"Every Individual Who Works In Government Is A Whole Person"

In a chaotic world, Mr Aaron Maniam explains why taking care of our wellbeing and embracing possibilities are necessary for good, impactful work.
Aaron Maniam is a man who wears many hats.

Google “Aaron Maniam” and the breadth of results that come up might make you wonder if there are several people with the same name. Aaron, 42, is a poet, a TED Global speaker with one talk that delved into the “Magic of Names”, a World Economic Forum Global Future Council member, a mentor for young writers, a PhD researcher in government digitalisation efforts, and more.

The Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) is also a career public officer pushing digitalisation efforts in the government.

Then, he reveals in this interview that he exercises about four times a week – a combination of yoga and high intensity workouts – and meditates twice a day for at least 20 minutes each time. After eight years of daily meditation, he can get in the zone even during a taxi ride.

He explains that these are all intentional efforts to keep him physically, mentally and emotionally strong enough to power through his work and volunteer commitments.

He says: “As I get more work and responsibilities, it’s important to be super-intentional about setting aside time for exercise.”

Especially now. The lover of words, who politely lays aside the oft-used “new normal” to describe the complexities of the world today, says: “A ‘new normal’ suggests that we reach a new equilibrium with a certain amount of stability. I'm convinced that we are going to live in what we call ‘the never normal’, where there is constant instability, constant change and transformation.”

(Find out why he thinks the future will be “never normal” and what he does at the MCI.)

Becoming Stronger Together

But to cope with these expectations in the “never normal”, keeping public officers physically, mentally and emotionally strong is very much on his radar.

As a member of Public Sector Transformation-People committee, Aaron aims to work through the committee to recognise that “every individual who works in government is a whole person”.

“They are not just here to do work. They bring their aspirations as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, friends,” he says.

In the context of COVID-19, the focus has very much been on mental wellness.

The Committee has been looking at how to adopt better general wellness platforms, where “people feel safe sharing that they are under a huge amount of stress, and need more support than they might have had before”.

In his case, Aaron holds “Ask-me-anything” sessions where team members have talked about issues they face beyond work. He tries to have in-depth individual talks with his staff three to four times a year.

Video by: Eric Lin

How Personal Interests Help at Work

For him, apart from intentional activity, the self-confessed introvert reveals that his many different “distractions” and areas of interest keep him energised. During this interview, he revealed that he was reading a “fascinating book on fungus”, which gives him insights into ecosystem interdependencies.

He still reads and writes poetry – “It’s part of me and I don't think I would ever stop” – and remains interested in the inter-religious dialogue space, where he used to spend more time facilitating conversations.

More recently, he has been busy volunteering with The Birthday Collective for the Birthday Book, an annual collection of essays about Singapore from the “hopeful middle ground – one that is not overly critical, but not sycophantic [either] about Singapore's prospects”.

He says: “When I work on a cause that I really love or care about, and do it with people whom I love and care for, it recharges different parts of my brain, my heart and my soul.”

Pursuing interests and hobbies outside of work gives him different things to switch to whenever he feels drained.

“What's been powerful about this is, once you have multiple passions to pursue, then each thing you do becomes a break from the other things that I'm doing.

“Rather than think of one project as a drain on energy and another being only sources of it, everything I do becomes a potential source of energy.”

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  • POSTED ON
    Sep 6, 2021
  • TEXT BY
    Wong Sher Maine
  • PHOTOS BY
    Norman Ng
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