defragment.me

It is all about perception

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

But he did not. As Avram Grant recollected:

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

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

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

One's greatest enemy

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

So what is it that sets these people apart?

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

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

Putting it in my perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

Because not all of us are blessed with comfort & health

In spite of feeling as though my body's going to break apart anytime and that there's a mountain load of work waiting for me, I had to take time off to write this post.

Amidst the fatigue and stress due to having to juggle relocating my residence and work deadlines (I scheduled my relocation week to be free of work actually, but alas, schedules seem to have a life of their own), I was on the way of my usual pattern of wondering why am I always caught in such a situation – until two events made me realise how insignificant my worries and troubles seem to be.

1) The Iranian election.

2) 4 yr old Charmaine, who is battling 4th stage cancer.

I cannot do much for 1) except the pray for those who fight for truth and hope for the best. However for 2) I hope to be able to do whatever that is within my own means to help.

And that means writing this post to spread the message, even though I know the readership of the blog is not really worth mentioning anyway. However, if I can just convince one of you, just one, to lend a hand to this little girl, it will be enough for me.

Charmaine

I do not know Charmaine, but I am deeply affected by her strength. That she was still smiling in her pictures – even though not much of her hair is left, that she has to undergo chemo at the tender age of 4. Here I am, complaining about the aches acquired from painting a few walls.

The last blog post I read, she has the urge to pee every 10 minutes and she cries each time she pees because it is just so painful. May I ask if any of you, would have similar courage to smile if you have to go through the same ordeal?

She needs 350k USD to have a 40% - 50% chance of survival as she needs to go to New York to get some special (read: expensive) antibody. If she stays in Singapore, her chance of survival is only at maximum 20%, though realistically, 10%.

Okay, the first reaction most of you is going to have is to look at the 350k and think you are never going to make a difference. But, every effort counts. Even if not monetary, spreading the message is very much helpful as well. Charmaine and her family will need every ounce of effort from us.

Charmaine's mother is a mother who singlehandedly brought up her two kids and she is facing this battle alone because Charmaine's dad left them when she was not even born. Can you imagine how Charmaine's mother felt, when told of her daughter's condition and the amount of money needed for treatment? I would have crumbled in despair, honestly.

So, she may not survive even if she's able to raise that amount. At least we can answer to ourselves – that we have tried our best. That is what Charmaine's mother is asking of herself, she has wondered through the same process, that half a million SGD can help many starving children in third world countries. Yet this is her own precious daughter, even 1% of a chance is still a chance, I know I would do the same if I were to be in the same shoes.

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.

How I walked out of my own darkness (part i)

On hindsight, I was very blessed and lucky, because despite all those dark thoughts and feelings I had, there was this very tiny part of me that seemed to be holding on to something. That somehow there is more to life than what I have experienced – all that pain and helplessness – that there is a greater, deeper meaning and purpose to life.

The beginnings of my spiritual awakening

I was 16, heartbroken after ending my first, ever relationship. Yes, the age whereby people assume all relationships are just made up of puppy-love. Looking back, it was the first time in my life when I truly felt loved and appreciated by someone, judged not by my success or results, but by the person I was. It was the first time I knew what it means to be happy, I actually looked forward to every day just to be with the person I loved. So, when the relationship fell apart, it felt like my whole world came crashing down. I thought that I had lost my newfound meaning and purpose to life. Crying intensely day after day for two years wondering how was I going to survive losing what was my entire world, I stumbled upon The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama.

I was never particularly religious, but something compelled me to read that book. I was probably tired of all that crying, and if there was a step-by-step guide of finding happiness, I would gladly try. One particular part of the book propelled a whole string of thought processes in my head, I cannot exactly remember the quote, but it was along the lines of:

"Imagine life like a swinging pendulum. It does not swing up or down, it swings left and right. Happiness and suffering should not be perceived as up and down, but rather as left or right..."

I was struck by that thought. That we like to attach a negativity connotation to suffering. What if we think of pain from a neutral standpoint, that it is an alternative experience to happiness, and not a negative one?

I did not know it then, but that planted the first seeds of my spiritual awakening.

There are no co-incidences

If you have watched Kungfu Panda, you might remember the tortoise master telling the panda that there are no accidents in this world. The first time I came across this concept was when someone passed me her copy of The Celestine Prophecy. It was a fictional story but it used the story to communicate several spiritual concepts. I would not say much of the quality of the writing, but back then, at the age of 19, my hair stood while reading the book because of the many epiphanies I had during the reading process. It introduced me the concept of synchronicity, whereby there are no co-incidences, everything happens for a reason, and that everyone has a purpose in your life.

The book compelled me to review my past, the roles people have played in my life, the seemingly unfortunate events that turned out to be blessings in disguise. Most importantly, I recognised that every time something negative happens to me, I seem to gain something positive out of it, eventually. This major epiphany created a re-processing of my thought patterns.

Most importantly, I recognised that every time something negative happens to me, I seem to gain something positive out of it, eventually.

Previously I would think that life had been unfair and meaningless, I allowed myself to be in the victim-mode and wallowed in self-pity. I pondered to myself, if everything happens for a reason, I can no longer have delusions about the unjust state of my life. I made myself think backwards, and the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced of its truth.

One example of a blessing in disguise

The combination of the above heart-break and my addiction to computers when I was 16 turned out to be too much to handle for me, as I did very badly for my GCE O' Levels. The child prodigy had turned into the utter failure. My self-esteem plunged, as I blamed myself for being unable to separate my emotions from practicalities, and of course, my parents never ceased to remind me of their disappointment. For many years I could not live with the failure, I desperately wanted to prove myself, subconsciously I wanted my parents to feel like I deserved their love.

However, with the benefit of hindsight, I realised, if I had not done badly for my papers, if I had been a straight-As student as I was in elementary/primary school, I would probably gone on to complete my A levels, and then to University which I had intended to complete a liberal arts degree and step into teaching, in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of my cousins I grew up with, or rather, in a foolish attempt to gain mass approval.

I might have gotten out of that in the middle of it all, but I would probably be much more unhappier, and the fear of disappointment would have been greater, as the expectations would naturally become higher. I might have chosen a career I hated (shudder), and I might not ever get out of it.

I like the route I have chosen, even though it brought me a lot of doubt and pain, but if I had to choose all over again, to be that perceived utter failure or the child prodigy, I would gladly choose the utter failure anytime. At the very least, I can be proud to say that I had fought for what I love to do.

At the very least, I can be proud to say that I had fought for what I love to do.

Matter of perception

If, I had never read The Celestine Prophecy, if it never came to my mind the wonders of synchronicity, I might not have had the benefit of hindsight and the life-changing epiphanies. I would probably have focused very negatively on my past failures and unhappy events, and continued to perceive myself as the victim.

It is intriguing and yet powerful – the power of perception. One can choose to look at the silver-linings, or to think of oneself as the unluckiest person ever.

My original intention is to write one post on how I walked out of my own darkness, but I realised there's too much to be written for one post. You might just fall asleep reading halfway. :P This will be followed up by a one or more parts. Thank you for your time and patience.

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.