defragment.me

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

Creating my own reality

I've spent most of my life doing two things – escaping from reality & trying to live in it. I alternate between the two, trying my best to run away from everything that is real and feeling miserable trying to cope with what is real. It was not a very happy existence.

They say when you hit the bottom of the pit, there is no where else to go except upwards.  I was feeling totally miserable with my existence, feeling that nobody ever understood me, almost resigned that my life was just destined to be a crappy one. I have tried everything I could to make things work for me, to make people who care for me happy, to survive in reality.

Surrendering

One day, I simply gave up.

The honest truth was that, I have reached my bottom of the pit, decided that my life was never going to get better, and the only reason why I did not take my life then was because I was a believer of karma and I really did not think it was a good idea to repeat what I have gone through this lifetime in my next life. That was a horrible thought, to go through all that pain and suffering once again – ironically this kept me alive.

I had decided that since my existence was already going to be totally screwed up, then I might as well just play along with it. Since I have already been through a pile of shit, it would not make much difference to go through more. From that moment of realisation, I made the conscious decision to stop trying to make people happy by living my life the way they want and to live my life the way I want, since the worst that could happen to me was to screw it up further, which by then I was already somewhat used to it. The people that care for me, can continue to remain unhappy, as I have given my best and they did not seem much happier, in fact, I was only making them feel worse.

It was like a mathematical equation. One person being happy (myself) > all of us being unhappy together.

Redefining reality

I quit my job, went on a month's long backpacking trip with my partner, which opened my eyes to the possibility of me being truly happy. During the trip we had met different people. There was the guesthouse owner who made her fortune selling rice, and was excitedly pointing out to us which property belonged to her. We were strangers, but she simply offered her help when I mentioned that we needed to extend my visa. She was rich, but unfamilarly real. She cried when we left, oafter spending only 2 days with us.

There was another lady we met staying at another guesthouse. She taught us how to ride a motorbike (for free), we gave her plenty of smiles and she gave us plenty of laughter. There were other backpackers who did not seem to be bothered by the outer-reality of the world, choosing to travel and live in the moment. There were plenty of people who did not bother with having a job and climbing social/corporate ladders. I have finally found that part of the world, the world that was contented with simple pleasures of life and did not equate success with having a life-long iron ricebowl.

I have actually learnt rather retardedly, that having nomadic tendencies was not wrong, trying to be happy was not wrong, and not being interested in the material world was not wrong. There were other people like me, I was just blinded by the reality that exists in my own country.

That was my first step to that knowledge that reality is relative.

What is reality?

It is only defined by your own experience, along with the experiences of people around you. For me, I had to live in the reality created by the people who were with me. That cold, harsh reality that they painted for me. That I must have a job, I must live my life the way 'everyone' else seems to be living, or else I will not survive. I had to listen to countless "...but this is reality!". It is their reality that they have to be stuck in jobs they do not love, because everyone else's reality says so, or your survival will be threatened. I was sucked into their reality, living in a life I felt that did not fit me. I was made to feel like it was a crime to not want to be in that reality.

I had to listen to countless "...but this is reality!".

I was their idealist, their escapist, to them I was in denial of reality. If I had a dollar for every shake of the head I've encountered so far in my life, I would have been a millionaire.

To people living in rural areas, planting their vegetable, leading a really simplistic life everyday, was their reality. I came across old couples, young children, living in really poor conditions. Yet, they had the sparkle in their eyes.

It gave me a lot to ponder. I began asking myself a lot of questions.

  • We're all individuals, we're all unique. How come there's so many of us try to live like the majority of the others?
  • If everyone of us is unique, why is it so unacceptable that some people are happy to be tied to their iron ricebowls, and some people are better off being a floater?
  • Why do we try so hard to disown our individuality when it should be protected and celebrated?

For my whole life I've been consciously trying to disown that unique self of mine, and I have developed a low self-esteem for all the criticism I received by trying to be myself. I felt unloved, and I thought I did not deserved to be loved, because I was creating so much unhappiness for the people who loves me.  I hated myself for being the person I was, I hated myself for not being able to 'face reality', for not being like the rest of the world I know.

Discovering that reality is relative was the key turning point in my life.

After so many years of conditioning to believe otherwise, it was not easy. Even till today I still get the little niggles of self-doubt, but I started to learn how to love myself and appreciate my own individuality. I am who I am, and I am also what I believe.

It is so simple, yet very few people realise that:

  • Why should anybody believe in you if you don't believe in yourself?
  • Same goes for self-love. One does not find true love unless you accept and love yourself for who you are.

The moment I gave up on reality, I discovered and created my own.

My own designed reality now consists of:

  • Waking up whenever I want
  • Doing the work that I love
  • People that love me finally accepting me for the person I am, once they saw me truly happy (which occured because I started to live for myself)
  • Still not having a job
  • On my way to being a global nomad – traveling and working wherever and whenever I want
  • Finding and being with my true love (which will only happen if you believe true love exists)

You can create your own reality, if only you believe in it in the first place.

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.

9 blessings to count (for what I am grateful for)

I am prone to waking up on the wrong side of the bed some times and wonder why situations in my life seems so difficult. My better self will remind me that I am already living a very blessed life, and I should be nothing but very grateful for what I have been given. There are times when it is difficult for me (being sensitive and emotional) to snap out of my negative moods, thus today I have decided I should write out a list of things that makes me happy and I should be grateful for – for that rainy day when I need that subtle reminder.

1. Being healthy

This is something that many of us possess and yet take for granted every day. Isn't health in itself something to be really grateful for? We simply need to flash a thought of someone living in borrowed time or someone who needs to go through painful treatments for chronic/terminal illnesses and I assure you that you'll feel instantly better about whatever crappy day you have.

2. Having my sight and limbs intact

This is closely related to the point above but I think it deserve a mention on its own. Isn't it wonderful to be able to walk, write, paint, cook, etc? That we have the ability to travel to anywhere we want, enjoy any physical activity, and do interesting stuff with our hands, take in the most beautiful sights?  I think a lot of us take this for granted as well.

3. Being able to eat and taste whatever I want

I love to eat. Eating makes me happy or it comforts me when I feel down or stressed. Of course, nobody should over indulge in food, but it is a blessing to be able to eat. Next time you lift the fork and poke at that boring plate of food, re-think again, because no matter how bad it tastes, you should be grateful for it, for not everybody is so blessed – think about the millions of starving people in poorer countries.

4. Being self-employed

Working on my own and from home is indeed a great blessing, because it allows me to be in control of my own destiny to a certain extent. I am very grateful for this because in times of recession I do not feel insecure about my job. It is up to myself to ensure that I survive, and not because some top-level executive have decided that it is the best strategic decision to retrench 10,000 employees. Sure, my business may not be as stable as before, but it is still in my own hands. I am certain that if I work that extra bit harder than before, I will eventually reap fruits of my own labour. If not, at least I had a good shot at it. Anything beats those days I had whereby I worked 16 hour shifts to meet mad deadlines and at the end of the year, the bosses buy new cars and property, while we employees cannot even be sure if we are entitled to an extra month's bonuses.

5. Not having to wake up at a certain time

Having my own business for more than a year, I have learnt to appreciate routines. I used to hate waking up in the morning, but I've somehow grown to enjoy it. However, I do not like it at all when I have to do it because everyone says so. There are times when I feel absolutely uninspired and it was a waste of time being at the office and trying to churn out work for the sake of it. It would have been more productive if I was allowed to rest and recuperate – am sure the work produced would have been better. I also thought that it was pointless trying to work when all I really want to do is to sleep. Now I have planned my own routine, but at least it is designed for me.

I know that in huge organizations it may be difficult to give employees a degree of freedom, but there have been instances whereby it has been implemented successfully.

6. Having my family and partner

Not everyone can be so blessed to have a supportive family and who loves you for who you are. I have had severe issues with my parents in my earlier years but I am very glad that they have been sorted out now. They make the effort to accept me for the person I am and I know it in my heart. They have been a great stabilizing factor in my life, especially during uncertain times. It is easy to take people around you for granted, but I constantly remind myself that I wouldn't know the day they'll no longer be around, so I do make the effort to spend quality time with them.

7. The freedom to work from anywhere (with an internet connection)

Technically (but not financially yet), I am able to start my dream of working from anywhere I want to be as long as I have an internet connection and my laptop. I have great understanding clients who accept the way I work (virtually). In fact, am just indebted to the internet, or else I would not be able to fulfill my nomadic tendencies. I can write a whole new post (which I will) on how grateful I am for technology. Without the internet I would not be able to work from home, nor in the first place would I be able to realise I have a gift for design (which was discovered trying to design my own website).

8. Turning my passion into my career

There have been times when I almost wanted to give up but am glad I did not. For being a designer has allowed me to live the life I want, and make people happy in the process. It is indeed satisfying when my work helps my clients to generate more income, positive feedback, experiences, or attention. This is what that fuels and motivates me. I do not design because I like to look at pretty stuff, or to impress people of my ability, but rather the knowledge of the impact it may have on others, not only aesthetically, but economically, and even socially.

Good design is an important vehicle for carrying messages. On a material level it helps people to understand a product more, but it is a whole different ball game altogether when you can be involved in carrying a message for a social cause.

9. Being able to communicate to a wider audience

The last time I checked, I have like roughly 10 rss subscribers on this blog's feed. Which is really pretty insignificant in internet terms, but to me it matters, every 10 of you, no matter who you are. I feel blessed to have this platform to publish and share my thoughts with you. If I was born in an earlier era, I would not be able to do so at all! Sharing enables one to learn from each other, which I have learnt a lot by sharing, and also from material that people have shared online.

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If you're one of my 10 rss subscribers, do leave a comment and let me know of who you are if you have the time. :) It would be nice to get to know all of you. I am curious to know what people think of what I write on this site.

Looking back at 2008

2008 was a breakthrough year for me.

personally

  • visit Noah's Ark for the first time, which opened my heart and mind to experiencing the joy of seeing them liberated, roaming free on safe grounds
  • fostered a stray
  • got involved in a cause for the first time, inspired by the noah's ark visit as I begun volunteering as and when I can with the local stray volunteer groups
  • quit coffee as a daily fix which was a mini-miracle because I thought I could never live without it
  • went on a meat-free diet due to spiritual and animal-loving reasons, another mini miracle because I enjoy my steaks
  • paid more attention to my digestive system, or rather how the digestive system influences our overall health
  • finally launched my blog, which you're reading now
  • bought a Nintendo wii & the iPhone 3G
  • finally visited Pulau Redang and it did not disappoint
  • I started to use twitter, which actually brought me some meaningful relationships, very kind words and support in good or bad times.

career-wise

  • celebrated my 1st year anniversary as a solo freelancer in July 2008
  • tried to work in a foreign country for the first time at Bali, in an effort to try out my dream to work from anywhere in the world
  • celebrated the launch of a few websites that I am proud of
  • learnt through the hard way that it is not realistic to expect myself to design for 8 hours a day, and that not to overbook myself or there will be repercussions
  • discovered that the relationship between a client and a designer is akin to a romantic relationship. There must be some level of chemistry, and sometimes it works like a match in heaven, other times it doesn't work out as beautifully as expected

family

  • had a peaceful year with my family, which has not always been the case, so I am very thankful
  • having things put in perspective because my parents were caught in the Sichuan earthquake while on a tour, thank God they managed to return home safely
  • celebrated my 2nd year anniversary with my partner, whose support has been the cornerstone of my life and work
  • discovered my dear friend whom I affectionately call 'mudder' may well be my daughter in my past life.

spiritually

The pain of swimming against the flow

Many people go out of their way to be unique. They spend tons of money to buy that item nobody has, or to make themselves look better than others. Work their entire lives to be at the top, or to be at the center of attention. I have actually spent most of my life trying to be like others, to fit in, to stick out less like a sore thumb.

The childhood

I am not sure when was the exact moment in my life when I discovered I was unlike most, or at least, most of the people around me. A vivid recollection was of myself when I was 5, looking out of a window of a 10th floor apartment, wondering how it feels like to die. I was contemplating life, wondering what was the meaning, why do people want to live, when at the end of the day, no matter how you lived your life, it comes to naught. I was wondering why do I have to spend 70 years living to die.

I did not know at that point, that 5 year old kids shouldn't be thinking about life and death.

The education

I did not enjoy school very much, I could not talk to my peers. I tried very hard to be part of cliques, to feel that I belong somewhere. While the other girls are talking about shopping and boys, I was more intrigued with computers and design. The other kids tried to outdo each other academically, and I just wanted either my life or my education to end. I never liked to study, when the definition of the term equated to storing as much information as you can in your memory in order to excel in school. I was criticized endlessly for being lazy and complacent, when all I wanted was for someone to ask me whether I was even interested in what was being taught. Not that we had much of a choice when it comes to education in our system.

At 18 I made a huge decision to stand up against my parents and drop out of the diploma course I was studying for 1.5 years. The irony was I was in the course in the first place to try to please them, to be like the rest. What I really wanted to do was design, but it was deemed as the course with not much of a future, so I opted for the 'safe' compromise, a course in Information Technology. It did not take me long to learn that enjoying fixing computers was not the same as trying to comprehend data structures and algorithms. I excelled only in the soft programming modules and failed miserably at the rest. It was not about the tough work needed to complete the course, it was about being stuck in the industry after graduation for the rest of my life.

For quitting the course, my mom asked me what did she do to deserve a daughter like me. Again, the pain of being different.

For quitting the course, my mom asked me what did she do to deserve a daughter like me.

The career

I entered the workforce at age 19, filled with hope and idealism, thinking that finally am able to do what I love to do. I have chosen this path myself and I would be happy on it. I was wrong. I did not anticipate the employers taking advantage of my youth and naiveity, I was willing to work for very little money just to be able to do what I love to do. I was underpaid, overworked, and mis-managed. That I could accept.

I was underpaid, overworked, and mis-managed. That I could accept.

I could not accept the employer who told me to copy an idea directly from an award annual, or the employer who was evading debt which made the suppliers hound me endlessly, or the job when I spent 6 months doing nothing, or the partners of the firm who could not stand each other and ended up using the employees to spite one another, or the one who allowed the clients to art-direct, even if it meant that the work came out looking worse than crap. Seriously and honestly, these were what I went through job after job, still trying to find that one company which is passionate about the work, the company whose beliefs are aligned with mine.

I had spent seven years trying to be like others, because the society looked down on those who cannot keep a job. In between jobs I was once so disillusioned that I took on a temp job with an insurance company as an administrative assistant, just to avoid having my heart broken again.

It was a very simple wish, and perhaps its simplicity made it even more difficult. I simply wished for a firm that does good work, a firm that believed in its people and would treat them right.  I did not care about the money, the hype or the benefits. I just wanted to grow as a designer and do good work, and if possible, find a mentor.

I just wanted to grow as a designer and do good work, and if possible, find a mentor.

The harsh reality is, in Singapore's small and very competitive economy, it is difficult for a firm to stand firm in their beliefs and not end up boot-licking clients just to survive. There are a few, but only the very best worked for these. I was not good enough to be one of the very best, or would not be considered because of the lack of big names in my resume or the lack of a formal design education.

My desire to be a good designer was so intense that I wrote several cold letters to carefully chosen design studios for an internship, at the point of my career when I can comfortably take a senior position in a mid-sized firm. I consciously chose not to apply for work in big firms because I knew I would be pigeon-holed to work on a single client account. In all honesty I do not think I can be really creative staring at the same products for the length of my tenure.

Eventually one of the firms responded, but the situation did not last long, due to one of the human-related reasons mentioned above.

Time after time, I had my heart broken, and the people around me never failed to show me their disappointment. I loved my work, and because of trying to stay true to my own beliefs, I ended up disappointing those who love me. In their minds they are probably wondering why I cannot be like the rest that went to universities to get any degree, gotten a stable job, and settled down. I simply cannot stay in a job for the sake of staying in a job. Once, I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to find a job that I love, and she laughed in my face, saying that it does not exist. I would have been a very different person today if I had taken her seriously.

I simply cannot stay in a job for the sake of staying in a job.

The struggle

It is not easy to be different, to swim away from the mainstream. People misunderstand, people get let down when you don't fulfill society's expectations. When the people involved are the people you love, it is of no wonder that I have spent many years of my life trying to follow the rest and struggling with my heart. I went into a vicious cycle, whereby I would try to make a compromise, make a safe decision, and I would be unhappy, which was a matter of time that I would listen to my heart and bail out. I would tell myself not to repeat the same mistake, and I must be true to myself, but I would succumb to people's expectations again.

Deep in my heart, I just wanted to make the people who love me proud of me.

Deep in my heart, I just wanted to make the people who love me proud of me. However, in trying to do so, in attempting to live my life the way people wanted me to, I became really unhappy, and when I can no longer accept the situation, these people get disappointed again.

I realised I have ended up hurting them more by trying to be the person they want me to be.

In my next post I will write about why I gave up employment, how a series of epiphanies made me realise that I should take ownership of my own life and be proud of my individuality.

When people think pursuing your dreams is a waste.

My cousin made a decision to leave her stable job she had for a decade in one of the government's ministries to pursue a five-year degree in Vet Science, which is a life-long dream of hers. This is a courageous decision, taking into consideration that she is already in her mid-thirties, and it is not easy for anyone to leave a comfort zone, not to mention she is a typical, pragmatic Capricorn. I applaud her. I seem to be the one of the very few in the family to be doing so, because the typical reaction was, "What a waste!".

What is exactly a waste?

Apparently to my typical, conservative Singaporean family, leaving a comfortable, safe job that pays well, especially after being in it for a decade, is an absolute waste. It is sad for me, because these people do not know how to appreciate life beyond comfort and security.

How can pursuing one's dream be ever deemed a waste?

I could not help but retort, which is more of a waste?

1. To lie on your deathbed with millions in the bank, but wondering what it could have been? To have lived a stable, safe existence but never knew how it felt to pursue your dreams?

2. Or to lie on your deathbed, penniless, but fully satisfied that you have given your all to make your own dreams come true?

The Singaporean mentality

I cannot fault them for having this mentality because this was what they were taught to believe. The safe, comfortable route. The moment one begins an education in Singapore, we were led to think that nothing else but grades matter, and once we left the system, we were then led to think that nothing else but career stability and prestige matter.

I was brought up to think that pursuing your dream is naive. That it only happens in books and movies, and we should never attempt to try. That one will be unable to survive in Singapore without a tertiary degree, and parents get worried when their child exhibits signs of being creative, because that would be the last thing they want their child to do, secretly wishing their child would love numbers instead.

People would enrol in the local universities for courses they had zero interest in, because only the top students got into the courses they wanted, and the rest have to settle for anything, anywhere in the Uni, because even if you voluntarily choose to study for a technical diploma instead, people would just assume that you were not good enough for the Uni, and not because there's nothing at the Uni that interests you.

That was how it was like for us born in the 1970s and the early 1980s. The kids now have a different set of issues. Parents now are enrolling their kids in all kinds of 'enrichment' courses because the Government decided that they want to develop Singapore into a 'creative hub'.

I do not want to judge the Government because Singapore, being a tiny dot on the map without any natural resources, might not have survived without having the herd mentality.

On hindsight, I am truly blessed and guided, because somehow even when it got really difficult for me, I did not opt for the safer route. I actually tried to, because it was just so tiring going against the flow, but I felt so sick that it was just impossible for me to carry on.

Dedication

This post is dedicated to my dearest cousin, whom I spent most of my formative years with, because despite all the odds stacked against her, despite all the objection from the people she loves, she wants to pursue her dream.

She will leave her comfort zone, to learn how to live independently for the first time in her life in unfamiliar territory, and be away from the people whom she loves and who loves her, because she knows she has a greater purpose in her life and she needs to fulfil it.

Which is to do her part and her best for the animals she deeply loves.

Despite that I am proud of myself for following my heart as much as I can, I am not sure if I would have the same courage as she did. Thus, she deserves my deepest admiration, support, and love.

For those of you out there, if you have a dream, pursue it. You really would not want to be the rich, grumpy old person on your deathbed, never knowing how it feels to live the dream.