Chasing after kaizen.

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It’s 10pm on a Monday night and I’m absolutely exhausted, both mentally and physically. My body feels like it’s just been run through the gauntlet, and my mind feels like it may similarly explode from attempting to squeeze in a plethora of study. In the past 24 hours, I have:

  • Wrestled/grappled with a 100kg Samoan man.
  • Studied adverbs and adjectives in Thai language.
  • Negotiated a potential bilateral agreement with a foreign university.
  • Finished reading a book on theological concepts.
  • Prepared healthy organic meals for the rest of the week.
  • Listened to a podcast by a Nobel Prize winner.
  • Squatted 100kg and deadlifted 130kg (both for reps).

Yet…strangely enough, this satisfying sense of fatigue is what defines a productive day towards my ever-moving goal of kaizen. 

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I first came across this beautiful word during an International Business 101 lecture in my “freshman” year of university, and its importance was reiterated over the course of my MBA studies. Kaizen encapsulated the meticulous efforts by Japanese companies in the 1950s to identify areas of improvement in their holistic business processes and, most importantly, perpetually repeating the cycle. Through this, Japanese businesses such as Toyota, were able to surpass their rivals across the world by constantly looking at even their successes with a critical eye. To the Japanese, a business that halted in its pursuit of kaizen was effectively dead, its stagnancy giving way to stronger, more determined rivals.

Kaizen-1

This business principle sparked my curiosity. It works for Japanese companies…could it work for a relatively “normal” everyday person like me? Could I similarly seek out to improve myself a bit each day in different areas of my “self” and venture towards “polymathery”? Yes, it’s not even a word, but it was probably the best term to describe my life goal(s) that have occupied me since then.

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The most common example of a polymath is Michelangelo, however not everyone is going to be able to sculpt the statue of David, paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and also make notable contributions to historical Italian architecture. I like to think of a polymath as someone who is a “jack-of-all-trades”, and maybe a master in one (or two) of their chosen pursuits. I idolise people like Tim Ferriss (NY Times bestselling author, Guinness World Record Holder in tango dancing, amateur Chinese boxing champion and angel investor) and Manny Pacquiao (champion boxer, politician, actor and singer).

To me, “polymathery”, that constant struggle towards perfection in such varied tasks, is surely a path towards kaizen in one’s life. It is for this reason that in the past 2 years I have dedicated so much time to seemingly random activities in the hope of bettering myself holistically, seeking those incremental learnings in various aspects of the human experience.

For some reason or another, the thought of not improving in anything over the course of one’s life really struck fear in me. This fear was compounded when I turned 25 (two years ago). Having just got married to the love of my life, people were quick to jibe that “my life was finished” and I was to look forward to my inevitable “dad bod”. It was during this time that I made a promise to myself that I would never allow this to happen to me (side note: I told my wife, half-jokingly, to divorce me if I ever became fat), and would fight for the next 5 years to become proficient in as many things as possible before 30.

This is not to say that I think a quest for polymathery will be over at 30, but rather a significant milestone by which I hope to be well-versed in a variety of subjects, ready to tackle my 30s with a stoic steeliness. The likelihood of fatherhood during my 30s is yet another motivation for this journey, as I hope to have a bounty of interesting anecdotes, lessons and stories to accompany the to-be-expected dad jokes.

So what is it that I do in a normal week? At the moment, I live on the picturesque Gold Coast with my beautiful intelligent wife and my normal schedule consists of:

  • My “day job”: I’m responsible for the South East Asian marketing strategies for a university, devising business development initiatives to increase our market share in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, and Myanmar. I usually spend some time abroad in at least one of these countries each month. This involves meeting with foreign universities, education agents and overseas government officials.

 

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Enjoying some time off at the Shwedagon Pagoda on a recent business trip.

 

 

  • Physical challenges:
    • Doing low-rep, high-weight lifting routines, with the aim of increasing raw strength – for carry-over into other aspects of my physical hobbies.
    • Training Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), 3 times a week. (Think what they do in the UFC when the fight goes to the ground).
    • Training Muay Thai, 2-3 times a week. (Think kickboxing, Thai-style).
    • Training daily with Russian kettlebells
    • Eating a modified Paleo lunch each day.

 

  • Mental/spiritual practices
    • Learning to speak the Thai language (already at a low conversational level).
    • Reading The Economist religiously every week. (This is extremely useful, especially due to the international scope of my “day job”, but also for managing my multi-region investment portfolio).
    • Attempting to read 2-4 non-fiction books per month on different subjects (most recently: The 10x Rule)
    • Daily meditation (at least 10 minutes per day)
    • And…writing a blog 🙂

So what will this blog be about?

I hope that through this platform I will be able to divulge my thoughts and learning experiences on this journey, but also share my opinion on random issues that intrigue me, including travel, football, politics, music, food and so on.

I hope that through this blog I will be able to inspire some of you to go out and try new things. I have seen too many people waste away their early 20s on unproductive tasks, rotting away their mind while their body stagnates. Too many hours playing Call of Duty, too many bottles of red wine and beer, and not having learned a thing since high school/university.

We live in the luckiest of times, in the best of countries. There is no excuse for not being healthy in mind and spirit when we have so many options available to us. And I hope to show you that even a “regular Joe” (albeit an Asian one) can juggle these multiple opportunities.

Yes I know I’m far from a polymath or an expert, but at least I’m giving it a crack. And so should you. Go chase that kaizen.

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