Tuesday, 26 February 2013

My first 10k

Sweaty, stinking but happy
2 days ago I ran in the Standard Chartered 10k race. I can still feel the stiffness in my legs (which apparently can last the whole week), but it’s all worth it. Just thinking about the 1 hour 3 minutes and 11 seconds on Sunday makes me smile.

Like many others, I’m not a natural runner. I’m not a runner, period. But perhaps I can be, after this? Rob’s been asking me if I enjoyed it on Sunday, I can’t really say whether I did or didn’t. To me, doing something physically challenging does not fall into the category of “enjoyment”, but there’s a sense of achievement when it’s over, especially when I’ve put in my best.

‘My best’, however, is not an easy concept for me, as I’ve grown up as one of those super driven Asian kids who don’t know when to stop, when to say it’s enough, let’s celebrate and have a piece of cake. I.e. I always think I haven’t done my best. Thanks to the help of friends and my amazing counselor, I’ve improved, albeit slightly, on this. But with regards to the 10k, I think I can say I really did my best – did all the stretching properly, trained (okay maybe not as much as I should have), drank all the right energy gel things (worked wonders) along with the one Imodium pill (absolutely essential), and I even sneaked past as many people as I could to get to the front of the start line.

But what I’m most chuffed about, is not that I did my best, but that I did it. Normally plagued by an enormous amount of self-doubt, I am amazed I actually signed up, trained, and finished it (and in good time!). I don’t know about you, but my internal narrative usually goes like this when I’m running:

You can’t do it
Your legs are tired, you need to stop
You haven’t eaten enough, stop
You never finish things properly in your life anyway, just stop now
You are not like other people who can persevere and press on

It’s almost literally a voice that I hear, and much too often in the past (I attempted to ‘get fit’ many times in the last 10 years) I would accept what I heard, and stop.

Though not aware of it at that time, whenever I heard this voice, I became more ashamed, and defeated in my spirit. Which is not surprisingly as I actually listened to the silly voice!

No doubt largely* a result of being married to Rob (who’s not perfect but who’s definitely into not giving up easily), I found myself running and running during the race, past many who were for some reason stopping periodically and sometimes to take a photo with each of the ‘X km” signs, and chanting “come on, don’t give up, come on” to myself and, towards the end of the race, to the girls around me who had started to give up.

Except for the 2 water breaks when I stopped to drink and pour water over my sweltering head (a first!), I didn’t stop at all. I was vaguely trying to see if I could make it in less than an hour and 10 mins, a challenge issued by Derek, my lovely brother-in-law, and when I passed the 5k mark with less than 35 mins, I thought I might have a fighting chance!

In the past few years as I first got to know people like Rob, and his ‘crazy’ friends e.g. Al Humphreys, Dave Elliott, Leon McCarron, who seem totally unfazed by physical/mental challenges or discomfort (my threshold of which is very low – I can go without a shower for 3 days max), and who in fact seem strangely attracted to such things, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I decided that they belonged to a genre of species from me, but somehow we are all human beings coexisting with each other.

After this race I don’t think I’m about to attempt a round-the-world bike trip, or walk the length of Hong Kong (though not a bad idea actually), but I think I’ve inched a bit closer to being a bit braver, and a bit more alive.

*I think it helped too that I was raising funds for Viva, the charity we work for, as I felt accountable! I'm very grateful for all the support family and friends have given with their sponsorship.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Hello blog! Can't believe I haven't posted anything for more than a year! Unacceptable...

Here's a recent blog I wrote for Viva. Maybe this is a good place to restart again...

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
- Howard Thurman/John Eldredge

It was this quote, and a series of events, that led me to leave my job as a corporate lawyer in the city of London five years ago. I had little idea what the next job would look like, or how my new life would be; all I knew was that I wanted to devote most of my energies to poverty and justice issues.

Whilst training as a lawyer I had my first brief encounter with poverty. I still remember the scene of scores of children playing in huge puddles of muddy water after heavy rainfall in a shanty town in Cebu, Philippines and the adults sitting around outside the shacks where they lived, with looks of resignation on their faces. And I remember the feeling of helplessness and near emotional paralysis. “How should any child be in a situation like this, where they may die of diarrhea and dehydration tomorrow?” I asked myself, “But what can I, an individual, possibly do to help?

These thoughts troubled and stirred me, so I started exploring what I should do. I went back to visit the project I knew in the Philippines; I started supporting charities that helped the poor; I read up on development issues. But I continued to wrestle with God and the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. Deep inside, I feared He might tell me to leave everything and go live in an African village forever. In addition, I felt confused. I loved spending time with children, but my skills as a lawyer did not seem to fit well with that. I was also disheartened by how, through my research of the development sector, no one seemed to agree on a way to combat poverty and injustice, and everyone was pushing their own agenda.

Whilst I was wrestling with these things I met Rob, who later became my husband. Through Rob (who was cycling from Siberia back to the UK to raise funds and awareness for Viva) I learned about Viva’s work with children. As our knowledge of Viva’s approach to transforming children’s lives deepened, both Rob and I came to love what Viva does. We love how Viva does not compete with the world but builds effective local networks of churches and organisations through which people work together and bring about long-lasting transformation to children’s lives. For me, this was it; I found a mission that kindled my excitement.

In 2010 we relocated to Hong Kong, where I am from, and set up an office to raise funds and awareness of Viva’s work with children in Asia. Interestingly, I now use on a daily basis skills of an ex-corporate lawyer, and in our visits to the networks I get to meet and spend time with children and the dedicated caregivers who give so much of themselves to protect and care for children.
The way God has answered my prayers has blown me away. If I had not taken the risk to leave the corporate world, I would not be where I am now, with a new-found motivation and new perspectives and skills. I now know how much a red pepper should cost in the shop (I was rather reckless with my money before); how to have conversations beyond law and finance at a dinner party (I previously had a narrow repertoire of topics); the importance of child protection; book-keeping; how to create a Facebook page for expeditions; how to invite people on a journey with Viva through giving and praying. Most importantly I learned how, in order to make a difference, I don’t have to leave everything and go live in a rural village. I can join what God is already doing through his people, and what better way to start than by working together for children with Viva.

Inside Viva is a blog series that shares the stories of Viva staff members and their views on different topics. The opinions expressed in these articles are the authors’ own.

What can you do?


Monday, 14 March 2011

Can you work with your spouse?

A common question I get asked these days goes something like this: How do you manage to work with Rob (my husband) all the time? Or if the person asking is being a bit less subtle: How can you possibly work with your spouse?

Rob and I both work for the children's charity Viva, with me devoting 90% of my time, and Rob 50%. The other 50% Rob works on his writing and speaking business, which I help on from time to time. Viva does not have an office yet, so we work mostly from our home, with half of the week spent on meetings on HK Island.

We are both National Directors in Hong Kong, and have different skills and backgrounds. I'm an ex lawyer, with a few years of experience in the development sector, whilst Rob used to be a high school teacher, and has in recent years become a professional adventurer, writer and motivational speaker.

I'm naturally risk averse, conservative (or pessimistic in Rob's eyes) and I tend to over plan. Rob, on the other hand, likes to take risks, is highly optimistic (or slightly reckless in my books) and does not like planning much at all.

And we are both quite opinionated.

So you can imagine our meetings can get heated sometimes! (As my younger sister who's stayed with us can testify to...)

It's a real challenge, but we've found the following tips useful (not saying they're easy to follow...)

Try not to speak in your own natural work language
Don't assume that your way of working is always right
Leave plenty of time for discussion of potentially explosive topics e.g. finances
Sort out your own issues
Play to each other's strength i.e. actively affirm each other's contribution
Forgive each other - no one is perfect

Incidentally, we think these are also the same tips for helping with our marriage!

Do you work with your spouse? Do you have any tips which you can share?

Monday, 7 March 2011


I recently came across this moving video, about the story of a girl called Diana who had endured unspeakable trauma but has now found real hope and strength for the future.

Love146 is part of the network which Viva partners with in Cambodia, where scores of children are victims of trafficking and exploitation.

Diana's Love Story from LOVE146 on Vimeo.

To find out more about the amazing work of Love146, check out www.love146.org.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Cambodia II: Rehab House, For the Love of Cupcakes.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Escape The City

If you are or know someone who's considering a career change, you might find www.escapethecity.org helpful - largely based in the UK, this site seeks to provide a forum for people who are thinking of escaping the city (ie the City in London, but it can also apply to other cities!) for "greener" pastures.

I'm featured as a "Hero" on the site (ha!), for having escaped law for the charity sector. Some of the tips and experiences which I shared have been reproduced below - hope you'll find something helpful!

2) What did you do before this?

Well, I did quite a few things!

My first job was with a London magic circle law firm where I trained and qualified as a corporate lawyer. I was with this firm for 4 years. I know plenty of people who enjoy their lawyer jobs but for me I thought life was too short to be stuck in something I wasn't passionate about!

After I left in late 2007 I tried different things in international development and human rights, which included working with an NGO in relief and development (Tearfund) and interning with a couple of human rights think tanks. This summer my husband and I also volunteered on a residential project with street children in the Philippines, which was absolutely awesome.

3) What was your moment of truth?

It's hard to pinpoint to a particular moment which changed everything, though I have to say that having a teacher-turned-explorer boyfriend then (now husband) who was cyclinghalf way across the world just because that's what he wanted to do certainly didn't help!

I was also reading Richard Nelson Bolles' other less well known book How to Find Your Mission in Life and found it rather inspiring.

And I loved what John Eldredge said in Wild At Heart: Don't ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

4) How did you plan for it?

On one hand I wanted to have had something lined up before I left my corporate law job (I was, after all, a lawyer, so was naturally rather risk averse) but my hours were so long and there just wasn't any physical or head space to think about anything, so I had nothing planned as such when I finished my notice. I was really in need of a break though so was glad to have 4 months off.

During the break I rested and tried to regain perspective, and after that I spent a whole month talking to everyone and anyone who was willing to talk to me about the international development and charity world (I asked my friends for any contacts they were happy to give me) and built up my network that way. I found my first job through doing that!

Taking a few months off might not be a viable option for some, but I was fortunate enough having saved up a bit of money and I didn't have any mortgage or babies to worry about.

5) What have been the best and worst things about making this happen?

The best thing is that even though nowadays I'm still busy and sometimes working longish hours (nothing compared to the City though!), I'm doing something I'm passionate about and I no longer feel chained to my job because of some unknown fear/feeling of loss if I walked away from it.

Can't really think of the worst thing really.... obviously one has to go through lots of soul searching about one's own identity when one jumps ship, and I felt scared and vulnerable and insecure at various points, but it's all part of a very good growing up experience (with the benefit of hindsight I can of course say this now...). I talk about some of my struggles on my blog.

6) What is the best advice you have received?

Try not to give too much weight to people who tell you that it cannot be done - because there will always be people who are pessimistic / risk averse / or for whatever reason think you're mad!

The flip side of this is to talk to everyone and anyone who's happy to chat with you - you'd never know what you might learn or who they might point you to.

Got a burning question?
Go ahead and ask me something.

7) What resources or information have you found really helpful?

What Colour is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles.

I love Don Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - a hugely inspirational read, Don talks about living life as a story, which is an excellent way to go about living your life, so you'll be intentional about leading an interesting, meaningful life (which often requires some risk taking!).

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like So What Do You Do?, The Unedited Version and How Will You Measure Your Life.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Lover

Recently I read a thought provoking, captivating book The Lover by A B Yehoshua.

Originally written in Hebrew, it tells of a story set in the 70s in Israel and evolves around a Jewish man, his wife, their teenage daughter, a young Jewish man who had returned from France and a teenage Arab boy.

Giving different voices to the different characters in first person, it is a beautifully book with depth, and much nuanced insight on both life in general (love, marriage, loss, identity) and people's lives in Israel and Palestine.

I'm not sure if it's intended to be on a commentary on the politics in the region, but certainly I didn't detect any biases but on the contrary felt that the author was portraying quite a balanced picture (though I'm sure someone is bound to disagree with me on this).

The Israel and Palestinian situation is no doubt an extremely complex and sensitive one, and I don't think the author was trying to side with anyone. It's a really enjoyable book and I would highly recommend it.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Jumping Ship

An ex colleague recently got in touch to ask me about jumping ship. The pleasant exchange of Facebook messages and other such correspondences made me realise I should probably at some point share here some of the tips and mistakes which I learned from my own experiences in moving to another field.

It would be great to explore questions such as these:

1. How does one decide to really go for it?
2. Once the decision has been made, what next?
3. Would further study help?
4. How does one find a job in a different sector?
5. How not to look back!

Watch this space!