Looking back at 2009

2009 has been a tough year for me, personally. It wasn’t because of the economy. Reading my previous year’s ‘looking back’ post, I remember that I had ended the year with lots of optimism and hopes. It wasn’t to be as I endured a difficult time mentally and emotionally as I struggled to balance all aspects of my life, but I remain grateful – for no matter how difficult it was, I am still able to remain relatively healthy and my loved ones are all well. That to me, is already a blessing I am happy to be able to count, because I know for a fact that many people are not aware of how blessed they are on an everyday basis.

What I could have done better

1. Managing self-expectations

I wanted to title this as time-management, but I have gradually grown to realise that the root of the problem is not that I don’t know how to manage my time properly or that I am not disciplined enough. For almost all my life I have pointed the finger at myself for being a procrastinator and that led to feelings of self-guilt and undermining my own value. I had almost come to accept the fact that I simply cannot manage time.

The problem was never the management of time, but the expectations I have laid upon myself. It is ironic because I have a relatively low self-esteem but somehow I have sky-high expectations of myself. I have this super-woman mentality that I can manage a few major processes going on at the same time and come out fine. It is one thing to have a survivor’s mentality but another thing to put myself through all the unnecessary stress. I had overestimated my ability to multi-task and the time it takes to accomplish things. I always seem to think that I can be fast (very Aries of me).

If I had set reasonable expectations for myself, I would have met them well and would not have put myself in the stressful situation of being in danger of not meeting deadlines, or trying to manage multiple timelines at one go. I have learnt time management is all about setting small, achievable targets – I mean, if I expect myself to be superwoman (which I am not, or else I wouldn’t even be writing this), obviously I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the tasks I have set up for myself.

At one stage in 2009, I was in the middle of a huge residential move, taking on a new spiritual course, plus juggling about 5 major work projects, taking care of a dog with behavioral problems; all at the same time. It did not come as a surprise when I was on the verge of a breakdown, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If this was to happen a couple of years earlier, I would be blaming my luck or whatever else I could blame upon. However, I took this setback very personally, it took me a long time to stop blaming myself for it.

I fell out of love with my work, my work which I so preciously hold dear to my heart. I tie my self-identity to my work and the work I create, when things do not go well with my work, I crumble. It is hard not to fall out of love with it when I am just so burnt out. Not to mention my living quarters had more than 50 huge un-packed boxes. And a dog who refused to stop barking.

I was lost. But I took responsibility for it, I sent apologies to all parties involved and decided that the only thing I could do, is just to put in my best. I stopped accepting new work apart from those I was sure that I could manage. I took myself apart to rebuild my self again.

And I think I am still in the midst of rebuilding it. Right now, I am careful with every decision I make, especially with work. I cannot help but feel apprehensive because I have this phobia of repeating the same mistake. However, I know I cannot be over-protective or I will just miss out on plenty opportunities. I can only put in my best and hope for the best.

2. Loving myself

This past year, I’ve been putting in a lot of effort into loving myself more. I know this sounds egoistic, but I haven’t been loving myself for most of my life. Like honestly. I don’t give myself enough credit and I beat myself up hopelessly when things go wrong. This whole self-image thing is central to the many other issues that is going on in my life and to the previous point as well. When things did not go well, all I could do was to lament how incapable I was instead of encouraging myself to do better the next time.

If I had loved myself more, I would have allowed myself more time to play and rest instead of working all day long, I would have valued myself more and not under-charge for my work, which would allow me to take in less work. See how this self-image thing affects me in and out? It creates a whole vicious cycle:

Lack of self love -> Under-value self -> Under charge -> Takes in lots of work to survive -> Lots of stress generated -> Procrastinate because of stress -> Unable to manage timelines properly -> Creativity takes a hit -> Start blaming myself for being unable to create to my own expectations -> Self-hatred begins.

Sidenote: I have seldom missed a deadline in the past year regardless of all my issues. I would rather slave-drive myself than to disappoint my clients. Unless I fell physically sick, which I took full responsibility for.

3. Achieving balance

Work and other personal responsibilities took over my life for the past year, I think I could have read a bit more, played a bit more, watched a few more movies, relaxed a bit more, exercised a lot more.

I tend to swing from extreme to extreme so it is important for me to learn how to go in-between.

What I can be proud of

1. Bringing myself out of the hermit-hole

Being energetically sensitive (okay stop rolling your eyes now ;p), I sort of stopped going out to meet people since 2006. It makes me feel drained and I take quite a while to recover from it. It was a good and much needed break, but I forgone plenty of opportunities in doing that. Everything exists in duality, in avoiding negativity and I had to avoid positivity as well.

Plus, I had self-image issues so I have a phobia of meeting strangers.

It all started from the AWARE incident which made me realise that I need to know like-minded people to achieve any cause. That it can actually be empowering instead of disempowering.

From coming out of my self-created hermit hole, I managed to meet tons of great people who have in turned brought tons of great relationships and opportunities.

2. Going to Tokyo and Hongkong

Amidst all the mess going on, I am glad that I managed to squeeze the time and resources to visit Julia, my spiritual mother in Tokyo, which whetted my appetite for more. Each time I travel out of Singapore I feel a sense of liberation and joy I cannot simply explain in words. I am proud that I did not allow my financial insecurity to stop me from travelling. It was a priceless experience.

An ex-client from Hongkong I worked remotely and briefly with, popped by Singapore and bought me tickets to watch Denise Ho’s concert after I casually mentioned it to her. I haven’t even met her prior to this and she graciously bought the tickets for me, and invited me over to stay at her place during my two-week trip. I could have burgled her house for god’s sake but she trusted me unconditionally; I was almost a stranger to her. Thank you, Belle. I appreciate all of these from the bottom of my heart. This happened at a time when things was not going well for me and it re-affirmed my faith in people and the Universe. If not for my earlier decision to reverse my hermit-dom, I wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to meet up and I would have missed this learning experience.

The Hongkong trip was significant to me because it was the first time I sort of travelled alone (my partner left for Singapore after one week). I am the sort of person who is afraid of being alone in the dark and this was a major step out for me. It gave me the confidence to do this traveling thing alone. Apart from that, I had the chance to catch one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever watched and the concert inspired me very much, both on a professional and personal level. Again, I put aside my financial insecurity to make this trip and it was very, very much worth it.

3. Finding my voice

This is again, tied to my self-image and I have been afraid to voice my true feelings and opinions because I was worried about how people would take them. Will they see me as some weirdo? Or will my clients get upset if I tell them what I truly feel? Can I stand up for myself against nasty clients?

As I grew in self-confidence after I re-valued myself (like some property, haha), I decided that it was very important to me that I find my voice back. I used to be totally self-confident and vocal when I was a kid and I lost that part of me when my life turned up-side down during my teenage years.

I needed to be true, true to myself, and to people. Finding my voice was triggered by the AWARE incident as I struggled whether to air my potentially radical views publicly or not. I finally came to the conclusion that I am my Self and I need to stay true to that self. I put my true self out there and it is up to people whether they want to accept me for me or not. Those who can’t, will not be a good fit for me anyway. It will only be tiresome and will not be of any value to both parties if we all have to put on fake fronts and hypocritical smiles.

4. Realising my greatest enemy is – myself

This was a major epiphany for me.

For realising it was never about the luck, the environment, the people, the circumstances. It is all about how I choose to perceive and believe. Everything, everything can be good or bad, it is how one looks at it.

The difference between success and failure is the ability to control the mind. To train the mind and not let the mind train you. The mind is truly powerful, it can sabotage or it can empower. It just takes a flip of a mind-switch to make a radical difference but the difficulty is to convince oneself to flip that switch.

If I truly want something, I have to make that effort, no matter how great it is. It is entirely up to me whether I want to put in that extra inch or mile. Everyone has the power to will themselves into doing anything. “Cannot help it” is a bad excuse. The circumstances can be bad, people can be critical, but if you don’t believe in yourself at the very least, or make the effort to go that extra mile, who’s going to do it for you?

Nobody. So I have to do it for myself. And if I don’t have the will to do it for myself, then who else but myself is the greatest enemy?

Nobody has the ability to create that negative situation or that bleak outlook apart from oneself. If there are people who can make the best out of crappy situations (Stephen Hawking, for example, has lost the use of his limbs but he is still contributing to the world, or Avram Grant’s dad who had to bury his parents and siblings during world war II and still feel positive about life), then it is up to us to determine how negative or positive a situation can be. It is all relative.

Gratitude time for the ones who made a significant difference

  • Julia, as always. I do not know how would I have survived without you
  • My partner, for her unwavering support and love
  • Belle, for her invitation to Hong Kong
  • Andy & Jussi, for taking that effort to convince me that meeting strangers can be a pleasant experience
  • Adrianna, for being that inspiring example
  • Danny, for your moral support
  • All the great friends I have made during #barcamp
  • All my clients, especially Kevin, who has not only been a great client but a business mentor to me. The rest, I won’t mention all the names because all of you have been great. Thank you for your support and understanding
  • All the Stevens (two, actually) that I know, for they see in me what I cannot seem to see for myself
  • Twitter and my twitter friends, for being my source of comfort when the going gets tough. Not sure what I’ll do without the internet, seriously. I wouldn’t even have a career! Can’t imagine if I was born a century earlier.
  • Those of you who believe in the magic of the universe, thank you for making me feel sane.

Here’s to a great 2010!

Peer recognition

Been busy with work lately but think it would be nice (can’t find a better word, sorry) to share some positive news.

Nothing beats being recognised by industry peers, it serves as a great motivation for me to continue pushing myself further.

My portfolio site‘s current incarnation celebrated its one-year anniversary a while ago, and during its early launch period it was featured in a few css galleries which I was already over the moon about. However lately, on a second wind, it is being featured in several high profile sites:

Am passionate about typography and set out the design of my portfolio to be strongly minimalistic and type-based, which I thought would not be well-received by a mass audience as people tend to go for visual richness. I am also well-aware that my site does not look too good on a Windows machine without anti-aliasing (font-smoothing) turned on. Nevertheless I wanted to push some boundaries and demonstrate that a site can look great with carefully used type and almost pure code without much imagery. I am glad I stuck to my beliefs, as I knew that there will always people who’ll appreciate it the way I do, even if a handful.

It is the law of attraction at play here I guess, because the way the site is designed, it does attract potential clients who appreciates design the way I do, and no words can describe how helpful that is to me.

Today, just for this moment, I allow myself to be in pride of my work, especially with the recognition of some of my peers – I thank you from the bottom of my heart, you people have no idea how much it means to me.

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

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

1. Being healthy

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

2. Having my sight and limbs intact

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

3. Being able to eat and taste whatever I want

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

4. Being self-employed

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

5. Not having to wake up at a certain time

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

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

6. Having my family and partner

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

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

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

8. Turning my passion into my career

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

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

9. Being able to communicate to a wider audience

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

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

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.

Conditions are always good, never bad; we need to know how to make good use of them. The man who waits for conditions to improve may have to wait for eternity.

cited from KR Connect