Upstream Field Guide Lesson 6: How’s Your Gear? – Vocation

In this lesson, we consider all the components for living holistically with our life’s purpose. The word “holistic” tells us that we need to consider other parts of our life that can either work for or against our life’s purpose. Tsh explains, “the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. Or rather, the parts of something are intimately interconnected and understandable, only in reference to the whole. In other words, the parts of something only matter in relation to the whole.” If we apply this to this journey, we’re talking about our life as the whole, and then the parts of our life. Using the analogy of paddling a river upstream, she calls these different parts of our life our gears.

So next we define each piece of our gear, evaluate whether each piece is in working order. Tsh singled out 7 main types of gear we typically carry on our journeys. They are:

Our vocation
Our money
Our health
Our environment
Our community
Our relationships
Our personal well-being

That’s a lot to work isn’t it! So we’re breaking it down into a few smaller sessions.

Let’s start with VOCATION. Tsh devotes 10 paragraphs to this gear! diving deep and looking at it from various angles. I can’t share them at length here but will share some key points. It is our most important gear. Think of our vocation as a backpack – it’s with us a lot and helps us carry the weight of the rest of our gear and if it fits well, we’ll hardly notice it’s there. If it’s ill-fitting, the discomfort will be nagging at us and makes our journey much harder! The next thing she said was enlightening. She said that our vocation changes throughout our lifetime! I used to think that our vocation (aka our calling) is lifelong but she convincingly presents the case that we ebb and flow in and out of  vocations based of a variety of life stages, like age, location, age of our kids, health and more.  It makes sense! I have confused calling with purpose. They are not the same.

To help broaden our perspective of work, Tsh reminds us that “work isn’t a negative word. For many of us, vocation means our actual jobs, what we spent most of our waking hours doing. Some of us may not like our current job but the concept of work itself is not a bad thing.” I remember the Bible did present the idea that work is a gift from God (Adam was tasked with tiling the ground. He was a gardener!). Work is something which we can draw a sense of satisfaction from on a job well done. It is also a way by which we can glorify God when we use the gifts and talents which He has first given us. So work is in-built into us. Idleness makes us restless don’t you agree? Don’t think of work as only something we get paid to do. That’s a limited perspective. It may not necessarily be something we get paid for but we do need to find something we enjoy doing and have an opportunity to do regularly. If we’re more reflective, we’ll discover that we don’t just work for a paycheck. If it’s all about the money, all the billionaires in the world wouldn’t still be building businesses and heading companies despite having more than enough to lasts a few generations. Works provides an avenue by which we can use our gifts and talents to meet needs out there. We are naturally creative in our own ways when we’re in the flow with our vocation. That is what gives us a sense of fulfillment.

Tsh understands that despite all that, we often have jobs that we don’t like or even hate. But we had to do it, at least for certain seasons. In these times, we should not beat ourselves up but instead “find a deep quiet joy that it is the mature and responsible thing to do at that time”. But it doesn’t mean we need to stay in a vocation that is slowly killing us because our job affects our overall well-being. The people behind Gallup, a research think-tank (the same ones who created the StrengthFinder test), has this to say about vocation, “People usually underestimate the influence of their career on their overall well-being. The career well-being is arguably the most essential of the five elements of well-being. If you don’t have the opportunity to regularly do something you enjoy, even if it’s more of a passion or interest than something you get paid to do, the odds of your having a high well-being in other areas diminish rapidly. People with high career well-being are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall.”

Tsh referenced Daniel Pink and his book, Drive, says that “we all have three internal elements of motivation for our work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If we focus on these three elements, chances are good you’ll love your work and maybe even get paid for it. With autonomy, Pink found that most people would rather earn a somewhat average income and live on a budget, but love what they do and have the freedom that comes from within that passion. They would rather enjoy that vocation than have a sizable income and live on a house on the hill.” With mastery, you will want to be excellent in your work and enjoy the process of gaining mastery so much that self-improvement is only natural. The third element, purpose, is about serving a need greater than ourselves. We are willing to work hard at it, even the less enjoyable, mundane aspects of the work (all work has that!) because we see that it serves a greater good. A good vocation should have such a purpose.

So considering all these and following the Field Guide notes for this session, I will now assess how this gear is doing for me.

  1. How is my current vocation life-giving right now?

Provides financial stability
Decent work environment & benefits
Moderate human interaction (which is a good thing for my personality type)
Friendships forged
Some level of independence
Some level of privacy
Confidence derived from having mastered my core functions
Pockets of free time for self-learning

  1. How is my vocation life-draining right now?

Increasingly losing autonomy
Office politics
Corporate culture (some groups are overly uptight while others are too chill)
Rigid hours and location (desk bound)
Small talks
Work volume can be unpredictable (disruptive)
Too much multi-tasking (loosing focus and quality)
Frequent Interruptions (so disruptive and distracting!)
Not enough privacy
Phone calls
Dry uninspiring administrative work
Perfection demanded on nitty gritty details
Being micromanaged
Mundane tasks are on auto-pilot (expertise reached a plateau)
Projects that doesn’t interest me
Long commute

  1. Does your vocation line up with your purpose statement?

What is the unspoken culture towards openness and transparency in my team?- 4/10

How is the work environment/ aesthetic appeal? – 6/10

Moderation & Simplicity
Is moderation & minimalism practiced in the team? – 4/10

Is there harmony in the workplace and among team members? – 4/10

Is there work-life balance for me? – 4/10

Do I feel safe enough to be my authentic self? 4/10

Creative self-expression
Is there space for creative self-expression for things that interest me? – 2/10

Learning & exploration
Are there opportunities to learning and explore things that interest me? 4/10

Slowing down
Am I able take a step-back when I need to? – 3/10

  1. How does it fare on the 3 great ingredients for a fulfilling vocation?

How much freedom and autonomy do I have within my work? – 3/10

Am I motivated towards mastery and do I enjoy the process?- 3/10

Does my vocation serves a greater purpose that I value? – 1/10

As you can see, this gear is not in good shape. I’ve known it for some time which was what got me started on this purpose finding journey.

In the next post, I’ll look at another gear – MONEY!

I really like the insights from Tsh in this lesson. I was getting bored and impatient with all the self-reflection and data gathering exercises so this gave me a break and lots of food for thought. She has helped bring greater clarity and a higher perspective on the question of vocation and purpose.  If you’ve found this helpful, you can consider signing up for her program by clicking on this graphic to have access to the full content.

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The Art of Simple



Upstream Field Guide Lesson 5: Your Purpose Statements

In this lesson I finally put together all that I’ve learned about myself into a family and personal purpose statement. This will be sort of a reference point for all my decisions and choices in life. The idea is that if we align ourselves with our purpose statement which is born out of careful reflection of who we are and our innermost values and desires, it helps simplify a lot of decisions for us and keeps us in congruent with our authentic self at all times. It establishes what’s most important to us and we live by it. If you’ve ever wondered how to follow that still small voice, I think this comes pretty close! I am not yet ready to write a family statement at this point so I will focus on just writing out my personal purpose statement. We’re not to confuse our roles with our purpose. We may have different roles at different stages in our life, they are temporary, but our purpose should be lifelong. Say for example, when I was young I wanted to be writer when I grow up and I eventually became one and can’t imagine not being one. That’s a role. Say 15 years passed and I have a family now and I have a new found passion for mentoring youths. That’s a role. A purpose on the other hand is not bound by time or space. It is timeless. With that thought, let’s dive right in.

After considering all that I’ve uncovered through the extensive exercises this is what I’ve come up with.

God has created me to be a SEEKER,
of TRUTH and BEAUTY for they inspire me and remind me of Him,
of MODERATION and SIMPLICITY for I flourish where there is HARMONY and BALANCE in my life and my environment,
of AUTHENTICTY for it puts me at peace with myself and builds trust with others
of creative SELF-EXPRESSION for it gives me a voice
of lifelong LEARNING and EXPLORATION for they fuel my curiosity and creativity

I will use my gifts and collective experiences to inspire others towards the same and to SLOW DOWN enough to be awake to that inner voice and the beauty around us.


Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 6

Life happened and I got busy and dropped of the trail for a bit. I’m telling myself I need to complete this because I am certain of its value to me. Let’s dive right back in!

Alas! I am at the final exercise for Lesson 4 and it’s a big one: What do I want people to say about me at my memorial.  What will be the thing my children, grandchildren and extended friends and family will say is true about me? What legacy or core values do I want to leave behind for them?

That’s a lot to think about! To make this easier, I am going to list down some core values and create a quote out of each to put them in context. I find this exercise here helpful and have used it to create my own list.

So here we go!

Independence is key to freedom.

Wise money management early in life gives you they security and freedom you need to pursue other things in life. Money doesn’t solve everything but it sure does help!

Respect other people’s time by being punctual.

Conduct yourself with integrity and you will put to rest many fears.

Someone who is dependable and consistent will be a pillar to another.

Freedom of expression fuels creativity.

Embrace your authentic self and you will make peace with yourself.

The best way to achieve good health is to address it holistically.

A life of moderation and balance is key to harmony.

Curiosity and continuous learning keeps you young.

To be well-read is to expand your world.

Be proactive in life if you are uncomfortable with life happening to you.

Beauty refreshes the soul.

In life, shit happens. Resilience is key to survival.

Simplicity helps you focus on what’s important. Don’t wait till you’re overwhelmed to simplify. It saves you a lot of stress.

If you can find your passion and live accordingly, you’d be happier than most of your peers.

The story of Christ offers the greatest hope to humanity, especially if you (or your life) feels less than what you’ve hoped for.

My highest desire for my children is for them to live a life of purpose and meaning, walking in the path of Christ, practicing His presence daily. Everything else will fall into place



Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 4

In this exercise, I write about where I usually park my thoughts when I am idling. In other words, what I daydream about. According to Tsh, they speak volumes about what our real, innate and instinctive desires are. How true? Let’s see…

Firstly, before anyone thinks I have lots idle time, I don’t. I am a full-time working mom. Though my kids have grown some and I have more time now than when they were younger, I still struggle to find “idle time”. The thought of being idle is counter-intuitive to me because I am a “work first, play later” kind of person. And of course you know that work never ends, there is always something that needs to get done! I can be restless like that. So yeah, it’s a struggle even though MY WHOLE BEING CRAVES AND HUNGER FOR IDLE TIME! City life is not exactly conducive to idleness either. When I do choose to ignore the multitude of “things to do” and give myself some idle time, I am still rarely alone with my own thoughts. I find myself consuming content, either through reading, browsing the net, watching or listening. There was a time in my life when I had time and space to process my own thoughts a lot and that was when I was actively writing my blog journal. Those years were one of my most creative and inspired moments and one where I feel close to a flow state. I was self-aware and sensitive to that inner voice. It was no coincidence that during that time when I was also ferociously consuming spiritual-religious content. It was a period of intuitive awakening! Even then, I wasn’t exactly day dreaming about my desires. Rather, I was drawing connections and seeing meaning behind people, things, thoughts, emotions and, events etc. This is not day dreaming in the classic sense. For that, recent years prove more fruitful. Perhaps it was out of desperation – a need to escape a sense of staleness and sameness in my life. I find myself dreaming of living a simple, serene and unhurried life in a modernized hanok on the outskirts of South Korea, close to nature; a mountain to be exact. I dream of taking long leisurely hikes in these mountains whenever I want to and of traversing large open plains dotted by cute, pretty homes on a bicycle. I dream of being immersed in nature, not necessarily actively engaging it but more like absorbing it. I see a need for beauty, for freedom and space. I dream of wandering the picturesque and charming alleyways of Seoul’s cultural and historical district of Anguk with its interesting mix of old and new coexisting together, creating an interesting kind of harmony. I think this speaks to a need for exploration, for discovery, for variety and novelty and for welcoming newness and change in my life. I dream of a modest life rich in meaning and purpose, lived in harmony with its people and its environment; a life of moderation rather than excesses, be it pleasure, productivity, energy or creativity. Too much of something, even things that we enjoy or are good for us, can bring about dissonance. I dream of a life where I have freedom of expression, where I am free to be me; stripped of the need for pretense and people pleasing. This speaks of my need for harmony and balance, of moderation, simplicity, intention and authenticity.



Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 3

Up next, I am to think of a film or book that really moves me. In other words, what story stays with me and why. Sounds simple enough but it took me 2 weeks to work on it!

I’m not sure how helpful is exercise because there are many movies and books that have moved me. The general theme is humanity’s triumph over evil, of overcoming odds and life’s challenges and adversity, stories of love, courage, sacrifice and selflessness. I think these are universal themes that move people everywhere.

I enjoy a wide variety of ideas and usually am able to draw something meaningful out of each. Perhaps what I can single out from this smorgasbord of stories is one that is closer to home – stories of self-discovery, of not being afraid to be my own person, of being at peace with myself and my place in this world, living a life congruent with who I am, of having the courage to start over and go after what brings me joy and contentment, of the grace of being given a second shot at happiness and of finding beauty and significance in the quiet, small and ordinary. For this, the story that stands out is a Korean melodrama called On the Way to the Airport. It is not on my list of favorites but the story and certain scenes and character stuck with me. Firstly I like the setting in autumn, my favorite season of the year! So there’s enough romantic and nature backdrop, though not as abundant as what you’d find in Goblin, another memorable drama in terms of excellent cinematography! I like the scenes set in a hanok-cum-art gallery and workshop of exquisite Korean handicraft. Life there is so tranquil you’d think all your worries will melt away sitting by the top-hung windows of the room overlooking the garden, sipping tea! The male lead’s wife and mother owns and manages the place. I also love the juxtaposition against the male lead’s modern apartment overlooking the city-scape. I especially love the setting of another small and cozy art gallery in a secluded and scenic spot in Jeju. This is where the male lead displays the artwork of his late mother in memory of her. It’s a home cum gallery. Very cozy, very personal. There’s nothing loud about both places but they have a distinctive character of their own.

This is a story of 2 married individuals who meet by fate. One thinks she is content with her life while the other discovers, while grieving for the loss of his step-daughter, that he’s been living in a deceptive marriage. Circumstances brought them together and for the first time they get a taste of a different and deeper kind of happiness; one that comes with having a heart and soul connection with another person and of having their own needs met. Amongst the characters in this film, the male lead leaves the deepest impression on me with his sensitive and quiet spirit and warm and gentlemanly ways. He’s an old soul with a spark of innocent expectation. Both are understandably guilt ridden because their life is not just their own. Yet they couldn’t ignore their heart’s desire. The tension between following ones heart and fulfilling ones expected role in the family and society is palpable. With time and patience they worked on what needs to be sorted out in their own lives so they can find happiness again without the burden of guilt.


Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 3 Who Are You Lesson Part 2-2

My favorite quotes.

In this exercise I take time to search, gather and curate quotes that resonate with me, to which I can say an emphatic YES! to.


“You have to let people go. Everyone who’s in your life is meant to be in your journey but not all of them are meant to stay till the end.”

Quiet people has the loudest minds.” – Stephen Hawkings

“Actions prove who someone is. Words just prove who they want to be.”

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” – Sigmund Freud

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”–Carl Jung

“I love having context that’s so much bigger than I can fathom. It’s fantastic to realize how insignificant you are.” – Benedict Cumberbatch

“If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
– J.K. Rowling

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep for the sake of what he cannot loose.”

“An intention is brought to completion only by a decision to fulfill the intention.”

“The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we let our minds dwell upon.”

“Every human relationship is a tool for character formation.”

Spirituality is living the ordinary life extraordinarily well.”

“I freed 1000 slaves. I could have freed 1000 more if only they knew they were slaves.”–Harriet Tubman

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”–Marcus Aurelius

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”–Steve Jobs

“Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know.”–Bertrand Russell

Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate to others the things that seem important to oneself.”–C.G. Jung

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”–George Bernard Shaw

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”–Charles R. Swindoll

“Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than material force, that thoughts rule the world.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” – Parker Palmer





Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 3 Who Are You Part 2-1

What do I find beautiful and why do I love them?

This exercise is meant to help me be more aware of the beauty around me, whether tangible or intangible and take time to appreciate each one. I will then use a few descriptive words to describe why I find them beautiful.

  1. Reunions with my mom and siblings- being myself, warmth, bond, acceptance, nostalgia, authentic, loyalty, home, camaraderie, belonging
  2. When a co-worker/ acquaintance spontaneously buys me snacks with no strings attached – unconditional, kindness, thoughtfulness, not-forgotten, generous
  3. When my daughter takes care/ does simple things for her older brother without complaining –  family, kindness, thoughtfulness, loyalty, innocence
  4. Being on the same wave-length with another person in a conversation – connection, understood, not alone, encouragement
  5. Exploring the alleyways of Samcheongdong-Bukchon – novelty, culture, surprises, adventure, familiar but different
  6. Vast open plains of Jejudo – freedom, free-spirited, renewal, largeness, abundance
  7. Being on the peak of Seoraksan – hope, transcendence, invisible, on-top-of-the-world
  8. Hiking thru the mountainous forest of Kamikochi – spiritual, inner sanctum, grounded, hidden, solitude
  9. Curve lines of the eaves and roofs of Hanoks – quiet elegance, simplicity, character, bold
  10. Wood grains and bright color of Hanoks – cheerful, fresh, newness, character
  11. Korean stone walls – symmetry, raw, unrefined, safe, authentic, elegance, character
  12. The smell and sound of rain and thunderstorms- cozy, rest, refreshing,