Early thoughts after a long migration

When I was a child, they called it ‘energy’. 

When I grew a little older, I channeled it into sports and other things that I felt strongly about. They called it ‘enthusiasm’, then. 

When I based my choice of career off it, it was branded as my ‘passion’. 

But one thing remained consistent - I tend to hang out on the extreme ends of the spectrum. It was always all-in, or nothing at all. I’ve always been told it was a good thing - that it was what made me interesting. But the more I see, the more I doubt the validity of that claim. To feel so intensely about things is to make things personal - and maybe that’s why everything feels twice as exhausting as they really need to be. 

How My Father Taught Me That Less is More

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The first letter I’d ever received was a postcard from my father. Between creased edges and licked postage stamps were illegible squiggly type, written in haste but never absent of affection. He traveled often, and I left home early; short prose dominated most of our exchanges growing up.

As far as conversations go, ours were always brief and decisive - sometimes to a fault. Emails and texts abbreviated communications to being merely transactional at times, leaving any sentimental expression an unrehearsed affair.

Growing up, my father’s character was almost as indecipherable as his handwriting. The wall of mystery built by pithy replies, delivered in hushed undertones, created a sense of unquestionable authority that demanded respect. The fourteen year-old girl who left home for boarding school threaded lightly around those walls, only peeking through the cracks when opportunity arose to see him expressed in prose. 

However, to say that my father is a man of a few words would be inaccurate. On the receiving end, praise was rare and never at all in person, but they were always sincere. I’ve progressed from looking forward to his international postcards, to fearing to answer his phone calls, to finally embracing his brevity in speech as an expression of his parenting beliefs - that his biggest gift to us, is the ability to make our own choices and interpretation in life. The written word lives on in the people who read it, and the expression is only as limited as your interpretation and imagination. If the spoken word is ephemeral, ink is eternal. 

So on your 54th birthday, I’ve chosen to write back. For all that you’ve said and done for us, my only regret is not being able to write a shorter letter in return.

I love you, dad. Happy 54th birthday, and here’s to the many more to come. 

The Great Gatsby

There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

It changed the way he trained. He stopped working from the outside in - building physical strength in order to become more confident. He started working from the inside out: building courage, forbearance, serenity to boost his physical performance.

- Learning to Breathe Fire, J.C. Herz 

If I were to be completely honest, I don’t read much. I honestly go through more GIF sets than I do articles and books, combined. I’d like to blame this on having a day job that requires sprints of concentration, instead of mental stamina to last long and dreary meetings - alas, that would be a defeatist position to take, and I can’t allow myself that.

The truth is this: I don’t read anymore because lack of practice has made it taxing to stay focused (and away from my phone, gasp). 

So imagine my surprise when the narrative on Learning to Breathe Fire gripped me like a nervous driver meeting the steering wheel for the first time. It wasn’t until 50-odd pages in, however, that I felt compelled to put it down to write my thoughts on it. 

Just a few days ago, I had a conversation with my coach that went this way -

'But you don't understand. I need to be able to do this. I have to snatch 115 lb. off the ground - today, and right now.’

Why now, and why was it so important that I made that lift? I couldn’t articulate it. As much as a told him that he didn’t understand, I was equally clueless.

Two years, a back injury, and a wrist hairline fracture later, I found myself walking into the box looking to switch off my brain. I knew what I was physically and realistically capable of, and where the safe-zones were. When the clock beeped to its final countdown, I told myself - embrace the suck; it’s Go time. I switched off. There was no time or energy left to think about how much I dreaded work, no fear of not completing the workout, no anxiety before approaching the bar - I was in a high intensity workout, with zero intensity. I switched off. 

When the workout ended, I was on the floor and gasping for air, but there was no post-workout euphoria. Nothing about my life changed from that 15 minute trip to-and-fro hell. I dusted myself off the ground, walked over to my bag and mentally willed myself to work after a quick shower.

For weeks now, I couldn’t understand why I’ve defended CrossFit as an ‘necessity’ on more than one occasion, or why it mattered so much to be able to execute lifts that I’ve previously done. While reading Herz’s account on Amundson’s experience with the muscle ups, I finally understood. I was drawing willpower and courage from being physically capable to do all these things - telling myself that if I can snatch the weight equivalent of a teenage girl, I can mentally survive another day of work. I took my physical strengths as benchmarks and reasons-to-believe that I can stick it out in a job that I had very little faith in. 

Every failure in these physical efforts drained me mentally.

I’ve always thought that ‘The greatest adaptation to CrossFit happens between the ears’ meant that with enough repetition, and enough toughing-it-out, you’ll be mentally strong enough to do what you think is impossible. 

I just found out: I’ve been wrong all these while.

Reporting for 11 Time Zones: CrossFit Games Asia Regional 2014

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Photo from the CrossFit Games

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"What do you have for me, Mel?" 

The 90-minute deadline was well beyond over, and heat 2 of the Men’s event was already underway. Typing away furiously on my laptop and avoiding eye-contact with our Regional Media Director (RMD), Jen, I only managed a meek response.

"10 more minutes…?" 

"You have five," Jen laid down the final ruling, as she wrestled for time with HQ to pay for my indecisive writing. 

In the musky Media room, there was an unusual silence accompanied with occasional slurps by Agust and his motherfuckin’ strawberry juice. Lines upon lines of cliched narratives were chopped as I read through the report one last time, before sending it off to Jen.

Only eight paragraphs survived. 

Attach document. Send. 

Several revisions and 30 minutes later, the article was off to HQ. We were done with the first Asia Regional report of the year. I heaved a sigh of relief and returned to the stadium to let out my inner fan-girl, while watching some women throw up impressive weights.

The rest of the weekend would follow in similar fashion; between Dex, Akshay and I, we tag-teamed all six Regional reports and were running to sweaty competitors, grabbing quick quotes - all in a bid to string together coherent sentences that were both informative and narrative. We didn’t need many reminders that fans and friends of these athletes only have what we give them- an indirect consequence of being the first region to miss out on a live stream this season. We knew we had to deliver - in full-color, no less. 

Perhaps that was why it was so nerve-wrecking to write that first report. Apart from the fact that it was nearly impossible to figure out who won the event (teams can skip movements now?!), we felt the need to include the entire experience within one mobile-responsive, infinite-scroll article, without using cliched expressions like ‘battle’ or ‘neck in neck’. The enormity of the responsibility gnawed at me for a solid 10 minutes before I could get any virtual ink on the document.

The challenge of writing at the Asia Regional lied within both the obscurity and the richness of the experience.

Being the little-known region that gets crap every single year for putting non-Asians on the podium, we’re also one of the most fluid regions. Newcomers are abundant every year, and they arrive with noteworthy pasts without much warning. For example, Zohar Lipkin, a newbie with an engine solid enough to land him in third by the end of day one, turned out to have only started his CrossFit journey three months prior. Or Phil Hesketh, an athlete from InnerFight in Dubai, who completely slipped our radar almost ended up placing first in the region.

And those that we do get to learn about beforehand often have stories so close to heart, it’s difficult not to root for them. 

Getting that first sentence in was frankly paralyzing. 

We don’t serve up mind-blowing statistics, but the richness in inspiration and humanity within the region is incomparable. Everyone was from somewhere else, or has dreams of making it elsewhere - and this was a pattern consistent regardless of whether you were competing, volunteering or spectating.

Unlike volunteers in different regions, the crew that turned up in Seoul was highly international - from the Media team alone, we comprised of up to seven different nationalities. Most of us paid our own way to lend a hand at making the weekend an experience worth remembering. The same could be said about the judges, the athletes’ control crew and the staff members.

Why pay for flights and accommodation, to spend 12-hour days at an event you’re not participating in? The limelight was on the athletes, and the tasks were hardly glorious - but everyone who turned up cared personally either for the sport, or for someone giving their all on the competition floor. By the time athletes took the floor, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric. There was no talk of glory or credit; just pure slivers of finesse through grit as a celebration of the sport that we love. 

Personally, I turned up because I was curious. I didn’t expect to be immersed in the company of people who cared as deeply as I did, and to find such diversity in the same people.  

It’s been a week since the Regional; the crowd has moved on to the next biggest attraction - unfortunately for us, it’s yet another CrossFit-bashing article, but regardless, I’m still reeling from the good vibes that happened last week in Seoul. 

There is a strange yet wonderful high that follows the Asia Regional stress. Starting from the break of dawn where we huddled in the musky Media room, all the way to lights-off at the stadium, there was no room for boredom. The Media team began as separate individuals, all lending voices to regale stories on behalf of athletes that would eventually take center stage at KBS 88 Sports World. But under great leadership, we became a team - picking up slack for one another and unquestioningly filling in gaps wherever it was needed. 

Looking back at our chat logs and multiple email conversations, I catch myself smiling at the inside jokes we share and missing the team sorely, only to realise that we’re really never that far apart - so until next year, Media Team. What an incredible treat it has been. 

*All the above represent my views and opinions, and is in no way a representation of CrossFit HQ’s. 

The Four-wheel Therapy

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Lost and almost out of gas, I was scrambling for a way out; signalling to reverse out earned me a cacophony of blaring horns and their accompanying Fuck Yous, sung in colloquial tunes. The anxiety within me was mounting, and in a moment of fear, I found myself accelerating towards a side barrier. 

The casualties? One front bumper, parents’ faith, and any remaining desire to ever operate four wheel drives again. 

Two years ago was the last time I drove. Since moving back to KL, the lack of a reliable public transportation system necessitated that I conquer some old demons. I was equal parts scared and excited, because I drive like I live - it’s always all out or nothing. Getting behind the wheel again found me at the point of nothing. No confidence, no speed, no balls. Navigating roads in KL demanded a combination of skill and quick decision-making, topped with silent prayers to get out alive - all of which I was void of. I was doomed from the start.

Parking lessons from the dad, multiple hours of practice with mom screaming from the passenger seat, driving friends from out of town, and shuffling to work and the box on the daily - all of that added up quickly. Fast forward to today - it’s been seven weeks of chasing sunrises, and trying not to get blinded by high-beams on the way home. Dare I say, driving is the closest thing I’ve ever felt to the joy I get with an olympic bar in my palms.

Perhaps its the numerous parallels Coach Wu has drawn between lifting and driving; both are demonstrations of power. Flooring the gas pedal and hoping for the best, is the driving equivalent of pulling 200lbs from the ground through blunt force, and hoping it’ll land where you want it to go. You could still get there, but there might not be a lot of art to it. And one thing is for sure in both instances - you have absolutely zero control of the result. Praying is not a skill. 

Open roads and clear traffic make for a simple drive, but it’s the ambiguously sparse traffic that’s exciting. It’s the lifts that you bail out of that will keep you thinking for the rest of the day. The ghost of my driving pasts still haunts me from time to time, keeping me on good behaviour, but I’m glad the fear of driving didn’t keep me away from the roads. I’m learning with every lane change, that life is not always about charging full-throttle ahead. A little finesse goes a long way, and the view is sometimes worth slowing down for anyway. 

A little honesty for the road

Most of the time, if you’re willing to be honest enough with yourself about what’s really not working out - and the hardest of faults to admit is often one of your own - clarity isn’t all that far away at all.

Why my first job was in a Startup

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Sin City Invitational 2013: Youngest competitor, Sarah Widjaja and her mum in tight embrace after the athlete completed a gruelling event. Photo credit: Norman Jaillet 

"Congratulations on the new job! Where will you be at?" 

I’ve gone through my fair share of confused looks and half-hearted clarifications when I told people I worked for CrossFit Fire City. Fire City is a small startup affiliate in Singapore that features the strength and conditioning program developed by Greg Glassman. The obscurity of the fitness program itself was easy to explain; the decision to turn down job offers from reputable marketing agencies was not. Not initially, anyway. 

I outgrew the illusion of a sheltered college life sooner than most. By the end of year 1, I was spending most semesters juggling internships and homework, eagerly awaiting for class to wrap up for the real work to begin. While helping campaigns come to life, I quickly learned the irony in going to Business school at all. When I finally graduated and transitioned fully into a full-time gig, it felt like I was in my favourite class every hour of the day. And with the enthusiasm equivalent of a small child, I soaked in all of it.

I was my company’s first and only hire, and with that came endless possibilities. I never switched off because I cared about the brand on a deeply personal level; but more importantly, I never had to switch off because work truly felt gratifying - I wasn’t a nameless, faceless employee, and I had an employer that made damn sure that recognition was given where it was due. The more I gave to the community, the more I got back. Within six short months, we successfully moved to a new location of operation, ran two charity drives and collected over S$10,000 in support of rebuilding homes destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, and saw our community double in size. The best part was the fact that these events served as building blocks to our inaugural Sin City Invitationals - a weekend competition that drew in hundreds of participants and spectators from 8 different countries. 

As unforgettable as the highlights were, the memories that will always stay with me include: 

  • Teaching myself HTML and Wordpress because we needed to fix our website. 
  • Being the Creative, the Suit and the Tech, all rolled into one.
  • Feeling frustrations dissipate with every heavy squat rep, and the ensuing clarity that comes after a steamy workout - during traditional work hours. 
  • "It’s not good enough!!!" Struggling with my needs for perfection, and my inability to delegate responsibilities/empower other people with exclusive experiences
  • Having 15 things happening consecutively that require my immediate attention. 

Working in a startup will always entail wearing multiple hats, regardless of whether you own the business. If you embrace that, the skills and languages you’re forced to pick up will add arsenal to your tool belt. Startup environments are hectic, fast-paced, erratic and immensely rewarding. The exposure you get is second to none, and you will only be limited by two things - your management/boss, and your imagination. Screw ups will be aplenty, but the important thing is to move fast. 

It isn’t lost on me that I was incredibly lucky; not many can claim to have found something they’d be willing to do purely out of passion, and even fewer have the opportunity to turn that into a source of living. But consider this my personal plea to you: start by caring. Care enough about your happiness to search for what truly excites you. Give a damn about where you spend 8 - 10 hours of your day, and not just how much it compensates  you monetarily. And eventually, do one thing everyday that will get you closer to living the life you’re excited about living. Make every moment like being in your favourite class in school again. 

And if your enthusiasm gets infectious enough to attract questions about being off the beaten path, you have my congratulations. 

Things no one tells you about moving home

With luggage in hand, you bumble across the living room, careful not to break furniture that seemed to have aged faster than you did. You move like the space is not your own, like a new tenant in yet another rental.

But with every sunrise, you’re reminded that home is home again. And just like that, the pink floral wallpaper that used to signal blissful weekend retreats seems claustrophobic. 

You throw on old pyjamas that surprisingly still fit like a glove. Cradled in the comfort of aged cotton, you crack open the fridge for breakfast. The silence in the house echoes with muffled contempt; the milk carton with its clearly marked price tag mocks at your inability to make it in the ‘real world’ on your own, relegating the responsibility to care for yourself to your aging parents. You grab it by the throat, with the same forceful conviction you tell your friends that this was a move you made by choice, not circumstance. 

No milk carton was going to tell you what you were worth. 

The pan sizzles with urgency as two sunny side ups demand to be taken off the heat. You look into the fridge again, surprised to find the steak you left on the top shelf missing. Your mind races quickly to scan for possible culprits, until suddenly - you realise that nothing is truly yours.

No more passive aggressive roommates leaving angry notes about the stolen chocolate bar from the fridge. No more long nights wondering who ate your last piece of cake. Nothing is yours, but everything is yours. 

After lunch, it’s back to the dashboard of job hunting. Navigating through a bedroom that resembled closer to a memorial ground for years spent away from home, you find a spot to plug in and tune out. You lose sight of your peripherals. The voice of insecurity that pounded so loudly in the backdrop starts to fade along with the slap mark embarrassment left on your cheeks for moving back to your parents’. Sarah Bareilles’ reassuring lyrics tells you to be brave, and to say what you want to say - you feel like the independent woman your passport stamps validate you to be.

Finding familiar ground again, you begin to spread your possessions like claiming territories - until the careful takeover becomes a massacre of organisation, and a resounding

"I TOLD YOU TO CLEAN UP THAT MESS!" comes screaming across the corridors.

Jolted out of your makeshift paradise, you retaliate with the maturity of a ten year old.

"I SAID I’LL DO IT LATER!" 

Just like that, you dance with your past and your present, oscillating between old habits and the new familiar. But for all the pain and aches, you remember with every sunrise, that home will always be home. 

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