TLDR: Why quit your job during a pandemic? How do we help our friends who are thinking about quitting?
When the pandemic plunged the world into recession, university graduates felt nervous. The fear of not finding a job or having your job offer rescinded was real.
Hence, to land a job and then quit your stable, full-time job during a pandemic makes you pause and say “Huh, why?”. Yanda has a different take. He asks ‘Why not?’.
The Job Hunt Hype
Yanda, a final year student in 2020, took his time to enjoy university while it lasted. He mentioned that “everyone was rushing to secure a job. There was great hype for job hunting.”
It was definitely not an easy climate to be in. Rather than worrying about uncertainty, Yanda volunteered for Buddhist Organisations such as NTU Buddhist Society/ BYN (Buddhist Youth Network). He then took on the job search in his own time.
(No. Yanda doesn’t come from an uber-rich family where a job falls on his lap. He didn’t see the need for an all-or-nothing chase.)
Eventually, Yanda obtained a few offers in the engineering space and took on a role he thought he might enjoy. That is where things changed.
Is This It?
Work soon became monotonous and a routine for him. He noticed a routine of “working, going out for lunch, sitting back down and going home.”
This made him wonder, “Is this it? Is this how I am going to spend my life? What do I want? If I lived to 60 years, will I be content with doing 40 years of the same thing?”
In response to his musing, I mumbled: “Definitely not me.”
His attempt at sharing work struggles with some friends did not yield something he could relate to. They alluded to “finding meaning in your job rather than have the meaning come to you.” It was cold comfort.
I could see his thought process unfold and why that advice didn’t sit well. Yes, there was this sense of job security during a pandemic but it brought little meaning to him. That meaning was nearly impossible to find.
The turning point came when this question popped to mind, “If tomorrow, I am going to die, I would only remember that I did paperwork here and there. That’s it”. That spurred him into action. He tendered his resignation and left the company to the shock of his peers. New hires are usually expected to stay in that job for at least 2 years, but he stayed in that role for less than 6 months.
The Pains Of Change
“I had fear and felt scared”, he gulped when recalling the moment he quit and had no job offer on the horizon.
“So what helped you through the uncertainty?” I quizzed.
The fellowship of his Buddhist circle who listened patiently was what brought him to a brighter state of mind. Friends that were slow to advise but quick to listen to his pain helped him greatly. “That is what matters…being there for me,” he concluded.
“Confidence in the Buddha’s teaching, knowing that all these negative emotions would fade,” he added, gave him strength when he was alone. He viewed the transition as “uncertainty at its very core.”
Over the years, having done mindfulness practice enabled him to watch his emotions and to make necessary changes without attachment. That gave him the conviction that it was not an impulsive move but an informed one.
Smiling as he recalled his Buddhist work, “I have done a lot of Buddhist work that brought joy to me. If this (engineering) job doesn’t fit me, what can I do?”
As causes and conditions came together, Yanda didn’t need to wait long for an answer.
“A friend told me that she had an opening at a preschool where they wanted a Dhamma friend to help build the school’s curriculum.” He recalled. He mulled on the idea of facing kids all day and decided to take the plunge.
Yanda is now studying for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education while working to help build the preschool’s curriculum.
“Uncertainty,” he answers immediately when asked what he loves about his job. “What the children can bring to you every day with every interaction presents uncertainty,” he added.
When he dived deeper, he felt lifted about being able to help kids appreciate this ‘thing’ called the mind. Letting them know that there are ways to develop their minds. Equipping them with Buddhist concepts, techniques and emotional awareness to thrive in a stressful world really motivated him.
“Kids are easy to teach, as they are free of concepts,” he quipped. At that moment, I recalled being an inquisitive child, something I felt I have lost along the way. It was interesting to see how uncertainty could bring us pain (job transition) and joy (teaching kids).
Helping Others Start Again
I was curious to hear Yanda’s take on how we can help our friends’ transition from one job to another.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but what I can say is that this is something cliché,” Yanda shared.
“Listen to them and be genuinely happy for them. Recognise that they took a courageous decision to step out of something that did not fit them,” he added.
On a practical side, Yanda shared that we should remind our friends to also financially plan ahead if they choose to resign without a job offer. As a rule of thumb, one should have at least 3-6 months of expenses saved in cash to weather them through their job search.
His advice was grounded heavily on the Buddhist idea of appreciative joy which is a joy in the achievements/victories of others.
“How can I support you? Do you need resources/contacts?” has been one of the most helpful questions friends asked. I instantly agreed by nodding furiously as I felt that we often are quick to develop solutions without considering our friends’ needs.
Turning Back Time
“Your first job is super important” is one piece of advice that Yanda recommends ignoring for graduating students. It adds unnecessary stress to the individual. That person may then seek out the perfect job which may not exist.
Having wisdom is crucial in helping us see the world properly. If he could turn back time to advise his graduating self, he would say this: “Have an attitude in life that let the results take care of themselves once I try my best. If it doesn’t go my way, what can I do next?” and “We are our own boss, only we can understand our emotions and the true nature of our mind.”
Asking that question gives us the courage to be open to what life can bring. What we can do is to create conditions for success while developing a sense of non-attachment to the outcome.
“Understand we have a mind, and emotions are never truly ours. Just like a cup. The reason why we wash it is that we are confident that the dirt can be washed off. The dirt was never the cup.” he summarised.
It was a mind-blowing summary of expectations and emotions. Recognising emotions as transitory and being at ease with the unpleasant is a skill set we all need as we go through the different changing phases of life.
Yanda showed that Singapore youths are hungry for life and meaning. We need not stay in the same job just to clock a magical number of years before leaving. Asking ourselves “Is this it?” can spark conversations and paths we never dreamt of.
TLDR: When we are at the height of our career success and plummet into failure overnight, what do we do? Gather our courage to see things from a different perspective.
The Highs Could Only Go Higher Right?
2019 was an amazing year for my career. I achieved the coveted promotion by securing large revenues for my company, the bosses had only praise for my hard work, and I earned nearly 1-year worth of bonus.
Times were good, and when January of 2020 approached, I had only big plans for the year. This was going to be the zenith, I knew that I would achieve my second promotion, earn even more money and shine ever bigger.
In a natural turn of events, I knew nothing.
The moment COVID began impacting Malaysia, my career nosedived in a single day. All the deals I had lined up were halted, and the tumultuous journey began.
Long were the days of tough talk with the bosses; it felt almost like a consistent interrogation revolving around my presence in the company despite my lack of revenue. It was apparent how the company now saw me as a burden.
The Crash Of Change
I was entangled in a mass and mess of emotions; my mind alike to the sea that I so love, unpredictable. Fury, jealousy, melancholy, had a wonderful time consuming my waking thoughts.
Thoughts of “Why can’t they understand my difficult situation?” and “Why are they making things difficult for me?” only oiled further anger within.
To soothe this heat, I began plotting to create reputation damage to the company. Sharing this with a good friend, he merely asked “What is the point of harming others and oneself?”
Building Courage Again
That phrase gave my mind a sudden epiphany. For years I have heard the phrase ‘embrace change’, but now I am behaving like a temperamental child robbed of desires.
It is odd how I welcome change with a big hug only if it is in my favour yet loathe the tide’s natural turn when my desires are unmet. What I needed, was quite simply courage.
Courage to admit that success and failure are betrothed, there is nothing shameful about failing. Courage to refrain from blaming an external party for the source of my negative emotions, and instead to realise that I am still a lot of work in progress. Courage to embrace change, both positive and negative with grace.
I found the Dhamma quote on being unshakeable when the winds of life blow inspiring:
TLDR: When faced with unexpected financial hardship… see things as they truly are, ask yourself ‘so what’, and live within your means.
‘At least you still have a job okay.’
The usual reply I received when speaking of pay cuts. Though the replies have compassionate intentions, it often falls short of comfort. In the loud narrative of ‘up skill, up skill, up skill’, these are 3 ways of how I stayed Zen in the face of pay cuts.
See things as they truly are
When I first received news of the pay cut, it caught me off guard. I thought that business was going well. I felt that it was ‘unnecessary’ to do so and that I and my peers were ‘victims’. To us, our pay was already low, hence getting pay cuts was a crazy possibility. The gap between perception and reality is where suffering arose.
Seeing these thoughts in my head, I recalled the term ‘Seeing things as they truly are’. This meant reframing the way we look at reality. This shifts our perspective away from ourselves and to the bigger picture.
We distance ourselves from the negativity by removing the ‘I’ & ‘my’ & ‘me’. This prevents us from cycling around the stories born of our perception. Through this thought exercise, we find our calm and have a clearer view of reality.
Asking ‘so what’ rather than ‘why me’?
It takes great effort to remove the ‘I’ & ‘my’ & ‘me’ from your thoughts. Hence, this step is another useful tool for staying Zen. As my mind played out many crazy scenarios of the pay cut, a thought bubbled up…’so what?’.
That cut through all the self-victimization. It made me pause to count my blessings. Asking ‘so what’ places you mind to see the possibilities that one can undertake, it widens your mind. Counting blessings and seeing possibilities is one crucial way to uplift your spirits. This redirects your emotions into creating something new.
My inspiring friends who had a job and pay cuts took the path of ‘so what’. They started selling masks and even durian to generate a new income source. By directing energy away from ‘why me’, they found possibilities to not only remain Zen but also thrive.
Finding the essential
“But I am super not creative or enterprising” could be a reply to talk of entrepreneurship. If you feel now is not the right time to increase income, that’s fine. This last tip helps you remain calm by finding the essential in your sea of expenses.
Having pay cuts challenges you to live and be content with less. Being a finance nerd, I started to look at all my expenses after my pay cut. Asking myself, what is essential to my welfare and happiness?
Asking these questions in front of your spreadsheet may seem mad, but this is crucial to reaching essentialism. Through this expense cutting, I realised I could do away with certain expenses I used to deem as essential. Essentialism by Greg Mckeown talks about changing the mental statements you make to arrive at what is essential.
By directing your energy towards finding the essential, you avoid spiraling into monetary stress. You also find that you can live on less. This slowly builds you up to pursue a life of essentialism and keeps your precious Zen-ness (calm).
These are little tools I found useful in my journey, I hope you find them useful in these difficult times.
A key takeaway is that when negative thoughts do arise, don’t just indulge them or push them away. Rather than blindly being led by them, question them. Ask yourself why you feel shame or self-doubt. Learn from it. Use your emotions to your benefit.
Stay calm. Stay zen!
When faced with unexpected financial difficulties, ask yourself “So What?”, this brings about new perspectives
Find an open window of time to cut down on spending that no longer serves you beneficially. Reset & Rethink!
We’ve all been there. Being unproductive and feeling guilty about it.
Why feel guilty? The common top 3 reasons:
We know that we’re supposed to be doing something else but we’re not. A few examples would be sleep, exercising, meditating, studying.
Our rational mind has taken a backseat and we’re out of control. We fall into the rabbit hole and spend hours binge watching videos, playing games, scrolling on social feed, or too much time rolling around.
We constantly compare ourselves with others who seemed to have achieved more , who get more stuff done in their lives. This makes us feel less of ourselves.
There’s a bad reputation around being unproductive because of its false association with laziness.
But being unproductive can mean that we:
are not actively trying to achieve something.
Can let loose and relax when we need to.
Procrastinate on the right things in life.
The wise one who hurries when hurrying is needed, and who slows down when slowness is needed, is happy because his priorities are right.
So, how can we stop feeling guilty about being unproductive?
1. Be unproductive on purpose
This sounds counter intuitive. Let me explain. Recall the time when your schedule is empty and you hit your friends up and spend the day watching movies, chatting, and playing games? Well, we weren’t productive per se. And we surely don’t feel guilty for having a good relaxing time together. Why? That’s because we set the intention and purpose of the gathering to chill.
But when we are doing these recreational activities when we didn’t ‘plan’ for it, the feeling of guilt can spring up easily. I’ve personally overcome this by blocking a time on my calendar to do absolutely nothing or anything. This has been tremendously helpful in helping me to be at ease with myself, to go with the flow, to be less uptight about life. As the famous saying goes “We’re human-being, not human-doing”!
2. Manage the expectations you set for yourself.
Humans aren’t robots. If even robots need rest, so do we. The constant need to pack our schedules with tasks after tasks in the name of productivity can lead to burn out. It’s ok to give ourselves space to let loose.
I have a friend whom I considered to be highly successful and productive. I’m always impressed by how he could be a best-selling author, speaker, philanthropist, doing so many things and yet find the time to meditate for 2 hours a day! I asked him what he does before his evening meditation. And his reply took me by surprise:
“Usually, wasting my time consuming entertainment in 1 of 3 ways:
vegetating in front of social media
playing video games”
Even the most productive person has their ‘unproductive’ moments! And that’s okay.
We can learn to set realistic expectations for ourselves so that we don’t get disappointed when we fall short.
3. Forgive and try again
The journey to make valuable use of our time can be a bumpy one. Many failed attempts to be productive can demoralise us or drag us deeper into guilt.
As Sharon Selzberg often says “The moment you realise you’ve been distracted is the magic moment. It’s a chance to be really different, to try a new response.” This is such an empowering statement that shifted my perspective of how I treat my failed attempts. Rather than see them as reasons to justify how I’ll never be able to make it, I can take them as learning moments. I now look at the bumps with curiosity, have fun experimenting new ways to build good habits, and enjoy the process of rediscovering myself.
When we look back, we would also notice how far we have come. So, remind yourself of what you have tried your best to do. Go at your own pace, celebrate your own successes, and keep moving forward. Slowly but surely.
Lastly, feeling guilty might be a good thing!
The piece of good news is, feeling guilty is a sign that we know there’s room for improvement.
We just have to turn that guilt into a positive and constructive energy – rather than wallowing in self-pity, we can learn about the reasons why we are unproductive in order to resolve them. Keep trying!
I transform into the worst liar whenever I fall into the rabbit hole of YouTube.
If you are like me, a 30-minute video break at night usually stretches to 3-4 hours. That’s enough time to make a round trip between Singapore to Bangkok! Despite your logical mind telling you to stop, the last video usually ends when you fell asleep or when you realised it’s 3 hours before sunrise. You wake up looking like Jia Jia or Kai Kai, and feeling like one too. You notice the quality of your work is compromised cause of the late night sleep. Regretting, you promise yourself to not do it again.
A brand-new day! You are determined to change your life for good, start watching videos on how to be productive… and you see the recommended videos on the sidebar… well, we know how this story ends. “Just one last one” turn into a pack of lies we tell ourselves.
The binge-watching cycle repeats itself, and we wake up feeling guilty and hating ourselves even more.
Like our smartphone, our smart brain runs low on ‘battery’ after a long day of usage. After a long and exhausting day, the control centre of our brain (a.k.a. the prefrontal cortex) is worn out by decision fatigue. This is the part that makes wise executive decisions for us and keeps impulses that don’t serve us at bay. But because this poor CEO (of our brain) is burnt out, the monkey mind takes over and all hell breaks loose.
Just one video to wrap the day? Good Luck! If you have ever carried a plastic bag during your hike up the Bukit Timah hill, you would know what I mean. “Oh look another goodie!” This is how the monkey mind swings from video to video, grabbing onto anything that gratifies it instantly. It tricks us to think that the next shiny object is going to make us feel good. After countless times chasing after monkeys (yes, I think there is more than one residing in my brain), I have learnt that I cannot leave my sluggish evening-brain to its own devices.
The following help me to outsmart the mischievous mind, which you can try too:
(a) Stay clear of monkey food during monkey hours.
If I can’t trust my tired brain to stop, let me not begin. Planning ahead, creating signposts and boundaries are helpful. I know my willpower is usually depleted by 9pm. So that is the time to avoid the social media mouse trap. To do so, I put my phone and computer away. If this is not possible, consider purchasing rescue time to lock specific apps after a certain timing and track your time. Beyond that, hitting the unsubscribe and delete button for Netflix is the best decision I’ve made in 2019.
(b) Meditate to gain back executive control.
If I do have to get work done by surfing the net during monkey hours, meditation helps to refill the energy (a.k.a. blood flow) to the prefrontal cortex. This helps to tame the monkey mind so I can get work done. I recommend this 30-day course available Insight Timer: Unlock your wise and mindful brain.
2. You wait to be motivated rather than create it
On good days, we can feel the fire in our bellies, ready to conquer the day and get things done. On bad days, especially rainy ones, we just want to laze around. We may wait to feel motivated to be productive. But how often do we wake up feeling great and not feel tempted to hit the snooze button? In the book, the motivation myth, Jeff Haden highlighted that motivation is not the spark behind our actions. Rather, motivation is the result of our actions. This wasn’t a new concept to the Buddha. He even gave a full discourse about the grounds of laziness and the arousal of energy. It seems that a lazy person would always be finding excuses to avoid doing what is beneficial to himself. The other person with the same circumstances would carry a different mindset. He makes effort to attain what is yet attained to arouse energy.
(a) Just do it.
Nike is right. Regardless of our moods and the weather, if we have set a task for ourselves to complete, just do it. I find that the very act of starting something creates the momentum for me to continue — a beneficial momentum that is the opposite of the monkey business mentioned above.
(b) Create conditions to feel good.
When we feel good, we feel much ready to meet a goal. And when we meet our goals, we feel good. And boom! An infinity loop. The opposite is true. So, create an entertainment-free routine that makes you feel good. This can include meditation, exercise, reflecting on what to be grateful for, having a nice meal, listening to joyful music; activities that naturally boost the dopamine levels of our brain.
3. You set goals instead of systems
Goals are something that motivate us to get our butts moving aren’t they? Not entirely. The problem with goals is that they are temporary. If we don’t change our faulty habits, once goals are achieved, with the lack of new ones, our life will revert back to a sluggish one. For example, once I finish writing this article, what do I do? Without a ’system’ in place to build my habits, I might fall into the late-night-video-binging predicament again.
Also, if setting goals is all it takes for us to achieve it, we would have been productive isn’t it? In the book, Atomic habits, James Clear put forth a contrarian approach— “We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results.” Both winners and losers have the same goal. What leads them to different outcomes is the system they implement and the actions they take.
Here’s what I do:
(a) Change tactic and have fun
Einstein is commonly attributed for the wise quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Experiment with a different input, monitor the results, refine, and optimise. Failing over and over can be frustrating. Adopting the sense of curiosity in the process has made this self-improvement journey very enjoyable.
(b) Analyse every habit
A single habit such as sitting on the sofa after a shower can trigger the next habit of surfing the web. Listing down the habits gave me visibility of the full chain of events (cause and effect) in order to break it. I highly recommend you to read the book Atomic habits, block off a weekend to complete the in-book exercises.
Above all, staying truthful to oneself to follow all the beneficial actions might not be easy, especially when the mental energy is drained. Hence, to top it up, setting an accountability system has been very effective for me. Since last December, I have been committing to meditating at least 45 minutes a day or else I have to pay by doing 50 push ups for each day I don’t. So far, I have only paid a handful of penalties. And since then, I’ve been meditating daily and more than before! So, if starting seems like an uphill climb, find a buddy to keep you going.
Being productive and effective is a lifelong journey. Of course, the list of reasons in this article isn’t exhaustive. Everyone is different and may you find what works for you.
Fun quiz: How many animals can you spot in this write up?