Reflections on 2012

Figuring out what to do, much like figuring out what to wear, changes over time. What is in vogue is forever shifting. Sometimes we are told to be generalists; at other times, it is better to be a specialist. The current hybrid – T-shaped people – may soon be replaced by the next up-and-coming ‘model’ person of the new generation.

And while we live during some of the most exciting and prosperous times ever to have existed – the opportunities and experiences that are available to us through technology and/or a plane ticket is really quite overwhelming – there is also a price to be paid for disruption.

In May, I thanked Eric Hertz for a speech he gave on disruptive technology, commenting that we look forward to more “terrorism” in the technology sphere. What I didn’t realise at the time was that for all the sexiness that being a terrorist in the tech world may bring (in a geeky but badass kind of way), and all the cool neat gadgets that I will get to consume, the inevitable destruction and displacement that is caused will always come at a cost.

As a twentysomething reacting to a rapidly changing world, what I have concluded is that no one has anything figured out, really – we’re all just guessing. As new buildings are erected, the old ones that looked so sturdy will be taken away.

Life will continue to be as unpredictable as it has ever been, and so it will go on.

C&H significant

If I could describe 2012 with a single word, it would be ‘tight’. Really tight. There were many moments during the year where I had serious doubts about whether I could actually make it through to the end of the tunnel. It was the year where I was cutting it thin financially and also on time.

Sometimes it felt like I was on a boat that had hit a very massive iceberg, several times over.

Unexpectedly, 2012 was also the year that I found myself the most mentally free. When you stare mortality hard in the eye, you begin to understand things about the human condition. In understanding other people, you also start to understand yourself.

It’s during time of crisis when I often find myself suddenly identifying with cliches and songs. 2012 was the year of John Mayer and the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

When you realise that there are so many things out of your control, the only thing that you can do is to just give what you are capable of giving. We stress so much about the things that we can’t change, and our fear of the unknown and unfathomable holds us back.

I had a bit of an epiphany mid-flight from Auckland to Sydney for the second round BCG Scholarship interviews. People often underperform when they are scared of failure – too much anxiety creates terrible exam performance, tennis players make consecutive mistakes when they let their nerves take hold of their game – but for all the negative outcomes that I could imagine, I really had nothing to lose (except a burnt self-esteem). It’s weird to think that at the time I almost didn’t apply. I was in Beijing when the applications opened, and really not in the mood to write a cover letter – but now looking back, it is never a bad decision to go for something.

Worst case scenario, you end up back at the status quo.

The other memorable lesson from 2012 is learning to trim all the unnecessary clutter out of life. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of one of my favourite books (The Little Prince):

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

With everything in a constant state of flux, there are few things that we feel stay constant in our lives. As friends move away and as people move into different stages of life, I feel like I’m constantly adapting to something different. Sometimes I find myself looking for a pause button so that things could stay still for just a moment – change is exciting, but frightening at the same time.

It is often thought that perfection is achieved when nothing more can be improved. And while we are constantly bombarded with messages about how our lives can be better – from mass marketing to the self-conscious consumer, to the need to have certain achievements under your belt – the most important things to have are the enduring things that don’t need replacement or improvement, and that stay with us as the world continues in its cycle of disruption.


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