I Am What I Do

“If I lived my life like you, I’d be bankrupt and on my ass by now.”

I met someone last week that said that to me. Thing is, he wasn’t referring to my life of non-stop travelling; he was referring to my choice of jobs.

He asked me what I did. I said I’m a copywriter, that I do education marketing, that I work in a school, blah blah. He gave me a half-cringe. “Why would you want to market education?” he asked. “There can’t be money in that! Why don’t you work in an agency? Or a big corporation with hundreds of brands? (He works in P&G.) Now THAT’S real advertising,” he said.

“Well,” I said, “It’s just my personal philosophy with regard to work. I just can’t ever do anything I don’t personally believe in, that’s all.” I went on to explain how in my last three jobs in the past ten years (Radio, Retail Bookstore, and Education industries), I’d chosen these particular jobs because: 1) I love music; 2) I love books; and 3) I love learning.

That’s when he said it. “If I lived my life like you, I’d be bankrupt and on my ass by now.” The line was delivered with a haughty laugh of derision just before it. It was a laugh that said, no spoken words required: “You are just a silly little girl who doesn’t know what the fuck it’s like to be in the real world. You think you can live in your little bubble, your fantasy world, that you can actually be picky and choose what you do for a living based on how you feel about it! Hah! Ridiculous! What nonsense! Don’t be a fool. Grow up. Get a real job.”

“I mean, come on,” he said, that don’t-be-ridiculous tone still heavy in his voice, “People work cuz it’s a job. You go to the office, you do your job, and you leave. You don’t have to make it a part of you. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a job. That’s… what… jobs… are…” he stressed, just like he was talking to a three-year-old.

“Really?” I asked. “We spend more time at work than we do with the people we love, or even sleeping, eating, exercising – more than the time we spend taking care of ourselves. And as much as we try to, it’s not like we were built with an on/off switch that we can totally, completely drop everything work-related at the door when we come home, and not think about it anymore. It worms its way into our psyche. It might be the last thing we think about before we go to bed. It frustrates us, angers us, upsets us, it makes it hell for our spouses to be with us sometimes. A job is never just a job.”

Have you ever watched the US game show “Identity”? Contestants have to match individuals to their “identities”, usually occupation-based, going by what they look like. Host Penn Jillette then, in his usual over-the-top dramatic fashion, points at the individual and goes, “IS. THAT. YOUR. IDENTITY???”

Fact is, you are what you do.

I don’t know any individual who truly cared about something and wasn’t doing it. A person who’s passionate about helping people will not be an accountant. A lawyer, maybe, but more often than not, a doctor, nurse, fireman, social worker, counselor, physiotherapist, nutritionist… the list goes on.

Yes, they could work as an auditor and earn truckloads of money, and use that money to help others in their free time. But you know what happens then? This person will get to a point where he or she will wake up one day and go, “Wait. This isn’t enough. This is not really what I want to do with my life. This isn’t who I want to be. This isn’t right. Why am I doing this? Why am I not doing what I really want to do?”

That day hit me, not in bed as I slammed my snooze button at 5:45am, but in the corporate meeting room one dreary afternoon. On the agenda: How can we sell more books, make more money?

Point to note, I don’t think I was too shabby in my job, but there was always this little voice nagging me in some dusty corner of my brain, going, “Why are you selling people stuff they don’t need? Do they really need a whole set of 48 different coloured pens that glow in the dark? Really? Seriously?”

And so I focused on selling books. Books are always good. Books make you smart. Books help you grow. Books introduce new worlds, broaden perspectives. My job wasn’t just selling books. It was encouraging people to read. More nobly put, it was promoting a greater level of literacy in our nation. (Pfft.)

But that day, in that meeting, as the voices around me droned on and on about “profits” and “losses”, something snapped. “I don’t care!!” that voice inside my head screamed. “I don’t want to have anything to do with your stupid bottom line. I just want to get lost amongst these aisles and daydream about characters and their lives. You’re taking away the magic of reading,” that voice whimpered.

But still, all we can do (as slaves to the chain bookstore), is try and ignore that people up there (aka management) are trying to make money from all this. All we can do is focus on what we love about it, and keep at it. It’s what made HARRIS one of the best places I loved to go to – because the staff there really cared. They loved books, they loved reading, and it showed, oh, it showed.

And then reality got in the way. And the bookstore, as many others have, shut. Watching them close one store after another was not only heartbreaking, it was my wakeup call. I refused to do anything that had to do with a corporation trying to squeeze money out of people. No more bottom lines, I declared to myself. I WILL NOT SLOG FOR PROFIT.

And so I chose education. Because, really, how can you ever go wrong with education? At the end of the day, people are learning professional skills and personal lessons, and they will go on to become more improved versions of themselves.

So yes, it may be entirely idealistic on my part to want to work in jobs that I personally believe in. Yes, I do realize that practically speaking, I may very well find myself indeed jobless and on the streets at some point because I can’t find a suitable position that is in line with my values and thinking.

And yes, there are days I think about how, if I actually did a job selling people stuff they don’t really need, I could be a big shot manager by now, and perhaps earning much more than I am now. With that money, travelling would be so much easier, I could go back to school, and it could fund so many more charity projects I want to work on. Just think about that!

But I can’t. In my case, the end simply does not justify the means. Because a job is never just a job to me. It fills my waking moments, it’s what I wear on my sleeve, right next to my emotions. It’s my badge of honour. It’s my name tag. It’s my identity. I am what I do. And so, I have to do what I am.



[P.S. This is truly my personal perspective about my own job choices. This article does not judge anyone’s choices but mine. P.P.S. I love accountants.]


My #nomakeup Story

There’s been a whole trend of #nomakeup campaigns going on, people stripping off their external layers to reveal who they really are underneath. I really respect these people for being able to do that, for being able to present themselves, stripped bare and vulnerable to the world, opening themselves up to ridicule and hate. (It’s a bit like being a blogger, isn’t it! We write our hearts and souls out, just so people can try to tear us down with their hateful comments lol)

But honestly, we all try hard to hide who we really are every single day of our lives. And I’m not just talking about concealer for my blemishes, I’m talking putting on happy fronts to hide the fact we cry alone at night; talking big and boasting shit when we’re really insecure about where we are in our lives; and the most common of all – trying to act like we actually know what we’re doing, when, come on, you know and I know and everybody knows that nobody ever really knows what the hell they’re doing. Most of the time. Even for all their life.

So there’s been a call to share our own #nomakeup stories too – who are we underneath it all? Well, I decided to do one of my own. I’m gonna strip it all. And by all I mean EVERYTHING. I’m gonna take off every bit of my makeup, my clothes, my skin, my flesh, my bones… until all you’re left with is my heart, my mind, my psyche – what makes me ME.

I am going to reveal all the worst parts of me. Terrible, terrible things that I’ve either known about myself for a while or am reminded of when things happen, that I struggle with, in private, on my own, every single day of my life. (I’ve actually removed a whole lot more that used to be there, but these are the ones that are left, and so many are they still!)

These are things that nobody can help me with except myself. These are things that open me up to criticism and hate and anger – and trust me, this includes a whole lot of self-criticism, self-hate, and self-anger. These are the things that are the most awful about me, that I want away, that I fight myself with every day.

I’m not afraid to admit these things, because I know every single day I am working on them. There are days I fail – and those are the days that people will see and people will remember – and there are days I succeed – and those are the days that nobody sees and nobody celebrates except me. But the point is that I will never give up. And hopefully, one day, when you strip me bare, you won’t see any of these things at all. And that will be the tale of the true #nomakeup beauty. But till then, while I’m trying to become more beautiful, on the inside, where it counts, here are the ugliest parts of me:

1) I am an attention whore. I’m really not sure if this has something to do with being an extreme extrovert, but I not only thrive on attention, I seek it. I am someone who actually enjoys being in the spotlight. And when people don’t give it to me – and in the exact way that I require it – I act out.

2) Passive-aggression is my go-to weapon. I don’t know any other way. It comes on naturally and instinctively. I don’t like saying unkind things, I don’t like confronting people, and I don’t like thrashing stuff out. I avoid conflict as much as possible. BUT, I still feel I need to get my point across. So I become passive-aggressive. Sarcasm will leak out of me like a lethal gas. And yes, most times I am unaware of it. By the time I realize it, I’ve killed an entire city.

3) I overthink. A lot. Again, I don’t know if this has something to do with my hyperactive brain that is always, always in overdrive Sports mode and never seems to take a rest – even in the last few minutes before I fall asleep. And if you leave me alone by myself for two minutes, my mind’s at it again. That’s why I have to keep busy, otherwise I get restless, frantic to be left alone with my mind. Solitude is my worst enemy, it seems.

I need to stop overthinking. I need to stop looking deeper into things than at face value. I need to stop assuming that people mean certain things when they don’t. Why do I put meaning into things when there are none? Why do I see things in between lines where they don’t exist? Like optical illusions, my mind tricks me into thinking it’s real.

4) And then I overreact. Not a lot, I can be quite rational usually (only in recent years of course, it took years to come to this point) – but sometimes, yes, I unfortunately overreact. And then I overthink and overreact at the same time. Which is just CHAOS IN MY BRAIN. And something explodes, like a grenade, or a ticking time bomb, a disaster waiting to happen. Why is this happening? What can I do? Was it something I did? How do I make this situation better? And I freak out. When apparently, all I need to do is relax and stop thinking about it. Actually, NOT THINK AT ALL. And let whatever happens happen.

I think the only way I can do that is to stop completely. To switch off that part of the brain. Like when I feel like I’m starting to overthink, I should tell myself, “Ok, stop thinking. It’s nothing. You are assuming again. That’s bad. Think about something else. Like flying zebras.”

Maybe I should actually take a moment, a time-out to calm myself down and take deep breaths and tell myself: STOP THINKING. ENJOY THE MOMENT. STOP READING INTO IMAGINARY THINGS. It’s like a disease that infects me, and infects everything around me, everything I touch.

5) I expect too much. From everything and everyone. I’m such a perfectionist that I expect the world to be perfect – including, actually especially, myself. Well, nonsense, that’s not possible, there’s no such thing in this world. BUT I EXPECT PEOPLE TO AT LEAST TRY. And why? Because I do? But I fail to remember that as much as I am a gazillion light-years away from becoming that ideal version of myself, so are other people. So yes, I really need to expect less. Or don’t expect at all. (Extremely difficult to do, of course) Maybe I should pick up mental archery and shoot down every single expectation bubble or balloon that appears in my mind. *POP* *POP* *POP* Then at least the sky can be clear again. (Except for the flying zebras. They’re allowed.)

6) I’m arrogant. Yes, there are times I feel damn outright superior and self-righteous, usually when it’s something I’m goddamn sure of, something I strongly believe in, or something that, to me, is pretty damn obvious! But yeah well, why do I feel that people need to hear what I think, my opinion, my advice? People don’t need it. They can live their lives any damn way they please – it’s their lives. I am not better than somebody else at living their life. Why am I only humble and take advice from others when I deem them credible enough? Everyone has something to teach us. Shouldn’t I be humble with everyone?

And that is why I blog. Some people share their opinions with others – I started blogging for my own reflections and growth. I started my blog when I was depressed and needed to understand myself better and get out of that funk, and get happy. It’s always been a personal agenda, a personal mission of sorts, and I need to vow to keep it that way and never sidetrack into dishing out stuff that isn’t personal, that isn’t something I’ve personally learnt, and always keep it about me learning more things about ME.

7) I need to trust myself more. And stop seeking approval from all the people around me. It’s everything – even when I’m shopping, I can’t trust my own taste, sometimes I even ask the salesgirl which colour looks better on me! And I can never trust myself when it matters the most – perspectives, attitudes, decisions. I have zero EQ when it comes to trusting myself. I would rather ask people for their opinion and see if it’s relevant to me and whether I can apply it, than admit to myself that maybe the answers are in me all along. I would rather turn to “expert” authors and bloggers and friends than trust my own instincts. Ridiculous, I know, but I’ve never had good results from trusting myself, and so I am pretty much scarred in this area. I really need to give myself a chance.

8) I need to stop thinking that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated. Yes, I was brought up on this Golden Rule, but you know what, apparently it doesn’t actually work in real life. I always feel like I’m giving 100% to people but only getting 50% back, and it hurts to feel shortchanged. But what it is is really just a difference in love languages, so to speak. What is important to me may not be important to them. I might value something that they might consider casual or trivial. That’s where a lot of conflicts arise for me, because we are simply speaking different languages and I don’t understand what’s going on. It’s key to find out exactly what language someone else speaks – I don’t have to speak their language, but then I can’t expect them to speak mine either.

And there you go. Those are probably the Top 8 worst things about me. I know, I know, I suck. I have a lot to work on. It’s tough. I struggle. I fail. A lot. Isn’t it a wonder I can actually still remain happy every day knowing how much I fail? Ha! But there it is. Out in the open for all to see. You can point fingers and criticize me now. But know this: I am a work in progress. And one day I will be a masterpiece. Till then, this is my #nomakeup story. What’s yours?

One order of Happy Person, please!

A friend of mine asked me a simple question the other day: “What do you look for in someone?” And I smiled at her and replied with a simple answer: “A happy, positive person.”

Some time ago, I probably would have rattled off a long paragraph, a list of attributes that might sound a little like this: Someone who’s adventurous, passionate, driven, kind, humourous, intelligent, blah blah blah.

That was before I realised that yes, all those things matter, but there is one thing lying at the root of them – the ability to be happy.

A happy person usually derives his happiness from the things he chooses to do in his life, which he would usually be more passionate about, and that happiness drives him even more. A happy person is usually more open to trying new things and new experiences, and even if it wasn’t great, will still be happy that at least, he tried something new. A happy person knows how to laugh – at jokes, at life, at ridiculous situations, at himself. So on and so forth – but you’ll come to realize, as I did, that it all stems from the ability to be happy.

And yes, it is an ability. You need to learn it as a skill. Yes, some people might have a greater natural aptitude towards learning this ability, but it is an ability nonetheless.

Happiness is a choice, as they say. But it’s not delusion, nor is it escapism. It is the ability to accept external factors and situations that challenge it, and learn how best to work with them – not against them – circumvent them, or search for paths to cut right through them. It’s recognizing the triggers for unhappiness and actively avoiding them, or practicing how to deal with them.

It’s about not being swept mindlessly by every ebb and flow of emotion. It’s allowing things to roll right off your back. It’s selfishly guarding your happiness and refusing to let anyone or anything snatch it away from you. It’s admitting your faults and weaknesses and negative emotions and then choosing to focus on something positive within.

It’s noticing the small things that bring you joy and allowing yourself time to appreciate them and be grateful for them. It’s about the air you exude. It’s the last feeling that washes over you before you fall asleep at night. It’s always having something amazing to look forward to when you wake up in the morning.

And it’s the ability to do all these things on your own.

The problem with all this? It’s not something you can do for 20 minutes a day, three times a week, or achieve though pranamaya or meditation. It is a constant; it needs to course through your veins, beat as your heart does.

Yeah, it’ll take time to get there. Yeah, it might take me my whole life trying. Well, I’d be happy to do so. He should be too. :)