I Just Want To Lie Down

Back in the days of my corporate years, me and a colleague of mine often talked about holidays. These discussions spanned from possible holiday dates and destinations, to all the different food and drink we would enjoy during the trip.

We strategised about the best possible ways to capitalise on these holidays. Should we take it before Christmas? After New Year? Or maybe mid-year?

We took into account costs, the best weather, airlines, any special events, and so much more. It was almost an obsession for us.

I started a company more than ten years ago. Well, we acquired it but in my defence the company was in a very risky position, one bad move and there would be nothing left. We did quite a turnaround to make it into a strong and healthy business. And boy it took time to do that. I never knew acquiring a business could take so much work.

As with other businesses, things were never smooth nor stable for long. We experienced highs and lows, joy, heart break, excitement, and many other indescribable feelings.

We worked so hard for the business (especially in the first few years). I remember those nights when the kids would sleep in the car because we had big orders to fulfil the following day. The worst was when the phone rang in the afternoon with an urgent request, and we knew we had no choice but to abide, because it was one of our major customers – another all nighter coming through. Who said owning a business means answering to no one? We quickly figured out that we were answering to more than 500 people (read: bosses). And these ‘bosses’ could be more demanding than our corporate bosses (not always).

Nevertheless we were happy. Things turned around and we made good money. We started to improve (increase) our spending. A new car, a new house, even a new coffee machine. Life was great.

“Hi Fred.” Eddie said to me. ”How have you been?”

“Hi Eddie, what a surprise. Well, I am doing good, man,” I said.

Eddie is a friend from my previous life. He is the one I discussed holidays with back in my corporate days.

“Where are you working now,” Eddie asked.

“I run my own company.” I replied to him. “We distribute industrial products.”

“Wow, I remember back in BankEast you always wanted to have your own business,” Eddie said.

“Yeah, it’s a dream come true.” I said, trying to remember what I really said to him back then.

“Congratulations man.”

“Thanks, what about you?”

“I work in South Bank Institute now.”

“Sounds like a good place.”

“Yes it is, and guess what, we are going to Bali again this year.”

“Again?”

“Yup, the third time this year.”

‘Third time?”

This guy is so lucky, I thought to myself. I haven’t got the time to do all these holidays this year.

“Ok Fred, I need to rush,” Eddie said. “It’s great bumping into you.”

Despite our best effort we could only take holidays during Christmas and New Year. That would be around 10 days per year. We compensate this by making it in such a way that we only work short hours during the year. Practically we structured the business around our kids. We want to spend time with them so we work short hours but somehow we end up with only 10 days break per year.

In all honesty, I never thought about it before meeting Eddie.

It’s not like we need multiple holidays anyway. Ten days break is long enough – or so I thought.

But I just couldn’t let it go. Eddie gets to take multiple trips to Bali and I am just stuck here in the warehouse? What a crappy lifestyle I have now. Surely there must be something I could do to make my life a bit better?

As I drove home I was reminiscing about the time when I too was able to take multiple trips per year. What a great life it was. I remembered the cubicle where I sat. Eddie was sitting just across my desk (hence we talked a lot to each other). The best part was in the morning when I would use the company’s coffee machine to make my delicious morning coffee. Lunch was not too bad as sometimes we had to rush things, especially when there was a big tender due.

Big tender, what a nightmare.

I must have made more than 1000 spreadsheets over the course of my career as an analyst. Oh yeah, and those headaches, splitting headaches. I was consuming pain killers like candy. I had a box or two on my desk and took two tablets per day. If I kept going the way I was maybe I could purchase them at wholesale price based on the volume I went through.

And my boss, OMG, she was the most discriminating, intimidating, back-stabbing $%&6%^.

You know what, maybe I don’t need those holidays.

Life is good as it is now.

We are happy, our business is growing, the wife is happy (very important), and I have my own coffee machine at home (also very important).

You know what, I have a great life.

It’s simple, not glamorous, albeit it’s the best for me.

I just want to lie down on the sofa, relaxing, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and the most delicious Scotch Finger biscuit by my side.

That’s all I need.

I just want to lie down.


As previously published in Flying Solo: I Just Want To Lie Down

Slow Down, You’ll Get There Faster

Living in a fast lane. Global connectivity. Instant gratification.

Billion dollars ideas.

We have our goals, ambitions, dreams. We want to … no … we need to get there faster before it is too late. While we still have the strength and drive.

There is nothing wrong with big hairy audacious goals. We only live once, so we might as well make the most of it. Often, what we regret the most is the thing we didn’t have the time (or courage) to do.

But how fast can we run? Or more importantly, how far can we go?

Slow down. You will run faster, and you can go far.

It is not the rabbit versus the turtle. We want you to be both a rabbit and a turtle. (Maybe something like a ’turbit’ — a turtle with turbo rabbit). Slowing down to run faster and far is about taking a step back so we can manage our bodies and minds with laser focus. It is about building simple habits that move you towards your goal. Simple habits that if practised long enough will evolve into second nature. And before you know it, you are running effortlessly, faster than ever, non-stop.

We will look at five habits in relation to slowing down. Each one builds the next one and the next one and so on. But that doesn’t mean we forget the previous habit when we get to the next one. It simply says we need all five habits because they are built upon one another.

Habit One: Recharge Regularly

The longer we work, the less effective we are. There is a point where results will drop regardless of how much efforts we put in.

We need to recharge.

Slowing down forces you to notice your wellbeing. When the rush is over, the physical and emotional repercussions will surface. No, they have not been hiding all this time. A multitude layer of adrenaline covered them.

In a way, slowing down allows your mind and body to release their tensions. You then have the opportunity to rest. Your mind and body can recuperate.

Your brain needs plenty of rest to function at its optimal level. Go to sleep!” (Lalah Delia)

Habit Two: Remove Noises

Now that we have slowed down and recharged, we can start noticing noises. Those that are not important to our primary goal — remove them. These noises can be anything from actual sounds (perhaps noisy neighbours) to little side projects that often occupy too much of our mind and time.

The tricky part is saying no to a thousand things and yes to one thing.

Often we are afraid to focus on one thing and miss out on others. What you need to understand is, by doing everything you miss out on everything. By doing one thing you have a chance to be the best at it. Don’t be afraid to remove noises and focus on one thing — your primary goal.

“I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.” (Bruce Lee)

Habit Three: Planning

Removing noises allows us to get clarity. It is time to plan our steps with a clear goal in sight. Yes, planning is an essential habit albeit boring it may be.

Without continuous planning, your efforts will be akin to those wandering in the desert with no map and compass. You can spend years going around trying desperately to achieve your goals without going anywhere.

On the other hand, be careful with trying to find the silver bullet. While the activity of continuous planning is essential, the actual plan itself might be obsolete immediately after implemented. There is no silver bullet. There is only an evolving one.

The whole idea is to coordinate your steps in a strategic way towards a strong goal. But be flexible. Keep fine-tuning and keep evolving.

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” (General Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Habit Four: Self-control

We are our greatest enemies. Often it is ourselves that restrain us from moving forward. In the heat of the battle, we often lose control.

It is the execution that results in success. Masterful execution requires excellent self-control. How are we going to move forward flawlessly if we are continually affected emotionally by what is happening to us?

Slowing down helps you to achieve better self-control through regular recharge, complete focus, and continuous planning.

In achieving your goals, there will be obstacles and challenges. Some of them will make you wonder why you bother to go for it at all. There will be a time when you want to throw in the towel. In those moments, remember, it is not what happens to us that matter. It is how we react.

“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” (Charles R. Swindoll)

Habit Five: Step Forward

One of the most dangerous assumptions in life is that we are in control. While we can be in control of ourselves (Habit Four: Self-control), we are never in full control of everything else. The bigger our plan is, the less certain it is. Our ten years goal is a dream. But our ‘thing to do’ task for tomorrow is very real.

The more immediate the action step is the more control we have over it. The more we can be sure of the outcome.

The most important step right now (actually at any given moment) is your next one. Focus on your next step and stop worrying about the tenth step.This habit builds on both planning and self-control. A continuous act of planning will guide your mind and an excellent self-control will ensure you are moving on the right track.

You never know for sure how the whole plan will pan out but nothing happens until you take the next step.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

So just to recap:

Habit One: Recharge Regularly
Habit Two: Remove Noises
Habit Three: Planning
Habit Four: Self-control
Habit Five: Step Forward

I have even constructed an acronym to help you remember: 2RP2S or TwoRPTwoS (read: torpedoes).

The five habits are simple enough to understand yet challenging to master. And all it takes to start mastering these habits is one simple conscious effort: “slow down”.

One more time … slow … down …


As previously published in Medium: Slow Down, You’ll Get There Faster

Why Real Goals Are Scary (And Impossible Goals Are Addictive)

“In two years, my business is going to expand nationwide,” I said to Rob, my good friend.

“Yeah, and how are you planning to do that?” Rob replied.

“Get good customers base, expand the product lines, hire salespersons.”

“You think it’s so easy? Your plan does not even sound convincing!”

“Well, it’s important to have a dream.”

“Yeah, keep dreaming.”


That conversation took place about seven years ago when Rob was still working for me in my wholesaling business in Australia. I did not end up growing nationwide. It was just a dream.

In all honesty, that dream was mainly comprised of unachievable ambitions and insurmountable obstacles. I did not realise it then, but there were hidden motives behind my dream, behind my impossible goal.

I call them the Four Fears of Reality.

You see, it feels good to live in ‘potential’. It is a place to bask in the glory of our dream without having to worry about the rough roads to get there. We want to feel like we have already achieved that status, that wealth, that fame, that ‘potential’.

We love dreaming.

A dream is seductive and often addictive. But when reality hits, we realise it is just that, a dream. And we see how different it is from reality.

Are you ready to read more about it?

Fear of Responsibility

My seven years old daughter sometimes asked if she could fix things around the house. The latest one being our garden reticulation system. Of course, we said no. It was impossible for her to fix it.

The situation was different when I went to fix it myself. There was a real responsibility because I could do it. It was not easy, but it was possible.

When our goal is within reach, we have no excuse. It becomes a real goal. It becomes our responsibility.

We own it.

On the other hand, if we cannot even get close to our goal, how can we be held responsible?

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was a reflection of my unconscious effort to avoid the heavy burden of responsibility?

Fear of Losing Face (this one is rather personal)

In Chinese culture, there is a saying: “Men can’t live without face, trees can’t live without bark.” This is a concept of face (mianzi). It can perhaps be most closely defined as “dignity” or “prestige”.

It is the utmost importance not to lose face because it is the same as losing dignity or prestige. And being a Chinese descendant, my parents had successfully embedded this mindset in my heart and soul.

What does it have to do with the impossible goal, you might ask.

In essence, when I fail to achieve an impossible goal, I don’t lose face. It is the perfect excuse. However, a real goal carries with it the power to make me lose face.

I cannot fail a real goal without losing my dignity.

And it scares me.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was a well-planned excuse to save face?

Fear of Real Work

When I set out to expand nationwide seven years ago, I also attempted to create an action plan. I studied my national competitors, learnt about products that would sell nationally, and tried to connect with the big players. All of those seemed like good ideas. I enjoyed every minute of it.

I learned then that those activities did not help me towards my goal. But they felt good. I felt like a big player myself. The goal itself was not real. And so all of my action steps were nothing but drops in the ocean.

I kept doing them though. I could not stop. I was addicted to my impossible goal and the feel-good activities I created along the way.

We tend to do things that do not contribute much to achieve our impossible goal. But we do them anyway because they feel good.

Remember, dreams are seductive and addictive. We want more of them, never enough, always more, and more.

All of these addictive dreams will disappear once the goal becomes a reality.

Real goals push away our addictive dreams, leaving us with boring daily grinds. Real goals produce real work, hard and stressful work. It is most definitely not addictive.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was for me to taste this pleasure of dreaming over and over again?

Fear of Real Change

Have you ever thought that an impossible goal often does not push you forward? In most cases, it does the opposite. It restrains you from moving forward.

I did not get anywhere while trying to expand nationwide. I did a lot of research, thinking, reading, and so on. But I stayed where I was.

I was too busy creating feel-good activities that led me nowhere.

Truthfully, I was scared of change. And my impossible goal helped me to stay put without feeling guilty. I convinced myself that I was moving forward. I was progressing in my mind. But in reality, I was not.

I was trapped in my own dream. Or rather, I trapped myself in my dream.

An impossible goal will move us around in our mind. Real goals bring with them concrete actions that yield results. Real goals will force us to move forward, in reality.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was me hiding behind my fear of change?


“Fred, you are still here,” Rob suddenly appeared at the door.

“Yes, I am still here,” I replied.

“I thought you would be conquering the country by now.”

“Haha. Well, that was two years ago. I am now into other things.”

“Such as?”

“Selling more safety gears to the workshop next door.”

“That sounds more promising, want me to come with you?”


If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. (Dale Carnegie)

As previously published in The Ascent: Why Real Goals Are Scary (And Impossible Goals Are Addictive)

Is Your Startup Killing It (Or Killing You)?

Tom was an ambitious young entrepreneur. He started a successful tech company in the healthcare industry — an object of envy among his business peers.

Despite all the admiration, Tom was under a lot of pressures. Working from 6 am to 10 pm on a daily basis started to take its toll. He came home physically and mentally tired, but his brain could not stop working. Constant worry and stress gave him terrible insomnia. Tom realised his health was getting worse. He lost his appetite and survived mostly on black coffee and toast.

There were times when Tom had suicidal thoughts. His mind was clouded in darkness, and the air felt dirty; it was difficult to breathe in.

But his success mattered more than anything else.

He kept going in denial of his fractured sanity.


The Stigma

Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘Founder Depression’?

Founder depression looks a lot like a typical depression. Sadness, loss of interest, lack of energy and constant fatigue.

Sounds familiar?

Look it up, it is real, and it is happening. Maybe you have experienced it yourself. Perhaps you have seen someone else going through it. What you might not expect is the following. Founder depression can happen regardless of whether the startup is a success or not. According to research, entrepreneurs are 30% more likely to experience depression than their nonentrepreneurial counterparts.

Starting a business is stressful. It is the constant networking, cash flow pressure, lack of sleep, customer problem, product failure, staff issues, long hours and so on. Interestingly, despite the enormous stress a founder is under, none of them seems to talk about it much. Ask any founder about his or her business. I bet you; the answer will be along the line of: “I am killing it”.

It seems like there is a stigma attached to founder depression. No founder wants to look ‘weak’. And often they are willing to sacrifice their sanity for that. It is almost like a badge of honour, to be under enormous stress.

The Spiral

A startup is essentially a combination of people and process, driven by its founder. While it seems like the founder has the ultimate control of the startup, it is not always the case in reality. There is a web of responsibility and accountability among founders, investors, staffs, and customers. This intricately interconnected web often puts the founder in a difficult position.

Should the founder allocate resources for the wellbeing of the staffs? Should they pursue new product development? Should they start to penetrate the market now?

And so the initial drive leads to stress, which if not managed, then turns into depression.

“Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak — the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either.” — Aaron Swartz, Reddit co-founder (Aaron tragically committed suicide in 2013)

But the stigma attached to founder depression often prevents founders from opening up and getting help. The inability to get help will lead to further depression, and the downward spiral continues.

Breaking down depression starts by breaking down the stigma.

Breaking down the stigma starts from within. It is the mastery of self that allows us to look weak and vulnerable without feeling insignificant.

The Safe Place

It requires enormous strength to open up about our weakness. We don’t just approach a stranger and start sharing our deepest fear. We need a safe place. We need a place to be us, to be humans that hurt and bleed like mere mortals. Only then we can crawl our way up. Slowly recovering and rebuilding our strength.

The safe place is difficult to find. Yet without it, founders are often reluctant to open up. Before they let their guard down, they need to be sure they won’t be taken advantage of. Opening up requires deep trust and in the world of dog-eat-dog where do you find trust?

The safe place is difficult to find indeed.

The good news is, the safe place does exist. The safe place can be a family member, a close friend, or even a mentor or coach. The bad news is, you need to look for it. The safe place is not hiding, but it is not actively looking for you either.

Once you find it, keep it, and care for it, for it is a rare find.

It is a place where you find the strength to be vulnerable and the inner peace for reflection and recharge.

The Courage

There is a limit to the founder’s ability to withstand constant stress and depression. He or she might have found a safe place to refuel. But still, once the limit breaks, a massive depression will set its foot in the founder’s heart.

It is a moment of courage. It is the time for a tough decision. Founders need to choose one of two things, keep going or admit defeat. Both require a tremendous amount of courage. It takes courage to keep going knowing your sanity is on the line. And it also takes a lot of courage to admit failure and defeat.

There is no right or wrong answer here. Only the founder knows the answer, for only he or she knows the sacrifice that comes with it. The founder has no choice but to endure the agony that comes with either of them.

Whatever it is, a choice must be made. And it is only within the founder’s heart that the ultimate choice can be truly decided.

Only you, the founder, knows if the startup is killing it, or killing you. The real question is, what are you going to do about it?


“Running a start-up is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss. After a while, you stop staring, but the glass chewing never ends.” Elon Musk


As previously published in The Startup: Is Your Startup Killing It (Or Killing You)?