defragment.me

The power of my choice

I believe that one can create his or her own reality. I even wrote a post on this a couple of years ago.

Somehow, I forgot. I forgot while dealing with the uncertainty and insecurity of self-employment, the stress of moving residences repeatedly, the perceived failure of my decision making.

I was upset with myself for causing myself to be caught in stressful situations. Because I've always made leaps of faith, and in the end they all seem to come back to haunt me. I was angry that I kept over-working myself due to my own insecurity. I was tired, very tired of fighting. All I wanted was some stability.

Things got so bad until there was this day when I wondered if I could de-exist permanently. Like if re-incarnation was possible, I would like to opt out, please. I didn't want to be in spirit form either. I just wanted to be nothing. All my spiritual beliefs were being threatened. I refused to buy into the whole 'you live to learn' thing.

I felt like I was being coerced into this cycle whereby I have no choice but to live life after life. I tried to see the point of it all. If living was to learn, and learning was to evolve, what if I did not want to be part of this evolution?

I couldn't see the point then and to be honest, I still don't see the point now (or perhaps non-linear time is too complex for me to understand). But something magical happened. It always does. I sink to the bottom and there's always light waiting for me there.

One fine day, a series of synchronistic events made me remember. A movie, a book, a few words. I remembered. I chose to be here. I chose this life. I probably chose all the challenges that life was throwing me. I loved the challenges. I've always attributed my growth to all my previous challenges. I needed to learn the power of limitations. I knew, if everything went smooth-sailing, I would be living a very comfortable life. There *is* a lazy streak in me. I like luxury and sometimes I just want to do nothing. Chill. But that is not what I truly want. I want a life that I can be proud of. If I was born with a body that has boundless energy, I would be doing everything under the sun without focus. There are people who know how to make good use of their innate gifts without experiencing limitations. Not me.

There and then, I asked myself. If right at this moment, I could choose to stop 'suffering' and exchange my current life for a life that is full of peace, stability and comfort, how would I make that choice?

I realised that I would still choose this life. No matter how tiring, how difficult things can get, how broken it has made me feel sometimes. I still want my life.

At that very split-second, it all returned to me. The power of my choice.

The knowledge that I have the power to make choices that will influence my own destiny. Everything that happens today is a sum of my own decisions yesterday. Now, is a consequence of all that happened before. The future, is a consequence of all that happens now. My life circumstances in this life, was an agreement I willingly entered into, before incarnation. Nobody can make decisions for me, nobody can make me make decisions I do not want. They can influence, they can guilt-trip or manipulate, but the decision is mine alone. I cannot point fingers at anybody.

There is a spiritual angle to all of this (but of course). If you realise that you are the one who has chosen the pain, hurt and difficult lessons prior to living this life, you would have the same epiphany as me.

We all have the power to create. That not everything can be understood on a physical, superficial level. That pain and suffering need not be perceived as negative. Just because it makes us feel bad doesn't mean that it is not good.

Anyway, these concepts are not something that can be explored in a blog entry. (I would recommend this book and books from Michael Newton or Brian Weiss, and the entire "Conversations with God" series. )

-

What a difference a split-second can make. I have been going on with my life with a bounce ever since I remembered. I say remembered because I have always known, but I forgot about it among all that pragmatic worries I had.

Previously when I had fallen sick, I would go into a very negative state of mind because being sick didn't allow me to do what I want, in fact, being sick places me in considerable stress because being self-employed, everyday I am sick equates to no income. Over the Chinese New Year, I was down with flu for two weeks. I was feeling very bad physically, with all that nausea, sinus-pressure, chills. But this time, even all of that didn't make me feel negative. I was constantly in a positive state of mind because I knew everything will happen in its own time and space. Nothing was impossible as long as I believe that I have the power to influence my own destiny.

I made a decision in my mind and my heart, that I would from now on, try to make decisions out of courage and not out of fear. No matter how crazy, how much risk or potential stress.

I started making these small little decisions, then some bigger ones, a couple of people-would-think-I-am-crazy ones.

And you know what. Life has been awesome since then. And I truly mean it. I know, it would continue to be awesome as long as I remember I hold the power to my choices. I have been experiencing the effects of all decisions within a short span of weeks. Some just took days. I hope to be writing soon in detail about how drastically things have progressed.

I don't know about everyone else. But I think I have finally accepted that the route to security is not one for me. I have to live my life on the edge, because that is what I truly want – a life that I would be proud of on my deathbed.

Discussing suicide

I've had a saved draft on this topic somewhere, uncertain if I should publish it. I wrote it a few days ago because I was very inspired by the community at Quora. Yes, there's a topic dedicated to Suicide at Quora, supported by a honest, open community, which gave me some hope that perhaps the society is progressing.

Today, I choose to rewrite this topic from scratch.

I believe in signs, and I was actually deciding not to publish my previous draft, because I was unsure if I was ready to cope with the repercussions. Today, in my twitter stream, I discovered this link through a tweet:

http://blog.jolieodell.com/2011/01/06/the-subject-of-suicide-why-im-alive-today/

That blog post was written because of another suicide note:

http://gizmodo.com/5726667/the-agonizing-last-words-of-bill-zeller

I knew it was time for me to write this, regardless whether people will read, react badly to it, etc.

I think it is the fear of all that judgement, all that unwillingness to share one's deepest, darkest feelings, that is pushing so many people to the brink of despair. I've been very open on this blog so far, but depression and suicide are two themes in my life that I am unwilling to elaborate on. I am in full support of maintaining an online persona that is as authentic as possible, but it is still pretty scary to have people googling my name and finding blog posts on topics like these. There's plenty of repercussions, especially professionally, but I shall have faith – if I cannot even make myself write openly about this, what are the chances of society becoming more accepting and sensitive to others who're in more extreme scenarios?

I'm no longer suicidal, but that's because I was one of the luckier ones. I went through my own spiritual, self-discovery journey, I've met several key figures who were empathetic and supportive. That doesn't mean I've stopped thinking and feeling it. Not wanting to act on it anymore doesn't take the feelings away. Not at least for me. I still go through swings when instead of wanting to kill myself, I think about whether is it possible to remove my existence permanently. If re-incarnation was possible, I would have liked to opt out, thank you.

If you ask me, what is it exactly that is causing me to feel this way? For the record, I wasn't physically abused (emotionally perhaps). I did spend a lot of my younger years having a very low self-worth and feeling rejected by everybody because I couldn't seem to fit into the mainstream. I've always felt (ever since I could remember my feelings) that I didn't belong. But for me, ultimately it wasn't "why should I kill myself", but rather, "why should I live?".

All these were not particularly triggered by any major life events. I simply remember being particularly melancholic since I was a toddler. It would seem I was born with these feelings. Uncontrollable spasms of despair. Not wanting to be involved in the evolutionary process. What is it in it for me? I'm not attracted to power as a human being, from a spiritual perspective, levelling up through lifetimes of lessons doesn't sound very enthralling either. They say it is all about Love. Though it is not easy to convince yourself of that when everything just seems so much of a struggle.

Is it a biological chemical imbalance? Or was I one of those alien souls who found life on earth especially hard (yeah roll your eyes lol)? I have no answers. Just like I have no definite answers why I keep feeling this way. Sometimes I imagine having everything life could give me and I am not so sure if I'll stop feeling this way.

I found some solace in meeting random people who felt the same way. I was very comforted by all the survivor stories I've read on Quora, saddened by those who couldn't make it. Everyone has their own time and space to move through life. Not everybody is ready to receive help from the outside world. But if they are, shouldn't we provide a better platform for them to receive help?

I have started contributing answers to questions on suicide at Quora, all I want to do is to provide a personal perspective to it. When you have never experienced depression or suicidal tendencies before, it is difficult to provide empathy to someone else going through this. The last thing we want to hear is, "pick yourself up", "things can only get better", "get medical help"...etc. What I would personally find helpful, is to hear from others who have been through the same before, in order to gain that small tiny thread of hope, that perhaps, one day, we may be able to pull ourselves out of it. We want people who would truly understand the depths of darkness, not just anybody looking in from the outside, sitting on a cushion asking you to get over it.

There are people trying to seek some form of understanding why their friends or loved ones are suicidal (Some sadly have already made the final decision). I can't describe how it is to actually hear from people who were going through the same. That is one of the best support you can get. True empathy.

Sharing experiences is one of the greatest ways you can give back to society, I believe. Just like a mentor to the student, a mother to a child. Or vice versa. I would say that could be one of the greatest attributes of humankind, imagine how much progress we can make if all of us can be unselfish and open to sharing knowledge.

I am digressing a little as usual. I find it very comforting to read similar experiences, very moved when people find my answers helpful. I cannot be sure that everyone would appreciate whatever I have to say, but all I want to do is to give my best. That would be enough for me.

It is in the same spirit which had probably triggered others to do the same. I am amazed at the amount and quality of contribution to a topic like this. It seems like there is progress in lessening the stigma.

From the awesome community at Quora (you need to be a member):

If we could all become a little more unselfish, authentic and less judgmental, perhaps that person feeling that much despair may be less afraid to share his/her feelings, and perhaps death wouldn't be that attractive an option.

Perhaps if Bill Zeller could find that single bit of courage to open up a little bit earlier, he could have found others who have gone through similar and found ways to survive, perhaps, just perhaps, it could give him a little light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps.

It's so paradoxical, but the only chance to truly heal is to first accept the disease. The more you resist, the more it persists.

Akemi Gaines on twitter

Why I don’t blog about design

On my twitter bio, the field for website is directed to this blog. I would think most people would leave once they land upon this page. If, my twitter page is linked to my portfolio site, it is very likely that I'll gain more followers. After all, there'll be more people who would want to follow a designer than an emo blogger right?

Very similarly, if I blog about design, whether is it about critical thought or my design process, I would again presume that it would likely raise my online profile a lot more. I honestly do not want that attention in an egomaniacal kind of way, but in a professional sense, blogging about design would definitely help to raise my profile, which translates a lot to more or better quality business. There is definitely a wider audience interested to read a blog on design rather than a blog on.....personal issues and lessons? ;p

I went through this entire thought process prior to starting this blog and the process became rather lengthy and it hindered me from starting my blog for years. My mind tells me to start a blog on design but my heart tells me to write about myself. Now, who is the egomaniac? ;)

Why start a blog?

I want to start a blog because I want to share my experiences with people. Good or bad. I can start a blog on my design experiences or a blog on my personal experiences. The design blog will reach a wider audience which is nice. But I hope that the personal blog will reach the audience, however small, on a deeper level.

There are tons of quality design blogs out there and I don't think I can offer better content than what is already out there. I am not saying that I can offer better content than other personal blogs, but what matters is I am trying to write a blog with my heart and honesty. How much of me will you know if I write about my work?

I reckon that people who bother to probe a little bit more will discover the link to my portfolio site anyway. Those that leave based on their 3 second impression of this site, will not be the people I want to connect with. On the contrary, if there are some who actually bother reading any bit of this site and still want to connect with me, these are the people that will be quality connections. Because they want to connect with me even if I go on long-winded musings about myself, or going a step more, they see the intention behind the long winded musings about myself.

The value of being authentic

I feel that it is not easy to find authenticity on our society, online or not. How much of a person can you get to know even face to face, much less on social media? I offer myself almost like an open book, if anybody actually take the time to read it.

I very much enjoy authentic writing and I applaud people who write openly of their less-glamorous experiences. It takes courage each time to write about your emotions, your weaknesses, your failures. How many people will start judging? How many of my clients will deem me less professional because I openly admit that I have low self-esteem?

I want to tell you, that it is incredibly healing to be able to relate to someone else's honest, emotional writing. And it is even more empowering to be able to write your own.

Why? If you can relate to the statement above, you will know what I mean.

If many more of us can open our minds and hearts, the world will be a much better place. Failures and weaknesses will not be perceived as negative, so much more hurt can be avoided with truth. If only more of us know that it is okay to be ourselves.

I have learnt that, while taking the step out to write this blog, if I am no longer afraid to be judged publicly for my weaknesses, there is nothing much else to be afraid of.

There will always be people who are critical or judgmental but it is very much worth it if you find the ones that understand and accept you for the person that you are.

Why I think it is important to share

Our society doesn't readily accept people who are different from the mainstream. Times are changing, the society is evolving, it is definitely better than how it used to be when I was a kid. However, it still remains a challenge. Whether is it about being gay, being an artist, pursuing your dreams, discovering that truth is relative while the rest of the world believes that it is absolute. That any of us can create the reality that we want. That we're very much conditioned to remain in a state of fear for the benefit of those in power. Or that whatever that's not been scientifically proven can be real. That I think that us humans are egoistic for believing that we're the only intelligent life-forms in the entire universe. Or to dismiss ancient wisdom for mumbo jumbo. That I don't understand why we're still trying to win peace through violence. That we're all human beings and we all have flaws and I don't understand why we judge people for their looks, colour, intelligence, size, etc when we know that we're not much better ourselves?

I have been through certain radical transformations myself and thought-provoking experiences. I want to write about challenging the status-quo, about being unconventional, about trying my best about living my life differently from the mainstream. I am what geeks call a 'use-case' for pursuing an alternative lifestyle (no I don't just mean the gay part) and there are plenty of others who have the courage to live their lives differently.

It is just that we are conditioned to believe that these people don't exist or are very few and far in between. We are not. We are still the minority but we are a growing lot.

And we're not 'lucky'. We simply believing in having the power to create our own reality.

I write to share because I want to stand up and be counted. To be counted as one of those who defied 'reality' as our society perceives, and to share content of similar people, just so that maybe, just maybe, it will make a difference to the number of people encouraged to create their own reality.

I want to be the change that I want, and perhaps you can too.

Restarting from the bottom

I went through a series of events from the beginning of this year that made me ponder very hard about my existing life/lifestyle. I wondered about plenty of things that have been at the back of my mind all this while.

I wondered if it would make me happy if I didn't have to worry about money anymore.

I wondered if I would be happier if I was doing the best work.

I wondered about myself being emotional – I feel so much that it really makes me depressed sometimes – is this a weakness or a gift?

If everyone of us is truly unique and all of us have something to give to this world, what would mine be?

I believe I am emotional for a reason, I am the way I am for a reason.

During the past few months I have been through times when I cannot seem to pull myself up, even with all that I have known and learnt about life, I was just drowning and I couldn't keep my head above the water.

I think, all I wanted was to know, was that it was okay to be myself. To be weak, to cry, to crumble, to be unable to cope.

I think I have a split personality, the one that wants to live life in comfort and prove her worth through her work, the other who just wants to live life simply, be happy, be free, and give.

The gulf between the two has been causing me a lot of struggle lately.

Finding true freedom

I have worked very hard and I realise I have grown attached to what I have gained through working hard. I am afraid to lose it all and ironically I have stopped being free – when the original intention to be a solo worker was to be free.

There is no point in being financially free when the soul is not free. Mine is starting to wither and I know it.

I want to do something for people who are like me. Two main groups I guess – people who lead unconventional lives in our materialistic society, and people who struggle to cope with their own minds.

It upsets me when I get to know of people who have chosen to end their lives or lose sight of hope, because they are unable to cope with their minds. Whatever that is eating them up from inside. Empathy truly exists when you're one of them and you know what it exactly means by having issues with your own existence.

Our society doesn't readily accept people who refuse to conform to the mainstream and it is getting increasingly difficult (in some ways easier, though) for our younger generation. I think they too, just want to know that it is okay being different.

Coping with our own existence

And there are many of us who are struggling to cope with ourselves everyday, and they too, just want to know, that there are others like us out there who are struggling too, and will empathise. More importantly, there are many of us who continue to struggle and yet not losing sight of hope, or give up pursuing our dreams.

I know how it feels like to cope with my own existence. It is ironically a double-edged sword that has given me strength and the will to pursue my dreams, and yet sometimes it becomes so difficult that I truly feel like giving it all up.

A chance for a restart; if only you see it

Many times, it is eerily rewarding, because it pushes me right to the bottom and allows me to regain perspective of my priorities. Rising from the ashes, they say. Each time I come out of it, it makes me stronger, it allows me the courage to follow my heart, because if you get to the point when you realise you're about to lose yourself, all that fight for financial security or to gain approval (whether by family or society) becomes meaningless.

But what about the others who never managed to come out of it? One moment of desperation, one split second of despair, is enough. Not everyone has the chance to restart. Or know that they can restart.

I won't end my own existence, primarily because my personal spiritual beliefs tell me that I would have to repeat my lessons again anyway, but it doesn't make coping easier. And there's still tons of us who are not fortunate enough to be spiritually aware, or to have family support, or to find empathy.

I want them to know that they are truly not alone. I have some vague plans forming in my head, nothing concrete yet, but it is a start.

If doing the best work is not something that will make me happy, perhaps doing the best I can to aid a cause I am personally involved in, will make a difference.

Because I know, it is through helping others when you are helping oneself.

I won't seek to make a difference to tons of people, even if I find/provide empathy from/to one soul out there, I would have answered to myself.

Additional reading:
The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace

Looking back at 2009

2009 has been a tough year for me, personally. It wasn't because of the economy. Reading my previous year's 'looking back' post, I remember that I had ended the year with lots of optimism and hopes. It wasn't to be as I endured a difficult time mentally and emotionally as I struggled to balance all aspects of my life, but I remain grateful – for no matter how difficult it was, I am still able to remain relatively healthy and my loved ones are all well. That to me, is already a blessing I am happy to be able to count, because I know for a fact that many people are not aware of how blessed they are on an everyday basis.

What I could have done better

1. Managing self-expectations

I wanted to title this as time-management, but I have gradually grown to realise that the root of the problem is not that I don't know how to manage my time properly or that I am not disciplined enough. For almost all my life I have pointed the finger at myself for being a procrastinator and that led to feelings of self-guilt and undermining my own value. I had almost come to accept the fact that I simply cannot manage time.

The problem was never the management of time, but the expectations I have laid upon myself. It is ironic because I have a relatively low self-esteem but somehow I have sky-high expectations of myself. I have this super-woman mentality that I can manage a few major processes going on at the same time and come out fine. It is one thing to have a survivor's mentality but another thing to put myself through all the unnecessary stress. I had overestimated my ability to multi-task and the time it takes to accomplish things. I always seem to think that I can be fast (very Aries of me).

If I had set reasonable expectations for myself, I would have met them well and would not have put myself in the stressful situation of being in danger of not meeting deadlines, or trying to manage multiple timelines at one go. I have learnt time management is all about setting small, achievable targets – I mean, if I expect myself to be superwoman (which I am not, or else I wouldn't even be writing this), obviously I wouldn't be able to fulfill the tasks I have set up for myself.

At one stage in 2009, I was in the middle of a huge residential move, taking on a new spiritual course, plus juggling about 5 major work projects, taking care of a dog with behavioral problems; all at the same time. It did not come as a surprise when I was on the verge of a breakdown, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If this was to happen a couple of years earlier, I would be blaming my luck or whatever else I could blame upon. However, I took this setback very personally, it took me a long time to stop blaming myself for it.

I fell out of love with my work, my work which I so preciously hold dear to my heart. I tie my self-identity to my work and the work I create, when things do not go well with my work, I crumble. It is hard not to fall out of love with it when I am just so burnt out. Not to mention my living quarters had more than 50 huge un-packed boxes. And a dog who refused to stop barking.

I was lost. But I took responsibility for it, I sent apologies to all parties involved and decided that the only thing I could do, is just to put in my best. I stopped accepting new work apart from those I was sure that I could manage. I took myself apart to rebuild my self again.

And I think I am still in the midst of rebuilding it. Right now, I am careful with every decision I make, especially with work. I cannot help but feel apprehensive because I have this phobia of repeating the same mistake. However, I know I cannot be over-protective or I will just miss out on plenty opportunities. I can only put in my best and hope for the best.

2. Loving myself

This past year, I've been putting in a lot of effort into loving myself more. I know this sounds egoistic, but I haven't been loving myself for most of my life. Like honestly. I don't give myself enough credit and I beat myself up hopelessly when things go wrong. This whole self-image thing is central to the many other issues that is going on in my life and to the previous point as well. When things did not go well, all I could do was to lament how incapable I was instead of encouraging myself to do better the next time.

If I had loved myself more, I would have allowed myself more time to play and rest instead of working all day long, I would have valued myself more and not under-charge for my work, which would allow me to take in less work. See how this self-image thing affects me in and out? It creates a whole vicious cycle:

Lack of self love -> Under-value self -> Under charge -> Takes in lots of work to survive -> Lots of stress generated -> Procrastinate because of stress -> Unable to manage timelines properly -> Creativity takes a hit -> Start blaming myself for being unable to create to my own expectations -> Self-hatred begins.

Sidenote: I have seldom missed a deadline in the past year regardless of all my issues. I would rather slave-drive myself than to disappoint my clients. Unless I fell physically sick, which I took full responsibility for.

3. Achieving balance

Work and other personal responsibilities took over my life for the past year, I think I could have read a bit more, played a bit more, watched a few more movies, relaxed a bit more, exercised a lot more.

I tend to swing from extreme to extreme so it is important for me to learn how to go in-between.

What I can be proud of

1. Bringing myself out of the hermit-hole

Being energetically sensitive (okay stop rolling your eyes now ;p), I sort of stopped going out to meet people since 2006. It makes me feel drained and I take quite a while to recover from it. It was a good and much needed break, but I forgone plenty of opportunities in doing that. Everything exists in duality, in avoiding negativity and I had to avoid positivity as well.

Plus, I had self-image issues so I have a phobia of meeting strangers.

It all started from the AWARE incident which made me realise that I need to know like-minded people to achieve any cause. That it can actually be empowering instead of disempowering.

From coming out of my self-created hermit hole, I managed to meet tons of great people who have in turned brought tons of great relationships and opportunities.

2. Going to Tokyo and Hongkong

Amidst all the mess going on, I am glad that I managed to squeeze the time and resources to visit Julia, my spiritual mother in Tokyo, which whetted my appetite for more. Each time I travel out of Singapore I feel a sense of liberation and joy I cannot simply explain in words. I am proud that I did not allow my financial insecurity to stop me from travelling. It was a priceless experience.

An ex-client from Hongkong I worked remotely and briefly with, popped by Singapore and bought me tickets to watch Denise Ho's concert after I casually mentioned it to her. I haven't even met her prior to this and she graciously bought the tickets for me, and invited me over to stay at her place during my two-week trip. I could have burgled her house for god's sake but she trusted me unconditionally; I was almost a stranger to her. Thank you, Belle. I appreciate all of these from the bottom of my heart. This happened at a time when things was not going well for me and it re-affirmed my faith in people and the Universe. If not for my earlier decision to reverse my hermit-dom, I wouldn't have accepted the invitation to meet up and I would have missed this learning experience.

The Hongkong trip was significant to me because it was the first time I sort of travelled alone (my partner left for Singapore after one week). I am the sort of person who is afraid of being alone in the dark and this was a major step out for me. It gave me the confidence to do this traveling thing alone. Apart from that, I had the chance to catch one of the greatest concerts I've ever watched and the concert inspired me very much, both on a professional and personal level. Again, I put aside my financial insecurity to make this trip and it was very, very much worth it.

3. Finding my voice

This is again, tied to my self-image and I have been afraid to voice my true feelings and opinions because I was worried about how people would take them. Will they see me as some weirdo? Or will my clients get upset if I tell them what I truly feel? Can I stand up for myself against nasty clients?

As I grew in self-confidence after I re-valued myself (like some property, haha), I decided that it was very important to me that I find my voice back. I used to be totally self-confident and vocal when I was a kid and I lost that part of me when my life turned up-side down during my teenage years.

I needed to be true, true to myself, and to people. Finding my voice was triggered by the AWARE incident as I struggled whether to air my potentially radical views publicly or not. I finally came to the conclusion that I am my Self and I need to stay true to that self. I put my true self out there and it is up to people whether they want to accept me for me or not. Those who can't, will not be a good fit for me anyway. It will only be tiresome and will not be of any value to both parties if we all have to put on fake fronts and hypocritical smiles.

4. Realising my greatest enemy is – myself

This was a major epiphany for me.

For realising it was never about the luck, the environment, the people, the circumstances. It is all about how I choose to perceive and believe. Everything, everything can be good or bad, it is how one looks at it.

The difference between success and failure is the ability to control the mind. To train the mind and not let the mind train you. The mind is truly powerful, it can sabotage or it can empower. It just takes a flip of a mind-switch to make a radical difference but the difficulty is to convince oneself to flip that switch.

If I truly want something, I have to make that effort, no matter how great it is. It is entirely up to me whether I want to put in that extra inch or mile. Everyone has the power to will themselves into doing anything. "Cannot help it" is a bad excuse. The circumstances can be bad, people can be critical, but if you don't believe in yourself at the very least, or make the effort to go that extra mile, who's going to do it for you?

Nobody. So I have to do it for myself. And if I don't have the will to do it for myself, then who else but myself is the greatest enemy?

Nobody has the ability to create that negative situation or that bleak outlook apart from oneself. If there are people who can make the best out of crappy situations (Stephen Hawking, for example, has lost the use of his limbs but he is still contributing to the world, or Avram Grant's dad who had to bury his parents and siblings during world war II and still feel positive about life), then it is up to us to determine how negative or positive a situation can be. It is all relative.

Gratitude time for the ones who made a significant difference

  • Julia, as always. I do not know how would I have survived without you
  • My partner, for her unwavering support and love
  • Belle, for her invitation to Hong Kong
  • Andy & Jussi, for taking that effort to convince me that meeting strangers can be a pleasant experience
  • Adrianna, for being that inspiring example
  • Danny, for your moral support
  • All the great friends I have made during #barcamp
  • All my clients, especially Kevin, who has not only been a great client but a business mentor to me. The rest, I won't mention all the names because all of you have been great. Thank you for your support and understanding
  • All the Stevens (two, actually) that I know, for they see in me what I cannot seem to see for myself
  • Twitter and my twitter friends, for being my source of comfort when the going gets tough. Not sure what I'll do without the internet, seriously. I wouldn't even have a career! Can't imagine if I was born a century earlier.
  • Those of you who believe in the magic of the universe, thank you for making me feel sane.

Here's to a great 2010!

It is all about perception

This post was triggered while I was reading Avram Grant talk about his father. He was deeply influenced by his father, who at the age of 13 had to bury both parents and his five siblings during the second world war. His father could have become very bitter, I think nobody would take that right away from him.

But he did not. As Avram Grant recollected:

‘He actually couldn’t understand why I had gone. “Why do you live in the past?” he said. “The future! That is what life is about”. Incredible.

Avram Grant was the caretaker manager of Chelsea, almost bringing them the coveted Champions League trophy, only for John Terry to miss his penalty.

I could have been one of those stories of people who went the very wrong way. Unlike quite a few exceptional people I know, I do not seem to possess that sort of healing mechanism when one encounters a setback. I would typically be very harsh upon myself, and would end up wallowing in self-pity that could last for months, if not years.

One's greatest enemy

I have learnt that one's greatest enemy is not society, not survival, not anyone – but yourself. There are plenty of people out there who have gone through horrible childhoods, encountered the worst situations you could ever imagine in their youth, survived cruel twists of fate in their adulthood, and yet they take all of it in their stride and still choose to live life in the most positive manner possible.

So what is it that sets these people apart?

I feel it is the gift of perception. The perception to perceive that life has to go on no matter what, and you may as well make the best out of it. The perception to see the silver lining in every cloud. The perception to recognise that there will always be people who are worse off and yet happier. The perception to realise that truth is the better choice over deceit.

Everyone possess the gift of hindsight but not many choose to use it positively. Most people use their hindsight for lamenting about making the wrong choices. For regret. For all the things they could have done and didn't do.

Putting it in my perspective

I had a great week this week. Not just great, but GREAT. And you know what?

I realised that I am just so grateful for all the major setbacks I have encountered in my life. It is the sort of gratitude that makes me well up inside and feel totally blessed. If not for my setbacks, I don't think I would take myself out of my comfort zone and find that courage to pursue my happiness.

And I feel even more blessed when I realised it could all have been so different. I could have taken the 'easier' route of accepting that reality that I didn't want to live in and forced myself into being someone I am not. I could have taken the other extreme and chose to numb my pain with substances.

I am fortunate, for my perception allows me to see things in a different light. I must say, this was not innate in me, it was a conscious but slow shift for the past 3 years. I was almost a completely different person if you have known me just 3 years earlier,

I guess I simply reached the bottom then, decided not to stay there and try climbing up instead.

"You cannot choose the cards you're dealt with, but you can choose the way you play the hand".

Further reading

How much do we have to lose…

...In order to appreciate what we have? Why does it take for us to lose, or to face mortality, before we are even willing to maximize life?

I've just read "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom. I picked up the book to read because I was feeling restless; I wonder if the restlessness I feel are subtle nudges by my guides. The book chronicles the last days of Mitch Albom and his University lecturer whom have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The story itself was nothing new, but Mitch Albom just have this way of writing that tugs the heartstrings, or maybe I am just an emotional blob. I'll rather be an emotional blob than a non-feeling human I guess.

Death is the main theme of the book, and the author repeatedly questions himself about his own values, dreams and goals when faced with his beloved dying lecturer. I don't have to face death, I've been repeatedly questioning my own values, dreams and goals regardless. However, I've been guilty of taking life for granted. Reading intricate details about Albom's lecturer's slow decaying body and lessons about life he tried to teach before he left the world, I cannot help but feel that I have been wasting precious time given to me.

Making major decisons

I've always made major decisions easily. I am blessed with the self-ability to be realistic in a manner realistic people cannot be. Realistic people are not truly realistic in my humble opinion because if they have been honest and realistic about their life and death, they would not choose to live life in a 'realistic' manner, would they? If they have known that life may end anytime, that health may degrade over time, that possessions may be lost any moment, would they still pursue a so called 'realistic' life?

So, most of my life's major decisions are made pretty simply. I just ask myself, what if I were to die the next day? Will I be at my deathbed regretting making this decision or not? And then I'll realise, what truly matters. That sucky job did not matter so I quit, I cannot bring my money to my grave so I spent it on stuff that would make me happy, I did not want a mundane life to flash past me before my death so I took risks.

When I tell my friends how I make decisions, they laugh and remark that I am being too extreme. Am I really? Does anyone of us truly know if we are going to be alive the next day? What is so extreme to be realistic about Death?

I am grateful because even if I procrastinate over work, waste my time fretting over senseless worries, but when it comes to major decisions, I  do not shy away from it. Never shy-ed away when I quit my diploma studies, when I fell in love with a girl, when I quit at least 8 jobs in 8 years because I couldn't fit into the system, when I told my heartbroken mother I want to move out and that I am gay at the same time, when I took the leap to be self-employed.

Looking back, I am proud to proclaim that they were all fantastic decisions that made my life a lot better. I struggled with the guilt when I was young, because it seemed to society that I was being selfish, but life is really not about living it so that parents can be happy or to gain acceptance by society.

Making better use of my time

Right now, I am just ruffled that I am not making good use of my time. I live everyday as though there are going to be many more 'everydays'. There's so much I want to do and fulfill, but it is always 'later when it's a better time'. Either I am waiting to do something, or I am simply busy with work. I have no desire to go back to 16 hour work days working on projects that mean not much to me.

My values have changed.

I would like to work on projects that mean something to me. I used to be working for a certain number each month, a number that would mean that basic to intermediate material needs would be met, and then hoping that after those needs are met, I would have time to work on personal projects and causes. To accomplish this I took on intense projects because I was naive enough to think that I can complete these projects in short-time frames and get paid faster, and that will enable me to reach my target soon, which equates to free time for me to do things I want to do. I just ended up very tired, dissatisfied, and burnt out.

I realised that I would be very much happier if I chose to work on stuff I really wanted to work on, design-related or not, and even if I have to compromise on my comfortable lifestyle. Chasing numbers just doesn't cut it for me. I feel that I should do what I feel is right, and simply trust that I will be provided enough for to accomplish my dreams and goals.

I no longer want to be the old self who lived just to prove my worth and to gain acceptance. I am so much more than my work, why should I let my work and material possessions define me?

Living life

I do not want to wait till someone has died, or when my senses fail, or I lose my limbs, to live life the way in order to do it justice. I want to be able to have a sense of purpose or accomplishment everyday and not feel like I have wasted yet another day.

I think for me it is very much a psychological barrier – I need to literally reprogram my mind to discard belief systems that seek to disempower me and not to fall back into the whole capitalist society syndrome whereby money-making must be the prime objective of every human being's survival plan.

I want to start living life.

Reasons for feeling insulted, disturbed & hurt by the new AWARE leadership

I have avoided writing about the anti-gay sentiments put out by the new AWARE executive committee (exco) because I feel that being in support of the old guard has nothing got to do about anti-gay vs pro-gay, but about women's rights in general. Till I got increasingly disturbed by their anti-gay statements, which I cannot put in words exactly how disturbed I feel to be reading the comments made by them.

They say we are very often abused by our fathers

This was one of the most disturbing ones:

"On a personal front, I've given ministered, I've counselled them. So you need to understand I'm not talking about... They are in pain. And very often...where you have abusive fathers, they do things with their daughters and the daughters revolt, rebel against society. We understand this is what it's all about." – Dr Thio Su Mien

Excuse me?! My father is one of the nicest men you will ever meet and he will feel very personally insulted and hurt to read this. I seriously do not think this self-proclaimed 'feminist mentor' should be even allowed to speak in public with all the insulting rubbish she is spouting.

I cannot decide whether I am petrified or amused that such narrow and un-evolved minds exist in women who had been highly educated and possess high-flying careers. These are the very same women who now want to fight for gender equality.

So, according to the new exco, led by 'feminist mentor' Thio Su Mien, me and my peace-loving, society-contributing gay community are criminals, abnormal, wicked, anti-family – basically in their eyes we do not seem to warrant a place in society, supposed to be abused and in pain.

The consequences & implications

Speaking from the bottom of my heart, I really wonder if they have considered all the implications and consequences before making such statements and having such beliefs? Is there even an absolute truth in anything? Did they even consider the feelings of people like us, or even the youth who are confused about their sexuality? To be marginalised and criminalised in this manner, to be made to feel as though as we do not belong anywhere, have they even stopped to think for a second if they may be causing a lot of hurt?

Supposing if they win the EOGM, and the possibility that the new sex education material is made to reflect homosexuality as a negative word, would there be a possibility that young, talented, confused minds will be driven to depression, or even suicide? What about influencing young minds into being homophobic individuals, subjecting their 'abnormal' peers to gay-bashing and discrimination?

Brainwash people to be gay?

I did not have an abusive father, sorry to disappoint Dr Thio, I do not remember having sex education in my school days, and homosexuality in my era was largely a taboo subject. There were no gay films, no gay propaganda, no media reporting on homosexuality, almost zilch.

Having no gay 'influence' when I was young did not stop me from falling in love with another girl. For me personally, for many of my gay friends, being gay has nothing much to do with preference for bedding the same sex. It is as simple as falling in love with another person. We just don't feel the same for the opposite sex, does that make us less of a human?

Why can't the new exco and paranoid parents simply realise that presenting homosexuality in a neutral perspective does not brainwash your precious kid into being gay? If your kid is gay, even if the poor kid is blocked off the entire media will do nothing much to change how he/she feels. You can probably threaten to disown the kid, make her/him marry someone, have kids, but do you even know how much more pain and suffering that causes for the person and the people involved? What about the marriage partner who was deceived into believing that their partner loves him/her?

The reverse is also true, if your kid is not gay, no amount of external influence can change that as well. I have plenty of straight friends who loves going to gay parties, watch gay films, hang out with gay people, but they would still rather be with the opposite sex. There is a healthy mutual respect, a mutual respect which would be in danger for the youth if the new exco manages to have their way.

Personally

I am proud to be who I am. I am in a committed relationship with a partner who loves me more than anything in this world, despite and in spite of my flaws; and I feel the same way for her. We are both doing our best for the causes we believe in – animal welfare and environmentalism. We like to give our time to stray animals whenever possible, she recycles everything that can possibly be recycled. We are not well off, but we are contented with what we have and are both working very hard to pursue our individual dreams. She has been my pillar of support, I would not be where I am today if not for her. Yet, according to Dr Thio, the new exco and their church, we should both seek cures (read an example of their supposed cure program). We have done nothing wrong except to love each other with our hearts, yet in the eyes of the new exco, we are dysfunctional and really need to repent.

I am lucky. My parents accept me for the person I am, we go out all together for family outings and occasions. My mom asks about my partner if she could not be present for some reason. I am out to everyone who knows me personally. I never had a friend who ended our friendship upon knowing I am gay. In fact, I never really had someone dear to me shake their heads in sadness and look at me with pity or distaste, but the harsh reality is, there are plenty of people who are subject to such discriminatory and hurting behavior.

Being in the minority has allowed me to be sensitive to other minorities. From my very own spiritual perspective, I see it as a blessing. I feel the pain and hurt when people exhibit discriminative behavior towards other minorities, be it the foreign workers, other races, etc. In fact, in many parts of the world, Asians are being discriminated upon as well. I do not feel it is fair to discriminate anybody if you do not want to be discriminated upon as well.

Mis-informed judgement

I deliberated for a very long time whether I should write this post. Like I mentioned previously, I am out to everyone who knows me personally, but I have never mentioned anything about my sexuality on my own websites, because the possibility of being judged by business associates and clients. I do not think that it is fair to be judged if people do not have the chance to get to know me personally first. That is the precise point I am trying to make. It is not fair to make a sweeping statement representative of gay people if you have not personally experienced their personal lives and relationships.

Yet I eventually decided to write this post, just like how I decided to out myself to everyone I know when I was in my youth, because I believe people will accept me for the person I am and not base it on my sexuality. People who make pre-judgments would not really appreciate me for me anyway.

Lack of empathy

I do not think the new AWARE exco has once stopped to put themselves in the shoes of gay people, or in the shoes of those parents who have gay children. They simply do not understand or empathise and is only concerned on their own selfish agenda of doing things THEIR right way.

Think about those teens who are already confused about their sexuality prior to this whole AWARE saga and take a moment to imagine how they would feel now. Take their adolescent sensitivity into consideration, their pain of not being accepted by society and the people they love, and being labelled as abnormal, disgusting, and other tons of negative words the new exco and their church have used.

I don’t hate the years of my life when I was broke. I look back on those times with fondness...I was able to move on from that period of my life because I allowed myself to fully accept it. I now know how important it was for me to have those experiences.

Steve Pavlina