defragment.me

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!

Getting out of my comfort zone

Hugs exchanged and tears shed at the airport yesterday when we sent off my cousin to Brisbane as she embarked on a whole new journey in her life. This is the same cousin who grew up with me during my formative years as we both shared the same interests and were labelled the rebellious ones in our families in our youths. She is eight years my senior, but that never seemed to be an issue when we exchanged heart to heart talks that were so important during those times when there seemed like no one could or would understand.

It was a strange relationship, because she was the anti-social one in the family while I was the young, pesky, attention-seeking eight year old when we first shared one of those lengthy conversations about life in general. Nobody would have expected our special bond, because she seemed intent on getting rid of me and gave me poisonous, evil stares during my early childhood while being under her mother's foster care.

I shed tears when she was going through the departure gates yesterday, not because I would miss her or that I could not bear to see her leave, but the sight of seeing my aunt having to part with her beloved daughter broke my heart. Five years. My aunt would no longer be able to dish out long nagging sessions of concern or cook special dishes for her daughter for five long years. Five years are like five eons to a mother.

It must have been hard. To make this decison to do her part for her love of animals, and having to leave her close-knitted family behind, having to bear witness to all the tears and the knowledge of her parents are both getting on in years.

But she did it.

The same cousin who loves routines, enjoys stability, needs security, and dislikes change – made this decision despite the difficulties. The same person who still keeps her childhood toys in pristine condition.

The irony of myself

I woke up today feeling upset, and I suspect it is not so much out of the sadness of seeing her leave. It was more of being upset with myself, because I know I can no longer hide behind my excuses and so-called worries when someone who has been so resistant to change in her life has gone ahead of me to create this change in her life. Not for more money, not for a better life nor ambition – but for her deep love of animals.

And me, who has been telling everyone who would listen that I want to be a nomad and explore new avenues, is the one who seems to be unwilling to leave the comfort zone and uproot my feet from the stable ground. Me, the person who goes around telling people that change is constant and everything is transient, that life is short and we should all live life to the fullest, is now the one fearful and apprehensive about taking big steps out.

My cousin, the person I least expected – served as a loud reminder for me to stop the procrastination over my travel plans.

I am not sure why. Is it because I am afraid to lose whatever that I have so painstakingly built over these recent years? Is it because I had nothing to my name all my life so I was never afraid of change, and now that I am slowly building my life up, I am no longer willing be a risk-taker anymore? Isn't it ironic that I am in the fortunate position I am in now because I was not afraid of risks and change, and now that I am starting to see the fruits of my labour, I have started to develop a paranoid, insecure complex?

The intricate balance

Where is that intricate balance between wanting to experience life to the fullest and yet able to ensure that I do not have to rely on government aid when I am old?

This is a huge learning process for me, to find that intricate balance. To not be afraid of owning possessions and committing myself to long-term plans and yet not be fearful when I lose these possessions or my plans do not work out the way I want them to be. I used to be money-wary, thinking that having too much of it will cripple my life or that it will have a negative influence on me, but I realised that I should welcome the presence of it to my life, because it will enable me to help those who are not able to generate income on their own (like animals). I was also commitment phobic, but I also learnt through the hard way that a certain amount of commitment is needed for the fulfillment of goals.

I really do not want to be hoarding on to any material possessions to get a sense of security because I know that that sense of security is nothing but an illusion. The aries (sun sign) in me is like shouting in my head to just do what my heart requires but the insecure taurus (my moon sign) is telling me that I have to hoard for a rainy day.

The amusing part comes in when I actually know the answers to my issues. Even if I hoard everything for a rainy day, some external event (like the economy collapsing – no longer so far-fetched) can happen to take that all away, so the reality is I have no control over my possessions; I may as well follow my heart. I actually know these at the back of my head, but somehow I find myself slipping into that insecure state of mind every now and then.

Faith is all I need

Undiluted faith is all that I need, the faith that by following my heart, and by trying to fulfill my purpose in life, that everything will turn out the way it is meant to be. At least if the day comes when I have to struggle to death without a penny to my name, at least I am comforted with the knowledge that I have not lived my life in vain.

But if there's really nothing, say you're either already retrenched, or about to be retrenched or you're not sure, then you might just take that leap because the loss is not much already.

Henry Tan via channelnewsasia.com

My hopes for 2009; the right time is now

The previous few years were major milestones of my life: in 2006 I met the person whom I think I am going to spend the rest of my life with, in 2007 I took the leap of faith into self-employment, and in 2008 spirituality took on a whole new meaning as I seeked for answers . All these events happened without any form of warning or planning, and therefore I have come to the conclusion that the best things in life happen when you're least expecting it.

I have no doubt that the sequence of events were intricately linked – the stability of my personal life allowed me to seek the instability of a solo career, while the freedom of being a solo designer allowed me to experiment with spirituality. I do not think I would think of attending workshops had I still been trapped in the body of an overworked designer. :)

Looking forward to 2009, I do not want to plan resolutions because I know life typically, at least for me, does not go according to plan. Instead, I hope to draft my hopes for this year, setting the intention, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

No more waiting

Near the very end of 2008, I came to the realisation that I cannot wait any longer put my dreams into action. I have spent most of my life waiting, waiting to grow up, waiting to start working, waiting to be financially secure. Yes, even for someone like me, financial security is important. I had wanted to wait till my income would be strong enough to support my conquer-the-world plans. However, a series of happenings opened my eyes to my own foolishness. Life is unpredictable, just like happy events occur when you're least expecting it, unfortunate ones happen without much warning too. What if financial security eventually arrives, and my health can no longer support my travel plans? Wouldn't that be the greatest irony?

I know I sound paranoid, but I sounded paranoid when I used to speak about banks collapsing and people losing money that were earned over a lifetime. This was before the economic crisis and it sounded unfathomable, yet am sure it does not really sound unrealistic now.

A friend of mine recently recounted how her cousin's husband passed away unexpectedly with a heart attack, at the age of 28. The age I would be turning in approximately four months time. I do not want to have the it-will-not-happen-to-me mentality, because I jolly well know anything can happen to anyone.

The right time is now

Thus, this year I intend to put my travel plans into action, no matter how much it disturbs me to see numbers in my bank account dwindling. Ironically, I never felt the pinch when I was younger and poorer, when I was living paycheck to paycheck and would be lucky not to incur any debt. People tend to fear losing when they have more to lose. The instability of freelancing have forced me into putting money away for the rainy day, but the more money I put away, the more I become attached to it. I am not saying that I want to go back living to paycheck to paycheck, but I do recognise the need to adjust my mentality.

The illusion of security

With the state of the economy, it seems like madness to want to be less attached to my money and initiate travel plans. These are times of uncertainty, I should be saving every single cent I can grab, right? Yes, there is also a possibility I may become the most successful money hoarder in 2009 and still get stricken down with illness, and I am not willing to risk that possibility. Times of uncertainty or not, life is still fragile.

To me, security is an illusion anyway. Times can be good, and no matter how secure or prepared anyone can be, everything can still be taken away from you in an instant.

Life should not come to a standstill in times of uncertainty. Fear breeds more fear. On the bright side, travel costs would probably be significantly lower. For example, it is a great time to visit the UK now, because right now it is 1 SGD to 2.1 pounds, whereas it used to be 1:3 in better times. Ditto for Australia, it is now 1:1 instead of 1 SGD for 1.3 AUD.

My immediate plans

I would probably try hopping across the Asian region first, before venturing further. Armed with my laptop, and designing websites from some remote guesthouse that provides a table and internet access.

I used to get raised eyebrows all the time when I tell people of my dream to travel and work from anywhere in the world, but it does not seem so far fetched anymore.

One big hope and a few small ones

This is my one single big hope for 2009, to finally be able to try traveling and working. Along the way, I would hope to:

  • find ways to diversify my income streams
  • contribute more to causes
  • connect to my spirit guides
  • meditate more
  • pick up yoga
  • stay healthy

Here's to a great 2009 to all of us.