If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting! ~ David Bowie
When I was a young boy of 5 or 6, before I had learned how to swim, my father would stand far out into the ocean (far for a young boy, that is) and usher me to swim out to him. I was deathly afraid of the big waves and the cold water at the bottom of my feet once I could no longer touch the warm sand. I would paddle quickly with my hands and feet until I was able to reach my dad. Then I would grab onto him and hang on for dear life. He would always let out a hearty, bellowing laughter when I reached him.
Today would have been my father’s 80th birthday. But he passed on too early, at the age of 62. Had I not heard David Bowie’s quote, I would not have even remembered it was his birthday.
Three years ago, I had just come out of a phase in my life when I had to let go of all the expectations I believed my father had of me. I called it my year of “double death” — my forty-fourth year (“forty-four” sounds like “die-die” in Chinese). As a result, the launch post of this blog then was all about discovering and following your own passion. It was an important lesson for me then.
Fast forward to last month.
While visiting an old friend I hadn’t seen in over 16 years, I was inspired by how his success and wealth enabled him to do so much good for his family and his community. He had donated millions of dollars towards education and spent a lot of time influencing environmental conservation efforts in his community. I watched my friend spend hours with his two sons — playing, motivating, and mentoring them — because he had the time to do so as a retired multimillionaire in his forties. I also listened to his many stories of pain and challenge as he relayed how he took on one risk after another to get to where he is today.
Coming back to Malaysia inspired, I decided that I would go beyond what I have been doing the last few years and stretch myself to grow new ideas and services. But it has been tough to embrace this change. Every now and then, I’ve had to remind myself not to slip back into my old, comfortable ways. It is as if I keep forgetting where I’m striving to get to and end up sitting down where I am.
Then David Bowie showed up, just days before my father’s birthday. Or perhaps, my father showed up, close to his 80th birthday, to cheer me on from the depths of the water where my feet will not quite touch the bottom. And perhaps he is saying to me, “now that you’ve let go of the weights you felt were my expectations, you can start to swim to new depths of your own.”
I would like to believe that in some mystical, metaphorical nexus where imagination influences reality, close to my father’s 80th birthday, the heavens orchestrated connections to allow me to savour a fresh birthday experience with my father — and to remind me that I am “just about in the right place to do something exciting!”
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