anonymous dreams

If you could choose any life – your version of an ideal life, what would it be?

I like asking people this question. Once, when I asked a lady taxi driver this, she said, “Aiya, my life is over la, this is it”. That scared me – she decided it wasn’t worth dreaming anymore. She had in that statement and with that mindset sealed her fate.

You and I are worth dreaming about. That vision of our ideal life is where it starts.

Mine is doing something meaningful, where I motivate others to believe in their dreams, to seek to change the world in their own ways, to have the courage to take that step, go all out to making it happen with conviction, passion and purpose. To wake up every day feeling in love, and loved, to feel at peace, at ease, healthy and energetic and inspired. This is why it is all important to surround yourself with people like that – people who take charge, who also believe in their sense of purpose  and who then go out to change their fate with a sense of determination and belief.

I’m starting again today with my vision board. 🙂 Will post pictures once it’s ready. Keep going, it really isn’t too late. It’s important to dare to dream, and to actually take steps to make those dreams materialize that matter.


Ode to 2015

So, it appears that crafting an ode (or eulogy) to 2015 is now in trend, so allow me to hop right on the bandwagon here. 🙂

Before I start proper though, I must add the disclaimer that a date is just a date – technically, if you want to give the 12th of March CRAZY significance and decide that it will be the day your life CHANGES, then, chances are it will. So likewise for 01/01/2016. But of course, to many (even me), that date reset to 01.01 becomes symbolic of the hope for a happier, more fulfilling, balanced and meaningful life we all envision. So yeah, let’s embrace it, and make it count!


I hope for 2016 to be a lot like 2015 – where there was opportunity for growth, travel, making new friends, learning, lots of reading, reflecting, emoting, sticking it out, making mistakes, but reflecting on how to grow from them, embracing spontaneous impulses and arguing but making peace once more with loved ones.

I also hope that more than 2015, 2016 will bring even higher productivity levels, skills, and persistent commitment and relentless pursuit of perfection in everything I do, and that it surrounds me with even more positive role models who inspire me to be an even grander version of myself, and for me to pay it forward by being valuable to others in whichever way I can too, In sha Allah.

Here’s an attempt to pay it forward in a small way, a compilation of 5 interesting insights I’ve learnt this year – enjoy! So many more learnt, but just a short one for now.

  1.  Perspectives will always just be that, perspectives. Yours is as valuable as your nemesis. Where decisions have to be made though, instead of just arguing your view, find a neutral way to assess the better way forward (like surveying a few people or asking a neutral person to decide) – then accept the outcome graciously and let it go. This one is tried and tested!
  2. Negotiations – have you ever had to negotiate the terms of a contract before? At the start, it may seem that the business partner is highly engaged and all out to making it work, but perhaps after a while (sometimes, especially it seems after the contract has been concluded, signed and sealed but not yet delivered), it may seem that delivery on commitments may be amiss, or not meeting your expectations. In this book I read, The Small Big – small changes that spark big influence (which I highly recommend), it states that “to optimize the likelihood that people will follow through with their intentions, it is necessary to consider asking a couple of extra and specific questions about how they plan to go about accomplishing the goal they’ve promised to pursue.” It often helps clarify feasibility of expectations and translates into higher chances of actualization of plans.
  3. Cause and effect to everything. An unwarranted behaviour is often a result of something deeper. Whether at work, relationships, etc.Digging deeper will often reveal an invisible truth that’s worth tackling with more compassion than the symptom. (Everyone is really fighting their own battles.)
  4. Dream BIG. Really BIG, say nay to the naysayers. When you aim for the stars, you’ll fall to the clouds, way higher than where you began anyway.
  5. Give your all, wherever you are, whatever you do – relationships, work, projects. You will get hurt, disappointed, etc  but it is still worth it, because that’s the only way to live – courageously. 

I pray that 2016 brings you all that your heart desires. Up up and away~ Happy New Year! 🙂


Youths, don’t carry our excess baggage!

Hello there!

This has been weighing heavy on my to-do list for a while since I’ve had a busy work month. I’ll be sharing my experience at the ASEAN+ Youth Leadership Summit (2015) – AYLS over a series of posts. For the uninformed, here are 10 points about it first for background/ context.

  1. It was a 2.5 day summit held for the first time ever.
  2. Involved youth activists, change agents, volunteers, officials, of all shapes, size and colour – 300 odd to be exact
  3. Besides the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), it also involved dialogue partner states – Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Timor-Leste and the United States of America.
  4. Approximately 10 from each country (except for Malaysia since they were the Host Nation)
  5. Malaysia is the Host Nation because it is chairing this year’s ASEAN committee.
  6. Theme of this Summit was “Youth driving the ASEAN Community”, and it underscored the importance that youths play an important role in driving the ASEAN Community forward.
  7. It structured the summit around 4 pillars, education and employment, entrepreneurship, leadership and volunteerism
  8. Goal of AYLS2015 was to discuss and present policy proposals revolving around the 4 pillars at the end of the 2.5 days which would then be presented over to PM Najib Razak  at the Opening ceremony of the ASEAN talks to be considered by government leaders.
  9. I was lucky enough to be selected – got this chance through Mendaki Club and National Youth Council – thank YOU! Was representing Project Khadijah, a social entity that seeks to help Single mothers in Singapore achieve financial independence through the matching of right opportunities – training, jobs or work from home opportunities. (
  10. Since there were many take-aways, and since I’ve had the immense honour of gleaning them as one of the 10 Singaporean youth delegates to represent this sunny island, I thought I’d definitely need to pay it forward by blogging about them. Hence, this series of posts.  So here goes. Leave a comment if you can!
AYLS 2015
A group shot with the Singapore Youth Delegates, each a shiny spark! (Photo credits: Koki)


The important context of this year’s ASEAN discussions is that, ASEAN had agreed to establish the ASEAN Community by 31 December 2015, and this agreement has in fact already been ratified and signed by the 10 member states in November (read HERE). It’s a plan that includes economic, political-security and socio-cultural policies.

Here are a couple of articles on the ASEAN Community if you’re interested.

The Diplomat – What is ASEAN Community 2015 All About

All, in all, the AYLS+ Summit was a rewarding and eye-opening experience for me. Before this summit, I have to admit that my knowledge of ASEAN was limited to ACFTA (due to work)  and my ASEAN scholar friends, yes not much sadly. I regarded ASEAN a distant inter-governmental organization that only engaged parliamentarians and government officials to discuss big policy stuff. My attendance in the summit confirmed that this was true for many others too. So much more can be done to increase the layperson’s understanding of ASEAN and this summit was definitely a step in that right direction. It was refreshing that a youth like me could get a chance to learn first-hand what the ASEAN entity means, and be involved in discussing and proposing ideas that could potentially and collaboratively further its vision.

Alright, so for the first post, I’d like to share my favourite unforgettable segment of this summit. It’d have to be the keynote address by Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz. She is currently a Non-Executive Independent Chairman of Air Asia X, and also a past Minister of Trade and Industry (which was subsequently revised to Minister of International Trade and Industry) – a post she served for 21 years.  I think many like me, deeply appreciated her candid, no-nonsense “brutally-honest” sharing of the successes, challenges and hopes for ASEAN. It was a befitting keynote speech for youths who are probably quicker to frown upon political correctness and who genuinely want to have a clearer understanding of ASEAN.

Managed to get a photo with her after her speech! (Shout-out to Mohsen, thanks so much for asking! 🙂 )

A photo with the Tour-de-force of a woman (as KJ describes her), Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz

She gave a balanced introduction to ASEAN, and shared openly how we need to lead ASEAN to greater heights in not just one but all of its pillars – Economic, Security and Social and Cultural. However, she pragmatically asserted that in order for youths to play that leading role for ASEAN, we would first need to understand what ASEAN entails – its roles and responsibilities and its challenges (like the analogy of understanding how the car works before wanting to drive it). She praised ASEAN for some of its successes like ACFTA, but also highlighted the importance of doing so much more in the services sector, and also in the lagging areas of security and social-cultural aspects. There were many regional and international issues that required our close cooperation – like haze, terrorism (which she highlighted as being very important – in order to ensure that we “prevent it from germinating amongst our young”), capabilities and skills building and raising the benchmark of performance – reminding all that if we want to be a driving force, then our benchmark must be very high.

She also, at one point, brought the gathering down to earth when she highlighted the sad reality – that majority of our people across ASEAN may still did not quite know what ASEAN is ( I concur on this). Because there were so many quotable pearls of wisdom in her refreshingly blunt and honest sharing, I am going to have to list them down in point form and trust that they will do justice in summarizing her sharing:

  • Advice to Youths: “Youths, don’t carry our excess baggage!” – Tan Sri Rafidah on the importance of youths having a fresh start and perspective to making ASEAN work
  • ASEAN is not about creating a homogenous community. ( A good reminder as we seek to build an identity – but embrace diversity)
  • Go in-depth! – her advice to youths on ensuring you pull out all the stops in getting ASEAN to work collaboratively.
  • “Local planning (must be) dovetailed with regional ASEAN planning”
  • “Good leaders don’t just think of the next elections, but of the next generation”. This was in response to my question – when I asked how to build greater accountability amongst leaders for ASEAN-related causes/ goals, since it is natural that a leader would prioritize the goals of his nation first, since that is what his electorate would hold him immediately accountable for.

She also outlined some practical proposals, which I appreciated for having cleverly ranged across a wide age span– seemingly driven by the goal of developing a pipeline of ASEAN-conscious individuals who are exposed to it from a young age and grow up continue being exposed to it from a more relevant angle as they age.

  1. ASEAN Civic Subjects to be taught in secondary schools – with the rationale of educating the youths of the existence and role of ASEAN
  2. Exchange Programmes Across ASEAN
  3. Conferences and Community Projects
  4. ASEAN Business Projects: To have networking, and collaborations within and beyond
  5. Internships between Companies in ASEAN states and beyond
  6. ASEAN Community Day – to raise awareness of ASEAN as an entity and what it means to the lay citizen (I suppose such long term soft-power efforts may cumulatively raise awareness, and therefore allow ASEAN priorities/ accountability to rank higher even in the national agenda) I suppose, that is also, one good thing of the Summit, bringing together like-minded youths across the region together to possibly make something out of it, and to keep the conversation alive. I’m heartened to see some already doing so – a friend, Roxanne, from Malaysia, from the Education and Employment pillar group – is already leading efforts to research more on what it will take to bridge the rural-urban educational gap first starting in her hometown Sarawak.

Well, the best is yet to be!

Hope you enjoyed this – any comments or feedback, please feel to drop me a note. Will try to pen the rest soon.



My life’s soundtrack

My life’s epic soundtrack.

If you could play a song and choreograph, and it could be any tune and any dance ensemble to reflect your life’s upheavals, sweetest moments, moments of courage, tears, laughter, regrets, defining milestones, epiphanies. How would it be like?

I imagine a beautiful large gown – purpley turquoise crepe-like dress in layers, with a large train one that you can swish about as you walk, with grandeur, with small contemplating steps, as the bells chime, as the piano keys play a memorable distant reverie. You keep moving, listlessly, but with conviction. You know not where exactly you’re headed, but you have no doubt that you’re going the right way. You move, the background chimes away, you move, with confidence, once in a while, you pause, you’re unsure if you passed by this place before, and maybe you have, maybe not, but you’ll keep moving anyway.

One day, I will compose something just like that. 🙂

Are you Angry?

Conversations at Sheikh Rashid Terminal, Dubai:

Immigration Guy: Are you angry? (Heard it as ‘Hungry’ and wondered if he heard my stomach growling or something)

Me: Umm, no.

Immigration Guy: Are you sure? Who made you angry?

Me: Oh, angry? Haha, no not angry. (Breaks into smiles as a natural response)

Immigration Guy: (Smiles back, and hands passport back to me).

Ahh, I see what you did there. Couldn’t help thinking about it all the way back home.

Are you angry? Who made you angry? No? Not angry? Why aren’t you smiling then? 🙂

How many times do we forget to relish and enjoy the presence of the present? How do we choose to live by the moment, and who do we choose to become? Would you still smile when the music ends, or when there doesn’t seem to be any reason to, or will you learn to be better able to find a reason to smile?


Shoving in, a good way.

Forget about leaning in, yesterday I shoved in (almost), and it felt good. Initiated a conversation with a key person at work about job aspirations and options and expectations, and the discussion went well. At times, it is necessary to express your concerns and aspirations openly. Do it in a consultative and tactful manner, and be really open about doing it. If you second guess yourself out of it, you will never know nor will the people around you, and then the mystery of not knowing will forever tug at your inner self. Know your rights, give yourself a fair chance at your aspirations, share, listen, review and act.

One Task

Someone said, “There is something I’ve forgotten.”

There is one thing in the world you must never forget. You may forget everything else except that one thing, without any cause for worry. However if you remember and take care of everything else but forget that one thing, you will have accomplished nothing. It is as though a king were to send you to a village on a specific mission. You go and perform a hundred tasks, but if you neglect to take care of the task for which you were sent, it is as though you did absolutely nothing.

The human being has come into this world for a particular purpose. If he does not accomplish that purpose, he will have done nothing at all.

We offered the trust to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: and they refused to undertake it, and were afraid of it; but the human being undertook it=but surely, he has been unjust to himself, and foolish. [Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:72]

Rumi (adapted from ‘The Rumi Daybook”, selected and translated by Kabir and Camille Helminski)DSC00708

Know Thyself and know your World.

Photo Credit:

Some realizations of late:

Knowledge has sometimes come at the expense of increased cynicism and skepticism.

Analogy: The person with faint eyesight will not see the details (like that fine layer of dust on that chair), and would probably have settled down without much thought. The one with perfect vision has everything amplified – lengthening decision making, increasing doubt, probably preferring to stand in the end. Some results that could have brought greater utility were foregone due to this amplification of clarity. Just like how there are some people whom we dismiss as ‘naive’. Or she’s too green, a newbie really. Well, that newbie might see the world quite differently, perhaps that very naivety some scoff at, is ironically the necessity that empowered her to become a trailblazer. She didn’t see the past issues you saw, she wasn’t too bothered by the dust because she couldn’t see it.

Lesson: Details are only important insomuch as they do not distract you from the big picture.

Confidence and influence

There’s a tale “as old as time, song as old as rhyme” that has been circulating around where a Professor from one of the local universities once shared: that he found that his Asian students (generally) pale in comparison to their Western peers, not so much because they lack the intelligence, but because they screen themselves too much, and end up not contributing to the discussion as actively as they could have in a classroom setting.

Well, I do believe things are changing – (have you seen those SMU Singaporean students for instance(?!) – PS: NUS ones don’t fare too badly too :P),  though perhaps cultural norms can at times be more limiting than empowering especially in the context of a learning environment.

But it’s an important point on confidence. I mean nodding furiously and over-thinking it in your head alone will not increase your intellectual integrity (you’d just be one of those fortune cats that keeps waving – fascinating for awhile, and then dwindle into a wallpaper. We’ll need to speak up more, lean in more (thank you, Sheryl Sandberg) and contribute to the discussion because that’s the only way it can open up opportunities for you to showcase what you have, and thereby opening that platform to influence matters at hand – be it in the work context, play, social matters, etc. Point is, to trust in yourself enough, to say “I would like to share what I think about this because I want to add value to the conversation AND be added value to, if I’m wrong. In a nutshell, to not take yourself too seriously – sometimes we shoot ourselves before entering the circus thinking it were battlefield. Why so serious? Smile, breathe, have fun, enjoy the ride.

Lesson: You’re not Hello Kitty, you have a mouth, so share sincerely- speak and value add.

Importance of Execution as much as Vision

Since young, I remember having multiple conversations proposing endless list of solutions to this ‘world problem’ or another. “we ought to re-distribute food resources to xyz…”, “there should be no such thing as copyright laws, knowledge should be free for all”.. Meanwhile, people are still dying from starvation, others are still falling behind in the knowledge gap. Basically, I was not contributing towards alleviating such problems at all, if anything adding to useless banter.

Until one day – my cousin, (this was at least 5 years ago I believe) asked a poignant question, “It’s great to have so many ideas, but what are you going to do about it?” I don’t know if she knows this, but shout out to my cousin – Spish – if you’re reading this, please know that was one of the life-changing moments for me.

So much painful truth in that question. You can talk till the cows come home (actually why did the cows leave home again?)Anyway, ever since then, I’ve been doing more – volunteered for grassroots projects, led the Aerobics student club, signed up for things that scared me (a prestigious mentorship programme, networking sessions), did freelance emceeing, ran events – started a ‘Brown Bag series’ at work (a lunchtime conversations in the workplace – to promote openness in exchange of ideas and boosted creativity), a halal food facebook page, a drama, choreograph and won 2nd prize with a team at D&D, conceptualized, brought a team together to create a Project Happy Singapore video (that got featured on Singapore Tourism board’s website!), kick-started Project Khadijah with a couple of people – to help single mothers’ achieve financial independence through the matching of right opportunities (job or resource matching). More projects coming along, God-be Willing. The firsthand lessons gleaned from experiences of translating a Vision into Reality (that creative process) are meaningful and empowering. And these efforts are far from perfect, there’s still so much room to add value via these platforms and more, but the point is at least I’m doing something about it.

Lesson: Done is better than perfect (yes), and infinitely better than ideas that live only in your head (double yes).

Structuring that Idea into Fruition

It’s easy to accept why a realized Vision is better than an imaginary one. But the devil lies in the journey. Transforming ideas into reality requires effective action plans that drive you forward. Map that grand vision into periodic milestones, and then give that plan its due respect by executing with CD (courage and discipline). Time is of essence, our youth is depleting with every sec. Without a plan- you’ll increase your susceptibility to lack of focus and effectiveness. Flexibility is key too – to adapt when circumstances deem your action plan unfavourable, but start with a plan first.

Lesson: If eating cookies from that top shelf is the vision, know that without that ladder (the stucture, plans and systems), the cookie will remain an illusion. (Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?)

Goals – keep asking, reviewing.

Plan – but keep the plan succinct. Move, move move. We will get there. So if you know me, you’d know that I’m a personality profile/ quiz buff- love reading about all of them – the Colour brain theory’s one of them, the MBTI type, DISC profiling, etc. Most of us are keen to try one or another personality type profling (probably for the same reasons one might read horoscope?) Self awareness – what is more familiar, is less likely to evoke fear and anxiety. As we grow older, the need to know and be in control grows. But we evolve too, so keep engaging yourself (“Am I happy with who /where I’m at right now? Why/why not – what can I do about it?), seek opportunities to shake your boar once in awhile with something new that scares the heaven* out of you.

We’re constantly evolving – biologically, mentally (upwards I hope), emotionally and physically too. Give yourself room to evolve – head in the direction of what drives you, but also shake yourself up once in a while to parasail out of your comfort zone.

Lesson: You’re not who you were a second ago. Let it go. 😛

Last one: Let’s try this – every morning upon waking up, take a moment to appreciate that we have been given yet another chance to live and to do something about our life. Keep moving, we have not arrived (not just yet) and pray and seek for wisdom to translate all that we have to effectively bring about good. Have a blast – enjoy the ride!

Freedom with unclasped wings

I finally made that decision. Friends closest to me, will know exactly what I’m talking about, if they don’t know yet (they will soon). I have been talking about this for years! Haha, it feels like a huge relief, because this decision has unclasped my wings that were stifled and tied down for the longest time. They’re still hurting, but the release has been so sweet, I’m reveling in this new taste of freedom. Can’t quite take flight yet, but I’m preparing. Nursing the wings, letting them heal, beating them slowly, peering around, surveying the horizons, taking the new view in, and taking my time. Now that my wings are free, I’m in no hurry to take flight just yet. Planning the route, and the next stopover, and what I need on this next bout of the journey, before I take off, Insha Allah.


This is such an amazing analogy to me – because it has been something I’ve been waiting for, for the longest time, and finally found the courage to do. May Allah SWT guide me and grant me enough strength, courage, wisdom to do what is right, and may He grant me ease, Insha Allah. Sending you much love too – may your wings always be free, and may the winds steer you in the right direction, always. 🙂