Tuesday, January 28, 2020

What Am I Now?

So I was talking to a friend the other day, and the question of what we currently were came up, and I found the question interesting. Mainly because I have become so used to defining myself by my ideals, my aspirations, what I aim to be in the future. And I've written extensively about what I've done in the past in the form of those whole-year wrap-ups I do here on the blog. But rarely do I ever look at myself in the present and try to pick my current self apart in an honest and thorough manner, so I thought it would be an interesting exercise: to get down and dirty with my perception of my actual current self and see what's there, or rather: here.

So immediately what comes to mind when somebody asks you "what are you?" is to switch the question to "what do you do?" and that's an easy enough question to answer. I do many things (eat, sleep and poop, primarily), but in answering that question, it is common convention to answer with your full-time job, and so I am an online video producer for a digital media brand called Thelaki. I make (produce, write and host) weekly videos over there. I get paid to do it, which astounds me, since I have zero formal education in the matter. Everything I have learned in order to do what I do for a living right now, I have learned through experience, through doing, through trial and error. I have reasons to think that I'm good at what I do, and I also have plenty of reasons to think otherwise. I have a great team around me and we get the results that we do because of the combined efforts of everybody in the team.

Besides my full-time gig, I also do these other things on the regular, as readers of this blog might already know. I act semi-regularly. I have been involved in a handful of productions within these past couple of years in an acting capacity for me to be comfortable enough to say that I act. I am currently rehearsing for a play that will be staged in a couple of months, so I am a "working actor", so to speak. I would like to someday be a "full-time actor", but that will require more time, work and luck to be a thing. I don't know if I'm a "good actor", but I don't think that I'm a "bad actor" (not in my definition of "bad actor", anyway). I used to go to casting sessions more regularly, but nowadays I audition less and less. Maybe because I have a high failure rate as an auditioner (just like every other actor) and I take failure very poorly, so I don't audition so much anymore in order to save myself from all the heartbreak. But also maybe because the best acting jobs I've gotten so far did not come from cold auditions but from people knowing me personally and knowing what I could do and wanting me to do it in their productions. Maybe because I put myself out there on stage and on Youtube regularly enough for me to not feel like I need to go to audition rooms sangat, and value the exercise of building an audience organically, and trusting that if I gain enough of an audience people would want to work with me more because you never know who's watching.

I also play guitar in a band called Pasca Sini. We play pop-punk, and pop-punk bands are not most known for their virtuosity, which allows for my mediocre playing of the instrument to be passable. I play live in front of audiences every so often and the band has a small small following that I'm very grateful for. We're in the midst of recording our first full-length album that we're excited about sharing with everybody who's willing to give it a listen.

On top of that, I am an improviser. I feel comfortable saying that because I improvise in front of audiences semi-regularly, more often in the short-form format but also sometimes long-form, and I usually have fun every time. I don't think I'm a "good improviser", and I wish I knew how to accelerate my improvement in terms of ability to be funny at the drop of a hat, but I hope that with practice comes incremental comedic-ability gains.

So those were the things "I do", but it doesn't actually fully tell you and me what "I am". I could approach the question by saying who I am in relation to other people. I am grateful to be able to say that I am a husband. A flawed one, I think, in the sense that I feel like I disappoint my wife regularly. I let her down more often than I would like, and new days bring new challenges and shed light onto how I could be doing better as a life-partner. But I'd also like to think that I'm getting better at it. I think I'm a better husband now than I was three years ago, and that's something to feel okay about, I guess. I'm not a great problem-solver, but I think I do listen sometimes, and I learn from my mistakes, sometimes. I try to show my wife that I love her whenever I can, and I encourage her to be autonomous and live her life to the fullest, with or without me.

I am a friend. I'd like to think that a handful of people in this world don't mind having me around. I don't know if I'm a "good friend", but I try to be one in my flawed ways. I try my best to avoid being a "bad friend", however I understand the term. I encourage my friends to be their best selves, I avoid being a burden to them, I always try to be honest with them, I do my best to be wary of doing and saying things that make them feel bad, I apologise when I do, I pay for their food sometimes, I share jokes with them, I try my best to listen, I put in the effort to spend time with them. But I also find it hard to find words that are encouraging or motivational when they need it, I sometimes allow myself to get too busy to spend time with them, I forget to keep in touch, I am a terrible interacter in a group setting, I get distracted very easily, to name but a few of my shortcomings. But I am grateful that my friends exist and that they don't seem like they mind me existing.

But what am I when not in relation to other people? What am I as a standalone person, a solo-project? The format that makes the most sense to me in order to answer this question is the "I am [noun]", kan? I am a privileged Malay-Muslim guy living in Malaysia. I am a deodorant-wearer. I am a silly goose who is also a fan of silly geese. I am a disappointment. I am an ambitious MF. I am a lazy MF. I am an MF Doom fan.

But I can also approach this question with the format "I am [adjective]". I am tan. I am taller than the average Malaysian (the average Malaysian male is 164-168cm tall). I am affectionate but cautious with my affection. I am unfunny, but goddammit am I trying. I am flawed. I am sleepy, most of the time, and I am hungry a lot of the time. I am tired. I am forgetful.

The format I'm most comfortable with, is (I think) "I am [verb]". I am trying to be a better person. I am working towards having more empathy for people. I am learning how to better be of service to those around me. For the most part, I keep my thoughts to myself, unless I'm writing on this blog. I am trying to be more compassionate, considerate, and generous. I am trying. Sometimes I fail, and sometimes I succeed, but most of the time I'm just trying.

I am human. I am dancer.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Starting With Why

So I just finished reading a book written by Simon Sinek called Start With Why (2009). I think I remember hearing one of my favourite internet people, Mike Falzone recommending people read it in one of his podcasts (alongside another book called The Creative Curve, still on the lookout for that one), so when an office-mate of mine shared that they had the book in their possession, I asked to borrow it for a while (leel crocodile), and I managed to get through it in two weeks and a half (hooray).

I don't often write about the book I've read immediately after reading it, or at all, as the archives of this blog can attest. But I ended up having jumbled thoughts after reading Start With Why, so I turn to this blog to figure my thoughts out.

Basically the whole book can be summed up in a TedTalk he did around the same time jugak. If you've watched the TedTalk, you've basically read like 80% of the book. Simon argues that successful businesses are successful because they start with and continue sticking with why they exist in the first place. Simon elaborates it better and I have no desire to regurgitate what he has already spoken about at length, so if you're really interested, go ahead and watch the video.

I like the idea. The idea that you go in to any venture or endeavour with a core belief, a foundational philosophy. It sounds nice. It reminds me of when I first learned about pholosophies of education back in teacher training and how important it was to have not only a national philosophy of education but also a personal one, and how having one immediately empowers a teacher in their efforts within the classroom and school. It provides teachers focus about why they're doing what they're doing. It enables teachers to be clear about their role in the bigger scheme of things.

A lecturer of mine (Madam Mariah) helped me and my fellow TESL classmates come up with our own individual philosophies of education, and I treasure that exercise very much. Unfortunately the only copy I ever made of it was sent in to Madam Mar and has been in her possession since, so I haven't been able to revisit it.

But Simon Sinek was talking mostly about business, and why business-people and entrepreneurs needed to start with why in order to be successful at what they do. Maybe that's my first dislike about the book. I am such a non-business-person (or at least that's how I perceive myself to be). I do desire a comfortable life that is free from financial turmoil, but I have no desire to be a millionaire. I do not want to be a CEO of anything, I do not want to be a boss, I don't like the idea of being "at the top of the food chain". I like making stuff, I like telling stories and I like making people happy. So this book is already not a great fit for me, since I have no admiration for successful businesses and how they got that way. 

The book talks at length about how great Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Herb Kelleher and the like are, in a way that rubs me the wrong way. It read to me like Simon was trying to say: hey, here's why these people are billionaires and you aren't. He didn't put it in those words, but that's what it felt like. And I have zero love for billionaires, so it's very easy for me to dislike any person who tries to espouse messages that sound like "billionaires are good". I am of course not denying that their contributions to modernity are great. And on the surface, how Simon argues that they got there sounds alright, but he of course only talks about part of the picture, parts of the picture that support his thesis statement, as you are wont to do in a book that tries to argue for something. It doesn't take into account or even address the positions of privilege these people had in their lives to be able to do what they did. It didn't elaborate on how these people were/are problematic in their ways. It all sounds too "from zero to hero-y" for me to be able to take it without a bunch of salt.

But at the end of the day, it is a self-help book, not an academic book, so it has no imperative to be more critical than it has to be in order to make its arguments sound sound. Its main aim is to inspire, not inform, so whatever information that doesn't help with the inspiring bit would be edited out of the book, I'm sure.

Which was why I was surprised by the bit that tried to sound academic when it tried to draw parallels between brain anatomy and his argument of start with why. He talked about how his golden circle was similar to how the brain is built, how the why was the limbic part of the brain and how the hows and whats were the neo-cortex. That part sounded so psuedo-sciencey to me, it was hard for me to take it very seriously at all. And he tried to argue that parallel by himself essentially, not even bothering to quote any actual scientist or brain researcher person for the argument to try to carry any weight.

And I guess the part that disappointed me the most after reading the book was that it never laid out any real instructions or road-maps for his readers to be able to figure out their own WHYs. There wasn't a list of questions, or a set of steps or anything in that vein that would allow a reader to gain clarity of how to figure out their own why. He did vaguely talk about how he came across his own why, but I never really felt like he helped guide me around that question. What was my why? By the time I finished reading the book, I didn't come closer to it than when I started. I knew that I had to find it out. I just didn't know how. And I really thought the book would tell me. But it didn't. And I'm disappointed. Now I have to do all this hard work in figuring it out for myself, and I'm fundamentally a very lazy person, so I will most probably end up just not figuring it out sampai ke sudah. I wanted my hand to be held through the process, tapi dia takmaw pegang my tangan, and I'm sad.

Maybe the omission allows him to sell his seminars. "How To Find Your Why by Simon Sinek". Thousands of dollars for two hours. Boleh kaya oo. 

Maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe the book was good at bringing out my cynicism. Maybe I've just turned into a cynic at one point and refuse to take active steps towards self-improvement by pointing out how everything else is wrong and how I cannot take steps towards self-improvement until everything is perfect, which will never happen because perfection doesn't exist.