How to Beat the System: Step 1

A while ago, I was having dinner with a friend. She jokingly mentioned that my biography should be titled “Beating the System” or something along those lines, because of all the stuff I’ve managed to get away with.

And in retrospect, she could be right. I’ve gotten away with a lot of things. Given the stuff I’ve done, I should have got into way more trouble than I have, and I should have been far from where I am now. But I’m not. Why? Partly, I think it’s because I’m capable of bullshitting my way out of most situations.

But that’s not what I want to focus on now, because I don’t think it’s the most important thing. I think the most important things is this: I’m willing to try and push the system. I’m willing to go against the system, to test the limits, and to take the leap and see what happens.

And I think that’s the first, and arguably most important step in beating the system. Having that willingness to take the risk, to stand by what you want, and go for it. Too many people, especially here in Singapore, worry about getting into trouble. They worry that if they test the rules, or the authority, that they will get completely screwed over and things will be horrible. But more often than not, that’s not true.

Of course, you don’t just break the rules for the sake of it. But if you see a rule that you think is pointless, if there’s a part of the system you don’t agree with, have the courage to go against it. Once you get rid of that fear (of getting into trouble, of being outcast, etc), you’re halfway there.

Taking the leap is half the battle won.

What’s stopping you from going against the system, and living life on your own terms?

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My Thoughts on the Daniel Brusilovsky Situation

By now, those of you in the social media scene have probably heard of the incident with Daniel Brusilovsky and TechCrunch. For those of you who don’t, here’s a rundown of the situation. Daniel was interning for TechCrunch, and allegedly asked for a Macbook Air in exchange for a post about a startup. TechCrunch found out about it, and fired Daniel, who followed up with a personal statement, admitting that “a line was crossed”, but not quite saying much else.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve been quite intrigued by the whole scenario. I honestly did not know of Daniel before this (though I probably should have), so it was interesting. To see another young blogger do something like this, and the reactions that its received.

Personally, I think what Daniel has done is indefensible. A group of us bloggers in Singapore recently had a meetup where we were just talking about the up-and-coming culture of bloggers asking to be paid. And I’m personally hugely against it. So, that’s where I stand on the whole issue. Daniel was wrong, and deserved to be fired.

The main two things that catch my attention, though, are these.

Firstly, Daniel’s statement. He doesn’t quite admit to anything on this. He says “a line was crossed that should have never been”, but that he “[does] not want to go into details”. He also seems to make excuses, claiming his youth. He then makes a request for privacy. You know what the statement reminds me of? Tiger Woods’ statement after his accident at the end of last year. It feels like a crafted statement, to reveal as little as possible, and try to sweep everything under the rug as quickly as he can.

Dewey Hammond put it perfectly well when he tweeted the following:

Ppl praising @danielbru ask yourself this: After getting caught red-handed what other choice did he have but to apologize?

And that’s what it strikes me as. An apology (not even an apology, but a statement), for the sake of it because he was already busted. Of course, I could be wrong, but personally, reading that, it didn’t seem particularly sincere or remorseful. I’d like for him to come out and be straight about it, and say “I did this. It was wrong, there was no excuse for it.”

Secondly, and more importantly, I think is the fact that lots of people are saying that people should cut him some slack because he is a kid. Yes, he is a kid, but kids can and do take on responsibilities too. (And for what it’s worth, from the way his statement itself is crafted, it seems to me that he’s more than smart enough to have known what he was doing.)

Granted, I’m a couple of years older than him (and am not quite anywhere near his level of fame), but speaking as a kid, I don’t think he should be excused on those grounds. Us “kids” are always asking to be treated and respected as adults, and well, to quote Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”. You can’t have it both ways – you can’t ask to be respected as an adult, but hide behind the image of being a kid if you make a mistake.

If you want to hide behind the label of a kid, stay in the playground. Once you choose to step out, you need to face the responsibilities of being an adult – and own up to your mistakes. It may sound harsh, but that’s my 2 cents.

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What Are You Searching For?

I just watched “P.S. I Love You” again. And there was one scene that really struck me. It’s the scene where the girl was recounting the first time she met her husband.

Basically, she was a college student, on a trip to Ireland. This Irish guy saw her, and offered his help. She asked how to get to “Wicklow National Park”. The man replied by asking her how long she had been walking for. She said a couple of hours, and the man answered “Well, you’ve probably been in Wicklow National Park for a few hours then”.

Strange, isn’t it? When you’re looking for a place, and you feel lost, only to realize that you’ve been there all along? But yet how many of us do that? I think there are a lot of us who are so caught up in searching, that we miss what it was we were looking for. I myself am guilty of it.

I think it’s important that we don’t get so caught up with doing something that we miss what’s around us. I think sometimes, we just need to step back, take a look around, and re-evaluate where we are at. Maybe what we were looking for was there all along.

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Doing Nothing

I watched The Dark Knight a couple of times over the New Year Holiday. The thing that struck me most was the central idea of playing a villian to be the hero.

Here’s a conversation from the movie (courtesy of IMDb):

Bruce Wayne: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?
Alfred Pennyworth: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.

And I think it’s an interesting thought. The idea that sometimes, the heroic thing to do is to do nothing. I think very often, we get so focused on coming up with solutions and trying to do somethings. Sometimes, I think, the best thing to do is just sit, and wait, and let things happen.

Last month, Alexandra Samuel wrote about how a smartphone can make you more patient, by making you more willing to accept delays. He poses the question:

On your way to meet a colleague, you get stuck in traffic. Radio traffic reports tell you it’s a ten-minute backup. You can spend ten minutes inching forward, or you cut out and take a circuitous route that will add 15 minutes to your drive, but it’ll be 15 minutes in which you’re moving. Which do you you choose?

I know some people who would choose the latter. Some of us just want to know we’re moving, that we’re doing something. And I think with the urgency and immediacy we face and expect in today’s world, I think that number is growing.

But that’s not always the best thing to do. Sometimes, it’s better to just be patient, and let things happen. Sometimes, it’s not what you do, but what you don’t do that counts. Sometimes, it’s better to do nothing.

The challenge, of course, is knowing when to take action and when not to, and to have the strength and patience to go through with it.

What do you think? Are there situations which are better suited to not doing anything, and letting it resolve itself?

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Why I Love Social Media

NYE @ Arab Street Tweetup was amazing, and I think it epitomized everything I love about social media. It had everything – spontaneity, great conversations, new friendships – it was just awesome. And before I go on, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who made last night happen. Jerrick, Ivy, Justin Lee, Justin Ng, Hisham, Michael Cheng, Nicole, DK, Shawn, Jean, and everyone else who stopped by. I had a great time.

Here’s what happened. A few days ago, Jerrick and I were talking on Twitter. He’s back in Singapore for the holidays, and we were saying that we needed to catch up before he left again. Off the top of my head, I threw out the idea of doing something for New Years Eve with the other local social media people. Jerrick then retweeted the idea, and Ivy came across his retweet, and said it was a “great idea”. The three of us then started discussing what we should do, and by the next day, we decided (Ivy’s idea) to go hang out at Arab street for dinner, drinks and the like.

So, we created a twtvite and sent it out. People responded, and two days or so later, at the event, we had about 10 people show up. After dinner and some drinks, we decided to head to Hackerspace Singapore, for more conversations. And let me say, Hackerspace is awesome. They have a great idea, great beliefs and ideals, and I really hope they do well. But more on that another day.

Back to last night. We went to Hackerspace, and just hung out and talked. For something like 8 hours. In between that time, more people joined us, some left at various points in the night. But all in all, a group of us were there until 7 in the morning. We did a countdown, we talked about everything. From what social media meant to us individually, to our thoughts on how Singapore is like at the moment, to random conversations about toilets.

But it was great. Just hanging out, and having a great time with friends, filled with great conversation and discussion. I can’t think of a better way to start the new decade. Before yesterday, I had not met half of the people who were there before. By the end of the night (well, the morning, to be specific), I had made new friends, and I had had a night filled with great conversations, with really smart people.

So yes, that, in a nutshell, is why I love social media, and what I think it should be about. It’s what I’ve missed the most while I was on hiatus. Conversations, community and friendships, with a dash of spontaneity. We get so caught up sometimes worrying about how to monetize our blogs, how to build a reputation, how to further our personal brands, etc (and yes, don’t get me wrong, those things are important, in context), that we forget the social aspect of social media. And I think we need to always remember that.

At the end of the day, social media is about people. At least, that’s what I think.

What do you think? What is social media to you – and what do you like, or not like, about it?

Photo by mhisham

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Looking Back on 2009

At the start of the year, I wrote that this year would “definitely very much a defining period for me”, and that “[t]his is the time of my life where I have to step up, like never before.” It’s coming to the end of the year now, and I think it’s about time I look back and reflect on how things have gone. So, this is going to be a really personal post, feel free to skip it if you wish.

So, 2009. Where do I even begin? Honestly, it’s been one hell of a whirlwind year. I started off the year taking a hiatus from this blog, because having to be in the army was really affecting me and I didn’t feel like I was in the right emotional and mental state for maintaining this blog. And honestly, I don’t regret that decision.

I was in a really bad place at that time. I was bordering on depression (perhaps more than just “bordering”). My temper was at its all time worst, I was flaring up at everything and everyone, and my punching bag at home was being put to great use. I broke a couple of things in my room as well, flinging them against the wall in anger at various times. And to add to that, I was drinking a lot to take my mind off things and to get me by. In a nutshell, I was doing really badly.

In the midst of that, though, I do think I’ve grown. I’ve developed more resolve, to not accept things the way they are and to push for the change that I want. And things have definitely improved. I’m now a clerk in my unit, helping out with various projects such as my unit’s website on the army’s intranet. It’s definitely a job that’s more up my alley.

That happened around the middle of the year, and I started finding my feet in the army, now that I had a more suitable job scope. But I wasn’t quite ready to come back to this blog yet. The time away from the blog made me realize that I needed to prove myself. As I mentioned at that time, I didn’t want to come back to the blog until I thought I was able to back up what I was writing. I needed to prove, at least to myself, that I had some sort of value.

I struggled a lot with that. And truth be told, I still do. I still have a huge amount of self-doubt, as to whether I’ll really become the person I think I’m capable of being. Or whether I’ll end up a flop, who didn’t measure up to expectations. But worrying about it can only get you so far, and you never fully know until you try.

So, in about August, I finally got around to kickstarting a project of my own, DreamFledge. It’s going to be my biggest endeavour yet, and only time will tell how it’ll go. The site is being developed by Morgante Pell, with design help from Miriam Brafman. The original idea was mine, but a lot of people have played a part in shaping it. I’ll share more about that when I announce it’s launch. But basically, I’ve finally gotten around to trying to do something. And I’m happy about that.

About a month ago, I also started a new blog, Counting the Odds. It’s a personal experiment for me, sort of. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you can make a living doing what you love to do. But I think before I try to spread that message, I need to live it. So that’s what I’m trying to do with Counting the Odds. I’m trying a number of different things there, and seeing whether I can build a reputation around the niche of the mathematics of poker. And whether I can possibly monetize that in a year or two (outside of any income from the actual poker game itself).

In between all of that, I’m thinking of applying to college next year. Rather, I’m in the midst of applying. But I’m refusing to do a standard application, because, well, that’s just who I am (actually, no, I have my reasons, and I’ll share them in a future post soon).

That’s how my 2009 has been in a nutshell. Started out with me falling into a mild/moderate depression. After I got out of that, I fell into a strain of self doubt and questioning my ability and my worth. And finally, being able to get out of it and take action.

So, yes, it’s been a whirlwind of a year. I still have my struggles, and my friends will more than happily attest to that. But I do think I’ve manage to come out of it, and to come out on top (kind of). I’ve got two projects in their infancy, and I’m really looking forward to what 2010 brings and whether I can make those two projects successful.

What about you? How has 2009 been for you – and what does 2010 hold?

Photo by A_Gude

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“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived”

Came across this video, and had to share it. It has a great message, in my opinion.

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