Many CEOs and business executives have written about their lives #OutsideWork. Allow me to chip in too.

If I had my way, I would have become a full-time painter, a Chinese painter using black ink and brushes to be exact. I was educated in Chinese painting at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art (NAFA) in 1978, when I was then the youngest student in the diploma program. I managed to pass the course and graduate from high school too. However, even though I served as the Art Club President in high school, my parents were not keen to have their eldest son become an artist (they believed artists will live poor and die poor).

My deflected journey from art

So I ended up first in engineering, then marketing and training, and eventually ending up in a somewhat creative field of publicity (still manage to juggle creative copywriting and creative direction of digital and video content today). I am leading a full-service boutique publicity and training firm since the early 1990s. Our firm is successful and served many multinational corporations, government agencies, emerging companies and so on, and have been honored with industry awards.

Life has been busy, but not insanely so. I have always been a balanced individual, and many friends looked to me as a pillar of focus and stability (undeservedly so I might add). I do take breaks to keep pace with life, to manage my health, to just pray, and smell the roses.

But still, I have never given up on painting. I managed to pick up painting again, albeit on a much smaller scale, using disposable pre-inked Japanese brushes and sketchpads, practicing my painting and calligraphy all over again. I am gaining ground again, and hopefully, in a year or two, would be fluent in my painting and calligraphy again. Perhaps an art exhibition at some point in the future. Who knows?

Beating all odds of a bad start

I have been born severely premature and by all accounts at the hospital, I should have died. I have myopia and scoliosis, but I have never given up on myself or on health. Since my teens, I trained with weights and became fit and strong, sufficiently strong to confound orthopedic surgeons who swore I should have been in a wheelchair. I am stronger than what they imagined me to be, and I intend to break their delusions with a smile and with strength.

Sometime ago, I got hooked on learning to fly. I managed to complete a program in a realistic Boeing B737NG-800 procedure trainer operated by a retired and very experienced airline captain, and became hooked. The instructors were encouraging, and prompted me to explore outside my comfort zone, by allowing me to learn outside many of the structured learning program of the usual aviation knowledge, the SOPs (standard operating procedures) of cold-and-dark starts, departure, cruise, approach, taxi, and non-normal condition handling, to some very challenging procedures of crises and environmental handling. I learned a great deal from these learning experiences, and progressed onwards to a multi-crew cooperation (MCC) course on the Airbus procedure trainer with CRM (crew resource management). It is an expensive, but thoroughly exhilarating learning experience. I am still doing it today.

What is my takeaway? I have only one life, and I would not know when it ends. Although my family has a history of living till a ripe old age (100 years is not a problem), I do not become complacent to imagine I have plenty of time left. I am 52, but I intend to live every day, whether at work, or outside work, to the absolutely fullest without compromising rest and health. I do not push myself erratically to every corner, but maintain a focused, disciplined, and relaxed approach to everything I do.

Life is never going to be a bed of roses, but we sure can make it a fantastic ride with meaning, with purpose, with learning, and with courage.

IMG_20160216_131741 - Seamus Phan sketch - Chinese painting of bamboo

Seamus Phan’s sketch – Chinese painting of bamboo


PS – Did you know that pilots no longer need perfect eyesight? There are even procedures that can get you certifiable to fly. There is an extreme shortage of pilots worldwide, and so, never give up your dreams!