). William Durant’s The Lessons of History can be finished in a few hours, but dramatically provide new insights into today’s political developments.
I re-read Dale Carnegie, while comparing his words to modern contemporaries of people management like Jim Rohn and Peter Drucker (both super inspirational teachers). I’m currently reading Ray Dalio, who is both a financial guru and a people manager who manages by strict principles aided by technology. Between these three guys (and possibly Stephen Covey), therein lie all the secrets of unlocking the human potential and high-performance teams.
And every day, I struggle to complete my reading plans on the Bible. You would think that an earnest Christian would find it easy to read the Bible, but I find the truth to be opposite – one constantly has to delve deeply into every verse and spend much time pondering while avoiding falling asleep accidentally. I give thanks for the Olive Tree Bible app, which is a great aid to structured reading and memory memorization.
I have some major book recommendations on this other blog post. Funny enough, apart from some Ray Bradbury, I did not read much fiction this year. I have been trying to finish Ready Player One but thought it was so poorly written.
In my opinion, reading books should not be a chore, or done when someone asks you to, but a daily habit done as frequently as washing your hands. Trust me, with your mind focused on absorbing carefully-written words, you will begin to change your perspectives and other habits as a result. And yes, you will use your phone less often (in the toilet) too.
Also, you really should get a Kindle e-reader if you haven’t already. I’ve been a big proponent of the Kindles since 2010, and each generation has been a nice improvement over the earlier one. I passed on my Kindle Voyage to my wife, got my daughter a Kindle Paperwhite, and upgraded to the Kindle Oasis this year .
The Kindle Oasis 2017 is not perfect with wonky ergonomics, mediocre battery life but the bigger 7″ screen is important due to my middle-aged longsightedness and desire to read faster.
What is truly great about Kindles is that Amazon has Kindle Daily Deals and I often buy bestsellers at less than $5 USD.
What I have stopped doing
I guess I am so into reading now because I’ve removed other distractions. Changing habits has gotten easier for me with age (oddly so) and sometimes, there is external pressure to deal with increasing societal disruption.
This year, I stopped writing and thinking about motorcycles because I was so saddened with how the government slapped unnecessary taxes on high-capacity bikes.
Coupled with a high Certificate of Entitlement system, the death of motorcycles in Singapore is not far away. But who would care, except the small percentage of us who actually ride? This blog’s old motorcycle articles continue to be popular for new bikers in Singapore (that’s Google and what other bikers tell me), but there won’t be any new stories until I recover from the sadness.
Don’t worry, bikers, I still take very good care of my Ducati Monster M1200S.
I killed my online ego, stopped my own self-hosted blog iantan.org and moved all the contents to this free WordPress site.
This is pretty significant – for years I arrogantly believed that I should be the most important Ian Tan on Google (there is a ridiculous number of “Ian Tans” in the world), and it was my ego that drove the sustenance of iantan.org (since 2005) and its predecessors on Geocities and other sites since the 1990s.
(FYI I could never get the domain “iantan.com” as someone is still squatting on it.)
What got me to let go of my stupid, inflated ego was firstly money – the web hosting service Bluehost was getting too expensive and its service quality was poor. I could not justify paying over $140 USD a year when I was writing infrequently and traffic was not as high as 2012 to 2014 when I was hammering out education and motorcycle commentaries that got thousands of likes (all which have now disappeared due to the site move).
Second, I read my old blog posts from before 2010 and was aghast at how childish I sounded. Facebook wasn’t big in 2005, and the blog was my outlet for rants, so I nuked all the old posts except those from 2011 onward. I did save the old posts in MS Word format for the kids to laugh over next time.
Finally, in preparation of my inevitable physical death – a free WordPress blog site means that my existing contents do not disappear as my credit card gets cancelled! That in itself means my stupid ego is still alive and well, but I will keep on working on it.
I will disappear one day and will be forgotten. As they say : Man proposes, God disposes.
I stopped focusing on my weight-loss book Anyone Can Lose Weight. For a while when I was still in Microsoft, I thought I could make a business out of this and so did self-hosting as I sold the book on iantan.org.
Obviously, with not enough time devoted to marketing the book (or even updating it), I put it back where I had originally published it – on Amazon. The book works for sure – I have yet to hear someone complain that they did not lose weight from reading its techniques – but I have a full-time job and it’s not in the food nutrition industry. What’s cool about Amazon publishing now is that you can offer both Kindle ebooks and on-demand paperback printing!
I stopped following most friends on social media, even as I kept them on the Friends’ list. There are only so many holiday photos and personal rants you can read (including my own). My Facebook newstream is almost completely filled with news articles from multiple media sites, and I remind myself regularly to have a diverse mix of publications to prevent media bias. I also use the Facebook “Save Link” function to keep the most interesting articles at my fingertips.
Interestingly, as part of my ongoing diet (since 2013!) I have also stopped drinking any type of carbonated drink too. One day in Nov 2017, I said to my wife : “I’ll stop drinking Coke Zero. It has been a crappy substitute for sugary drinks anyway.” and that was it. I bought another Nalgene waterbottle to store plain water and was very happy it was leak-proof.
Advice to myself
The bullet points below were supposed to be for another blog post, but I forgot to post that. So to close 2017 and to start 2018 on the right foot, here are some random pieces of advice to myself I have gathered over the past few years, compiled for you:
- Thinking takes time, so make time to think. Walking or jogging alone provides a great time for thinking. Just shut off all distractions and be alone.
- Music brings mental balance in many ways. Learn how to sing or play an instrument (and not for passing music exams). I have stopped my violin lessons, but I still listen to plenty of classical music.
- Keep writing your thoughts down. Even if you do not find answers, you become a better writer and communicator by sheer practice. I looked back at my 2014 resolutions and was happy to see my personal progress and overcoming of the odds since then.
- Snoring is often mitigated by losing weight. So are many other problems (body odour, diabetes, etc). So please do not be overweight.
- Write as few emails as possible. Call someone to discuss so they can stop emailing you. Remind everyone to cut down on emails or call them to tell them you won’t be adding to the long email thread.
- Take good care of your teeth from young. Oral health problems are far worse and more expensive than most things I can imagine, as they can plague you for decades.
- Deprivation is often better than indulgence.
- People matters require much thought. Take weeks or months if you need to, because your initial perspective on someone needs a lot of feedback and testing. But one’s first impressions of people are often correct. The question is whether you have taken enough time to validate his/her character, strengths and weaknesses without bias.
- People deserve the face they have from middle-age onwards. Mean people always look mean. Kind people always look kind. So be kind.
- Always seek to work with people smarter or more entrepreneurial than you. Their traits will rub off on you.
- Beware of poor managers. They will trap you and destroy your future without understanding how they did it. Because they will never put company or team first, but their own insecurities.
- Don’t be afraid of blocking out (or blocking on Facebook) negative people. There is absolutely no loss (to you at least) in doing so. And beware of the people who say they are your friends but plant toxic ideas in your head frequently in a subliminal way.
- Complaints must come with solutions. Ignore the complainers without properly-thought-through solutions. Cherish those who have.
- Everyone is living with a painful problem they cannot solve. Again, be kind.
- The more true stories you know, the easier it is to solve life problems.
- The roots of a person’s behavior and attitude are most often traced back to their parents and previous direct managers. So we cannot change those two things for others, but we can be better parents or managers to show a different way forward.
- A possible way to anticipate illness is to wear a watch with a constant heart-monitoring function. If your resting heart rate (during sleep or long resting periods) starts to creep up, you know you’re about to fall ill and still have time to prevent it.
- Set phone alarms for everything you deem important. Even prayer time. Or time to pay the bills.
- Never write anything to someone you will regret later. Everything can be screencapped so easily now. This also reduces emails (see earlier point) and makes your words kinder to all sorts of people.
- You’d never know who is going to be your boss tomorrow. So, for the last time, be kind.
- Every assignment, no matter how small, deserves your award-winning effort. Because someone will appreciate it.
- The future belongs to those who can create useful things and not just consume. Actually, it always has. But I suspect many people have been told they are not creators.
- Life is unpredictable, so I would be more concerned if things do not change after a certain period. That means something totally random and unpleasant is just around the corner, and I am not probably prepared for it if I cannot anticipate it.
- You have to do the right thing today, because you might just die tomorrow.
Do write your last will and testament, it is not expensive and it does make you think about what is important to leave behind so you know what to focus on now.
- And as you might die tomorrow, you do not need to fear anyone except God. If you do not believe in God, well, you can still fear the unknown situation of the after-life..or absolute nothingness. So ask – what’s the meaning of each day that you wake up to?