The holy grail to find meaningful work and life balance

Having lived and worked across Asia Pacific (Sydney, Singapore, Japan) in the pursuit of an interesting, meaningful career and a balanced lifestyle, it dawned on me the other day that for the first time in a long time, I am almost there!

I started to analyse in the last 15 years, into the cities where I have lived, the experience of work cultures of different countries and how it affected my work/life balance and thus, the prompt for me to start this blog. To share my experiences and views.

Sydney is a beautiful city to be in. Living in Sydney, Australia is like living in paradise. Great weather all year round, starting early at 8am(ish), everyone out of the office by 530pm to pursue their interests, fanatical sports culture, fabulous food and drinking culture, just an awesome place to hang out. This is where I started my recruitment career, developed my crude, self depreciating sense of humour, learnt all the “tricks” of the recruitment trade, how to consultatively sell ice to Eskimos. I have been asked more times than I care to remember, usually by my Asian friends that are looking to immigrate out of Asia, why did you leave Australia for Asia? Well, as I would explain, I could have stayed in Oz and developed and enjoyed a good career but being ambitious and adventurous, I wanted to be where the action is, exponential growth year on year, an opportunity to make untold fortunes (with low income tax), as an Australian with Asian roots, to capitalise on my strengths – my Asian background but yet maintain my Australian-ness when dealing with my bosses and partners in Australia or the US.

Tokyo is just an unbelievably exciting city to experience. I loved living there for 4.5 years and for the last 5.5 years, I have been traveling to Japan on a regular (monthly) basis for business. Japan opened my eyes to a culture and set of values totally different from what I had experienced in Australia and South East Asia. It is a city full of “must do”(as oppose to “can do”) energy that never sleeps. From a work perspective, I have been humbled by the dedication of my Japanese colleagues to their work, the need to do things proper and to do things right (chanto) , the code of honour in business where it would be sacreligious to go back on an agreement and all the while remain polite and respectful. As I write this article, Japan just had the 8.9 richter scale earthquake that engulfed Sendai and affected Tokyo. The reports I got back from my mates in Japan was that even in a crisis situation where there was massive chaos (all trains were stopped, all telephone systems were jammed), at no stage people took advantage of the situation e.g. looting, social unrest, rioting as people panic and stock up for bare necessities like water and food. Some of my friends even open up their homes to people that were stranded. This would not happen any where else, I thought to myself. It is truly a cultured, proper, orderly 1st world society. The only downside of my time living in Japan was that I had an unbalanced lifestyle. Working 9am to 8pm days (its hard to get out of the habit because it is entrenched in the Japanese office culture), heading to the izakaya for outstanding food and cold beers or sake or shochu (sometimes all 3) after work, leaves very little time for healthy fitness activities like gym, sports etc…also Tokyo’s cold winters also did not motivate me to get out of a toasty, warm bed to go for a run. Being a soccer player, Tokyo is short of footy pitches due to the price of  real estate. I know…they all sound like excuses but they are valid excuses.

For me, Singapore strikes the right balance. Its where I have been living for the last 5.5 years and its where I want to be, for now. The tropical Singapore weather means I have the opportunity to go for a run, a swim or play footy 365 days a year. I swim with my daughter on Saturdays, play footy every Sunday and it is easy to find a footy field, most of the schools rent the field out to weekend warriors like me. I am in the gym 2 to 3 times a week, the gyms in Singapore are booming, always packed with gym rats after work hours. Talking about work hours, we are in the office at 9am(ish) and I can roll a bowling ball thru my office at 630pm and not hit anyone. The Singapore economy is going gangbusters with a record 15% growth in 2010, and 2011 is looking positive. Income tax is very friendly. Rent, trains, taxis are relatively affordable. In the last 5 years, Singapore has stepped up its lifestyle and entertainment accelerator – the 2 casinos, universal studios theme park, the creative, cultural , musical entertainment with world class artists at the Esplanade and Indoor Stadium, pockets of quirky places like Club Street/Ang Siang Hill, Haji Lane etc…all in all, never a dull moment. Finally, Singapore’s world class Changi airport is just 20 mins away from home, its such a rarity to be able to go from being in a plane and in your home having a shower in the space of 30 mins. That is just gold after being in a plane for 8 hours.

Time check: Sunday 2pm….almost time for Sunday footy!


Photo courtesy of Erika Tang


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