“Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology that you never got.”
– Robert Brault
I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.
– José Micard Teixeira
Let me start off this entry with a recap on what I wrote in 2010: “People love gossip by nature. Colleagues are people too, by the way. So……”
And these few lines, written by an anonymous person, perhaps best describe how I manage relationships at work:
My colleagues often tell me I come across as the tough, no-nonsense discipline master, and that when I don’t smile, I look very unapproachable and arrogant.
I am not a snob, I am just an introvert.
There are gossips about me being a perfectionist and slave-driver, that I am someone who is scary to work with, and that some colleagues are terrified when told they would be working with, for or under me.
I am not difficult to work with, I just have high expectations of the people I’m leading.
My reputation at work is not a rosy one. I am a loner at work, the team leader who everyone is afraid of. I keep to myself all the time. I am always the one who seeks too many clarifications, and stumps too many others with my questions. I am sometimes too tough to my colleagues, and I focus on minute details for everything all the time. When I approach them, it means I have work for them to do. I walk very fast. These are what my colleagues say.
I criticise constructively. I am not afraid to speak my mind in giving feedback, yet in the meantime, would offer alternatives to the issues at hand. My name is thrown around as the one who is able to overthrow systems, draw up structures and get things done, efficiently and effectively. I am the best person to go to should they need any help, advice or answers. I know everything. These are what my colleagues say too.
During work review sessions, school leaders and reporting officers always advise me to delegate work to other colleagues and not take on everything myself. They say I cannot be too independent. They tell me I need to learn to trust that others would do the job, and all I have to do is to monitor the progress, review and refine if need be. In other words, vet my colleagues’ work, then advise them on changes and amendments to be made. School leaders and reporting officers say I cannot expect perfection.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those unreasonable, uncompassionate bosses. In fact, when colleagues don’t meet deadlines, I always make it a point to understand why. I extend deadlines when valid reasons are given, sometimes offering help to complete or even taking over the assigned work. I provide templates, and make it a point to share my rationale and thoughts when I request them to make amendments in their work. I may be long-winded, but I believe that explaining thoroughly is better guidance than just pinpointing their mistakes. I readily give compliments to deserving colleagues and never ever take credit that is not mine. I show my appreciation after projects are completed. I say my “thank you”s, many times. I don’t take their effort for granted. All these, because I know how upset one would feel if no recognition is given. That is why I always take into consideration my colleagues’ emotional needs when doing anything.
But work is work. I expect a certain standard in work that I delegate, not because it would make my job easier, but because I want to see their development and growth, which would directly affect and benefit the pupils that they teach. This is why some documents go back and forth many times, some are only finalized at “Version 8” (highest record so far), while some are edited by myself either because deadlines are near or I see that they aren’t putting in the effort to learn. I always send my colleagues the final copies for reference. It is for their own good, yet this is also how I got my lousy reputation of being a slave-driver and perfectionist.
I am seldom the earliest one to reach the office, and rarely the last one to leave. My colleagues know me as the one who leaves workplace early, yet able to always deliver everything ahead of time. They ask, “But the things you do take up so much time! Where do you get the time to do everything?” They always wonder how I achieve that. They call me “superwoman”. (I hate this nickname, really.) On days I stay at work later than usual, they say goodbye to me and sometimes joke, “Bye, Fiona! Today, I’m leaving earlier than you!”
The truth is, to have this “efficiency” that they marvel at, there are trade-offs. Big trade-offs.
I don’t have lunch or dinner with my colleagues; I usually pack my meals and eat at my cubicle while working on the laptop. Most of the time, I finish my food in less than 10 minutes. Sometimes, when it gets too busy, I forget to eat. It is not that I don’t enjoy company, but I always feel that the time spent having those long lunches with colleagues could be put to better use, like reply to emails, vet lesson plans, and more.
I try to arrange my meetings, with the different teams, back-to-back. I carry with me, everywhere, a hard copy of what I am working on or worksheets to mark. In any spare time, I would work on them. I vet lesson plans and clear/draft/reply to emails on my way back and forth work. I contact my pupils’ parents on my personal mobile number. I bring work home. I continue work-planning on the desktop at home. I mark worksheets, compositions, practice papers, etc. into the night sometimes. I work on weekends too. During the November-December holidays, I start preparations for the next work-year.
I live work. I breathe work. But I have come to realise the harmful impact of doing so, despite its great worth. My health suffers. I eat into my personal time. I don’t spend quality time with my loved ones. At work, I rarely socialise. Even though I maintain amiable relationships with my colleagues, they don’t really know me. They only see me for my work. I don’t bother to explain myself when my reputation is compromised. I let others misunderstand me, and sometimes my intentions. All these are unhealthy, I know.
I am aware that I seriously lack the inter-personal touch, a very important quality that I think leaders ought to have. So, towards the end of last year, I started having lunches with a few colleagues. It was not easy convincing myself to forget work for a while. Sounds silly eh? But I treasure every take-away from those lunches. I learnt to appreciate the little things in life. I learnt to joke and laugh. I learnt to take things easy. I learnt to relax. I learnt that work can wait. I learnt to let go. Most importantly, I learnt to befriend my colleagues.
Would I continue this way of working when I return to the workforce next year? Definitely. But I would take time to smell the roses, to live life, and most importantly, to be a better friend at work.
One of the tricks about life is that it’s always changing. Sometimes the changes are good. Sometimes you think they’re good and you end up disappointed. Other times you think life has handed you a lemon and it turns out to be a diamond. And there are other times when it just is what it is. It’s not what you wanted, but there’s nothing you can do about it, so you just have to accept what’s happened and go on. Those are the toughest times in my book, the times when you simply have no choice and life just does what it wants without even asking what anybody thinks.
– In After Forever Ends, Melodie Ramone
Note: Long post ahead, No-Pay Leave.
Erm… Hello all? It has been a really long time since I last posted. Frankly speaking, I’m feeling a little strange typing for anything else besides work and assignments, let alone seriously penning down my thoughts and emotions. Today, I will try to do so.
So… for a start, maybe I should say the only reason why I have time to be here, to do this, is that I am, and would be, on Full NPL (No-Pay Leave) for the whole of 2015. Since 2013, my health has not been in its best state. I would often suffer from migraine attacks, black-outs, breathing difficulties (my GP says I “forget to breathe”?), episodes of gastric influx, nights of insomnia, and even a temporary loss of hearing in my right ear. It was only after a Staff Learning Journey to “Dialogue In The Dark” (in May 2013) that I realised I have been taking my health for granted for far too long. I started to rectify the situation by eating at regular timings and not skipping meals, have healthier food (even to the point of packing my home-cooked meals to work), and exercising more often. In 2014, after a routine blood test, my GP found out that I had low blood-sugar, and advised me to keep some sweets in my bag, just in case. He felt that I was too stressed up, too burnt-out, and told me to take up a new hobby. So, on top of all the methods I tried in 2013, I started aromatherapy and practised mediation. I thought I was coping well, but in July 2014, I came down with a painful bout of shingles. My GP warned that shingles would recur, and asked me to consider taking a break from work.
I thought long and hard about “taking a break from work”. It then dawned on me that, as a responsible teacher, I ought to take that break. My poor health was obstructing me from being the best role models to the adults under my charge and giving my all to the pupils. It was not fair to them, and they did deserve the best. The realisation hit me hard. I really should stop work for a while to recharge. Only then can I perform to the best of my abilities, for all of them, and for myself.
Initially, I wanted to only take a 3-months break. But P said, “You should rest. Take one year off lah.” Then I thought, rather than bum around at home, why not resume my UniSIM studies? Afterall, I had, for a few years, deferred my part-time studies for work. Work would then not be a valid excuse for me not to continue studying. Getting emplaced would also land me a higher pay.
So I took up P’s suggestion to stop work for a year. That said, I really appreciate P for being so supportive and understanding, and taking over all pet expenses, on top of household expenses. He didn’t, and doesn’t, let finances be a reason to hold me back from NPL.
I then informed my school principal of my intention to apply for NPL, and had a few long discussions with her regarding my decision. She was not very keen on letting me go, and offered many alternatives, even to the extent of wanting to arrange car-pooling for me. (I don’t drive, and live quit far away from school. That means I have to wake up much earlier to get to work.) But all the options presented to me defeated my purpose of asking for NPL. I was determined to apply for NPL. Finally, she relented, but on the condition that I apply for 2×6 months of consecutive NPL. This would ensure that I would not be posted out to another school when I resume work in 2016. But I wanted to leave my options open; to have the choice of working in a familiar or new environment. So I insisted on applying 1×12 months of NPL. Although my principal was visibly upset about my decision, she eventually let me have my way. Aided by a letter from my GP, my application for 1 year NPL was approved. (May I add that my GP was extremely glad when I informed him of my decision? 笑死我!)
Then, in October 2014, my principal told me a piece of good news. I was the only one in the school to be in the first batch of teachers placed onto the graduates’ payscale via outstanding performance. To be honest, when this framework was first reported in the news (see link for more information), I was highly skeptical. It was not communicated to the teachers at all; there was no mention of any criteria in the selection process, no firmly drawn-up expectations and what would follow, etc. So I had my reservations about the whole thing that sounded too good to be true. Then my principal told me I was part of “the chosen ones”. I was taken aback but, at the same time, truly happy and proud of myself for attaining yet another milestone. Estee Lauder once said, “I never dreamed about success, I worked for it.” I strongly believe in this. My principal then asked me to consider retracting my NPL. I admit, I did briefly consider doing so. Afterall, the emplacement was a huge affirmation of my hard work and effort which really made me feel very appreciated. But the very reason why I wanted NPL would not change with emplacement.
So yes, this year, I officially resume study life. “But why continue studying since you are already emplaced?” I was surprised some colleagues actually asked me that. Here’s why:
1) I am left with only a few modules to complete my degree. Why not?
2) As I have mentioned, the framework was not properly communicated to teachers. I don’t know what is expected of me after the emplacement. Since I was emplaced via outstanding performance, what would happen should they deem that I not have outstanding performance at any point of time? It is thus good to have a degree to fall back on.
3) My father has always expressed his opinion that qualifications matter a lot in the civil service. (To give a little background information, my father worked in the army since his teenager days, but has few paper qualifications. At that point of time, paper qualifications were the only way the civil service give recognition to their staff’s abilities. But my father worked hard, really hard. He read a lot of books, and did a lot of self-directed learning. He worked his way up the ladder, and was accredited with the highest title in his rank, way before he retired. Even after his retirement, he was sought after by a few companies. All these, without more paper qualifications.) It thus makes his blood boil when my brother and I resisted furthering our education. He knew how hard it was without paper qualifications. So he has always wanted his children to obtain degrees. The thing is, he doesn’t know that both my brother and I take him as a big role model. He inspires us. He showed us that effort, not qualifications, would bring us to greater heights. I enrolled myself in UniSIM partly on my father’s wishes. And I would complete my degree – for my father.
4) I started this, I should end this. Moreover, learning and more learning doesn’t harm anyone. I would also have the time to complete my assignments thoughtfully and properly. This would also be a good account about perseverance, that I can tell my pupils in the future.
Maybe I am more kiasu, maybe I think too far and too much. So besides UniSIM, what else have I been up to? If you would have followed my facebook, instagram and other social forms of social media, you would know that P and I are big-time animal lovers. We would feed the stray cats and dogs at night. We would rescue and rehome cats and dogs that are abandoned and/or in danger. This year, we took on more cases since I am now at home most of the time. Also, I started training my cats to perform tricks. It began by being my source of amusement, with all the spare time that I have. However, in the process of training the cats, I actually got plenty of insights in teaching humans! I sleep long hours, do all the household chores, cook for the family, etc., pretty much like a housewife. I also spent so much more time with my family, including my grandparents, and my pets. I am able to play mobile games, read magazines, etc. (in a nutshell, relax), without feeling guilty that my time could be spent more wisely. I write my own Live Life List (L.L.L.) along the way – first-time experiences that I have never attempted before, such as baking a cake (red velvet, yo!) and bleaching my hair (I’m trying to understand why youths like to do so). These were the many things that I didn’t have time or energy to do when I was working. And I am loving it. So I believe this break, this taking time to live life, will inspire my future work when I return to the workforce.
Last Friday, I woke up (late) to an SMS, a whatsapp message and a missed call, all from my school principal who tried to contact me early morning. Before I left the school last year, I had already done a proper and full handover. I even had work planned for the whole of 2015. I had also liaised with my colleagues through email in January 2015 to ensure that the plan was working well. So my first thought was that my plans had gone wrong in school and she needed me to do something. I quickly called back. It turned out that my principal just wanted to congratulate me on another promotion. I was extremely shocked, and recalled squealing at one point during our conversation. In April 2014, I was officially promoted to 2A2, then emplaced onto 1A1 in October 2014. Even though I was thrilled about the emplacement, I was also a little irritated with the drop in my substantive grade. In my opinion, I had worked very hard to attain my A2 at the same speed as the graduate teachers! But then, I told myself to count my blessings and not be ungrateful. I was fortunate enough to get the emplacement. Now, with the upcoming promotion to 1A2 in April 2015, this makes three promotions within a year, and I would get back my A2. Come to think of it, I am greatly flattered. They need not promote someone who is on NPL. I know I may not be the only lucky one in this situation, but I shall take this as a recognition to my work, like a great compliment bestowed by a king. Yes, I will continue to work harder, just like the famous saying by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Post-note: Next up, Managing Work Relationships
It’s still hard, though. Even after all these years, it’s still so hard to tell someone how she really feels, especially someone she loves. The fear has always been, still is, that they won’t like her. That somehow she will end up being abandoned for expressing her needs.
– in Second Chance, Jane Green
孙耀威 & 梁文音 – 幸福的忘记
“遗忘的瞬间，看见 等待已久的幸福。” – 孙耀威
黃小琥 – 放心不下
蔡健雅 – 十万毫升泪水