Who Is Your Superhero?


A friend once said to me that if he had to choose between two candidates to be employed, he would choose the one who was married, because that person would be more responsible compared to the unmarried one. Furthermore, the married candidate has more responsibilities, i.e. wife and/or kids, which mean that he needs the means to support them.

This makes me wonder. What if the chosen candidate gets a divorce after being hired? Is he still responsible? Or is he less responsible? Will he remain employed?

I wonder even more. Get a job to be married? Be married to get a job? In respect to the latter, if my dream job requires me to be married, then I will, for the sake of getting the job.

There are married men and women who are uncommitted to their partners, and there are unmarried couples who are committed to their partners. What is my point?

My point is that marriage will not automatically turn you into a responsible, committed, loving, trustworthy, caring and loyal person. These qualities come from within. Do not wait for a high post to come your way before committing to your career. Do not wait for an accident to happen to be concerned about safety. Do not wait for a relationship to be loving to one another.

Therefore, decide for yourself the qualities that you want to embody and personify regardless of externalities. If you wait for circumstances to decide, they either may not come, or they may change.

How did Bruce Wayne become Batman? How did Peter Parker become Spiderman? How did Dr. Bruce Banner become the Incredible Hulk? And how did Steve Rogers become Captain America?  These superheroes are the alter egos of their original personality.

Therefore, do you need to put on a costume to uphold the law? Do you need to be exposed to gamma radiation to be resilient in difficult times? Do you need to be bit by a spider to help those in trouble? And do you need to be administered an experimental serum to lead your team?

Instead, be like Superman. Why? Because Superman is the original personality whereas his alter ego is Clark Kent. You have phenomenal qualities the minute you were born. Allow yourself to be inspired by these words by Marianne Williamson – founder of The Peace Alliance:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Here are three questions to guide you in finding the qualities that you want to attain: 1. How would you want other people to treat you and your loved ones? 2. How would you carry out your duties if you were the Prime Minister? 3. What is the value of the price tag that you would place on these characteristics and qualities?

Awesome Tip: You have something that the world needs. Allow it to manifest itself.


Today’s Present.

Part of my continuous personal development plan is to attend training programs, talks, and seminars. It serves to add knowledge, to goad me to stay on track, and to soak up the positive vibe that transpires in the atmosphere.

A couple of years ago, after attending a week-long course, I relooked at the roles that I play in my life and decided to attempt to reestablish my relationship with a cousin of mine. My enthusiasm was high and I was excited about getting things done. I got into my car and drove three hundred and fifty seven kilometres up north to his place.

Over dinner, I eagerly asked about how he was doing and what his plans were. A while later, perhaps sensing my enthusiasm, he asked, “Surain, are you dying?”

That was when it hit me. The people who are really living their lives are the ones who are dying. But aren’t we all?

In December 2007, the Malaysian AIDS Council organized a ‘Riding for Life’ event in which anyone could join in the entourage by cycling from Putrajaya to Melaka as a means to raise awareness. A couple of the cyclists were HIV positive and they managed to complete the journey even though they were on medication.

Why is it that those who have their days numbered are the ones that have the most zest and positive outlook?

Can we add gusto even to the most mundane of our daily activities and chores both at work and at home?

My answer would be yes.

There are ways that you can train your brain to be able to be more positive. Done for twenty one days in a row, these five things can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically.

First, in just two minutes, write down three things that you’re grateful for. This causes your brain to retain a pattern for scanning the world for the positive first.

Second, journal about one positive experience you’ve had over the past twenty four hours. This allows your brain to relive it.

Third, exercise teaches your brain that behavior matters and it boosts sugar and oxygen supply to your brain.

Fourth, take a time-out to meditate to allow your brain to declutter and to focus on the task at hand.

Fifth, perform random acts of kindness, for instance writing an e-mail thanking or praising somebody in your circle of influence.

These five things releases dopamine, and when dopamine floods into your system, your brain launches into a positive state; resulting in your intelligence levels, your creativity levels, and your energy levels to rise. This, in turn, creates ripples of positivity at the workplace, in your community, as well as at home.

Try these five simple things for twenty one days in a row and you will experience something new.

Awesome Tip: Count your blessings, stop and smell the roses, and chase your dreams.


Let’s Progress Towards #Awesome Climbing!!

About two years ago, I did a survey among climbers about what they felt about the sport and why they would want to continue climbing. 90% responded that they want to continue climbing because of passion.

When our passion fills the air, it creates a positive atmosphere that resonates and lingers in the air even after when we’re long gone. The wall, the rock, the quickdraws, the holds, the cracks, the rope, the belay devices, the routes; they’re all dead. But it is us who breathes life into them. It is us that make the climbing gym, or outdoor crag, come alive with our passion, our spirit, our laughter, our ideas and creativity, and our desire.

We put on our uncomfortable shoes, chalk up our hands and give the route a go – whether bouldering, top rope or lead – again and again, with the thought of topping that particular route. Chapped skin on our fingers and palms, the fear of falling, and the sprained ankle or shoulder are minor deterrents that are quickly and easily drowned out by the strong turbulent waves of desire to climb once we set our eyes on the holds. We make our lives an example of the principles that we believe in, and that principle is to pick ourselves up one more time than we fall. If at first if you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.

Imagine if climbing can be the source of happiness and joy. Imagine if climbing can bring us great satisfaction and fulfillment. Imagine if climbing can foster relationships and make us feel belonged. What we need to do is to progress towards awesome climbing – where we climb with passion, with the desire to improve, and with the goodwill amongst our fellow climbing buddies.

Let our future generations feel our positive spirit in their skin. Let them feel empowered and energized. Let’s progress towards #Awesome Climbing!!




Unleashing the Potential

Greg Bell, a business consultant and leadership coach, is famous for his Water The Bamboo concept. He says that after sowing the seeds of giant timber bamboos, it takes three years before it will germinate. In those three years, the farmers will constantly water the soil, not expecting to see anything happen. And once it germinates, it will grow an astonishing ninety feet in thirty days!

Let me introduce to you this kid by the name of Ghalib. I first met him about four years ago at Putrajaya Challenge Park (an indoor climbing centre) with his sister and parents. He was trying out the beginner wall, and I thought to myself: “Maybe I can teach him a thing or two about climbing.” And so I did.

A month later, I enthusiastically encouraged him to enter a climbing competition because there were not many participants in the Under-17 category. On the day of the competition, I asked him where his climbing shoes were, and he said that he had none. I quickly gave him mine and wished him all the best.

Ever since then, he’s been climbing; week in week out, month in month out, and year in year out.

Has the seed germinated? Have the shoots emerged from the ground?

Recently, he entered a competition in Singapore. He did pretty well in the Under-17 category in which he finished second place. For the fun of it, he entered the Novice category as well whereby he competed with climbers who were much older than him and who have been climbing way longer than him. And to everyone’s surprise, this now sixteen-year old kid finished second place!

This kid has talent. I’ve been keeping an eye on him for the past four years plus now, and I can confidently say that he has improved exponentially. I would vouch for him, and I have made a stand for him. My wish is to see Ghalib realize his tremendous potential and achieve greater heights. I’m doing my best to support him, but I desperately need more help. Hence, my quest now is to find willing farmers who would like to join me in tending to this kid’s growth and development.

Just like a seed, we fertilize the soil, aerate it, water it, and remove the weeds. Once it has germinated, we continue to water and fertilize it. That plantlet will then bloom into a magnificent tree. The more seeds we sow and tend to, the more trees we will have. This ecosystem of trees creates a life of lush greenery for us to reap its abundance. I want this life. Perhaps you want it too. And together we can create it.

All around us, there is huge human potential. We can patiently provide the right conditions for these dormant seeds to germinate and bloom. Let’s leave behind a generation that we helped to flourish, so that they can go on to repeat this cycle.

Let’s be farmers.

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Lean On Me

The famous song Lean On Me by singer-songwriter Bill Withers goes: “Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.”

I have a friend whom I affectionately dub Elbow-buddy, who came up to me one day and asked: “Surain, what do you do when you feel like giving it all up?”

I sensed an unsettled emotion and replied; “How do you feel right now?” He replied; “I feel down. Everyone is telling me what to do: what I should have done and what I should have achieved. It feels like my mind is too noisy and I just want to go back to my hometown.”

Unbeknownst to him, by admitting that he was feeling down was the first step to solving a problem or managing an unpleasant situation. And by reaching out to someone and talking about it is the next step towards the solution.

One of the things I said to him was that he should allow himself to feel down for a period of time. And when there’s a slight nudge to pick yourself back up, go for it.”

As much as we want it, life will not always be smooth sailing all the way. There will be times when the storm will rain heavily on you and dangerously rock our boat.

This reminds me of a sharing session in one of my team building programs. After going through a series of challenging tasks, I rounded the participants up and created an environment for reflection by distributing cards with pictures on it. One of the participants chose a picture of a piano keyboard, held it up for everyone to see and said: “The white keys represent the good times, while the black keys are the bad times. Together, they make beautiful music.”

And this was exactly what I told my friend, and it helped to put things into perspective. We talked for a bit more. In the end, he gave me a hug and said; “Thanks, that really helped.”

With this, I would like to echo the words of Chris Abani, a writer who was imprisoned three times by the Nigerian government. He said; “What I’ve come to learn is that the world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion.”

I think that one of the ways in which we can be in contribution to others is simply by providing our shoulders for someone to lean on. We might need someone to lend theirs too, someday.

The second verse of the song goes like this: “Lean on me, when you’re not strong. And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long, ’til I’m gonna need, somebody to lean on.”

This dear friend of mine is now down in the southern state of the peninsula to further his studies. I wish you all the best, Elbow-buddy!

Keep The Fire Burning

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

Those lines were said by Christopher Walken’s character in the movie ‘Catch Me If You Can.’ When I heard it, I could not help but to think about a man and his remarkable 20 years – and counting – of struggle to find a cure for his health problem.

When he was diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia, he was also told that a few years later, he would be permanently bound to a wheelchair. You see, cerebellar ataxia is a degenerative disease of the nervous system that causes difficulty in coordinating balance and gait. Such news would have broken the spirit of one whose career was peaking and whose future held bright.

However, what is inspiring here is that this person did not succumb to self-defeating thoughts. Instead, he embarked on a rough and rugged journey to finding a cure to his problem, which included enduring the pain of traditional massage, sleeping in the car for hours to be the first in line at the hospital, travelling to India for months on end in search of alternative medicine, and ingesting numerous herbs, concoctions and pills.

Unfortunately, his condition made way for other difficulties. After dutifully serving his employer throughout his working life, he was dismissed without the agreed compensation because he was deemed “unworthy”. (Can you imagine being regarded as unworthy?)

What followed for the next seven years were court proceedings that consumed much of his valuable time and money, and caused great heartache for his family and relatives.

Tribulations aside, he keeps himself busy with swimming, gardening, and pursuing a PhD. How’s that for looking at the bright side and making the best out of everything? I would describe this man as the “epitome of perseverance”, a man who embodies the spirit of persistence and grit in times of difficulty.

Will the cream turn into butter? That is uncertain. What is certain for now is that he keeps moving forward. All these have left a mark in me as I have the privilege to witness his struggles first hand.

They say that if you can get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through. With the birth of his daughter’s twins a couple of months back, he is currently undergoing stem cell therapy with cells derived from the umbilical cord of the babies.

He and those around him desperately wish for a lucky break to befall him, a panacea that may turn his life around for the better. Undaunted, he trudges on, proving the doctors wrong by still being able to walk albeit with great difficulty, and fighting for his health which, for many, means all the wealth in the world.

I, too, can only wish the best for him as he is my father. To keep the fire burning in your heart as you navigate through this journey called life; always remember that the difficulties of life are intended to make us better, not bitter.

I find this quote pretty inspiring in the manner in which Sylvester Stallone said it in the hit movie Rocky Balboa, “It’s not about how hard you fall when you have been hit; it’s about getting up every time you get hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.”

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Lemons to Lemonades.

It happened during my third year of my bachelor’s degree. My classmates and I were in the laboratory conducting an experiment when a fuzzy thought lingered in my head. Needing clarification, I walked up to my professor and asked for an explanation, like how a lost tourist would ask for directions from the information counter.

Without batting an eyelid, she looked up from her table and said: “Surain, stop asking stupid questions.”

I was dumbfounded. That was soon followed by hurt and embarrassment. I kept thinking: “Hmm… what did I say wrong? What did I do wrong?”

If you think that that demoralized me, you would be right. Never again did I ask questions of that lecturer because the student-teacher relationship had been severed. I do not think I continued with my experiment as I was deeply affected by that incident. As I sat on the lab stool, my mind wondered here and there looking for answers and explanations.

Finally, after giving it much thought, I vowed that if I were ever in a position to teach, I would never utter those words to my students.

In the next seven years after that incident, I went on to teach at five different institutions of higher learning and came across students from various backgrounds with various characters and personalities. With the powers invested in me, I have patiently addressed almost every question that they have posed, questions ranging from the most intellectual and sophisticated to the most unconventional and uncommon.

Throughout my teaching years, I kept reminding myself to not dismiss questions or comments from my students as this has the potential to kill their interest to learn and participate in class. That is how I turned a disappointment into a motivational factor.

With much pride, I have seen my students go on to further their studies in diverse fields – dentistry, chemistry and biomedicine, to name a few.

I would like to share with you my thoughts about two of my ex-students who I hold dearly in my heart till this day. The two years we spent together exposed me to a myriad of questions and ideas not just pertaining to the subject I teach, Biology, but also politics, ethics, money, religion, and movies, among others.

As I write, Azam, the brainy kid, is pursuing medicine in Aberdeen, while Eileen, the absent-minded one who is nevertheless sweet and adorable, is studying comparative literature in Massachusetts. Reminiscing on these students, as well as others like Cassandra, Hidayah, Nicholas, Yati, Wie Jie, Hazman and many more, keeps the fire in me burning. The zest and enthusiasm that I put into my daily undertakings are fuelled by my thoughts about them.

The anonymous saying, “Frustration and disappointments are a good thing, they drive us to improve,” rings so true for many of us. This is how you can turn a negative experience into something positive. I would recommend that you use your negative experiences to fuel the fire in you to be a better person.

Dear readers, when life throws lemons at you, get some tea and ice cubes and make lemonade. Make plenty of lemonade so that you can share it with your family and friends. Heck, you might even want to open a lemonade manufacturing company. I hear people telling me; “don’t be angry,” “don’t be sad,” and “don’t be frustrated.” I agree only to a certain extent. At times, I think you should be angry! Be afraid! Be frustrated! But use these emotions to drive you forward. We are beings of emotions. We are driven by emotions. When I made that vow to never utter the destructive words, “Stop asking stupid questions,” I was driven by a strong emotion.

Why did the mice go through the maze to get to the cheese? Was it prodded by a stick? No. It was driven by its feeling of hunger. A feeling that comes from within.

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