In our Dare to Dream series, we invite 12 inspiring individuals who have courageously stepped out of their comfort zones to dream about a future they can truly call their own.
It’s not often you come across someone who can say boldly they wake up daily living their dream – but that’s exactly what Alex has been doing for the past year.
Seeing the impact Covid had on our collective mental health, he embarked on a journey to film a documentary on the topic of mindfulness, to explore the benefits that it has to help us mentally cope through extreme situations.
In this interview, we talk to him about how big a role mindfulness plays in his life, how his setbacks have been setups for growth, and advice he has for others to live out their dream lives right here, right now.
How did you wind up doing what you are doing today?
I wound up doing what I’m doing today by actively pursuing things I love, things that make me happy, and things I’m passionate about. I put myself in the right situations and took the right steps which at times involved choosing the path less traveled or precarious.
Essentially, I left Singapore during COVID to pursue my documentary project on mindfulness called Extreme Calm. A big influence was how I saw the stress of COVID affect people – the changed quality of life, the isolation, helplessness, etc. I saw the toll it was taking mentally on family, friends, colleagues, me included, and wanted to work on a project exploring how to cope in stressful situations without resorting to negative self-coping mechanisms e.g addictions such as alcohol, work, social media, smartphones, etc, which I was also falling prey to.
I’ve been extremely lucky to work with and learn from some of the leading specialists around the world on how to deal with extreme stress. For example, Wim Hof (otherwise known as the ‘Iceman’ for how he’s put himself under extreme temperatures and conditions), shared that the way our mind looks at stress is a huge factor in how our mind and body reacts to that stress and that we are able to rewire previously thought auto-responses.
Personally, part of me wanting to take on the dangers of flying and achieving something no one had done before, is to show people what is possible with these tools and techniques, which I believe anyone can use to cope with fear and stress. Hopefully, it helps people to live more positively – even in negative and stressful times. If it helps even just one person, it would have made risking my life for this project worth it.
Image credit: Gabriel Lott
Also read: How To Start Investing With Zero Experience
Is there any setback that you’ve learned from, that has led you to where you are today?
There have been so many setbacks – ranging from physical to emotionally to financial to spiritually. At the same time, I don’t necessarily look at them as setbacks. Rather, I view them as learning opportunities that can ultimately be positive if you choose to see them in that perspective.
For example, when I moved to Singapore, I had dreams of being an entrepreneur. To cut a long story short, I tried my hand at that and it failed. In my eyes, and at that time, it was really due to things that were beyond my control ie irreconcilable differences between a business partner. That was a really hard concept to grasp because it wasn’t like I could have worked or tried any harder than I did. I couldn’t change the fact that it happened but ultimately, I was financially ruined. Emotionally, it was incredibly tough as it was one of my first catastrophic failures as an “adult” and in my heart I knew it would have succeeded but I couldn’t change the cards I was dealt. Fun fact, I would later sit on the team that was looking to acquire the same business I was trying to create years later, which ultimately got acquired for 45 million, but that’s life, and I’m glad I went through it because I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
What I learned from that, though, is to keep pushing through and to keep at it. Focus on the things you can control, and let go of the ones you can’t. As a result of all these drastic changes, moving to a new country, failing, and financial stress I went into a depression, which is pretty “normal” given such drastic changes, something I learned in my college psychology class. Any major life changes, whether good or bad can trigger major stress, anxiety and depression. If you’re able to get through a situation like that, you’ll realise just how strong and capable you are. Often, you are a lot stronger and more capable than you think you are.
This also sets you up for your next level of growth and is an opportunity to take on much bigger, bolder things. To take on bigger things, you NEED to go through experiences that will make you mentally tough as the things worth doing are never easy.
What does your dream future look like?
Honestly, I feel like I’m already living it.
Many people talk about how life is short – but I don’t think many really internalise what that means. It’s really that you could die at any moment. I know death is a pretty morbid concept but it really doesn’t discriminate and is a fate that nobody can run away from. It’s something I have had to face and accept – especially since I take part in what is one of the deadliest sports in the world. I have to accept that it is a consequence that can happen at any time.
When you start to understand this concept of time and mortality (something I had to realise at a much younger age than most), you start to appreciate life in a different way. You live for what your dream is now rather than putting it off in the future. You build the life you dream of in the present, rather than simply dreaming about it. You wake up and live your dream.
This took me a very long time to learn. Now, I’m just so thankful that I get to wake up to breathtaking scenery in some of the most beautiful places, surrounded by people I love, doing what I love. I couldn’t dream of anything better.
What is a goal you’ve yet to do?
I would say I’ve pursued the goals I’ve really wanted to, the ones where you have this crazy unyielding passion for. Which is great, because I feel pretty content and at peace. Once you start pursuing goals, have success and, most importantly, pushed through failures, it makes it less fearful to pursue new ones. This doesn’t mean I won’t have any more goals in the future. I think having kids one day and having them be my number one passion would be amazing. Or maybe (doing a) human-powered jet flight. Both concepts are pretty incredible to me and pretty daunting. Perhaps one day I’ll do both, or neither. Life is interesting like that, it’s in your hands.
Image credit: Stefanus Ian
What’s a habit, belief or behaviour that has positively impacted your life in recent years?
Mindfulness has been very very important to me and is the core of (my) project. Mindfulness is essentially being able to be in the present moment. While that might seem like a simple concept, it’s actually very complex to understand and internalise. What it means is that you’re not worrying about the future or being stuck in the past, which allows you to live unadulteratedly in the present. It also involves the belief that in any situation, you can choose how you react and rewire yourself to behave a certain way regardless of how you may have been previously conditioned.
For example, if you grew up with a negative view of finances (either because of a personal experience or because it was imposed on you), you might be conditioned to believe and behave a certain way around money. You might condition yourself to view money as a restriction instead of looking at it from a position of potential. What mindfulness does is that it allows you to understand what your thoughts are and how they affect you. It allows you to see these thoughts for what they are and to choose how to react in situations – rather than letting them control you.
It’s so powerful – it allows you to uncover things and bring so much more awareness into how you live and how you behave. It allows you to choose the way you respond, the way you live, and ultimately, brings you a deep understanding of who you are.
Where does your concept of money come from and how do you think that has impacted your relationship with finances?
Like most, it came from my parents. They were frugal and emphasized saving money which comes from their traditional conservative Asian background. Honestly, I still have aspects of that concept embedded in me today but it has definitely evolved over time.
Having this mindset (or any fixed mindset) in general can restrict you because if you want to grow – you need to be able to let go of old ways of thinking and adapt to new ones. When I realised that this traditional mindset didn’t serve me, I started to bucket finances as either investments or costs. In other words, I asked myself if something was an investment into my future – or a cost. Even if something was expensive but necessary in regards to my future, I took that step and committed even if there are risks.
My concept of money is living in a way where you can support your dreams. Also, realising that you may not need as much money as you think, a Harvard study showed that more money doesn’t necessarily make us happier. Obviously, quitting my job and pursuing this project in the middle of Covid probably isn’t the most financially sound decision but the value of growth, happiness, fulfilment, and time (something I can’t ever get back), however… those are things I wouldn’t trade for millions of dollars and you can’t, once your time has passed.
Also read: For mom of two Jayne Tham, financial freedom for her kids is the priority
What do you find most complex about money?
The financial world is constantly changing and that requires a level of financial literacy that not many are exposed to. In a lot of ways, there’s so much information asymmetry and it can be difficult to find ways to best deal with and manage money. This is why it’s important to arm yourself with the right knowledge and to test your knowledge of what you believe to be true.
What little steps can our audience take today to move towards their dream future?
I would say living more mindfully – that allows you to live without certain expectations or attachments to outcomes. Life is fluid and if you get so caught up with the past or future, your overall satisfaction and happiness in life will be greatly diminished.
Living mindfully also allows you to be more adaptable. I feel that it’s really the adaptable ones that are able to financially secure themselves better. Just look at some of the biggest market crashes – completely unexpected. Trends fade and if you allow yourself to live mindfully, you adapt better to potential outcomes of the future. That way, you set yourself up for success more in all spheres.
Hero image by Hans Peter Schepp
Follow Alex’s #DaretoDream journey on our socials. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Enjoyed this article? Take your little step today – write your dream pledge card for 2022 here.