This is a re-post of an article I first published to Medium in 2019. You can read the original article here.
In 2011, I went on a one year “leave of absence” from my full-time job. One whole year to do what I wanted to do, a sabbatical of sorts. It was a break and some time off to recharge and refocus my attention and energy on the things that mattered most to me — a year filled with new experiences, learning, and growth. And it was one of the most fulfilling years of my life. I returned at the end of my leave with a new attitude and a newfound perspective of my life, forever grateful for the experience, but still unsure of where it would take me next. Eight years later, here I am and it feels like everything has finally come back full circle.
I viewed the leave as a small step into unknown change and opportunity, or for me, a tiny leap.
My decision to take a year off from full-time work was tied to a handful of experiences in 2010–2011 that put life in perspective for me. The first was the passing of an old friend — a loss which made me see how quickly it can all be gone. The second was the experience of traveling with my parents to visit their hometowns in Indonesia, a trip that opened my eyes to the good fortune my family has had and to how the serendipity of circumstances that are completely out of your control can have a profound impact on the opportunities you’re given. The third was a collection of life events — my dad retiring, my brother getting engaged, my friends expecting their first kids, watching my sister’s kids grow up — all of which showed me that life goes on and on and on.
Through the experience of these events, I gained an immense appreciation of the life I’ve been given to live, and this appreciation put the preciousness of time in sharp focus for me.
It’s not every day that this kind of perspective falls on your lap, so I took this as an opportunity to look at my life and think carefully about how I wanted to live it. In some ways, it was as if I was reading the story of my life in a paperback novel, and then suddenly had the chance to put my thumb down on the page. Stop. And think about what I wanted to read next.
What I was moving towards was an opportunity to re-assess my values, set goals that support me in realizing these values, and refocus my energy towards achieving these goals.
When I decided to take a year off from my job, I was very deliberate in how I was approaching it — while the official term was going “on leave”, it wasn’t about what I was leaving behind but rather about what I was moving towards. What I was moving towards was an opportunity to re-assess my values, set goals that support me in realizing these values, and refocus my energy towards achieving these goals. I didn’t really know where it was all going to go. I viewed the leave as a small step into unknown change and opportunity, or for me, a tiny leap.
When I returned to my job, it felt like I had decoded the Matrix.
During that year, I went travelling, spent time visiting family, volunteered, learned new skills, connected with people across a whole variety of industries, built a digital product, launched a few web projects, delivered professional development seminars, and all while building new habits to improve my health and fitness, and making a shift in my attitude towards seeking out new experiences to fill each day with as much life as I can.
When I returned to my job, it felt like I had decoded the Matrix. I observed the usual meetings and interactions with a fresh set of eyes and ears — with “beginner’s mind” — and this unlocked a new level of growth for me professionally that kept me engaged with my job in entirely new ways.
This new habit of saying yes by default led to different chains of events that have had a lasting impact on my life.
My shift in mindset also led to a new habit of saying “yes” to just about everything. My ultimate team needs some more players, want to play? Yes. There’s a meetup happening tomorrow night for digital product managers, want to go? Yes. Want to come on a hike this weekend? Yes. Want to go on a surfing trip next weekend? Yes.
This new habit of saying “yes” by default led to different chains of events that have had a lasting impact on my life: forming new relationships with friends who are now like family, adopting new healthy hobbies that are now ingrained in my day to day routines, and developing a mindset to keep pursuing this track of personal growth that I was on, unsure of where it was all going to go.
And this is what brings me to today… “unsure of where it was all going to go”.
Last summer, pursuing this path of personal growth, I signed up to join a coaching program offered by a close friend of mine. Set up in a group format and designed to operate like a team, each participant brought a unique set of individual experiences and backgrounds, and the sessions were designed to provide extra support, learning, focus, and accountability as we each pursued our own goals.
Through peer coaching, I rediscovered how inherently fulfilling it is to help other people find their own purpose, passion, direction, and motivation.
Peer coaching was one of the key activities in the coaching program — the team format was set up to have each of us providing peer coaching or mentoring throughout the sessions. Aside from the benefits of receiving coaching from a certified professional coach, the opportunity to provide peer coaching was one of the pivotal lines of activities that rekindled a long held interest of mine: helping people learn and grow.
In university I studied psychology, learning all about social psychology theories, health psych, cognition, brain science, and organizational behaviour. I continued on to complete pre-reqs for counselling psychology with a focus on career development and then changed course to complete a second degree in education.
I had built something with technology that delivered true value to people in their lives.
Through no intentional planning of my own, I worked in the faculty that year as a technology coach, hired to help student teachers integrate technology into their teaching practice. It was during that year where I began experimenting with technology, trying my hand at building templates and tools, and eventually building a website for teachers to exchange lesson planning materials. The website was a little like Napster for teaching materials. Ok, definitely not as technically sophisticated as Napster, but the big picture result at the end was the same: I had built something with technology that delivered true value to people in their lives. I had a taste of what the web could do, and I was hooked.
I jumped into the web industry with the intention of learning the technical skills that would enable me to build new ways of using technology to support education. When I started working in the web, getting hands-on experience building websites and web applications was the only way to learn the craft and I was immersed in a constant state of learning and growth which I loved. But I never looked back at what brought me into the tech industry in the first place: my interest in people.
It was through my participation in the coaching group — and through peer coaching in particular — where I rediscovered how inherently fulfilling it is to help other people find their own purpose, passion, direction, and motivation.
The spark of an idea was ignited for something that has become a passion project of mine called “Ashiba”.
My experience with the coaching program led me to start building different methods to stay on top of my own personal development. As someone who is fairly analytical and methodical, I made a focused effort to keep myself organized by developing a system of my own to keep track of my progress.
At first, it started out with saving a few notes in a notebook, some files in a folder on my laptop, and a series of bookmarks to some websites with helpful resources. Then it grew to a spreadsheet, a few calendar entries, and some PDF files filled out for goal setting and mapping out a personal roadmap. As I looked at what I was building, it dawned on me that if this was proving to be helpful for me, maybe it could be helpful for others. And then the spark of an idea was ignited for something that has become a passion project of mine called “Ashiba”. But that’s a story for another time…
The journey of 2018 brought me back to where I started when I first went on my one year leave in 2011: re-assessing my values, setting goals that support me in realizing these values, and refocusing my energy towards achieving these goals.
Years after I took “a tiny leap”, I am picking up where I left off and am charting a new path forward in pursuit of personal development — my own and who knows, maybe one day yours too. Come join me 🙂