To all the Dads and FurDads out there…

Stanley Rusty

I grew up in a conservative society with many societal expectations. For example, there are social norms about when you should date (not when you are in school!), get hitched (of course you must get married!), how many kids you should have (in the 1970s and 1980s, not more than two; after the 1990s, three or more if you could afford it), what kind of job you should have (one that brings 5 Cs: career, car, condominium, cash, credit card) etc.

At Chinese New Year gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, baby showers, daily casual conversations, people ask insensitive questions: when are you finding a girlfriend (or boyfriend)? When are you getting married? When are you having kids? When are you having your 2nd kid? When are you having your 3rd kid? Did you kids top their class this year?

The funny thing about being in a culture is that it is often subconscious. When you are part of it, you think and act in certain ways because that’s how others think and act, and “that’s how things have always been done around here”. (The same is true for organizational culture.) It’s when you don’t quite fit in those quirks and behaviors that you become more conscious about it.

Some years ago, Fern and I invited Rusty into our hearts and home (or perhaps, he self-invited :P). To us, he’s our darling boy and will always be our first kid. We had no doubts seeing ourselves as his parents. From time to time though, we would get strange looks and sniggers from some people, “Of course it’s not the same…”, “How can a dog be a kid?”, “Don’t waste time, quickly get your own kid!”.

They probably mean well, but it’s still mean words no less. But we take it in our stride.

Today, as I celebrate Fathers’ Day with my Dad and Dad-in-Law, I also reflect on what it means to be a dad:

  • A dad is one who loses sleep over his kids
  • Fusses over them, cleans and grooms them (sometimes even when they are all grown up)
  • Peers over their puke and poo when they are ill
  • Teaches them, scolds them, yet takes pride in their achievements no matter how small
  • Celebrates each of their milestones as they come (and thinks that they grow up too quickly)
  • Puts their interest before his own
  • Makes sacrifices for them that he wouldn’t do for himself
  • Looks out for their safety at the expense of his own
  • Loves them unconditionally regardless of who they are and what “flaws” they may have

When I look at this list, I feel privileged to have been on the receiving end of a doting and caring dad. At the same time, I also feel privileged to be able to give of this to my furry boy.

Setting aside whatever cultural norms you may face, if you have been on the giving or receiving end of some of the above acts of love, you have been abundantly blessed, and may this be a special day for you and that other :)

Happy Fathers’ Day!

Looking for Spring

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As Winter turned to Spring, I took many pictures of Spring, but haven’t had the time to write.

With Winter, I loved its peace and tranquility. I enjoyed my snow walks (and runs) with Rusty :)

With Spring, it’s a different experience. Spring fascinates me with its limitless potential for life. Almost overnight, lifeless looking trees burst into full bloom and greenery. The photos below were taken a few weeks apart – it was not long ago that shoots were just beginning to peek from the ground and in a hurry they have become so luxuriant it feels as if Winter was never here!

Spring - Comparison

As I look at these transformations, I can’t help but wonder: What gives life?

Some would say, it’s the warmer temperature and sunshine. We didn’t have much of these in Winter. Some might add that all these result from the tilt of the earth, which affects how much sunshine we get.

Also true, but perhaps less obvious, is that the potential for life comes not only from the sun but also from the roots and seeds that lie dormant through the Winter waiting for Spring to come. After all, if the roots and seeds contained no life, nothing would grow.

There are some similarities to teams and organizations. Most of us can tell a lethargic team or organization when we see one. Likewise, if a team wes full of energy or bursting with life we will know it right away.

When an organization is sluggish, a common complaint is that people are not motivated. A common suggestion is that people need to be more motivated. I often find that strange – it’s like telling a dead seed to be more alive, or ordering trees to flower in Winter!

I don’t think this is the right way to look at things. What if instead, we choose to believe that just like seeds people have an inborn and limitless potential for life? The issue then is not that people should be more motivated, but what we need to provide to unleash their dormant energy.

Some organizations try to create the “right” conditions. If plants need warmth and light, we can build a greenhouse to get them to grow. The equivalent in organizations is to introduce systems and incentives (sometimes, penalties). While this may work for a while, unless the change is organic it may not be sustainable. A greenhouse may help plants to grow in Winter, but when it is removed the plants won’t survive long. Furthermore, can we build enough greenhouses to recreate Spring in Winter?

Perhaps what we need instead is a natural climatic system that only Spring can bring. I think the equivalent in organizations is values and culture. Just like the tilt of the earth, values and culture may be subtle but they can have far reaching effects. When the values and culture are set right, demotivated people bloom into life, they instinctively know what to do, they require less supervision. A thousand flowers can bloom without having to build, or tinker with, a thousand greenhouses.

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What gives life in an organization is not the schemes and incentives (though they may help), but values and culture. Organizations that go for the former set rather than the latter one, may find themselves running against a slope all the time, much similar to how we might feel if we tried to artificially “create” Spring in Winter?

Living Fast and Slow

City lights

Back in Singapore, given our (very) small size it was easy to get from one place to another. We drove, and when we chose not to, it was convenient to take the bus or train. Going to town for an engagement could be a 3 to 4 hour thing. We could easily fit 3 or 4 engagements on a weekend day.

Here in Chicago, going downtown is a different experience. On weekends, the trains run only every 2 hours. To go downtown for an engagement, we leave the house 2 to 3 hours earlier, and ditto, coming back. End-to-end it easily takes 7 to 8 hours, and we often arrange only 1 or 2 engagements.

Fast man

Interestingly, even though we were able to get more things done back in Singapore, the total output was not necessarily better. Even though I had more time, I was always in a rush (and often late)! Conversely, although the pace of life here is slower, it feels more intentional. Initially, it took some getting used to. Having been used to such a fast pace of life, you feel unproductive going slow. But as we got used to it, we were able to still get as much out of life for it to be enriching.

Sometimes, life is like that. More or faster is not always better, and less or slower is not always worse :)

Photo credits:

Sergio Monsalve via photopin cc

Nikos Koutoulas via photopin cc

 

 

Spring is coming! :)

Looks like the polar vortex is returning for the 3rd time! :\

However, I’m feeling optimistic that it won’t be as bad this time, because there are many signs that winter is winding down and spring is on its way! :)

The days are certainly getting longer. We have long pased the shortest day in winter (22 Dec), when sunrise was 7:14am and sunset was 4:23pm (in Chicago). Today, sunrise was 6:32am and sunset was 5:36pm. And we have seen more sunshine days these two weeks :)

And the trees are starting to bud! I couldn’t resist snapping this picture on my way to school. In this day and age, we like to believe sophisticated technology and sensors can predict everything. However, I’m someone who believes that Mother Nature knows far more than we will ever do, and nature offers clues to many of our most complex questions. So if the trees are budding, spring can’t be too far away. And I trust the trees :)

Spring1

More signs of nature! Fauna is out and about as well. So Rusty’s “enemies”, the squirrels, didn’t freeze in the winter. In fact, they are starting to appear in numbers again! I spotted a few, but wasn’t fast enough to snap them. But I did catch a number of these swans happily nestling in the sun! :)

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And if you’re still not convinced that spring is coming, here’s a view from the treadmill at the sports center – it was breathtaking!

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So, even though it may get cold again later this week, things are definitely starting to look up! Yay! :D