Looking at Astrid’s work, it’s hard to imagine the challenges she’s had to overcome to get to where she is today. I met Astrid when she was living in Singapore at an Art Class. Unlike other art classes I have ever been to, I found it introspective instead of instructional. I came out of her class learning more about myself and others.
I’ve always been interested to learn more about her and grabbed the opportunity to speak to Astrid when I was on a visit in Bali. She has made Bali her home for many years now after Singapore.
Astrid’s interest in art started when she was 5 years old. She remembered seeing the bright colours of bougainvillea and wanted to replicate the colours of the flowers. The desire to paint and draw continued throughout her childhood and won her first prize at primary school.
When she got to high school, she met an art teacher who recognized the talent in her. Her high school teacher motivated and inspired her through encouragement and exposure to other materials. Astrid has always felt an affinity towards art and she continued this passion at the School of Fine Arts despite her mother’s insistence that she learnt to be a typist.
While at the School of Fine Arts, Astrid was learning to be an illustrator as her mother felt that it would give her the best opportunity for employment instead of fine arts. The training as an illustrator designed for adverts was both a challenge and a gift. Astrid felt that it gave her immediate perspective but at the same time she had to be conscious that it didn’t confine her.
Living the life as a full-fledged artist did not come easy. She had her first art exhibition when she was just starting a young family. A buyer chose one of the painting during the exhibition and Astrid was over the moon, however he ended up changing his mind and did not pay for the painting as promised. This was a big blow to Astrid’s confidence and this setback pushed her to question whether she would continue to pursue her passion or to give up and live a conventional life that she has been told repeatedly throughout her life. She decided to keep on going and took up a teaching job at a school. This gave her stability of a livelihood, time with her young family and extra time to pursue her passion.
It wasn’t until many years later when her children were grown up that Astrid could live her life as an artist full time. During that time, she worked on her style and texture that’s very recognizable in her work today.
Her advice to budding artists:
Take your time to find your expression.
There’s no short cut. The more work you put into your art, the more you get out of it.
Keeping a balance of commercial work and self-expression. It’s essential to have some sort of cash flow but equally important/
Keep on learning, she’s still learning every day.
Enjoy the process of every moment from cleaning the brushes, to mixing the paints, to painting. Each step is a meditative process for her and the moments to be in touch fully.
I had a fantastic opportunity to sit down for a chat with Michael Lyons and he gladly shared his values for coaching and strategies for triathletes as well as athletes in general.
Michael Lyons wears many hats, from coaching to working as a sports commentator and brand owner of compression recovery boots called Sports Recovery Systems. The compression boots is used by athletes and patients who might be recovering from illnesses. He came to Asia over 20 years ago and have been coaching triathletes and endurance athletics ever since.
Growing up in New Zealand, outdoor activities was very much part of everyday life. Recess and lunchtime would involve playing sports before getting back to class. The availability of various sports meant that Michael was exposed to cross country running, golf, rugby etc. However, it was triathlons that became his sport for life after rugby.
Michael was fortunate that early in his childhood, he met great coaches along the way which taught him valuable lessons that he still holds onto today. One of these coaches was his school PE teacher. His PE teacher was known to be strict and tough on the students, many of them fear him. One of these values came about when there was a school cross country race with a cut off time of 25 minutes. Michael did not make the cut off time. The PE teacher made him and those who didn’t redo the race on the same day and they made it. This taught him a valuable lesson in life, upholding high standards for others to attain, to which he is grateful for.
His PE teacher also set Michael on a career path without realising when he chose Michael to represent the school in a walking race as another student was injured. While he did not do well in this competition, the event led him to meet legendary coach Arthur Lydiard. Arthur Lydiard was revolutionary in his coaching and this chance meeting made such a strong impression on young Michael that it set him on the course of coaching later on in his life.
Arthur Lydiard said to Michael:” Do something everyday.” That…is still with Michael until today.
Michael studied Arthur’s competitive philosophies and the formula of 87% strength endurance,9% threshold,4% VO2 max. He found that it to work well for triathletes. While Arthur Lydiard found the sweet spot of 160km for runners a week. Michael says the distance is not for all individuals and not for those living in Singapore running outdoors. The humidity in Singapore does not allow the body to cool down unlike in temperate climates.
Michael focuses on strength endurance training with his athletes:
Runners: Run on off-road terrains with elevation like MacRitchie Reservoir. For those who can’t run, brisk walking on such terrain has more benefits than flat grounds.
Bikers: On a bike, ride on a bigger gear up a long hill or on a resistance bike to overlay strength training for cycling.
Swimmers: use paddles or wear a cotton t-shirt to for resistance.
While most athletes seek coaches for better performance in the form of timing, Michael encourages athletes to look into other aspects as well. He believes the individual should look at their body type and body age instead of chronological age, have realistic expectations with a longer time line and a focus on fitness for life. The average improvement for athletes following the program for 6 months is 25 minutes over a half iron man distance.
The Expectations of Improvements in Different Athletes
-Beginner athletes getting started after a long hiatus of post-surgery. Start with time instead of distance. Jog walk or brisk walk for 15 minutes instead of looking at distance covered. Keep goals achievable with the mindset of wanting to do more the next day.
-Athletes who have not been working out as much prior and start a program will see significant improvements within 3 to 6 months. Thereafter, improvements will be marginal gains. The
-Athletes post injury and those who have plateaued will need to approach training as investments for future gains instead of focusing on immediate improvements.
-Those that have plateaued are advised to train slower. Most people are training too fast. Training slower puts their strength endurance in a better place, the foundation threshold for VO2.
“Respect the Distance of Races”
6-8 hours a week
8-12 hours a week
12-15 hours a week
12-20 hours a week
Full Iron Man Distance
16-24 hours a week
These are average hours require for training to be used as a guide. The worst thing an athlete can do is to overstretch.
Michael’s main pointers:
1) Correct bio-mechanical imbalances.
2) Work on longer time frames for goals, 18 months to 2.5 years instead of weeks, for longevity.
3) Check in on recovery. Sleep before midnight, use active compression that enhances blood flow on tired muscles and elevate.
4) Look closely at diet, mental state, transition timing etc for marginal gains.
5) During Ramadan or fasting, work on swim technique, run drills, strength and conditioning work indoors without a huge drain on hydration. This becomes a healthy approach to having an off-season as there are so many races in Asia, there isn’t any off-season.
6) Encourage cross-training for athletes who are runners to swimming and biking, vice versa during their off season.
The key for triathletes is to balance all aspects of the sports. It would be difficult to be great in all three movements.
Michael hopes that through their community, the athletes they work with will keep the coaching values alive by being leaders in their own community and lend a helping hand to those in need, and being inclusive working with different nationalities.
The other difficult aspect as a coach is getting athletes to accept that as they get older, they may not get faster. The mental shift needs to be made from attaining peak performance to allowing the sport to enhance the quality of life and keep fit for as long as you can.
I was extremely lucky to catch Dr Fong for a short chat. She is an avid long-distance runner and competitor, medical doctor and mother. She recently completed the 50km Ultra-Trail Australia in May. This year alone, she has completed three races, Lantau 25km trail race, TPW Garmin Singapore 5k and Ultra-Trail Australia.
She spoke to us about her medical practice, helping her patients pursue a healthier lifestyle, and finding time to train for long-distance running.
The prevailing trend of chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure affects Singaporeans as well as the rest of the world. The sedentary lifestyle, excess refined carbohydrates in most convenience foods, eating out, lack of exercise and stress are affecting the younger people, as young as teenagers.
There are preventions and steps we can take to minimise the risk of these diseases:
Exercise – start small. It can be walking, aqua aerobics etc.
Prepare your meals at home and no eating at food courts. Cooking at home for your own meals means you get to control what goes into your food. Bring your meals to work. If you must, make food court delicacies a treat and not the norm.
Diets – don’t get hung up on specific diets. The best diet is what you can maintain for the rest of your life.
For those who might say that it costs more to be healthy. Look at the option between being on medication the rest of your life or taking an active role in keeping you and your family healthy. Some tips to keep within budget, buy in bulk, buy frozen, buy during the discount periods.
Training for long distance races
Workout everyday for at least an hour.
Mix up your workouts between cardio, stretching (pilates, yoga) and strength such as weights.
The races are usually overseas, and the topography is different from Singapore. Have a strategy. Plan the training around it. Train yourself to eat real food while exercising so that during the race your body adapts to it. She eats real food continuously from 5km mark onwards.
Dr Fong Lian Im: “Find a little bit of time and do the best you can. We tend to put ourselves last. You have to fit in the time for exercise and to look after yourself first to look after others. You don’t need to have a podium finish, it’s meant to be fun. If it’s not fun, you don’t need to do the race.”
Faith (Ayaka) Suzuki started her journey as a competitive triathlete when a guy ghosted her in 2015. Little did she know that the first run she took for emotional destressing would take her on a journey of fitness and competitions. It wasn’t until 2017 when she took to triathlon on a more serious note. Despite the late start in this path, she is mostly a podium finisher.
She is a humble athlete who would downplay her achievements. Having tried triathlon sprints which are a fraction of what she does on a regular basis, I know mere mortals like myself, can’t easily achieve what she has done. She races almost every couple of weeks and they are not short distances.
Faith definitely qualifies as the Everyday Warrior who’s striving to be better and live the life she’s passionate about.
She works full time with a sports company which gives her the flexibility to train 1.5 to 2 hours a day. Prior to this, she made arrangements with workplaces that allow her to train during lunch hours or leave at a decent hour after work for training. She’s working with coaches at TriEdge Team who sends her weekly templates for training. The training templates would vary depending on her goals and work. There are times when she’s unable to complete the training schedule as planned.
Faith’s Strategies for her races:
Plan a big race which she calls A Race. Once she has that in mind, she would plan smaller races which she calls B or C Races before the A Race. This is to get herself mentally and physically prepared for the bigger race.
The season in Japan for Triathlons is between April to September. Outside those months, she would sign up for running or biking races just to keep mentally and physically sharp i.e. half marathons, bike, swims.
Try as much as possible to stick to training schedule. Have support group ie coaches or athletic community around.
Having enough sleep. Faith calls herself the nap champion. Having a good night’s sleep and catching a nap as and when she can helps with post training recovery.
A week prior to the race, she stops drinking (yes, don’t hate her), and dials down her training load.
During the race:
Set goals prior to the race in regards to studying the path, which part to go for it and which to stay at pace.
When things get tough, set smaller goals i.e. get to that building and keep moving that smaller goal until finished.
Quitting is not an option. Just knowing that you will complete it regardless of how much pain you are in means you can’t call it quits during the race.
Food during the race is still something she’s experimenting with. There were disasters, like beef jerky (do not try), and better things like peanut butter sandwiches. Happy to hear any inputs on this!
She claims there isn’t much to talk about as she eats everything. However, it should be noted that Faith doesn’t eat junk food and eating everything is pretty much eating whole foods such as grains, pasta, fish, meats and vegetables.
It took me a long time to work out the podcast interview with Faith as she’s based in Tokyo. Apologies as this podcast would not have great sound quality on my side. However, Faith will be loud and clear, that’s more important!
I’ve been battling issues after issues ever since I’ve embarked on this podcasting journey. Perhaps it’s just me, I’m not great with equipment or technology. The simplest things could potentially drag out for weeks. I’ve been trying to setup a Skype podcast with Faith Suzuki, luck has it that the first time we tried, Skype wouldn’t even allow me to log in. The second time, Skype could not read my mic nor could Audacity record.
My usual response would have flipped flopped between self-despair to absolute pessimism and back to self-pity on why things don’t ever work out because I’m the only person doing it. Who am I kidding? I can’t even get the hairdryer or the toaster to work on a regular day, let along setup a podcast interview.
This type of self-defeating conversational loop will add to my not so patient nature, which is – stress.
I will admit that I am not a patient person, in fact, I’m terribly impatient and annoying especially when I’m on holidays. I don’t even know what it means when someone tells me to “relax”. I understand the meaning of the word, but to experience it is something not natural to me.
From the moment I’m awake, I start executing my to do lists, my goals, and my dreams. I run on the adrenaline of doing for 16 hours straight. I pack as much as I can into my day. Everything that I’m doing is with a purpose and with intensity, from my workouts to work, including my meditation.
Then…a few weeks ago everything changed. I must have overextended myself and while on a long weekend trip, I slept 12 hours straight and thereafter I did something unimaginable. I read fiction. I have always felt that maximising my time includes cramming knowledge into the spare moments. Reading fiction would have been like watching TV to me, it’s killing time without adding any useful knowledge towards self-improvement.
But, it was a wonderful book and I truly enjoyed myself during that long weekend. I finally realised what it felt like to be relaxed. Then it hit me. I should be feeling this way all the time instead of just this moment. I want to have this moment of feeling OK to be sustainable and achievable.
To do that, I had to work backwards and look deeper into various aspects of my living. I realised I have been doing things and running high from all the doing without really getting anywhere. In between all that, I get so annoyed with the smallest mishaps and it could sometimes even ruin my day because of it. It was also obvious that I wasn’t a very nice person to be around. This was something that needed fixing.
These were the 3 things I did:
I stop criticising myself.
It has only occurred to me, despite years of meditation and attempts at self-awareness, I have never really listened to my internal dialogue. An a-ha moment happened over that weekend when I was listening to myself complaining about something. I thought to myself, if my internal dialogue was another person, I wouldn’t want to hang out with her. She’s miserable and complains all the time! Then it made me laugh.
For example, I would beat myself up if I haven’t done the things I have set myself up to do.
Work – you should really have done this, it’s all your fault if you don’t move closer to this specific goal because you missed out on this and someone else will do it.
Fitness – you should have done that set faster, you should have stopped to rest, you should have gone heavier etc.
Relationship – that person doesn’t like/love you because you’re weird/crazy, you’re not a good parent because you didn’t do this or that.
I stopped all these chatters through allowing them to appear, acknowledging it and letting it pass without making them my identity. I know that these are thoughts stemmed from a myriad of feelings, fear, anxiety, envy etc. I use a simple phrase of “It’s OK” and knowing that they will pass and these thoughts are separate from my true self. You can use whatever phrase or even an image to reset yourself. I usually use something funny as my internal thought character. I tend to use cartoon characters that are silly makes me laugh. Use what works for you and it’s ok to experiment. Sometimes different situations would call for different words, phrases and images.
I stop criticising others.
It’s always so much easier to blame others or situations for things that don’t work out the way you want it to. Not only that, sometimes it can be infuriating dealing with family members, friends, who are just not in the same wavelength as you are. Problem is, unless you’re very close it’s hard to tell someone they suck without causing a rife in the relationship. This is extremely hard to do but once you do it, it does dissolve a lot of the negative feelings. If it’s a person you are unhappy with, accept the person for who they are without expectations and build a mental fence around yourself. Tell yourself, you are ok regardless of what that person does, think or say.
I forgive myself.
Forgiving myself is something very new to me. When I do look back into the past and realised how I have reacted in a situation, I could feel guilt, embarrassment, anger etc. Instead of building up all these emotions again, I just tell myself I forgive me. I’m still learning, and the only way is to know what I can do better and move on with it. Forgiving others is widely discussed and the first thing most of us were taught to do but we have never really been taught to forgive ourselves.
As in all practices, keep it consistent and experiment with what works best for you. The Key, I found was doing all these 3 together. It gives me the power to dissolve many of the problems I’m facing and working on. I was using one or the other on its own and never doing all 3 together.
Darren is one of those people who not only enjoy the challenges of what life throws at him but thrives in challenging environments. He made the switch from a successful corporate job to becoming an entrepreneur for two start-ups: Tivlon Technologies and Juggar.
His motto is: “Don’t get too comfortable.”
Darren ditched his cushy job and took the plunge without any handouts. What he did was surround himself with positive people, family and partners and the believe in himself.
Juggar which he has two other partners, is a peer-to-peer stocks collateral crowdlending platform. They aim to disrupt this 20 year old industry, valued at over $500 billion in Singapore alone by connecting the lenders and borrowers on their platform. Focusing first on tier 1 SGX stocks as collateral to free up 60% to 70% cash for the owners, their algorithm provides different rates of financing. The current shares financing is usually through a bank and they provide a standard rate of financing. Juggar is offering different rates of financing. For example, having Alibaba stock or IBM stock, while both are in the same industry, they are in different spaces and would have different pricing mechanisms.
The company recently won two seed funding, one from Spring Singapore, which is now rebranded as Enterprise Singapore, and NUS (National University of Singapore). He credits the funding success to his co-founders, Edmond Tan and Danny Lee. They were rejected in the first application with Enterprise Singapore, instead of giving up, his co-founder Edmond rang up and asked in detail why they were rejected and redid their presentation in 48 hours and reapplied.
Darren: “The greatest lesson for me in a start-up is you can’t take “No” for an answer. In start-ups, you have to keep removing obstacles.”
Like all start-ups, they go through “pivoting”, slight changes to his original plan. Tivlon Technologies went through that process. When he started it, it was a consulting firm, once entrenched in it, he realised there was a gap in the market that could not quantify certain data in commodities into tradeable ideas and he sought to bridge that gap. Technology has been underserved in the commodities market and there’s an opportunity to translate reports and data into analytics. At this point, Tivlon Technologies is self-funded.
Darren’s Action Plans
Those with family seeking to ditch their jobs:
Talk to your partner/spouse. Deal with this first. Their commitment, understanding and support is important. He suggests a 3-year plan with sufficient financing that covers basic needs.
Having a family means some supplemental income is needed. Find ways to get some income and keep the lights on.
Don’t worry so much about not being able to get back into the market. The environment has changed and hiring managers seek out those who have tried out different things.
Keep your burn rate low.
Surround yourself with great people. Have partners who have different skills from you.
Be ready to work late nights and weekends.
1) You have nothing to lose, don’t overthink.
2) Test your product in real life, see if anyone is willing to pay for it. He used the example of his college friends with the idea of cleaning laptops. They all laughed at that until they realised these guys were making good money every month.
3) Again, if you do need to seek a job after, hiring managers would be interested to have those who have tried out something and failed. They are more resourceful and have different skill sets.
I started this podcast as a way of creating a platform to document amazing people and share their life tips with others. How much luckier can I get when one of my friends would say yes to me? Especially after I made the rookie mistake of not formatting the SD card in the previous interview.
Cass is one of these amazing individuals who’s not just constantly “taking action”, she has the mindset of committing to whatever she’s doing long term without ever thinking of quitting. At 25 years of age, she’s the youngest Crossfit box owner, kickass Crossfitter: within 2 years of doing CrossFit she’s won the scaled women’s division in Battle of Royale Asia in 2017 and her team was ranked No. 1 in Singapore for the mixed pairs division of the CrossFit team series. She coaches early mornings and late evenings while maintaining a day job as an analyst in a bank. On her days off, which many of us would wonder when that is…she mentors a group of teenagers at Church. While Crossfit and fitness is a big part of her life. She has many more facets to her.
Cass has often said that “nobody would listen to those who are unsuccessful”. In the interview, she explains success not as monetary gains but by inspiring others and getting a sense of satisfaction from doing the best that she can.
Cass said: “It’s not about gaining perfection. When I pursue success, I want someone to say, hey, I can take something from that or achieve that.”
Time management is one of the most important thing to master while juggling so many aspects of life. Cass looks at it from the perspective of what she can control and can’t. Knowing that working in a corporate environment could mean leaving work at uncertain hours, she starts her day off with exercise before work takes over, any other time after that means she could fit in other passions.
During her commute, she takes time to reflect on her projects and areas of improvement as well as consciously scheduling in time during the day for quiet reflection.
Owning a box and coaching means Cass gets to meet with people from all walks of life. When someone walks into the box, regardless of what they do and where they are from, they are treated the same as everyone else. Grinding out the workout, team and community spirit is the common ground and creates bonding.
Cass’ mum was reluctant to go to the box, to get around that, she scheduled one-on-one session before the box opening hours. Her mother saw the difference it made in her health which translated to her dad and sister joining as well. Taking the time to create comfortable environment for her mother resulted in getting her entirely family fit.
Trying Fitness for First-Timers
For those looking to start fitness and might not have the support group. These are baby steps to get started:
Take up the National Steps Challenge (in Singapore)
Get out of the house, walk around the mall, garden etc
Schedule one-on-one sessions with a trainer
Commit to a cause long term without ever thinking about “quitting”.
Having passion for the cause.
Surround yourself with positive people.
Be a good listener.
Owning a Business
Finding a good partner with the same values.
Be open minded to each other’s ideas.
Communication-if you are unhappy with something, voice it out. In the Asian context and being female, we tend to skirt the issue or hint. It needs to be said directly cause guys just don’t get it. But say it with a positive intention.
I couldn’t leave the interview without touching on nutrition. Cass has experimented with various nutritional types and she’s a living testament to how food affects performance. Prior to her competition at the Battle of Royale Asia, she was paleo based with strict macros. She trained daily and did not feel the after effects of heavy training. Right after the competition, she treated herself to fried chicken and she ached from her training. However, staying on anything strict is difficult and now she’s evolved to a flexible dieting with macros counting. To keep on the course and also keeping it varied, she started meal prep swaps in the box with other members.