Be A Better Human Being


Portrait of Tammy Strobel
My Reading Room


Yes, your comfort zone is cosy. But no, you shouldn’t wallow in it. Dealing with unfamiliar situations helps us develop self-awareness and new skills, and fuels our confidence. Want to live your best life? You have to venture into the unknown. Here’s how.

1. Focus on how your body is reacting

As soon as you feel nervous, rate the intensity from one to 10, says Singaporebased Energising Goals psychologist and life coach Beata Justkowiak ( If your voice is changing, rate it a three; if your heart is racing, give it a five; if your hands are shaking, that’s a seven. You’ll realise it’s different each time you experience discomfort. This normalises the discomfort and cultivates a lower emotional attachment to that panicky feeling.

2. Mentally repeat words of affirmation

It’s okay to feel stressed. Give yourself a pep talk by telling yourself that yes, you can do it, says Beata. “Then close your eyes and take two deep, slow breaths. After two seconds, open your eyes and smile.” This breaks the reaction pattern as you learn that the anxiety is temporary.

3. Prepare for daunting tasks

Think about the upside: Can it help your career? Find a compelling reason to do it, then prep for it. Ahead of leading a presentation to a client in a second language, interior designer Aria*, 27, asked if she could run through her lines with her supervisor. Practising made the task familiar, and once the real deal was over, Aria realised she was no longer afraid.

4. Embrace awkward conversations

In the book Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness by Melissa Dahl, the health and psychology journalist says that awkwardness tends to stem from how we think someone else perceives us, and that we can learn from awkward exchanges. So either bite the bullet and have a chat, or the feeling that’s bothering you keeps eating at you.

5. Try something new regularly

Matt Cutts, a technologist in the United States, found that a month is just enough to add or subtract a habit – always start small with sustainable changes. Freelance writer Davelle Lee, 25, gave herself a year to experiment with a podcast. “I have social anxiety, and I’d always been enamoured with the idea of starting a podcast relating to the topic. But I was terrifi ed of putting myself out there,” she says. “Finally, I realised the one thing that would help me overcome my social anxiety was to just do it, regardless of what people might think. I did, and it was the most liberating feeling.” - HIY


Happiness is sad!

All things considered, I’d say that happiness, like Marvel movies, is rather overrated. People are often obsessed with this ineluctable concept of happiness, but the pursuit of happiness is an elusive ideal, like a carrot on a rod dangled in front of a horse – go on, you’ll just keep clopping and end up cross-eyed.

Just what is happiness exactly? Bliss? Ecstasy? Delirium? Euphoria? Euphoric delirium? No one knows.

In the 2018 World Happiness Report, Singapore ranked 34th, one above Malaysia, but behind Taiwan at 26th, the highest-rated Asian country out of 156 countries. Did we rank badly because, unlike the substantive 5Cs we pursue, happiness is more abstract and we flail and fail at it?

When I see friends on socials posting corny happiness quotes, I worry for their wellbeing. I think: “Get a grip.” Who, after all, are they trying to convert?

People are somehow convinced that happiness is necessary (it isn’t) or good for your wellbeing (it’s arguable), or that it’s healthy (so is a functioning liver). So are those happiness quotes just an act to mask some kind of shortcoming?

And if we’re not good at chasing it, then maybe we shouldn’t place a premium on it – don’t upsize your happiness order. And if that’s the case, then maybe tell yourself it’s okay to just be okay. To settle for melancholy, gratitude or contentment, the gamut of human emotions – instead of happiness. We can then change that song title to “Don’t Worry, (It’s Okay to Not) Be Happy.” And you’ll be okay. – DFL


Don’t Post All the Time

“I tend to put out content or talk about something when I actually have a stand or opinion on the topic. So for me, it’s not necessarily only if it’s a trending topic, because that’s pretty much just doing something for the sake of doing it – which is not my style.” – Preeti Nair, Youtuber and comedian 

My Reading Room

Following your dreams isn’t always sound advice: I’ll never win a Grammy (my singing is atrocious); and you may never be an astronaut. But all is not lost. If you’re realistic, you can still reach some goals. You just have to get real.

1. Create a vision board

If you’ve ever walked into a Kikki.k store, you’ll notice it’s full of inspiring quotes, with the materials you need to create a vision board (the physical Pinterest of your future). In chapter 15 of her book Your Dream Life Starts Here, founder Kristina Karlsson writes that the act of handwriting helps with memory. When you see a visual representation of your dreams daily, you start to open yourself up to opportunities, and take actions consciously and subconsciously to make them come true.

Kristina takes the S.M.A.R.T. approach to ensure her dream is “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound”. She wrote down when she wanted to open her first Kikki.k store in London, and how she was going to do it.

2. Discuss your dreams with others

Sharing your goals will make you accountable and help you achieve them, writes Kristina in chapter 16 of her inspiring book. You never know who might help, or provide the kind of criticism that you need to reflect on your approach.

When she had three stores, Kristina told a journalist that she wanted to open 40 stores in the next few years. It was nerveracking, but it made her process things and think about why she was chasing this goal. She thought through the risks and uncertainty. But after the article was published, she received phone calls from mall landlords offering deals and incentives.

3. Surround yourself with people you trust

Build trust and respect with the people around you so they can speak freely, especially if they have differing views. Cynthia Chua, founder of Spa Esprit Group and Wonderscape Holdings, has a close group of friends to bounce ideas off. “My businesses are all creative, lifestylefocused and peoplecentric, so friends don’t need to have relevant business experience before they can share a valuable opinion,” she says. “Even if it runs counter to my opinion, I always listen and ask further questions to gain a better understanding of why they think a certain way.”

4. Know when to quit

Cynthia’s vintage boutique, Potion, was in business for three years before it shut in 2006. “We were growing and had created so many brands that I couldn’t dedicate enough time to run Potion well,” she says. She realised that resources are finite and you need a great team to make a business work.

5. Start with seven actions you can handle

Kristina recommends shortlisting seven actionable steps. Focusing on what you absolutely must do will move you ahead more quickly and keep you motivated, otherwise it only gets overwhelming.

In 1996, with her idea of opening a Swedish stationery store, Kristina opened the Yellow Pages business directory and contacted potential suppliers. Some of the people she spoke with couldn’t relate to her dream, but the rest booked her for meetings, took her around their factories and explained the various processes of manufacture. #Win.

6. Communicate your message well

Kristina wanted to feature fashion designer Stella McCartney in her book. She was turned down at first but, undeterred, Kristina sent an e-mail detailing why she felt Stella in particular would be a good fit and that the book’s purpose was to inspire 101 million people to chase their dreams.

She also explained that she planned to donate $1 for every book sold to Tererai Trent International, a foundation run by Dr Tererai Trent, a woman who was born in a war-torn village in Zimbabwe and is now an advocate for education in rural communities. “I just had to do a better job of communicating to her how sharing her story in my book could help change the world in a positive way,” says Kristina. Stella  said yes. So you see, dreams can come true! - HIY


There Are No Perfect Lives, Only Perfect Lies

Fashion blogger Willabelle Ong has received more than a handful of e-mails asking for advice on “how to achieve the perfect life”.

Her response? “Social media isn’t real life. Life’s ups and downs, personal struggles and difficulties are often not portrayed online.

“If you accept social media for what it is – entertainment – drawing the line isn’t as hard as you think.” - HT


Spend Your Time Creating Better Content

Digital strategist and food blogger Victoria Cheng, 33, suggests taking a step back to observe trends. From there, you’ll be able to create content that will fill up gaps created by blind trends: “I rarely do full-fiedged dining reviews on my personal social media platforms, since everyone is a food critic these days. Instead, I like to refiect on culinary trends, or find out the truth behind nutrition or any related topic.” - HT 


In the stampede to find shortcuts, convenience and lifehacks, entrepreneurs have given us some seriously silly inventions. Is the quest for convenience really all it’s made out to be?

We get it: Time is precious, and despite the glut of new technology, products and services, we still don’t seem to have enough time for ourselves. So what do we do? Silicon Valley bigwigs try to invent things to save us time and energy, but end up giving us a lot of laughs instead.

Case in point: Juicero, aimed at those of us who live for cold-pressed juices and clean eating. In 2017, the tech bros of the $552 juicer raised more than $116 million in funding and promised coldpressed juice in the comfort of your Alexaabled, Siri-sorted abode… But really, all it did was squeeze a packet of juice, which we could have done with our hands (Bloomberg’s video review of Juicero will never not be funny).

It also forced you to subscribe to a minimum of five juice packs a week, priced between $9 and $14. Fresh fruit juice from the hawker stall is $3, plus a bonus healthy walk thrown in.

Have you ever wanted a hand-blown artisanal glass globe and carafe to brew your tea in? No? Neither did most of the world, which is why Teforia’s $552 Leaf teapot – sorry, infuser – shrivelled up in 2017 (even Juicero threw shade at them). The Wi-Fi-enabled contraption promised the perfect brew at the push of a button, and the Sips (Selective Infusion Profile System) tea pods are biodegradable, but you have to take the pods to an e-recycling centre… instead of tossing your tea leaves into a potted plant as compost.

Why would we need a $552 teapot and pods to do what a $10 teapot, hot water and tea leaves can? The shuttered Teforia has since been revived, with info on its website promising a new infuser named “Phoenix” to rise in Spring 2019. We can’t wait… to laugh.

Another eyesore is provided by bicycle-sharing services Mobike and Obike which, while promising some convenience, have unfortunately brought out our inner vandals. Bikes are thrown everywhere or illegally stashed outside people’s homes, or just left on pathways to block pedestrians… and other cyclists.

Likewise, irresponsible drivers on personal mobility devices (PMDs) have proven to be occasional menaces, as some have crashed into pedestrians by recklessly speeding. In one case in Pasir Ris, the collision resulted in brain damage. When I see these riders coming at me along the footpath, I often have my guard up and have to brace myself for potential toe stubs or impact – the convenience is never all it’s made out to be.

So while technology and the sharing culture is useful (hello, Airb nb!), I’m happy to make the walk to the MRT station unaided, make my own tea, and blend or buy my own juices, and that’s the inconvenient truth. - NP


It’s a myth that multitasking gets more done in a shorter time. What’s proven is that the quality of your work suffers, and you literally are not stopping to smell the roses. Here’s why monotasking is the way to go.

If I’m watching Netflix, I’m probably having dinner; and I always seem to have at least 15 tabs open when browsing. It’s as if I’m afraid to do one thing at a time. The reason: Juggling multiple things makes me feel like I’m saving time.

But research – including a National University of Singapore study that found multitasking may impair the forming of long-term memories – indicates that multitasking lowers efficiency. Our brains are better at focusing on one task at a time; multitasking slows us down and results in memory loss.

That’s at least true where the tasks require the same kind of cognitive resources. Bad: e-mailing a client and talking to a colleague at the same time. Very bad: Whatsapping while driving. Okay: listening to music while working out.

You see what I’m getting at.

So instead, I’ve decided to singletask in the office: I break down big tasks and keep my to-do list concise. It sort of works; I notice progress, and that motivates me to keep going.

However, being bombarded by e-mail messages all day is challenging. I want to be on top of things by responding to everyone immediately, but it’s a productivity killer. As Chris Bailey mentions in his book Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, becoming more productive isn’t about time management; it’s about attention management.

I limit checking e-mails to the start and end of day. On my iPhone, I restrict notifications using the Downtime function. Sure enough, it’s become easier to be engrossed in a task, and sticking to a clear structure has made me work more productively.

Next, I strive to dwindle down to only two browser tabs at a time. If you leave a tab open and neglected for more than five minutes, chances are it’s not that important. I’ll admit, change is a work in progress, and Rome wasn’t built yada yada. But I actually finish reading (and remembering) more articles now and, like my desktop, my mind feels less cluttered. - HIY 

My Reading Room


The world is full of duplicity and missteps. If you’re lucky, you have a mentor who’ll guide you and have your back. Here’s how to find one.

1. Search for a Mentor In Your

Field Painfully obvious. It’s important that your mentors have first hand experience and know the common pitfalls in your industry – to prevent you from making similar mistakes. Career resource site The Muse adds that having a mentor in your field increases your chances of being introduced to more professionals within your industry. Where do you start? By schmoozing – read our networking feature.

2. It’s Okay to Have More Than One

Mentoring is not onesize-fits-all, writes Ashleigh Clark in 4 Reasons Why You Need More Than One Mentor ( Different mentors have different strengths and skill sets that complement one another, so they can collectively offer you broader career insights.

3. Look for Someone Who’s Not Like You

A mentor with differing views from your own is beneficial, because she could highlight things that might possibly blindside you, and help you solve problems by offering a different perspective.’s Laurence Bradford adds that a mentor with a different skill set is an important resource who can help to fill the gaps in your experience and skills. While you’re at it, find someone who will give you an honest opinion and tough love. Your mentor should be there to teach you, not to infl ate your ego.

4. Don’t Formally Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor

Asking someone to be your mentor is not only abrupt but frighteningly vague, as you might both have different ideas of what it entails. Ryan Holiday, best-selling author of Ego Is the Enemy, says: “A mentorship is… a dance, not a contractual agreement.” And the best way to kick-start a relationship with a prospective mentor is to ask an appropriate and intelligent question. That way, you can engage the person in conversation and allow her to get to know you in a more natural way. - lZY


There Will Be Haters, Deal with It

Having been cyberbullied through her teenage years, Preeti Nair now takes the occasional hater with heaps of salt: “Every now and then I read a couple of hate comments on my videos, but you can’t please everyone.” - HT


Four enterprising women tell us how they are empowering other women, and how you can help too.

PAIGE PARKER, Singapore Committee for UN Women: The organisation helps raise awareness and funds for the Ending Violence Against Women, Economic Empowerment, and Governance and Leadership Programmes.

“On my three-year road trip around the world, I witnessed women as second-class citizens, at best, in much of our world. I saw women without freedom of movement, the right to education, or even passports. After that, I knew I wanted to do what I could to improve the lives of women and girls.”

Besides guiding the direction, strategy and management of the programmes, the committee raises funds and awareness. Paige also works on events such as the annual Snow Gala and connecting donors and individuals to UN Women, which seeks to empower women everywhere.

“Our newest mission is to help the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh by building seven multipurpose Women’s Centres where they will have safe refuge, medical care, livelihood and skills training.”

How you can help: Volunteers are always welcome, and donation go a long way. “Parents can also support our Girls2pioneers programme; we work with secondary schools to provide mentorship opportunities for girls aged 10-15, to encourage studies and careers in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Mathematics).”

PURNIMA KAMATH, cofounder and director, Women Who Code Singapore: The global non-profit organisation aims to inspire more women to have careers in technology.

“A few years ago, our CEO, Alaina Percival, and the team were at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to ring the morning bell. I remember being impressed with how they created a movement to inspire women in technology, and subsequently had a large institution like the NYSE recognise it! I wanted to bring the movement here and do something similar.”

“I felt we lacked a professional women’s network in the city and wanted to fill that gap with a local Women Who Code network.”

Together with co-founder Choong Yue Lin, she runs hackathons, tech talks and workshops, in addition to providing a platform for women in tech to give talks without fear of discrimination or intimidation.

How you can help: Sign up to the Code Review newsletter for updates, resources on learning how to code, discounts on international conference tickets, and job alerts.

JACQUELINE LOH, chief executive officer, Aidha: This award-winning charity offers financial education and self-development programmes for foreign domestic workers and lowerincome women.

“I have always believed economic empowerment was essential for women’s empowerment. Providing women with the skills and confidence to control their own destinies is the type of development intervention that I think lasts, and has so much positive impact on the women’s families and communities.”

As CEO, she helps to prepare, run and organise its courses for the 400 students who are enrolled at any one time, in addition to meeting Aidha’s partners and potential partners to explore new collaborations.

Jacqueline says most of the charity’s 250 volunteers and mentors are working professionals. How you can help: “We provide training and curriculum material for mentors. Depending on the course, the time commitment could be as little as one to two hours, once a month.”

KANAK MUCHHAL, women’s support manager, Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT): This charity helps lowincome women become job-ready and find sustainable jobs.

“Most people in Singapore are unaware that around 140,000 families here live in urban poverty, and more than 25,000 of those families live on less than $650 a month. It wasn’t until I started working as a part-time counsellor at a Family Service Centre that I really understood what the living conditions were like, and the difficulties marginalised families face – the current system was not meeting their needs. I joined DOT as I felt it was actively making a difference to change these families’ lives, one woman at a time.”

Kanak now works with a team of volunteer befrienders who reach out to benefi ciaries. “And I still spend one-to-one time with some beneficiaries every week.”

How you can help: DOT hopes to recruit, train and deploy 50 new befrienders in 2019. Or you can sign up to be a volunteer childminder in the evenings. If you’re tight on time, donations help too. www.daughtersoftomorrow. org - NP


Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Martial artist and fitness blogger Kirstie Gannaway suggests taking a step back when unrealistic expectations get to you. “Stay off social media if you’re feeling low about yourself and get your head around that first,” says the 28-year-old. - HT
My Reading Room


If you want your opinions to matter, you need to show that you know what you’re saying. (Climate change deniers, looking at you.)

Everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks their opinion matters. The truth is, it doesn’t. Because you’re not an expert, and neither am I. But I’ve decided that before commenting on hotbutton issues, I’ll first become an expert, or at least as know ledgeable as possible.

Why? Because there’s just too much noise out there. Too many keyboard warriors, Youtube video commenters and forum page letter writers. Even The Daily Show’s host, Trevor Noah, has ragged on CNN and other news channels for booking climate deniers: “Why does the news keep bringing on non-scientists to argue against science?”

That’s where we find ourselves nowadays.

In the Harvard Business Review article, The Making of an Expert, the authors reference the three chess-playing Polgar sisters, as well as Professor Benjamin Bloom’s research on experts (1985). The conclusion is simple: Practice is crucial. There just isn’t any shortcut to expertise – it’s all about repetition and routine. You can’t become an expert on a topic in a casual tweet. You need to practise, practise, practise.

So that’s what I’m doing – I’m just gonna practise. By that, I mean I’ll be learning: listening to music critics weigh in on music; watching videos like “A Country’s History in 10 Minutes”; and watching Youtube channels like Nerdwriter and Every Frame A Painting, which off er fun and factual videos for learning. Because you can’t be too informed.

But that’s just, like, my opi nion, okay? - HT