looking back & ahead

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2016 has been an incredible year for me. I only realised what I’ve achieved when I emailed my life coach a much delayed update of my life. I’ve decided to post my email here (rather than repurposing it) since it quite perfectly sums up my 2016.

‘…I’m not sure if I told you but I broke my left forearm in Oct 2015. Since it healed up in Jan, I’ve thrown myself into training and did a sprint and two Olympic distance triathlons, two full marathons (in Beijing and Qingdao), two trail half marathons and one 30km trail run. I’ve been regularly coming in 7/8th place in my age group for triathlons and in the top 30 (women’s ranking) for trail runs.  For someone who’s never thought I’d even do any of these sporting feats, I’m incredibly happy with what I achieved last year, and hope to continue and improve on my performance this year, starting with the Nagoya Women’s Marathon on 12 March….’
I’ve gained so much from doing sports last year, its effects have seeped into other aspects of my life. As a result of regularly exercising 3-4 times a week (as religiously recorded on Strava), my overall sense of well-being has improved immensely. My head is clearer, I suffer from less anxiety and depression and feel genuinely optimistic and cheerful most of the time. I’ve learnt to let go of things that tie me down, focus on the important things and make do with less, and in the process, I’ve learnt to be a better manager of my time and finances and become more creative.
But the most important lesson I learnt in 2016 has to be this…
anything can happen.
And I’d be stupid to think otherwise or take things for granted, especially in light of world events as it stands at the end of 2016.
The world at the start of 2017 is a very different place from anything I’ve seen or heard before. I’ve decided not to make any resolutions for 2017. Instead, I’m going to remind myself to be a little wiser, grow a little stronger, push myself a little harder, go a little further, swim/cycle/run a little faster, learn something new and do a little better everyday. If there’s anything the past has taught me, it’s that I work better with small, attainable short-term goals than grandiose, idealistic long-term ones. At the end of the day, the devil is in the details and the details are worked out every second->minute->hour->day-> week-> month of our lives.
2017, here I come!

 

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2015->2016

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2015 in hindsight

Be careful what you pray for. As I’ve learnt over the course of 2015, God and I had very different ideas about how my prayers should be answered.

Almost everyday in 2015 I prayed and asked God for wisdom, strength and courage to deal with whatever came my way. Over the course of 2015, God has brought into my life people and circumstances that’s brought me exhilaration and pain, comfort and discomfort, love and angst in equal measures. It was only when I listened to Brene Brown’s talk with Tim Ferris that I realised these were all meant to be opportunities for me to grow in precisely the things I asked God for. We need courage to get out of our comfort zone. It’s natural to experience fear when we choose to be vulnerable. Discomfort and courage, fear and vulnerability are meant to co-exist.

Reflecting on how I went with the goals I set for myself for 2015:

  • Think as much about what I don’t say as what I do say

I’ve found keeping this goal a huge challenge in the past year, especially in the context of close relationships. In the process, I’ve learnt that I need to listen to and just accept what’s been said at face value, and not to subsequently over-analyse or colour the words with my own judgement or ideas. I’ve had to eat humble pie and acknowledge I’m not as objective as I believed myself to be.

  • Slow down

God took my word for it and literally forced me to achieve this goal when I fell very sick in late February and later broke my left arm in late October. Being forced to physically rest for the last two months of 2015 had given my body a chance to recuperate from all the sports I’ve been doing in the earlier part of 2015, allowing certain worn body parts to heal and others to reset.

I unwittingly fell into a wee bout of depression in mid to late November, which was probably the cumulative result of a lack of physical exercise, my body missing the familiar regular surge of endorphins and putting up with the smog in Beijing. The cloud lifted on 1 December when I got back on my beloved bike for the first time after six weeks and rode to the office. And it hasn’t returned since.

Being forced to slow down has forced me to confront many of my cherished values and beliefs and reassess my priorities. It’s also taught me to be careful about what I ask God for. He’s usually given me exactly what I needed, not necessarily what I asked for.

  • Regain control of my finances

I could either take the glass-half-full or glass-half-empty view about how I’ve done with this goal. By mid October, I had every occasion to give myself a pat on my back. I’d paid off 40% of my credit card debt, and was on track to pay off a further 20% by the end of the year, leaving 40% to be cleared in 2016.

Then I broke my arm.

Even though my employer’s insurance policy covered 99% of the medical costs (praise the Lord because the hospital bill was a six-figure sum in renminbi), I still had to pay a gap and for scar management medication with my credit card. It’s such an irony that by achieving one goal, I’ve had to take two steps back with another. But it’s silly to put a price tag on one’s health. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have received excellent medical care at Oasis, my employer’s financial support, the care and support of my dear colleagues and friends in Beijing and God’s miraculous healing power.

Looking forward – 2016

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I’ve discovered and listened to a myraid of podcasts since getting an iPhone 6 last February. It’s incredible how much I’ve learnt and how my life has changed just listening to podcasts while cycling to and from work and jogging.

In formulating my goals and resolutions for 2016, I’ve been particularly inspired by these two podcasts:

Considering past events and my track record for 2015, I’ve decided to keep my list short, simple and sweet, broken into actionable and measurable items:

  1. Regain control of my finances

Obviously…. since I didn’t manage to achieve this goal last year, it stays on the list. Nuff said.

2. Improve my physical health and fitness

Specifically:

2.1) Limit coffee intake to one cup a day.

This is something I’ve been consciously working on in 2015. I managed to reduce my daily coffee intake to one cup or none during the summer and autumn months, but increased to two cups when the weather got colder and the days became shorter. After breaking my left arm, I’m again seriously considering quitting coffee altogether as I’m concerned about its effect on my body’s ability to retain calcium.

2.2) Train towards doing my first triathlon (sprint) in September.

I’ve just subscribed to the Beijing International Triathlon e-newsletter, so I can get an email when registration opens.

3. Write something everyday

The aim is to get into a habit of practising my writing regularly. Since I started journalling a couple of months ago, I’ve found it easier to find inspiration for my blog and experience less writer’s block. It has also helped me overcome my perfectionist tendencies, and get something down on paper/computer screen. Self-editing has always been a challenge but it’s a necessary skill if I want to grow as a writer.

3.1) Journal everyday.

3.2) Write a minimum of one blog post a week.

3.3) Finish writing my second novel by end of 2016.

I end this post with a reminder to myself and to all of us who’s set New Year’s resolutions….

“And now you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

– John Steinbeck –

 

 

 

 

 

Convalescence

Click here for some background reading.

Waiting to be discharged

Instead of staying in hospital for two days as I originally anticipated, I ended up staying five days. I was kept in hospital for a day of observation after my wound was closed four days after my operation.

My stay at Oasis was generally very pleasant. I was one of three inpatients so the wards were quiet almost all the time, bar the muted sounds of nurses and doctors going about their work. The nurses got used to me shuffling out of my room and wandering aimlessly around the floor three to four times a day, getting my daily dose of exercise. I enjoyed my daily chats with the physio as he checked my progress and gave me more exercises to do with my left hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.

Despite all this, it became general knowledge among the staff at Oasis and the friends I kept in touch via WeChat that I was desperate to be discharged. After months of exercising outdoors on a daily basis, being cooped up indoors for five straights days, even in conditions much better than my own apartment, felt like imprisonment. The temperature dropped drastically the week I was hospitalised, so the nurses were justified in denying my daily requests to go outside for a walk, especially before my wound was closed.

I’m a firm believer that God allows everything happens for a reason. In addition to a broken forearm, I was also nursing a cold while I was staying at the hospital. In fact, it was this same cold that fogged up my brain when I fell off my bike and broke my arm. If I’d just stayed home and nursed my cold that day, I’d still have an intact left forearm. If only I wasn’t so restless and easily bored…

Surviving in the real world

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Free from the cast, at last!

I was elated when Dr Miia announced I was well enough to be discharged from hospital on Friday morning, five weeks ago. The nurses were amazed at how quickly I changed out of my hospital gown into my own clothing without their assistance.

On the one hand, I was happy to finally be going back to my own apartment, sleeping in my own bed and regaining my freedom to roam aimlessly outside whenever I felt like it. On the other hand, the physical weakness of my left arm was a constant reminder that I’d had to make certain adjustments to my living habits to get by as much as possible with the use of only my right hand.

Here’s a list of bits and bobs that helped me get by in the real world:

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Kipling Keiko Crossbody

An impulse purchase at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to replace another broken Kipling bag, it turned out to be my lifesaver. I never appreciated compartments, smooth zippers and practical design until my life literally depended on it. It was big enough to hold my purse, keys, Iphone 6, headphones, office access card, transportation card and my compact cosmetic bag, yet small enough so I couldn’t overload it with things that were non-essential and overload my left shoulder.

Transportation mobile apps

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Didi Chuxing 

Uber’s strongest competitor in China, Didi’s affordable fast car  (快车)  services have been my lifesaver when I’ve taken a little longer getting ready for work and needed a ride to the office. The 15-minute ride from my apartment in Dongzhimen to Beijing Fortune Plaza typically costs between RMB 8-15, depending on traffic and weather conditions and the time of the day.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: Only accepts WeChat Wallet
shenzhou
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Shenzhou is the app I turn to when I can’t get a ride with Didi. Shenzhou provides chauffeur-drive cars and employs their own drivers so naturally their services are much more expensive. I started using their services when they launched the introductory offer of getting an extra RMB 100 for every RMB 100 credit I transfer into my Shenzhou account. That offer ended in September, but they still give you RMB 50 credit for every RMB 100 you transfer into your Shenzhou account.  But as I was telling a friend, when you desperately need a car to take you home on a cold, rainy night, money becomes the least of your concern. It’s reassuring to know that even if I miss the last bus, taxis are scarce and no one’s responding to my Didi request, I can always get a Shenzhou car to take me home.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: WeChat Wallet, Alipay, Jingdong Wallet, debit and credit cards issued by China banks.

Food ordering app

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Baidu Waimai

Cooking was out of the question for the first week after I was discharged from hospital. When I didn’t go out to eat, I ordered meals using Baidu Waimai. They have a huge range of restaurants, provide discounts if you pay by WeChat Wallet, Alipay or Baidu Wallet and often waive or charge a meagre delivery fee (RMB 5-7). If the food was delivered later than the time they originally estimated, they refunded 50% of the price of the meal.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: WeChat Wallet, Alipay and Baidu Wallet

the pains of culling

where will you take me next?
where will you take me next?

After nine months of procrastination, I decided to give up my self-storage unit at Koala‘s Sanlitun branch. The significance of my decision is probably only obvious to those who live in Beijing and have been waiting for months (generally in vain) for a unit to become available at Koala’s most popular branch.

In the beginning…

I took a self-storage unit when I first moved to Beijing six years ago because I’d moved from a 3-bedroom unit in Shanghai to a one-bedroom, and hated the sight of boxes stacking against the wall in my apartment, especially since I was running my consulting business from home at that time. After years of hiring professional movers to pack and move my stuff from Shanghai to Prague then to Beijing, I accumulated 50+ boxes of stuff without ever looking at, let alone evaluating, the contents of half of these boxes.

It was only when I lost my job three years ago and was planning on moving back to Vespa Fair at 2 KolegasAustralia that I forced myself to confront my physical baggage. With no clue when and where I’d find a new job, I felt I had no other option. To say I was horrified at the contents of these boxes would be to put it mildly. I couldn’t believe I’d been spending money moving and storing boxes of fake DVDs my friends left me when they left China, clothing and shoes I haven’t worn for years, moldy furniture and magazines, folders of useless documents and stationery, obsolete mobile phone chargers, cables and other electronic/digital knick-knacks. Even after giving away, donating and throwing out as much as I could, I still had about 30 boxes of things I then thought I couldn’t live without.

Through a surprising turn of events, I found gainful employment in Beijing and stayed on. I was already very pleased with how much of my possessions I’d edited by then, and felt it was reasonable to take a self-storage unit to store the remaining boxes of stuff I didn’t immediately need in my new apartment. I remained in this state of satisfaction and contentment for the last two years.

The turning point

Then I read the stories of Graham HillGeoffrey Szuszkiewicz and Julie Phillips and all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so smug about my 3-cubic-metre self-storage unit anymore. I was convicted enough by their stories to start culling my belongings in storage, but a smaller storage unit never became available at Koala and I couldn’t make up my mind about taking up a friend’s offer to store my stuff at his house.

Things all came to a head when I decided to upgrade to a road bike. After saving up enough dough to buy an alloy road bike, Serk mentioned they could possibly build a road bike with a carbon fibre frame for a price that would exceed my budget by about a third.  The idea of getting a custom built carbon bike for slightly more than the price of a top-end off-the-rack alloy bike from Giant got under my skin and I began obsessing over where I’d get the extra dough to cover the shortfall without having to resort to swiping my credit card.

After two days of agonising and fruitless contemplation, the solution came when I was swimming — the money I’d set aside to pay rental for my self-storage unit was the exact amount I needed to cover the shortfall. By the time I got out of the pool, I’d already decided I will donate whatever I can and move my remaining boxes to my friend’s house.

What actually happened

I ended up buying a second-hand, one-month-old Giant alloy road bike that cost me less than half of what I was going to pay for the custom-built carbon bike. A cycling buddy, who recently bought a second-hand bike himself, called me from Singapore to talk sense into me, and helped me find the bike I eventually bought on 58.com.

I’ve given up my self-storage unit.  I’ve donated bulky items to Roundabout and moved my boxes to my friend’s dusty third-floor balcony last Saturday. I’ve been feeling bad about imposing on my friend and his girlfriend, but my concerns were completely unfounded. They had more than ample space, and they liked some of my things and intended to put them to good use. It was a win-win situation.

Making this decision has changed my spending habits. Sorting through my boxes the last couple of times has only strengthened my resolve to be more mindful about my purchases, and focus on buying quality, multi-purpose items within my budget and with the aim of replacing items that I plan to throw out. It was no fun throwing things out, knowing full well how much I paid for them and how little I’ve used them.

I feel like a physical weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. Handing over the access keys to my storage unit to Koala’s admin on Saturday afternoon turned out to be an incredibly liberating experience. Through decluttering, I cut off ties with my material belongings and am now better able to focus my mind on those (intangible) things that are more important to me — my relationship with God, family and friends, writing, health and exercise.