#79 “you made a mistake” vs “you are a mistake”

I read Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection” recently and in her book, she discussed the difference between shame and guilt. She argued that when things don’t go as planned, some people may think that they have made a mistake, reflected on the mistake and moved on from there. However, others may react differently. Some other people may internalize the mistake, believe that the mistake reflect their self-worth and think that they are the mistake. “I failed” is grossly different from “I am a failure”. When you feel that you are a failure, the you feel ashamed of being yourself. You may feel worthless and defeated or you may do things just for the sake of proving your worth.

Lately, I have been feeling rather defeated. On some days, I feel like I am a failure. On some other days, I feel like I have already failed so greatly in things that matter, what good can I possibly do? On these days, I feel not motivated to do anything and I wonder if there will be a day when I am proud to be doing what I am doing. Or will I be looking for a place to hide myself in shame so that people won’t discover what I have done or how badly I have screwed up?

At the end of the day, it is all about the narrative that I want to write. My life story will not be a straight path to success and eternal bliss (let’s put aside the debate on what those terms actually entail for the time being). But my life story is not a sob story. I should not be afraid to show who I am. I should not be ashamed of my mistakes and failures as well as my small successes and triumphs. I am the way I am. I have lost things along the way but I have gained and grown in many ways too. As C S Lewis put it, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” But in order to look ahead, I got to feel confident about myself – who I am, what I believe in and what I have to offer to the world. Yes, I have failed in some ways but it does not mean that I am a failure. I am not a packaged success story too. I am just a human being trying to ride out the storm in my life and enjoy my life on this beautiful planet. Every single thing that has happened to me has shaped me into the person I am today (for better, I hope) and I cannot allow one failure to define who I am.

Believe in yourself kid, you got this.

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#78 tell me your story

“I just met you on a bus, and we would really like to get to know each other, but I’ve got to get off at the next stop, so you’re going to tell me three things about yourself that just define you as a person, three things about yourself that will help me understand who you are, three things that just get to your very essence.” – Debra Jarvis

I recently watched a TED talk by Debra Jarvis titled “Yes, I survived cancer. But that does not define me.” In the talk, she talked about how sometimes people refused to get off their crucifix and they identify themselves as survivors of something, such as a disease, a traumatising experience or a loss of loved ones, and never quite move on from there.

But why?

Traumas destabilize life in many ways and more often than not, many new lifestyle changes have to take place in order to pick yourself up and find a new normal. Traumas also affect the way you see yourself as well as the way you see life. Survivors of traumas may find that their lives take on a completely new and different meaning after the traumatic experiences. In a way, traumas can change your life. There is the old you before the trauma and a new you after the trauma and I suppose that is why people see that as a defining moment of their lives.

It has been a year since I lost two people who were very dear to me suddenly over a very short period of time. The experience has taught me that there is no given in life and I cannot take anything for granted. I have also learnt that there is no pause button in life – I cannot pause life and sort out my own personal and emotional issues before resuming my life. Life just has to go on. I can’t go on, I’ll go on. I just need to put aside the emotions and get on with the details of living if not I would just be another self-entitled millennial who is self-absorbed in her own life drama. Everyone has their own issues to deal with and their demons to face so I just need to deal with it. I have also learnt that sometimes I help others because I like the helpful side of me and sometimes that is okay. However, sometimes there is a conflict of interests. Maybe I like the helpful side of me but people don’t need me to help them in that particular way. So I guess, in short, I have learnt to manage my emotions and my behaviours better.

But my life story is not a sob story. Yes, there were tears and painful moments but there were good and amazing times too. I cannot allow myself to be defined by the negative experiences in my life. No doubt, these experiences have shaped me greatly but they do not define me. Just like what Debra Jarvis said, “We have to let that old story go so that a new story, a truer story, can be told. Claim your experience. Don’t let it claim you.”

Claim your experience. Don’t let it claim you.

So if I have to say three things about myself that define who I am, this is what I will say: someone who is eager to help others, someone who tries to see the good in everyone she meets and someone who wants to enjoy the roller-coaster ride called Life to the best of her ability.

#77 the s8

Two weeks ago, I re-contracted with Starhub and got a new Samsung S8 as part of the National Day sales promotion. In the past few months in this workplace, nobody made any comments about my phone. But all of a sudden after I started using S8, people actually approached me and noticed that I have changed my phone. There were comments such as “you’re a rich kid” or “you have quite a lot of money”. I did not really know how to respond to these comments. My instinct was to justify myself. I wanted to tell them that two years ago, I “murdered” my S4 by dropping it 3 floors down in the Science Museum in London. As I wanted to make myself remember the incident and not to repeat the same mistake, I used a phone, which I did not even know its exact model, for 2 years. So two years later, I decided that enough time has passed and it was time to get a slightly more trendy phone.

But I chose not to justify myself when people made such comments. The back-story defines who you are but if these people choose to judge me quickly based on what they see, then I feel there is little need to justify myself to such folks. How people perceive me is something I cannot control. Sometimes it is also about what they choose to see. Sometimes it is also about what is obvious and what is not. Being Miss Popular is great but it is not what really matters. What matters at the end of the day is how I perceive myself and how I rate myself. Am I doing my best in everything that I do? Am I being a good human being with sound moral values and principles? Have I done enough for the people who are important to me?

But it is another thing altogether if I want to act like the way I think other people perceive me to be (many cognitive levels there, I know). And it is yet another issue if I want to act in a way just to show that I am not what other people perceive me to be. People will label me and they will judge me just like how I judge others when I interact with them. But it is up to me what I want to do about that.

In the past, when faced with similar circumstances, I would try to show that I am not the stereotypes – I am not an elitist, I am not a privileged kid, I am not a smart genius and I am not an arrogant person. But lately, I am tired of justifying myself, I am tired of trying to discard the labels on me just so that I can fit in, I am tired of being ashamed of who I am. I did not do anything morally wrong; I guess I just over-achieved in some aspects of my life but that’s all.

I want to care less about what people think of me and I want to stop myself from debunking every stereotype or rumour about me. I am not going to tell everyone everything about my life – what has shaped me and how I dealt with the various struggles in my life. They can think what they want and I will do what I think it is right.

 

#76 Dunkirk

Just last week, I watched the movie Dunkirk. The movie was about how the British soldiers tried to evacuate from Dunkirk back to the British shores. They could almost see Britain from where they were but they were so near yet so far. It was saddening to watch how they were attacked by the German vessels and fighter planes and how their efforts were in vain. There were only 3 British fighter planes that were helping the British soldiers to fend off the Germans and it was not long when there was only 1 British fighter plane left in the air. The part that struck me the most was the scene when the last-standing Air Force pilot was caught by the Germans as a prisoner-of-war on the beach of Dunkirk at the end of the movie. He knew that he was low on fuel and he could have turned around and returned to Britain. However, he decided to go after one enemy plane, one after another and eventually, he did not have enough fuel to return to Britain and he had to land on Dunkirk to be caught by the enemies.

Why did he do that? I suppose it is a call of duty and a sense of responsibility that kept him going. He did not do what he did for the recognition, awards or medals; he did what he did because he felt it was the right thing to do.

It is funny how this seems so cliche for a movie plot but it is something that seems unusual in the real world context. In the real world, people will ask, “Why is it me again? Why does it have to be me? What about the rest?” Things can still be done but in a more convoluted, political manner.

“You either help or you don’t help. It is as simple as that.” Is it impossible to keep human relationships as simple as this? Is it worth it for a person to give up so much of what being a human being entails for the sake of more money? Is gaming the system what gives meaning to life?

#75 gardening

I never really have a flair in gardening but recently, due to a twist of events, I am doing a fair bit of gardening in school. Gardening is a form of long-term but low-effort commitment. Each time when I am in the garden, I will harvest, prune and check the irrigation pipelines. It’s something I need to do quite regularly but it doesn’t take too much effort or time.

So lately, I have been trying to plant some red-leaf hibiscus using stem-cutting propagation at home to hone my green fingers. It was my first time doing stem-cutting propagation so everyday I water the plant and monitor how it goes. After a week, I thought that it didn’t look too well and I wanted to give up. My mum decided to take over the caring for the plant and after a few days, she told me, “It’s growing fine, very well in fact. Don’t worry about it. Look at my other plant: it only has one leaf. Even though it only has one leaf, I am not giving up on it.”

I thought that’s quite a good metaphor for education – sometimes the less experienced teachers get a bit impatient as we want to see the results of our efforts. But the more experienced teachers will know that change takes time and different people mature at different pace. And as long as we can see some potential in that child, we should never give up. Keep doing what we are doing and one day we will see the fruits of our efforts. Have some patience, determination and courage to keep trying.

faces and places (Apr – Jun ’17)

April was a really intense month. There were moments when I lost quite a fair share of confidence and started questioning myself and what I was doing. Sometimes I was not sure if I was capable of performing tasks necessary for my work and sometimes I just wanted to disappear. But these feelings passed eventually and the rainbow came after the storm. Over the next two months, I had sufficient space and time to think through things and re-affirm my own personal beliefs towards my field of work. To me, I believe that we are first humans then creatures of the system that we created. I believe in behaving like a sentient, thinking being and treating others as humans who deserve respect. There are many things that I still need to learn and master but as they said, “错中学, 学中做.” I will make mistakes and I will learn through the process on-the-job. One step at a time. Over the last few months, I had the good fortune of spending quality time with people who matter in my life and I am so thankful for these opportunities. Sometimes we are too focused on what we don’t have and we forget to look at what we have in our hands.

May and June were really incredible months. I managed to do a lot of things that I wanted to do, I hung out a lot with my family, I travelled quite a lot, I hung out with friends who matter to me, I did a lot of reading and importantly, I met a boy who has brought so much joy into my life. It’s funny how we have so much in common in terms of our experiences, hobbies and ideals. He can turn a bad day into a good one. 🙂

29/04/17

I did a weekend trip to Batam with my parents, grandma and my aunt to do massage and go shopping. I always wanted to do a trip with my grandma and I was quite glad that we made it happen! It was quite a busy tour organized by Weekend Go Where. There were numerous stops inside the Golden City for us to buy food products. The Javanese massage session was quite long (~2h) but it was pretty good. Here is a happy picture of us at the 3D Trick Eye Museum. It was funny how one of the staff took my camera and enthusiastically helped us take photos at the different photo stops. She even helped us to conjure positions and facial expressions. All in all, it was quite a fun experience.

05/05/17

This is another thing that I always wanted to do – Artjamming. I remember Kurinchi was really repulsed by the idea of artjamming when I first told her about it about a year ago. Thankfully, she slowly warmed up to the idea and decided to do it with it. We did our artjamming at Arteastiq at Plaza Singapura on her birthday. It was one for one if you do artjamming on your birthday so that sweetens the deal. Painting is indeed a rather strenous activity and I actually felt tired during the session. In the middle of the session, one of the waitresses came over and took our order for coffee/ tea. I envisioned myself drinking coffee slowly while contemplating on my painting. But the reality was that I just wanted to paint and I took a quick gulp of the coffee before picking up the paint brush and continue painting. Here’s a happy picture of us at the end of the session. Now the painting hangs proudly in the balcony of my apartment. 😉

11/05/17

In May, I did a two weeks’ trip to Greece. I visited Athens, Santorini, Crete, Thesaaloniki and Meteora. It was quite an adventure and there were numerous transport hiccups – plane that almost could not land, ferry strike, bus strike and missed train. But the hiccups probably enriched the experience and remind me that sometimes things just don’t go according to plan; I just need to deal with it. In Athens, I met up with Lina who was on the other Chemistry Masters programme at Imperial College London while I was there. We probably met at one of the social events at Imperial College London. We had coffee at Thisseio View which had a really good view overlooking the Acropolis. 🙂 I visited most of the tourist attractions in Athens – The Parthenon, The Temple of Zeus, The Panathenaic Stadium, The Acropolis Museum, The Archaelogical Museum and a couple of rooftop bars. It’s funny how I did this free walking tour in Athens and the guide pointed at a building and said, “This building is rather new. It was built in the 11th century.” I guess that really shows that age is relative. On one of the days, I took a day trip to Delphi and that area was so beautiful. Delphi is where pilgrims used to go to receive oracles from Apollo during the time before Christ and I guess today people are still making trips there but for different reasons.

15/05/17

I visited Santorini with Alvin and Amandas and that was possibly the highlight of the trip. I really enjoy exploring the white-washed buildings, eating good food in the taverns while admiring the blue Aegean Sea, watching gorgeous sunsets and having heart-to-heart talks at the end of the day. On the first day, we walked on the newest volcanic island in Santorini – Nea Kameni and on the second day, we did the 10 km hike from Fira to Oia and the views along the hike were simply amazing.

After our time in Santorini, Amandas and I went to Crete for 3 days. I quite like the vibes in Crete. We stayed in a family-run hotel that was metres away from the beach and it was so nice to sit on the balcony and chill. We wanted to visit the Samaria Gorge but unfortunately, it rained too much on the last couple of days and the Gorge was closed. In the end, we visited 3 small seaside towns and chilled out in the cute towns by the Aegean sea – Heraklion, Chania and Rethymno. After that, I went to Thessaloniki which seems to be quite religious. It was nice to visit the Orthodox churches, especially the ones on the hill with good views of the city. My last stop was Meteora which was located somewhere between Athens and Thessaloniki. The area has very unique rock formation with monastery at the top of some of the rocks and apparently the monks took 20 years to move the building materials up the monastery and just 10 days to build what they wanted to build after the building materials were moved up. What great determination and faith. I did a guided hike in Meteora and we saw some great views along the way! On the way back to Singapore from Athens, I had a one-day stopover at Dubai. I went up Burg Khalifa, visited the Gold and Spice Market, took the water taxi and visited the Atlantis. Dubai seems to be a place with not much city planning and multiple clusters of buildings were built in the middle of the deserts. Where is the city centre? It was also a bit too hot for me at 38 degree Celsius. But it’s nice to finally start visiting some places in Middle East; I would like to see Iran and Oman one day.

This paragraph went on longer than I thought. Here’s a happy picture of the 3 of us at the most photographed spot in Santorini. 🙂

11/06/17

In June, I made a week-long trip with Yixin to High Tatras (Slovakia), Prague (Czech Republic) and Helsinki (Finland). It was so good to see her again. When I am with her, I feel that I am playful, funny, serious, smart and outgoing – everything that I like in myself. I like how when we are with each other, we do things that we usually wouldn’t have done if we are alone. We took the Euronight train from Prague to High Tatras and it was more comfortable than I thought. On the first day, we took the cable car to Lomnický štít, the second highest peak in High Tatras. Initially, we were rather disappointed as we couldn’t see much as it was too cloudy. But when the clouds cleared, the view literally took my breath away. The glaciers were so blue and the snow-capped mountains were so beautiful. Here’s a happy picture of us at the top! On the next day, we did a hike to Zelene Pleso which was a beautiful emerald lake. What was most incredible was that there were very few people who shared the beautiful view with us. What I also like about hiking in High Tatras is the well-positioned chata (restaurant-hut) and there was one well-positioned chata next to Zelene Pleso. We had local Slovak food and drinks while enjoying the beautiful view. That was also the crazy day when we hitch-hiked. On the last day in High Tatras, we visited Slovak Paradise National Park and it was yet another experience. We had to cross rivers using tree logs and planks and climb up the gorge using ladders. Walking through the gorge was such an amazing experience, I love the waterfalls, the small caves and the beautiful rocks.

We also had some time in Prague on the next day when we visited the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge and the Old Town with the Astronomical Clock. Prague is definitely one of my favourite European cities. I love the buildings, the statues, the underground bars and the hippie corners. I watched a classical concert in St George’s Basilica and it was quite an experience to listen to old classical music in such an old building.

17/06/17

We had almost 2 days in Helsinki before I headed back to Singapore. Saturday was quite a day. We did canoeing in Nuuksio National Park in the morning. The lake was so beautiful and pristine and I love how it reflected the trees and the clouds. In between the canoeing, we also had some cinnamon buns, cranberry juice and coffee prepared by our guide. After that, we went to have salmon soup and coffee by the waterfront in East Helsinki and it was so nice to enjoy the Finnish summer sun with good company. 🙂 In the evening, we hung out by the promenade in the city center before checking out the seal exhibition in front of the Helsinki Cathedral. We had quite some fun taking photos with the seals. At night, we went for a concert by a tribute band to The Beatles. They played many classic songs by The Beatles, including Yesterday, Don’t Let Me Down, Come Together and Hey Jude. From their music, I could really feel the rock and roll spirit and that’s something which electronic music can never replace. It was quite some fun dancing to those tunes. I’m sure it’s a day that we will both remember for a long time. 🙂

24/06/17

Mervin and I went to Pulau Besar, Johor for a short beach getaway over a weekend.  Pulau Besar is quite a rustic getaway. It is an island with only 3 resorts (full-board), white sand and clear water. 🙂 We had to brave the weekend causeway between Singapore and Johor, a 2h car ride to Mersing and a bumpy speedboat ride to Pulau Besar. We did some shore snorkeling and saw many fishes and sea urchins. I love the angel fish and the clown fish. In between our snorkeling sessions, we lazed on the beach and drank fruit juices. In the evening, we drank mojitos and then watched netflix. 🙂  It was really nice to spend time together outside of Singapore. Can’t wait to travel with him again!

#74 sleeping outdoors in Helsinki

In June, Helsinki had a “sleep outdoors” event – people were encouraged to sleep outdoors for that weekend. Y and I went on a canoeing trip to the Nuuksio National Park which was a really amazing experience to paddle on the quiet lake. In the middle of the trip, we carried our canoes onto the land and we had a little “coffee and cinnamon bun” break by the fireplace. We were not the only people at the fireplace. We met two other families – an older couple with a dog and a younger couple with 2 young children. They told us they were sleeping outdoors in tents for that weekend. The children were running around in the woods while the adults prepared some coffee and hot dogs. The whole scene just felt very unreal to me.

I look at the children and I wonder how it would be like to grow up attuned to nature. In Singapore, most of us are used to artificial environment and we only go close to nature either when we are forced to or when we are exploring our inner adventurer spirit. And that tends to happen in our late teens or early adulthood. Being away from modern comforts can be uncomfortable but that’s also the time when I feel most alive. I hope that my own children will grow up closer to nature than I did. I hope that I will be able to bring them out for hikes when they are at an early age.