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Fear is perhaps one of the greatest common denominators among people today. Everyone is afraid of something. From the smallest ant to the biggest retrenchment, it is a universal feeling that no one can deny.

The worst part is that fear, if allowed to fester, can be incredibly crippling. A man with the potential to be a great person can be reduced to a whimpering pile of mess. It is very much akin to clipping the wings of an eagle off, which is tragic. The eagle was meant to soar high in the bright skies, where the limits are boundless. In the same way, us humans have incredible, untapped potential within each and every one of us. We are all made unique, with a special combination of abilities that set us apart from each other, which, if harnessed, can be used to do great things.

So why are great people rising up in such small numbers? The answer: Fear. We’ve been convinced that risk is not worth taking. It’s been whispered in our ears that it’s not worth it, that we should stick to the tried-and-tested. It’s been insinuated that sticking to the conventions are the best, because they are proven and secure. We’ve been bribed with huge future returns… If we stay on this one path of life. You know the path: Good school to good job to good income = Good life.

Yet, how many working people today would actually dare to say that they are living out their dreams daily, that they are pursuing their passions and using their abilities to the fullest, that they are actually happy?

Fear has kept us on the road more taken. The road not taken, as it is, is covered in moss and undergrowth, and seems to be a scary place to tread. However, all it takes is for someone to sweep the moss and undergrowth off the road at the beginning, and voila! the road is as clear as day. All it takes is a step in the right direction, and you’re on your way.

I find that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. If you fear something, you know for sure that if you actually overcome it, you have grown as a person. Overcoming fear leads to growth. Rising up to the challenge in the first place, however, takes courage. The road is not easy, I can tell you that — but the returns are great.

Life is too short to be hindered by fear. Don’t pass up the potential that you have because of a moment of anxiety. Do something that you are afraid of today — or at least, take baby steps in that direction, but nevertheless, take steps. I first took the step to publish my rather unpolished writing 3 years ago and never looked back. If you love writing but are afraid of criticism, start a blog now. If you love photography but don’t dare to take photographs in public, take one photo a day for a year — that’s 365 photographs for your portfolio.

And I guarantee you this: It will all be worth it.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

This post first appeared (mostly) on Fever Avenue: Fear is Overrated, and re-posted on Medium.

The Employer Alliance recently stated that many Singaporeans (literally, hundreds of thousands) could re-enter the workforce, and hence ease Singapore’s manpower shortage, if more companies were willing to adopt flexible working arrangements. Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also released figures revealing that more than 160,000 economically inactive individuals want to find work within the next two years, but are, for one reason or another, unable to do so. In other words, due to a reluctance on the part of employers in adopting flexible working arrangements to accommodate individual circumstances, Singapore continues to suffer from severe manpower shortage.

In some sense, it’s hard to blame employers for erring on the cautious side. ‘Face-time’ is still highly valued as a traditional marker of worker productivity by employers – workers who are seen less are generally perceived to be less productive. This is hardly a rational measure, but one that employers stick to nonetheless.

Despite the trend towards flexible work arrangements, companies are still unwilling to let all its employers have that degree of freedom. For example, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made abold move by ending Yahoo’s work-from-home program. Following suit, other giants such as Best Buy also stopped their work from home programs, and many have either applauded the move, or denounced it in its entirety.

 

The Debate: Pros and Cons of Working-from-Home

According to some, the end of the work from home option in Yahoo and Best Buy  creates serious repercussions for men and women between the ages of 40 and 60, as the typical teleworker is 49 years old, rather than the 20-something. Parents have also raised a chorus of disapproval, complaining that this has destroyed their chances to have a career as well as being a mother or father.

On the other hand, many have stood up in support of the move.  In defense, they point out that those who work in the office often have higher productivity, lower idle time, and take shorter breaks.  Yet, even they have conceded that telecommuting options should still be open under certain circumstances – whether it to save on office space, or to find candidates from a broader pool.

So it seems that the majority believe that flexible working arrangements have their merits, and should not be completely abolished. How, then, should employers abolish the undesirable effects?

 

Take a Leaf from the Apple Playbook

Apple seems to be doing phenomenally well with its “massive network of remote customer support agents” (i.e. At-Home Apple Advisors). The challenge they faced, as do many companies, is in training a diverse group of people, spread out across the world. What they did was to put their advisors through an intensive four week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. training program:

“The curriculum is broken into four, one-week sections that are a mix of live instruction and self-paced modules in iDesk. Then at the end of each week, everyone takes an exam. They have two chances to hit the grading benchmark (two advisors said this was 89 percent, one said it was 80 percent), before they are kicked out of the program. So immediately, workers have an impetus not only to pay attention, but to keep the job once it’s final because they worked so hard to get there.”

In other words, the sheer difficulty of passing the training program makes workers want to work hard to keep their jobs. Apple also employs some other (draconian?) tactics to make sure that their advisors are not goofing off:

 “For example, trainers deliver regular prompts to each person throughout live instruction. These can be questions, requests for input, or just a cue for the trainee to click on. One former advisor I spoke to said Apple monitors mouse movements. If your mouse doesn’t move in a certain amount of time, then you’re sent a prompt. If you still don’t respond within 30 seconds, the trainer might actually call your cell phone.

“In addition to these prompts, trainers can ask the class to turn on their cameras for group discussion at any moment, making it immediately clear if someone isn’t at their desk. Also, many of the test questions are worded in such a way that the trainee would only know the answer if they participated in all the past week’s activities.”

These are excellent methods of giving employees extrinsic motivation to stay on task. Additionally, Apple also works to keep employees intrinsically motivated through the use of team psychology (team-building exercises) and enforcement of company culture (an Apple ‘care package’ sent to each advisor).

 

The Key: Motivate Your Remote Workers

In sum, Apple’s remote working arrangements work remarkably well because they invest a lot of effort into making it work. In contrast, most companies simply grant their employees work-from-home time, and end it at that – no wonder their employees do not feel motivated to work hard!

The key to making telecommuting work, then, seems to be in creating a proper remote working program or scheme that suitably rewards/monitors the employees under it.

 

My Take

There are certain jobs where working from home is, well, pretty much an impossibility. There are others (largely digital-based work), though, in which it absolutely make sense for two reasons:

  1. Remote workers, being able to work at times when they are at their best, tend to work the hardest at home (sometimes, even too hard)
  2. Employees are treated like adults rather than children, and nobody wants a child in their company

Remote working is definitely a step forward, in my opinion. What do you think?

 

Most of this post originally appeared on Zopim’s Blog: Read this before Letting Your Employees Work From Home

Looking for the best content on Freelancing, Writing and Content Marketing? Let me save you the trouble. I will be curating the top posts on Freelancing, Writing and Content Marketing at the end of each week,  for your reading convenience. For more freelance resources, check out my Resources for Freelancers page.

 

Freelancing

The Path to Mastery on Medium

The case for having no goals in your life: Why it might lead to more success and happiness on Buffer

A Grad’s Guide to Freelancing on Business2Community

 

Writing

7 Invaluable Writing Tips from Stephen King on Policy Mic

 

Content Marketing

How to Build a Scorecard to Measure Content Marketing Effectiveness on Content Marketing Institute

Optimize Your Content Plan for Google’s In-depth Article Results on Content Marketing Institute

7 Ways Twitter Can Help Juice Your Content Creation on Hubspot

 

The age old debate. What is more important – to find a job you are passionate about, or to find one that puts food on the table? The notion of happiness has, in recent years, become a topic of heated debate. As a result, students working their way up and out into the corporate world are beginning to question their career choices. What job will make me the happiest?

I always dread making small talk with strangers, because invariably we would reach a point where we would touch on one of the greatest icebreaker questions of all time:

“So, what do you want to work as?”

At this point my heart would start pounding. My self-consciousness meter would start to peak, as I try nonchalantly (note: try) to reply:

“Oh, I’d like to be a freelance writer in the near future.”

At the same time, I do my utmost best to hold myself back from adding the words for now at the end of my sentence (even though most of the time, I’m not really sure myself). The response is always the same – a rather awkward:

“Oh. That’s nice.”

That’s nice? Having a pet dog is nice. And the follow-up question always hits the spot:

“So… What do you plan to do after that?”

It always seems to be a mind-blowing concept – that one would pursue his or her passion in the arts or sports arena as a full-time job. Is it any wonder that our Singapore soccer team, good as they are in the ASEAN region, can never make it to the World Cup? After all, who would want to chase their dreams when from a young age parents have already drilled into their children the notion that having interests and dreams are fine – only if they are pursued in their spare time (who has spare time nowadays, with Singaporean parents’ obsession with tuition?). This essentially relegates our dreams to the backseat, as unrealistic and irrational.

So where does that leave us? I personally believe that there is room for compromise. For example, how much food do you want to put on the table? Is simple fare like cai fan (assorted meat and vegetables with rice) good enough? Or do you want an intercontinental buffet? In other words, how much money do you need to survive? If you can accept less, there is more room for you to pursue your passions.

This is not to say that it is impossible to find the perfect job – one that pays well and is in an area that you are passionate about. American entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau, in his book The $100 Startup, makes the case for this formula: Passion/Skill + Usefulness = Success. In other words, if you can use your passion to create a product or offer a service that people are willing to pay for, and of course find a way to get paid for it, you will find the perfect recipe for success – where passion and practicality meet. In this way, it is entirely possible to do what you love and still earn money.

The catch: it will most definitely not happen overnight. Like any business (or anything else in life, for that matter), it will take months – or in some cases, even years – to build. In the meanwhile, would cai fan do for you?

At the end of the day, it is inevitable that you will have to weigh your own priorities, and decide for yourself what option would make you the happiest in the long run.

So I’ve finally collated all my photos and thoughts about the trip. I actually returned to Singapore on June 4, but the tidal wave of random things to attend to swept me up for the past weeks. I really miss the slow, steady lifestyle that Thailand offers.

Nevertheless, here are the highlights of the rest of my trip – from various parts of Krabi, finally ending at Phuket.

 

Krabi, Ao Nang: Sleepy old town

We arrived at Ao Nang in the wee hours of the night, and checked in at Aree Tara Resort. We headed out for some local food at NaNa Restaurant, which was highly recommended on TripAdvisor. The tomyum soup certainly did not disappoint.

krabi ao nang food

krabi ao nang food

Now, while the room at Aree Tara Resort was not exactly fantastic, it was at least fairly comfortable and clean. IMO, I thought staying at Amar’s for 3 nights spoiled me in terms of expectations for accommodation, but Ao Nang would be the turning point for all my expectations in general. 

The elephant towels were cute, though. Check it out.

krabi ao nang accommodation
Seems that Thais have great towel origami skills

No matter – a room is just a place for sleeping, right? What matters is what is out there to explore, right? Well, we were in for a rude shock the following morning.

 

The 4 Island Tour: Railay, Poda Island, Chicken Island, and Tub Island

krabi ao nang

We had planned to hire a private longtail boat to head out to the surrounding islands (Poda Island, Chicken Island etc). A few minutes after we had handed over money for the boat, though, torrents of rain began to fall. The raining season had just begun.

krabi ao nang

And so we waited for the skies to clear a bit. Finally, it slowed to a drizzle, and we were off. Not exactly the best start to the day.

krabi ao nang

On the bright side (ha, ha), it made for good photo opportunities. The rest of the day was an unending game of hide-and-seek between the sun and rain.

longtail boat thailand
As you can see, ominous overcast skies on the right, with bright skies on the left

I thoroughly enjoyed the longtail boat rides. The drivers were as much skillful as they were reckless, which made for an exhilarating ride every time.

longtail boat thailand

The churning of the motor, however, was extremely loud. Take care not to sit at the back of the boat if you value your sense of hearing.

longtail boat thailand

In any case, our first stop was a brief unguided 30 mins photo tour of Railay. It was slightly amusing, because we already had plans to stay on Railay the week after. However, the boatman insisted on dropped us off there for a while (“Good photos! Must take!”). Who were we to argue with the local guide?

He was not wrong, though. The sights were amazing.

railay beach

railay beach

Crystal clear waters, fine golden sand, and the signature limestone cliffs. It was a scene right out from my imagination.

railay beach

railay beach

I only realised afterwards that there was a spot of rain on my camera lens throughout these shots, probably picked up while I was happily snapping away on the boat (see if you can spot the spot!). It did little to spoil the scenery, though.

Next stop: Poda Island!

longtail boat thailand

tsunami warning

Poda Island turned out to be the best island for relaxing in the entire trip. It was relatively uncrowded, the skies were clear for the hour or so that we were there (thank God!), and the scenery was fantastic. From where I lay, this was my exact view:

poda island

Again, a scene right out of my imagination. We spent a good hour just lazing around, catching up on some light reading, and generally soaking in the island vibes.

poda island

poda island

Our next “stop” was Chicken Island, which wasn’t really a stop because there wasn’t any place to stop off at. The boatman did, however, urgently call us to snap some photos of the chicken head. We obliged.

It does look like a chicken head, doesn't it? God sure has a sense of humor.
It does look like a chicken head, doesn’t it? God sure has a sense of humor.

Then the rain swept in again, with renewed vigor.

heavy rain krabi

After a rocky ride (with the boatman cursing and swearing the whole way. I assume he was cursing and swearing, but I wouldn’t really know, because he was speaking in Thai), we found refuge on our last island, Tub Island. After a brief, uneventful lunch, the rain decided to let up. 

tub island

The coolest part about the island was probably the stretch of sand in between the island where opposing waves met. It was a strange sight, and as the tide came in, it became really difficult to trudge across in slippers. I decided to take mine off.

Before the tide came in:

tub island

And after:

tub island

At this point, the rain made a third appearance, and we decided to call it a day and head back to sleepy old Ao Nang Town.

The sound of crashing waves and picturesque sights, however, are forever etched in my memories. On hindsight, while the rain did interrupt moments in our trip, I felt it added an element of nature, that cannot be controlled or pre-determined, to the sights and sounds. It was certainly an exciting experience, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

This closes the chapter for Ao Nang – stay tuned for the remaining islands!