Xinch Chin

Scars

“Wow, that’s so brave. If I had your scars, I wouldn’t be able to wear anything sleeveless.”

Someone told me that a few years ago when she noticed the constellation of keloid scars on my arm.

My constellation of keloids

I didn’t quite know how to respond to that.

I have a bunch of scars on my shoulders. Not from anything tragic or dramatic – just from a jab, a cyst, and an allergy-gone-wrong. My body doesn’t seem to know when to stop producing scar tissue sometimes. My clumsiness generally means I continually acquire new keloids every now and then on my shoulders.

I’ve had them for years and it has never occurred to me to hide them, or have them inform my clothing choices.

I figure – why limit myself to clothes with sleeves only because of a bunch of scars? 🙄

I didn’t have a comeback to that statement about my scars, but it got me thinking about how the world perceives scars.

There’s such a large stigma attached to scars. They are are deemed as “ugly” and therefore something to hide, or be ashamed of. Because having them somehow means you’re imperfect, and therefore, less beautiful.

This extends to even our emotional scars. We’ve all got them. Those invisible lines that mark our hearts and souls, collected over years of emotional experiences. They’re often way less visible compared to our physical scars, of course, but it doesn’t mean they’re not there.

These scars, unlike my keloids, tell our stories. 

Do we try to hide them? Are we ashamed of them? What would life be like if we embraced our scars instead of hating on them? Maybe even loving them instead.

That would mean loving our stories – even the ones that hurt us.

Like many, my emotional scars far outnumber my physical ones (and I’ve got quite a few keloids). I’m proud of some, ambivalent about others… but I have stopped being ashamed of them.

But I do wonder: What would change if we stopped seeing our scars as ugly imperfections?

What metaphorical clothes would we allow ourselves to wear if we weren’t afraid of revealing our scars?

 


And my scars remind me
That the past is real

Scars? Pft. I wear what I want.

What’s your shoe?

I used to have a pair of shoes I loved to bits.

It was this pair of pointy ballet flats with a black mesh wrap. I got them in a store in Bangkok and for the next couple of years, I wore them everywhere. They paired well no matter the occasion and accompanied me to work, startup pitches, dates, lunches, dinners, interviews.

When a hole finally appeared and they had to be retired for good, I was crushed.

So you can understand my excitement in 2019 when I spotted the almost exact same pair at Zara. My credit card was out before the cashier even noticed I was standing at the counter. Price be damned. 

zara-shoes

I was committed to my one-pair-of-shoes-for-all-occasions life again. 

But… I’ve only worn them twice since then. 

They still look great, and I’ve tried to pair them with quite a number of outfits. But it somehow doesn’t look 100% right. 

So they stay on the shelf. 

I realized that I was so hung up on the memory of this perfect shoe, I forgot to ask myself if it still fits the look I’m going for today. 

After all, 26-year-old Xinch is quite radically different from the me today. It isn’t too crazy to imagine that my style would have also evolved.

What’s the “shoe” you’re holding on to that no longer fits?

And you can replace “shoe” with any other word

  • Beliefs
  • Memories
  • People
  • Expectations
  • Objects
  • Choices

 

This list is nowhere near exhaustive, but you get where I’m going with this.

We often hold on to things because of some form of sentimental attachment or because of the way they once made us feel (good or bad)… without asking ourselves if they still serve us today or the person we are hoping to become? 

In this case, I held on to the illusion of my perfect shoe. 

So what’s your “shoe”?

What are you holding on to that no longer serves you?

 

 


And as for these shoes… they’re still a great-looking pair. But it’s time for me to bid them adieu. Since I’ll be putting them up on Carousell, I hope they some lucky girl the same kind of joy they brought me once upon a time.

What Deadlifts Taught Me About Life

Towards the end of 2019, my PT Nick tossed a bunch of weights on a barbell and said “Just 3 reps”. I got crazy scared. You see, his usual level up begins with 8 reps… not 3. Then he added, “OK, if you can do 1 that’s also pretty good.”

Um. What? 😳

I managed 2.

 

Turns out, that was 60kg right there. At the time, I weighed about 50kg. 

As I sat down in sheer amazement and a lot of exhaustion, I wondered how I got here and what the hell just happened.

You see, 2019 was a grueling year for me. Work was incredibly challenging with my leadership skills stretched like never before. I also lost my furbaby and best friend, Shandy, to cancer. To top it all off, I learned that we had finally found a new office space (yay!)… but it was a building right next to the place that is the mother of all my trauma triggers.

Oh yeah, it was swell.

But as I sat on that bench, I drew a lot of parallels between deadlifts and life. In typical Xinch fashion, I went home and wrote a journal entry about it. 

To commemorate my return to the gym grind in a post-lockdown world, I thought I’d share it with the 6 people who read my blog.

1. It never gets easier. 

The first time I managed 12 reps of 30kg deadlifts with good form. Nick cheered. And then piled on another 5kg. In a couple of seconds, I was right back at 8 reps. This would sum up our entire relationship. It is a constant cycle of “Is it ever going to get easier?” “No. Get used to it.”

Once your body acclimatizes to a certain weight range, a certain number of reps, the only way to continue to develop muscle and build more strength is… to go up. 

Leveling up requires an increase in intensity and difficulty.

I’ve surmised that this applies not just to biceps, glutes… but also life.

School gets progressively harder. Relationships don’t end with happily ever after, they actually get more challenging as time progresses. To get that promotion, that increment – you’re going to have to do more/take on more/solve more challenging problems.

If you’re committed to growing, to learning, to mastery – it’s not going to get easier. So stop expecting it to. 

2. What is your inner voice saying?

Before the Tale of the 60kg Deadlift, there was the Saga of When Xinch Chickened Out

Obviously, I didn’t start off with 60kg (which is 20% more than my body weight). First, I had to break the barrier of deadlifting the equivalent of my body weight.

First time I had to do it, I couldn’t even lift the bar off the ground. I chickened out.

Nick told me to take a step back, then come back to the bar, breathe, and focus on my basics – brace my core, feel the floor through my toes, and just… lift.

I’d like to say this had a triumphant ending. It didn’t. I was so in my head, I could not complete it.

I eventually managed it in the sequel the following week titled The Time Xinch GTFO Of Her Own Head.

Yes, it was tough as shit. But it was way more impossible in my own head. I had to overcome this barrier that kept saying “OMGWTFBBQ IT IS SO HEAVY.”

That internal monologue essentially weakened my arms, my legs. It told me “No, you can’t do it. It’s too much.”

That’s the same inside voice that tells you to freeze. Go back. Stop.

Millennia of evolution has prepared this voice for one thing, and one thing only: PROTECT! AT ALL COST!

But it’s 2020 and I’m living in the city. We’re not fighting tigers and lions here. Often, the voice isn’t really protecting you from anything that’s truly endangering you. So it’s important to really evaluate where it is coming from and what purpose it’s trying to serve.

Then acknowledge it, and move on.

Take a breath, compose yourself, brace your core (because hard stuff requires a good center), and just lift.

xinch-deadlifts-life-thrive-gym

Getting back into the grove post COVID19 lockdown at Nick’s gym, Thrive

And bonus lesson – if it doesn’t work the first time, don’t beat yourself up over it. You can always come back and try again.

3. Show up. Even when you don’t want to.

I made a commitment to myself shortly after I turned 30 – I wanted the 30-something version of myself to be healthier, fitter than the 20-something version. 

And I know my journey with fitness. It always starts the same. The first 3 weeks, it’s all “I got this!” and then the excuses will start hitting. 

“I didn’t sleep well last night”
“I’ve got the sniffles.”

“I’m PMSing”

Well, life. 

But, if there’s one thing you and I and everyone else have in common, it is that there is a humongous part of our lives that we simply have no control over. What matters is how we show up in spite of it. 

Like the crazy I am, I identified my usual objections and decided to methodically omit them from my life.

  • Live by your calendar? Calendar all workouts.
  • Sleepy at 3pm on workdays? Turn that snoozefest into a movefest (#lamejokemodeon)
  • Low motivation, not sure what to do, afraid of injuring myself? Get a coach.

 

And when my work travel ramped up to almost once a month, I decided to take my movement on the go with me. Nick would send me screenshots of workouts I could do in my room or in the gym just to keep the momentum going.

Actual workouts sent to me via Whatsapp for when I was away or in lockdown.

 

Today, I do all I can to not miss a workout session. I legitimately feel “off” if I haven’t worked out or exerted myself physically all week. 

But first, you gotta show up.

Then keep showing up. 

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Thanks to my parents’ obsession with all things sporty, I grew up a firm believer in coaching. Sure, you can teach yourself stuff. But if you’re interested in adopting the best form, minimizing mistakes, and shortening the learning curve – coaching is the way to go. For me, coaching has also helped hold me accountable to… a ton of my goals.

I’ve invested in some form of coaching for most areas of my life. Trauma therapy when I realized that my PTSD seriously affecting how I function (yes I consider therapy under a coaching umbrella), executive coaching when I accepted a leadership position in a fast-growing startup, life coaching in various seasons of my life, etc… so it seemed almost like a no-brainer to be coached physically as well. Enter, Nick

Only a coach could somehow trick me into signing up for a Viper Challenge in 2018.

There are other ways to get help if you can’t afford a coach. There are friends, accountability partners and mentors you can engage. There are books. 

But it always baffles me when someone is willing to put money into diamonds, expensive bags, or gadgets… and not themselves.


But these lessons aside, the greatest gift working out consistently has given me is energy, mental clarity, and the belief that my body can do a lot more than my mind thinks it can. 

Growth is hard stuff… and it rarely ever gets easier. All we can do is keep showing up. Listen and keep our inner voices in check. And know when to ask for help.

Because we can’t do everything alone.

Shake it off

There was a time, not too long ago, when a woman’s contribution to society was solely as a maternal figure. Today, women also run billion dollar companies, build innovative tech solutions and continue to shatter glass ceilings our grandmothers could only dream of. In Malaysia, there are more female graduates than there are male graduates, even though men outnumber women in overall population.

In spite of that, gender discrimination still exists, especially in the workplace. It can appear overtly in the form of the gender wage gap, but also presents itself in its softer, but more insidious, form of gender bias. It’s insidious because it’s hard to notice, and even harder to catch in the moment… and without being aware of it, easy to internalize.

As we strive for greater equality for all genders (yes, men too), how do we continue to thrive and navigate an environment littered with gender bias and discrimination?

The key is to do what so many successful women before us have done before: Shake it off.

Call the bias out for what it is – bias, not biology. But ultimately, do it the TayTay way – shake it off. After all, what a woman (and in fact, any person) can or can’t do, should or shouldn’t do are simply social constructs

But even more so, whatever you choose to do – choose to do it well. Do it so well that they can’t ignore you, or have to acknowledge you.

When I was in school, I was one of the people responsible for maintaining the computer lab. Whenever someone hears this, there’s a look of amazement and disbelief. But here’s the thing, I went to an all girls’ school and there was no boy to leave the “techy stuff” to – someone just had to do it. I didn’t realize it then, but this was one of the earliest situations where I learned that technology is not exclusively for men… and that female gender expectations were more influenced by society than they were by my sex chromosomes. 

So, my fellow girls and ladies – allow yourself to be angry, to be sad about the state of affairs, but also know that while it is status quo for now, it doesn’t always have to be. After all, we are not victims – we are the masters of our own fate and we get to decide what we accept or reject.

Thousands, millions of women thrive in spite of this status quo, and through their successes, manage to influence the status quo. Look around you: learn from these women, be inspired by them, and let’s continue to deliver our very best.

Gender expectations are just that – expectations.

You, and you alone, get to decide if you want to be defined by them. 

 

________________

This essay was originally written for CLEO magazine (now defunct) and published in print in September 2017. 

 

Found the magazine recently, remembered the article. Decided to repost it.

 

 

3 things I learned about life teaching digital marketing

I was a straight C student in school.

The only As I ever got were for the two subjects I never needed to study for – Math & English.

In hindsight, I was not made for rote learning and memorization. I was constantly bored and disengaged at school, preferring to lose myself in Narnia, the fictional turmoils of Dina & Ishvar during the The Emergency, or cry stupid tears when Clara Copperfield dies (Fun: DM/comment if you didn’t have to Google what books these characters are from).

I absolutely, hated school.

So the irony wasn’t lost on me that 10+ years after escaping the clutches of “school”, I signed on as an instructor on a digital marketing course for a coding school here in KL called NextAcademy

2 years and 700+ students later, I’ve had a few reflections… but I thought I’d share my top 3.

xinch next academy class

With the first ever batch of DMQD graduates

 

1. “People who can’t do, teach” is a load of sh*t.

I’d revise this to: People who can’t do well, don’t teach well.

Without experience doing, there is simply no way to teach well. The best teachers have studied, applied their learnings, and proceed to deepen their understanding by teaching. Theoretical understanding alone means you’re no better than regurgitating lines from an audiobook.

I am a generalist, but I don’t have a ton of experience in every aspect/area of digital marketing. In areas I have less hands on experience in, I truly struggled to structure learning in a way that would be easily absorbed or make sense to the recipient. 

But for other areas I knew like the back of my hand, articulating, ensuring deep understanding came more easily. 

2. If you really want to excel at something, there’s #noexcuses.

We’ve had students enroll for all sorts of reasons – to advance/change careers, to grow their business, because their parents wanted them to… the works. For remote online courses like this, the only thing that will get you to completion is discipline and a strong enough intrinsic motivation. I’m not there to hound you, or nag you for not completing your course work – it’s all on you

For the students who I find the most memorable, the ones whose careers I still follow/watch from afar today.. there’s no such thing as “I couldn’t finish this because my dog was sick”, or “I had family issues”, or “I was too tired”. 

They just did what they needed to do.

I had one student who would fly in from Bangkok for weekly physical meetups, who never failed to submit her work on time and ask questions without giving a crap what other people thought. I had another who put in so much work who bothered to learn beyond what I could teach, he is now a key employee in the marketing team of a venture-funded startup in KL. I had others who hustled even as students to get free “clients” so they could practice everything they learned immediately. 

They didn’t let circumstance or excuses stop them. #noexcuses.

3. Education is not one-size fits all

It took the final year of university for me to realize that I wasn’t really that dumb… just maybe not made for this way of learning. 

And as an adult, it has been re-validated through teaching. I was not made for Asian academia – rote learning, hours of lectures and the works.

As an adult, I discovered that I learn best through reading, not audiobooks/videos/face to face lectures (ironic, I know). I also discovered that frameworks and a strong understanding of “why” is important for my understanding and eventual application.

Today, I am still horrible in classroom settings (slept through church, struggle to stay awake workshops), still run a load of classes, and still try to customize how my team learns.

But. My biggest lesson has been this:

The most important/useful things you can do for yourself is identify how you learn best. The earlier the better. And just keep doing more of it.

Also. 

BONUS: Running online classes are way, way, way more taxing than physical classes. For all you teachers out there teaching on Zoom/Google Meet through the pandemic, you have my utmost respect. 

Choices (2020)

What is your knee-jerk reaction to life?

Is it one where you extend empathy and care, or one where you judge and blame?

It’s your choice.

You get to choose whether you want the narrative of our culture to be one that condemns and judges, or one that loves and accepts.

In a world where we are programmed to extend judgement first, there are also those who choose to walk the path of love and empathy.

These choices matter. 

Every moment, you get to make that choice.

 

____

An excerpt from an essay I wrote about culture for Esquire Magazine Malaysia in 2013 (now defunct but here’s a snapshot from Archive.org).
Adapted to fit 2020.