The Rocks, Sand, Pebbles and Water of Life

When things get to busy, I try to take a pause and recollect and reflect. This is how I attain some form of peace in my life and also check myself, to see if I’ve been doing too much or “running” too fast.

Many friends I know often exclaim that I do a lot.

And yesterday, I started to believe it when I had to write and submit a profile of community work I had done to someone who was nominating me for something. The fact that she said she wanted to nominate me was itself an honour.

I read through what I submitted to her and realized I have been contributing in my own way to the development of women through WomenBizSENSE and then through the Penang State via Penang Women’s Development Corporation (PWDC).

Granted, I do sit on the board of PWDC as a director (I’d rather just call it committee member) but unlike most directorships where it’s clear who calls the shots and who does the work, the board of directors at PWDC is very much hands-on. I’m truly proud to be with some of the smartest women in Penang on this board.

I was nominated to sit on the board sometime in 2018 and I have taken my role quite seriously because I have come to realize too that women in decision-making roles can impact other women. I never take the role lightly as I know what I say or do can help a woman in Penang (PWDC runs many women-focused programmes as part of their goal to transform Penang into a more gender-inclusive community).

When friends tell me that I’m doing a lot, I believe them. I do quite a fair bit BUT and here’s the disclaimer, I am having fun!

I’ve always reiterated this be it to my mentees or friends; you always need to have fun at whatever you’re doing, pro bono or paid.

Paid is where business is and that’s where I also take it that I must have fun. If I am not having fun, it is time to change up the business or find a new focus or a new angle.

In pro bono work, I must always know that I am enjoying it. If I am not, something is seriously wrong and I could be the wrong one for the role. And yes, if it is not the right role, I will these days leave or at least let others take the helm.

In the community work that I do, I always remember why I am doing it. Fiscally it won’t make the money that can be made through commerce. But if I look at it non-fiscally, I know that the rewards are greater than the physical money. I’ve been amply rewarded with the kindness of friends and people I associate with and with it, a lot of trust.

One mentee told me recently that she was absolutely delighted to find out that I was her mentor in the Penang Women Entrepreneurship Mentoring Programme (that will end after 6 months this 31 March). She had heard of me and known my work way before she applied to be a mentee.

I spent every Saturday afternoon, 4 to 5 hours, virtually with my group of mentees together with a co-mentor Dr Intan beginning last October to coach and guide these fledgeling entrepreneurs. It wasn’t my first mentoring experience but it was interesting to guide 6 women. In the past, I’ve had at most 2 mentees maximum and our engagement was about a few hours a month.

I could’ve done a lot of things every Saturday from 1.30pm to 5.30pm but I chose to dedicate and give my time to help 6 women understand the foundation of business from crafting their mission and vision to building up their Business Model Canvas to figuring out how they would price their products, to developing their marketing channels and more. It has been intensely rewarding as I see them gain confidence not only in business but also in their presentation skills.

Helping people has always been in me. When I was 8 years old, my late mum used to berate me as I was on the phone helping a classmate, A, with her homework. A was rather lazy and never did her homework but at the last minute she’d phone me to ask for answers. In those days, the phone was a bulky, black device. I felt bad and wondered why my mum didn’t like me helping A. I guess my mum saw through A and wanted to prevent A from taking advantage of me.

But I constantly remind myself, that whether I am helping people or not, I have to take care of the rocks, pebbles, sand and water of life. Remembering this aligns me to what I need to focus on the most. Rocks represent the important things in life – family, health, spirituality and friends.

Pebbles are things like job, car, business and home while sand is just everything else that fills up the day. Finally water? That’s the recreation part of life. So if you’ve seen the video of how a jar can be filled up with all these four things, you’d understand how we need to take care of the big things in our lives first. That’s where the importance lies.

Many people take care of the pebbles and wonder they need to work so hard or fear so much (the fear of losing something and usually it is material). Many forget the rocks and later come to regret why they’re lonely or are ill or again, purpose-less.

I believe we need to strike a healthy balance between the rocks, pebbles and sand.

One of the most life-changing books I read just out of university was Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad but unlike many, I didn’t rush out to grab the real estate so that I could rent them out to others. His book taught me about doodads – those useless things we think we need but really don’t. Many people honestly have too many doodads in their lives which sometimes can be those pesky pebbles that start to run our lives.

I have friends who bought into the real estate idea with so much enthusiasm that later on, they got into trouble as they feared not being able to pay for 4 mortgages (yes, I have friends with not one but 4 mortgages plus a growing family). I have a friend who tells me he wants to retire at 40 and run a non-profit (he’s sick of his job). I have another friend who wants to dispose of her KL apartments cheaply (as she can’t juggle the mortgages anymore).

See what I mean by taking on too many doodads? If you take on doodads and can handle them all, more power to you. But most people can’t and we wonder why all those “make money in your pajamas” or “make passive income” courses get so popular?

To complement that book, I also read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which set the tone for who I wanted to be in my life. I believe I am an effective person because I chose to do what I believe makes me happy and fulfilled. These 2 books should be required reading for anyone who is fresh out of university.

These books helped me think smarter about the world at large and helped me see where I should place my focus on.

What about you? What has helped you become who you are today?