No one can rob your joy.
Avoiding responsibility for our actions is the single most effective way to get stuck—or stay stuck—in a life that doesn’t work. It turns all the energy we might use for problem solving into keeping us insulated from the very experiences and information we most need to learn and grow. – Martha Beck
…is that it deeply keeps you rooted to your unhappy situation, when in fact the world is constantly changing, and tables keep on turning.
I hope when you reread this again in the future, you’re calmer, happier and more content.
The past year was extremely challenging. Well, it may seem hard now, but trust me it will get better. You have seen this happen. Eventually, the pain will go away. Like your break-up. Like with “the most difficult boss ever”. Like the “most difficult boss ever, version 2”. Someday, you will look back and see how it was all planned out, and it worked out great.
No matter what happens, please acknowledge the lessons. Move forward, but take the lessons with you. Do something that you believe in, always. Fight for what you deserve. Fight for what you stand for. Sometimes the gamble will not pay out. Sometimes the repercussions are deep. But understand, if you didn’t do it, you wouldn’t know. You would not have been wiser. If you didn’t put yourself out there, you will miss something out.
Know that you need to be kinder to yourself when you lose in a gamble. Understand that when things do not go your way, there is something afoot. It seems logical to be upset right now, yes. But go through the motions, and let it go. Be upset for two days, three days. Hell, be upset for a week! But after that time, get up. Accept the loss (or what seems to be a loss for now) and move on. Pick yourself up and move on. You owe it to yourself, to Paul, to your siblings, to your Mom and your Dad to be the best that you can be after a fall. You owe it to them to live according to your potential and not be subservient to your feelings of inadequacy and shame. Learn to divert your energy to more productive endeavors; you have proven that this is what makes you more fulfilled on a day-to-day basis. Know also that it doesn’t mean that when you lose on this battle, you will lose the war. There is a bigger picture being drawn for you, and this may be an obstacle to your path, not an opportunity. You need to be OK with whatever the path takes you, because you do not know any better. There’s a bigger, better power than you who is carving your road.
You need to know your worth. You know in your mind that the reason why you are here is because you are smart, you have the guts and the skills to make it. DO NOT SELL YOURSELF SHORT, NO MATTER HOW PEOPLE HARP YOU ON IT. Trust that your gut when you are being undervalued. NO ONE SHOULD DICTATE YOUR WORTH EXCEPT YOU. You are not average. You strive to be better, even though it is hard. You think more than you care to divulge; you give value and importance to people and their feelings. You value higher learning, and although you can procrastinate (yes, I do know you), you always have that internal moral compass of where and how you should go about things, Trust yourself.
Do not push others away. They love you and they want the best for you. You do not be upset with them or treat them badly. That’s not what you’re supposed to do. You need to be aware that these are the same people who are after your welfare, and they want nothing more than to help you get through your issues. Believe in their power to heal you. Just because they are too accessible, it doesn’t mean that their influence and input are to be belittled. Be happy you have these people in your life. Be thankful and show your appreciation for them.
Be as loving as possible, and always try to be the best that you can be. Please do not forget that there are people who count on you and love you to no end, and you owe it to them and to yourself to fully feel such devotion.
Take care of yourself on this new year,
And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
— John Steinbeck
These are some excerpts from an old letter/email I sent to a friend. It was in mid-conversation, so some of the topics needed context. Some personal information was stripped to protect the innocent, i.e. me. But it had to be immortalized partially because I think I pointed out certain things that validated my growth over the past year. I am humbled by the conversation, and I needed the reminder that I was not useless after all. Please forgive the grammatical errors, shifts in paragraphs and language.
Yesterday I was having this “woe is me” feeling na, Oh my god maybe I was being pushy / I needed that ____ / I can’t live with someone hating me or saying bad things about me. Because in a certain way I think I am being discussed. Call it paranoia or whatever, pero nagkaroon lang ako ng feeling of what if ganito rin yung level ng sentiment nya about me? Parang di ko yata kaya that I am seen like that. Because at the core of it, I am a d*mn good person, and I do not deserve to be discussed like that.
I went home, turned on the TV, chanced on “Dexter” (not a fan, pero nakita ko lang). The sister of Dexter was saying something like, “My dad was talking smack about me all the time, but eventually I tuned him out. I really do not think any better of him anyway so why listen?” and I was like – WHOA. Oo nga naman. Why do I listen to people I do not think highly of? I will probably be devastated if ___ (my hero in so many levels) thinks I am such a mess or ___. Even ____. I will be totally devastated. But this person??
Anyway, sounds crass but that’s how I get by. It was a learning process. And speaking of learning, I think that was my biggest realization here. I don’t have to listen to everyone on anything. It’s not my life mission to be controlled by other people.
And that’s the thing about learning – it smacks you on the face because sometimes you didn’t even know that you have to learn this specific thing in your live in order to be enriched. I didn’t know how much I cared about other people’s opinion about me – I always said I do not give a rat’s a$$. But the reality of it is, I do when it’s an attack especially on this. But seriously, why would that philosophy, on not giving a f*ck, not apply here? I didn’t do anything wrong, and I did not disrespect anyone out of whim. I realized that if I have to adapt this belief, it has to apply everywhere. Such as loving unconditionally and being your own person. Walang schemas, walang segregation.
I bet you didn’t consciously seek out to know or even understand deeply how a man relates to his wife, how to be independent yet dependent on housemates, how to tolerate other cultures and nuances, and get over your general concept of fear. Let’s add him into the mix too: loving someone by not loving him, but loving what he represents.
Those experiences seem to be miniscule compared to learning how insurance works and what are the prevailing macroeconomic factors of the Philippines in 2012. They seem miniscule because they are so personal and non-technical, not hard knowledge. But they are no less powerful. So good job to you. You’re becoming a better person. You’re on your way.
Why are we so fascinated in measuring our life with one gauge? You’re so up the career ladder, but your personal life is in the gutter — that’s success. You spend your days stuck at home, doing something not even remotely stimulating to even make you personally fulfilled, but at least you have a husband… that’s supposed to be OK?
We have to be blindingly extraordinary in one aspect of our life in order to be passable as a success. Using that premise, if everything else in your life is satisfactory, but there is no one thing that truly pops with joy and groove, are you going to be regarded as a failure?
So how do you measure your life and worth?
Sometime in the future, kids need to be taught that being kind is not just how one relates to other people. They — we — need to understand that being kind is fundamentally something that must be extended to ourselves first.
I was raised as an independent woman by my parents. This is the same streak of independence and resilience that I hung on to when I got lost in a cemetery at age 4 and calmly found my way back to my parents, up to the time when I packed all my things in a week and relocated to an alien life in Hong Kong for work. My worth was tied to the concept that I am as strong as I think I will be. And this independence, this gem of a trait, must no way be “sullied” by accepting dependency on others. Quite frankly I was proud of it.
On my 26th year on earth however, I decided to stir things up a bit. I got engaged.
Life as an engaged woman, and my fiance Paul can attest to this, has been exceptionally difficult. In some ways, the long engagement did not help. Because of my awesome planning skills, I have scheduled, researched, sourced, booked and DIY-ed all that can be scheduled, researched, sourced, booked and DIY-ed in a span of 3 months. Not the last 3 months leading to the wedding. The first 3 months of my 24-month engagement. You can imagine the lull during this phase where I was supposed to be inhaling wedding porn. There was nothing left to do (except, ironically enough, on the last 3 months leading to the wedding) but to think of the why’s of the marriage and its implications to life as I know it. This is where my head started to spin.
What does marriage mean to me? Am I supposed to be tied to this person forever (Answer: duh)? What does this mean to my independence?
To say I was scared on how this spelled out is an understatement. I (over)thought this one, really. In moments when Paul will challenge my idealistic views on being independent, I would quip that I cannot be expected to be open and vulnerable to him even if we were married, as that is not part of my DNA. This, TO MY FUTURE HUSBAND. I must be on crack in retrospect. I know regretfully that these words were painful to hear, but I stubbornly clung on my preconceived notion that an independent woman will be always be on her own, emotionally especially, regardless of circumstance. An independent woman is a strong woman, always. Strong bordering to fearless and unfeeling. This, in spite of marriage. This, in spite of the need to connect. This, in spite for a promise to be one with another person.
In one of our seemingly endless arguments on this topic, Paul said with quiet resignation: “Look, I am going to be your husband soon. I am the person who should be always there for you, who will know you for who you are. No matter what happens, I will be entitled to your vulnerability — or else, according to your view, there’s no point of getting married to me or to anyone”
I shut up. He was right on the money.
I wouldn’t have learned this lesson if I were not about to get married, much so be tolerant about it. I got slapped. Somehow, I have to get it to my thick and not-so-open head that I have to embrace getting married in its entirety, not just on the social status it will bring. Being married is about togetherness, not just about the wedding and signing of legal documentation. It’s intertwining of lives in every sense of the word. It’s about a lifetime of partnership from hell and back. Getting married, or fundamentally being with someone (anyone, really) who you love and respect, is about a mutual dependency. It’s about opening yourself to someone else you see as an equal and allowing yourself to being vulnerable despite reservations, and somehow trusting that person will love you no matter what. Mutual dependency is about pulling your weight together at all times, not only when convenient.
I wanted to think that while in a sense I am giving up my own independence, I am gaining another kind of independence with my future husband. It’s about being together as a unit, not as individuals. We pool our resources and make decisions, together. We will keep each other motivated, and will rely on each other for support. I now look forward to it, I realize. Because while I was proud of my independence, I was lonely. It gets tiring to be your one and only cheerleader, and it’s hard to put yourself together when you are waddling in self doubt at times. And while people recognize my triumphs, no one really deeply understood what I had gone through. I guess that dynamic will change once I get married. I get to listen to another point of view, a person who will get to share my hopes, supplementing them with his own. We get to dare tackle dreams much bigger than what each of us imagined accomplishing by our lonesome. And that promise of mutual dependency is indeed a comforting thought.
I have and always be a success kid. I am that kid your mom in primary school wanted to pair you up with for group work because I would probably pull your grade up. I dazzle teachers with my wit. I joined countless Spelling Bee contests, and won with words like “Occasion” and “Mississippi”. I was THAT advanced. I am that annoying kid who never stopped talking all the way to college, and would be legitimately upset when there’s free cut. Sure, I am a success when you put it that way. And a kid of that caliber will not be subjected to quarterlife crisis, career curve balls and borderline depression in real life. She will know what she wants to do. She has the talent and the skills. She will be successful.
Fast forward to my 27th year and with those KPI’s in mind, I have made an assessment. I think I have failed my inner success kid.
It’s obviously upsetting to not have figured out what you want at this point, more so when you have all these things going on for you. Such end was not an option. According to my life plan (something I drafted in Excel, so it’s legit), I should have been an executive now. Entry level in the C-suite, but still. I should be holding a pretty kick-ass position, mandating anyone and everyone to deliver Result A, B and C by implementing X, Y, Z. Like my former teachers, staff and management will be dazzled by my inputs! comments! life-changing action plans! I was supposed to be on my way up top, with more money, more power and thus prestige of having it all.
Yup, that’s the dream. That has always been the dream. Except that, considering all that has happened for the past year, I am not sure whether I still want it anymore. And it stressed me out further that I was pulling away from the “perfect” plan. I went through the motions, and it was a struggle.
Eventually, slowly, I became… OK. And this could possibly the biggest realization I wish I can can faithfully live up on to the next year.
Because I always had this notion that “coming to terms” is somehow settling, and it makes me cringe. And whenever people throw that out to me, that I am settling, I react as if I have caught a degenerative disease through some medical hide-and-seek ploy. I jump out, punch my fist in the air and cry, “I am not it!”.
Settling seems to be such a dirty word. It’s like you’re not living up to your potential, hence making angels weep in disbelief. Like, you’re such a huge disappointment because you’re settling. And by definition, you’re not going to be happy. Ever. But really think about it. what is this “living up to your potential” measured against? Isn’t it in some version of our 10-year old childhood hopes and dreams, the one our parents (and their parents) preached about? Corporate career, great family by 25, tons of money in the bank, being thin? Those are part of THE dream? Who said? Will we be arrested or shot if we do not achieve our “potential”?
But the bigger question is, in your heart of hearts, if you do not meet such societal standards, i.e. the “perfect” plan, does it mean we are settling?
I listened to myself for once, and the answer astounded. Because even tough we have cultivated this specifically numbing and unbelievably boring dream (which for other people is OK, don’t get me wrong), it doesn’t work on everyone. You may get one or two, possibly three if you’re lucky. However, life happens and sometimes you cannot have them all at once. And if you see other people who, granted are enjoying all of these dreams, this does not translate that you have to have the same things too. And that’s OK. Falling short to the invisible yardstick does not make you less inspired or capable or happy. It’s just that maybe, just maybe, you just have a different life.
I fell victim to this, to this dream and its slew of goals. As much as I was quick to point out and harp that I am definitely a unique and extraordinary individual (on my own right), I was secretly harboring a desire for a “boring” life, as society will have it. It such a crazy misalignment to my individuality and innate stubborn self that I feel (became) bipolar. I have to be this level of executive already by age 25, this kind of manager by age 28, a family by age 30 and a house that glitters at night by 32. Totally realistic? Probably. Cookie cutter? Yes. My deepest desires so much so I cannot sleep? Not really.
Sure. I do want a good life with family, friends and a bit of conventional success. But my path is not something I can pattern after someone else’s, nor can I say that the outcome of my decisions will be entirely the same with what others did before me. In the same breath, I come to understand that people will always say conflicting things about any issue. That is why it’s important that you recognize and remain true to one voice first: your own. Because, and this I say with all seriousness, you cannot keep on listening to every advice on what you can and cannot do, lest your mission in life is to get institutionalized for mental illness.
Life does not work by making comparisons and keeping score, and for that I am glad. It’s wonderful that way, too. Because I will totally be in charge of my unique life as a unique individual, with her set of unique connections and aspirations. The road can have drastic turns, sometimes for the worse. But it’s a path that only I can take, making choices based on what feels authentic to me.
And I am totally OK with that.