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.

Travelling solo, finally

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

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

So what's the big deal

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

Khao Sok Accomodation

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

Which is why I must do this.

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

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

Do I have lots of money stashed away

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

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

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

Why I want to travel

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

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

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

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

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

A start to something bigger

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

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

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

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

Why I need to find myself

I remember this time around last year, I fell into a drain.

I remember laughing at myself, and I gave myself a promise that I will, finally commence on my journey.

A journey I’ve always felt compelled to make – a journey to find myself.

Somehow, the practicalities of life took over. I had to move residences, rush deadlines because of the interruptions faced while moving, and then cope with all the repercussions. The unsettled environment, the fatigue, the financial drain.

I should have gone anyway, and simply trust that everything will work out the way it is meant to be.

I didn’t. I couldn’t find the strength.

On the other hand, my work was slowly getting recognised, and I was worried if I didn’t build on it I would lose all the momentum I worked so hard to gain.

Somehow, I fell back into the usual pattern – trying to be happy living life like how others do – working all the time, trying to build some financial security that would make me feel safe enough to venture forward, some day.

I spent the entire second half of last year trying to re-settle, pad my finances again, thinking that this year, would be the year I would finally commence on my journey.

Crisis

Life almost never works according to plan (at least for mine), so it didn’t really surprise me when something happened at the turn of this year. I have to move again, out of a place I thought I would occupy for the next four years.

Faced with the prospect of moving in this property climate (read unaffordable rental), I was contemplating all sorts of ideas that I would never consider in the right frame of mind, stuff like going back into employment for a stable income.

At the same time, I was going through an emotional crisis (which I didn’t realise until a month passed by) because whatever that happened involved close family members and it brought back painful childhood memories that I thought I had gotten over for a long time.

Who would have thought that an adult almost reaching her thirties will still be so haunted by the past?

Denial

My career was going well and I was trying really hard to keep everything going. The truth was that I was so affected emotionally and stressed out with my financial situation that I felt like I was struggling to match the high expectations I have put in myself. It was like a vicious cycle, I needed my work to ease my financial worries, but I wasn’t producing the quality I wanted, that in turn gave me tremendous frustration and stress and I was just slowly drowning.

My soul was slowly dying. And I could feel it.

It took me a while to get out of denial. I kept telling myself that I will be okay, it was just temporary, I was going to get out of it. I had this opportunity to work with people I really respected and I was getting paid significantly well. With so much uncertainty financially, I did whatever I could to hang on.

You know how I got out of this self-denial?

I literally crumbled. Until I thought I was losing my self.

And it all led me to think. If I was going to lose myself, what would financial security mean to me? All the good work that I was doing would mean nothing, even if one day I could afford my own house to stay in would mean nothing. I was just in tears all the time, I could no longer pull myself up and I can no longer smile. I was a mess and my partner bore the brunt of it. I was getting very sick, physically. I could not get out of bed and I could not breathe.

Only then, I knew what was important to me.

My Self.

Why

Many people don’t understand why am I always seem to be in some form of self-torture, but that’s because they don’t understand what is going on in my mind or in my heart. I just don’t pursue the same things most people seem to enjoy pursuing. The money, the ambitions, the assets. Sometimes I wish that I was mercenary, at least life would be simpler in some ways, wouldn’t it?

I am constantly in search of answers. Why am I here? Who am I? I’ve been asking myself these questions ever since I was a toddler. Sometimes I wake up and I feel bemused to be here. I never felt like I belonged here. I never found the meaning in growing through childhood, scoring straight As, getting a good job, getting married, having children, growing old and dying. It was like, all these doesn’t interest me so I may as well skip everything and just go straight to my death.

Over the past few years I’ve been evolving spiritually, in my own ways, and that made me feel a lot better. It is a trial and error process but to me, at least I was trying.

I somehow stopped trying or remembering to try getting so caught up in the worries and practicalities of life. I was just working all the time, trying to rebuild my sense of security. I've lost sight if what I truly wanted to do.

On hindsight, whatever that happened at the turn of the year was needed to give me a huge shove out of my comfort zone and my delusion. I was caught up in the whole ‘wanting to build a comfortable life for myself and my partner’ thing.

Falling apart was the best thing that could ever have happened to me.

I was falling out of love with my work, I started to be resentful, I was falling sick. I couldn't even love my partner anymore. How could I when I couldn't even love myself?

I need to do what I had to do one year ago. Find myself. Follow my heart. Expose myself to different things. Learn. Be touched by people's lives. Find the opportunities to touch people's lives. Feel excitement again.

In short. Live.

I don’t know what I am going to do next, all I know is I need to tie up some loose ends in terms of work, and go on my journey. I don’t know what is going to happen, or if I am going to end up penniless, but I just know that this is what I have to do. I don’t have much of a choice because my soul would wither otherwise.

Travel

Travel, travel, travel, were all the words that were popping up in my mind. Go somewhere, find yourself, I hear my heart speaking.

So, when I visited a channeler (yes, go on, roll your eyes ;p) this morning, when I was barely into my first question and was just about to ask her about my intention to travel, she was already mid-way through her sentence about me needing to travel and rebuild my energy. I have grown out of this place she says. I will find what I am going to do next on my travels. (I may elaborate about my visit in another post, it was definitely interesting and positive.)

How come I’m not surprised. :)

And how come it took me so long.

I already knew, didn't I?

I am not going to let myself fall back into the same old pattern again. I am just going to go. I look back at my twenties and I'm thinking why did I not do much more when I had no financial commitments and less health problems?

In roughly a decade's time, when I am 40, I am going to look back at my thirties and be really proud of myself.

The more you travel, the less you realize you know...When you travel it changes the definitions of words that you thought you understood. You thought you knew what the word "work" meant. You didn't know if you're from the West until you've seen a rice farming community, for instance.

Anthony Bourdain on How Travel Has Changed Him

3 steps forward

Am always at a constant battle within myself. My astrological birth chart expresses my personality perfectly. The Aries (sun/ego, mars/action & venus/love) in me yearns for excitement and new ventures, whereas the Taurean (moon/emotions) is constantly pleading for material security, in order to feel emotional security. The Piscean (mercury/communications) gets confused trying to make head or tail of the whole situation while the battle rages. Eventually the Scorpion (ascendant/too complicated for a simple explanation) will win them all, because it is all about 'transforming or die'.

Sidenote: Many astrological texts will point to the ascendant/rising sign as the 'outer personna' or the 'mask', but the more I examine charts and people, the more I am convinced the the ascendant represents a complex concept that I would find it hard to describe in words. The ascendant determines the 12 houses of the chart (which will determine how you express your planets' energy and in which areas of your life) and in traditional astrology the ascendant's ruling planet will be considered as the entire chart's ruler. Liz Greene describes it as "a very complex and profound point in the chart and is directly concerned with what we call 'destiny'", Howard Sasporas said it took him "15 years to grasp the significance of the ascendant'.

Sidenote II: Yes, astrology is not just about the silly sun sign column you read in the papers.

The 'excitement vs security' struggle, followed by the confusion of thoughts, but nevertheless resulting in change – this process is prominent throughout my tender life of 28 years. Be it making the decision to have a good meal at a restaurant, quitting a job, making purchases or major life decisions.

I went through a few such processes recently:

1. Finally decided to sign up for the Soul Realignment™ course after humming and hawing for almost a year.

2. Booked air tickets to visit my 'mother in spirit' Julia in Tokyo.

3. Had a couple of coffee/co-working sessions with lovely Andy Croll and Jussi Edlund.

Okay, on the surface, it is not so much a big deal to sign up for a course, book air tickets to somewhere and have a few cups of coffee with people while trying to work at the same time. However, personally for me, it carries a huge amount of significance towards my effort to make steps forward.

The step towards spiritual development & contribution

The spiritual side of me has been growing exponentially. The depth of interest and passion I have for spirituality cannot be described in mere words. There were several factors inhibiting me from moving forward. Financially, it is not taken to be lightly if I really want to spend the time and effort acquiring the knowledge plus experience. It also may mean much less income as I need to put aside more billing time for study.

This is a commitment, not only to one course, but to my entire intention of moving seriously forward along this path. It is something that needs a significant amount of time dedicated to it, not to mention sheer hard work. Trying to improve one's intuitive abilities (at least mine) needs a lot of practice and patience. Imagine trying to listen to your own mind for 15 minutes a day and nothing seems to respond. Of course, patience is not one of my virtues and I require additional effort on my part just to sit still.

By signing up for the course, I am making known my intentions to take a big step forward into what I have been wanting to do for the past couple of years. This is no longer just one of the side-interests I have whereby I buy plenty of books and wonder aloud to myself as I read them.

Another major reason why I had been reluctant to take this step was because I did not believe I could do it. Me? Having intuitive abilities? Okay, everyone has them actually, but to which extent and I did not think I would ever be someone using this for a serious purpose. The irony is I have actually been relying a lot on my gut feel and instincts all my life. If I ever let my logical brain lead me I would never have come this far, never ever.

Somewhere in my heart, in this little corner, I somehow know, that my intuition has always been there for me. Not only there, but rather loud. I know it is very much a part of me, it has been defining my life path all this while. If this is such a big part of me, shouldn't I work at it to bring it out in the open?

I do not want to continue to be my own wet blanket any much longer. I have had and will have plenty of such people around me, so it will be nice if I take myself out as one of them. For once, I want to believe in myself and what my heart is telling me.

The step towards travelling around the world

I am not sure why I simply love to travel, but I know that it is part of my destiny. Sounds corny but I feel it in the core of my soul. Perhaps I have been a nomad in one of my past lives, who knows?

I have never really travelled far. The furthest I have been was a 10-day trip to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Tokyo is on par with that part of Australia in terms of flight-time, but it has always been like a place I can go only if I have lots of money (haha).

I took weeks to finally purchase my tickets to Tokyo. It was on sale, for S$598 on Singapore Airlines. I bought it 10 minutes before the sale ended. Yes, I suffer from decision paralysis. Even though I knew I must buy because SQ will probably not have such a sale in the near future, it still took me weeks.

I do not have lots of money, but I have Julia who will provide me some floor space to sleep on. Visiting her has been on my wishlist ever since she left for Tokyo to live out her dream...*ahem* two years back.

I was aware of having some form of a shift in me after pressing the 'confirm' button on the SQ website. I felt really, really happy and good about buying the tickets. It was like somewhere in my mind, somebody was rejoicing and proclaiming, 'Finally!'. I thought I would feel the pain of having to part with very hard-earned (especially for the past few months) sum of money, but instead I was really happy that I did it.

Tokyo will just be the first leg in my travel itinerary for at least the coming two years. I believe once I start on my first leg, I will overcome the resistance eventually for the journey ahead.

The step towards overcoming my social reclusion

I have been a social recluse ever since I made the decision to work solo. I generally have people phobia. Perhaps partially I am becoming aware that I am an emotional sponge and I absorb energy from people unknowingly, partially I find it difficult to communicate with people who are not true – which basically means the majority of society. I have hidden myself as I do not like facing confrontations, unpleasant situations, people who are flaky and plastic. It drains me.

Secondly, I have difficulty expressing myself verbally which I would relate it to my people phobia. I would also associate a deeper significance to this issue – basically I am just reluctant to express myself, be it out of fear or out of dislike.

I thought people would not appreciate what I have to say, or be interested in, or even understand. I have self-confidence issues, not surprising after being criticized by my own family for all my life (sorry, I do not possess that much mental strength to preserve my confidence despite the criticism, especially from my own mother, but I am currently learning to). There was this point in my life when I decided to simply switch off. Since people would not understand anyway, I should not even bother.

In the recent one year, I am being sort of forced (not that I really minded) into changing my mindset. The major trigger was the AWARE incident. I gradually realised that staying in the social closet will inhibit me in moving forward along my goals. I cannot do much for the causes I believe in alone, I need people and they need me. Attending the AWARE EGM made me realise that people with positive intentions and like-minded souls do exist in numbers, but I have been so holed up in my self-built shelter that I assumed they did not.

I had also realised my lack of self-belief has cast a shadow on everything, including my own work, progress and even external situations. The disbelief in myself spilled outwards to the general disbelief in society. My mindset used to be, 'I don't care what everyone else do since they are just too concerned about their own egos, I just want to do my part', which the basic intention is not wrong, but now I realise it can be 'I should be detached with people who exhibit negativity but I should align myself with positive-minded ones so that we can find strength and dynamism in numbers and do our part contributing to the greater whole'.

Going for coffee with online people you have never met before would seem trivial to many, but for me it really needed a lot of internal persuasion. I have never met a single online twitter friend or client in the past 2 years I have been working solo.

Everything exists in duality and coming out of the social closet means having to deal with people who causes headaches as much as the people who brings joy. I know it is something I will eventually learn to deal with, if only I would start in the first place.

It was a positive experience having my first 'meetup' coffee with Jussi and Andy which preceded a productive #jellysg co-working session with 5 others. I was glad I took this step out and am already looking forward to getting to know more like-minded people, be it spiritually or other geeks like me.

Guts & luck

People look at my decisions (i.e. coming out to parents, self-employment, etc) and describe me as 'gutsy' or 'lucky'. I especially dislike the 'lucky' comment, because it took me a lot of effort just to be here. They see the end result of my decisions and they think I am happy-go-lucky/impulsive. I am anything but. They do not see the antagonizing process whereby I mentally/emotionally torture myself (sometimes for years) before coming to a decision/conclusion. Now you see where my insomnia comes from.

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. :)

Renewing a promise made to myself on my birthday

I have been somewhat neglecting this blog, not without proper reasons. Few months ago I have decided that I want to realise my travel plans by this year, so I set my heart to it, taking on work so that I would be in a good state financially to embark on my travels later this year.

Just that I probably took on much more than I should.

I had spent the last couple of weeks before my birthday frantically trying to tie up loose ends, meet not-very-realistic deadlines, all because I wanted to go for a week's trip to spend my birthday in peace. I have never been a huge fan of my own birthdays, but have learnt to respect the special day that marks the time of my birth. This time I planned a month or two in advance, not knowing of the destination yet, but notifying all my clients that I will be away for a week.

To be really honest I do not think it is a matter of life and death if a project was delayed for five working days (four actually, with good friday), but somehow I let the guilt that should not have existed eat into me and I agreed to deadlines that were never possible in the first place. Deadlines that were supposed to take place before my birthday so that the world can continue to function during my absence.

The result was a lot of unnecessary stress, till the day before my departure, I was effectively burnt out. I could not do a single thing except wait for time to pass. I was simply drained. I still did not manage to meet a couple of deadlines despite my best effort but I was aided by the client-decided delays of a couple of projects. For the one deadline I genuinely thought I would meet but did not, I wrote a very honest email to the client describing my not very creative-state-of-mind. It would be ideal if he understood, if he did not, I can only say that I have tried my best.

The promise I made to myself last year that I broke this year

I knew there was nobody else but me to blame. I let this happen to myself. One year ago around this time of the year, my parents almost perished in the Sichuan quake, surviving only by a twist of fate that delayed their road trip by a few minutes and not less, because they found themselves in the middle of two huge landslides. If they have been earlier, they would have been gone, same goes for few minutes later.

I was in the same situation at that time last year, burning myself out with work, postponing family dinners because I was 'too busy with work'. I almost never got to see them again. I made a promise to myself, to never let work take priority in my life, never should I burn myself out again.

One year on, after seemingly having learnt from my previous lesson, I forgot about the promise I have made to myself. Ironically, because all I wanted was to be financially ready for my dream.

This has been a recurring theme of my life. It has been such a vicious cycle that I am appalled at myself for not getting it after so many attempts. It just has to recur until I get it. And a new theme starts.

I cannot promise that it will not recur again. However, I will try. My trip was almost ruined because of the guilt and baggage from work I had to carry, not to mention I almost fell sick again due to the lack of sleep and increased stress levels. Where is the line I should draw in working harder, setting boundaries, and yet maintaining the quality of my life?

I was in the same situation, burning myself out with work, postponing family dinners because I was 'too busy with work'. I almost never got to see them again. I made a promise to myself, to never let work take priority in my life, never should I burn myself out again.

Renewing my promise with the Universe

Looking at the beautiful beaches and seas of Phuket (no, Patong beach is not the only beach that Phuket has), basking myself under the solar rays blessed by the sun returning to the same astrological position on my day of birth, I made a renewed promise to myself. I will continue to put in my best for my work, but I will listen to my gut feel more. If it says no more new projects, I will need to listen to it. I have lost count of the times my gut tells me no, but I still carry on thinking that I am capable of exceeding my own expectations. How much would I have to give up to earn that extra bit? At the expense of my own well-being, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Taking in the sights, sounds and smells, pausing in the moment to appreciate Mother Earth's natural beauty – that is how life should be, isn't it?

Cape Sienna room view, Kamala Beach

Still grateful & blessed

Nevertheless, looking at the neverending horizons, I felt blessed that I was able to make it to the trip in one piece. That somehow the Universe consipired to ease my workload prior to my departure, because I know it could have been worse if not for the unforeseen client-side delays. That the clients I have understood. That I have my health intact, my parents well, my partner by my side, and that I was able to afford that bit of luxury to even be at Phuket. That I do not have a huge circle of friends, yet a handful of true ones who know me for me. I am loved by the Universe, and I know it in my heart.

I may not get the hang of finding the intricate balance between work and the rest of my life yet, but am slowly getting the hang of placing my undiluted trust and faith in the Universe.

That alone makes me feel truly blessed, because despite being trapped in my own maze of confusion I have managed to rediscover the magic of the Universe.

Happy birthday to me, and may I be blessed enough to spend the rest of my birthdays basking in the magical energy of Light – that gives life to all.

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.

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.