Character & Soul, Deborah Tan, Entrepreneurship, Money, Opinions, Self-Improvement

I’m Sorry! But I WANT TO WORK For My Money! – Deborah Tan

Deborah Tan does not agree with ads that promise you a 5-figure salary while working from home selling “nothing”.

Busy as a bee but happy!

Busy as a bee but happy!

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on Facebook. Ads that go, and I quote them verbatim: “Ever thought it is possible you can make money online without selling anything?”; “Learn how a struggling Singaporean employee makes $20k/month from home in his spare time”; and, “Thousands of people are quitting their jobs and joining our popular online work program.”

Were you tempted to find out more? At the very least, I’m sure you went, “What?!? For real?” For me, after the curiosity, I just went, “Sorry. Not for me.”

Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, all the people who have signed up to these programs would look at me and laugh at me for being a cynical fool. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, I will still be slogging my ass off working as a freelance writer. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, I will be the poorest person in Singapore … but, I will not regret not signing up for these “courses”, “seminars” and “workshops”.


1. If it sounds too good to be true …
… it probably is.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on one of these Facebook ads just to check out their website to see if I can find more information about these programs. I was brought to a page asking me to enter my email address. No. Just no. You see, if I wanted to sign up for an MBA program, the school’s website will tell me details about the coursework, tell me what I can expect, etc. But this website doesn’t want to tell me anything until I give them my contact detail. Are you selling my email address? Are you just another layer in a massive multilevel marketing scheme in the business of collecting email addresses? WHAT ARE YOU? WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO TELL ME MORE UPFRONT?

2. There is no shame in work
What I hate most about these ads is this picture they paint: that you can just do jack-shit, just click on your mouse all day long … and wait for money to roll in. If you set up a hawker stall and sell prawn mee, you know that $5 you earn comes from something tangible. If you set up an ecommerce website selling headphones, you know what exactly is earning you a living. For me, my product is Material World, a content agency and a website. Every piece of writing I put out for my clients, I know how I’m being paid. I am proud of my work and I really don’t agree with this whole “sell nothing, do very little” way of making money.

3. There is an inherent integrity problem
A few days ago, a friend posted up on Facebook how his picture has been used by one of these work-from-home programs for its Facebook ad. The picture of him standing next to a car is a great image of a young Singaporean who has achieved the trappings of success. Hey! But guess what? He didn’t sign up for this program. They had simply pluck his picture from somewhere and used it without his permission! This incident further cemented my belief that there is more than meets the eye here. If people are really becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams with your program, why don’t you just use their photos and stories instead?

I know that in order to be a successful businessperson, I have to find a business model that’ll eventually allow me to make passive income, something that will keep earning me money even if I go on a holiday or when I’m asleep. But I want to be able to grow my business using a product I have built, that will add ACTUAL VALUE to other people’s lives. Just blindly signing up for a program takes away that pride, that ownership that make up the core of entrepreneurship!

If you have no choice but to work from home, if you have no choice but to really consider one of these programs, I urge you to do your homework. It shouldn’t have to demand for an upfront payment of a large sum of money. It shouldn’t demand a percentage of your earnings to be channeled up towards your “supervisor” or “mentor”. You should be able to see if the business allows you to be different and unique from the 678 other people who have also signed up to do it – and we don’t mean just by changing the name of your company.

Like I’ve said before … call me a fool, call me stubborn, call me stupid … but I really rather become rich by working hard, really hard.

I want to get my hands dirty.

I want to get my hands dirty.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She doesn’t respect anyone whose wealth came to them easy. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Confessions of a Vertically Challenged Guy – Alain Moggi

… as told to his partner, Denise Li.

I'm about 5 foot 7 inches .. in good company with Tom Cruise and Josh Hutcherson.

(Image courtesy of Next Movie) I’m about 5 foot 7 inches .. in good company with Tom Cruise, Josh Hutcherson, and Robert Downey Jr.

“Honestly when Denise asked if I wanted to be interviewed for this story (not that I had much of a choice, really), my first reaction was ‘I don’t have anything to tell you’, mainly because it’s something I hardly think about, nor have an issue with.

Although, yes, it’s true that at 1.72m, I am about 6cm shorter than the average height of Belgian males. On the plus side, I’ll be considered of average height when I move to Singapore. I can see why my height would be interesting topic of discussion though. Women have to deal with societal pressures to be thin, while for men, being tall is definitely what society deems to be the physical ‘ideal’ of being a man. The difference is, that’s really not that much a short dude can do about his height.

Growing up, I was already conscious of the fact that I was, shall we say, vertically challenged? One of the few times I feel it’s annoying is when I have to hang up the boxing bag at the gym – I usually need the help of a taller guy to do it.

Sometimes, other guys would tease me about my height, but I usually go along with the joke, telling them that I would headbutt them in the testicles, or something. It’s all about not taking yourself seriously.

I’ll tell you one thing though – your dating pool is a lot smaller than that of taller dudes. Obviously it stings a little when I hear girls say they prefer taller men. Then again, I wouldn’t go out with a girl who’s a lot taller than I am. A difference of 10cm would be a dealbreaker for me. I guess you can call me a victim of societal norms … Some short guys might not have an issue going out with a much taller woman, but I think they are in the minority. Once, a girl who was a lot taller than me fancied me. She was nice and funny but I just couldn’t get over the fact that she was taller than me. When she hugged me, I felt like she was protecting me, when it should be the other way around. All the women I’ve been in long-term relationships with are slightly shorter than I am.

Other than that, my height isn’t really a big deal in day-to-day living. In a way, training in martial arts has made me more appreciative of the fact that there are so many different body types in in this world, and each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. After awhile, you learn to play to your strengths, and this can be a huge confidence-booster.

That being said, “short man syndrome” is a real thing, and it can be used as a force for good … or become terribly annoying. At best, it motivates a short guy to excel in one way or another: Be it athletically, intellectually, or in his career. At worse, it causes the guy to be an over-confident, smarmy asshole who likes to big himself up – all signs that he’s compensating for something, of course. It’s not in your best interests to date a guy like that cos it’ll eventually be tiring having to deal with his insecurities and fragile ego.

For me, it’s really not such a big deal. I’ve learnt to live with it, and it’s not something I consciously think about. And that’s the long and short of it.”

[If You Like This, You’ll Like]

The Perks Of Being a Tall Woman

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Career, Character & Soul, Health & Fitness, Self-Improvement, Wellbeing

10 Signs You Need A Break – Tan Lili

But if you find yourself agreeing to all 10 of them, Tan Lili reckons you might want to consider going on a year-long sabbatical. 

We may all be busy running the same rat race, but some of us are so hellbent on completing it (haha) that we forget to stop and rehydrate along the neverending journey. Here are 10 telltale signs you need to take a break before it’s too late.

1. You find yourself vacillating between stewing in unbridled rage over non-issues …

Need. To. Strangle.

Need. To. Strangle.

2. … and laughing hysterically for absolutely no reason.

This clicking pen makes the funniest sound!

This clicking pen makes the funniest sound!

3. And heaven forbid last-minute changes to your schedule.

I can't.

I can’t.

4. You live for Beer O’Clock.

Did someone say "beer"!?

Did someone say “beer”!?

5. You’ve forgotten how your best friend looks like.

What she said.

What she said.

6. Instead of counting sheep, you mentally check off your to-do list.

6. Checking off to-do list - check.

6. Checking off to-do list – check.

7. You are seriously considering the feasibility of snorting coffee powder.

Because, why not?

Because, why not?

8. You wish someone could pee on your behalf.

Peeing is so overrated.

Peeing is so overrated.

9. The energy it takes for you to summon up a smile has officially become your way of keeping fit.



10. Vacation pictures make you want to curl into the foetal position and drown in your own pool of tears.



Jokes aside, though, I’m sure you don’t need any reminders about stress and its link to a myriad health problems. Apart from physical illnesses like heart-related diseases and weakened immune system, stress can also lead to mental disorders. “If you don’t end up identifying a method to handle your stress then it eventually can lead to a heightened sense of dysfunction,” says Dr Steve Bressert, author of The Impact of Stress on Psych Central. “This may result in increased anxiety or a sense of depression because you’re not mastering your world.”

Know that taking a break every now and then is a necessity, not a luxury. And I’m not just talking about work; we all need some time away from the hustle and bustle of life to recharge our mind so we can come back and take on the madness with renewed vigour.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.


Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Day A Taxi Driver Made Me Cry – Tan Lili

After reading this post, Tan Lili promises you would never forget this significant line: “Today you … tomorrow me.” 

today you tomorrow me

At first I thought I was just staying true to my emo roots, then I chalked it up to PMS. But later on I realised, with abrupt clarity, my outburst was a perfectly normal human reaction.

Allow me to start from the beginning. When you run a business, busy is never a bad thing. But alas, I’m no miracle worker. Some days, you feel as if you were trapped in quicksand – the more you struggle, the faster you sink. Yesterday morning was one of those days. Weighed down by a laundry list of things to do, I decided to take a taxi to work so I could get down to business earlier. I got into a Yellow-Top Fiat Croma JTD taxi with a scowl and muttered my destination without even glancing up from my phone. Immediately, I was greeted by a warm and friendly female driver, probably in her 50s. She exclaimed, in Mandarin, “You’re so pretty!” I’d felt anything but, what with my morning grumpiness and the stress-induced frown on my face. But hearing those words, I felt a rush of gratitude towards the auntie because her compliment worked to instantly turn my frown upside down.

Later on she asked about my usual commute to work. When I told her I’d normally take three different buses, she expressed such concern and empathy that I had to assure her thrice that I really do enjoy the bus ride. Soon after we lapsed into a comfortable silence, then she told me to go ahead and sleep if I wanted to. When we arrived at my destination, the fare was $18.50. I had already prepared $17 in my hand but just as I was about to start digging for coins, she grabbed my hand and took the $17. “No, don’t need to give me the coins. Auntie will give you a discount. Here, $15 will do,” she insisted, handing me my $2 note. Flabbergasted, I tried to return her the $2 note, which resulted in a minute of reverse tug-of-war. The auntie won. Right about then, my lips trembled and my vision blurred. I nearly wanted to hug her but I figured she might not take too well to my outpouring of love and gratitude.

After I got off the cab, I slowly made my way up to my office trying to compose myself. I was – and still am, in fact – overwhelmed by the depth of a stranger’s kindness. The auntie owed me nothing, absolutely nothing, yet she unknowingly gave me everything I never realised I needed at the time: strength. Kindness is one of the three strengths that make up humanity (the other two are love and social intelligence); what I had just experienced felt so powerful, it made whatever stress and worries that plagued me before appear trivial. My only regret now is that I wish I’d taken down her taxi’s licence plate number and her name so I could give her a proper thank-you.

today you tomorrow me 3My experience reminded me of a beautiful anecdote Vanessa recently shared with me. It was about how a Mexican family went all out to help a guy whose car broke down in the middle of the road. When the guy tried several times to pass the family some money as a token of appreciation, the father shook his head and replied in broken English: “Today you … tomorrow me.”

It’s kind of sad when you think about it. We are all so used to being selfish, so wrapped up in our own wants and needs and worries that such random acts of kindness are a shock to our system. So often, we forget that it’s the simplest pleasures in life that pave the way to happiness. It’s always the little things, you know?

I hope these two anecdotes would leave a profound mark on you, as they did on me. Go ahead and make someone else’s day – it certainly doesn’t take a lot to be a little kinder and more compassionate.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.

Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

Why Are We Romanticising Depression? – Tan Lili

There’s been a lot of coverage on the topic of depression lately. While this spike in interest is great in that it helps raise awareness of the mental disorder, there is another rising trend on social media that is both worrying and maddening. Tan Lili explains.


The word depressed has been thrown around rather flippantly in everyday conversation (“Is it Monday already? GAH I’M SO DEPRESSED!”). But even though we know better than to dismiss a person’s unpleasant feelings, there is a need to put it out there that feeling sad is not the same as depression.

First things first, let’s take a quick look at the stats. A World Health Organization (WHO) study in 2012 found that more than 350 million people around the world suffer from depression, which is ranked the leading cause of morbidity in developing nations in the next century. According to a 2010 Singapore National Mental Health Survey, 6.3% of Singaporeans will experience at least one episode of clinical depression in their lifetime.

Before we ask ourselves if we’re part of the 6.3%, we’ve got to understand what depression is and what it isn’t.

Defining Depression

Where symptoms of clinical depression last for at least two weeks and will continue for about six months if left untreated, sadness comes with it a comforting hug that says, “This too shall pass.” We all experience fleeting moments of sadness every day; it’s a perfectly normal human emotion. And while some of those moments may last longer that we’d like, they don’t (A) kill the important neurons in our brain; (B) stop you from enjoying activities you’ve always enjoyed; and, most importantly, (C) they shouldn’t trigger suicidal thoughts.

Depression is a sickness, a disease, a mental disorder that makes the person feel as if a thousand tiny glass shards were being driven into his body, leaving him to bleed while he is awake and aware of  it all – a product of his warped imagination, but a disease all the same. The reason: Depression is neurotoxic; it changes the way your brain prioritises things. The scan of a healthy brain is different from that of a person suffering from clinical depression. As Dr Stephen Ilardi, a US-based clinical research specialising in the treatment of depression, puts in in Psychology Today, “depression is shorthand for a debilitating syndrome – major depressive disorder – that robs people of their energy, their concentration, their memory, their restorative sleep … their ability to love and work and play. The disorder actually lights up the brain’s pain circuitry, inducing a state of suffering far exceeding that of any physical discomfort.”

All that means depression is no more a choice than is being diagnosed with cancer, and which also means telling a friend suffering from depression to “snap out of it” is no more helpful than telling a cancer patient the same. “When those suffering from depression confide their diagnosis to friends and family, they’re often met with relative indifference, born of the assumption that the patient is afflicted with mere sadness – a condition from which they can quickly and easily recover,” says Dr Ilardi.

However, the good news is, as with any medical condition, depression can be managed. Using a combination of strategies – medication, counselling, etc. – the treatment is effective for up to 80% of those suffering from depression, according to WHO.

If you think you or a loved one could be suffering from depression, visit this page for a list of mental health support services in Singapore.

The Problem With Calling A Tragedy “Beautiful”

depression 2

On social media, we see the word depression being used very loosely. Dr Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry expert, told The Atlantic that in today’s digital age, “there is a lack of critical understanding … You see kids self-identifying as having that depression, but they don’t have a depression. They’re upset, or they’re demoralised, or they’re distressed by something.” The strange thing is, this romanticising of depression doesn’t just affect impressionable teens; take a look at Tumblr and Instagram, and you’ll notice many adults glorifying the “beauty” of suffering. Even I – EmoGal84 – do it sometimes, I’m not going to lie.

The problems with romanticising depression are that (A) many are led into believing they are depressed when they aren’t, and (B) it unfairly downplays the gravity of those truly suffering from depression.

The bottom line: Depression is not the same as everyday sadness, nor is it a Like-bait. Let’s stop romanticising depression, please?

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

Character & Soul, Entrepreneurship, Money, Self-Improvement

The 4 “Mistakes” I Want To Make As An Entrepreneur – Deborah Tan

Everyone who wants to start a business these days keeps talking about claiming the PIC Bonus. Deborah Tan wants aspiring entrepreneurs to know that there is nothing wrong with good, honest work.

Passive income = the ultimate entrepreneur goal?

Passive income = the ultimate entrepreneur goal?

How would you start a business? Would you bootstrap your business, i.e, fund it out of your own pocket? Borrow money from your relatives? Or, try to get investors to put money into your venture? For many of us small business owners, we often take the first option. We dig deep into our pockets to fund the venture, go without a salary until it starts to turn a profit and, dollar by dollar, we build up the business.

While many “business gurus” may turn their nose up at the idea of “starting small”, as a year-old entrepreneur, I must say, I prefer to grow my business step-by-step. There is a certain pride in seeing your business prosper gradually and you are much more aware of what it means to “take ownership”. For instance, I have been advised by many people on the many different ways one can employ to claim the PIC Bonus: from setting up many versions of one business (because every business is “entitled” to claim up to $15,000 in PIC Bonus) to paying a huge sum for a basic ecommerce website, which is something you can easily set up for FREE. Although the methods are all not illegal, they are certainly what I – after much thought – am uncomfortable with.

Articles abound about the “mistakes” first-time entrepreneurs tend to make, most of them about why we spend too much time working and not enough of it growing our wealth. While some I agree with, often, I find myself questioning why these so-called “mistakes” are bad. People have asked if I hated money but I simply just can’t agree with these:

1. “Mistake 1” – Not Paying Someone To Do Your Nitty-Gritty For You
Yes, all of us who come out to be our own bosses would love nothing more than to lay claim to the fact that we have minions running around doing our shit for us. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t want to say, “Get your people to call my people.” But leaving a job to “become your own boss” also means you are now your own employee. I like to think that by being able to take care of my own taxes, manage my own timetable, chase down my own payments, I’m getting acquainted to the unglamorous side of what it means to be a business owner. When you can finally afford to pay a part-timer to take care of your things, you will also know what is the real work involved so you won’t be held at the mercy of an admin person.

Be careful of hidden traps!

Be careful of hidden traps!

2. “Mistake 2” – Not Willing To Pay Money To Grow Money
I recognize that for a business to grow, investments have to be made. However, I think investments have to be worthwhile and made in an ethical way. I am uncomfortable with paying someone $15,000 for something that is actually worth $3,000, just so I can make a maximum claim on the PIC Bonus. I’ve been told, “Once you see all that money in your bank account, you will look at things differently.” I hope I never will have to.

3. “Mistake 3” – You Can’t Take Care Of Everything
If it’s my business, I want to know everything – from the product I’m selling to the licensing issues it faces to the profile of the customer who consumes my product. Sure, you should have partners who possess skills and traits that make up for what you don’t have but it doesn’t mean you just leave whatever you don’t want to do to them. You can take care of everything, you just don’t have to do it all. It’s called “taking ownership”. “Taking ownership” means whenever someone has a query about your business, you have all the most basic answers at your fingertips.

4. “Mistake 4” – No-Risk Is Good 
There are many business opportunities out there that allow you to take up the basic template and run with it. They call it no-risk because there is a set pattern you can use to build your business. But the only person who is getting rich out of it all is the one who is selling this same business template to hundreds of people out there. Unique ideas are hard to get off the ground and yes, you may fail. However, if you are really serious about your business, you will want to channel your investments into the things that make you DIFFERENT, not Xeroxed ideas that you can tweak only slightly to set you apart from the crowd.

I realize that it may sound idealistic of me to say that making money is less important than doing things right. However, I can’t emphasize how crucial it is to not go into business simply because you hope, eventually, that the passive income will let you live out the rest of your life in comfort. You still need to have a basic respect for WORK – good, honest work. You can’t just think, “I’ll set this up, sit back and watch money roll in.” If you think the first and foremost thing about business is PASSIVE INCOME, you are truly making a very big mistake.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She recognizes that she may never be rich but at least she is proud of her business. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

The One Thing You Should Never Lose – Vanessa Tai

During her 2.5 weeks of backpacking around Laos and Myanmar, Vanessa Tai encountered many different travellers, and she’s now convinced about the type of traveller — and by extension, person — that she always wants to be. 

Ever gone on a holiday with people who are just so darned hard to impress? You know the kind … when you’re marvelling at a certain sight or scenery, they will simply nod and say, “Yeah, but have you seen (insert name of some other sight or scenery)?” Or, when you’re raving about a local dish, they will say, “This is not that great actually. I prefer (insert name of some other country’s cuisine).”

Buzzkills like these annoy me to no end.

Now I’m not saying we pretend to like something when we don’t. However, in this age of instant gratification and round-the-clock entertainment, it seems as if we’re getting harder and harder to impress. Is it just me or does anyone else find it hard to sit through a movie without mentally critiquing everything from the plot to the choice of cast? Or perhaps you visit a place of interest only to compare it to other bigger/grander/more hipster places? It seems as if everything is now viewed through the lens of social media – is this place Instagram-worthy? Is it exciting enough for me to check in to on Facebook? Is it obscure enough? And so on.

On my most recent trip, I met two 18-year-old guys from England, who appeared to be on their first trip abroad. When I met them, they were recounting tales of their past few days spent in a local village “where no other Westerner has set foot in before.” While you may laugh at their naïveté, I found their buoyant enthusiasm endearing and almost contagious. Listening to them, you can’t help but feel excited about travel again; the fresh exhilaration of seeing or experiencing something for the first time.

Interacting with them reminded me of the one thing we should never lose – our sense of wonder. We may have gone through plenty of varied experiences, which makes it easy to slip into the “been there, done that” mindset. However, even if you may feel like you’ve seen it all, there are always different ways of seeing the same thing, and still have an experience completely different from all your other experiences.

How? Here are some suggestions:

1. Be A Kid Again

You know how kids get fascinated by the littlest things? That’s because human beings are born with an innate sense of curiosity and fearlessness, which only gets sullied as we get older. While it can be difficult to shed your “adult” sense of self-consciousness, sometimes you just got to ignore the dissuasive thoughts in your mind and just do it. Wanna torpedo off a cliff into the ocean? Why not? Wanna break into song while running errands? Go for it!

We often worry so much about what others will think that we censor our words and confine ourselves to doing what’s “normal” or “acceptable”. However, isn’t it tiring to constantly put a lid on who we truly are? It’s only when we step out of this safe zone that we start to feel exhilarated and excited about life again.

2. Record The Moment 

Although this article claims that using a device to record experiences may cause you to lose the memories instead, I’ll like to suggest that when used sparingly, a camera can actually help you find new ways to look at things. That’s because you’ll always be looking out for a fresh angle, or seeking out beauty in the seemingly ugly or mundane. I was recently in Yangon and wasn’t particularly enjoying myself; I found the city chaotic and dirty. However, while lugging a heavy bag across an overhead bridge one morning, I found myself pausing to enjoy the cool drizzle and being high above the maddening crowds. In that few seconds, I found myself thinking, “Okay, maybe this place isn’t so bad.” And to remember that moment, I snapped a quick picture (see below).

Good morning, Yangon!

High and above the chaos.

If you’re not into photography, try penning down your experiences. It helps you remember what you did and gives you an opportunity to reflect, instead of simply going through the motions then asking, “Ok, that’s done. What’s next?”

3. Talk To Others

Let’s face it. When we hang out with the same group of friends too frequently, we run the risk of groupthink. How are we ever going to get a fresh perspective on anything if we’re always interacting with people who share the same ideals and viewpoints? The beauty of travelling (and in particular, backpacking) is you get to meet people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Over hours of trekking through the Burmese countryside, I spent time discussing everything from books and music to euthanasia and Singapore’s death penalty with a 24-year-old Belgian girl, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There’re precious few things more soul-nourishing than an engaging conversation where you walk away feeling like you learned something new. Even if you’re not on the road travelling, it’s still a good idea to continually seek out new people to talk to and exchange ideas with. Here’s a little challenge: the next time you’re at a party, try striking a conversation with the person you think you’re LEAST likely to have anything in common with. You may just find yourself pleasantly surprised.

material world_never lose your sense of wonder

Of course, these are just some suggestions. The most important thing to remember is, simply approach life with a sense of curiosity and desire to learn. Paradoxically, it’s when we remove our attitude of “Impress me,” that we’re more likely to actually be impressed.

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Heart Of The Matter – Tan Lili

In light of recent tragedies, Tan Lili ponders on humanity’s capacity for forgiveness. Is there still hope?

I don’t get it. I really don’t.

I’m under no illusion that we’re living in a peaceful world. We never have and probably never will. Recent events, however, expose just how frighteningly ugly human nature can get. It’s devastating enough to read about the plight of the victims, but what disturbs me the most is the shocking reality that there are actually people out there attempting to justify brutality and violence, no matter from which end. Every day, we see heated arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong; we see graphs that compare the total death tolls in each zone; we see people – people who are not the victims or even remotely related to one – make up these analyses and try to outwit one another with only their own pride at stake.

Here’s what I feel: As long as we are keeping score, no one is ever right because someone else will always pay the price.

Is there hope for world peace?

Is there hope for world peace?

This desire for vengeance is what’s making the notion of “world peace” inconceivable. Sadly, it is also very much an intrinsic feature of human nature. It’s not that human beings are fundamentally evil – revenge is one of our survival instincts. But there is another human trait that triumphs over vengeance: Forgiveness.

Evolutionary science has shown that we all possess the capacity to forgive; as long as there’s even a shred of humanity left in us, we can be forgiving. In psychology, forgiveness is defined as a deliberate decision to let go of your desire for revenge – and in doing so, your past hurts begin to heal. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: The New Approach to Getting The Life You Want, forgiving people are “less likely to be hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, angry, and neurotic.”

But more importantly, writes Lyubomirsky, we have to understand what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not the same as downplaying your pain or absolving someone of their wrongdoings. Say, your ex-best friend betrayed you in the past, causing you a lot of pain. She has every reason to earn your trust back, just as you have every right to be mad at her for violating it in the first place.

Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Back to hypothetical ex-best friend – forgiving her doesn’t mean you ought to forget what she did. By choosing to let go of your resentment towards her, you are choosing to move on so you can finally heal the wound she left behind.

Forgiveness does not necessarily lead to reconciliation. If you decide that the trust can never be rebuilt, you can still forgive your ex-best friend but choose to get out of this toxic relationship for good.

On the other hand, if you had chosen to keep score and hold a grudge against her, you are essentially imprisoning yourself in a cesspool of bitterness – and you’re the one who ends up drowning.

I know my examples above, while relatable, are markedly trivial next to the ongoing armed conflicts. And, yes, I know nothing is black and white. But with a bigger heart and the willingness to push the edges of our own capacity for forgiveness, maybe, just maybe, the world would be a better place. It all starts with ourselves.

forgiveness 3

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

Character & Soul, Entrepreneurship, Self-Improvement

The One Important Lesson Every Entrepreneur Must Embrace – Deborah Tan

It is easy to feel lousy about yourself when you are caught up in the midst of running your business and trying to establish your brand. Deborah Tan confides how she too suffers from days when she feels exceptionally unexceptional.

“I feel very good about myself every time I tell people that I own a content agency,” said Denise. “Plus, I’m earning more now than I did holding down a full-time job and that is very empowering!”

I looked at Denise and I couldn’t help but smile. In front of me was a person who has wholeheartedly embraced her status as a founder of a business. But me? As much as I would love to shout it out loud and proud that I’m my own boss EVERY DAY, I have to admit that I still go through periods of low self-esteem – especially when I attend events and a voice in my head goes, “You’re now a nobody.” I know I’m being a complete idiot but …

This episode of confidence crisis came about after a particularly “lonely” event last week. There were 2 tables at the event and when I arrived, those from “big media” (my personal catch-all term for titles under the huge companies) had grouped together at one table. The other table was pretty empty and, not wanting to “intrude”, I sat at the second table on my own. For 2 hours, I felt truly alone and unspectacular.

“Why didn’t you just go sit with the media people?” Denise asked when I related the incident to her. “It’s not as if you didn’t know them!”

“I don’t know …” I mumbled. “A part of me just felt like I didn’t really belong there, the magazine world, anymore. I just don’t want to look like I’m intruding …”

“Aiyah! I think you are just overthinking things! No one will say that about you lah!” declared Miss Confidence. “AND … honestly, you are not a nobody just because you are no longer an editor. If you asked me to go back to a magazine full-time, I will really have to think twice. Now, I’m very happy waking up and going to work every morning. We own a business!”

Have I Lost Everything And Become Nothing?
And Denise has a point. While not every business can be an overnight phenomenon like Facebook or Uber, we entrepreneurs need to celebrate that we have done something brave with our lives. This is something many of us – especially myself – don’t do enough of. We need to remember that we took a chance, and we took a leap into a world where the outcome could swing both ways – we could be successful or we could fail disastrously. Giving up a regular paycheque is not something everyone has the guts to do.

It’s easy to get lost in self-doubt when you are struggling to turn a profit or trying to get your brand out there. For me, I’ll be lying if I said I took to entrepreneurship like a fish to water. When I made the decision to give up my car so I won’t have to deal with the stress of meeting the monthly repayments, I honestly thought I was damn “loser” for not being to keep my ride. Losing the so-called symbols of success – the fancy job title, the fat paycheque, the car – was, in a way, confidence crushing because they were what I saw as achievements that I had “unlocked” on my climb up the publishing ladder. By losing them, does it mean I have become nothing?

No. Here’s why:

Mmmm ... mmm .... mmm ...

Mmmm … mmm …. mmm …

The Chest-Thumping Belief Entrepreneurs Need To Have
I have not become nothing because …

1. No matter the scale of my business, I have gone from a salaried worker to becoming a business owner. I have, in a way, progressed.

2. It doesn’t matter how much profit I’ve made, as long as I’m making money, my business idea is viable.

3. I’m not at the mercy of bureaucratic layers and HR processes, I call the shots and therefore I’m no longer a “corporate slave”.

These are just 3 of the many reasons why we entrepreneurs should go about our everyday lives with our heads held high. There is no need to feel we are of a “lower class” than top-level executives of big companies because we are at the top of our own business. While we may not be able to flaunt a large paycheque, we can certainly flaunt the size of our “balls”.

We entrepreneurs do what we do because we have no respect for the status quo and we get a kick out of doing things our own way. We hate uniformity and mindless conformity, we live to be different, and to stand out from the flock.

And, it is this “I’m Not Your Average Salary Worker” mentality we possessed that we need remind ourselves of every day. No matter how small someone may make us feel because we are no longer a part of the corporate rat race, we have to – like Matthew Mcconaughey’s character in The Wolf Of Wall Street – thump ourselves on the chest and proudly remind ourselves that we are the shizzy and that, as entrepreneurs, we are on our way to change the game, change the world.

We are the change the world needs.

Entrepreneurs need to embrace the fact that they ARE awesome.

Entrepreneurs need to embrace the fact that they ARE awesome.


About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She thanks for lucky stars that her co-founders are balls of positive energy that she can tap into every time feelings of inadequacy threatens to rock her confidence. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

[If you like this story, you’ll love]

1. 4 Awesome Benefits Of Being Your Own Boss

2. Happiness In Entrepreneurship

3. When You Have Been Listed As “Competition”



Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Perks Of Being A Tall Woman – Tan Lili

Being taller than the average Singaporean female has made Tan Lili awfully self-conscious about her appearance for the longest time. But now, she’s decided to put an end to all that negative self-talk and, instead, learn to well and truly stand tall and proud.

tall girl 2

I have a confession to make: I hate being tall.

I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. Friends always tell me how envious they are of my height but I have never been able find it in me to bask in such compliments. Back in school, I was always made to sit at the back of the classroom for obvious reasons. In an environment where small-sized girls were favoured over the rest, I felt alienated and ugly. I even used to sport rounded shoulders and a hunched back in hopes of fitting in with my petite classmates. While my insecurities have subsided over the years, I still feel like a giant towering over majority of women in this part of the world. (The average height of a woman in Singapore is 160cm; I’m at 171cm, which, incidentally, is the average height of Singaporean men.)

BUT, this tall-shaming has got to stop. Articles like “10 Things No One Tells You About Being Tall” do nothing except reinforce the premise of misery loves company. Instead of dwelling on the negative and seeing my height as a curse, I’ve decided to not just embrace but celebrate my and my fellow taller-than-average girls’ statuesque physique. Here are some of the blessings of being tall:

1. Enjoy unobstructed views

I love going to concerts, but I often feel self-conscious about standing up and blocking the poor fellow sitting behind me. I gotta admit, though: I’m glad I never have to face the problem of missing out on the good bits.

2. No heels, no problem

Sacrificing comfort for style is a foreign concept to me. I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve worn heels so far.

3. Two words: Maxi dresses

This is enough to make up for the fact that mini ones end up looking like tank tops on me.

4. People look up to us – literally and figuratively

Studies have shown that tall people tend to command more respect. This gives us a great advantage in the workplace, be it when you’re aiming for a promotion or when making a sales pitch. Bonus: According to statistics, the taller you are, the more likely you are to get paid more. Okay, I may be a statistical failure in regard to the latter … BUT MY MOMENT OF GLORY WILL COME.

5. We defy society’s norm

There are so many more benefits of being tall, but the most important point is this: in embracing our own differences, it teaches us to be more accepting of others’ too. We spend too much time obsessing over what others think and whether we fit in to what the society deems as normal. So what if you’re too tall? Or too short? Or have a too-high forehead? These physical attributes are a part of our total package, and those who choose to be insensitive about our differences can shove it.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

How To Be A Good Listener – Vanessa Tai

Being a good listener is a valuable skill to have, whether at work or in your interpersonal relationships. Very often, we are merely hearing, not listening. Vanessa Tai shares her experience. 

Without coming across as a braggart, I’ve actually been told by many different people that I’m a good listener. Each time somebody tells me that, I’m genuinely surprised because active listening is not something that I do consciously. It’s just that I feel honoured when people choose to open up to me, so the least I can do is to give them my full attention. After all, most of us are all too familiar with the signs of someone not really listening when we talk … and it stings.

To gauge whether you’re a good listener, answer the following questions. When somebody is talking to you, do you do any of the following:

Check your phone?

Think about what you’re going to say in response?

Try to immediately find a solution to the problem he or she is telling you about?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, then I’m afraid you’re not truly listening. According to the International Listening Association, we only retain about 50 percent of what we hear immediately after we hear it, and only another 20 percent beyond that. However, research has showed that when you stop what you’re doing to really focus on the person talking, you activate neurons in your brain and your body will start to hone in on the other person. This will help you retain more of whatever the other person is saying.

material world_listening

So how else can you be fully engaged when a person is talking to you? I thought back to some of my most meaningful interactions and identified a few key commonalities, which I hope will be useful for you.

Don’t Interrupt

This may seem commonsensical, but how many times have you tried opening up to someone only to have them cut you off with their own story or opinion? Not only does the person come off as rude, it tires you out quickly because you feel like you’re not getting through to him or her at all.

It’s normal to have thoughts flit through our mind when the person is talking, but we need to constantly remind ourselves to bring ourselves back to the present and focus on whatever the other person is saying. Also, look out for other non-verbal cues. Is the person’s voice getting quivery? Or is he or she toying nervously with the edge of the table? A person’s body language can tell you a lot about his or her state of mind as well.

Don’t Judge

When a person makes a decision to share some of their private thoughts with you, it’s something incredibly intimate and should be taken seriously. Even if you may not agree with whatever the person is telling you, bite your tongue and hold back on your judgment. It probably took them a lot of courage to open up to you. Don’t shut them down with your opinions on whether their decisions were right or wrong.

Also, respect the person’s right to keep certain details confidential. You may be dying to know a particular detail of the story, but if the person chooses not to disclose, don’t pry. It will just cause him or her to close themselves off once again.

Express Empathy

Very often, when people share with you a part of themselves, they’re not just looking for someone to lend a listening ear. It’s also a way of sussing out if what they’re experiencing is “normal”. However, in her article on how to comfort someone, Lili mentioned that, while well-intentioned, telling someone you understand exactly what they’re going through can come across as patronising and insensitive. That’s because everybody responds to grief differently so we can never completely understand what the other person is going through. That’s not to say you can’t express empathy though. Some of the ways could be to nod along reassuringly when he or she is talking or simply saying, “That must have been terrible for you. How are you feeling now?”

Another method, which I’ve only recently discovered, is touch.


Now, touch is a bit tricky because you’ll need to have a certain level of trust and comfort with the person. There’s a difference between your best friend telling you about her relationship problems and a co-worker confiding in you about a work issue. You’ll need to be able to read the situation and know what’s an appropriate amount of touch. Plus, some people are simply uncomfortable with physical contact, so you’ll have to take that into consideration as well.

However, the power of touch is undeniable. A growing number of studies have shown that even a momentary touch can communicate an even wider range of emotion than gestures or expressions. In fact, it can sometimes convey an emotion more quickly and accurately than words. Some of the “safer” methods of touch that I employ (usually sub-consciously) are reassuring pats on the shoulder or arm, or even a quick squeeze of the person’s hands. To me, it’s just a gentler, less invasive way of saying, “Hey, I’m here for you.” If you share a close relationship with the person though, a giant bear hug at the end of the conversation is always comforting and lets the person know you have their back.

I know, all this sounds complicated but it’s really not. All you need to remember is, when a person chooses to open up to you, it’s something precious and shouldn’t be taken lightly. As a society, we’re becoming increasingly cloistered; hiding behind screen names and social media personas. So when a person chooses to confide in you, isn’t it natural for us to return the honour by giving them our full attention?

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

4 Strategies To A More Decisive You – Deborah Tan

Does it sometimes feel like you are being torn apart by your inability to make a decision? Deborah Tan shares the strategy on becoming more decisive and how you can reap huge emotional benefits from not second-guessing yourself every. Single. Time.

See it. Want it. Go for it.

See it. Want it. Go for it.

Ask many of my friends to describe me and more than half will probably tell you that I am someone who always knows what she wants. Whether it’s staying in a job or leaving it, making a person a friend or turning my back on one, having flowers at my wedding or not having any, decisions come to me easily. This isn’t to say that all my decisions have been right. However, for those who struggle with making decisions, who tend to second-guess themselves, the ability to stay focused and be decisive is a skill that needs developing.

How can one be more decisive? How can you be sure that you won’t regret the decisions you make? Why should you be more decisive?

I guess besides saving yourself oodles of time agonizing over every matter, a more decisive person is also one who is more resilient emotionally. Rather than beating yourself up for every decision that didn’t work out because you could have done A, B, C or D, a decisive person lives and dies by the course she has chosen to take and has no regrets. If things don’t work out the first time, she moves on and learns from her mistakes. Every mis-step is a learning experience, and yes, cliche as it sounds, whatever doesn’t kill her will only make her stronger.

How does one becoming more decisive?

Well, I have 4 strategies to recommend:

1. Identify Your Word
Think about your achievements, your experiences, the moments that made you happy and proud of who you are. If all these could be condensed into ONE single word, what would it be? A friend told me that her word is “Fun”. And it is perfectly acceptable. If your word is “Fun”, it means that whatever course of action you choose to take in future, you need to ask yourself if it will bring you “fun”. If it doesn’t, then you know whether to do it or not. There is no right or wrong word. If the word that drives you is “Money”, then you pretty much know you’ll do whatever it takes to get more of it. When you find yourself vacillating between two decisions, ask yourself which one gives you more of YOUR WORD.

2. Are You Willing To Be Defined By That One Word?
Once you’ve identified your word, you need to ask yourself if you are going to be okay being defined by it, positively and negatively. Don’t choose “Fame” and then get upset when people call you shallow, don’t choose “Balanced” and then get defensive when people say you are self-centered. If you are not willing to be associated with the negative aspects of your word, then you need to go back and ask yourself if you need to find another. I’ve always been someone who is driven by “Ambition”. A long time ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who was thinking of leaving her job, one she was doing well in. After our conversation, I chanced upon her Twitter: she tweeted something about me being a soulless corporate drone. I did not take offense because that is indeed the flipside of ambition and I have to accept the negatives that come with it.

3. Consciously, And Unconsciously, Limit Your Options
I’ve confided in a number of friends that I had enjoyed my wedding tremendously because I wasn’t flushed with money and therefore wasn’t flooded with choices. Without the cash to burn, the options available to us were limited. I liked that I did not have to agonize over whether I should spend $500 on paper fans as wedding favors, I liked that our limited budget kept us focused on the important things. Sure, it feels wonderful to find yourself in a candy shop of choices, to find yourself able to afford many things. But we can’t always have it all and rather than torment ourselves with the What Ifs, why not just narrow down the list and pick from just a few?

4. Move On, Move On, And Then Move On Some More
We all need to learn how to forgive ourselves and sometimes, the best way to achieve that is to move on. If things didn’t work out the way you had envisioned them, it’s really too late to cry over spilt milk. You can choose to let this cripple you and hold you back OR you can choose to move on and deal with life. Hanging on to the past, dwelling on what other people think of you … these things will only promote second-guessing. If you don’t ever want to second-guess your decisions, then take ownership of your f___-ups and move on.

Everyone makes mistakes – just make sure you don’t repeat yours.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She has learned, over the years, that she’d rather fail on her decision than succeed doing what others tell her. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.