Don’t Write It Because You Can, Write It Because You Should

Data. I’ve spent my career studying data. As a reporter I searched for the truth in statistics and as a communications strategist I found stories in numbers.

Over the years I’ve measured and quantified my tactics and presented them to senior team members and board members alike. An increase in positive press clippings meant more handshakes and back-slaps around the office. The higher our online engagement numbers climbed directly correlated to the frequency and size of my next pay-raise.

The more I studied the numbers the more my tactics shifted. I noticed that I was playing to the audience more often and being rewarded for it. I wasn’t straying from our mission; in fact I was constantly finding new ways to steer our messaging into each interaction more frequently.

It began to overtake every face-to-face conversation and online post. Pretty soon I was anticipating what people wanted to hear and hitting the bulls-eye with increasing regularity. It was a tremendous time in my career except for one problem: I wasn’t happy.

I realized a sad truth. My storytelling depended too much on what others wanted to hear and not on what should be said. Anticipating each success was stressful and my recurring migraines let me know what my mind was unwilling to accept. I hated what I was doing. The need to succeed with every blog post, tweet, or media release became crippling. I hit a stride that no longer allowed for the reality of striking out every once in awhile. On the rare occasions when a story wasn’t covered it felt like a strategical failure.

So I stopped. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds but I stopped. I made the decision to pull back from what was working and reevaluate my approach. It may sound like career suicide to abandon a formula that was reaping rewards however my old approach simply wasn’t making me feel good about what I was doing. I needed to recapture the spark of why I told stories.

My numbers shrunk over the next few years but the quality of my storytelling improved. Each time I uncovered a piece of news at work I no longer reached for my megaphone, instead I passed until I found the right story. My world revolved less around what would receive coverage and more around what should receive coverage.

I also started providing pro bono consultation to nonprofits. I found that by not receiving a paycheck, I was less inclined to give my “bosses” what they wanted to hear and began sharing what they should hear.

The numbers haven’t left me. I still measure each post and press release. The difference is that I don’t need them to tell me that I hit my target.

Next Story — Just a Thought
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Just a Thought

I stayed seated next to a woman the other day on the bus because she reminded me of my grandmother. I was reading like I used to do when I visited her next door. Out of the corner of my eye her hands were folded just like my grandma’s used to, neatly on her lap. When seats opened up I didn’t move. I must have stayed there for 10 minutes. At the end of a chapter, I turned and looked at her face. The illusion was ruined. I got up at the next stop, moved across the aisle, and looked out the window at the people headed to work.

Next Story — For Street Artist, Life Began at 40
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For Street Artist, Life Began at 40

A mural, covering one side of the recently opened Lovers & Friends, is vibrant and inviting with a mysterious undercurrent of something more serious, almost dark, much like the man who painted it.

Fin Dac, the 47-year-old artist from Ireland stands in front of his creation with folded arms, cupping his chin with one hand. We’re looking at his latest creation among tables of diners in an alley/al fresco restaurant along Gough Street and he just old me that he has a secret.

“I had wasted a lot of my life trying to keep other people happy.”

A common feature in Fin Dac’s work is a splash of color, painted over the eyes of his subjects, splattering outward from their faces. Why he includes these masks is information that he will take to his grave. He’s more interested in what they mean to his audience.

This is a surprising turn of events coming from a man who just told me that at 40 years old he was leading a “shit life”, feeling isolated in London, and creating technical drawings including air duct systems and escalators for British Rail.

“I had wasted a lot of my life trying to keep other people happy. I thought of others people’s feelings before I thought of my own. I looked at my life and thought ‘What the fuck are you doing?’”

“Most creatives have doubts about themselves. Those doubts get in the way of doing.”

One would assume this might be a mid-life crisis, but instead of buying a sports car or motorcycle, Fin Dac ended a long-term relationship and threw himself into a career for which he had no formal training, little promise of success, and a self-ascribed lack of confidence.

“I needed something to lose myself in.”

As Fin Dac threw himself completely into learning skills needed to be a street artist he also abandoned any fear of failure.

“Most creatives have doubts about themselves. Those doubts get in the way of doing. If something turns out amazing, then great. If it turns out crap, whatever.”

Success for Fin Dac means putting in the hours, his recipe for creating art that others have found striking over his short seven year career. The act of doing has become his teacher and he remains a student regardless of the accolades.

“I still don’t know what I’m doing. I just don’t let the fear get in the way of what I’m doing.”

This attitude led Fin Dac to paint perhaps one of his most well known murals, a geisha on the back of a ship in Wales. Taking the job was a no-brainer for the adventurous Fin Dac, so he wrapped himself up in two sets of thermals and headed to a Welsh dry dock in an estuary one winter, and painted against the frigid, howling wind.

“A geisha on a boat in Wales. That shouldn’t work but it does.”

Fast forward to winter in Hong Kong, Fin Dac’s first trip to our city, and he’s standing on the street in camouflage shorts and sandals, describing how to get a dotted effect with spray paint, a technique he’s perfected over the years, and I can’t stop thinking about those masks and what they mean to a man who shares so much of himself with a perfect stranger.

But he keeps that bit to himself and leaves the rest all over a wall on Gough Street.

This article originally appeared on Localiiz.

Next Story — The Shame: After 35 Years the MTR is Still Not Perfect, Riders Offered Discounts
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The Shame: After 35 Years the MTR is Still Not Perfect, Riders Offered Discounts

The team behind MTR’s imperfect year, fight through the shame with smiles. (l-r Acting Chief Executive Officer of MTR Corporation Lincoln Leong, Commercial Director Jeny Yeung, and Operations Director Jacob Kam) Photo courtesy of MTR

For anyone who has ever lived outside of Hong Kong and relied on public transportation, the MTR is the Holy Grail of rail travel. That’s why we were surprised to hear that after 35 years of existence this clean, reliable, safe, and inexpensive mode of transportation has a horrible little secret — it is not perfect. In fact it was so imperfect in 2014 that riders will receive discounts next month to make up for the shame of having to ride such a failure of a rail system.

After reviewing the MTR’s 2014 service performance, Operations Director Dr. Jacob Kam noted that while adding more than 1,100 new services and a new railway to serve Western District last year, many trains failed to show up on time for all 1,861,260 trips. A total of 12 trains were delayed by more than 31 minutes producing an embarrassing 99.9% success rate.

If you’re reading this during your commute, you’re probably feeling an urge to immediately boycott the MTR and begin your pilgrimage across the city in disgust, but I urge you to wait. The MTR wants to make it up to you by offering 50% off your domestic travel during what is sure to be an orderly and restrained journey this Chinese New Year (February 20–21 only). Such a transparent attempt to win back the support of commuters is almost not worth taking advantage of, but maybe we should give them another chance to be perfect over the next 35 years.

This article originally appeared on Localiiz.

Next Story — Windows to the Soul
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Windows to the Soul

My trip to the iridologist

People have told me I have nice eyes but this is the first time someone looking into them says my lungs are weak.

Sitting across from me in a suite at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong is a woman whom I only met moments earlier in the hotel spa. She’s holding a magnifying glass in one hand and a flashlight in the other, putting them down occasionally to make notations on her clipboard.

Did I ever smoke? Yes. Still? No. Asthma? No. Bronchitis? Yes.

“The right lung looks significantly weaker. The left lung looks naturally weak, which can happen, just born with weakness.”

My eyes according to iridology.

Over the next hour, I will be told that I have weak connective tissues (check), am a giving person (I like to think so), can strengthen my lungs with some reishi mushrooms (I’m off to the dry market), and that my occasional dizzy spells, frequent headaches, and sporadic numbness/tingling in my hands are most likely caused by junk ingredients hiding under pseudonyms like “natural flavours” and various numerical jargon including E635, E627, and E631 among the nutritional label on the processed foods I eat (guilty, especially when it comes to those instant noodle benders).

The assessment is impressive and scary at times, making me wonder what other hidden truths are lurking in my irises.

The consultation was set up by my wife (full disclosure: she is the communications director at the hotel) after her visit to the same room a day earlier provided staggeringly accurate insights into her own healthy hurdles. In the name of reporting, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I signed up, which is why I now find myself sitting across from certified iridologist, detox expert, and nutritional health coach Jennifer Thompson.

Thompson is trusted and rather popular in her fields, specialties she began over 4,000 clients and 20 years ago or “before coffee enemas were a thing” as she says.

“I’m not taking them to the extreme.”

Perhaps the reason for Thompson’s success is her use of moderation in her assessments (she refuses to diagnose and treat since she is not a doctor, rather assessing and advising). Not once was I told to drastically change my life or take prescription medicine, instead being nudged here and there to stop the smaller unhealthy eating habits, which as a non-smoking, non-drinking vegan still exist to the surprise of my close friends.

Thompson also relieves the pressure of improving your body for many people who seek her guidance. It’s not uncommon, Thompson says, for a client to begin a session by asking which detox they should start only to hear that the solution to their issues is less daunting. “I think people are really grateful that I’m not telling them to take loads of supplements. I’m not telling them to do a water fast. I’m not taking them to the extreme.”

But what is a Sydney-born, Philadelphia-raised iridologist, who cut her teeth on the detox circuit in Thailand before relocating to Tel Aviv doing in Hong Kong? It was a unique opportunity she says, to return to a city she previously fell in love with as well as align with a top local hotel brand to reach clients who may have otherwise never walked through her door. Just one day earlier Thompson says, she treated perhaps one of the richest men in Australia who just happened to be visiting our city.

“It’s not that great of a business model…”

However, Thompson is quick to point out that the affluence of her clientele is not part of her financial plans since a single consultation is all that many people need. “It’s not that great of a business model, but I have happy clients because they see results.”

I’ll have to get back to her on that in a few weeks. For now I have homework to do. As she does with all her clients, Thompson sent me a recording of our session and pages of personalized advice that require the full attention of my eyes.

This article originally appeared on Localiiz.

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