defragment.me

We all have choices

I never used to believe it, but we all have choices. I held a pretty deterministic view of life. I believed failure or success was pre-destined.

Choices define our lives. It defines us so much that many of us live in fear of making the wrong choices.

Me? I admit I was a pretty stressed out soul getting really angry and upset with myself for the choices I have made in the past. However, somehow I never got angry with myself for too long, because I believe everything happens for a reason. Making poor choices leads to valuable lessons and accumulated reasons, making good choices leads to increased faith and happiness. Therefore, in my opinion, there’s really no such thing as a bad choice. Success or failure, we are all learning along the way. Sometimes, you just take a while longer to get to the destination, but they always say, it is the journey that matters.

Here I am, staring at the vast ocean through the window of my room. Wondering about myself and my choices. Reflecting on my life and the path that I have chosen. My life could have turned out really different, but do I want the difference?
Baan Krating Balcony View

Sometimes it is really difficult. Seeing peers acquiring assets and attaining career success. I am human after all and sometimes I wish I don’t have to worry about money, I can afford to buy a house and a car, and I can have my parents living off me. Which could be possible if I have chosen differently.

Over the past one year I have met incredible people in different interpretations of the word. Through the hard work I have put in I have had the opportunities to work in a couple of big-name companies. Even if I didn’t want the corporate life, I could have been working in a very successful startup, earning the sort of keep that will not only keep me worry-free financially, I could probably afford to buy almost anything I wanted (I don’t go for luxury goods so that’s not that difficult to fullfil).

I also gave up the opportunities to work with people that I admire. On projects that may not be fulfilling financially at the moment, but definitely potentially life-changing.

I gave all of that up.

To find myself again, so that I can be myself.

I don’t deny I think of all these things wistfully, I think of the car I could have bought, the house I could have saved up for, the smile of my parents if I were to give them that fat red packet.

So when people tell me that I’m ‘lucky’ or ‘cool’ because I am ‘free’ to travel around and enjoy breathtaking views, I don’t really know how to react.

Because most of them will not know all that I have given up to be where I am today. And it is really not easy. I give people the impression that I am simply a ‘heart’ person and I make decisions like these with a snap of my fingers.

Nobody knows the nights of insomnia and all those tears behind my smile.

A friend of mine once told me, there are two ways to change the world. One is to become rich like Bill Gates and start contributing massively to charities, the other is to be like Mother Theresa, giving your whole life to everyone else without expecting anything in return.

I can never be the Bill Gates sort of person, neither can I be Mother Theresa. Who am I kidding?

But I hope and wish that by being true to myself I can somewhat encourage more people to be true to themselves as well. By writing openly about my issues and hurt I can let a few tortured souls realise that they are not alone in how they feel. By being idealistic I hope to remind some people of their ideals again.

They are all lofty wishes, but I hope and wish and I try. I never thought that I could change the world, but I thought that the very least I can do is to be the change I want to see in the world.

Perhaps the act of giving up to be where I am now will never allow me the same opportunities again. Perhaps it will bring me even more opportunities when I am ready. All I know is that I try my best. I believe if I try my best and do what I truly believe in, satisfaction will eventually come.

I believe everyone has a different role in this world. Once in a while there comes a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates to shake the world. Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Gandhi. There are the ones who give up personal time, family, love, just to create a product, a mind-blowing film script, or a book that will influence the minds of society.

But there is also the housewife that does her chores and brings up her kids the best way she can, giving up any form of career and ambition. The man that works in a boring 9-5 job faithfully for 30 years just to support his family in the best way he can. The woman who spent 25 years of her life walking around America without a single cent just to prove that compassion exists.

We all have choices. Sometimes these choices may not seem to be worthwhile on the surface. Sometimes nobody will see the value or understand the choices. Sometimes it is difficult to live with our own choices. All the what could have beens.

I think we just do our best. We all have different priorities. The easiest way to make a decision is just to ask yourself whether you will regret this on your deathbed.

Till date, I think I haven’t made any choices that I would regret on my deathbed. But I think I can do better. I want to make choices that I will be happy with on my deathbed.

As I was writing this post, I put a “do not disturb” sign on my hotel door, and a hotel staff quietly puts a change of fresh towels and water quietly on the table at the balcony. This is a simple act that many expect or take for granted. I manage to catch a glimpse and I saw her placing those items with her utmost care quietly, with a small smile on her face. She left without knowing that I was looking, or that I was touched by her simple gesture.

Our choices often create ripples of repercussions without us knowing. Good or bad, you get to choose.

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.

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.

My hopes for 2009; the right time is now

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

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

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

No more waiting

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

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

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

The right time is now

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

The illusion of security

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

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

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

My immediate plans

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

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

One big hope and a few small ones

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

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

Here's to a great 2009 to all of us.

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.