Here we are, almost one month into 2023 and mere days into the Year of the Water Rabbit. If Chinese geomancy masters were right, the latter heralds a year of hope and peace. I don’t believe in fortune readings, but I welcome this positive shift after a roller-coaster b**** of a year. 

I was in Hong Kong for the first two years of the pandemic. There was freedom of movement and no lockdowns, it was like being in a cocoon. Things had been smooth compared to elsewhere despite the limbo. 2022, by contrast, was full of ups and downs, twists and turns for me. 

When the Omicron variant arrived in Hong Kong in the cold month of January 2022, the city went into forced hibernation. Not long after this, many countries strove to move ahead, to live with the virus. As travel restrictions relaxed, work started piling up. Which I didn’t mind – being in the hospitality industry in Asia, at long last we could see a light at the end of the tunnel. But I didn’t see the slippery slope ahead as we ploughed ahead with lean resources.

I returned to Singapore in May 2022 to see my family after being apart for almost 30 months. Alas, my dad caught Covid-19 within two weeks of my return and, one after another, everyone at home fell ill. I took to the bed for several days. 

Even though I was sick, I felt relieved to finally rest and disconnect from work. For instance, I read Yanis Varoufakis’ Talking to My Daughter about the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism and A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough between countless naps. Heavy subject matters to be reading when sick but they were stimulating nonetheless. These made me question why am I putting so much effort into work when there are more pressing issues around us. But I didn’t dwell on them long enough. 

Work became more stressful as travel in Asia Pacific gained momentum. I came close to being burnt out.

It was as though there’s a hole in the tank and initial attempts to plug it came to naught. The level of petrol kept dropping as more boxes piled into the back seat and rest stops faded into the dust. The horizon loomed ahead but no matter how long I stayed behind the wheel, it seemed as distant as ever.

In June, I went to Bali for my first business trip in what felt like forever. It was energising yet depleting as I spent time with colleagues in person and rediscovered the Island of Gods while catching up on emails at night. I returned to Singapore exhausted. This pattern repeated several times as work brought me to more places in Southeast Asia.  

I struggled to sleep. My puffy bloodshot eyes in the mirror were a constant physical reminder to hit pause. Even my boss noticed it and offered support. Yet, I couldn’t stop. It was like I was in a state of inertia, a relentless mode to check off more things. For instance, reaching zero unread emails at 2 a.m. sparked a brief sense of victory.

I used the term “victory,” but who was I competing with? How had work become a contest in the first place? How did I end up on this hamster wheel and how do I get off it without harm? Was there a prize that I sought, and did I even care to get it? These questions baffled me as I’ve always regarded myself as not being competitive. 

It takes conscious effort to stop and to question recurring behaviours. To be curious about what motivates us. Was I trying to protect something through my unrelenting drive at work? For instance, so that I feel secure, that I am a good team member, that I belong and am liked, or all of the above?

I decided to get out of my comfort zone and asked for support. It helped a lot to talk about my situation with family and friends. I had ideas of how I could reset, set boundaries and manage expectations (mine and my colleagues’), and more. It takes constant practice to make these new behaviours and mindsets stick. At least I’m more aware of certain unhealthy attitudes and moving away from them bit by bit. 

2022 had been a rough ride. Nonetheless, there’s much that I’m grateful for. From spending quality time with loved ones, to becoming more self-aware and resilient, and being part of a supportive team. 

It was inspiring to travel again after two-and-a-half years of being stuck in Hong Kong. It was surreal to explore unfamiliar parks with my parents in Singapore; to navigate the dusty streets of Panama City; to touch the weathered centuries-old stone in Hindu temples and to enjoy robust, spicy Balinese food; to wander amidst Toronto’s crimson autumnal woods; to breathe deep and be lulled into a gentle slumber by the waves in the Maldives; to observe steelmakers at work in a cast iron foundry in Morioka and feel tension melt away in onsen baths; to spot rainbows in the Maldives, Panama and Toronto – all within the span of one month…

As we continue into the new year, I look forward to a gentle life – which is different from a “slow life.” I may elaborate on this distinction in a future post. 

Meanwhile, here’s wishing you a fulfilling, healthy and peaceful year ahead!

2 replies on “A Gentle Life

  1. I can’t help feeling the work itself doesn’t work anymore, not for human beings. It is, by nature, unnatural and deforming. Be gentle by all means. Be gentle-tough. I wish you all the best for 2023 and the Year of the Wild Hare: Simon

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