Firing Your Friends…Or So-Called Friends

friends and friendship

This year has made me realize a few things – that I have less patience for people I used to have patience for.

I think growing older and interacting with people of all kinds of backgrounds made me re-evaluate my relationships. Some of my relationships go way back to my secondary school days. Some relationships were started in university. Still, some were started during my working days.

I guess we all start the same way – we don’t really choose our friends. They chose us and we accepted it and we all got along fine.

I never bothered to evaluate these relationships but I am someone who treasures and values people. In many ways, I discovered that not everyone valued relationships the way I did.

I am sure you know a friend or two who will disappear for aeons, never call or even meet up but the moment they need something, they’d be all over you.

Ah yes. Those kind of “friends” get booted to the very bottom of the D category.

Then there are some friends who grew up with you but somehow you felt that they’ve never changed. In a way, this can be good. After all, you know that this also means they’ll still love eating nutella and chocolate and getting them gifts is super easy.

The not-so-good thing is that suddenly you feel out of place with them. You’ve grown and I am not even talking about physical growth! Sure, our waistlines have expanded and our faces are plumper and our cheekbones don’t stand out so much. But mentally, we’ve changed too. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I felt I’ve moulted so many times in the past 15 years that I am no longer the old me. And yet, these friends are still the same. In every dimension and thought. (The middle class syndrome is a mind-eating disease of the well-fed.)

Many years ago, I used to get terribly disappointed with them. Our conversations get harder because our topics and hobbies and interests are different. Each time we go out for coffee, it’s an uncomfortable chat.

Until I decided that I should not see them as I am, I should see them as they are. This is where they are truly a product of their social circle and environment. When I switched my thinking this way, I became less jaded. I could even indulge myself and partake in their conversations which are totally out of my usual chit chat sphere.

I did not judge – I just accepted that they are what they are and I just stepped into their world for a while. It made me happier. I wasn’t going to change anyone and no one was going to get hurt. I’m not so invested in them anymore but we’re still OK as friends. Something had changed but by not putting all my hopes into these friends, I have an easier time.

Then there’s that other category of friends whom I used to call friends but were actually acquaintances. I had a friend during campus days who used to be such a negative person. Upon reflecting I figured out why she was so hard on everyone. She was hard on herself. She saw herself as a competitor in this world and she had to be the best. At one time, she was so obnoxious she went up to another girl and asked her, “You don’t study at all so how come you got such good grades?”

We tolerated her on campus for 4 years. Many disliked her intensively and would walk the other way if they saw her coming! I’m so ashamed that she was my “friend” for 4 years and that I didn’t have the guts to tell her that she was nasty and obnoxious.

The good news was, we lost contact after graduation. The bad news was, each time she needed something from me, she’d somehow locate my phone number and call me. I never dreaded anyone calling but she took the cake. Talking to her for 5 minutes was like torture. She’d be all snide and catty. I still wondered, why the heck did I ever tolerate her?

And of course, this friend disappeared after a while. I was secretly thanking God that she’d left me alone.

Until Facebook re-connected us again. She started using another name and I had added her as a friend, not knowing that she was that dreadful person. She started privately messaging me one day and I had the shock of my life.

This time, I had to do something. I un-friended her. I never felt more relief in my life. I should have un-friended her years ago but finally, something snapped. My patience was running thin. I no longer felt I had anything to lose by cutting her out of my life.

Then there’s another who’s always asking for help but never helps in return. He’s always up to something or other and will happily ask me for help. When I ask him for help, he’ll make some excuse that he doesn’t have any contacts. These freeloaders are the people I ignore.

Another kind of friend will always eat with you but never fork out a single cent. Ah yes, these friends are aplenty. Their wallets and purses are often glued to their pockets. I have encountered many. But these friends will only see me once at best because we will only dine together one time and that’s it. If you cannot be generous and pick up the tab once in a while, you don’t deserve to have a dinner companion.

These days, I am more aware of myself and more confident of who I am becoming. Yes, you get to a point at 40 when you go, “What the heck!” I have nothing to lose by removing deadwood from my life. I only want to be with people who appreciate and value me; not parasites who come and go as they please.

Sure I am a giver when it comes to friendships. I am intensely loyal. I will go the extra mile for you. But don’t manipulate me. Don’t give me a whiff of your ulterior motives or greed. The moment I sense that, I will be awfully brutal. Remember that ditty about the girl with the curl on her forehead? “When she’s good, she’s very, very good. When she’s bad, she’s horrible”.

I strive to be the A type of friend – the bestest friend you’d ever have. And if I leave, you’ll have a gaping void in your life.

This morning, I did something I am proud of.

I finally decided to cull yet another person from my life.

I had tolerated her for a long time, overlooking her obsessive compulsive behaviour and her control freakiness. She was often hyper and excitable. I really don’t know how her poor husband lives with her. She is also stubborn and thinks the world revolves around her. I decided enough was enough and I wasn’t going to be her friend the way she wanted me to be. And I heaved a major sigh of relief!

Like all other things in life, once in a while we need to re-evaluate our friends. Are they the kinds of people we want to surround ourselves with? Do they complain all the time but the moment you suggest a plan of action they shut you out? Are they friends and enemies? Are they ready to jump on you the moment you falter?

If yes, be a dear and start eliminating them from your life. I make no excuses for being so upfront about my relationships because I thrive on the absolute good ones. Good friends make you better. The crappy ones are energy and time vampires.

Do you have weirdo friends? Are you as brutal as I am? What are your coping strategies?

My Lean In Story

Below is a story that I wrote to share at tomorrow’s Lean In networking tea at China House Cafe.

Emi and I are planning to announce the book project at this tea.

We plan to create a role model book of sorts – a first for Penang anyway – to document our own personal Lean In stories inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same name.

One of the things that’s startlingly obvious is that we don’t have a book of local women heroes and trailblazers (yes we have a lot on famous women and celebrity women but what about local women, local heroines, the everyday woman?).

In the last couple of months, I have met some super smart women and I believe it is high time we recorded our own Malaysian history – of incredibly accomplished yet virtually unknown local women who are doing excellently in their own fields.

If you’d like to contribute a personal story to our Lean In book (and we’re still sourcing for sponsors!) please do.  In the meantime, let me know what you think of this story of mine.

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I used to work before I joined my husband in the business. I always tell people that if I didn’t run my business, I would be just as happy out there in the corporate world, having worked for 7 years before I took a break to do my Masters in Linguistics.

I thought I was quite a self-aware individual. 

Until I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book. 

I thought I knew what I knew about myself and the world. And here I was, nodding vigorously as I read her book. It felt like someone you know is telling you how she viewed the world and you find yourself going, “Ohmygawd, me too!”

Suddenly women didn’t feel so alone and ridiculous with their thoughts. 

It felt very emotional at times too because Lean In addresses issues which are close to women – it doesn’t matter if you’re single or married, working or not. Of course her book is targeted at women who work but I chose to look at it as a universal message for all women. 

While some lambasted her for the book, I believe she opened a door to discussions – discussions that most women would not have engaged in if she had not put those messages out in the open.

With her book, we realise that women have stop underestimating their abilities. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are or how high you are on the corporate ladder. Most women have insecurities. 

We’re often not good enough, not clever enough, not confident enough. 

Over the years, I have learnt to focus on my strengths. Never believe it when books tell you to work on your weaknesses. You can but it will be so de-motivating. Work on your strengths instead – and I find that I am more energetic and enthusiastic when I am doing things I am best at, for instance, writing. And work on the messages that your brain tells you. Many of the messages are negative and throw you into a spiral of, you guessed it, underestimation of abilities!

I was once at an event where I watched a smart, articulate corporate woman give a good presentation. When I finally caught up with her after the event, she turned to me worriedly and asked, “How did I do? Was I OK?” 

Another friend always starts apologizing for her inability to park her car each time she tries to park her car. She doesn’t believe she can park her car properly and she doesn’t. Some people believe they’re always unlucky and guess what, they’ll end up having episodes that reinforce their bad luck! 

I think we need to be aware of these negative self-talk. This negative self-talk is dangerous and allows women to underestimate themselves, even when they’re excellent at what they do.

This reminds me of my own childhood. 

I was a very shy child. 

In school I used to watch my best friend go right up to the front of the class and animatedly launch into fantastic storytelling. She was unafraid of standing in front of 40 pairs of eyes and telling her story complete with gestures and facial expressions.

I wanted to be just like her! She was good at storytelling and everyone envied her skills. I didn’t know how she did it but all the same, I wanted to be just like her. 

Despite my fears of public speaking, I decided to raise my hand the next time our teacher asked if any of us wanted to join an inter-class storytelling competition. 

I decided to do what I feared most. 

Did I know what I was getting into? Nope.

Did I know it involved days of committing the story to heart and having to re-tell the story with all the enthusiasm and passion I could muster?

Did I win? 

No.

But did I learn something? Yes, I learnt that I could try and trying is better than sitting at the sidelines, watching others live life. 

Of course I wasn’t as magnificent as my best friend in storytelling – she had a natural flair. However I went on to join school debates and a whole lot more because I knew I could not underestimate myself if I wanted to reach out for what I wanted.

I would always give myself a chance to work things out.

That one tiny step – of braving myself to take part in storytelling – allowed me to move a little more out of my shell. It made me a little more sure of myself. It gave me the courage to try things, one step at a time. 

And once I read Lean In, it all fell into place for me. 

Women need to sit at the table, to welcome unexplored opportunities and to stop giving excuses.

We can all succeed if we stopped holding ourselves back from that project, that opportunity, that promotion especially if we really wanted to jump in and get going. We can all succeed if we stopped worrying about the future that’s 5 or 10 years away because we’re deciding to live life to the fullest today. 

I wish I read this book when I was just starting out after graduating.

It would have been such an inspiration and confidence-booster. To take heart that we all have abilities and we don’t need to underestimate ourselves but to just have fun and gun for it. 

No one gets anything if they don’t think they deserve their success. 

No one gets anywhere if they don’t think they’re good enough. 

Sheryl says, believe in yourself, negotiate for yourself, own your own success. 

It does take time and experience for each of us to feel truly comfortable in our own skin before we can truly own our own success. We will make many mistakes before we can be cool enough to admit we’re fine the way we are.

But we also need friends who support us. Or encouraging stories of women who have been there, done that and that road is not as rocky as it seems.

Or women who are kind enough to mentor us and teach us how to ask for a raise, how to say no firmly and how to evaluate if something is worth doing. No one teaches these things in school or university and we’re left grappling with issues and trying to find our way in this world. 

That’s why I look at Lean In as a leadership manual. It has given me permission to give myself an opportunity to try. That is how I got involved with facilitating at the Lean In Forum at Hard Rock Hotel. That is how I got involved with this book. That is how I am writing a non-fiction book on my own. 

A year ago, I would never have thought I’d write a book. Not because I couldn’t write. I majored in Journalism and I have been writing ferociously since I was 9 years old. Everyone tells me that if anyone were to write a book, it’d be me. 

I knew I had the skills. 

But deep inside, I asked myself, “Who am I to write a book, and a non-fiction one at that too?” 

It was a fear that gnawed at me and that monstrous fear kept pawing me, pulling me back. I didn’t feel I was worthy enough to write a book despite having the skills!

I have to say that Lean In gave me the courage to ask, “Why not?”  

Why should I not share my message with the world? Everyone has opinions and perspectives to share and mine is just as valid as the others out there. Why shouldn’t I be proud to talk about what I am passionate about? 

Every girl and woman should keep asking “Why not?” over and over because frankly, there is only one life to live. We might as well live large, exceptional fulfilling lives! 

 

Restart, Renew, Refresh…

As you can see, my blog got a facelift. I was getting quite sick and tired of the old visual. Wanted something contemporary. Something clean and neat. And hence, this new look.

Anyway, besides the new look, I am looking forward to a couple of things. I have some plans in mind for 2015. That’s just 2.5 months away. I like starting new projects and I love writing goals down. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely me.

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Childhood Food

I wanted to post up stuff about my trip with my parents to Hong Kong but honestly I got a little lazy since I had to resize the bunch of photos.

Anyway.

That will have to wait until I am in a less lazy mood. Actually it’s not that I have nothing to say. The problem is, I have plenty of things I want to write about. But the thoughts and ideas fly by like mozzies.

I was a facilitator at a Lean In Forum in early July (and yes, that begs for a post of its own) at Hard Rock Hotel. Don’t ask me why it was at Hard Rock. It just was. Apart from the godawful long drive from my place in Bayan Baru all the way to Batu Feringghi, I just think it would have been a lot less of a hassle if it were held in say, E&O Hotel or Eastin Hotel.

But more of that later.

Today I had an interesting conversation with Nic at dinner. It’s kind of strange saying that as I am my husband’s business partner and if I am not out and about meeting potential clients, I am mostly with him. For breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.

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The Malaysian In Me

Many, many times I catch myself saying – “I am so grateful to be living in Penang!”

You see, this is a fab place. And more often that not, we islanders forget we’re on an island. A sunny one.

A friend who called from Melbourne said she was wrapped up in 3 layers of clothes because it was super cold now. Another friend who lives in Newfoundland told me it was snowing in May over there.

And I don’t have to listen to the weather report before I leave the house.

I don’t have to carry a coat or umbrella just in case the weather turns nasty and cold or rainy.

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In Memory of Margaret

It’s been a roller-coaster of 2 weeks.

Margaret, our tabby of 10 years, has finally left us.

Margaret our snobbish cat

Margaret is one regal cat

It’s difficult trying to piece together the quick turn of events but I am coping, and Nic’s coping. Many friends have been extremely kind – offering words of solace and comfort on my Facebook page. Still, I am grieving because you can’t suddenly just accept and move on.

Friends have also asked me, “Would you consider adopting another cat or kitten?”

I am sure I am not the first to say this.

Many pet owners who have bonded closely with their pets treat their pets like family. Margaret was our family for as long as I can recall. And we didn’t adopt her – SHE adopted us!

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It Takes Two

The more I want to sit down and post my thoughts, the more stuff lands on my plate and the more they drag me away from blogging.

Such is life, sometimes!

I had a great Chinese New Year break – despite the fact I didn’t get to visit Bangkok with my parents, no thanks to the political unrest in Thailand. My sister and I were quite adamant that we go, protest or not but the thing with travelling with parents is that they INSIST everyone stay home and quit moaning about not going shopping in Bangkok.

I was so looking forward to a change in my Chinese New Year routine so we got our Air Asia tickets cancelled (and got the credit shell from them in exchange – they weren’t giving us back our money but credit shell was all right).

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The Curry Mee Tragedy

I never knew how much I loved my Penang curry mee until my favourite hawker died.

Yes, she died.

Not while cooking curry mee, of course.

 

Penang curry mee in Georgetown Penang Malaysia

Yummiest Penang curry mee with some teh C on the side

You see, Nic and I have a ritual on Sundays. We potter into town and have a totally “ah pek” breakfast. I call it “ah pek” breakfast because it involves an old corner coffeeshop with loud patrons speaking Cantonese, hawker fare which are deemed typical of Penang and yes, it also involves some old-style kopi and tea.

We sit about this coffeeshop, enjoying its ambience – the sights and sounds of a regular coffeeshop can be quite comforting.

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My Indian Roots

Chicken paretel that tastes as good as it looks

Chicken paretel that tastes as good as it looks

I tell people I have Indian roots. And if you know me, you probably know it’s true even though I look 100 per cent Chinese.

My Indian roots aren’t due to some inter-marriage or something.

My Indian roots come from growing up in a small town like Banting, where we had Indian neighbours on both sides.

My two best pals are Indian – one is a Ceylonese Christian (who hated to be called “Lain-lain” on her IC) and the other is Hindu. Many of my school friends were Indian. That is what real unity is about.

But that is what growing up in the 80s was all about.

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Language Chops

There’s language and then there’s language.

Some people still live in the past, with their eye on the proper way of speaking and writing English.

Sure you need to have a good grasp of your tenses and you need to stop making silly mistakes in English. But having knowledge of the language doesn’t mean you can make it in the everyday world.

Many folks still think they need to write like their English teachers of yore to be able to stand proud in the world today.

Sorry to burst your bubble but if you write like that, no one will ever read your work.

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