Reflection 2016

‘Extreme’ Personal Transformation: My 2016 Year in Review

“Mid-life crisis, Khailee?” My friends had many questions. Some thought my changes were a bit extreme. But I’ve never felt better about making them. This post may be a bit too personal, but I want to share it with you, in case you are thinking about making some changes in your life. Something in here may help you with your “mid-life renaissance”.

Changes made in 2016

1 – Lifestyle

  • January: I shed half my body fat, got on the cover of Men’s Health. And kept it that way.
  • March: Started on a ‘shopping detox’ only buying necessities. Then kept it that way.
  • May: Packed up one suitcase, gave away 80% of my wardrobe, rented out my apartment (am currently trying to sell it) and officially have no home. Living out of a minimalist wardrobe in different countries.
  • June: Evolved from a fish-only diet, to vegetarian, then to vegan. And kept it that way. This means no meat, egg, milk, honey, cream, any animal products… while maintaining a strong body.
  • July: Got rid of my ‘signature look’ (had longer hair for 18 years, and glasses for 25 years), that really was just an ego-feeder for me.
  • All year: Zero consumption of adult material and onanism all year. Kept it that way.

I went to war with habits built over 31 years. Food, shopping, validation-seeking, and distractions from things which really mattered:

2 – Relationships

  • I feel closer to my parents than I have ever felt in my entire adult life.
  • I spent the most time with my best friend compared to previous years in my adult life.
  • Currently developing a deeply ‘conscious’ and loving romantic relationship with an amazing woman that I admire.
  • My relationship with myself is way healthier. Growing self-love, self-acceptance and self-awareness.

Underneath all these changes were a fundamental transformation of my mindset.

3 – Mindset

I lived my early adulthood feeling like I had no limits, that anything was possible. I believed that I was capable of getting everything I dreamt of. Sounds like a pretty positive mindset, right? It was. It helped me build and sell 2 companies before 30 and build my startup investment practice.

However, something was missing.

By mid 2015, I was physically at an all-time low. Mentally, I was plagued with internal conflict and dissatisfaction. I kept comparing myself to Mark Zuckerberg and felt shitty about my own achievements. I didn’t feel I had ‘enough’. I was at my most distant from friends and family. A long-term relationship came to an end. I doubled down on work, partying, and ‘living it up’. I started writing out even bigger goals for myself. Taking on more new projects, more things, more experiences…

Something was still missing.

I still felt like I did not have enough.

What is ‘enough’? How much clothes is enough? What level of nett worth is enough? How much external attention and validation is enough? How many new experiences in life is enough?

The more I got in life, the more I wanted. This cycle fed into itself. It was endless. This cycle feeds modern consumerism, and pushes people to exploit other people, other species, and our own earth.

2016 was my big F.U. to this cycle.

I drew the line of what ‘enough’ meant to me. If I could give myself enough love and validation, I would be less inclined to seek for it externally. I wouldn’t need the products, experiences and desires peddled to me. I would invest less time in ego-stroking activities. I would grow more contentment, and I wouldn’t need more…

All this freed up time, resources and ambition that could instead be used to serve themes and people that I cared about. This impacted my work in ways I didn’t expect.

4 – Work

For once, I started to say no to new projects. I had large amounts of capital placed in front of me to take on exciting new endeavors, but I said no. I stayed focused on making good on my core commitments.

By the end of 2016, I achieved more in my investment career that I had in previous years. Our portfolio grew to 120 companies, many now Southeast Asia’s most prominent ones. Aside from Grab, 47 of them raised more than USD $300 million, and they continue to grow. I built a solid team that I fully trust, and we’re now in our second fund.

I wake up every day working with exceptional individuals (both on my team, and the entrepreneurs I meet and invest in). They inspire me to further serve more entrepreneurs as they build game-changing companies in every part of the world.

My work with 500 Startups grew. And so did my sense of purpose.

5 – Purpose

Last week, I chose some words which would describe the overarching theme of why I do what I do: I help people realize their creative ability, with a focus on entrepreneurs. On my social media profiles I use the call-to-arms, “Weapons of mass creation for all!” Maybe I’ll make a t-shirt out of this.

2017, Bring it on

So there you have it, 2016! I’m back to work – ongoing work in progress. To continue well into 2017 and beyond. To serve the people and issues I care about. For this, I will have plenty more habits to dismantle and mind shifts to make. I’m so lucky I’m supported by so many sweet people (list below) in the process.

As for you, what is the most ‘extreme’ change you want to see in your life? What makes you want to transform? Comment below, I’d love to know. All this comes together to be your unique story. My story is just one story of many. It can happen for anyone, it can happen faster than you think, and it can very well happen for you in 2017.

Elisa and Khailee

Appendix : Some people who played a notable role in my 2016. In no particular order.

  • My 500 Durians II partner Vishal Harnal for so, so much personal and professional support
  • Jenny Maggard for giving me such a practical and powerful paradigm for fitness for life
  • Fellow 500 Startups managing partners Dave McClure Christine Tsai Bedy Yang and CFO Paul Yoo , for being such capable team mates, entertaining my many eccentricities
  • Erbil Karaman and Steve Hsia. Every conversation with you propels me forward so much
  • Jeff Cheong for being everything a guy needs in a best friend
  • Deepa Nambiar Mei Chel Tan April Khor and Jasmine Liew from the “18 Again” Whatsapp group
  • Kai Kux and Becky Kux who put up with the worst of me as a former housemate
  • Ng Khai Yong for always giving me the straight talk only family can give
  • Mum Deborah Ng and dad for being a big reason for me to be a better person
  • Hiro Mashita for the very caring and supportive career feedback
  • David Corbin for being a exemplary human being in the startup media space
  • Jamaludin Bujang for being the original Durians believer
  • My executive assistant Debbie Chow who probably knows this story better than I do
  • Dewa Gede Bawa for being such a source of light
  • My dear Elisa Khong for always inspiring the best in me
  • And the many friends and strangers along the way, thank you.