defragment.me

Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

JK Rowling, The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination

Action plan for change

I've been in a state of limbo for the whole of 2010 – a year which I thought will bring tons of positive developments to my life, after all the groundwork I've put in for the past couple of years. The previous year in 2009 I have been hard at work to try and curb all my personal fears and issues in order to give myself the platform that I need to pursue my various goals in life. I've took the step out to:

  • write openly about my low self-esteem
  • end my hermit-dom (aka social phobia) and meet people from my online social circles which cumulated into attending an industry event full of 200 over people I don't know
  • start travelling solo which ended up my life-long fear of sleeping in the dark & various paranoias of being alone in a foreign land
  • take various metaphysical courses which have always been an interest that I've put aside for 'proper' work

Life can only get better I thought since I'd gradually overcome the issue that was affecting me the post – myself.

This was a significant life-lesson to me, never be complacent and expect things to run smoothly within your expectations, ever. Life always has this uncanny ability to throw us curveballs when we least expect it.

Background story

So, the story of 2010 can be broken down in 3-month parts from January to September.

First 3 months was spent in anxiety and denial about the situation which transformed to a delayed reaction of anger and it ended up with myself breaking down physically, mentally and emotionally. I can't really write about the actual situation itself, except that it involved me having to shift my entire plans for this year which included a drastic breakdown of a relationship that was very dear to me. Having a fear of conflict didn't help as I tried desperately for it not to evolve into a conflict and it backfired instead for all parties involved as buried feelings and forgotten childhood hurt rose to the surface.

On the surface, the situation is not that big a deal. I think it could be difficult for people to understand why it affected me so much. I actually didn't understand it myself and it contributed to the worsening of the situation as I repeatedly asked myself whether I was over-reacting. On hindsight, I think I was just very weary of fighting similar battles in my life – I had this feeling that I've spent all my life fighting, and just when I thought the worst is long over, everything crumbled again. It drove me into feelings of helplessness, self-resentment, half wondering if I didn't try hard enough, and half wondering if the Universe was intent to make a joke out of me. I have done my best, but my best just wasn't enough. It seemed like no matter what I did was enough to earn me a period of peace and quiet.

The second 3-month period was spent cleaning up the mess as I gathered every last bit of my sanity and energy to rationally handle my responsibilities. I was blessed because most of my clients understood as I tried to make my poor health and emotions take a backseat.

It wasn't just poor health and unstable emotions though, it was a loss of something that makes me never ever want to feel that way again. I lost my enthusiasm for life. Even travelling didn't help me feel better, but what it did was to give me the space I needed to pick up the pieces, thankfully.

The final 3 months of June to September I spent trying to heal. I was able to stop working for at least a month from mid august to mid september. I went through several transformative experiences during this period and I would like to write about it in the near future.

I came back in mid-september and amusingly (it is amusing to me now) went through another stressful period house-hunting, dealing with awful property agents, feeling anxious about my housing-budget, packing and finally moving.

I am back to the physical state I was before my travels, tired. But this time it is different. I am carrying the same physical fatigue, but my mindset is totally switched. If I cannot control my external circumstances, I may at least be in the optimum state to deal with it.

I thought it would be good to share my action plan with all of you (as well as a reminder to myself). I no longer want to give myself excuses or be in denial about myself.

1. Build my fitness

I've always suffered from a chronic lack of energy and I wonder if I was predisposed to it. I guess I will only know if I actually did try to make an effort to build my fitness. I admit I don't exercise much and I should. Now with a swimming pool near me, I really have no excuses. Water calms me down as well. I forgot to mention building my fitness involves taking greater care of my diet.

2. Learn to calm my mind

I think this is closely related to the one above, I guess if I am always twitching with nervous energy from lack of exercise, then I cannot really blame my mind for going wild. Will like to try regular meditation practice as well.

3. Condition my mind

I suffer from fear and anxiety in relation to several issues that are no longer relevant to me but I still suffer the long-term effects of having to cope with (or run away) from these issues for so long. For example, I have absolute faith in the Universe's integrity yet my mind tries to make me paranoid because of the fear of lack. I know security is an illusion and yet sometimes I unconsciously strive towards it. I want to truly live in the now, make the best of each and every moment instead of worrying about some event in the future that may never happen. All things shall come to pass.

4. Practice detachment

This is also closely related to point 3. The reason why I am prone to depression, anxiety, fear (apart from possible faulty genes) is because I tend to feel emotional about anything and everything. I am proud of being emotionally sensitive, but it gets to the point whereby I don't stand up for myself or my mood gets affected feeling upset about something that I should not get upset with, if only I can put aside my emotions to gain a clearer perspective.

5. Trust

I suffer from an immense distrust in myself because of what happened in the first 3 months of 2010. I have this paranoia that my breakdown will happen again. I find it difficult to trust myself to rise from adversity. There is no reason to feel that way if I do my best to manage myself well. The worst situation can happen but I have no reason to fear if I truly believe in myself and the Universe.

At least I've tried

Despite of what had happened, one belief has never changed. I rather die trying than to never have tried before.

Adversity happens for a reason. I now look back and realise that the events were immensely beneficial to my growth. If everything went as smoothly as expected, I wouldn't have the time to reflect on what truly matters. I also wouldn't have been pushed to such a corner – to make drastic changes to my life. I wouldn't have been reminded again that never to put all your eggs in one basket, we need to constantly renew and rejuvenate ourselves in order to stay progressive in life. The pursuit of security is a tiring, endless and fruitless game. Think about it, the Universe has ways to take away your comfort, money, anything whenever it wants. The point is to make the best out of every moment. Keep the faith.

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.

Travelling solo, finally

Almost 3 years after I set out to fulfill my dreams of travelling around the world, I finally booked a one-way ticket to Phuket after procrastinating at the booking screen for a few days suffering from decision paralysis.

So Phuket is not 'the world', but it would be a start, and I am rather comfortable in Thailand. I hope to be starting off at Phuket but venturing to places I have never been to before, like Khao Lak & the Khao Sok National Park. Transportation around these places is not as straightforward as I'll like it to be, but I'll just see what happens along the way. I just hope I don't cop out and stay the entire time in Phuket.

So what's the big deal

I've always been afraid of sleeping in the dark, I feel afraid even when there's people in the room with me, but over the past couple of years I've slowly begun to overcome that. Still, it is a big step for me to actually try being alone in the dark in a foreign country or in the middle of the jungle (photo credit):

Khao Sok Accomodation

And this is the first time I'm truly travelling alone to a destination where I have no family or friends. Without my partner to fuss over me, without someone as a security blanket, without someone to discuss with when I suffer from decision paralysis.

Which is why I must do this.

I really believe people must get out of their comfort zones in order to grow and going on solo travel is definitely going to take me out of my comfort zone. I think I've been hiding too long, trying very hard to feel safe and secure, and relying on external circumstances or people to make decisions for me. Okay, that's a bit harsh since I've worked very hard and gave up a lot in order to be a solo worker, but it still doesn't take away the fact – I am afraid to be alone.

Not because I need company, but because I don't trust myself.

Do I have lots of money stashed away

Nope I don't. That's why I've delayed doing this for ages, because I wanted to be financially secure before attempting to do something like this. However, this year has taught me that health is much more a priority than money and I realise I cannot take my life or health for granted.

I will be bringing some outstanding work to work on the go, but I will be hoping to tie up all of my projects within this month or the next, and spend another month or so work-free (and stress free).

I am not sure if I will have enough to last that long, but I am going to try anyway. Worst-case scenario is to come back and wait on tables. I can live with that. Though when the time calls for it, I'll probably take on some small-scale projects to get by.

Why I want to travel

I've always wanted to travel. It is like a lifetime calling. I am not sure why, but I am sure there is a reason why I feel so strongly about it. Which I'll probably find out on the way I guess.

I've also been feeling really drained and I am hoping that being closer to nature will recharge me. Spending time in solitude has never failed to bring me opportunities for new perspectives and ideas.

I actually like to travel with people (the right company, of course) because they would amplify the joys of travelling. New sights to share, delicious food to salivate over together. I've always thought I wanted to do this together with my partner, but circumstances made it impossible and on hindsight, perhaps I am meant to do this alone.

Additionally, I want to see if I actually feel different in a different geographical location. Eckhart Tolle packed up and moved across seas to write "The Power of Now" because his inner-voice told him he would have a much easier time writing the book at a different location. That was an interesting idea when I first came across it. I am not implying that moving locations *is* the solution, but no harm trying it out. I believe different locations have different energies and everybody will react differently to different places. Or maybe it is not so hard to believe that staying closer to nature will be more inspiring that living in a concrete jungle full of stressed out people.

I know many people love Singapore for all the comforts that it brings and perhaps I will learn that I prefer this side of the grass after being at other patches, but I'll only truly get to know, only if I venture out of it. I definitely know of people who are really happier staying elsewhere (yes, I am looking at you, Adri ;p).

A start to something bigger

I chose Phuket because it is one of the cheapest destinations to fly to and I really want to be near an ocean (& anytime I can simply fly back if I chicken out lol). Hopefully the familiarity with ease me into getting used to the whole idea.

This is just for me to make a start and I want to be travelling further and doing some serious country-hopping before 2010 ends.

I have been to many different places but I never really had the chance to really settle down in one place and experience their local culture for what it truly is. Ideally, I will like to spend about 1-3 months in a single place, live there for a bit, work for a bit, get to know the locals and not so much of being a tourist.

Whatever happens, it will definitely be an interesting experience. Wish me luck. :)

Confidence

There are generally two types of people in this world. People who have innate self-confidence and people who needs others to deliver confidence.

I happen to be the extreme end of the latter.

The downfall of my confidence

I think I used to be self-confident as a child, maybe because I never needed to study much in primary (elementary) school and still managed to ace my papers. I was the child that my parents would literally be boastful of. My achievements year after year was trumpeted like a media press release. Perhaps I was never confident actually, more like complacent because of my environment.

The turning point came when I was 11 and having my primary 5 year-end exams. As the routine goes, I never put any effort into revision, I had never needed to. I stumbled horribly for my maths paper, because usually I would finish any paper an hour ahead of my peers – thus I took my own sweet time and I only managed to finish 60% of the paper before time was up. For the very first time in my life, I experienced failure. (And for my poor parents, the beginning of the end for their trumpeting.)

This set the tone for the rest of my years until my mid-twenties. The vicious cycle of failure, disappointment, trying really hard not to fail again, even more disappointment. The bigger the disappointment I had grown into, the more pessimistic I became of life. And of course, the discovery of the fact that there are millions of people smarter than me, so much so that I was convinced that my primary school achievements were a fluke.

Letting go of past achievements

I remember looking my primary school report book wistfully for many years later, until when I was about 17 and I threw it away accidentally in the middle of a move. Perhaps that wasn't an accident. I spent years mourning about it, thinking that I would never be able to look at it proudly again.

Till I realised that my 'success' as a kid was holding me back – what could the past for for me? Even if I were to ace my education till the tertiary level, that would not guarantee me success or happiness in my adulthood. I bore a grudge towards my parents because I felt that they were holding on to the past too much and thus I could never be the prodigy they envisioned me to be. Never did I realise, I was also holding myself back.

For the world can have so many plans and visions for me, ultimately it is my own destiny. (lol, pardon me for the cliche.)

Taking ownership

I think my life really transformed when I took ownership of my own life. It only happened after I had tried really hard to please my loved ones and realised all the attempts were futile. I could never be someone who would live a life someone had designed for me. It was a matter of time that I would break free – the choice was either breaking free or ending my life. Around this time I came across a book which the theme revolved around "You are what you believe" and it all became so clear to me.

All my life till then, I have been trying to get people to believe in me, but I never really believed in myself.

That was a start. I wouldn't say I found my confidence overnight, but I think what started the process was that I desired to find my confidence back. Or my life back. To own my life and not have it owned by circumstances or the environment.

I think that was in 2005.

Still taking baby steps

Now, in 2010, I am still seeking confidence. It has been a slow but sure process. Baby steps. I still fear speaking to people, and I would not remotely consider speaking in public, and I still feel very nervous about my work, or go through countless sleepless nights when I question whether I am cut out to be a designer.

A huge difference is – the future looks bright to me. Quite bright actually from where I am standing. Whereas life used to be a pain looking forward, now I am slowly getting excited about what is in stall for me.  I had been truly blessed, for there have been a few good people who have shown the faith in me that I could not even find in myself. But I had to open my life up to even have the opportunity to meet these people in the first place. The desire to push myself out the comfort zone.

Serendipity

I am currently in a new set of circumstances whereby I would never imagine myself to be. In a place where I am given a huge vote of confidence and an incredible amount of validation by some exceptional people. I would not have met these people if I did not push myself out of hermit-dom. The experience I am having now can be all traced back to that single flip of that switch in my mind. (Aided by some strange dude from the UK named Andy who never gave up asking me out for coffee lol.)

For many people, making a change in their lives seem really difficult. Many a time, the results would not be visible until a long time after. We just need to have that desire and commitment to make changes, even how miniscule it seems to be. Who would have known that the casual coffee I had with two strange Caucasians would be the beginning of of a mini-revolution in my life?

Though I should include a standard disclaimer that says, there is a thin line between self-belief and insecurity-influenced arrogance.

Looking forward with confidence

I don't know what is life going to bring me from now onwards, I just know that I am immensely grateful. It does not matter if the bright future I envisioned turned out to be not bright at all – it is really the process that matters. I think many of us are just fearful of losing what we have now – and if it helps I can remind all of us that it is not in our hands entirely whether what we have remains with us or not.

"Confidence, Sir Alex Ferguson once said, is the key to about 99% of what is achieved in any walk of life."

I wouldn't say it is 99%, but it is a major influence on how we perceive ourselves, and in turn, that determines how we perceive life. Having that bit of confidence has definitely made a huge difference for me – that confidence allows me to dictate many of my choices and not let it by dictated by my circumstances.

As long as I have that bit of confidence, the competition doesn't matter, the economic conditions doesn't matter, because if I believe that you have something to offer and you work really hard, there will always be something on that plate for you. And if it really turns out that the plate is empty, if I have the confidence in my own survival, then what is there to be afraid of?

There is only one self to be afraid of, because it is the one self that self-determines whether he/she can survive or be fearful of any circumstances or conditions given to him/her.

Living life without limits

"Now is the time to integrate with kindred spirits while continuing to leave internal and external limiting factors behind."

Quoted from The Aquarius-Leo Full Moon of January 2010 - Creativity Crystallizing in Forms of Power by Robert Wilkinson.

Astrology works in funny ways (No it is really not the monthly column you read in newspapers). I was just having this whole thought process about the limiting beliefs I have in my life for the past few days, and this article cropped up in my feed. Regardless of whether the astrological transits influenced me or not, I thought the above quote aptly summed up what I feel now, and will probably be the theme for my 2010.

Moving forward

I wanted to write my customary New Year's resolutions post quite a while ago, but I did not really have any specific resolutions. Not because there wasn't anything to improve on, quite the opposite actually. I think I am on the brink of a crucial transition phase in my life, and mere words will not be enough to express how I feel.

The great fear of moving backwards always seem to stop me from moving forward. I cannot help but feeling that the best solution is not to move, stay in limbo, until I know the best way to move forward. But there's no "best way to move forward".  How do we determine what is the "best"? By basing on experiences of others?

I've always believed, from a young tender age, that the best way to live life is to live it spontaneously. Yet how many of us can truly be spontaneous? Not worry about bills? Even if we don't care about our own survival, what about our loved ones and whether we would be able to afford medical care for them if necessary?

Bad news can be catalysts for growth

A while ago I had some news which threatened my financial stability. All the plans that I've made for this coming year either has to be shelved, or I have to find some miraculous way of pulling it all together. Perhaps if it was in the past, I would have been crippled by the news. Devastated, and think that nothing in my life goes according to plan. The reality is, even the best laid plans can be thwarted. A dip in the economy, a war in some country, a natural disaster, tons of things can happen. We can only try our best.

I could have continued moping about my situation, which I did, for a short while – I think sometimes we have to reach the bottom in order to rise up. Problems can be solved by money are not problems. I sound frivolous by saying this, but look at little Charmaine, whose banner I put up on the right sidebar of this blog. We can garner all the donations for her expensive treatments, but her life is still in the hands of fate. We can only hope and pray for the best. Money cannot solve her problem, neither can money really solve Haiti's problems. Can money bring peace and stability to a nation? But that doesn't mean we stop giving or trying, because trying our best is better than not trying at all, isn't it?

We all have choices

Some of us are trying their best to deny this, but we all have choices. I used to hold a deterministic view of life, I believed that everything was pre-destined and we don't have a choice if we're destined to suffer. Somehow I was blessed because a series of events changed my views. I can choose to mope, or I can choose to be hopeful. If someone without limbs can lead such an inspiring life, why the rest of us who can walk, talk and eat, feel so aggrieved?

I have realised it is all about being able to exert control over your mind. Most of us allow the mind to rule us, to tell us we have to be richer, to do better, to be slimmer, whatever. I am blessed to know a few people who are not bounded by the restrictions of the mind or society, and these people are truly exceptional. They take risks, live life to the max, and are truly happy. You don't even need to know them to know they are happy. They exude happiness from their very core.

Wiring & beliefs

Being raised in a materialistic society in Singapore, (and it didn't help having a very critical mother), add my natural melancholic self to the equation, I seem to be wired to believe that I was destined to fail. I worry about anything and everything, and I worry what will happen in 50 years time. I worry about the future and problems that doesn't even exist. I think of the worst case scenario in every situation. It can be a good trait. It is always good to be prepared for the worst consequences, but not when you actually believe that the worst consequences are likely to happen all the time. Sometimes I think I actually will my problems into existence. Isn't this what they call a self-fulfilling prophecy?

So when I received the news that could threaten my financial stability, I went through the entire process of 'shit, I am never going to make it'.

This time, a switched flipped in my mind. If there's a 50/50 chance of failure and success, why do I seem to think that failure is the higher possibility? Why do I subscribe to the notion that I was not capable of rising up to the new occasion, that my situation will improve instead?

As I allowed myself to conjure hundreds of solutions to my problem, I realised that a solution was not impossible. It was just how much I was willing to do it. A difficult solution does not mean impossible.

Removing limits

Now, I am in the process of removing all my limiting beliefs. Whatever that held me back in the past. It is not easy, and some mornings I still wake up with slight panic attacks over what I am going to do about my problem, some nights I still get dreams of being late for exams. I seem to dream a lot of the past and it gives an accurate picture of my whole psyche. I am still wired to the past, still haunted by it. In reality my life is getting better every day but there is still this part of me that thinks that this is all too good to be true, and that it will end soon. I am like ending my own happiness even before even any sign of trouble. I am already planning for doomsday.

Nobody is threatening my happiness except myself. I cannot change external circumstances but I can learn how to cope with it positively. I wouldn't be in my 3rd year of my solo career now if I didn't choose to let go my fears. I would never have imagined having the life I have now when I was still working long hours under employment. Back then, I only wanted my life to improve slightly, to stop working nightmarish hours and I was even prepared to suffer and earn less money in exchange for having a life back. Now, I am almost living the life I have always dreamed of, I still have to work long hours and suffer the stress every now and then, but I have the freedom (to travel, to sleep in, to choose clients, etc), and that is most important to me.

Instead of fretting over the possible problems in the future, I rather spend my energy being the architect of my ideals. I want to dream of an improved life, not plan for the worse. Because even if unfortunate incidents do happen, there's usually nothing much you can do. Probably the very most, is to be properly insured and have some emergency funds. Even the deepest emergency fund you have in the world will not help much if life really decides to throw you a curveball.

Grateful for the unexpected

Now, looking back at the news I'd received, I am amazingly grateful for it. Like truly. I was in some form of a comfort zone and I needed it to push me out of it. If this did not happen, I would not have been spurred on to be creative about the ways I can change my lifestyle. Something that I thought that required a financial miracle is turning out to be seemingly possible – all because the situation called for extreme solutions, and one of the solutions do not seem so extreme after all...In fact, based on the current situation it is quite do-able within my means, and who is to say my means will not improve? At the very least, it is worth trying and hoping for.

If this did not happen, I would not even contemplate this particular solution (sorry for being ambiguous but it is too early to write about it), because my own limiting beliefs thought it was impossible.

Just trust

Some time last year, I was in a very bad shape and I let go. I let go of my worries, my fears, and any attachment to any outcomes. I told myself to trust the Universe and see what happens. It was very scary, but looking back now, whatever followed up actually turned out much, much, better than I could ever have imagined or expected.

This time, and for the rest of my life, I want to do the same. Just trust. Implicitly. As long as I can eat, talk and walk, whatever that comes along is a bonus and a blessing.

It will not be easy, but I really do want to stop being so affected by my past, whether is it memories, phobias, conditionings.

I want to re-wire myself.

I want to live my life without my self-imposed or society's limits.

"Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they would get. But if you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen." – Conan O'Brien

Inner reflections: Self-esteem

I have low self-esteem. I am not afraid to admit it. In fact I think I over-emphasise on it.

I hesitated writing this post because I wasn't sure if I really wanted to share my confused, intimate thoughts publicly, but eventually I've decided that I do feel like I want to share my growth (or the lack of it) with you.

Prior to my Tokyo trip I promised myself I will start from a clean slate when I return. Now that I am back, I'll not be afraid to admit that I am still in the process of clearing my thoughts. I shall attempt to type them down here – but I should pre-warn anyone that whatever that follows will probably be like a tangled ball of uncertain, confused thoughts.

Issues arising

I am not sure when did the transition actually take place, since when did I morph from an over-confident, vocal kid, to someone who is painfully shy and who is coping with the lack of a self-esteem? This is the root of many of my issues. My poor self-image probably contributed most of me:

  • being afraid to speak out
  • being extremely shy
  • having no proper boundaries because I am afraid to upset people – not being able to say 'no' when I should (which in turn is causing many more issues)
  • under-charging for my work that I am seriously proud of
  • letting people step all over me
  • disliking confrontations
  • getting upset very easily because I take people's words too personally, or letting criticisms upset me too much because I am too sensitive of my own flaws
  • letting my moods fluctuate easily because I am easily affected by outer conditions
  • expecting too much out of myself because I don't give myself much credit
  • not being motivated to work because I am paranoid that I'll start to regress in terms of quality of work

Basically I am constantly swimming in vicious cycles. Poor self image leads to tons of issues described above which translates to poor quality of life. It is already a huge improvement from a couple years back, when I would find it difficult to believe that I would ever be happy. I used to think that my life is destined to be ridden with 'bad luck' because I tend to encounter negative situations repeatedly.

Blaming it all on the world

It seemed like all I wanted to do was to be happy and work for my passion, but all I ended up with was plenty of people who seemed to take advantage of my idealism. I would negotiate a low-pay package because I wanted to learn, thinking that since I was green, it would be sensible to exchange money in return for experience. However, being a fast learner, I would usually excel on the job, but the pay package would never be revised.

I sincerely believed that my employers would recognise my effort. Yes, it doesn't make business sense for them to revise my pay package voluntarily right?

At this point, many people, especially those who believe in their capabilities, would hold reasonable talks with their employers to change the situation, but fearing confrontations, I would simply be silent, until I would gradually lose the love for my job because of the lack of appreciation – monetary or not.

I would proclaim proudly – that I am not taken by money the way most people do and I would rather choose to be a poor artist who would at least be working for a job I love. Ah, that poor artist mentality. That set the pattern I would encounter for many years of my life. I gave up money for the freedom to choose (I still will).

There was a particular job where most of the employees were just trying to bide their time, whereas I was winning pitches and new accounts with my work. Six months into a job, no word of any recognition, which didn't particularly disturb me, until I found out by accident that I was the lowest paid employee by a four-figure mile.

I am only but human. I felt let down, not only by my employer, but by the world. Why was it that no matter how hard I tried, how much I excelled, how not materialistic I was, I never seemed to be appreciated?

It is only a recent discovery that perhaps I didn't value myself enough for people to value me. I couldn't see that being paid adequately and being materialistic are separate issues.

And it seeps into my current work

After going into self-employment, the same pattern ensued. I kept my rates low when I first started out to build a portfolio, which was justifiable. Just that I continued to keep my rates low because I probably didn't think people would hire me if I raised my rates. Apart from that, I kept accepting work because I was paranoid that work would dry up. So, I was working long hours, getting not a lot of money, feeling really stressed out because I was very particular about the quality I output, with deadlines looming over me every day.

It wasn't a pretty sight. Do I have anyone to blame for burning out, falling sick, and losing the passion for my work?

I remember telling a client that I was flexible over rates as long as I get to do good work. Now, I am not sure what kind of message I was sending out to the world. Though I must maintain, I am very blessed because there have been a couple of clients who not only refrained from taking advantage of my idealism, they actually took care to reward me more than I asked for. If I had to go through all that again just to know that there are such kind souls that exist, I would gladly do it all over again. People like them give me hope in this world.

It is extremely frustrating, because all I wanted to do is to be nice, help companies who are starting out (which means they do not have much of a budget), because I truly want to invest in their dreams. I want to help execute someone else's vision, because I know how it is like for someone to help when everyone else just want to know about the figures.

I have not changed my stand, I would still consider helping someone if it was worth it, but there has to be a balance. I find it difficult to reconcile that being one of the better designers (not the best, but I would say above average, that much credit I would give to my work), I have to think really hard if I wanted to purchase a new laptop for my work.

The creative conflict

I think this is an inner-conflict that many passion-motivated people face. Trying to get rid of the 'poor artist' mentality or stop thinking that money corrupts (my beliefs about money will warrant another long post).

And how do we draw the line between genuinely wanting to be 'nice' and yet not allow people to step all over?

I have a fear. That I will not meet expectations if I start to raise my rates. Then again, the value of money is relative. Even I charge really low, there will still be people who will deem it too high.

Overcoming it

I am not sure how long it will take me to overcome my low self-esteem – it has been rooted deeply in me since childhood. I take comfort in a quote (originally discovered on Evelyn Lim's blog) from Warrior of the light by obviously enlightened Paulo Coelho (author of The Alchemist):

You can recognize a Warrior of the Light by the look in his eye. Warriors of the Light are in the world, they form part of the world and they were sent into the world without saddlebags or sandals. They are often cowardly. They do not always act correctly. Warriors of the Light are wounded by the most foolish things, they worry about trivialities, they believe themselves incapable of growing. Warriors of the Light sometimes believe themselves unworthy of any blessing or miracle. Warriors of the Light often ask themselves what they are doing here. Often they find their lives meaningless. That is why they are Warriors of Light. Because they fail. Because they ask questions. Because they keep looking for a meaning. And, in the end, they will find it.

How the Universe worked its magic on me

I have been buried in work, which in turn makes me feel like crap because I can't seem to output anything that is of my own standards when there are deadlines everyday. I can point fingers at client-side delays inducing clashed schedules, unexpected events in my personal life (passing away of an uncle), bad luck (falling into a drain), but I won't.

Deep down in my heart, I know I can blame nobody but myself for the situation I was in.

Positive intentions, bad execution

The intention started out positively. All I wanted was to kick-start my travel plans, so I took in more work to steady myself financially, believing that I will have the strength to overcome tight schedules and an increase of workload with the bigger picture in sight. There were also a couple of local startups in need of design help, I have always been a supporter of local talents and I felt that it was something I could do to give back.

I ignored that little voice.

That little voice that tells me that I was risking over-extending myself, taking my energy for granted and that I should think carefully whether I was capable of survival myself before offering my help to anyone else.

On hindsight, perhaps I was meant to go through this period. It was the much needed splash of cold water on my face, telling me that I need to respect myself and my time more. That it is not to be taken for granted that I can work any piece of canvas into well-crafted websites. My own carelessness taught me a harsh lesson as I started to produce work that nauseated me.

Falling into that pit again, quite literally

I am not sure why, but I seem to be overly harsh to myself. Each stumble I made, I cruelly chastised myself for being inefficient, unproductive, incapable, ill-disciplined, whatever negative word I can think of to describe myself. The high expectations upon myself is a double-edged sword. I could feel the shadows of my depression overcoming me once again. I felt my life-force slowing draining away from me.

It is just work, right? I know. I just cannot tolerate myself for stepping into this vicious cycle, or ignoring my gut feel. I reminded myself repeatedly that my issues are non-issues compared to warring countries and starving children; I just can not help feeling as though I was sinking deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit.

When I fell into a drain amidst really tight deadlines for my work, I started laughing at myself. No, I was not going mental because of the unfortunate events, but rather I was getting amused. I looked up at the sky above and asked, "What else?". Amazingly, despite the really bad cuts on my leg and bruised ribs, I knew I was blessed. I knew I have been riding on my luck because I did not have any serious physical injuries since I was a kid. I knew the fall could have been worse, I could have ended up really badly injured rather than just cuts and bruises.

The magic begins

I had ordered a few books from Amazon.com a few days before and for unknown reasons, they shipped half of my order by UPS even though I did not pay for it. In this particular shipment there was a book by Michael Newton – "Destiny of Souls". I have read Newton's first book on past life regression and hypnotherapy many months back and was totally fascinated with it. I put his second book on my shopping list for a long while and have only decided to buy it after I needed to buy a few other design-related books as well.

Michael Newton holds a PhD. in Counseling Psychology and has been a professional hypnotherapist for years before accidentally regressing one of his cases to his past life. Since then he has handled thousands of cases, regressing them into their past lives and also in between lives. He was an atheist with a logical, scientifically trained mind and it took him quite a while to reconcile what he was experiencing.

This was mind-opening for me personally, because though I have always believed in higher powers, it is altogether different when a doctor writes a book detailing thousands of recorded cases. Thousands of people from different walks of life, many non-religious, but providing very similar information pointing to dimensions beyond us.

The Universe conspires

Due to my fall I was not able to work for a day as I was in considerable pain, forced to be bedridden. This is why I always say, we can all have the best laid plans but the Universe usually have other ideas for us. Co-incidentally (no, actually I don't believe in co-incidences anymore) the books arrived by UPS within a few days after the order! I have ordered books from Amazon many times before and this is the first time they despatched my order into two within the same day, to two different postal carriers. The usual wait is two weeks at least but this time I ordered on a Friday and received them on Monday morning. I had time to read the book because I cannot do much except to be in bed.

I finished the book while nursing my wounds, throughout the read I was constantly getting reminded what life is all about. The book was gradually pulling me out of my self-built pit and was somehow gently telling me that I have better things to do than mope (which I have already known but was too caught up with perceived practicalities of life).

Remembering

I was still contemplating about the contents of the book when I had to reply to an email by my spiritual mother (long story) and was halfway lamenting about my sorry situation before it dawned upon me that this is not the way I want to spend my life. Moping. I want to remember my life as a life I am proud of, not a life full of wallowing in self-pity.

I can be plagued by a series of unfortunate events but so what? There is no point in feeling 'unlucky'. It does not do anything to help the situation. When one stops fearing misfortune and the unknown, one achieves a sense of liberation. I have been blessed enough to be aware enough not to be tied down too much by the supposed practicalities of life and the reality set down upon me by others, but being human I kept losing my way. I accept this because this is part of the human experience. No matter how spiritually aware one can be, there is always bound to be ups and downs, greater challenges than the previous one. This is the point of life. To keep learning. I am grateful because somehow I am being guided back to the path intended for me. Silently and steadily.

When one stops fearing misfortune and the unknown, one achieves a sense of liberation.

I understand that I will need to learn how to cope with my overwhelming emotions and underwhelming self-image. It cannot be expected to be eradicated so soon after a lifetime of deep-routed programming and god knows how many past life-times.

My obsession with past-lives

My spiritual mother (yes this sounds funny but I cannot think of a better term), Julia, once commented I am the only person she knows that is so obsessed about past-lives. While signing up for the Soul Realignment course, Andrea Hess told me that I would not want to sign up if I am not able to do it. Thinking about this along the same line, perhaps there is a reason why I am obsessed and intrigued about past lives. There is a reason for every soul's desire, right?

So halfway typing the email to Julia (yes I have an issue with digression) I realised that this is what I really want to do and why not? What is stopping me? To be honest, I am afraid to cope financially. This a rational fear and I am sure many others while seeking their way to their goals feel the same as well. However, this time I am determined not to let it stop me. Pursuing my spiritual interests has been part of me for a long while now and why should I not? I can only get too impatient and eager to learn.

In denial

Perhaps I have been in denial about my work for a long time. Each time I think it is a passing phase caused by stress, but it has been a long time since I genuinely feel excited about a design project. The catch-22 situation here is, perhaps if I can find ways to diversify my income streams, I would not face so much pressure from my design work and that will enable me to produce work of a higher quality, and that will in turn allow me to work with better clients and budgets, which will also allow me to rediscover my love for design again. It is very much a part of me, so much a part of me that I am afraid to let go.

Yet I know I have to let it go first in order to find it back again. This applies to a lot in life isn't it?

Why spiritual therapy

I have had irrational fears, behaviors, reactions, inexplicable happenings. I had felt I do not belong to this world. There are just too many things in this world that cannot be explained by logic. When I was a child I never understood why I had to live, the thing is, people are so afraid of death right, most of them want to live. For me, everyday I wished for death. I did not know why. To be honest I never had a particularly harsh childhood, there was a lot of rejection and emotional pain but it was not as though I was made to beg on the streets.

Awakening spiritually was a life-turning point for me.I still don't quite get it why we have to progress spiritually in order to rejoin the Source one day, like why even start this process in the first place, or why was there even a Source in the beginning. However, it meant a lot to me that there are reasons why I have certain feelings.

I realise (thank god for the internet!) that there are many others like me. They are still in the minority, and there are many who did not have the luck or blessing to experience spiritual support (like I have Julia with me) or an awakening process. I know how it feels like to feel alienated and weird and I feel that I can learn to provide some form of support to these people.

I went through a Soul Realignment reading for myself and introduced Julia to it. We both found it really beneficial in different ways individually, it brought a lot of clarity to what we have been experiencing in the past.

Imagine being able to remember why you came into this life, why you have seemingly unresolvable issues with a parent, why you are afraid of heights or water, why you have an unexplainable pain in a certain part of your body. There is always the conflict of – perhaps we're not supposed to know that much, but I am slowly believing in 'when the student is ready, the teacher appears'. We're supposed to gain the information we are already meant to know.

I feel my empathy is gifted to me for a reason. This will not be my only stop. I have a deep-rooted interest to learn spiritual regression, animal communication, alternative healing, the list goes on. I am not sure when I will be equipped to actually provide any help, but I will know it when the time comes. I hope to blend whatever knowledge I will eventually acquire into some form of personalised support to people drawn to seek my help. I hope to be a conduit in some form because I had felt helpless before and I know how much difference it makes to have means of support and empathy.

This is what I desire, I do not know if I will eventually succeed or if I will lack the patience to persevere but at this very moment I will give it my best shot.

Stop feeding the fear mongers

They are not worth our precious time and energy.

Perhaps I was naive to think that things will settle down after the AWARE EGM – it has opened a can of worms that probably most of us would wish that it had remained closed, the Singapore government included.

I grew increasingly disturbed and worried as I chanced upon comment after comment that reeked of homophobia and narrow-mindedness. The news of MOE (Ministry of Education) suspending the sex education program made me start to seriously wonder what is going to come next. A witch-hunt?

Just when we think that the media censorship laws have gradually relaxed and the society seemed to be progressing, now it just seems like we are almost back to square one.

Many thoughts went through my mind as I came up with retort after retort, full of logic and reasoning, why people should stop being so near-sighted and judgmental. I was prepared to write a long post, making a clear argument on why all this paranoia is just plain ridiculous.

'The other side'

Until I came across a few blog entries and comments from 'the other side' – the side that believes that homosexuals are just headed for hell and that raising kids with 'the right values' is the apparent right thing to do. There were other people like me, who tried to reason their way through by making comments, and looking at the written exchange, I came to a realisation.

There is no point reasoning or arguing out with people who are just not willing to listen in the first place. Reading most of the conversations between the pro-gay and the anti-gay are like trying to understand a conversation between a chicken and a duck. One party can make a perfect argument but if the other party is not willing to see beyond his/her own viewpoint, they can go on forever and nothing will be concluded.

Alienation

Being marginalized personally for most of my life, I was actually almost immune to it. However, the scale of the matter this time caught me by surprise and I could not help but worry about the homophobia surfacing into the mainstream society. It is like the AWARE issue has forced many to take a stand and have a say, especially when their precious kids are concerned.

Prior to the AWARE hijacking, everybody went about their own business, the very most, conservatives would sometimes stare and mutter words of disgust to themselves. Now, the publicity and scale are somehow making many of the 'traditional' family-oriented people jump on the anti-gay bandwagon.

Ironically being gay is the least of what I have been marginalized for. I was made to feel like an alien because of my academic success (or the lack of it), my career path, my choice of hairstyle, a whole long list actually, and more recently, my spiritual beliefs.

People give me strange looks all the time, and that includes my very own relatives. Like the uncle who snorted when I told him I was running my own business. Friends roll their eyes when I talk about astrological charts and reincarnation. Strangers stare because of my spiky short hair (yes, girls must keep their hair long and flowy).

All these made me stronger, but not without much pain and tears. I have grown to be proud of my individuality and identity. What I have learnt through all these experiences is, there is only so much you can do to change a person's mind.

There are people who will listen, these are the ones who are not judgmental in the first place. Those who judge, are typically people who do not have it in them to open their minds to another viewpoint. The third category, are people who believe very strongly in their own beliefs, so firmly that nothing will change their mind unless they personally experience otherwise.

I generally do not have a problem who stick to their own belief systems, the issue only comes when there is a lack of respect in the belief systems of others. The extreme end of this spectrum, are people who deliberately incite fear and hatred.

Playing into their hands

It suddenly dawned upon me, by reacting negatively to these fear-mongers, I am simply playing into their hands. Negative feelings drain our energy. These people get a kick out of seeing us getting upset. The best way to deal with them, is either react positively, or choose to not react at all. It is just like dealing with people who are (consciously) abusive. They continue their abuse because the fear shown by their victims gives them a sense of power. The only way to dis-empower them is to stop the fear.

Having not much of a sex education in school did not make me less or more gay. Having a rigid education system depressed me more than it made me 'equipped' for society. Facing nay-sayers all my life did not dilute my individuality.

My take on the sex-ed program and 'concerned parents'

They can do whatever they want with the sex education program. I believe the targeted age group (12-18) will form their own judgments (or non-judgments) with or without a sex-ed program. The 'impressionable' ones, I am sorry to say, will still be impressionable by other sources even if the sex-ed program preaches all the 'right' values. Food for thought, would a 'concerned parent' be happier if their kid leads a double life in order to upkeep the 'right values'? It does not have to be an extreme case like a married man having a boyfriend on the side (though there are plenty of these around), there are plenty of people out there who are so internally conflicted that they cannot even bear to face themselves. Kids who live the 'right' way but end up extremely unhappy will make these parents happy and proud indeed (can't help the sarcasm, sorry).

Good will eventually prevail

I personally believe that whatever goes around comes around. I also believe in the good old fashioned 'good will prevail over evil'. Just as they would like to believe 'evil' gay people like us will be damned, I believe people who deny the minorities their rights and respect will have to bear the consequences one day. The government, for being overly conservative, will one day have to face repercussions (please stop complaining when there is a mass exodus of talent).

Nobody has the power to change my beliefs if I carry a strong conviction towards them, thus I understand that I do not have the power to change anybody else's.

However, I have the freedom and the right to express myself, that includes leading a fulfilling life and contributing to the causes I support. There will be people, however few, who will honestly question themselves, if I deserve to be in hell, simply by being in love with another girl.

Do not play in their hands any longer by feeling any ounce of anger, instead, focus on doing our own part (whether by setting a positive example or by positive advocacy, we just need to answer to ourselves.

I am not afraid to be judged if judgment day comes because I hold nothing but truth and love. On the contrary, am not so sure about the ones who incite fear and hatred. I therefore hope that one day love can open their eyes to God's unconditional and non-judgmental love.