My Life, My Trades & My Bowl Of Salad

I love to cook. I love preparing food for my family to eat. And my family loves eating what I cook for them.

But there’s more to just cooking than meets the eye. Today, when it is so convenient to order in or “ta pau” or just eat out, why, in my busy schedule do I still persist to cook at least seven meals a week for my family?

It is my form of therapy. It serves as a means to calm me and slow me down from the fast-paced nature of the market and the hectic schedules that my life presents. Most importantly, it reminds me that this is Life – this is what Real Life is all about and everything we do is about this.

THE PERCEPTION

This bowl of salad represents the end product.

This is what we see served to us when we eat out. We dig into it without considering anything else except for how it looks, tastes and fills us. Some of us will be concerned about its freshness, crunchiness and its calorie levels. Others will be considering the value-for-money factor. After finishing every last morsel of the salad, we move on to idle chit-chat or slam our faces in our mobile coms while someone else clears up the mess.

For most, this is life … their life – meaningless, routine and superficial. For them, instant gratification is normal. It is a way of life and thus becomes an expected given. As long as they can afford it, these expectations must be met. They care little for cause and consequence because this is what affluence is all about. This type of life breeds slothgluttony and pride.

This sort of existence always leads one to chase dreams that are unrealistic and unachievable. It inevitably makes one pursue the wrong things that almost always never delivers on its promise. It makes victims out of the naive, gullible and ignorant dreamers who will insist on living in denial and will never own up to their flaws even when hit with failure. Instead, they will look for the next best thing with the next best promise of instant gratification.

I should know – I was guilty of it. Then bankruptcy hit me and woke me up.

Let’s get back to that salad and let me show you what went into making it …

I found a packet of greens that I bought a little less than a week ago. Some of the greens were soggy and spoilt but there were bits that were still fresh and crunchy. I had to sort them out.

It took 20 minutes to clean and sort out the rotting greens from the good greens. On the right, you can see how much of it I cleared out. On the left, more than half the pack was still in good shape. In the sink, you can see from the colour of the water (compare the colour of the steel surrounding the water-filled basin) how much work went into sorting them out.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to toss out the whole bag and buy a fresh lot instead?

Yes … and if you were thinking that, then you’re missing the point – that’s sloth – that’s exactly the type of life I don’t desire because it starts me down a path that’s all too familiar and undesirable to me.

I painstakingly removed all the rotting bits from the fresh bits even though it took time to do it. This is the same approach I take in business and in trading – I remove as much risk and liabilities as I can before I consider taking the next step in my analysis for my trades or business. I never rush the process and will pay special attention to every detail before making the next move. Likewise, I don’t want my family eating rotting greens so I will take the effort to remove that risk.

Then I had to boil up the pasta, two hard boiled eggs, slice up the sausages and braise them along with the pasta, slice up the tomatoes, shiitakes and onions and start laying up the salad. The greens, shiitake and onions were mixed one layer at a time, each time adding olive oil, my own blend of herbs and peppers, a sprinkling of salt and garlic power, then I lay over the next layer of greens and repeat the process for at least four layers. This way, the flavours are properly and evenly blended with the greens when I toss them.

Next, the cooled pasta is laid down like a bed on the top of the greens and the sausage slices (also cooled) on top of the pasta. Around the edge of the bowl go the tomato slices and to top it all off, the hard boiled eggs are sliced and take their pride of place above the whole heap. Finally, one last sprinkling of salt, herbs and parsley flakes.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to just toss everything into a bowl and mix it all up? After all, we’re going to gobble it all down and it won’t make a difference in our bellies, right?

Yes … and if you were thinking that, then you’re still missing the point – that’s gluttony – that’s exactly the type of habit I despise because it pays no attention to detail, its slovenly and smacks of ill discipline.

Although I never attended cooking school, I am a graduate of Taste & Smell from the University of Culinary Trials & Errors. I have studied my craft and applied my methods with almost surgical precision. I pay attention to detail and am constantly looking for ways to improve the style. I am more interested in the process than the final result just like I am more intrigued by the journey than the destination. This way, I get to enjoy every bit of the entire experience and not just savour the end result.

I took this same approach when I decided to take trading seriously. I studied the craft and practiced painstakingly to improve my style. I broadened my knowledge of the business by learning economics, risk management, history, monetary policy, politics and psychology. I applied through trial and error everything I learnt. Like cooking, sometimes things didn’t work out so you start over with a new plan. With no one to guide me, the market became my test examiner while my wit became my teacher.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to just get some financial expert to tell me what to buy? Then if I lose, I can blame him instead?

Yes … and if you were thinking that, then you’re still missing the point – that’s pride – that’s exactly the kind of attitude dreamers have. They want to get rich quick without any effort and yet hold someone else responsible. Regardless of who is irresponsible, the bottom line is you are going to lose your money and you’ll be too proud to admit that you were too cowardly to pull the trigger yourself.

In my younger years, I used to rush to get to the final product. (Maybe that’s why I never finished what I started.) I was impatient, stubborn and proud. As a student, I didn’t care much about the learning process as long as I knew I could get my answers right. (Maybe that’s why I flunked out.) As a Film Producer, I didn’t care much about the process and got others to take care of the processes for me as long as my end product was approved. (Maybe that’s why my productions had low profit margins.) During my media days, I hired people to manage the process so that I wouldn’t have to. (That’s why I lost everything.)

But all that changed when I was hit with bankruptcy. As a result of not knowing the process behind running a business, I could not account for why I had failed so spectacularly. I couldn’t hold anyone responsible for my company’s collapse and I certainly could not blame anyone for my stupidity and ignorance in financial management. I had only realised my errors when I studied the process that led to my downfall, after the fact. It then became clear to me why I had failed so many times in the past without realising that I was repeating and compounding the same mistakes with each episode.

This totally turned me around and gave me a greater appreciation for studying the process, planning the process, working the process, improving the process and learning from the process. I began to enjoy the journey more than the destination. I fell in love with the concept of working it instead of instant gratification. I realised that things last longer if the process is well thought out and executed with passion.

I learnt that a really good bowl of salad is one made with love, patience, passion and from painstaking attention to detail.

I finally discovered the secret to long-lasting and truly gratifying success – its not the end product but the process that makes success.

Success belongs to those who
work at it the hardest and
believe in it the longest.

This is the same approach to which I raised my kids. Nothing could be done in haste. It was never going to be a one-time lesson for all time. The lessons had to be taught one painstaking event at a time. I gave my kids my undivided attention and made sure they were loved every bit of the way. I made them my best friends when they became teens so that I would be theirs. This made me the first and last person they would go to if ever they needed a friend to lend them a ear or simply a shoulder to lean on. I changed my ways so that my kids would have a good role model to mirror and a dependable friend they could trust.

I still continue this painstaking task today knowing that there is no instant gratification in raising my family. There will be more lessons between now and when they become parents themselves. And I will still be guiding them on how to be good parents when the time comes. There will be no expectations from me when they finally come into their own. I will die knowing I did my best for them because this is what I lived for.

And it was all because of a simple bowl of salad that took me one hour to prepare for my family.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Happy National Day
to all my Singaporean readers!

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