The Challenges of Moving versus Traveling

I’m in the midst of moving house here in SG. Even though this is my fourth time in four years, and I actually have lots of help this time (none in the past), I am not looking forward to it. For one, I love where I’m staying now, and am unsure about the level of comfort in my next place, and I’m also a little weary from the moves. Maybe its age…

That said, I’m still an avid (well, kinda outta practice) backpacker and low budget traveler, and have been so for the past 15 years. Often a single pack can last me through six (6)-nine (9) months…so why is a single move harder than an eternal move (backpacking)?

I thought about that for a while too, and after some rumination, I came up with the following:

  • Backpacking requires very little stuff, Being a CEO in Asia needs lots of nice stuff: When I first got to Singapore, I had 1.5 suitcases of stuff…and it covered everything from clothes and shoes to linens. However, it quickly became obvious that it simply wouldn’t do…I needed more clothes and stuff. For example, my backpacker sandals (keen newports) and flipflops were simply not enough anymore. I needed more grown up shoes, and clothes, and perfume, and grooming products that I had never cared to have before. The result is an extra suitcase of clothes and shoes.

credit: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1461510/thumbs/o-BUSINESS-LOOKING-AT-WATCH-facebook.jpg

  • Backpackers have flexible schedules; Full time workers don’t and live on a good night’s sleep: In my capacity as a full-time worker and CEO, I  absolutely need a good night’s sleep. For 2.5 years, I survived on the mattresses that were provided to me wherever I went (similar to when I traveled), but my sleep was disturbed and I had frequent backaches, and I never had the schedule to allow me to sleep in. When I finally took as CEO, my reliability and availability in the office was NOT negotiable. I finally bit the bullet and bought a bed. So now I lug a queen-size bed around, as opposed to a sleeping bag and a pad, with every move. And with it come sheets, pillows and comfortable linens. You get the picture.

credit: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-BgfBggDC6k8/TtfIrbT384I/AAAAAAAABU8/xNEfVkG_LO0/s1600/planetbox.png

  • Backpackers can chill out in their eating timing, places and food types; Full-time workers need disciplined eating: In most of the places I lived in or passed through in the past, I could survive on anything that was provided to me so long as it was vegetarian. I rarely stayed too long in a place, so even if the food wasn’t great there, you could move on to a place where the food might be better, or atleast your options were different. As a full-time worker, you are more settled, you can’t afford to get sick from what you eat, and you have to maintain a schedule and discipline in your eating to be effective at work and in life. More than anything else, this lesson took me the LONGEST time to learn and come to terms with. But once I did, my health improved dramatically. This also translated into needing to lug around a whole heap of things I didn’t care to before…cups, plates, mugs, utensils, pots/pans, spices, ingredients…you name it! And you had to buy things in sets because you had the added pressure of entertaining. Now I have atleast 2-3 boxes of kitchen ware.

That’s how after four years, I have gone from 1.5 suitcases to 4 suitcases, 2 boxes, and a bed!!

 

The Winning Nat Geo Picture: Hard Work and Fun

Yesterday, I spent a few hours checking out the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest, something that takes place every year. This photo by Ben Canales which was the 2011 winner caught my attention and I spent several hours staring at it. Later I came across the story behind it. And that made me even happier. What an experience it must’ve been…

credit: nationalgeographic.com, Ben Canales 2011 Photo Contest Winner

Apparently, the picture itself happened at a relaxed moment when Ben was just taking in the scenery and having fun…following up on my last post, and the advice of many “winners” I’ve come across in my life, genius usually happens after you’ve dreamt something up, worked really hard to make it happen, and finally let it all go to have a moment of fun…

My Personal Challenges Working in Singapore

photo credit: http://80000hours.org/

I’ve been living and working in Singapore for well over four years now. Its the longest period of time I’ve stayed in a single place/region/area since I graduated from high school. Naturally, people assume (rightfully) that I absolutely love it here, when actually, they couldn’t be further from the truth. Like the yellow chick trying desperately to fit in above, I have never fit in here, and probably never will. At the office I’m fine…but I’m talking bigger picture here, and I stick out like a yellow chick. What makes it more difficult is the fact that I tried (and still try) really hard…and the sting of rejection at times is felt more acutely as you age. On one hand, I’m more resilient as a result, but I’m also battered up.

What keeps me here is a strange combination of fate and free will. Fate brought me here, and kept bringing me back everytime I nearly left (and did leave at one point for good); but I’m also here because of “free will.” I have loved the work and types of opportunities I’ve been given, however hard they have been, and the resulting professional and personal growth have been tremendous. But being beaten up regularly and constantly has its effects, and at some point your elastic limit is reached; your rate of fatigue outweighs rate of recuperation, and you start to feel permanently changed, even deformed.

For years, I struggled to succinctly describe WHY I was struggling to fit in or even enjoy the place…after all, Singapore is a really cool, hip and happening city. Most people who come here absolutely love it. It lies at the crossroads of interdisciplinary cultures; is vibrantly growing and brilliantly surfing the wave of Asia’s incredible economic boom; people speak English; and it has superb infrastructure and all the facilities to rival any other modern city in the world. Yet I, an avid world traveller really struggle.

Then today, I saw a brilliant venn diagram from LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner that summarized my answer. Jeff says that three qualities define the people he most likes to work with…something I would most definitely agree with: people who “Dream Big”, “Get Shit Done,” and “Have fun doing it.” (I would add a fourth one that includes “share my core values.”)

Credit: Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn.com

Credit: Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn.com

What has made it extremely hard for me to live and operate in Singapore is that its been HARD to find people who fit in any of these three circles, leave alone at the intersections. You find lots who talk about it and try to sell you on why they belong in those circles. But few, if any, actually do. In Singapore, Its easiest to find people who “dream big”, and then talk incessantly about their dreams and how cool they are as a result. The innovation usually stops there. Few work to make anything happen, and almost no one I know has fun doing whatever they do. Of course there are people who fit into these circles, but they all leave for the most part. Fleeing to places where they are welcomed and accepted, and the barriers to being innovative are MUCH lower.

So there you have it in a nutshell…the fundamental reason why I struggle in Singapore.

Where the heck have I been?

I know I’ve been very quiet on the blogging front, and I take full responsibility for this.

Not to make excuses, but I’ve just been insanely busy. Since January 2013, I’ve taken over the helm of a 20-year old boutique architecture firm in Singapore. This was done as a result of my passion for learning about design, really testing my theories of entrepreneurship, and having an impact on the language of sustainability and infrastructure development in Asia. Even though the firm has done extraordinary work over the years and has been a pioneer in design, architecture and landscape architecture, it seemed like it had lost its way, and like SO many architecture firms, had been badly managed for several years. Turning around an established company in an economy that is changing as fast as Singapore’s and Asia’s (where most of our clients are based), is NOT easy, and has taken an obscene number of hours of effort, energy and time.

Credit: http://www.smh.com.au/small-business/growing/stop-bringing-the-laptop-to-bed-20131109-2x849.html

I spend so much time talking to people and on the computer, on email, writing reports and memos and doing powerpoints all day long, that the last thing I want to do is sit on a computer for longer after a LONG day and type some more. I’ve started to compose so many different posts only to wake up two hours later, with a sore neck, a sleeping computer on my lap and three words on my post. Not surprisingly, two minutes later, I’m completely supine as is the computer, with three words still on the post. The next day, new thoughts come in and I do the same ritual everyday. Then I just gave up.

But in late July 2014, I realized that I HAD to make more of an effort. Too many lessons were being forgotten. I had stopped journaling and blogging, and it was affecting the clarity of my own thinking. So here I am, making another feeble attempt. I hope I do better this time!

About this blog

Hello World!

My name is Pragnya. Over the years, I have worked in a number of areas and sectors around the world, that have collectively created a powerful arsenal of knowledge effective for organizational improvement. I am particularly good at enriching organizational value chains by infusing interdisciplinary thinking and innovation into processes and products. My methods are often unconventional, but effective.

While my interests originally focused on innovation and entrepreneurship in the water, sanitation, public health, and energy sectors, particularly in the developing world, my desire to learn and transplant knowledge between sectors has caused my interests to expand.

I believe in learning constantly. This blog is a collection of my lessons, thoughts, and ideas. Previously, I used to blog here (on a blogger platform). It is only sporadically updated.