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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Earth Day

At work this week, there was a presentation about waste minimization. Among the facts, one that stood out for me was about the amount of food waste incurred. If we went on throwing away food the way we did, our landfill island, Pulau Semakau will be filled within our lifetime. Ok, now I'm a bit more guilty about throwing away that leek that was going bad...

However, as I went about my day, I also realised just how much trash I threw as an individual consumer. I bought a drink, trashed the drink packet. I received junk mail, trashed it. I bought toiletries, trashed the packaging. I marked some worksheets done badly, trashed... just kidding. ;p

My house is full of incidental trash. This includes trash that I created in consuming another good, sometimes a necessity. For example, I bought shampoo, which resulted in a plastic bottle becoming trash. I bought sanitary napkins, resulting in the packaging becoming plastic trash. Plastic is also difficult for me to upcycle. With varying success, I can turn paper into various things but plastic is difficult to bend and mold into shape.

Incidental trash also comes in other forms that comes to me unasked for. I might receive gifts from a friend. Sometimes, I can upcycle the packaging, sometimes I cannot. I forget to bring recycle bags to the supermarket and I end up with more plastic bags than I can handle. Junk mail comes, totally unasked for. I receive free gifts in the forms of stationery sometimes at work and I now have enough notebooks to record my memoirs and maybe those of my future children. Sometimes, these free gifts come in plastic packaging, you guessed it - Trash.

I try to make my small way about recycling and reusing. I bring lunch to work in my electric lunchbox instead of disposable containers. I refuse plastic bags. I try to salvage paper products into other stuff. But yet I feel like the onslaught continues. 

Which is why I salute people like Lauren Singer. She is a 23 year old singer in NYC whose trash in 4 months equals to the volume of a jam jar! I found her in a magazine which led me to her blog Trash is for Tossers. (I do doubt the true impact of her actions, though, because while you may not produce that much trash personally, the pursuit of your career may produce more trash than you think. But to each his own.) 

When I read her efforts, I look around my overstuffed bookshelf and I feel very guilty. Maybe I shouldn't have bought that last bout of stationery......

She does make a point that I can resonate with. That we should evaluate our lives and think of how much and what we really need to be happy with. It brought me back to the days of holiday. I had the time to cook at home, saving on outside meals. I borrowed books from the library, I did art at home, I refused to add more art materials and instead raided my existing supplies. I decided not to throw away magazines but sold them to others, giving them another lease of life and earning some money as well.

That's when I realised that, to be truly contented, everything I needed was already around me. I had to see it for myself and tell myself to do it, rather than thinking I always needed to buy something new.

Realization is the first step. Action is the second and hardest step to do. Again, though, start easy, start small and remember that even the smallest actions do more good than doing nothing at all.

Do what you love? (originally published 16th Feb)

[Note: I originally wrote a version of this on 16th Feb, but upon re-reading it, have decided to edit it.] 

Today, I read an interesting article on doing what you love and doing it outside of work. The author is a Roger W. Ferguson Jr and a quick look on Linkedin says that he is CEO and president of a financial services company in the US. 

Ferguson wrote an article published on Linkedin titled "Why 'Do what you love' Matters in Life Outside Work Too." The author writes that he likes the idea of 'Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life', but does not agree with it. To him, his job comes under the category of 'work', separate from the other things he does, like reading and exercise.

Hmm, sounds familiar. 

Except that unlike what you may think, he actually loves his job and is satisfied with what he does. His exact quote says:

"I find that it’s helpful to see work-life not so much as separate spheres that must be “balanced,” but as a continuum, each flowing into and influencing the other. I believe that if you spend your free time doing things that nourish you physically, intellectually, and emotionally, you will be better at work, even if those pursuits have nothing to do with your actual job responsibilities."

This goes against the underlying assumption that most people see in 'Do what you love...', that we actually hate our jobs and we should switch to something that we love.

I'm sure there are many people/cubicle rats out there who agree with this and would rather be butchers, bakers or candlestick makers. To these people, I say go all out, find your passion and find a way to make it work.

But what about people who may be moderately satisfied? You're not entirely happy but you don't feel that unhappy that you would necessarily want to leave.

I can relate to this sentiment. Overall, I am satisfied with my job. There are parts I hate, there are parts that exasperate me and there are also parts I take some pride in doing. I hate paperwork with an unholy passion, especially where I see no long lasting benefit to anyone. I hate the times when the marking spills into my personal life at home and I feel robbed of my personal time. 

But I love it when the class responds well during a lesson, I feel tingles of pride when I see some improvement in a child's work or when the words I say lift the corners of their mouth into a smile. I see a lot of crap in my line, but I also see a fair amount of good as well.

Are there stuff that makes me happier? Of course there are.

Will I quit my job and pursue my passion? No, I will not, for several reasons. (Especially after the TOTO draw is over and I didn't win a thing...)

1. My job pays well.
I cannot deny that it is my job that has given me the cash to be able to pursue my passion in the first place. Can I sustain my violin lessons without fees? Will I even be able to purchase scores and materials to play? What if my violin suffers damage? Will I be able to pay for it? Maybe I can do a different job that lets me have more time to pursue my passion but what out there pays enough to let me sustain my life and also my passion?

2. My passions cannot sustain themselves. 
The most common sentiment about doing what you love is that if you throw yourself whole-heartedly into it, you will produce such good works that the monetary part will naturally follow. BUT I am well aware I am no Picasso or Shlomo Mintz. My abilities in art and music at this point are not at a level where others are willing to pay for. 

3. I have responsibilities to pay for.
If I was a fresh graduate in my 20s, I might not have minded so much about the cash, but here's a reality check. I want to start a family and I have a mortgage to pay. I have a mortgage in my name. I want to start a family. Can I responsibly do all this if I quit with no plan in sight?

4. I am darn lazy. Sometimes, working for other people is the only way to ensure I'm being a responsible adult. I'm not sure that I have the self-discipline to get my own projects done.

This is getting depressing right? After all the affirmation speeches and TED talks that exist out there.

However, it doesn't mean that it has to be like that all the time.

It simply means that I have to be a bit smarter about managing my job and my passion.

Like merging my passion and my job. I made the decision this year that I should ask to do an advanced diploma in music. If I do not get approval to do this, I should start making plans to leave for one that will give me that approval. Whether or not I end up doing this doesn't matter as much as the hope that I can. Sometimes that feeling of hope is enough to get me through a bad appraisal day.

I also made smaller decisions. That I should plan ahead and allocate time to my hobbies, like taking time to practise my piano and violin so that I may eventually pursue music teaching privately. To pursue blogging more seriously as steps to bigger things, like having a book published. To commit myself to this, I have taken up planning my activities weekly, as I read in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It works to an extent, till one day when I binged on Criminal Minds... -_-!!!

I may be tied down to my job but that doesn't mean I have to be imprisoned in it forever. A subtler revenge, I would think, would be to use it to better myself so that I do not have to be in thrall to it forever. Then I would really be able to pursue my passion and just keep my job as a sideline.

These may not be big steps, and they may not happen all at once, but small steps will do in my circumstances for now.

Till I win the lottery jackpot anyway.