Tuesday, 29 December 2015

2015 - My Year in Review (Part 3)

Moving on to the third and final installment of my 2015 review....


2015 saw a large amount of volatility on this front. I finally got out of a long but fruitless relationship in the earlier part of the year, which freed me up to focus on other things. Checked out this app called Tinder which led to some dates that didn't provide much meaning, except for getting to know some new people from varied backgrounds, which was kind of interesting, at least for a while. Met someone towards the 4Q who has been really attractive and interesting, but we'll see :)

I think at this age, given my introverted nature, it'll always be hard to make new friends. What I'm thankful for is that my close knit group of friends since sec sch and junior college got closer this year, and made more of an effort to hang out and catch up. It does help that my best friends whom I've known since I was 14 years old are in the same industry and are doing more or less the same thing, which helps in providing a stable base of support whenever you need a listening ear and pertinent advice over a few drinks.

Despite many of my friends who are already / thinking of getting married, I just don't feel a sense of urgency with respect to that. It's like woahh man ain't it a little early to get married, settle down and have kids? You want to be the guy you are working for in 10 years time? Well I mean, it's A-OK to lead a cookie cutter life, get married, settle down and have kids, but I just don't feel like living that kind of life. I guess there's some value in that which attracts folks, but somehow, it strangely (or not) does not appeal to me, at least not just yet :)

Given my small circle of friends, I've always taken great pride in having a close knit family where my siblings and I can hang out and are pretty much open to each about about everything in life. We're close to our parents too, but we're not the hugging and I love you (I guess you can summarize that into expressive) sort with them. It's a tough old school Singaporean family. And I think this year we got even closer, which is fantastic. I'm not sure how long we'll be able to maintain this level of intimacy, given we'll all probably head off in different directions and all once we have our own families, and might not even be situated in the same physical location, but I do cherish the present. My Dad had quite a major health scare earlier this year too, which came as a rude shock given he is generally as healthy as an ox. But I guess that's life, and that event has made us cherish his / and my mom's presence even more, given they're not getting any younger these days and they can be taken away from us at any point in time.

Perhaps the one thing I can do better is to exercise more patience when dealing with my parents, especially when trying to inculcate and teach them new concepts and operate new technology. It's certainly not easy in inverting your thinking process or adopting new technology when you're already 70 or so years old, so I've got to try to be more patient and think of new ways that will capture their attention and motivate them to grow out of their comfort zone even at that age.

New Experiences / Experiments

I did manage to scrounge up a modest amount of free time to myself this year as I had freed myself from the shackles of my prior relationship, which somewhat exacted a major toll on me over the year. 2015 saw myself embark on a couple of new adventures, some of which had been discussed in the categories above. The below comprises of the more interesting ones that was not discussed previously.

* Motorcycle - I finally put my license to good use and bought a 2nd hand small street bike (one where you ride seated upright) for general use during the weekends, and it has been an fantastic experience thus far. I could probably write about that experience in a stand alone article, but to summarize it's really the closest thing to flying a plane. I don't fuck around with my hand phone, listen to music or do something else when I'm riding my bike. I'm one with the bike, constantly monitoring my immediate environment, shifting up and down gears, and experiencing the road for what it is. And boy it feels good to be riding (or in this case doing something with full focus and mindfulness) even though I don't go too fast. Another step towards the dream of riding across Europe to Singapore :)

* 30 day NOBNOM challenge - I took up the challenge of no booze and no masturbation (physical not intellectual given the latter happens on a daily recurring basis hurr hurr) for 30 days straight, which was a serious mental challenge. It certainly provided additional clarity, and helped to clear my mind, and freed up additional time to focus on other things, because you're not wanking, drinking and getting hungover most times. I have some doubts about not clearing your system given there's some research around prostrate issues that comes from that, but it was an experience nonetheless. For the booze, man I had a one pint of beer after the 30 days was up and that was all it took to get me high, instead of the copious amounts previously required. I still drink from time to time (weekly) post that challenge, given the social setting, but I've cut down on the serious crazy drinking that I used to do, which is probably a good thing given the additional clarity and time I have on my hands now.

* Gaming - Probably not the best use of time and the most useful new experience here, but I managed to complete the Witcher (1 to 3) series of games over the course of the year and that was a fantastic mind blowing RPG game series that I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone who's seeking an RPG game to embark on that has a combination of a fabulous story line, invigorating combat game play and super realistic graphics and animation.

I think one facet that I could do much better would be to open myself to new challenges that requires a social aspect instead of more personal challenges above, where one gets to know more people of varied backgrounds and develop more productive interests. That however, might be a tough ask given I have my hands pretty much full at this point in time. But joining different interest groups (outside of the blogosphere) such as hiking, investing, and what not does sounds like an interesting proposition.

And this pretty much sums up a overview of what I went through in 2015. Looking forward to 2016. A new year brings about new hope and new opportunities. Pretty much excited :) I wish everyone who's reading this to be safe, healthy, happy and free from suffering over the course of 2016! Cheers :)

Monday, 28 December 2015

2015 - My Year in Review (Part 2)

Moving on to the more important things in life which fall along what I would like to call the personal development spectrum...

Physical Fitness / Health

This is the 3rd year or so that I've took up a variant of the slow carb diet that was made popular by Tim Ferriss' the Four Hour Body, and that lifestyle is something that has kept me going, given its inherent structure and the timed weekly cheat day(s) on the weekend. This year, I added a bit more intensity to the physical side of things by increasing and sustaining my mix of kettle bells and body weight HIIT workouts. I also did manage to gain some exposure to different techniques utilized in developing sustained strength through a mixture of interesting podcasts, books and the great internet of things. 

It was great to see some results even though I have put on a tad more weight (or muscle as I'll like to think ;) ). I feel stronger, fitter and less lethargic in general even though I thought my cortisol levels had increased year on year due to the more stressful work environment. A small vindication event came through my yearly IPPT test, where I somehow managed to snag all of the S$500 placed by the SGP government on the table and took GOLD for the first time in my life, running a 10 year PB for 2.4km without even doing any specific run training like I used to execute leading up to the test. 

Guess the HIIT workouts and kettle bell usage really did contribute to a increased base level of fitness that translated into those results. I guess one marker of encouragement on that HIIT training surfaced briefly back in Dec 2014, when I managed to do clock 2hr 20 min on my half marathon (21km) split into the full marathon (42km) without adequate run training in the period of 3 months heading to the marathon (hurt my ribs playing football). But I crashed and burned soon after and had to limp my way to the finish line, which was an absolute fucking nasty grit building exercise... 

Towards the 2nd half of this year, I started learning a form of martial arts (think Aikido, Jujitsu, Krav Maga), and this looks set to continue on a weekly / bi-weekly basis until next year. Content that this adds a bit more variety to physical training and fitness, whilst adding what may seem like a potentially useful skill in the event something might go wrong. Training is pretty intense, with repeated drills on a couple of maneuvers, followed by an all out HIIT session which incorporates those moves towards the end. But boy does it feel good to let it all out on the gym floor, and sometimes on the punching bag. By the way, it's actually not easy to make the punching bag move consistently in reaction to the punches you are landing on it, which I thought would be interesting to note. 

On this front, the thing which I felt I could have done much better would be to exercise restraint on the intensity and number of times I perform a workout. Sometimes I do a bit too much (double sessions in one day followed by a major one within 24 hours after... yes lonely Saturdays I am looking at you) and don't provide my ageing body with adequate rest, which leads to insane cortisol levels, overburdening the immune system, causing increased allergic response and subsequently a full blown cold / flu / sinus infection / fever.  I think I've fall sick about 4 times over the course of 2015 and those bouts required a course of antibiotics, which isn't good. So moderation and taking it easier on myself might be something worth exploring. Also, I need to pay more attention to what I am eating and be more disciplined in not only sticking with the slow carb lifestyle, but also to be more mindful of what kind of protein and fat I put into my body.

Mental Fitness / Development

This is not quite mental fitness per say, but more of developing and growing the mind. In Feb this year, I spent some time taking up meditation and subsequently attended a couple of weekend workshops and classes over the course of the year. What started out as an experiment through meditation apps (great effect of technology) worked out to be something I hold quite dear at present, as I feel that it does provide me with enormous intangible benefits that perhaps warrants another post by itself. Anyhow, although I'm experiencing some sort of lull and certain obstacles doing daily meditation practice presently, I do try to make an effort to sit for about 20 plus minutes daily after I wake, which helps to set my day right. Extremely grateful to have like-minded close friends that provided support and knowledge on meditation that formed the basis of my meditation journey this year.

In a similar vein, I've also started a gratefulness journal for about 6 months plus or so now where I'll pen in three things I'm grateful for in the morning whilst on the way to work. I probably missed about 10% of those mornings (mostly on weekends probably because of reasons for which you should have gathered a good guess by now...), but I do feel that it helps to put my mind in perspective when I begin my day. 

It was also a goal of mine in 2015 to start and maintain a blog where I can pen, distill and share my thoughts with the general populace, but more of a medium to express myself, note how I'm feeling at different stages of life, which may be useful for future endeavors. This isn't the prettiest blog, nor the most frequently updated one, but I think I did generally fine here, and this would be something I look forward to continue on a more frequent basis over the course of next year. 

On sharing, I've also set up an informal book club where I'll share articles, books and information that I find useful with friends and family. I've probably sent out about more than 15 emails this year, which puts the frequency at once a month or so. I do get replies from friends who share their thoughts and recommendations on other books, which helps to develop my mental network. 

I find reading a great form of pleasure and mode of personal development. This year I must have read an estimated close to 30 books, some of which were re-read. However, genres were pretty limited to philosophy, religion (meditation), mental development, biographies and self improvement. Would probably share my top finds of the year in a separate post, if it warrants so. 

I think one thing I could have probably done better would be to go deeper into the books I have read, instead of just thumbing through and taking notes using Google Keep on my phone. You know, like really assimilate and make use of the information instead of just scratching the surface. At least that what it feels like to me, that I'm doing more of the latter. Another couple of things would be to do more break through events in terms of mental development. Say like a boot camp or meditation retreat, a tough sporting event to instill mental grit, or even undertaking a tough task such as the CFA Level 3 (oh boy I've been putting this on the backburner for years...), which would take the mind to another level. 

To be continued in Part 3. 

Saturday, 26 December 2015

2015 - My Year in Review (Part 1)

The best thing I like about December ain't much about the festivities surrounding X'mas and the New Year. It ain't about the perceived break that one gets when people wind down at year end. In fact, I've been pretty busy over the last couple of weeks, as you can see from the lack of activity on this medium.

The best thing about December is that my favourite DJs such as Armin Van Buuren, Gareth Emery and Above & Beyond would finally release their much anticipated best of 2015 podcasts, where these can fantastic playlists can last up to 3 hours, making for an extended time to get your groove on and put flow into whatever you're up to. 

In the past couple of years, these mixes acted as salve for the soul during the long financial modeling and power point sessions during those late nights, but this year, they've become welcome company during hours of reflection over the past couple of days on how my year has developed.  

Similar to past years (unpublished), I would divvy up my reflections according to different life categories, with individual categorical milestones, the good and of course the areas that could use some improvement. 

With all extensive reviews, be warned these thoughts will translate into a long enough article that warrants a break-up into several parts. 

In short, 2015 marked my 30th birthday on this realm, and was a pretty tough year at that. A year of suffering and changes. A year of transition and growth, for use as a launchpad into 2016 and beyond. 

Let's start with the less important facets. 


When I was an intern, I remembered the wise words of an Associate who had been at the business for more than six years or so. He wished me all the best on my last day and uttered these words: "This job never gets easier, in fact it gets much harder the further you progress..." It didn't really register with me back then, as I was just in the mood of going to get wasted and celebrate the end of a grueling 10 week stretch of 80 to 100 plus hours per week, but looking back, those words have certainly rang solemn and true. 

2015 career wise has been punctuated with a series of starts and stops. Amidst the malaise in the Southeast Asian banking sector which saw many banks cut their workforce, I'm grateful to still be holding on to my job, working with a team that I look up to. I've had the good fortune of helping to close a fair number of transactions this year, and had lead roles in a couple of them, running those deals with MD level supervision and input whenever required. 

The good side is that I've picked up quite a bit of knowledge to know that I still don't know a lot, and have really up-ed the ante to be throwing down and sorting out shit by mostly myself these days, with more direct input, client interaction and decision making autonomy. With that, I gained much more confidence and have developed a reasonable level of skills (technical and soft) to deal with situations that arose. And despite working on similar products, it struck me that each transaction was situation unique and required different bespoke inputs, which was perhaps the more interesting side of things. 

The bad side of this is that I've probably never been more stressed about work during the year as compared to the last couple of years. There were more than a couple of nights where I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning having "work anxiety", my mind actively searching for solutions to the problems that were facing me at work. Some of those nights, the solutions would actively surface to my conscious self, but most of the time, it required more time to think through those and arrive at that "ah-ha" moment. 

Some specific attributes that I think could use some improvement would be the ability to take a step back, gain perspective and be emotionally detached from all work specific situations. And of course, that could involve being more professional about situations (i.e. giving my best shot instead of doing just a tad above enough, learning how to switch off) and taking more pride in the work that I do. I do admit that it does feel like a struggle sometimes when philosophically speaking, I feel that I'm not really creating something but moving sand from one pit to another whilst skimming some for myself. A little bit more on that existential crisis later. 

That being said, I do think that there's a balancing act that is required in this regard, which is something I need to focus my efforts toward, in order to be more efficient and minimize burnout. And perhaps re-framing working in banking from my current (what can seem to be a little myopic at times) lens of pure drudgery to something which should be incorporated with other more important aspects of life as a challenge to surmount and master - that's something that I think I can improve on. 

Investments / Personal Finance

This year has been just brutal on the markets. What was looking to be a sweet year back in March / April turned to dust come 3Q 15. I managed to luck out on this front and did okay so far, obtaining passive YTD returns of c. 5% on a substantial portion of my investments. If the markets remain the same in the month of Dec, I should have a year end net worth of c. 1.3 bucks, whereby a substantial part of it is in the equity markets across Asia. 

Going by the rule of 25, this provides me with c. S$52k p.a. of potential spending amount if I decide to flip the bird at banking and explore other alternative lifestyles - something I'll come to later. I wasn't sure if S$52k p.a. was going to be enough, so another decent thing I did was to start tracking my personal finances back in 2Q 15 on every freaking cent that goes out of my wallet. On average, after deducting for one off extra-ordinary and non-recurring items (limited to purchase of a vehicle), I spent about S$4,000 to S$4,500 per month. 

So the conclusion would be that I need more moolah, or I need to cut down on discretionary spending. 

Given I do not intend to purchase any property over the next couple of years, I've also started to make use of my CPF ordinary account and put some cash into index funds and some blue chip dividend yielding counters back when the markets were trending down in 3Q 15. If things goes pretty smoothly career wise over the next 2 to 3 years, I'll be a in a strong position to call it quits for good before I turn 33, something I am thoroughly grateful for.  

Those were the good things, on to the "things for improvement". 

Well, as mentioned above, I think I really do need to cut down on discretionary spending. Granted 25% of the monthly spending goes to my parents in the form of unnecessary income support that can perhaps be adjusted downwards to a level befitting nil job income, and 25% to 30% of the monthly spending goes to reimbursable claims for overtime meals and taxis which I probably would not be spending on if I were not working in this industry, I still think perhaps one goal for 2016 would be to look into my spending habits with a sharper lens to see how to optimize this. Maybe some tools such as waiting two weeks before purchases might help.

Now that we've got these two parts out of the way, it's time to move on to more important facets of life that revolve around personal development, which will be continued in later parts.