The Sustainable Life

So it’s not every day that you meet someone who has it all worked out. At our most recent AA meeting, we met two someones: Crystal and Bjorn of Edible Gardens.

And by all worked out, I really mean all. Edible Gardens a] produces food, b] lets Crystal and Bjorn work together on what they love, c] gives them something they can be proud of, and d] spreads a movement of love for nature and sustainability.

And this is Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (I’m not being unnecessarily poncy, guys, Crystal used this diagram herself as part of her talk. Really! go check out our photo album from the session!):


See what I mean? As Crystal says, they have all tiers covered in one big pursuit. And they’re absolutely happy doing it:


They didn’t stop beaming throughout this talk.

This is no ordinary lifestyle. Crystal and Bjorn used to be pretty regular people, slogging away steadily in an advertising company. Then one day, it seems like they just woke up and decided there was no reason to imprison themselves in a job they hated. So they took a break, went out to explore, and founded their own sustainable life based on their experiences. Here is what they recommend for everyone:

1. Travel. Go somewhere that makes you uncomfortable. It can be to exotic lands, or within your own country, even to somewhere in your community that just isn’t part of your every day life. And by somewhere, I don’t just mean geographical. Hang out with people you wouldn’t normally talk to. Do things you wouldn’t normally do. Get some perspective, and learn how you can survive in a situation without your regular crutches.

2. Connect with nature. The way they preach it, Edible Gardens is more a philosophy than a project. Growing your own food is a closed loop that removes the artificiality from running on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym just for the sake of expending energy, and then picking something up from Starbucks on your way back. When you work on a farm, each hour you spend in hard labour translates into food on the table. Do that just once, and your understanding of your role on this earth changes.

3. Do what you love now. Because there’s a lot of things that won’t wait until your retirement. Crystal had a great point that if she could be good at something she didn’t like, what would it be like if she was doing something she loved? Never underestimate the possibilities of pursuing something you’re passionate about. All the same though, it certainly doesn’t mean blood, sweat and tears aren’t involved! Bjorn did say that even though he’s furthering the urban farming cause that’s close to his heart, it’s hard work every day to build the business.

4. Making yourself happy is not selfish. Boy is this one hard, especially in an Asian culture like ours that emphasizes putting others’ needs before your own. But I’ve known myself happy, and I know what I’m like miserable, and I can with 100% conviction say that happiness rubs off on others, and bitterness creates conflict. Do something that makes you happy and fulfilled, and you’ll find you have endless energy to make the lives of those around you sweeter just because you want to share that joy. And as Crystal rightly says, “Being happy doesn’t mean not being productive.” You can live off a job that makes you happy just as much as you can live off a job that you hate.

Now, if you missed this session, then you didn’t get to participate in our discussions, nor hang out with the amazing AA community:


AA folk, solemnly searching their souls.

Or play:


Spreading the AA joy with our guest speakers.

But I can let you do some arm-chair self-reflection in the comfort of your own home: We at AA firmly believe that when you’re stuck in a rut, striking out in a new direction, meeting new people and learning new skills just for fun can set you back on track. So, if you could drop everything to go experience something new, what would you do?

Also, watch out for more on Edible Gardnes on! We worked with them to profile Bjorn so there’s more on this journey coming up from them!

Until next time,

– Lynette

Ready, Set, Go!

This past AA, Audrey Tan came to tell us how she got Playmoolah up and running. If you’re not familiar with Playmoolah yet, go check it out here. Briefly, it’s a platform to teach kids financial literacy – the basics of managing their money. I made myself an account to play, and it’s adorable.

Audrey thinks the seeds of your dreams are planted at a young age (she used to make play money as a child and buy and sell items with her siblings), and she makes a special effort to equip children with the skills necessary to get there. She wants to empower people to make smart decisions so they can live confident and free. A role model after AA’s own heart.


Audrey is so easy to talk to – within 5 minutes of meeting her I felt like she was ready to be my friend and help me sort out my life. It’s not hard to see how she managed to start Playmoolah – she’s got vision and guts to spare. She let us know that we may never feel ready, and in fact, may always be unprepared for what comes next, since there’s really no way to anticipate what the next twist is, but as long as you surround yourself with really good people, remain curious and open to surprises, you’ll have equipped yourself with the right tools to surge ahead.

“Plans change,” she says, “They always change. The best you can do is be open and adaptable.” So for everyone who is trying to start something new, or is struggling with the next step, keep your mind open to the talent around you, and the resources you already have. Keep the reason that you are doing things in your heart. And then step forward, and trust in yourself to keep moving.


If you want to get a taste of what we worked through during our session, grab a pen and paper and brainstorm as many points as you can for the following two questions:

1. What am I waiting for? (in terms of skills, resources, information, networks, support, etc.)

2. What do I already have? (same applies.)


Lining ourselves up according to our haves and wants.

Then for (2), figure out what you can do right now, with what you’ve got, and for (1), narrow the stuff you need down to what you must gain right now that is essential for your immediate progress.

Now go out and do it! Until next time,

– Lynette


Connect the Dots

This past AA we had Kenny Leck, who co-started BooksActually, come to speak with us. He’s a soft-spoken guy, with a super calm and laid-back beng demeanor that belies what can only be tremendous energy and passion.


He explained how working out his business model is an on-going process of experimentation, taking gambles, giving up time and weekends off, and persevering through difficulty. It requires judgement, and the willingness to make huge scary decisions that may well turn out to be mistakes. Above all, it is about seeing the potential in people, places, situations, and seizing those opportunities.

The more self-starting role models I meet, the more I realise that they share some very key qualities of persistence, sacrifice, and risk-taking. Out of the hundreds of people who decide to strike out on their own and do what they love, there are maybe a handful who don’t fail at the first hurdle. Kenny is one of those who made it, and is still making it after all this time. For my own sake, I love that AA gives me the chance to meet and learn from people like him.

I also love that AA takes me to new places! This week, Vanessa of Plain Vanilla very generously let us take up 99.9999% of her store.


We were bursting at the seams!

Speaking of bursting, I had to exercise a lot of restraint when faced with the display of cupcakes on sale. If you haven’t heard of Plain Vanilla… go. It’s worth it. And check out BooksActually while you’re there – it’s what baby bookstores dream of being when they grow up. Yong Siak Street, super near Tiong Bahru MRT.

Now, about Connecting the Dots:

I once, when I was younger and therefore even more out of touch with reality than I currently am, took a freshman course in linguistics, with some idea that since I 1) love language, and 2) love picking people apart, I should major in it and spend the rest of my life being able to judge people based on how they talk.

Fortunately, I ditched that idea less than halfway through the semester, currently hold a degree in something totally different (though equally useless in terms of employability), and thankfully have no basis from which to judge people in that obnoxious manner.

What I did manage to take away from that course, though, is a greater understanding of how dialogue works, and how to steer and manage conversations in a constructive way. I like to think that the way I conduct AA’s workshops is advantageously informed by the 15 or so weeks of class that I spent my life on.


Joke’s on me – now I’m constantly judging myself based on how I speak.

All this to say, the experiences that we have in life – the skills we learn, the people we meet, and the things we do – they are handholds and footholds that we can use to reach the places we want to go to, even if we have no idea, at the time, of how they might one day be invaluable to us. We just need to be willing to connect the dots.

If you didn’t make it to our last AA session, then I cannot recreate the discussions and dialogues that were shared between our wonderful participants for you, but I can leave you with this to think about:

What are your dots? What are you good at? What have you done that you love? What great resources do you have?

And what can you do with them? How have they brought you to where you are, and where can they take you next?

See you next time!

– Lynette

BE the Change

Have you ever thought something should really change, but doubted you could do it?

Well Guan Wei came to share how he made a change in 3 Awesome ways — helping to found the Orchestra of the Music Makers, setting up Conjunct Consulting’s NUS chapter, and doing official sports and music photography.

Before that Awesomeness totally intimidates you, never fear — here’s what kept him going! (Engineers out there will delight that they come in pithy engineering terms! For the not… don’t worry we had no idea either.)

Don’t be useless!

1. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: Guan Wei gave us a Physics refresher to explain that it’s all about entropy — everything tends to falls apart. If you don’t keep pumping energy into an Awesome project you really care about, it’s going to take its natural course towards chaos.

2. Path Dependency: An honest piece of advice was pulled out of Chaos Theory — that where you are now is influenced by past circumstances. OMM arose through his network of musicians, and his involvement in Conjunct, from a serendipitous encounter with an old friend. Take note of what you can leverage!

3. Go and Be Useful: No Physics needed in this truism — what has always driven Guan Wei is using what skills we have to be as useful as possible to the world around us. And to juggle all our responsibilities, it’s a matter of not just deciding to be useful, but where you can be the most useful.

4. Pursue Excellence, Not Success: Don’t chase something Awesome looking for successes along the way! Instead concentrate on just pursuing excellence — doing the best job you can of what you’re doing. Successes just happen to be a side effect of that, and will come when they will.

All of us went on to discuss the problems we’d seen and had tried to solve, and what was fulfilling about it; and the problems we’d seen but hadn’t tried to solve, for which we traded quick tips on how to approach them!

Our brand new gorgeous venue really got the ideas flowing, and so did the yummy tidbits. A billion thank yous to DBS for generously hosting us!


Gorging ourselves on tartlets and ideas

In other news, AA TURNED ONE last weekend too! Back on June 2 2012, we had our inaugural gathering among friends who wanted to keep each other going on our amazing ideas. We had sensed our passions starting to peter out, and AA became a way to keep us conscious about fanning the flames before they died out all together.

6 months into it we got official and turned a nice shade of powder blue, and here we stand ever ever-enthusiastic to BE the change that empowers the people around us to be their best selves, and live the lives we’ve always imagined. Thanks for taking the journey with us!!


Keeping the Dream Alive!

Hey guys, guess who’s back with an update on last week’s AA? Me. Obviously. If you didn’t make it, here’s what you missed:

Mary Kan, who started Singapore’s women’s water polo team (which won Gold in the 2011 SEA Games) came to chat with us. She’s this amazingly fiery, driven, intelligent character, hidden in a graceful and diminutive (if scary fit) body.


Mary, intimidating us with her passion. And demure poise.

Mary took us through the process it took to build the team up, from just a couple of competitive swimmers who were sometimes allowed to play water polo during their “free time”, to their current strength (they now have so many players they jokingly complain about all the time spent on the bench). This meant scraping together resources, and doing a lot of pride-swallowing (which is like sword-swallowing, only more painful) and asking for help, competing (and losing) against far better teams from other countries and coming out the other side stronger and better, and no less determined.

Here’s what I learned from her:

1. Always look for the next opportunity.

2. Don’t be afraid to rely on people. This means family, friends, coworkers, even people on the opposing side, who can be happy to extend their help.

3. Take advantage of all circumstances. This includes adversity.

4. This one is important: There will be sacrifices. Promotions, time with family, favourite pasttimes/food/people. What are you willing to give up for your dream?

We also played an awesome special game. This involved us pairing up for some… awkward soul searching?


Pictured: Awesome souls.

The point of the game was to help us all identify some of our behaviours that keep us from chasing our Awesome goals. But since you weren’t there, and I can’t rig up the game for you long distance, let me tell you a bit of a long story instead, to approximate the concept. So here goes:

There is this trap that I seem to keep falling into. Here’s what happens: I have a goal, e.g., getting a job. This goal is important to me; it’s something that will have an impact on the rest of my life. I put in the effort, do my research, talk to people, write up applications etc. So it all starts moving nicely along. People link me up with people. Options start to open. Things are looking up…

And I panic. The minute one or two job offers come in, I drop everything I’m doing, and I take the first offer that comes. Sometimes I hold out until the second one. I rely more on serendipity than strategy. Because I hate making decisions, I flail for the fastest solution.

So let’s pause there and analyse my crappy behaviour. I have a goal, but I quit chasing it, not because I stop being motivated, but because I just feel terrible about having to make an uncomfortable decision. As it turns out, people in uncomfortable situations tend to react in unproductive ways. Here are some typical reactions (take a look through and ask yourself if you lean on any of these methods):

1. Analysis Paralysis. The matter is too complex. You refuse to make a decision and just keep putting it off.

2. The Waiting Game. You sit tight and hope that something jumps out and grabs you, forcing you into one option.

3. The U-turn. You know exactly what you want, but that option suddenly becomes problematic or unavailable. You stop pursuing it immediately, not even considering a different approach, and snatch whatever comes by next.

4. The Panic Attack. See my personal example above. Indiscriminate acceptance of whatever comes first, without considering if it’s something you actually want.

5. The Panic Attack Prime. Variant of the Panic Attack. You take whatever comes first, fully aware that it’s not really what you want, but afraid that what you want will never come along and then it’ll be too late to go back to this currently available, albeit inferior, option.

6. The Thud Effect. You’ve actually done it, successfully avoiding all of the traps above! You’ve pursued exactly what you want whole-heartedly, without distractions… Only to be rejected. You call yourself a failure and never try for anything you want ever again.

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Is there something you can do to prevent this from happening again? What would you do differently? Hopefully the next time you have some choices to make, you keep your eye on the ball, and keep chasing the dreams you started out with.

Think about it, and I’ll see you next time! We’ve got the founder of the Orchestra of the Music Makers coming. He’s an inspiring guy – saw the need for a group to let young working adults make some music when they were out of school, and just… started one. Wow. I’m excited to meet him, and hope you guys will make it down too!

– Lynette

Fail Faster: Prototyping Your Awesome Goal

Hello, it’s me again, your friendly neighbourhood Awesomer. (Awesomite?) Have you been wondering how to test drive your Awesome, without shelling out tonnes of cash, or hours of wasted effort? What a coincidence, so have we! Which is why, for the latest session of AA, we invited Shaun from Syinc to come guide us through the basics of Prototyping.

IMG_8411Shaun’s an incredibly energetic guy. If he were a girl, I’d call him bubbly. But since he’s not, I’m going to use the word “dynamic”. And manly.

Fellow Awesomian and Facilitator Tim Quek describes him as “determined”. As in, determined to hammer out and refine his model of his Awesome goal, whatever that may be, by being willing to listen to and solicit honest feedback… and then to chuck away the useless (“Oh honey, that’s totally a perfect idea in every single way. You’re so good at this.”) or discouraging (“You should just drop everything right now and stop. Just stop.”) ones, and focus on incorporating the constructive criticisms.

Here’s Shaun’s magic formula for Prototyping:

Step 1. Get started. No, seriously, quit procrastinating and waiting for the perfect moment. Begin with something simple, something easy, just begin.

Step 2. Sketch. Or powerpoint. Or diagramify. Whatever works for you, just do a quick and dirty mock-up. This is your first prototype.

Step 3. Find someone. To work with, or to work for. This (to me, at least) above all, keeps you motivated and focused, instead of day dreaming on a lawn chair and snacking on chips.

Step 4. Get real feedback. See above, on being willing to chase down and listen to honest feedback. Take your prototype, and put it in people’s faces.

Step 5. Build a more robust prototype. When people have given you their criticism, (including, “What the heck, get that out of my face, nutjob.”) think about it, use what makes sense, adapt your prototype, test it again. You can put more effort into each successive prototype, because you’re getting closer, and will know more about what it should look like in the end.

Step 6. Keep track of what works, and what doesn’t. This is surprisingly easy to forget – stuff that didn’t work in your first version may pop up again in the fourth, because you’ve stopped paying attention to it.

Step 7. Keep trying, until you find enough things that work. Rinse and repeat, until happy.

A quick note on that “until happy” it. Shaun is of the firm belief that it is the process of prototyping, of refining your ideas until they become tangible, that makes you happy. In his words, “Sooner or later, the journey becomes the reward.”

I don’t know if you find that intuitive, but we tried our hands at prototyping right there in our AA session, and here’s the proof positive:

IMG_8478A group of happy Awesomese prototyping away.

That’s all for now guys, and hope to see you at our next session on May 5th!

– Lynette

All Together Now

Hey folks, I’m back! I’ve got an update for you on last week’s AA session, and I have to say, if you missed it, I feel sorry for you… because we had such a blast!


As evidenced herein.

But never mind, there’s always next time (keep an eye out here, on our facebook page, or join the A-list for an update), and to tide you guys over ’til then, here’s a quick recap:

1) Valerie from Project Hello Stranger dropped by to… say Hello. And! she gave us a great run-through of PHS’s (can I call it PHS?) ethos – which in her words is “to draw Singaporeans out of themselves”. What a beautiful thought, that all of us curmudgeonly citizens are actually just waiting for an excuse to connect with each other. I’m just as cynical as the next guy, but after hearing her success stories, I’m pretty inspired. I even smiled and waved at a crusty old uncle out for his evening walk around my neighbourhood as I passed him on my way home from AA. (Judging from his expression, though, I may need to work on my technique.)


Smiling and waving: harder than you might think.

Valerie is an inspirational force in and of herself; when you hear her speaking of her projects, and how the energy from the community is what keeps her going, her enthusiasm is totally infectious. She’s personally engaged, and engaging… She genuinely believes in what she’s doing. How many of us can say that?

2) Since the topic of the day was collaboration, everyone got a chance to sit down and do some thinking (and talking, of course) about the road bumps they’ve been running into while chasing Awesome, and to figure out

  • What they need to get over those bumps and,
  • Who they need to help them with that, whether it’s people they need to learn from, work with, or just to kick their butts and get them moving.


To paraphrase what a favourite professor of mine used to say, if you get stuck, you can’t just sit at your table and try to think harder. Sometimes you need to change what you’re doing, and if that means looking to other people for help or motivation, so be it.

3) Speaking of motivational figures, check out what our very own Vijay brought to show off at AA:


He’s got his Awesome hat on. Invisible, and Awesome.

4) And finally, I took advantage of my role as King Facilitator to make people do ridiculous things for my express entertainment, then called it “bonding”.


That’s me in black, “facilitating”.

It must’ve worked though, because check out these guys, who couldn’t bear the thought of going their separate ways after AA ended, having dinner together:


I feel like a proud mama.

That’s all for now! See you crazy awesome folk next time.

– Lynette

Springboards of Awesome

Hey guys, it’s been a week since our last AA session – hope you’re looking forward to the next one (check back either here on our facebook page to find out when!)

In the meantime, here’s a recap of what happened at AA last Saturday on the Big Blue Bus:

1) Hosea Lai, deputy director of SG Cares, let us have a thoroughly enjoyable chat with him on his views on Awesome.

ImageHosea has spread so much Awesome around himself (he started the Singapore and Sichuan offices of Habitat for Humanity, and also had some great stories of his work in Thailand and Myanmar).

His Awesome is bringing out Awesome in others, and this can come in many forms, whether it’s love for family, bravery amidst hardship, or joy despite scarcity. So remember guys, it is the desire to be Awesome that is Awesome, and you don’t need to be a hero or an expert – apply the skills that you already have, and pull Awesome out of the circumstances you are in, out of the people around you.

2) We updated each other on the states of our Awesome (doin’ good, guys!). We also took some time to think about our motivations for our current jobs, and how to keep them meaningful and fulfilling. (If you’d like to try this out by yourself at home, a good start would be to answer these questions: what made you apply for your current job? what can you do differently? how can you map your talents and skills to your projects or responsibilities?)



3) We also had a bit of silly fun: making pipe-cleaner and plasticine representations of our Awesome. Vijay’s minimalist approach was a crowd favourite… ImageThanks to all for coming, and hope to see you next time!


– Lynette




Hey Awesomefolk, thanks for joining us this past Sunday, for our especially epicurean episode of AA at Loola’s at the Esplanade!

We at AA HQ are such huge fans of Lyn Lee, for

a) Letting us totally mob the space in her restaurant,


b) Doing all she has done with her life, and then sitting down with us to really open up in an incredibly level-headed, down-to-earth, and for that reason twice-as-inspiring speech to let us know about it (more on that later),


and c) because chocolate.



But back to Lyn’s story. For those who don’t know, Lyn is an ex-lawyer who started a chocolate cake shop that gradually expanded to a successful (and international!) franchise (and three restaurants). What we find particularly amazing is that she didn’t diversify to the restaurant business out of simple expansionism: it’s harder, there are more obstacles, and it doesn’t actually make more money. She did it because she wanted to give her employees the opportunity to learn, grow, and innovate. That’s the kind of Awesome that she is. Those of us who met with her on Sunday were fortunate enough to have her take her many years of awesome, and distill it for us into these three points:

1) Learn to work with people. Everyone has different skills/talents (e.g. math, or business sense, or having brilliant ideas like bringing cake to the masses…) and you’re going to need a team for every big endeavor. Don’t bother trying to find a “dream team” of people you loooove. Get the people you need. And then learn to love them… or at least to click with them.

2) Do your prep, take it step by step. (Full disclosure, that horrible rhyme is mine, not hers.) Lyn really doesn’t believe that Awesome comes from simply dropping what you’ve got to chase your dreams. Her story may sound a bit like that: she was a lawyer (for like a year), decided it wasn’t for her (something about not liking Ferragamos, which are apparently compulsory apparel in the courts), chose to start Awfully Chocolate (because, chocolate), and BAM! Awesome. Actually, no. If you’re in it because it sounds glamorous and romantic, don’t bother. Lyn started from the ground up: conceptualising with her team before taking that first step. You have to ask yourself: what are the first steps? How much will it cost? What am I willing to sacrifice, and what not? Don’t quit your day job before you’ve got the full picture. Lyn and her team never spent money that they didn’t have. Awfully Chocolate started small, from just one product from a little shop in Joo Chiat (that didn’t even have a cake chiller), to the delicious, audacious enterprise it is today, step by step.

3) It’s hard work. According to Lyn, most times Awesome comes from people who did things, not because they had a dream, but because they had no choice but to succeed. This means that you don’t chase your Awesome because it sounds like fun, but because you don’t see a viable alternative. Don’t quit your job because you find it too difficult, because, hey, all jobs are difficult. Lyn gave us something to chew on: It was actually easier for her to finish her law degree, than to pluck up the guts and determination (like some of her friends did) to quit and start from scratch on something new. Whatever your reason is – be it a commitment to supporting your family, passion for a particular field, or talent – find it, because it’s going to have to sustain you through a lot of rough patches.

I could go on and on about Lyn and her Awesome, but this is already a long post. For those who didn’t make it, sorry you missed out on this amazing opportunity to meet with Lyn. There is something we did during our sessions that you can tackle at home, though. We at AA believe that Awesome lies at the intersection of an individual’s strengths, values, and passions, like so:


Take 5 minutes to write down your own strengths, values, and passions (one or two of each), and brainstorm what your Awesome may be.

See you next time! We’re just gonna be here devouring cake from now till then.

– Lynette

Awesome Folk: Awesomely Chocolate?

AA meets again tomorrow for our second session of 2013, and we’re so excited to welcome our special guest speaker this week! Lyn Lee of Awfully Chocolate will be sharing her thoughts on Finding Your Awesome. We sat down with Lyn to get a little taster (ha!) of her talk.

Firstly, what does Awesome mean to you?

Lyn: Having a great bunch of people to work with every day!

What is Awesome about what you do?

Lyn: People loving what we do.

Any words of wisdom for people who want to chase their Awesome?

Lyn:  I don’t think there is one way to find your Awesome. Sometimes having no choice may be the right choice! I believe that the hard work ethic will lead you the right way.

If you’re hungry (haha!) for more, join us at Loola’s tomorrow! Not only will Lyn be sharing her Awesome story and answering your questions, you’ll also meet fun and creative people who are also embarking on their own Awesome journeys. Best of all, oodles of delicious cake awaits!
See you there!

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