Another year has gone by. While I know I’m a bit late on this, I can’t help but invite you to ask yourself: How was 2013 for me? How can I make a better transition toward the year ahead?
WARNING: Really long post ahead.
I attempted to answer the same question last year as “logically” as I can. I didn’t consider the big why behind the hows and how-tos. I just jumped in to the laundry list of things I wanted to make happen.
The post ended up doing nothing of what it’s intended to do. It was supposed to make my life easier, but it only made a big mess for the blog and in my sense of self.
It’s easy to want a perfect, salad-eating life in which you do yoga and return home to cook a fancy dinner and enjoy fine wine after a ridiculously efficient workday. Resolving to do things like that automatically, though, can be sort of an easy way out. [Refinery29: A Different Perspective On 2014 Resolutions]
The big why
If you’re anything like me, you operate best with a daily to-do list, running your day and checking items off as you go. I figured making a list of things I’ve done, or a “done” list, would be a good reflection of how I’ll improve myself in the coming year – but it wasn’t.
Looking back at 2013, I didn’t feel as aligned as I thought I would be, and this can only mean one thing: That I haven’t been completely honest with myself at this time of last year.
Mostly I know it’s because some of the items on the list just seems cool in the public eye. Another part of the disconnect is that I didn’t start out blogging with any particular niche in mind, and that as a person, I have a wide variety of interests. It’s paralyzing to “categorize” these interests of mine for the blog (Yeap, I’m that crazy).
I thought a lot about how a blog’s “supposed to be”1 as I stumbled upon bloggers who have their unique selves and unique niches under control and managed so well. The idea of limiting my hobbies into one or two things, just for the sake of following the niche topic trend, was horrifying. Even when I try to accept myself and acknowledge the fact that I’m passionate about multiple subjects, there’s always hoards of critical voices in my head that points fingers at me so that I’ll worry. Please note that I’m not saying successful bloggers achieve their amount of success by having self-limiting beliefs. In fact it’s the major opposite – to me they’ve shown that they’ve got a healthy sense of self and handle their stuff well (and how those stuff relate to others), and no matter how much I try to emulate that state, it’s difficult to ignore the voices every time I create a new draft: “You sure you want to stick with this topic forever?” “Remember, you can’t un-like this thing” “Blogger A and B and C are far cooler/more interesting/more funny than you” “You are so hopeless” and so on. These voices became louder than my own that I really bought into the idea of limiting myself to any one subject … until the bubble bursts and I realized I’ve completely lost touch with my own authentic self.
The blog almost turned into some kind of a touchstone that made myself even more subjected to self-criticism2. Doesn’t look like it, but I’ve been putting the opinions of others on the pedestal since I can remember. The tunnel vision I had was that I should limit my real self according to the category of my life or the niche I want to stick to in the long run3, and that at the end of the day, I can will myself to come to a compromise with anyone as long as I work hard and give my all.
So I gradually lose myself. And the worst part of it all? It’s voluntary.
There’s less and less of my psyche and more and more of what other people think. Overthinking became a habit. It feels like a really deep and dark shithole because inside, even after all my efforts to think and act “logical”, my instincts keep fighting me back and tell me that I should be true to my heart instead.
There came a time last year when there was no room left for self-expression, and I looked at the wrap-up list again and asked myself: Do I really want all these? Or are these just things I think I need to do to win the approval of person A, B, and C?
To cut the super long story short (i.e. stripped off its details), in 2013 I learned that no amount of reasoning can be done to change the true desires of the heart. When those desires are different from the priorities of others, it doesn’t mean that what you value are totally meaningless compared to what they do and who they are. You don’t have to compromise yourself and learn to like whatever’s in vogue when deep down you really don’t buy their idea. Some people are just more compatible with you than the others are, just as you’re more compatible with your S.O. than the rest. You simply can’t please every single person in the room – there’s just no other way around it.
I can’t trace back the exact date that I picked up this bad habit of people-pleasing, negative thinking, and depressing myself. But I’ve been pretty open about it on the blog, though really private about it when meeting people in person. There’s a major disconnect between my virtual and my real selves because of this, and it’s my awareness of the disconnect that made me realize it’s a thing I have to deal with ASAP.
The underlying problem
So yes, I did have a huge depression circa 2010-2011 and still have traces of it up to this day. I wasn’t officially diagnosed with it or anything, only considered seeing a psychiatrist recently, but all aspects of my life collapsed during that period. Some of the few I can mention are: Deliberately failing classes to quit college, almost didn’t have a place to stay, starve myself to save money so I don’t have to ask, isolating myself until I get things in order (which I never did), lost touch with everyone including my family and closest friends, giving up the idea of marriage life and future life in general, and constantly thought about suicide. I held by the singular idea that I shouldn’t be pestering others and loading anyone around me with burden. It grew from a place of timidity to a bitterness – the I-don’t-need-your-help, I-can-DIY-everything kind of bitter – and I decided I should take full responsibility of supporting myself – mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially – so that I can be the dependable one who helps others who need it. The result was the exact opposite, and it took me about three years later (now) to learn that the mere asking for help IS an act of helping itself, like helping the person you’re asking to feel needed or to feel that he or she has a sense of purpose – but I digress.
With that kind of self-limiting belief system contained within a psyche, the laundry list of to-do items was nothing but a massive weapon of self-destruction.
It’s not about you …
In his 1936 classic, How To Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie famously said that “when dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.” While I always take his words to heart when it comes to dealing with others, I don’t do the same to myself.
It’s not about being selfish or egoistic or narcissistic, but after the amount of damage I’ve done to my own psyche and consequently to the people who matter to me, I finally got what they say when they say, you have to love yourself first before you love others.
I look into the mirror everyday and hear voices like “You’re not there yet” or “You aren’t awesome until you (fill in the blank)”. It looks back to the yesteryears with “You could’ve been a better daughter/granddaughter/friend/girlfriend”. It’s never happy and always a work-in-progress, and I know that it will always be a progress not just for me, but for every human being walking on this planet. But … how do you account for all those people who keep their chins up even when they know they could’ve done better? When you only see the zillion things you still have to be or do or say just to stay sane, you no longer have time to appreciate the here and now and accept your current state of being.
And by you, I mean me.
… so get yourself together.
Running away from negative feelings is my second nature, with the most recurring feelings being anger and envy. I pretend they’re not there and hope that they’ll quickly go, but when they do come back I punish myself even more, judge how lousy a person I am to feel those things, and turn angrier at myself for being judgmental. It’s maddening, the thoughts that go about in my head 24/7. I’m constantly jealous of people who can feel unapologetically joyful at any given time – the kind of person I used to be before the depression era.
While I know I can always bore you with my grumpiness and conclude that I have more “failures” in 2013 than my accomplishments, especially when it’s according to the laundry list, right now I just want to celebrate the brighter stuff that was instead, no matter how stupid they sound or how little they seem:
♥ Grown longer tresses now down to chest, grown from a bob since 2011. BUT still haven’t reached down to belly button (when I plan to finally layer them).
♥ Finally got baptized. BUT still not mature enough, grateful enough, accepting enough.
♥ Really did ran a half marathon. BUT didn’t make it under the 2-hour mark.
♥ Created another special gift for 10. No BUTS.
♥ Made baby efforts to finally get started on my passion projects (confidential; but still want to mention it for the sake of listing). BUT didn’t take leaps of faith I could’ve taken.
The solution that heals
More than any other person I know, my mom wants the old me back, the one that’s joyful and carefree. Believe me, I’ve tried, but it always comes out fake. The whole self-punishment thing would follow and I’ll beat myself up again and again. So instead of running away and denying the existence of those feelings, she told me to throw out every negative thought with deliberation – even if it takes one piece of information at a time. There’s a lot more dumping-out-the-trash work than re-learning how to be happy, but gradually I can see the slow shift. The dumping work is literal whenever I go for a run – I release the negativity one step at a time. I also start to allow time for what I truly enjoy doing even if it sounds stupid (watching Friends re-runs, reading novels not on the NYTimes Bestsellers list, surfing the net for hours, taking selfies, to name a few). It’s worked to the point where I don’t have to feel apologetic every time I feel good about myself, even in the presence of others and their possible thoughts about me.
Somewhere around October I started treating my private diary as a place where I can just get things off my chest and say things you’re not supposed to say in public (it’s been too long that I’ve kept it all inside, pretending I don’t have those thoughts, and don’t acknowledge that I’m human), and now recently, I learned that it’s even more important to keep your friends at arm’s length and really treasure their presence – you know, the ones with whom you share your hardships and personal battles with, people you know won’t judge you or criticize you or even if they do, they let you know what they think because they care. Eventually, I stop giving myself reasons to bottle up my feeling for fear I’ll only burden these people with negativity, or to compromise myself 100% for the sake of winning the approval of somebody I don’t really know or care. The true mates, as I see it, don’t feel the least burdened by your asking for help, even if it’s their ears and their time to be there and really listen.
Slowly but surely, it’s been better, and I can smile again now, even when I’m without a laundry list of goals I want to achieve in this fresh new year.
* * * * * * * * * *
♥ It’s crucial to know your limits.
Any kind of relationship – be it a business partnership, a friendship or a kinship – takes both sides of the string to keep the bond tight. When you reach out your hand and initiate conversations, but the other person doesn’t reciprocate or even respond, remember to remain respectful. BUT don’t go complimenting things you don’t mean, compromise even more, or force yourself to like them just for the sake of winning their approval. It is ideal that you always try to spot the good things in every sticky situation, but let’s be honest: You’re human and you have your limits, and others are humans too.
♥ No matter what you do, always expect more out of yourself than others do.
(Prerequisite: true confidence)
Picked up tennis a couple of months ago and it has become a hobby. It’s not only fun, but I learned valuable lessons that applies to life out of it.
The most important one is probably this: Balls are always going to be thrown at you, whether you like it or not. Whatever the ball may be, never expect it to be an easy hit. Refuse to give external forces the privilege to expect more out of you than you do yourself. Set challenges for yourself instead to improve at every kind of ball that comes your way – whether it’s just a drop shot or a 140km/h topspin.
♥ It’s perfectly okay to be a perfectionist (if that’s who you are).
As long as you keep in mind that perfection doesn’t exist, acknowledge your assets and use them to your advantage. Even if unicorns aren’t real, you can always draw a horse that shits rainbows.
♥ Don’t be ashamed of the little things you love –
even if it’s something geeky or quirky or just plain ‘weird’ .
Whether it’s a Gladwell book or an Xbox game, embrace the stuff that make you you. I don’t know if it’s a girl thing, but sometimes it’s really tempting to be a carbon copy of somebody the world deemed perfection, and rightly so because each and every one of us look up to one another’s assets to amp up our own game. Just don’t lose yourself while doing so.
♥ Always do something about your intentions before externalizing them.
Lest you’ll just be what Singaporeans call NATO (No Action, Talk Only). This may not apply for extroverts. Again, doesn’t look like it as I tend to enjoy meeting new people and other situations where I know I won’t be judged or criticized, but generally I’m pretty private about stuff4 and prefer keeping quiet about my biggest life goals and dreams.
I made a huge mistake last year by thinking that sharing everything on the blog will somehow magically make me accomplish my goals. Before I know it, I’ve set up additional nonsense I claim to be my goals but really aren’t – just for the sake of living up to the popular expectations of the public eye. Big goals and small goals alike, I know that as long as I start to spill even the smallest beans about it to someone, I know I’ve tricked myself into the laziness of actually acting on the goal, and end up quitting even before I begin. I simply work harder, smarter, and longer when I’m solely fueled by internal motivation.
♥ One of the best things you can do is
being the #1 fan/supporter/cheerleader of your partner.
Shifting your focus away from yourself is more empowering than you think. Life provides more than enough reasons for us to get upset, bitter, and resentful, even in the most mundane days. One of the best ways to leave your negativity behind is to give for giving’s sake, as the best gifts often come without a price tag.
I firmly believe human beings are fundamentally the same, and I can’t count how many times I’ve said the word ‘human’ on this post alone or how many more existential questions I’ll inquire some more – bottom line, we humans need each other’s support. To that, doesn’t matter the kind of background you come from, sometimes all you need is the firm assurance that someone in your life believes in you. People have survived through a lifetime based on the hopes of others alone, so just remember that when you have decided to be someone for somebody, it’s time to leave your own pity party behind for good.
Cheers for 2014~~