Somewhere down the line, in the past couple of years, my life started to change. In a good way. The world didn’t change, but the way I viewed it, and the way I appreciated everything in it, did. I’d like to be able to say, yeah, I read some inspirational shit, or hit rock bottom, and knew I had to turn my life around, so I started doing this and that, and all those things that people advised about, and hey, look where it got me. But I can’t. Cuz it never happened like that.
I’ve heard so many stories just like that over the past two weeks, interviewing students who have overcome multiple challenges in their lives to come out tops, get almost perfect grades, get awarded scholarships, and know exactly where their lives are headed. They’re like, 21. They’re standing at the welcoming threshold of an exciting decade that’s gonna see them go crazy with all the wondrous opportunities that they’ll have waiting for them or that they’ll bravely create for themselves after throwing caution to the wind.
I don’t have that luxury. I’m living on borrowed time. Maybe in some sense, we all are. But I personally know for a fact that I squandered my youth away, and now I’m just trying to compensate myself for all that lost time. Maybe I matured later than everyone else. Maybe it took me longer to learn the lessons everyone else had already learnt way earlier. Maybe I was too stubborn to see the bigger picture, the light at the end of the tunnel, the error of my ways, the (drop another few cliches here while I’m at it).
But enough of saying I don’t know why my life changed. Even if it happened subconsciously, now that I’m more aware of myself and the place I’m at in my life, now’s the time I should be able to put all these things down in words. So that perhaps, just perhaps, this could be the inspiration shit someone else reads and decides to turn their life around. Who knows?
(By the way these aren’t in any order. Just as I think of them. Sorry for my lack of organisational skills haha.)
1. If you only write what you know, get out there and know more things. Believe it or not, that was a loosely quoted line from an episode of Gossip Girl, when I still bothered to watch that series. (Actually, it really is quite interesting to watch the profoundly crazy/shitty/unbelievable things people will do out of desperation.) In that ep, Dan’s writing was too close to home, because he was just writing what he knew. A professor/mentor/author he admired said the above to him. And that got me thinking, because I’m a writer, and I don’t have a very good imagination either, so it would do well for me to know more things in order to write about them. I think that was when I signed up for WaterFire, that crazy back-breaking manual labour of a project that left me half dead but fully satisfied. Since then, I’ve always had this simple motto: Almost never say No. (Almost never, because I had to leave myself some room to say No to things that are kinda really stupid or that will harm me in some way.) It hasn’t (yet) left me waking up on the dirty floor of a stranger’s home in the rural parts of a foreign country – but I do hope to change that.
2. Changing doesn’t mean betraying myself. That was something that took a long time to discover. For over two decades of my life, I felt I was a certain someone. Whatever I was at that point – that was me. And trying to make any changes to who I was would in other words be a betrayal against everything that I was or believed in. This was particularly true when bosses would try to teach me the art of manipulation. Apparently, in the working world, you need to be able to portray different characters at different times to get the job done. But that, to the younger me, was also known as “being fake”, and that was clearly not something I was willing to do. Yes, I started off being defensive and saying (what I think we’ve all heard before), “I’m just like that, so everyone can just accept me for who I am, or suck it.”
It took years, but I finally discovered a new way of conducting myself to please my supervisors and myself at the same time. Funnily enough, it incorporates both schools of thought. I can’t be fake, but I have to be nice to people sometimes to get them to do what I want, but I don’t want to use strategies to manipulate them. Conundrum? I found the solution. Be genuinely nice. Genuinely care about others. Really think about their feelings. Be true to yourself about how you feel about others (it’s not always good, trust me) and then correct yourself. Oh believe me, there are some nasty people I still can’t do this on. But I’ve still got the L sign on this one, so be patient with me. But ah, what a relief to be able to be nice. I never knew.
3. I can let go of what’s not beneficial to me. This probably surprised me the most. If you know me (and if you’ve been to my place), you would know that I’m a hoarder. I collect and keep and store away every article from my past, sentimental trinkets, clothes I can no longer fit into but continue dreaming I one day will anyway, books I haven’t touched in a decade, magazines I subscribed to but never read, and every possible carton or container that I think I will reuse one day and will hate myself if I ever threw it away and then one day realised would have come in handy if only I still had it. Well, I started doing flea markets, so I’d throw stuff in boxes and just sell them to strangers at ridiculous prices like $2.50 for a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans. Whether they were sold off, or still stayed in those boxes, one thing was true though – I never missed them.
It was the same thing in my life. I hoarded – friends I no longer even spoke to, feelings that had no place in my heart or head, dreams that took up way too much space on the shelf and only collected dust, and relationships that simply made no sense. And then one day I just let it all go. I went on Facebook and cut out all the friends I don’t even bother keeping in contact anymore. It reduced my friends list to 150. And even then it felt a bit excessive. Do we really need so my “friends”? I quit the job I was so comfortable in, and went to a totally new environment, and even though it made me completely miserable for a period, it set me on course for a totally new life. And I suppose the biggest change ever was letting go of one half of who I was, the cornerstone in my life, the reason for my previous existence, and an entire identity. It was the hardest, but it was the most liberating.
4. I can do what I’m passionate about it. All of it. These were perhaps the dreams on the dusty shelf, waiting to be picked up and chased. But note I say dreams. I’ve always had a lot of dreams, never quite one particular dream that threatens to consume and overwhelm you and swallow you whole. And so too I’ve also discovered this: I can allow myself to be a Jill of all trades, and mistress of none. I don’t have to pursue one dream to the ends of the earth. I can dabble in a million things and get absolutely nowhere with them – as long as each of them make me happy. I can go back to school and study and do absolutely nothing with those certificates except be satisfied that I have acquired new skills. I can do music without dreaming of becoming a famous star. I can write without wishing that I’ll become a published author. I can dance without running away and joining the Russian ballet troupe. I can put up a video on the net and not hope that I’ll get one million and one likes. Just one will do. If I could touch just one friend, made them smile, that’s enough.
5. I have to do what I’m passionate about. At some point in my “career” – I use this term very loosely because I don’t ever like to think that I have a career, the word in itself is so corporate-sounding and makes it sound as if I actually need to have ambitions with regard to advancing it, yuck – I decided that I couldn’t do anything I didn’t believe in. Yes, that means working for any organisation or selling any product or telling people a message that I didn’t personally believe in. Considering I’m in the marketing/advertising line, which is basically all about creating fluff and spinning negatives into positives, you can imagine that does present somewhat of a challenge. Thankfully, I’ve spent the last decade doing exactly what I set out to do – share with others about what I personally believe in with my heart and soul.
I also reached the point where I found it difficult to have a company’s bottom line even indirectly linked with my KPIs. I don’t want to put in my heart and soul only to earn money for the company. I want what I do to make a difference, to be of some kind of benefit to people. I’d like to think that I am, now. Maybe not in the most charitable of ways, but still, it’s what I believe in. And then I reached the point where it wasn’t about the money anymore. Yes, I’d like to earn a lot more, but I’m not willing to give up the ability to do what I love and what I’m passionate about, in order to earn more money. That’s just not worth the sacrifice for me. I had to come to accept the fact that I probably will never earn what all my peers are or have been earning, but well, that’s a whole other point about not comparing with others, isn’t it? See #10 later. Haha.
6. My happiness matters more. Well, not in a selfish sense that I don’t care about the happinesses of others, and only fight for my own interests. But I never realised how important it was to do the things that make us happy. How often do we do that, really? Thing is, sometimes what makes us happy gets judged by others. That’s lame, that’s stupid, that’s crazy, that’s boring, that’s nonsense… What else have you heard? Yes, I admit it. I like the colour pink, even if it makes me girly. I do like rainbows and unicorns, even if it makes me idealistic. AND YEAH I LIKE SPONGEBOB, OKAY? Yes so I suck at painting and dancing and singing and everything else I try to do – but what does it matter as long as I enjoy doing it? Being good at something, and enjoying doing something are two very, very different things.
Some time last year I read or was told of this theory, that if you don’t have a natural talent for something, forget it, because you can train until the cows come home, and you’re never going to be good at it. Drop it, and look for something else you can be good at, that’s the only way you’ll succeed. But that’s just one way of viewing success, isn’t it? As long as I’m happy doing whatever it is I like doing, isn’t that my own personal success? It’s clear most people don’t think this way. Else would parents be sending their children to classes to train them to become amazing at things they may not necessarily enjoy, and why they take them out of classes they “do poorly” in, even if it made them happy. *rolls eyes*
7. Feeling good really does come from within. Maybe it was old age catching up with me, but I realised a lot of my habits had to change. I stopped drinking coffee every morning and whisky every night, and drank more water. I started eating less processed food and more salads. Fish became a staple in my life, and I only thanked the cow that died for that piece of juicy steak in front of me every once in a while. I discovered new balance and new refreshment through yoga, new movement and new rhythm through dance, new expression and new enlightenment through blogging again. Ok fine, if there’s one thing I’ve yet to do, it’s sleep early. Sigh.
And more importantly, I became more aware of my feelings, my thoughts. And that opened a whole new world to me. I discovered things I never knew before about myself. And I still constantly surprise myself even now haha.
8. Experiencing every moment for that very moment. I think too much. My friends tell me that, and I believe them. But how do you not worry? About everything that has led to that moment, or how that moment is going to affect tomorrow or the rest of your life? Gawd. You can’t, you really can’t. I try to worry a lot less now, even though I still have a really long way to go in this area. But at least I’m very aware that I have to experience every moment for what it is. Especially when it comes to relationships and dating and friendships and all that. People are going to walk in and out of your life, and frankly, there’s nothing you’re going to be able to do about it. So welcome them when they walk in, and move on when they walk out. There’s nothing else to do, so enjoy it while it lasts. Or it’ll happen anyway and you would have wasted a good experience.
9. Using my friends wisely. Okay, I’m sure that didn’t come out right. But what I mean is, we’ve all got friends that we do different things with. Maybe a friend we go to dance classes with, a friend we confide in when things are feeling shitty, a friend we look to when we need advice (notice it might be different from the confidant), a friend we have dinners and suppers with, a friend we just hang out with or party with… Yeah maybe our closest friends are somewhat versatile and we can do a million things with them. But there will always be some who are only good for one purpose. And we really shouldn’t make the mistake of trying to get them to crossover into another role. Like say, trying to get advice from a friend whom you know only cares about themselves, or who will expect you to follow every word she says, or who believes her way is righter than whatever you said. No, just have supper with her, or go clubbing with her. When I learnt to “use” my friends wisely, I got a much better experience because they weren’t expected to perform outside of their roles, and therefore there were lesser chances of conflict, and more opportunity to enjoy each other’s company.
10. Stop measuring myself by others’ yardsticks. It’s probably something we all know and yet find it very hard to do – not compare ourselves with others. People advertise their accomplishments, whether professionally or personally, through Facebook and everywhere else, and it’s hard to look away. Well, I literally did. I cut all those out of my newsfeed (I still want my news and pages I subscribe to and stuff) and have never been happier. If you’ve done something and I wanna do it too, I will go and make it happen. Other than that, however happy you are in whatever your situation right now, has no bearing on me. Because I am happy in my own situation. I think it’s only when you’re not happy, when you feel big gaps in your life which you don’t know how to fill, that you’ll look at others and wish you had what they had, hoping that it’ll come with the happiness you think they have.
Owning a car, a home, an LV, a designer watch, new camera… is not something I will measure my “success” with. Neither is being proposed to on the Eiffel Tower nor going to the Maldives for my honeymoon. Neither is having children nor capturing their cute moments. And this isn’t about being sour grapes and all, and going, oh bah, I don’t need that, I can be equally happy. It’s more like going, that’s really nice, but I’m happy just the way I am right now. Maybe one day. But right now, I’m happy, and guess what, see #6. =)