have you ever seen a grown man?

Salar De Uyuni In The Rainy Season

04 Feb 2010, Bolivia  — Image by © Kazuyoshi Nomachi/Corbis

I’m taking a break from all the travelogues to finally write a thought piece. It’s been a while, and I’ve forgotten how much I enjoyed writing in this space. This has served both as a dumping ground for all kinds of thoughts and yet, paradoxically also a curation of who I am. Leaving this space to rot will give very little for future-me to reflect on.

I’ve been in a naturally reflective state recently, given the stage of life I’m transitioning through. I’m graduating out of college, and while I’ve always believed I came in here at a different stage from my class (given my experience with the military and running a company), I still find myself grateful for the maturity these 3 years have granted me. I find myself thankful for the friends I’ve made – I’ve never wanted to stay in touch with people more than with these souls who I’ve had the privilege to encounter. I pause at moments to breathe and appreciate the range of opportunities I’ve been granted – from governing over a council of fraternities to producing a musical to signing a big name artist for a festival to running a research project at one of the world’s best museums. I struggle with the difficult lessons I’ve learned and I contemplate daily how to apply myself to advance social justice, community building, and leadership development both in my daily life and the various contexts I’ve become embedded in. The worlds I have to straddle become discrete yet overlap and I feel challenged yet empowered to care about all of them. I think frequently about Singapore, my home, but I also care about Evanston, the US, the world I belong to and to which my friends around the globe live in.

It makes me wonder how college is supposed to serve the individual. Yes, the primary purpose is the education. My Computer Science degree will serve me will in the future, both as a bolster for any career choices I make and a foundation to understand the world as it evolves.  But this environment has been rich in its experiences. I came to the US with an objective of transplanting myself away from Singapore – not because I disliked my home but because I loved it so and needed space to understand it from afar. Contrast and juxtaposition increase awareness of what makes us unique. Northwestern has provided me that platform to explore my passions and goals in a setting that is relatively free of expectations. I don’t have to fit a preconceived notion of a college student in the US – I can be whoever I want. Success belongs to those who find excellence in whatever form. It’s starkly different from Singapore, where as a country we struggle to appreciate the humanity of our society. We think in numbers, laws, and achievements – not in values that connect us. Because where the former keeps us safe and moving, the latter keeps us alive and excited for life. The joy of life is in our ability to choose our own struggles to earn the rewards that matter – not in inheriting struggles imposed by social hierarchy, hyper-legalism, and history and finding ways to accommodate our existence.  Our children must find meaning in their day, they must see themselves molding society. That shining sense of opportunity has to surpass the ‘needs of the economy’. The economy grows because of our ambition. Our ambitions should never be limited by the decisions of society.

College built my hope in change. I’m notoriously known for my optimism and it’s exacerbated by my youth. When I was running The Hidden Good, I remember the countless number of not only older people but also my peers feeling the need to provide a ceiling to my goals or a signpost back to their idea of reality. I’ve always been fearful that perhaps I do live in my own head too much – that perhaps my hope for society can only manifest itself in the smallest of doses. But college has given me the platform to shape my own future, not because it’s a magic bubble, but because if you look deeper it has similar levels of unfairness, inequality, and injustice. Yes, the progressive slant of Northwestern is enabling, but reality is encountered quickly when you push for anything more than a statement or declaration. Action requires getting down in the mud, and I’ve focussed my time away from the surface level politics and in the work of understanding and empowering change. The successes have given me momentum but the failures have only riled me up more to recalibrate and go again.

There’s so much more I could probably write about. From the thoughts on traveling as a student to the consistent effort to diversify my circles, but I think I’ve run out of mind-fuel. This post will continue to serve as my reminder of my optimism, just as my posts from the last 10 years have been equally charged with positive energy and the journey to improve the communities I’m a part of. I’m excited because I’ll be graduating college excited about possibility.

The world is a jungle and I’m excited to explore it.

hooah.

 

 

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the need to influence

I’ve worked in the ‘Influence Economy’ in the past 3 years, and have gained so much from it. The most profound truth I’ve taken away from all of it though, is that in this day and age, we’re all essentially influencers in our own right. With the normalisation of social media, everyone’s voice has the opportunity to hold clout, as long as it holds the powers of logic, ease of understanding or emotion. Notice that not all of them have to exist together for something to be of influence, but I’ve found the best of them do.

I’ve committed myself to the pursuit of some sort of influence over the communities I exist in, to pursue spreading progressive ideas and goodwill in environments that are unhealthy and sadly caustic. Yet for all it is worth, 3 years later, I’m realising there’s still so much needed for more people to wield their own influence powerfully.

Micro-influence is severely underestimated, and when not utilised leads to the phenomenon known as the ‘the silent majority’. The people who do speak are the ones whose voices get heard, and they have the most potential to do damage or incredible good to the people who listen to them. It’s natural for there to be some form of inequity here , there will always be people who have an interest and ability to communicate, and will do so regardless of anyone else’s participation. But for those who disregard their own ability to be of influence, this is for you.

Most people think I’m obsessed with social media. In a lot of ways, its undeniable that I have a love for the ability to communicate with people through various mediums. There’s so much knowledge to be gained, and your world opens up when you’re able to exchange perspectives and experiences. But an aspect of that obsession also comes from my desire to form some sort of a mastery on this new normal. I want to understand content marketing, social media metrics and campaign pacing so that I can use it well for powerful ideas that I may be interested in spreading as I grow older.

Take your Facebook page as an example. It’s perhaps the most fundamental resource every person who’s acquainted with social media possesses. Facebook popularised the idea of a newsfeed ,something many other social media applications have in some form or another now. A newsfeed is a stream of information published and crowdsourced from your friends and communities, indicating things that may prove to be of interest to you. There’s a bunch of different aspects to the algorithm that decides what goes to the top of the newsfeed, but essentially if something is popular , that’s what you’ll see.  I’ve topped the newsfeed of my more than 3000 friends pretty regularly, and that’s because of a tried and tested method of understanding how people interact with content online. Yet, if anyone else was able to do that, they too can experience the power of their words and pictures in shaping how users consume.

If enough people was to share useful and interesting perspectives and thoughts, they could collectively keep setting new normals, normals that could be so much better than some of the dire states our online communities are in now. Spread good messages, those of hope or of caution, of filtered, measured and verified truths, and even of reflection and reminiscing.

If you’ve followed my blog, you would know my ultimate goal is to use my blog to testbed some of my philosophies and principles on life, and hopefully develop some mastery on them. Thought leadership is perhaps the ultimate form of influence, more powerful and more useful than the kind wielded by bloggers , YouTubers and even artistes. Thought leadership is when what you say makes sense because it has proven to be universally applicable, and more importantly, credible because of who you are as a person. There’s a lot that needs to be done in this world, and while core fields such as science, technology and policy are still crucial to addressing those needs, influence wielded by those who are of good mind and heart is equally important.

Look at Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Malala Yousafzi or even Emma Watson. All of them are thought of as celebrities, but their true titles match those of Thought Leaders a lot more. They use their influence to invite others to think about what they say , and to imagine a new normal with them. The power of inspiration and planting an idea supersedes anything else, because an inspired idea is a furious fire , desiring only more. If we could collectively move the people of the world to use whatever micro-influence they posses to advance a goal, then that would be the ultimate milestone, a crowdsourced new normal. One that isn’t merely motivated by the hopes of the few and powerful, but instead shared by the hearts of the many.

That’s the power of influence. The question is, would you use yours?

geronimo.

wanderlove

If you don’t know it by know, I’m a big traveler. My mother used to say I’d stare out the window when I was a little kid, point at the airplane and shout ‘Bootanna’ – the made-up word I had for the flying machine – repeatedly till it disappeared. The first time I got on my plane, I was so fascinated and excited, I couldn’t keep still. I felt comfortable.

Perhaps it was a premonition, or perhaps it’s just coincidence but till this day, I am hungry to see every inch of this world. The landscapes that tell stories of the earth, the buildings and food that tell stories of culture evolving and most importantly the people themselves that speak their own tales. It’s a romanticism, feeding off the idealistic tinge I possess, that wants to identify somehow with this place I call ‘home’.

I’ve never been romantically in love. I’m 22, and granted in this day and age that’s still considered young, but in a lot of ways I always wished I had taken more chances when I was younger with the infatuations I had. I had always suppressed my idealism in favor of studies (God, it’s such a typical Singaporean tale I’m sad I’m a part of it) but it was only towards my later youth that I allowed myself to chase what I truly wanted. By this point, I was already at a point where no lasting relationship made sense, not till now at least.

And yet, when I finally ‘should be ready’, I’m somewhat unwilling to be romantically involved anymore.I want to keep moving, to keep seeing this world. Yes, I’ve found people in countries I’ve visited that have captured pieces of my heart, but at the end of the day I must leave and move on. I could return; I could stay but my romantic side tells me I’ll play that card when the time is right, and the time hasn’t been right yet.

I shared a Facebook post on my wall recently where it told a story of a couple that met, fell in love and consummated all while on a six hour flight. To me that’s how I want my story to begin, sort of a ‘wanderlove’ experience. Someone who can embrace the spontaneity of life and in a lot of ways also search for lasting truths.

I’ve no longer accepted any one place as my domain. Singapore is my home, now and always, but I cannot exist in it alone. I must continue traveling, continue chasing the eternal unknown – what is it that makes us human?  I’ll document everything and I’ll share my journeys , and hopefully along the way I fall in love the same way the story on my wall goes. Or maybe not, it doesn’t matter , as long as it happens in true spirit of my ethos.

I am the nomad, and I will roam, because there’s something else behind this noise and I have to find it.

geronimo.

what i’ve done

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I had always suspected my blog had a readership that extended beyond my circle of friends. After all, every time I had posted something about Singapore or topics like youth and society, I would notice a sizable spike in my audience. I always took it for granted though, that these people were just interested in the dialogue I was trying to add to. Recently one of my blogposts received a comment from a reader, urging me to temper my idealism with evidence that I was actually acting on my thoughts. It was a fair comment , most of my new readers wouldn’t have context to the work I do. I’ve gone ahead and edited my About Me page for those who want to click into the links to see the work I’ve done with The Hidden Good.

Here’s my YouTube Channel —> Click

Here’s the Facebook Page —> Click

And if you want to read about what I’ve done, you can read some of these posts/articles:

  1. Vulcan Post’s Article
  2. We are Singapore’s Article 
  3. My Blogpost when I started The Hidden Good

If you have any inquiries or want to work together in some way (which always excites me) , send me an email at rovik@thehiddengood.com .

Hopefully this provides deeper context to the overall ecosystem I’m trying to facilitate – with both idealism in my blog and social media, and functional activism in the work I do offline.

Now that that’s done, let’s get back to real work.

geronimo.

i eat giants for breakfast

be absolutely ludicrous.

Somewhere in my life, a fire erupted …. no, an explosion occurred inside of me causing me to be always craving adventure. Nothing was ever going to be enough but I was not going to sit down and eat brunch every Sunday. I was not going to waste my breath on a life mediocre.

So I wrote, I built my adventures in my head. I explored made up worlds, with lives of characters that represented  ideals of mine. I was a mercenary, and then a old sage on the brink of death. I was death, and then I was life. I built the Last Saloon and recreated the Moment of Revelation.

And then I couldn’t just write. I had to see, I had to touch, I had to be. No one was going to tell me what I could or could  not do. I had enough of that in school, especially in an education system designed to “assign” people to the lives they are supposedly fulfilled to live. So I began eating giants for breakfast.

I began by saying yes to more things. I was kayaking on the Saturday, and training for a marathon on the Sunday. Is that for me? Yes? I’ll do it. No? Who says so? I’m still doing it.

And then I started dreaming. I started seeing friends explore lands I had only seen on the television. I saw friends championing causes; making the world better. I also saw people complaining about their lives, how they wonder how they got stuck where they were.

So I ate another giant and asked What If? I asked What If I made this a priority. What would I need to do? I put it on a piece of paper, stuck it behind my door and saw it every morning I woke up. I’d do push-ups while looking at it – I was getting mentally synced to achieve my goals. This was happening – this was not a wish, this was a desire and that’s something that’s derived deeper. A desire lives in the depths of your soul, it claws at you from the inside till it can be realised.

I broke away from the  people that said “Let’s stick to what we know” and started hanging out with the dreamers and believers. These were the people who said “We can build something”. I valued the people who kept me grounded, but I was not going to around the people who kept me floundered.

And one day, I started “winning” the game. Fruits of the seeds were starting to show. I was able to open doors to meetings with people of influence and convince them to support me. I was able to learn how to play the game of life; how to navigate some of the pitfalls that open themselves up to the wayfarers. I was able to build teams, share my vision and bring them on the journey with me. I was building on past successes to achieve more.

I failed many times too, but every fail was a fail forward. I stood up, dusted my knees and ran on (I imagine my marathon taught me a lot about that) .

My lifestyle changed. I was high-octane. Testosterone and adrenaline are concentrated in my blood stream. From the music I listen to, to the sports I participate in, I’m living a life of energy.

I stand here, a veteran of stories. I’m only 21. Let me say that again. I’m 21. In the past 3-4 years I’ve probably seen more than some people can afford.

I’m more privileged than most, and I recognise that privilege. But the money I spent was all money I earned. I used my stories to make money by adapting them. I made my life a story – a manuscript of a journey tirelessly threaded.

Having said that,  I have a lot of people to thank , my family especially, but I also want to recognise that a lot of this process was started from that explosion. That was something internal. One morning, I woke up and just decided to eat a giant.

Giants still roam this earth. Giants still intimidate people. But I want others to start waging battles against these giants. I want to ignite that explosion in others. I want people to travel, to start organisations and companies, to go on YouTube , to convince world leaders to take on a policy stance, to live extraordinarily.

Find your giant, look it straight in the eye and then begin to chew at it. It’ll wriggle, it’ll try to run away from you, but you know you’re stronger than it. Why?

Because now you’re larger than life.

geronimo.

#77breaths – the challenge to lose your breath

 

inspiration

 

i was talking to a friend recently about my current state of mind. i was sharing how I was incredibly happy – my social, physical, mental and academic life were going really well and I felt comfortable. and i also shared how i remembered when feelings like these didn’t come too often – when i actually struggled to find any meaning in life and when i was confronted with depressing moments. moments like these , where you cherish what’s going well with your life ; when you’re grateful for what you have – help keep you going in the tougher times.

this may sound too meta for some – but you have to be willing to enjoy life to actually enjoy it. even moments of sadness then become completely integrated into the human experience – you become okay with disappointment and loss; not to  the point where you don’t feel anything but where you can grieve successfully and move on.

i know there’s a hashtag that has made its rounds called #100happydays that teaches the people who subscribe to it’s plan to cherish small  happy moments for a span of a 100 days. i love that- i didn’t subscribe to it merely because i felt i was doing it already and didn’t need to add another hashtag onto it. but i also pondered on how this affected people.

and then i pondered some more (and that’s probably where you realise my ideas get crazy) and i decided that being happy with what you have is good for most people , but definitely not enough for me. you see one of my core competencies (and struggles) is the ability to never be completely satisfied. it seems to contradict what i’ve said so far , but listen – one can be happy with the way things are but always ask himself , is this it? maybe i’m weird like that- but that sense of discovery has brought me to adventures only imaginable by most people.

so i’ve decided to start a new adventure for myself. being in a college setting away from any sense of irregularity doesn’t mean you can’t add adventure back into your life. i’ll admit i’ve gotten slightly bored especially in the past few days , but this series should put things back in perspective.

i call this series #77breaths . they say that there are moments in life where your breath is taken away – where you’re absolutely astounded by magnificence, beauty or ability. our goal, is to get our breaths taken away 77 days in a row

___

a lot of those who follow me on instagram know my addiction to storytelling and adventuring. and i’ve been asked many times for advice on what to see, how to put yourself out there and how to chase dreams sustainably. i would provide the following three (cos three is always a good number) guidelines to #77breaths to give yourself the best possible experience.

1) Say YES

Yes Man has many lessons to teach , but the most evident is to say Yes more. Let me quickly qualify by saying don’t put yourself in evident danger (ie overdose on drugs, commit a blatant crime etc.) but yes, say YES to things more. If you’re faced between option A and B, choose the option that you’re less likely to be able to experience again. Say YES to things – put yourself out there. You’ll almost definitely get hurt, lose things, be disappointed – but you’ll also be greatly rewarded with the treasures of life : wisdom, friendships and love.

2) If you’re not learning, you’re not doing it right

We are a collection of our experiences. Who we are today is a sum of the selves we used to be – a magnitude only achieved by accumulation of stories and ideas. the more we learn, the more we apply ourselves to our surroundings, and more importantly, open ourselves to be applied on. differences in cultures, upbringings and backgrounds teach us about humanity – they build empathy and also stretch our mind to accept new possibilities. always seek to learn from your adventures – it is one thing to be a thrill-seeker , it is something else to be an adventurer.

3) Remember to always love

it is a ruthless world out there. and we are given the option to be one with the world, or to be true to ourselves. in a world that rarely begets love in its closest form, we then have to bring love into the picture. love others, love stories, love quiet moments over drinks, love celebrations throughout the day, love music, art, theatre, film; even love yourself more. the true adventurer learns to love the unloveable – to appreciate that everything has a place in this world. that loss and suffering are part of the equation, but that same equations includes uncomparable joy and success.

___

it’s day 0 so we’ll start #77breaths tomorrow. I’ll be using Snapchat (rovikthebear) for ultra-short snaps, Instagram (@rovikthedreamer) for short-form stories and my blog for long-form stories. i’m excited.

geronimo

of lessons learnt in difficult times

I believe in few things – God, free-will and of all things, love. In the past few days, I’ve learnt a lot more about myself, something bigger than me, and something larger than life. And I’ve come to augment my beliefs with some new insights.

Before that , let’s have some context.

My Trip to India

I’ve always been ashamed of going back to India. I feel like if I accepted India as my heritage, I accepted all the disgrace that came with it. About our unruliness, our inefficiency and most of all our corrupt and nepotistic behavior.

I know it’s pretentious and a very arrogant stance to hold. But it’s the truth and it was the starting point of a journey I had to take. I’ve been back twice since I held that stance – each time the rigidity of my position slowly eroded by experiences I had. I’m a very stubborn person when it comes to positions I take – because I take some time to adopt those positions.

It’s been 4 years since my last trip to India. Being 20 is a tough age – you’re jumping into adulthood and you need to start making big decisions. To me, the big thinker, I realized I had to confront certain fears I had – the biggest one being my mortality.

You see, in the past year , a sizable number of my friends started experiencing shocking moments when they found out their grandparents were slowly dying – and eventually passed on. I refuse to go to funerals because of two main reasons : I hate knowing I’m one person less off in this world (because I hate being alone) and I’m afraid of knowing that eventually I may lie in the place where they lie. Having to accept my fears has been a fierce decision I made myself take before I adopt adulthood.

I was afraid that I wouldn’t see my grandparents in a long time – especially with the army and me flying off for college next year. So I told my parents to book us a flight to India for our next overseas trip – I wanted to see my grandparents and relatives. In one of the most unprecedented decisions I made in my life – I volunteered to go back to the place I enjoyed very little.

Traveling with a a family of 5 is a dastardly bittersweet experience. While there’s so much to embrace about family – there’s also a lot to struggle with. It’s an infamous understanding that you struggle the most with the people you love. I’ve learnt three main lessons.

Something About Myself – Pick Your Battles

When we’re young, we fight back with our parents when they refuse us what we want. When we’re adolescents, we fight back because they refuse what we think we deserve .

When we’re at this age – it must be time to realize sometimes its best not to fight back at all. I gain my ferocity from my father , and my quick wit from my mother – they’re both argumentative and terribly opinionated. I have inherited these qualities.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is the need to be valued . We feel important when what we say is accepted and acted on. Our parents in this time look to find a place in our lives – they look to find some form of importance. My parents have blessed me with eternal beads of wisdom in times of need and they will be always be important to me even if they didn’t bless me. Yet, understanding the human condition means embracing truths beyond perception.

Sometimes when they say something that defies your understanding of what’s best and even when the person is proven wrong – the best option would be to keep mum. Dignity and self-pride are qualities not to be trifled with . There are exceptions – and that’s when you choose your battles. You choose when to fight back and choose when to live with the people you love in acceptance.

Because that’s when you understand how most adults behave, and that’s when you realize how different you have to become when you grow up.

Something Bigger than Myself – Aging with Pride

Visiting my grandparents and relatives was completely worth it. Four years does a lot to people – my grandparents are visibly older, less extroverted and a lot more precious. Both sides of grandparents live in retirement villages.

They’ve accepted that their children need to live their lives – fully and majestically. Is it unfilial ? I don’t think so – as long as they’re not forgotten. I simply enjoyed being in their presence – knowing these people used to be giants of their own lives and now watch their children and grandchildren follow after them. They involve themselves so much in our lives – praying vigorously and blessing our acts. Just holding their hands, embracing them , kissing them on the cheeks – it made me feel so much more loved.

I’ve always wanted to succeed to have a death with memories attached. I’ve wanted people to say ” Here lies someone who didn’t just live – he truly walked with God and did much.” Like I’ve said – I’m still breaking away from my proud self.

My grandfather on my mom’s side used to be a Captain of a ship. People go around calling him Captain and I’m willing to bet he’s damn proud of what he did on that ship. Yet in his old age , he doesn’t seem to care anything about what he used to do and neither does anyone else. What’s important is his walk with God and his relationship with his family.

My dad’s dad lives in a church retirement hostel – it’s not very fancy and very small. He looks forward to the moments he’s visited by his children and grandchildren – he focuses on his family. Maybe it’s something about their generation – but I think it’s something eternal. When we grow old, our family is what keeps us sane and loved. Not our achievements or our legacies.

My dad is the youngest son in his family – which also means he’s the last to become a grandparent (guess that burden comes to me) . I just imagine how it’s going to be like , moving forward with me, my parents and my grandparents. How would I want to remember these people in my lives, and how can I continue to show their importance in my lives. Can I make my parents retire with grace and pride – and beyond that will I smart enough to value the right things as I age?

Something Larger than Life – Nation-Building

Singapore’s a young country – we made the right decisions in the appropriate stages of our development. We prioritized things right. When I look at India, I cannot help but ask “What happened here?”

I’m not looking down at India – in so many ways can each country compete as heavyweights. Yet there’s an opportunity here to understand. In my Tamil lessons , I was taught stories of kings (Rajahs they were called) and vast lands, wise-men and mischievous acts, underdogs and victories. Traveling by car I would watch the terrain and imagine legends of past treading these lands. And then I’d be brought to confront the current scene and realize we’ve moved very far away.

Drivers are taught to honk from their first lessons- their teachers get annoyed if they move slowly but safely in traffic. Retired actors get easy access in politics making things tricky. Structural planning is evidently not present – yet this is still a great country. I don’t see myself ever living in India – but I’ve begun to accept that my heritage lies there. And therefore I must share its pains.

If it could completely overhaul it’s methodologies that runs on money passed between handshakes, poor networks and road systems, and celebrity status dominating decision making – India stands a chance. Courageous politics is required here.

I drove on the roads in India – it was wild and exciting. My mum always teases me – “What kind of person would I be if I had grown up in India?” I think I know. I would be a lot more fierce – it’s survival of the fittest here. This part of me that is dormant in Singapore and has come out only in occasional situations would dominate in India – and that’s a reality that probably best describes my travel between two worlds.

goodnight, geronimo.