From anger to serenity

Lim Kian Meng, Co-founder of Agtiv Consulting

One entrepreneur discovers that his answer to maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle was through meditation and self-realisation.

“A few years ago, I have been known to throw things when I’m angry,” says entrepreneur Lim Kian Meng, with a guilty smile.

“It’s kind of funny how something as simple as a meditation exercise changed that.”

Gregarious and full of straight-forward quips, the 41-year-old certainly does not appear as someone prone to bursts of rage, especially not when he is enthusiastically extolling the benefits of practising mediation and mindfulness.

“Through meditation I discovered the five-second buffer before immediately reacting; that moment of deciding whether I should react or not,” says Lim, the co-founder of Agtiv Consulting.

“If I just burp out something to make me feel good, to put someone else down, no one actually wins  because I’ll still feel bad about doing that half an hour later.

“So those five seconds force me to think: what is the ultimate end goal I want to achieve in this situation.

“If it’s not for the sake of the other person, it’s for myself, to be a bit more calmer and get a bit more inner peace.”

Lim’s journey to achieving a bit more serenity began with a chance conversation between his wife and a fellow entrepreneur, who suggested that he try meditation as an anger management tool.

“At the time, I thought: how could any normal person just sit there and be still?

“I was defensive at first, but my wife asked me if I would try it for her sake – so I did.

“So we went to a seven-day meditation retreat, where we basically had to go through full days of meditation sessions, from morning to night,” he says.

Needless to say, he was initially not impressed.

“I wanted to leave on the first day itself,” he says, bursting into laughter.

“In hindsight, I was being very judgemental – I was looking around at the other people there and wondering why I was with this group of people who have real problems?

“I remember the meditation master saying that there was a reason we were there, and thinking sure, my wife dragged me here.

“But he was right; things do happen for a reason.”

Pushing his doubts aside, Lim stuck through the programme, and now two years later, credits the experience as a turning point in his life.

“My wife has gone on much further with her meditation, but this level is enough for me at the moment.

“I am planning to go on a longer retreat in the near future, but I’m already seeing the change being self-aware has made in my life,” he adds.

Being present in the moment

One of the first things you notice about Lim is the appreciation he has for his family, and the need to spend time with them, particularly his eight-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son.

He shares however, that family time was not always an automatic priority.

“The first two to three years of setting the business up, I hardly spent time at home,” he says.

“My perception then was that they were still babies, they wouldn’t remember whether I was around.

“I feel bad saying it now, but I think at that point, my brother (who lives with him) spent more time with my kids than I did.”

What made him arrive at this realisation was a simple exercise, called the “lifeline exercise”, which requires you to plot the highs and lows along the trajectory of your life.

“When I did the exercise, it felt like a sharp knife was cutting through my heart.

“I could remember the business – my first customer, my first million-dollar deal, all the mega sales made – but I couldn’t remember what happened in the family in those three years.

“I made it a point then that no matter what, I had to spend time with my family.

“When your children are young, they want your attention, but when they’re in their teens it’s the other way around.

“I didn’t want to be trying to attract their attention only when they reached that age,” he says.

These days, he has some firm benchmarks when it comes to spending quality time with his children; dinner at home two to three times a week, with weekends set aside solely for the family, barring any special occasions.

Like many parents juggling a demanding career with family, Lim admits that his take on the work-life balance is not always perfect.

“Some days, I may not see them at all, because I’m out of the house before they wake up, and come back home after they fall asleep.

“Then I make up for it by trying to be at home as much as possible the next day,” he says.

He adds that whenever he is with his children, he makes sure to stay in the present with them.

“I chuck my phone aside once I’m home, and I don’t send out any emails after 9pm,” he says.

This extends to how he manages to squeeze in extra time alone with his spouse as well.

“We try to just take one car when we make the 45-minute journey to work, for example.

“Again, we put aside our phones, turn off the radio, and just spend that time talking to each other,” he says.

Self awareness and core values

What also came with the meditation for Lim was an increased sense of self-awareness.

“Being aware means having to ask yourself hard questions – and answer them honestly, without shifting blame,” he explains.

“So if a job didn’t go as well as it should, and all you keep saying is that the customer was late or your employees are useless, then that problem is going to keep coming back.

“In my case before this, I would always say that I was angry because other people keep triggering me.

“Then I realised that I could keep shifting the blame onto others, but I still have to deal with the same problem – so what could I do differently instead?”

He adds that keeping himself physically and emotionally energised helped with shifting his perspective.

“I found out that my mother wanted to go up to Genting Highlands – on a public holiday.

“Now, my parents were both blue collar workers and they sacrificed a lot to get me to where I am; so for me, a simple three hour jam to go somewhere is not a big deal.

“So the real question is if you want to sit in traffic and curse everyone else, or use that time as an opportunity to talk and connect with the family during the ride?” he says.

Another benefit of having this level of self-awareness is that it appears to help with being clear as to what one’s core values are.

“If you know what your values are, then decision-making in whatever you becomes clear,” says Lim.

“Otherwise, you may do things that are not aligned with what you want or feel is important, and end up doing a half-baked job.

“The other night some friends were down from Singapore, and they wanted to go to a happening bar for drinks.

“I had already spent a lot of time out of the house by then, and I knew I wanted to be with the kids.

“Previously I would have felt guilty for saying this, and would have had a distracted night out – but now I just say no, and offer alternative suggestions.”

Healthy bodies make for healthy minds

Another big change Lim has made in recent years to make a conscious effort to exercise regularly.

“I believe in the four quadrants of being healthy; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually,” he says, paraphrasing his inspirational guru Anthony Robbins.

“I saw him (Robbins) a few months ago, and here was this 60-something guy, standing up on stage and speaking for hours – that’s being fit.

“I think that physical health is the foundation for it all, because for me it’s about having the maximum energy to do the things I want to do.”

This explains why he has several gym memberships – so he can easily pop into a gym wherever in town he may be.

“Hey, instead of getting stuck in a traffic jam and being annoyed, I might as well use that hour to go to the gym!” exclaims Lim by way of justification.

However, this commitment to exercise seems to have paid off, since he has lost some 11kg in the past year and a half.

“I share my weight loss and physical progress with my employees, to set an example.

“We even have a subsidy system in place at the office for those who have a gym membership – if the take up a membership, they can claim back RM62 every month,” Lim adds.

Sharing the privilege

While he has a steady grasp of balancing his life, Lim acknowledges that he has the luxury to do so.

“It really is a privilege that I can do these things, so the challenge I have now is: what can we employers do to give our employees the same luxuries?

“Is flexible hours the answer – I don’t know, but I really want to find out what works,” he says.

In his view, the old style of slaving away in a cubicle at the expense of everything else should be done away with.

“If you treat your employees badly, they take that energy back home to the family.

“Then they feel bad for working at home instead of spending time with the kids, and go to sleep thinking life is just like this.

“Then they bring that energy back to work and the cycle continues.

“What if we can give people fulfilment at work, can you imagine the kind positive energy that would be spread instead?” he says.

It is this need that drives him to conduct learning sessions with his employees once a week, encouraging them to take their own paths of self-discovery.

One of Lim’s first prompts to his staff in doing so was to ask them two questions: “How do I send you home feeling fulfilled, and why do we need to leave work to have fun?”

“I think with technical knowledge, you can go to courses, read, and learn,” he says.

“But what I’m trying to do now is to get them to realise for themselves what it is they want to achieve and why they do the things they do.

“If they feel inspired, then the pressure is on us to grow the company and align ourselves to our employees’ needs.”

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