Change Me As We Go

www.sherrylee.ca

Archive for the category “change”

Comments on News Articles in Mauritius

Change Me As We Go is about accepting that we are not perfect and that sometimes, we should learn to improve ourselves before criticizing. Words are cheap.

While I cringe at some of the articles written in Mauritian press, something else ticks me off even more: the comments. Every news article is usually followed by a seemingly endless thread of comments, most of which are blaming the government for anything and everything, their language often flourished with inappropriate words. Their occasional refuters unfortunately don’t fare much better either. While I agree that there is for improvement for those at the helm, it just strikes me that so many Mauritian internauts complain relentlessly, without any constructive propositions. Just saying the rules/government/mentality sucks isn’t going to change anything!!!

Having spent the past 6 years in Canada, where the public is very engaged and people right and left are trying to find solutions to every problem imaginable, I find it a desolating comparison. I know that the most vocal comments are likely not representative of the nation’s opinion as a whole but I still find it concerning that many people are still waiting for the Government to fix all their problems. Why do we feel so powerless as a people? Why don’t we learn more about the real difficulties of our Government and try and come up with solutions together? Why don’t we have more public engagement? As far as I can tell, most of the community is not involved in politics. Criticism flies left and right but I rarely see a comment that is carefully considered and passionate about improving from the status quo.

Perhaps being a remote island unbeknownst to most of the world has something to do with it. A lot of things seemed out of reach or impossible when I was living there. Becoming a famous musician? Impossible. Becoming a famous scientist? Also impossible. In fact, becoming a famous anything seemed quite impossible unless you were an extinct animal (ie dodo) in Mauritius. It felt like anything I did wouldn’t matter as much, because we’re a tiny spec in the Indian Ocean, in our own little bubble.  The highest indication of success was if you became a doctor or lawyer. When my physics teacher told me “maybe one day you will work for Microsoft”, even he didn’t seem so convinced. Now I work for Apple. Kind of crazy if you ask me 🙂

Then I moved to Canada and almost anything became possible. High school graduates were building playgrounds and schools in Africa, college students were creating their own charities to improve access to education, people young and old are running for the cure, everyone is involved, everyone is doing something. Many university students teach anything from ballet to French in their spare time. Sure, people still complain about the Government here too, but many more people are doing something to change the world, because we know that we can.

So, dear Mauritians, it’s time to wake up and realize that you too, can make a difference. You are a talented people. Don’t let it go to waste. Speak slow, think fast. Say less, do more 🙂

Reinforce or Reinvent

“What got you here won’t get you there” – Dr Marshall Goldsmith

In the light of changing environments, entities can do one of two things. Reinforce who they are, or reinvent themselves. Which is more appropriate depends on a lot of things. It applies to individuals, organizations, artists…To see how it applies in software development, see this article.

Tomorrow I’m going to a Mauritian student event. I haven’t attended their events for the past 3 years because I was usually too swamped with school work. It’s probably also because I did not choose my inner circle to be primarily Mauritian, although it could easily have been. This is not to say that I do not appreciate them. They are a truly amazing bunch. Mauritians have the reputation of finding a way to figure it out, no matter what 🙂

The main reason why I hang out mostly with non-Mauritians is because I came here to experience different cultures and mindsets. If I spend all my time with people who have the same background, I will keep thinking that the way I perceive everything is “the normal way” and assume I know about other cultures just from what I can observe. But there’s so much more that you can only pick up through constant interaction with people. I suppose I wanted to reinvent my perception of the world because there is no point in reinforcing lacking frameworks.

The same applies for organizations. The team I currently work on once had bad management and a not-so-good reputation in the organization. However, a change in leadership revived the team with ambition, focus on efficiency, initiative, and high standard expectations. Now, it seems like we are one of the most reputable teams in the organization. We are known for our fast turnover and quality of work. Speaking to some of the members, I can tell that they are constantly looking for ways to improve things. Our mantra is something along the lines of “great work is followed by more great work”. I love it and I truly respect all these employees who work overtime of their own will to make things happen. Who would have thought federal government teams could be so productive? The team reinvented itself into something great and it’s just awesome to be part of it.

Now that the team has established effective and efficient processes to ensure maximum productivity, I suppose that, going forward, we will be reinforcing more than reinventing for a bit. However, sooner or later, things change and call for reinvention again. This could be, for example, implementing AI techniques. It might seem far-fetched now, but now only lasts the blink of an eye.

In U2’s documentary “From the Sky Down” (TIFF 2011), Bono said “You have to reinvent yourself. But in between, you have nothing”. When I think about it, it sounds like a big risk. But it proved to be important to them in order to succeed again. Starting from scratch was part of what made them better. Pink started out as an R’N’B artist. Then she reinvented herself with a more rock-sounding album. I thought it was a weird shift at the time, but I loved both albums. Her latest “reinvention” was to align her skills as a gymnast and performer during her live shows. She blew everyone away at the grammys and has since earned much deserved respect worldwide.

I guess the lesson here is that, while reinforcement is good for a certain amount of time, one day, we will know and feel that we can’t continue down that path. “What got you here won’t get you there” . The arguably easy way is to ignore it and just keep reinforcing and “adding bandaids” as my team would call it. But there are clear indications that it is worth all our while to learn to change and adapt. Reinventing ourselves can be scary but so all the most rewarding things in life. Buying a house, falling in love, investing in stocks, starting your own business, letting your kids grow up.. So why not? Would you choose guaranteed failure over potiential hard-earned success? I know I wouldn’t. Status quo is my long term enemy.

Identity

This blog is inspired by the course I’m taking on Organizational Behaviour… Today we talked about individual differences, culture, personal and social identity. I realized that my identity was very hard to pinpoint. Call it complex/unclear/inexistent if you wish:

Over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about different cultures, especially about my own. Cultures/ethnic groups I associate with: mauritian (mix of indian, chinese, french, english, african), canadian (whatever that is), chinese (island version). In Mauritius, I’m considered Chinese. In Canada, the white people say I’m Asian. Asians think I’m African. Africans think I’m Asian. Chinese think I’m not Chinese. I don’t really care. I think race/ethnicity and all that stuff is just useless things humans came up with that adds unnecessary discrimination and drama. But such is human nature.

I’ve also learned a lot about social groups. I’m a musician and a computer scientist. Typical musicians, I’m told, are expected to party hard, get drunk, sometimes smoke a thing or two, and idolize the rock star lifestyle. To my musician friends, I’m the computer nerd. I don’t get drunk/smoke/want to live the rockstar life. To my computer science buddies, I’m often seen as the musician, the artsy one. I’m probably looked down upon by some of them for that (and for being female) but who cares. The point is, again, I don’t know how to identify myself. Am I more of a musician or a computer scientist or none? And does my opinion even matter? Or do people just care about how THEY categorize me? I think it’s the latter.

I used to think that I’m an extrovert because I like being on stage and performing under the spotlight. I was wrong. I like being on the stage, alone (or with few people) , away from the crowd that could otherwise overwhelm me/ turn me into a doormat. I used to think I’m a pretty social person, the life of the party, but I realized that it doesn’t apply to parties of more than 5 or 6 🙂 Even introverts are social with people they know well. I used to think I loved parties but I’ve come to realize that I enjoy deep abstract conversations more. I used to want to belong but now I value difference. I’m not sure whether I changed or I just discovered more about myself.

Some people tell me I’m too nice, too selfless, that I take too much time listening to others vent. They even say I should stop making other people’s problems mine and being overly concerned about them. Many people have thanked me for being such a supportive, honest and caring friend. Yet, some people have told me that I’m a terrible friend (well very very few, but still, it hurts). It made me wonder whether I really am this terrible human being. I’m still not sure of the answer. Instinctively, I try to be as good a friend as I can. But I suppose as a human, there are areas of friendship where I can improve that I don’t even know of (until someone hates me for it). I’m not perfect, I know it. No one is. That doesn’t mean I’m not working on it. Working on it doesn’t mean I won’t fail.

The artist and the scientist in me have been debating all my life, but now I think they might not be polarities at all. At the end of the day, music is mathematical and so is computer science. It does make sense. Computer science is actually a very creative field and more CS students than you think are hobby artists. I also know very tech savvy musicians. The skill sets do complement each other. But at the end of the day, I will have to choose one. The past few years, I wanted to choose music, but the geek in me is rising again and I’m now more passionate about CS than ever. I really want to bite the bullet and dig into those intense courses and catch up. I do believe that human-computer interaction will allow me to leverage my creative energy and logical skills to make the world a better place. But is it too late? NO. I don’t believe in “too late”. I don’t believe in giving up.

Back home, I used to think I’m smart and that I had a bright future ahead. When I came to the University of Toronto, I was quickly overshadowed by people who were way more experienced in the field and I got intimidated. I felt dumb and my academic self-confidence took a blow. Perhaps that is why I turned to music. But after taking a year off to work as a programmer, I’ve had time to think. I still believe I’m a below average programmer, I have very little experience compared to most people in my program. But I’ve changed my mindset, and I believe I have potential to be a successful computer scientist if I work hard at it a few more years. I have rekindled my curiosity for the subject and learned to compete only with myself.

All in all, four years of university abroad does give you plenty of opportunity to grow up psychologically and professionally. It also forces you to survive on less sleep than you thought was possible 😛 I believe that I did a decent job of adapting and that my pro-change attitude has had a lot to do with it. Let’s see what the future bring. Now I’m off to read some Machine Learning (academic suicide 101 for the math-weary student).

A Train of Change


Every time I get out of the subway and the train starts to leave, I rush to the wall or look away because it makes me somewhat dizzy. You know when the train is passing by and there’s a rush of wind and for a few seconds you wait for it to stop, and then continue with your day? Well, right now, it feels like this to me. Except that each wagon is a change to my life, and the train is that of change. It’s passing me real quick right now and I’m just kinda waiting for it to be gone so that things can be stable again. So that I can open my eyes again without worrying about dust stinging them. So that I don’t feel dizzy anymore.

I’ve always been pro-change and I encourage people to embrace it in my songs and posts. I do embrace it quite gracefully myself most of the time. But for the first time in ages, I just feel like I wanna go back in time and not deal with this. Change is scary. Especially when it means changing your lifestyle, your schedule, your environment (whether work or home), your social role and relationship with other people… And sometimes, we don’t realize it but other people are also affected by this train passing us by.

We jump in and accept that there will be changes because we believe that this change is necessary and its benefits will eventually outweigh the adaptation costs. And we hope that those around us will be there to support us despite these costs. Sometimes it’s not possible. Everyone has their own responsibilities overriding the importance of changes. This sometimes makes me feel overwhelmed. It makes me worry about the future and how my relationship with friends, relatives, etc will be affected and what I should do in order to preserve these precious relationships. The point is, despite all my pro-change talk, I’m still petrified by it sometimes. But I’m moving forward, because there is no way back.

After talking about it to someone I hold dear, I’ve figured out a way to maybe make it less overwhelming. Like reconnect with people I haven’t seen in a while, or getting a few good friends to help with little non-demanding things. Like going shopping together. Just interacting with people itself might be a good way of changing my perspective of things, taking the focus AWAY from my state of prolonged panic/helplessness as the train whooshes by for what seems like an eternity.

I really wish that someone in particular could be here to help me with it right now, but that is not really possible. I’ll just have to deal with it otherwise. If someone can’t help, others might. That particular person told me “Maybe you’re focused on the fact that I can’t be there, and you don’t see all the other people that are there for you in your life”. I guess it’s true. I’ve been trying to adapt to “the train” for a few weeks now, and it’s still the hardest thing ever. It’s still painful and frustrating and takes a toll on me every day. There are many a day when I feel like I’ll never see the end of the tunnel. But then I mentally shove myself into action and, instead of complaining, I try to accomplish small things that will bring me closer to that far away, almost invisible goal.

I know that I have to keep believing and keep pushing forward. It’s hard. But I can do it. I will.

Have you ever/ are you facing a train of change right now? If so, how did you/ how are you coping with it?

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