defragment.me

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.

Proud to be AWARE

Earlier today, I clapped until my fingers were bruised.

I have gone to cast my vote at the AWARE EGM straight after a night of work (I keep nocturnal hours), kept myself mentally alert alternating between coffee and sweets, ended up with my limbs trembling due to caffeine and lack of sleep, stayed till the very end even though I was on the verge of collapse.

But it was all worth it.

For today, I personally witnessed with my own eyes, felt with my own heart, processed with my own mind, the courage and pride of women fighting for their own rights and justice.

It was an experience that would not be justified with the mere description of words. I had honestly not expected this.

The diversity

For it was not only the outspoken feminists who turned up. It was an incredible mix of men and women, of all races, religions and ages.

There was the old who could barely walk but still made the effort to queue for hours to register. There were the male expats who took time out to volunteer for a cause they believed in but was not of much direct relation to them. There was this Caucasian woman, among many other Caucasian women who turned up to vote (presumably PR or PR-turned-citizens), who was giving away flowers out of a trolley to people in the queue, probably paid out of her own pocket. There were the educators who put their jobs on the line by speaking on the floor. There were housewives, mothers, husbands, staunch Christians, a Muslim father, who spoke for their support of a comprehensive sex education program for their children.

The ironic moment came when Josie Lau said that she was not against sex education, she simply wanted the kids to make 'informed' choices. I guess she needs to re-learn her definitions, because hers seem to point to the lack of information as being 'informed'.

There were plenty of people who were queuing up for their chance to speak, and when their turn came, they spoke with such conviction and passion that my hair stood and my heart moved. There was the girl who on the verge of tears, telling the new exco that it is already so difficult to grow up in Singapore, and how could they, how could they deny their right to love, their right to choose?

I could feel tears filling up my eyes upon hearing that. For I only know too well, how difficult it was.

And the speakers on the floor spoke for us. They questioned the new guard on their lack of sensitivity, lack of thought, lack of organization. Their mis-use of public funds (estimated to be 90k). Their lack of respect for the old guard. Their inability to answer questions. Their lack of experience in running a NGO. The list goes on and on.

The crumbling of the new exco

Personally, I am appalled. I am appalled as mentioned in my earlier posts on this subject, how can such educated women with high-flying careers, apart from having a very narrow mind, not think about the consequences of their actions prior to the act?

They have splurged our money, underestimated our intelligence, insulted many of us personally, shifting the responsibility of answering sensitive questions to their legal counsel (who was fair and did not help them much), and the icing on the cake was:

The majority of the audience was clearly not in support of them, they have lost all credibility and respect, and when the vote of no-confidence was passed, they actually have the audacity to say that the vote did not stand legally.

They have lost the popular vote and they want to exploit a legal loophole to hang on. I was starting to wonder if they have lost their sanity in the proceedings. Or modesty.

To top it all off (yes still more icing incredulously), they were implored by the old guard to step down graciously which they refused, accepted the opportunity given by the old guard to hold a meeting for 5 minutes to give proper consideration to their resignation, disappeared for half an hour with no notification of whereabouts, with their legal counsel not being able to contact them.

The motion of their removal was passed after ample time was given to them. Which thereafter, they appeared and insisted on giving a highly formulaic statement on stepping down graciously and wishing the best for AWARE.

Sorry, I personally feel that they have lost the right to step down graciously after repeatedly refusing even after the vote of no-confidence was passed, trying to pull off a stunt to say the vote was not legal-binding, and then disappearing for an indefinite amount of time. They did not have the decency to let us know that they will be extending their 5 minute meeting to 30 minutes.

Throughout the whole drama, the old guard was gracious enough to give them chance after chance to step down, and they even got us to give a round of applause to the new guard if they were ever going to re-appear.

The press has been kind to them (they were barred from the EGM by the new guard). I have just gone over the latest news reports, they did not report the new guard's unbelievable display of denial – the official statement seemed to be that they chose to be gracious and stepped down.

Reflecting

I am sure that some – even if they are the minority – of the new guard's support will be reflecting upon today's events. I do not think many of them are actually aware of the full situation, the deceit by their leadership, and the full scale of the hurt caused by them.

For me, I am actually grateful, in spite that I was feeling extremely insulted, because if not for the whole drama staged by the new guard, I would not be able to experience such a wonderful display of unity and strength. The array of individual talent and wit by the floor speakers was incredible, it was definitely a pleasant awakening for me. My previous mindset that we do not have enough brilliant individuals with their own minds was wrong.

And they were in full splendor today.

It was electrifying, the energy from the hall emitted by people from different walks of life who had united for a common cause. If you were there to see the display of passion of the people's faces for what they believe in, the eruption of pure joy when the vote was announced, you would not want to miss it, I assure you, for almost anything else in the world.

I am proud, of myself who stood up to be heard despite my personal dislike for being around people in general (too sensitive to people's energies), despite my fatigue at work, despite feeling as if I am about to break apart anytime, despite my lack of guts to speak on the floor or anywhere else actually, I was there.

I am equally proud, of my partner who stood up for the cause we both believed in, despite her being cynical of mankind in general, despite her being repeatedly let down by situations and people she once gave her trust to, despite having personally faced an uphill battle for the causes she supports, she was there.

And I am very proud, of all of you who made it, despite all that was in your way.

For once, I am proud to be a woman and a Singaporean.

p.s. I ponder about the people wondering why are we making such a big fuss about this when they are sitting in comfort because of the rights AWARE has fought for them in the past 25 years. Equal rights are not to be taken for granted, they have to be fought for and protected.

Resetting my priorities and perspectives due to shame

The past few days, if not weeks, have been hugely reflective for me. It seems like a major conspiracy from the universe to wake me up from my deep slumber. I have been feeling quite disturbed for a long while now, it has been such a while that I do not even remember when did it all start.

The issue on the surface

I have always prided myself for loving what I do and being able to do what I love. This has not been entirely accurate lately and it has been bugging me from my deepest consciousness. It eats me up slowly.

Is it because:

  • I have overworked myself
  • I have taken up web projects because of the freedom it entails me and perhaps being a print designer at heart I am actually trying to condition myself into settling for less because it gives me more
  • The projects themselves are not interesting enough
  • It is not about the work but the issue is me

The deeper, actual issues

The above questions to myself may be the cause of my dissatisfaction partially, but my gut (or my higher self) tells me there is more to it.

I have been neglecting the bigger picture.

The bigger picture has never been the work itself. Would I be satisfied and truly happy if I am doing the best work or the most interesting projects? If I imagine myself as one of the best-recognised designers right now, will that take away all my dissatisfaction? If I had less work now and have the chance to rest, will that make me feel significantly better?

A couple of years ago I have realised that even if I was doing the best work, earning the best keep, I would not really be satisfied, I would not lie on my deathbed and smile, telling myself that I have lived a good life. What is the point of even if I were to be recognised as one of the best? It does nothing except to feed my ego and probably I can tell myself I have been one of the best designers – but what comes after that? This is not meant to be any disrespect to the best designers out there now, honestly, just that different factors make different people happy, and I would not say that being one of the best makes me truly happy. I love my work but it is just not what my life should revolve around.

The picture changes significantly when one is able to contribute to the greater good with the work. I have always been a fan of Stefan Sagmeister, not because of his creative, provocative work, but rather that the messages he carries by just being himself. The work he does encourages people to be themselves, not get sold into the whole materialistic lifestyle and most importantly, to pursue your dream. Or one of those industrial designers who designs something that enables handicapped people to move more freely, for example. Or the copywriter who conceptualises the ad that carries a life-changing message to the mass public.

Yet I asked myself honestly if I thought I would ever touch people in this manner and the answer was no. It is not because I am pouring cold water on myself, but a very honest assessment of my own self. I have been doing consistently good work, but it has never been in that league. I will not say never ever, but the possibility is really remote.

What truly makes me happy on my deathbed

One of my facebook contacts had linked an article that profiled a woman with the highest recorded IQ, and the article questioned if one was obligated to use his/her natural high intelligence to 'change the world'. I remember responding to it on facebook, commenting that not everybody has to be Obamas to contribute positively to the world. I really do believe in all of us having the ability to contribute in our own unique ways, however small or supposedly insignificant it may be. The point of it is to have the intention or desire. One small gesture may change someone else's life. I have had other people's small gestures that significantly changed mine.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost. My work has taken up so much of my time that I no longer had time to do things that I deeply cared about or that I originally set out to accomplish.

Success in the typical sense will not feed the soul, because we will always want more. Creativity declines when the soul is not being fed. I guess this makes up a lot of the reason why I have been feeling like something is withering inside me.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost.

The conspiracy that woke me up

As I mentioned earlier, I have been feeling disturbed but I only started an in-depth interrogation within myself only when I was clearing my Google Reader's feeds and discovered that quite a few  high-profile personalities in the web industry have written about their stress-levels, work-related depression and significant decisions to do something about it. One has called it quits to his freelance career and returned to employment, one has decided to halt his thriving small business, another has gone on to another level by revolutionizing his life.

I asked myself what was I going to do about mine. In order to know what I needed to do, I have to find out the root of the issue first. That started my whole self-analysis. That was not all.

Feeling ashamed

I was extremely ashamed, yes ashamed of my own lack of guts when I saw Susan Boyle's courage to take the stage despite the expected public ridicule of her age and looks, while I would not even go anywhere anything that resembles a stage. I was totally envious and ashamed again when fellow local blogger Adrianna, at the tender age of 24, escaped a suicide bomb blast in Yemen by a twist of fate, not because she was there for work, but she was touring the Middle East by herself because she wanted to. Like seriously? I have reservations touring just South-east Asia by myself and someone else is enjoying her life and death tour to the Middle East?

I can continue to cite many more examples that made me look at myself and shake my head. That I am sitting here, being troubled about my work and not having enough guts or determination to change the situation. That I am moping while someone almost lost his life when he offered himself to the pirates as a hostage in exchange for the release of his crew, women in South Africa are getting raped to 'correct' them of their homosexuality. I feel very ashamed to have allowed mundane issues to depress me, when there is actually much greater pain and suffering out there – not to mention that there are people who are doing actual meaningful work with their lives at risk, some without a penny to their name.

Rectifying the situation

I do not want too much more of my life to tick by and lessen the time to do whatever I need to do to make myself proud at my own deathbed. This has been an on-going merry-go-round for me because I have been aware and yet getting lost repeatedly. I want to share and set my intentions openly with all of you. I may not succeed at first try, but at the very least I want to try.

The list of intentions consists of things I would like to do that I feel will bring back my passion for my work, as well as actions I can initiate in order to aid my quest to lessen my stress levels and increase the quality of my life, plus some perspectives of life in general I should constantly remind myself of in order to be grateful and not wasteful (the rhyming is not intentional ;p). Lastly, I want to consciously increase the opportunities that will allow me to contribute positively in my own ways, within my own capacity, as much as possible.

  • I want to learn hand-lettering. Looking at type, especially hand-drawn type, makes my heart skip a beat. I did not think I would be good at it so I never really tried because I suck at drawing anything by hand, but I do believe that anyone can learn almost anything if they set their heart to it. If I start drawing circles now perhaps by the time I'm 40 I may be remotely good at it. I should stop having the mentality that I am too old to start learning how to draw. (stifles laughter at myself)
  • I should not give up on doing things I truly love because it seems difficult to.
  • I must try to find more me-time and time for non-commercial creative projects to feed myself creatively.
  • I really need to look into how I can gauge myself more accurately and stop overloading myself with work because it is my number one stress factor. I will consciously finish whatever I have to do on hand and re-look into the type of work I should be working on in order to create a better creative and time balance.
  • I will also need to look into diversifying my income streams, especially the passive ones, which I do not even have one yet.
  • I want to explore other avenues of interest apart from design. I have always been interested in spirituality topics - perhaps more workshops?
  • Travel plans are still in place and will take place soon. This is important because I feel called to do so. I have a feeling this will open up the doors to more avenues for contributions.
  • Find ways and time to contribute more to the causes I support. I have been neglecting to give to my causes because I have been so caught up in my own work.
  • Should really start meditating regularly and having proper exercise soon. The health needs to be taken care of in order to have the ability to accomplish more.
  • Constantly remind myself to be grateful and to be aware of the suffering of other beings. That I should focus my energy on meaningful matters than to get myself down over minuscule matters compared to people starving in third world countries and people dying in wars. This is extreme yes, but it is real. There are people and animals who are really suffering out there and I feel upset with myself for feeling like it is the end of the world when I encounter small setbacks.
  • To not let fear affect my life and my desire to be true.
  • Spend more time writing to share my experiences so that some souls may benefit from it.
  • Write more openly and honestly on this blog about myself, my fears and failures, not worry about what the negative reactions to my honesty, and instead focus on those who appreciates me for me.
  • Give my best in trying to do what I want to do, but try not to let myself get attached to the outcomes, and not let my desire for self-improvement become unrealistic self-expectations. It is the journey that counts, not the destination.
  • Understand that while it is nice to be doing great and interesting work, ultimately whatever work I do should enable me to live out my purpose and live my life the way I want. I should never give up on finding the best compromise though – between the quality of life and the quality of work.

I hope I have not bored all of you to tears with my list and it will also be nice if any of you can share some of yours with me. :)

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