leadership, team

Seven Ways to Help Your Team Stay Focused and Motivated while Working from Home

When you read this article, chances are you are at home, and are taking a break from your work. Many companies assign employees to work from home as a form of participation in government efforts to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

For those of us who are accustomed to working face-to-face with our team in the office, this condition may feel unfamiliar. If usually we can invite them to meet to discuss a problem, now we are forced to communicate with them through telecommunications media.

Some of us have experienced this reality as part of our daily work. We must work with teams that are in several locations, and we have no choice but to use e-mail, text messages, telephone and video conference to communicate with them.

The distance between us and our colleagues can cause several problems:

Disconnection from the team. When working in the same location, we feel comfortable because our team is close. It’s easy to ask for information, and we have friends with whom we can chat. When working in a different location, solitude can make us feel isolated. Although in theory we can interact with our team through digital media, but not infrequently we receive late responses. WhatsApp messages that are not read, phones that are not picked up, emails that are not answered, these can increase stress on remote workers.

Slow decision making. In the same location, teams can gather immediately to find solutions to problems and make decisions. When working in different locations, synchronizing time to meet digitally is sometimes not easy. Instead, we rely on WhatsApp group or Slack or Trello as a place to exchange ideas. Again, not everyone is quick to reply to messages sent through the group.

Getting lost in digital media. Today there are many communication media that we can use. When a colleague said, “I already sent the information.” Then the response would be, “What did you send it through? Email or WhatsApp?” If the answer is WhatsApp, there will be a follow-up question, “Did you send it in a group or directly to me?” If the answer is in a group, then the response is, “Which group?” Although in some aspects digital media made a lot of things easy for us, but in others they may complicate our life a little.

Digital miscommunication. Written messages cannot replace direct communication. Communication between people is more than just words. It also involves non-verbal factors, such as tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and so on. Therefore, text messages that are written in disregard to the correct use of punctuation can cause the recipient to understand the message in a totally different way. What is meant as a neutral message when typed with excessive number of exclamation marks may be perceived as emotional message.

Video calls cannot substitute direct interaction either. First reason is technical obstacles. We may receive sound that is not in sync with the picture, delay in transmission, etc. These technical glitches may cause conversations to be fumbled and unclear. Second reason is the McGurk effect. This effect occurs when there is a mismatch between the words we hear and the lip movements we see. The brain tries to process this mismatch and came up with a different word.  Unclear video images can have this effect, where we seem to hear the word “tomato” when the speaker says the word “potato”.

Dealing with Remote Team

What can we do to create a productive atmosphere when working in different locations? In his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Dale Carnegie offered several principles that we can use.

1. Become genuinely interested in other people. One nice thing about working in an office is that we have relationships. At lunch, we have friends with whom we can talk about things outside of work, so we feel that we belong. Try to bring this feeling by taking a few minutes every day to ask how our off-site friend is doing and get him to talk about his condition. Encourage all team members to check on each other.

One participant in the Fundamental Leadership Program training class is based in Jakarta. He applied this principle with a colleague who worked on a site in Kalimantan. “Usually we only talk about work,” he said. “This time I called him just to say hello and ask how he was doing. From time to time we exchanged greeting text messages. We became friends, and it is now easier to work with him.”

2. Be a good listener. Make understanding the other person as your first goal in communication, before making yourself understood. When meeting via video call, take the time to check whether what you understand is in line with what the other person meant. Say for example, “Let me check my understanding. You are saying that our client has agreed to buy thirty units of this product, on the condition that the price is reduced by ten percent from the initial offer. Does it sound right to you?”

3. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. One thing that makes people reluctant to communicate with us is when they see us as someone who is more likely to catch what’s wrong rather than what’s right. That could be one of the reasons we receive delayed replies to our text or email messages. Being critical is important to minimize costly mistake. Being critical ALL the time may cost us relationships with others. When receiving a message or listening to a colleague, instead of criticizing immediately, it would be a good idea to ask probing questions to understand the other person better.

One of our class members applied this principle to his superior. Before taking the class, he would criticize his boss for anything that he felt lacking. Later he tried to refrain from doing so and listen more. He found that his relationship with his boss was improving, and he got better support at his job.

4. Begin in a friendly way. This is the way to winning enthusiastic cooperation from your colleagues. Nobody likes to be boss around. When people are being told what to do, they feel what is known as psychological reactance.  This reaction cause people to resent instructions and become less productive. Instead of directly telling people what you want, start with a friendly tone. We can use something like, “Hey Joe. I sent you an important email yesterday. You were probably very busy and missed it. Your opinion is important to me and I would like to hear it before I make my decision. Would you mind having a look at it now?”

5. Try to honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. Being in separate locations often mean different situations. What seems easy for us, may not be so readily implementable for our colleagues. Before implementing a plan, it would be a good idea to bounce ideas with our off-site colleagues. What risks do they see? What challenges they are facing? For this plan to succeed, what actions do they think needed to be done first?

6. Admit faults quickly and empathically. Being human, we are not immune from making mistakes. Jeff Bezos, founder of the giant online retailer Amazon.com, looks for people who can admit when they are wrong and change their opinion. According to him, smart people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they had already solved, open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradiction and challenges their own way of thinking. Bruce Lee, the legendary martial arts actor once said, “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” Admitting mistakes is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage.

When people who are used to working in the same location are forced to work separately, mistakes are bound to happen. Being apart from the team, it is easy for someone to hide their mistakes. Hidden mistakes have big consequences. Show your team that it is not shameful to come forward and own up to one’s mistake. When you realize that you made a mistake, admit it quickly to your team, and explain what you are going to do to correct it. In that way, you lead by example, earn your team’s respect, and strengthen trust in your team.

7. Give an honest and sincere appreciation.  An article in Psychology Today recounted the experiment done by Adam Grant and Francesca Gino. They compared the performance of two telephone fundraising teams. One team had the Director of the Annual Giving visited them and thanked them personally, while the other team did not. The next week they compared the number of calls made by the teams. The first team who received appreciation placed 50% more calls than the second team. 

Being in separate locations means our team needs more support. We can take the role as their emotional cheerleaders. A simple thank you can make them feel appreciated. Or better yet, announce any achievement your team member made to the whole group. Send a congratulatory email copied to everyone in the team or use the team’s WhatsApp Group for that. How about taking them to lunch? Or if they are home bound, why not send them a dinner voucher they can use to treat their family?

When working remotely, make sure you always build a warm relationship with your team, and keep the communication channels open. This way, they feel the support and attention they need to stay focused and motivated.

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Controlling Fear

A few days ago I shared a news article on my Facebook page. The piece reported about a Tennessee man who purchased nearly 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. He meant to sell them online at a profit. It turned out that he managed to sell some of his stock to the tune of up to $70 per bottle. Amazon and eBay discovered his scheme, quickly shut down his listing, and banned him from selling on the platforms. He was then stuck with thousands of unsold inventory, and an investigation for price gouging. (Update: I have since deleted the post to keep a more positive tone in my timeline.)

People looking to make profit in time of panic is not unheard of. Try to find some face masks online. While looking to stock some for our class participants, our Purchasing team found the price to be skyrocketing, even more than 10 times the normal price. At that price, stock were snapped up within hours.

The coronavirus pandemic that we are living in today presents a lot of uncertainty. This is a new kind of virus that spread rapidly, though less severe than SARS or MERS. Anyone can get it, from the poorest to the richest, from the lowest to the highest. Anyone who is unguarded can get it. The worst part is, until now there is no known and tested medical cure for the sickness. This kind of uncertainty causes fear and anxiety in us.

Fear makes us do irrational things. I remember almost 20 years ago, I was on my way home from visiting a friend. It was already late at night. The traffic was jammed and I had been trapped in it for almost an hour. Suddenly I saw cars in front of me began to turn back. In my mind there must be something terrible ahead that made them do that. There could be a riot! Without much thinking, I began to turn my car around.

I knew there was a wide median separating the two directions, and there was nearly a foot drop from the top of the median to the road. But I was so scared I stepped on the accelerator, forcing my car to jumped the median. As I made the crossing into the reverse lane, my front tires made a hard landing on the asphalt. I was lucky the car was able to take that beating without damage. The fact was, those cars turned around because they didn’t want to wait any longer in traffic. Nothing else!

So how can we keep ourselves from being controlled by fear and anxiety?

There is one principle in the book “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie that has become my favorite, especially in this coronavirus situation. The principle says,

“Forget yourself by becoming interested in others. Every day do a good deed that will put a smile of joy on someone’s face.”

The principle encourages us to stop thinking just about ourselves, and to start taking care of others.

I read an interesting article by BBC. It tells the story of a group of Canadians who started a movement the article calls “caremongering” or care trading. Mita Hans and Valentina Harper of Toronto and others saw there was so much scary news spreading in the media. They want to spread something opposite instead.

They started a Facebook group where people can ask and offer for help. It’s somewhat like a group where you can trade stuff, but in this group you trade kindness between those who need it and those who can give it. They thought the group would gather a few dozens people. Instead, news travels fast in social media, and soon the group grew into thousands of members. People in other cities created similar groups, helping more and more people in need.

A man in Halifax who desperately needed hand sanitizers due to compromised immune system received replenishment from a donor. A single mom in Ottawa received food for her baby. A group of people in Toronto offer to cook meals for those who are unable. A community in Prince Edward Island gave grocery cards to a woman who was laid off because of coronavirus related closures. The list of kindness that people do to each other goes on into the thousands.

Fear can spread like wildfire. But kindness can spread too. Rather than be controlled by fear, why not focus on being kind to others?

Psychology Today ran an article that discusses the effect of helping others on reduction of anxiety and depression. The article concludes that by helping others, we not only make other people feel better, but we also help ourselves feel better. As a bonus, not only we relieve ourselves from depression and anxiety, we also improve our relationships with people as we show kindness to them.

You don’t have to start a Facebook group. Just look around and see if there is anyone who needs it.

  • How about the security guards in your neighborhood, who work around the clock to ensure your safety? Some appreciative smile would make it worth their trouble.
  • Why not check into your WhatsApp and see the people in your list who you haven’t heard from for a while? I’m sure in time of social distancing like now they would appreciate someone asking them their news.
  • How about scanning your Facebook timeline? Don’t just give them a thumbs up for something good your friends share. Write a heartfelt compliment. Or give thoughtful or uplifting comments for those who share some life challenges.
  • Have you shown appreciation for your wife’s cooking? Your children’s hard earned grades? Your husband’s assistance when you need him to fix something around the house?
  • Why not try to be more patient and compassionate when people make mistakes? Let them know it’s okay to make mistakes, and offer them help to do it better the next time.

Instead of letting fear driving you, why not spread joy by sharing kindness to others? You help both yourself and others by doing that.

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A Proper Building for Our Office 

We are on the final stage of redecorating our new office building. If everything goes well, we will be working in the new facility this January. Yay! 

About two years ago we were not sure whether to find a new place. Yes we had been occupying our present location for 18 years. Yes, there were some things that we felt wanting from the place. It used to be a large single story house. There used to be a large affluent family who lived there. The children grew up, and one by one left the house to start their own families . Until there was only the widow mother. The house felt too big for her, and she wanted to live in a smaller residence. So she sold the house to us. 

Out office used to be in the house that my parents built in the 70s. We lived in the upper floor, and the office occupied the ground floor. For sometime it was great. Until the place became too crowded and my parents decided to move us away to the southern part of the city.

6 years later, the local government began building an outer ring road, circling the perimeter of the city. Out house was right in the middle. So we had to move again.

My parents renovated the first house to accommodate both home  and the office. Once again we lived above the office. 10 years later my parents built another house on the land across the street, and the old house once again became a full office, albeit only for a year. We moved the office to its present location. And for 18 years we stayed there while the business flourished. 

We felt we need to have a proper office. Not a residential building, but a proper office building. But there was no hurry, and we oscillated between the ideas of staying there or getting the new building. 

We finally made the decision to move when the governor issued a decree banning residential houses from being used commercially. The government refused to renew our business license until we would move to a commercial area. 

We shopped around for a new place but the prices were prohibitive. It was either affordable but too small for our company, or big enough but too expensive for us. 
There was this 6-storey, beautiful office buildings near our old place. I once went pass it and thought how nice it would be to work there. But it wasn’t for sale. And even if it was, we didn’t have the money.

As fate would have it, just at the time we were able to raise the money, the place went on sale! What a miracle! We contacted the owner, negotiated a deal, and once the legalities were done, we now own the building.

So there it was. After.40.years in the business, we finally have a proper office. A long, winding road, that got us where we are now.

I don’t know what to say. Life doesn’t go as you expect. Just be patient and enjoy the ride. 

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Drama of the Delayed Flight

I have been absent from blog writing for a long time. I kept delaying from writing a post because I felt that I didn’t have anything to say and I had lost the will to write. I happened to read some notes that I wrote on Facebook and realized that writing isn’t about making a bestseller novel. It’s about pouring your heart into your piece. So to jump start a return to blogging, here’s a piece that I truly enjoyed writing.

Originally a Facebook Notes post dated October 3, 2009. 

After a 4-hour delay, I was finally strapped in my seat with 135 other passenger of the flight from Medan to Jakarta. It was already past 11 PM when the pilot revved the engines of the plane and brought it airborne into the night sky.

It was the worst – and the most dramatic – delay I’ve ever experienced. My wife had warned me of the disadvantage of taking the last flight out. “It will be delayed,” she said. But being the positive, happy go lucky person, I somehow believed that the airline had learned its lesson and would do its best to avoid delays. Boy, I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong in my life before.

I received the text from my staff at the office informing of the ‘change of flight schedule’, from 7 PM to 9.40 PM. I was incensed. “They cannot do this! They must take responsibility! I have the right of having the airline arranged a better flight for me!” thus my ranting went on inside my head. Yes, the regulations require an airline to transfer a passenger to a better flight upon request, should a more than 90 minute delay is inevitable. But since it was a ‘change of schedule’, technically it was not a delay, and the airline managed to weasel itself out of its accountability through that loophole. Only a 25% refund was provided, and I had to pay full fare if I wanted to change to another airline.

I had no choice but to grumblingly accept to take the flight.

I arrived at the airport a few minutes before 6 PM. Although the check-in counter for ‘changed flight’ would not be open until 7 PM, the staff kindly led me to an open counter of a different flight to check in. Satisfied with the boarding pass in my hand, I headed to the executive lounge.

About 2,5 hours later, I was bored beyond relief. I hoped that I could browse on my HSDPA modem, enjoyed a free buffet, and relaxed, all the privileged of the executive lounge. I somehow had too much fried rice-fettuccine and pastries that within half an hour I was full. My internet connection was rottenly slow. With the PA system endlessly calling passengers to board, it was difficult to have a decent and relaxing rest.

At 9 PM, I left the executive lounge to join the other passengers in the waiting hall. I entertained myself on my smart phone, commenting on my friends’ posts on Facebook. At 9.20 PM, the appointed time of boarding, there was no call. At 9.40 PM, the departure time, still no call. I walked up to the gate and found a group of ground staff who were busy teasing one another. I asked something in the line of, “For heaven’s sake, please tell me when do we depart from this wretched place!”

The young woman turned to her friend, mumbled something, and turned to me with an uneasy demeanor. “I don’ t know how to tell you this, but we won’t be boarding until 10.45 PM, at the earliest.”

That would translate to 90 more minute of more delay. There was an unmistakable sinking feeling inside me, very close to despair.

“I hope you can understand,” she quickly added.

What else could I do but to muster a herculean effort of an understanding?

As I sat down, another passenger, a big, dark, bald and unshaved man replaced me at the counter. Unlike me, he was not in an understanding mood. He voiced his displeasure. He raised his tone. He ranted mercilessly to the helpless desk staff. A crowd began to gather around the scene. The man still went on and on, slashing at the staff’s lame attempts at making reasonable excuses. He kept going at it for about 15 minutes before he went back to his seat with an unsatisfied air.

I quickly updated my Facebook status.

On the background I could catch the man’s loud voice. I thought he was continuing his angry outburst. I looked over my shoulder and I saw him talking into his mobile phone. Then he turned to other travelers, telling them that they should trash the airline’s office to attract the attention of TV news crew, so everybody would know what the airline had done to its passengers.

What an angry, big, dark, bald man.

10.15 PM. A Boeing 737 taxied into the tarmac. It was our aircraft. I quickly swallowed the snack I got from the airline, picked up my heavy backpack, and sat at the front row, near the gate. After a few minutes, I left my seat and stood in front of the gate, determined to be the first to board the plane. Other passengers quickly formed a line behind me.

About 15 minutes later, the gate was opened, and I picked up my steps toward the plane. As I entered the door, I saw a young flight attendant standing, squeezing her eyelids several times to stay awake. I promptly gave her the nicest smile I could came up with under the circumstances. She smiled back at me and greeted me warmly.

After stowing my backpack securely in the overhead bin, I took my seat and looked around at the rest of the cabin crew. I saw pretty young faces, in uniforms designed to flaunt their beautiful forms. They swiftly went about their tasks of assisting passengers into their assigned seats and put away their cabin baggage. They did their best to maintain a professional posture despite of exhaustion.

I could not help thinking, “How can anybody be angry at them? They are doing the best they can at their job, and what happened is beyond their immediate influence.”

One hour into the flight, and after a box of snack and a cup of mineral water, everybody was content. Even the big, dark, bald man seemed to have forgotten about his anger, and talked to the stewardesses about (presumably) the airline merchandise they were selling.

How can anyone stay angry when seeing this excellent crew?

I honestly disliked the airline for failing to keep its promised schedule. But I must admit that they have a highly professional crew.

And here we come to the moral of this story.

Sometimes, things (or s**t, as some people say) just happened. There is nothing you can do about it. There is no point of worrying about it. You cannot keep it from happening, and you cannot stop it from completing itself. When s**t happens, focus on the task at hand. Nobody can stay angry at you when you do that.

And making sure that you look gorgeous while you are focusing on your tasks will considerably increase your chance of being successful in appeasing people’s anger.

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Last Thought of The Year

In New Year’s Eve, we customarily go to Church for the year end service. Not this year. I am down with cold, and I could not bear the thought of having to fight new year’s eve traffic. So we stayed in our apartment and rested the night away.

We just moved in here, and for some reason we still have no TV. So I made myself a mixture of tea and herbal medicine, ate some bread, and sat on my beloved Poang chair. While I was listening to the Christmas music (yes, because that’s the only music we have in our still spartan apartment) played on my I pad, I thought about what we have experienced throughout the year. 

There were hits and misses, good times and bad times, and everything else in between. I browsed through my photo albums on Facebook, and I saw a lot of reasons to be thankful. Yes there were unpleasant things that happened, but there were also plenty of good things that happen to us.

For all the good things, I am grateful. For all not so good things, I am thankful. 

For the new year, I resolved to complain less. Life is full of so many good things, and I would be a waste to let myself be consumed with hate, irritation, and disappointment. I just want to enjoy each day at a time, taking good care of myself, drink the wine, and have the desser. 

I learned a lot from Stan Lee, the comic genius behind many of Marvel Comics characters. He’s 93, but he shows no signs of slowing down. He keeps churning out ideas after ideas, at the age where so many people would stop being productive. Throughout his career, he experienced successes, failures, one after another. When one enterprise he started went bankrupt, he simply started another one. No stopping. His life story is riddled with phrases like “Yes I can,” or “Why not?” or “It’s fun!”

In an interview, he said “Thinking up stories is easy. Thinking up the characters is easy. It’s finding a way to make it something that people have never seen before — that’s what’s difficult. It’s also what’s the most fun.” 

And so he keeps going.

That it would be difficult for me, an introvert, to see the positive, is something I realized early. But there’s nothing to lose. So, why not? I can do it, and it’s gonna be fun!

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In English, Personal Reflection

The Broken Award Trophy

The Friday night award dinner was over. It was time for dancing and fun. We wore Batik, long sleeved dress shirts in Batik patterns which in Indonesia enjoys the same status as a suit. We found it awkward to hit the floor in our Batik, so we decided to go to the mezzanine.

A lot of people were out there as well, to get away from the loud music and the dark room. Some friends came up to us to congratulate us for the Gold Cup award we received this year. In return we also congratulated other award winners that we met.

As we were chatting happily, our CEO Peter Handal emerged from one of the ballroom doors. Jolly and amiable as usual, he was soon surrounded by people who wanted to have their pictures taken with him. He was retiring from his position in Dale Carnegie. For people who came from far ends of the globe like us, this would be our last chance for a photo op with him.

I was holding the box containing the heavy crystal award in my hands. We were just getting ourselves ready for a picture with Peter. Suddenly I felt the box became a lot lighter. There was a loud crash and tinkling. When the surprise was over, all that remained of the trophy was just scattered crystal shards of various sizes.

It took me a few seconds to finally grasp what happened. I broke the award! That was the moment when I felt to be most stupid. How could I be so careless with something so valuable? The appreciation of one year’s hard work from our team, gone!

I was apologizing profusely, I said, “I’m very sorry,” over and over again. With his hand on my shoulder Peter said, “It’s not your fault, Stephen.” And then he lifted his face to everyone and said, “It was my fault. I tapped him on the shoulder and he reacted. I’ll have it replaced. I’m sorry.”

In the middle of the commotion, Dave Wright approached us. He is the President of Dale Carnegie of Austin, and his team won a Silver Cup award tht night. He stretched his neck out to survey the damage, and asked, “What’s that? You broke your award alredy? Is that a Gold or Silver? A Gold? You can use our Silver for your photo. They’re similar, right?” He graciously handed the crystal trophy to us, and the photo took place after all.

On Monday night, we were retiring to our room at the airport transit hotel in Incheon. I habitually took my phone and opened my email. I found one message from Peter. He said that he had arranged for a replacement trophy to be mailed to us, and that I should not let that incident affect me. It was his fault that he tapped me on my shoulder and startled me to drop the award. Before that, he shared, he dropped his watch on the bathroom floor and broke it. “You can say that this is Peter’s curse.”

I imagined that he had a big grin and a big twinkle in his eyes as he wrote that.

I spent a lot of time in our 20 hour trip from Atlanta to Seoul to revisit the incident. I was angry at myself for being such a bungling idiot. It was a simple logic to hold the box at a slanted angle to keep the award from toppling out. Somehow I stupidly held it upright.

After I was done criticizing myself, I began to think about the people that offered their help. About Peter who took the blame and offered to replace the award, even though I was so sure it was wholly my fault. About Dave who offered to loan his team’s award so we could somehow took a group picture with Peter. I have never seen so much kindness in the face of a mistake in my life.

I wrote back to Peter. “If there was a purpose behind this incident, it is so that we could see kindness from others. From you, from Dave. And if anyone ask me what I remember best about you, I would tell them about this incident to illustrate the kind, warm and friendly person you are.”

Instead of a misfortune, this has become a beautiful parting gift from Peter to me. I will never forget that day.

Thank you Peter for being a great leader for us. Have a wonderful journey ahead.

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In English, Personal Experience, Personal Reflection, Travels and Places

Who Moved My Aisle Seat?

Each time, almost without fail, I managed to secure myself an aisle seat in long haul flights. I made it a point to get the booking number as soon as possible and to pre select my seat way ahead before the travel began.

The reason is simple: I have a small bladder and in some cases I had to use the restroom almost once every hour. An aisle seat would save me the trouble of having to politely ask a stranger to allow me to cross his personal space just to relieve myself.

Most of the time I was able to get the seat myself. In some other time, I was lucky that I could ask for a seat change when I checked in. The rest of the time I just had to accept a middle seat.

Such is the case when I was preparing for this flight from Jakarta to Atlanta. I started to have a sinking feeling as I scrolled through the seating plan of the aircraft on the airline website. All aisle seats were not available. If it were a short flight, it wouldn’t bother me. I could survive being stuck between two strangers for two, three or even five hours. But it was a thirteen hour leg. Thirteen!

Arriving at the airport, I made some last attempts to request an aisle seat, but it was to no avail. So I braced myself for the worst.

And it was even worse.

Because of some mobile check in mishap, I was not allowed to check myself thru. I was not to get the boarding pass for my next leg until I checked in at the transfer desk in the transit airport.

During security check in transit in Incheon, they saw a suspicious item as they scanned my cabin luggage. They had to go through all my stuff twice, before they dig out a small pocket knife that I forgot to take out from my bag. The officer gave me a long what-were-you-thinking look before he turned his attention to the next passenger.

And for some not so strange reasons, they selected me for a random secondary physical security check. They went through my bag again, and they frisked me. They swabbed a piece of paper all over my bags, shoes, and outfit for explosive residue. As the result, I was among the last passengers boarding.

As I made my way down the aisle to my row, I saw someone else sat in my seat. I had to politely ask him to move. When I looked for an overhead bin space, all has been taken. I tried to rearrange one sparsely loaded bin to make space for my bag when the passenger sitting beneath it stopped me.”FAA regulations. The attendants put that bag horizontally because it doesn’t fit vertically,” she said. “Please put it back the way it was.”

I could feel the stare of the other passengers behind me. I was blocking their way while frantically looking for a vacant bin. I finally turned to a cabin attendant. “Could you help me find a space for my bag please?” She led me back to that same bin, pushed the content aside and said, “Do you want to see if your bag fits in here?” I pessimistically followed her suggestion, thinking that my bag was too big. But it fit!

I settled down in my middle seat, and tried to read a book. Because of snow, the ground crew had to de-ice the Boeing 777-300 ER, and it took a long time. It was already one hour past the departure time when we were finally airborne. The plane slowly climbed to its cruising altitude to avoid bad weather.

With every passing minute I could feel my bladder filling up to the point of bursting. I looked up the flight progress on the personal monitor in front of me and counted every altitude increase. I wished that the plane already reached 30,000 feet.

Suddenly there was a ‘ping’ on the PA, and the fasten seatbelt sign was off. It’s the sign from the pilot that it’s safe to move around the cabin. I quicky turned to my right hand neighbor and poked her awake. “Excuse me,” I said. I rushed past her to the aisle and walked down to the nearest lavatory.

In retrospect, it wasn’t such a bad experience. Revisiting the whole episode, I found some things I could be thankful for. I now understand that the reason I wasn’t allowed a check through was because I tried to do a mobile check in with a new passport when my US visa was on the old one. Unable to match the new passport number with its database, the system automatically rejected my check in and flagged me for inspection. That’s why I had to personally check in in transit.

The lady at the transfer desk was just arriving at her post when she took my case. She was late for work and was embarassed with her supervisor. And my case took some time to solve. She had to re-register my name, my passport and my visa in the system before she could produce my boarding pass. Yet she was all professional, and gave me a polite smile as she returned my documents.

The security officers who had to check my bag were not happy of having to go over my things. If possible, they would rather disregard their suspicion and let me pass. But they had the responsibility over the safety of hundreds of lives. They had to check. Twice.

And the secondary screening officers? I’m sure if they could choose, they would rather do something other than spending the morning running their hands all over strangers. Who knows the places these people have been to? Yet they did their job respectfully to the passengers. I was not at all feel humiliated for being chosen for a random check while other passengers watched as they rushed to board the plane. With halting English a young officer told me nicely that I had to undergo a secondary check. They patiently guided me through the process. They even smiled when they completed the check.

I learned a valuable lesson from this. You cannot really know what surprises life might throw at you. Sometimes what happens is not what you expected. The most important thing is what you get from that experience. And what you get reflects your attitude. When you react with negative thoughts, it will be a harrowing incident. On the other hand, you will get gold from dust with some patience, humility, positivity, and some bladder control.

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A Life Journey, In English, Personal Reflection

The Upside of Being Under Limitations

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For the third time in 4 years, I go on a diet. My weight increased a lot in the past year due to change of lifestyle and stress. Okay, the last one is an excuse.

I go to the same diet clinic that helped me lost 45 pounds (about 20 kg). This time they gave me a slightly different treatment. They gave four different types of drugs instead of the usual one type, and they insisted on a different (in other words, more expensive) intravenous medication.

But on the eating side, the same limitations apply. Red meat in small amount only once a month, fish in moderate amount only twice a month, and chicken breast as much as needed. No processed food, no flour based anything, no fried food, no sugary drinks, and no alcohol. Fruit and vegetables are allowed, except for jackfruit, durian, and avocado. For breakfast, I can only have wheat bread and low fat cheese.

One consolation is that I can drink coffee as long as it’s not instant, and as long as I keep the sugar under 5 teaspoons a day. No problem.

At first, this seemed to be a burden. My wife has to prepare meals for lunch and dinner, which means she has to get up very early. I am very indebted to her in this, because otherwise it would’ve been difficult for me to stay on the program.

Having lunch with my co-workers becomes a challenge. They all either buy or bring tasty meals that when I wasn’t on diet I would’ve had myself. “This fried chicken is good, you know,” teased one of them. And I could only scowled and continued eating my no-dressing salad.

Another problem is when we go shopping. The mall is full with restaurants, cafes and bakeries, all are offering delicious treats. I often must remind myself that I am not allowed to have those for the time being. So much temptations.

On the bright side, having few options make things simpler. Unlike before, I don’t need to fuss about what I want for lunch, and I don’t have to go out to get it. I simply eat what I brought.

When shopping, choosing a place to eat takes less time. It must be Chinese, because that’s the only place where they serve boiled or steamed chicken. No need to decide between Japanese or Italian or Sundanese.

In the morning, I simply prepare myself a cheese toasted sandwich and coffee, and I have my breakfast home. No need to take time to get breakfast at the office. I can use the extra time for other things, like writing this post.

Having less options removes a lot of clutters and allows me to structure my life better.

Posted from WordPress for Android

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A Life Journey, In English

Small Actions, Big Impact

I spent most of my life achieving my goals serendipitiously. I dreamed of something, and somehow, in some way, it happened. It’s like somebody was getting things done for me from behind a screen. And sorry to disappoint some of you, I didn’t actually pray for them, either.

I’m not saying that praying is not necessary. If you believe in God, I would say you should pray. And neither am I saying that you don’t have to work for your dreams. Some dreams take sweat, blood and tears to make a reality. And I do work hard to build my family estate.

Looking back the nearly 39 years of my life, one thing that I am still dissatisfied with it is how haphazardly I lived it. How un-hardworking I was. How unfocused I had been.

I am worried this will carry into my professional life. I am in the position where I can make impact in the lives of tens, hundreds even thousands of people. What keeps me awake at night is the haunting question: how can I be a good leader for those people who entrust their lives and the lives of their families in my hands?

I found that being in a leadership position is far from having the justification to brag, to demand respect. On the contrary, it is the most humbling place in which anyone can be.

I choose to live one day at a time. I made mistakes. But those are in the past. Today I choose to be a better person. Everyday is a new opportunity for me to be slightly better, to be the person I dream myself to be. The doer, the achiever, the leader.

One day I was standing in a very long line in a bank. There were only two or three windows opened for dozens of customers. From where I stand, I saw the line was skewed way to the right. And nobody did anything to fix it. I decided to do an experiment. Every time the line inched forward, I moved slightly to the left. The customers behind me followed suit. And with every step forward, the line began to skew less, until finally it became a straight line.

To have impact on my surrroundings, I only need to change myself just a little bit, every day.

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In English, Random Things

20 Years Ago

At the end of the introduction of the course, I raised my hand. “Yes?” The professor examined me with his eyes from behind the lectern. “Sir, the textbook you just mentioned is the 11th edition. Is it different from the 4th edition?”

My mind went to the 4th edition of the Basic Financial Management book written by the same authors as the 11th edition. I used it in the Financial Management course in undergraduate school. If there wasn’t much difference, i could use it again and save money.

The professor grinned. “Of course it is very different,” he said. “The new edition is updated to include recent cases.”

It wasn’t until today when I skimmed through the new textbook that I realized something. My third semester in college was almost 20 years ago! By then, I bet nobody here had ever heard about Enron, and some of my class who took accounting major had their eyes on Arthur Andersen for their future career.

Apple was known for Mac, and internet was still in its infancy. A 14.4 kpbs internet connection was already considered fast. Mobile phones came in briefcases. The most widely used OS for PC was Microsoft Windows 3.11. The crew of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation were the only ones who used tablet computers. A 100 kb attachment was enough to suffocate an e-mail server, and a 512MB Harddisk was enough to run a small server. A Big Mac meal in Jakarta cost about a sixth of its price now in Rupiah. US and European boybands (and girlbands) were making it big.

And now, I’m writing this on a 64GB iPad, and online through a 14.4Mbps mobile internet connection. A thousand times more bandwidth than 20 years ago. Wirelessly.

Looking back into the past like this only makes me wonder what the future will be in the next 20 years. Flying cars? Interplanetary travels? Food replicators? Holographic music concerts? Fully humanoid robots?

And so with this I must remind myself to return to my work.

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