The writer moderating a session at the George Town Literary Festival 2019.

Last weekend was glorious for me because I spent four days in my hometown Penang.

I hung out with my folks and friends, ate lots of Char Koay Teow, and wolfed down plentiful plates of Nasi Kandar. It was just my kind of outing. But it wasn’t a holiday.

I was there as the Guest Curator at the Georgetown Literary Festival 2019.

This festival is the largest international literary festival in Malaysia. And, I was so honoured to be invited to curate the food narratives at the event.

I organised and moderated two sessions.

The first was a session on “Penang Peranakan and Chinese Food Stories”. I invited two knowledgeable local Penangites to join me on the panel; Beh Gaik Lean, the owner and chef at the renowned nyonya restaurant, Aunty Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery, and Dato’ SH Ooi, the Executive Chairman of the 163-year-old Ghee Hiang organisation, one of the oldest food manufacturers in Malaysia.

We discussed the symbolisms and nuances of Peranakan cuisine, and the history behind Ghee Hiang’s famous moong bean pastry, which originated from Fujian in China.

The second session I organised and moderated was called “Penang: The Fortress of Nasi Kandar”. On this panel I had the esteemed journalist and author of “Kandaqstan: The Empire of Taste, the Melting Pot of Flavours” Jahabar Sadiq, and broadcaster as well as my friend and fellow Penangite, Melisa Idris.

In this panel we chatted about all matters nasi kandar related, from its humble beginnings to what you should actually be eating when ordering a plate of this curried spectacle.

I had so much fun at the festival. But moderating the sessions and attending a few of the panels that discussed various interesting ideas, also reminded me about how important the acquisition of knowledge is, for career growth.

Recently I chanced upon an online video, and saw Shashi Tharoor, the Indian politician, writer and a former career diplomat at the United Nations, speaking at an event. Tharoor got asked by a student to teach him a new word given his reputation as "a fount of exotic vocabulary".

He replied with one word: “Read”.

Tharoor told the audience that he was a voracious reader from a young age. And, his ability to participate in discussions that impact his country and the world at large, were all predicated on his rapacious capacity for reading.

At the festival, being surrounded by writers, and also by people who were lapping up the narratives being presented, made me think about the importance of reading as a fundamental means for upskilling. It is arguably the best way to get promoted at work.

The salary you receive at the end of each month is in essence a barter trade against the skills and knowledge you bring to the job. So, whatever you get paid today, is your employer’s perceived value of those skills and knowledge.

Listening to people speak at the George Town Literary Festival confirmed to me once again that if you want to upskill for career mobility, you are going to have to cultivate the habit of reading.

Reading opens your mind and is essential for the modern career. And unlike former days, books, magazines, thought pieces, op-eds etc. are all readily available on your smart phones.

Perhaps like me at the festival, you need to plan a little about what you might want to read. Of the hundreds of sessions, of which I am quite sure, all were good, I only went to the ones that resonated with me and my interests. It wasn’t merely an exercise to go to as many panel sessions as I could.

So, as you embark on a journey of reading more for your upskilling at work, remember that you should prioritize the needs of your employer or your profession.

Whereas if you want to learn for the sake of learning, then let your passion fuel your reading direction.

If you successfully think about what to read, you will learn skills that will help you progress at work.

In his critically acclaimed book, which I recommend as essential reading for anyone who wants career growth, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Dr. S

tephen R. Covey’s seventh habit is called “Sharpen the Saw”.

This simply means you have to take time out from production, to build production capacity. And your capacity increases only when you develop new skills and augment your knowledge base. And reading is the most effective way to do this.

As you grow in skills, you become more attractive to employers. You do not want to the passed over for interviews and promotions. It means becoming proactive and investing in your personal and professional development through reading.

So if you want to get promoted, or move on to a better job, or if you want to be more effective in what you do now, or if you just need to navigate through difficulties in your work-life, you are going to have to read.

Do you read enough?

Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times