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 Reflection, Uncategorized

Life Without Borders

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When in a new place, I make an effort to try something new. For example, when traveling to a new place, I would veer off the familiar, and try local food. This is the reason why I rarely go to a Starbucks, McDonald’s, or any of the well known global brand when visiting a city. I would look for a local restaurant or local coffee house for a different taste.

Like this bowl of ramen that I just had for dinner. I’ve been wanting to try the restaurant for a long time, but didn’t get the opportunity to do so until now. And even then, the reason that I finally chose this ramen house was because other places were full with saturday-nighters. Even then, I was so glad that I ate here because the ramen, especially its broth, was exceptionally rich and delicious.

Trying new food can really widen your horizon. Before I visited Seoul, I had reservations regarding Korean food. I heard about kimchi, bibimbap, and I’ve seen some korean specialty restaurants in Jakarta, but I barely had the interest to try one. And after three bibimbaps in three different occasions (two of them as airline meals), now I look at Korean restaurants with a curious, almost a longing, attitude.

Imagine what trying an entirely different experience and meeting new people can do.

I remember the first time I held a live firework tube in my hand. Before that, whenever I wanted to light a firework, I would put the tube against a solid thing, like a brick or a flower pot, lit the fuse, and ran to safety. Until one new year’s eve someone (I truly forgot who it was, but I must say I’m thankful for the forceful persuasion from the person) told me to lit the fuse, hold it high above my head, and aim it at an empty part of the sky that was free from electric lines and trees. I counted each blast with a racing heart, fearing that the next one would explode in my face. After the final fire, I found that I was still alive and unscathed. I stopped fearing firework since that day.

Mark Twain, the famous author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer once said, “Do the thing that you fear most, and the death of fear is certain.” Dale Carnegie, the bestseller author of How To Win Friends and Influence People said, “If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

I think would count anyone as fortunate if he could spend each day to conquer one thing that he fears. The more fear we defeat, the wider the boundaries of our lives become. And one day, our lives may become simply boundless with possibilities.

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In English, Passion, Personal Reflection, Soul Searching

Looking Out

I often think about what it will feel like not having to spend a big chunk of the day working. Or even going to school. I remember when I was in elementary school, I discovered how funny the education system was. I was sitting in my classroom, wondering aimlessly while my class was immersed in some kind of an exciting activity. I could not recall what it was, but it must be exciting or the teacher would have seen me daydreaming and thrown something at me to wake me.

But I remember how beautiful the sun was that day. How bright the morning was. I remember thinking how inviting the schoolyard was. But somehow the teachers and the headmaster and the majority educators in the world think being stuck in a room while listening to a teacher was a better method of learning compared to playing and having fun outside. I wouldn’t say that the education was bad. I was just thinking what a waste it was for God to create such a beautiful world, which was meant for man to enjoy, but instead they chose to stay indoors and did something they which they believed to be more useful.

How come? How can being stuck in a room with two dozens of other kids be better than playing outside in the sun? How can it be that mornings are better spent indoors than outdoors? Is it true that learning can only take place in a classroom?

Thirty years later. When I had the opportunity to teach a class in our training center, I would roll up all blinds and let the sun shone through the glass windows into the room. As the room grew brighter, so did the hearts and the souls of the people. Some other trainers chose to let the blinds rolled down to keep minds from wandering to irrelevant things outside.

But I’m sure there is not a day goes by without us yearning to be free. Free from our cubicles, free from work hours, free to spend the day doing something else than working. That is why we are often tempted to daydream. That is why the one thing we want to do when standing in front of a window is to look outside. That js why we are so keen to escape the city and go to find beautiful sights in the country side.

To be free.

So why keep people from doing what I myself would want to do?

Last Thursday I just could not help myself. The blinds had been down since Wednesday morning because we were using the projector to show visuals. “Are you planning to use the projector today?” I asked my co-trainer. “I want to roll up the blinds.” He gave me a perplexed look and said, “No, I won’t use visuals. But isn’t opening the blinds detrimental to concentration?”

I just chuckled and began pulling on the plastic chain. The blind slowly rolled up and the morning view materialized from behind the thick glass of the ninth floor window.

It was a glorious morning.

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In English, Passion, Personal Reflection

I Work, Therefore I Am

If you try to engage me in a long conversation about things of which I’m passionate, I might give you a blank stare. I would experience a loss of word so severe that it would take several minutes of self collection before I could speak again.

Of course I’m not serious. But the question still stands as legit. It’s nice to have something that you feel so deeply about that it actually defines you. Painting defines a painter. Music defines a musician. Singing prowess defines a singer.

Some people, like me, defy logical definition of self based on passion. We work day in, day out on things that we do not feel so strongly about. Yet we chose to endure that existence for whatever reasons we think are justifiable. Self preservation, survival, security, you name it.

There’s nothing wrong about it. But can you imagine how mundane life would feel to come home from a job and suddely realize that you just spend a whole day doing things that you’re not really interested to be successful in? Or things that you don’t feel to be the definition of you?

It’s difficult to be true to your calling, to the things that bring excitement and a whisper in your heart. Can you do your job now without feeling that you are wasting your time and talent, or that you are not bringing any meaningful contribution?

I took a hard, hard look at myself, and I realized how fractured and unwhole my being has been. It’s like having a sundry of unrelated spices and ingredients thrown into the mix only to realize that they are not making the taste that you are looking for.

Focus, and discover.

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In English, Personal Reflection

Finding Balance in Imbalance

My first instinct when waking up in the morning would be to hope for some sort of balance to take place in the day. Day by day I would hold on to that hope. Many times I spent a day convinced that it wasn’t really a true day, that it was just a phase and it would go away soon, replaced by a quiet and balanced time.

It used to be true. After a period of uncertainty, upheaval, and imbalance, a sense of balance would take place. I would feel happy, content, and enjoyed my day.

This started when I was in college. I routinely experienced a feeling of out of rhythm at every start of a semester. New classes, new courses, different classmates, those changes threw me out of balance for a few weeks, before I got “the hang of it” and got back to my rhythm. It was almost like a pendulum that would return to its balance position after a period of swinging from side to side.

Lately, I found that it is getting more and more difficult to return to that point of balance after a swinging period. The balance would remain for shorter and shorter period, and the swinging would remain for longer and longer period.

These days, it seems that the balance has disappeared altogether. I only experience changes, day in, day out. Change of people, change of organization, change of roles. It’s like playing a game in which a different rule applies at every move.

I realized that I could no longer rely on finding a point of balance that remains for a long time. I am a perpetually swinging pendulum. The only point where I am not in a swing is at the farthest end of a swing, or at the farthest of the amplitude, when the pendulum stops for a fraction of a second before it swings back the other way.

Since I established that it will be a virtually uninterrupted swinging period anyway, I would rather be the one who swings the pendulum, instead of being the one being swung on the pendulum. I would rather be the one who decided when it swings, and to what direction.

I would rather be the one who created my own inequilibrium. I would rather be my own distruptor, than be disrupted by the situations. I would not wait for the circumstances to balance, but to create my own balance by disrupting the prevailing balance, at will.

“Live a deliberate life.” – Dale Carnegie

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In English, Personal Reflection

When In Doubt

“To believe with certainty we must begin with doubting.”

Stanislaw Leszczynski
Selected Polish king 1704-1709, 1733-1734 (1677 – 1766)

We always have doubt when we first travel to a strange place. I remember the first time me and several friends going to a certain destination in Bandung relying entirely on vague directions scribbled on the back of a crumpled receipt from a fastfood restaurant. I had to reconcile three things during that journey: the unclear directions, the dubious street map, and the actual condition that we found. After a frustrated, futile search to find the elusive landmarks described in the direction, we added the fourth item into the confusion: direction we solicited from people that we met on the street.

There was a point in that experience when all the four items so contradicted one another that we found it impossible to be certain of which information was the most reliable. When that happened, we had to make a faithful choice to use one as our own sole guidance.

Facing challenges in our lives, either personal or professional, can be quite a nerve jarring experience. The tough reality is that every day is a new path down which we have never traveled before. There are people with similar experiences from which we can draw ideas, but there will be one or more differences in our circumstances that make our problems uniquely different from that of other people’s.

We therefore can only use them as “possible solutions” instead of the only solution.

One of my favorite TV series was “Star Trek: Next Generation.” When facing a situation dire to the safety of the Starship Enterprise, Captain Jean Luc Picard would call a quick, standing-up conferences of his top officers. He would concisely state the problem, and ask for their ideas. He would then make a decision that was either an adoption of one of his officer’s idea, a combination of several ideas, or his own idea. He could never be sure of the outcome, but he would ask for inputs and decide one that was considered to be the best under the prevailing circumstances.

That is what we can do when having to make tough decision.

1. State the problem
2. Understand the cause
3. Gather important information on possible solutions
4. Choose one that is considered to be the best.

In my experience with my friends, we ended up choosing to forget the maps and the written direction, and go with the bystanders directions.

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