on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

2014: Consistency

Having written about 2013 yesterday, for the first day of 2014 I would like to spend a bit of time to write about what I would like to focus on in the oncoming year, if not years.

As I wrote yesterday I never really had the space to seriously think about how I want to develop as a person. It is like being the product manager of yourself, there are a thousand things we can attempt to do, but what are the priorities and how do we execute?

One of the biggest lessons I have learned for the past couple of years is the power of consistency. When an action becomes consistent, it no longer requires friction and the benefits start to compound. I have much better energy levels than I have had my entire life, and I am pretty certain that is the result of being very mindful of my energy cycles. I am not only referring to physical energy here, what mental, physical and emotional energy combines to, is the energy to create.

This energy to create, will be paramount to my work, my life and my aspirations. I am influenced by Warren Buffett’s Snowball and I want to have my very own snowball. Momentum and consistency is key. So how can I get better at pursuing momentum and maintaining consistency?

Things I do and want to do more of

I want to be writing and reading even more than I did in 2013. People tend to attribute productivity with time, i.e. the more you work, the more you produce. I wouldn’t speak for everybody, but personally I have found reading and writing exercises my brain. The impact is not obvious but accumulative. I have no doubt that they influence the quality of my thought and work on a daily basis.

Things I sort of do and need more consistency

More mindful eating, exercise and meditation. I have started to do these somewhat regularly in the past year, but I have found myself “taking breaks” in between. I make the tradeoff of wanting to experience faster gratification in return for less energy. It was difficult for me initially to keep off carbs at first, being brought up in an Asian culture meant I grew up eating white rice everyday.

However, recently I have found myself to think that I crave for carbs, only to not enjoy the actual eating experience anymore. I still love pastries though. But the key is not to be extreme and just put in a little more thought in my food choices. I think of the mental fog I experience each time I eat these carbs and it puts me off a little more.

It used to be hard for me to even think of exercising, until it became obvious that it is difficult to feel energetic when cells in my body are not having any movement. The body lives and breathes with oxygen coursing through and it is difficult to have fresh oxygen when we hardly move in rooms full of people.

Someone at Medium told us, if athletes exercise to keep their body fit, then we as thinkers should meditate to keep our minds fit.

Things I hardly do and should start doing

Keep on learning something new on a regular basis. A new programming language, or even hand lettering or learning to draw better. I would like to cook more too, forgetting that cooking is a way of expending creative energy.

After being on my first roadtrip and also some local SF exploring, I belatedly remembered how much I enjoy being out in nature. I hope to do more of these, to fill my mind with new experiences and sights.

I would like to spend a little more time on my social hacking projects too, a baby step forward is better than none, I would like to remind myself.

Things I am afraid of and will attempt to do

There’s only one thing on my list here and I will be a very happy person in 2015 if I have made some progress on this, if any. I would like to be better at speaking in front of people, even if it is a small group. I just don’t enjoy having very little space to think before communicating. I think the problem there is a somewhat huge disconnect with the speed of my thought and my verbal articulation skills. Some people thrive on attention, I start to disintegrate.

This is my way of putting myself out there.

Consistency is key

I would like to make these built-in into my life, as part of my regular routine. It is more lasting to spread out an effort in small chunks than to have one intense effort and finding it difficult to return to that intensity again.

Keeping my energy consistent and optimal will provide the foundation for the work I want to accomplish.

Looking back at 2013

For the past five years I have been writing looking back in year posts, one of those things which I decided to do and I don’t realize the actual value until much later.

People don’t like to admit this, but we are forgetful. We tend to remember things in extremes, either the painful moments or the joyous ones, forgetting that it is the mundane that fills up most of our lives.

Reading last year’s post which spanned two years, it made me smile to recall that 2011 was the year when I started to be more conscious about my diet and learned to make my bed, while 2012 was the year when I learned to smile at strangers.

The small, daily behavioral changes have the biggest impact on my life, I would say. With grand moments come euphoria, but having daily moments of joy builds up an inner, flowing well of strength and centeredness.

Finding an anchor

2011 and 2012 were tremendously life-changing years for me, filled with rollercoaster moments of joy and heartbreak, but I was going through so much that I hardly have the space to be conscious about what I want to do and where I want to be. I had to go along wherever that rollercoaster wanted to take me and adjust my sails according to the winds that are blowing. I lived in limbo and out of a suitcase. I didn’t even know where was that suitcase going to end up eventually.

My suitcase finally had a chance to be kept in a real wardrobe this year, as I finally moved to SF the end of last year. For the first time in the past couple of years, I had somewhere to return to.

Having a wardrobe is a luxury. I loved being able to purchase bedspreads and kitchenware after a year when I couldn’t have anything at all because that would mean a heavier suitcase. I am relatively minimalist when it comes to having material possessions, but I do like having a great pillow to sleep on which I can call my own.

The beginning of an end

After all that uncertainty I was ready to fall into a steady routine – I was working remotely for a year and I couldn’t wait to be in the same location as my team at simplehoney. I would devote the next few years to nothing else but building this startup.

Or so I thought.

It would be just a few months before simplehoney got acquired. I learned that making a product people love is not enough. For the first time I had something I worked on featured on the appstore, and I experienced what it felt like to receive users’ feedback declaring their love.

I was extremely grateful for that experience, it changed the way I thought about how I design and how I want design to be. Being the sole designer of an early stage startup was an incredible learning experience. It was a heavy weight to bear, but a weight worth bearing with the right product and team.

A door opens

One door closes and another door opens. Somehow the door to working at Medium started to open and I ran through that door as though my life depended on it. I had thought I lost that opportunity for good two years ago, but someone told me that life is long.

It was the first time I had to work with a much bigger team I have been used to my entire career. I spent a significant number of years working independently remotely, followed by working with a small team at an early stage startup, so learning to communicate cohesively with 40+ people was a huge learning curve for me. Previously, all I had to do was to explain myself to one or a couple more people, or being a visual designer much earlier in my career I could simply let the work do the talking. It was particularly challenging, especially because I was so introverted and I barely dug myself out of my own shell just a few years ago.

But I took it on anyway, not without fear. I hope if I let my love for the product take priority over everything else, including my fears, things will fall naturally into place.

Working at Medium for me is not just any other job. To work on a product which serves to bring the energy of words to people is an once in a lifetime privilege. I thought so six months ago when I first joined Medium, and six months later today I still feel as strongly about it, if not more.

Maximizing privilege

I constantly think about how I can maximize my privilege. It is already a privilege to win the ovarian lottery. I think about people being born places where liberty of any form is not a given, so despite my persistent grumblings about being born in Singapore I am still grateful to be born in a place where I can still lead a self-determined life, to an extent.

So when I am given the privilege to live in one of the world’s best cities and work with one of the best teams on a product I deeply believe in, it becomes an obligation to me to start thinking seriously about how I can be at my best.

No amount of will can sustain a body’s capacity to be at optimal levels. The body doesn’t naturally stay at its best, we have to work hard at it. 2013 became the year when I started to be a lot more conscious about the things I choose to do.

I established a strict sleeping pattern, I do not go to bed later than 11pm and I wake up without an alarm around 7am. I try to restrict my carb intake and allow myself only one coffee in the morning. I swim 20 laps twice a week, which is no big deal for people who run everyday but I’ve resisted the idea of exercise all my life so to have a consistent exercise pattern is a mini-miracle. I read for at least 30 minutes everyday, remembering that reading is like compounding interest for knowledge, according to Warren Buffett. I have reached my goal of reading 50 books the past year. I have gone through years when I barely managed 10 despite my love for reading, last year I managed 37 so 50 seems like a good number.

This year I have made a conscious decision to write even more than I used to, or at least establish a regular writing pattern. One morning per weekend, I sit in front of a screen, mostly not knowing that I am going to write, except that I would write whatever that comes to my heart and mind. I have written on Medium a lot more since I started not to pay so much attention to the stats. That is to ensure I remain authentic to my own writing, and plenty of times being authentic doesn’t equate to resonance. I still maintain that I would rather a small group of people finding real value in my writing – I write to find deeper connections across screens, not to make everybody understand me.

On a deeper level

I have also learned to mediate for the first time, thanks to a Medium retreat. For the longest time I believed I will not be able to meditate because my mind wouldn’t shut up, until I learned that meditation is simply a time and space to be aware of what I think. I have had a ton of insights (mostly about my own behavior) since I have started meditating.

It is also this year when I evolved my own view of romantic relationships. It is very empowering to understand that I don’t need to have someone sharing my life. The key word is, “need”. Needing a relationship was somewhat egoistical for me. I was emotionally insecure and wanted to feel needed as if to prove my existence was worthwhile. I wanted to have someone understand me, connect with me, only to learn that I cannot even fully connect with myself, much less someone else.

I finally understood what it means to truly appreciate my own existence. It is still an on-going process somewhat, to not only be comfortable in my own shoes but to love wearing them. More importantly, I do not wish for anybody to buy me those shoes. I was only daring to wear shoes people thought I could wear, forgetting that I can make them myself. In fact, I discovered that I could own multiple pairs of shoes and determine when I want to wear them.

Through my own personal evolution I am also starting to grapple with thoughts on creating sustainable change. This year I cannot help but keep on thinking that indignation and outrage on social issues can only go so far, whereas true sustainable change needs to occur at a much slower rate, grounded by empathy and an understanding of tradeoffs. How we frame problems can create a whole world of difference. I am still trying to distill my thoughts on this, but to give an analogy at a much smaller scale – wanting to work out because of an unhealthy body image versus because it gives you better energy; in one scenario we are almost fighting with ourselves, in the other scenario we are trying to better ourselves.

The year that gave me rain

Life will always have its challenges but what truly matters is the intrinsic motivation for living. I cannot control my external circumstances but I can have power over my own will to give my all.

Power over my own will, that is the theme for 2013 for me and will be continuing into 2014. With every conscious decision to live better and learn more, I learn to exercise my willpower muscle. Having will is not given, as many bestselling books can tell you. Through making conscious decisions I have been trying to build resilience, or what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls Anti-fragility. With physical strength comes mental strength, with mental strength comes inner strength. With inner strength comes the will to endure challenges and energy to maximize opportunities. The world can give us rain, but we still have to do the hard work of planting the seeds and growing the harvest.

2013 was the year the world gave me rain and I tried to plant some seeds, 2014 will be the year I will hope to plant more seeds and try growing what I have planted. In a year’s time here, I hope to be sharing with you, how it all went.

Life, observed from a roadtrip

I used to love traveling because I didn’t like where I was. Traveling was a form of escape, and I wanted to escape all the time.

This year, I travelled to Sayulita, Los Angeles and various parts of Southeast Asia, only to find myself desperately missing San Francisco. I have never known how it felt like when people tell me that they missed being home. After three decades of life, I have finally found a place my heart calls home. I feel irrefutably part of San Francisco, just as she filled the void in my soul when she became a part of me.

I have thought seriously about it, that I want to deliberately pursue meaning and not happiness, that may mean that one day I will have to make that heartbreaking choice to leave a place which makes me endlessly happy in order to be somewhere else that may need me more. I may not have the legal privilege to stay here for the rest of my life anyway, but instead of living in fear that one day this may be taken away from me, I want to choose to embrace this unexpected gift instead, even for a little while.

I have never been an unhappy traveller for my entire life, but this year was the year when I felt very disconnected while doing so. Yet I knew I needed to leave the place I love in order to love her wholeheartedly. Each time I return to her I experience the place with new eyes and a whole new layer of joy. The more I experience the world out there, the more I understand how special is my connection to San Francisco.

How can I love a place with so much of me?

But love is not counted in seconds. I have learned that love and life is symbiotic, one cannot survive without the other. To live is to experience, and to experience is to love. By default my lazy comfortable self would really be contented holing myself up for the entire holiday season, accompanied by books and films. Yet sometimes the unwillingness to take oneself out of a comfort zone can be disguised as contentment.

I know I have to start having new experiences, because if I stop desiring to experience, I would gradually go down the slippery slope of stagnating my capacity to live and love. It creeps up slowly on you, stagnation.

I tell people I have never driven for more than an hour in my entire life and they look at me in disbelief. Well, it helps when I am from a country where you can get to anywhere within 30 minutes, assuming there is smooth traffic. So I thought it would be a good experience for me to go on a roadtrip, even if the journey takes me two hours. Incremental changes, two hours is still an improvement over one.

The funny thing is, before I make my mind up completely, I always imagine the worst scenarios. In this case I tried to give myself a thousand reasons not to embark on my roadtrip, including cost, imaginary breakdowns, claustrophobia of being on an endless highway, getting lost in the dark, etc.

Like a metaphor for life, fear is irrational before the actual act. Not that I am a rational person at all, but while driving on the Pacific Coast it occurred to me that most things I do in life are not scary at all once I actually do it. Plenty of experiences become not that much of a big deal once we get past them. It is always the mind which magnifies the actual impact on our psyche, isn’t it?

I used to do things on a whim when I was much younger. I learned the hard way that doing things on a whim can be reckless and cause unintended hurt. But somehow along the way I went to the other extreme and started to over-think my actions in an attempt to be more considerate and mindful. I would like to grow a new adventurous spirit, with new-found inner peace and awareness.

There is a difference between being adventurous in order to escape and being adventurous for learning and experience. I am typing this entry at Monterey now – at this very moment I am thinking, experiencing travel while feeling grounded and aware of the person I am and who I want to become – I feel like I am commencing on a different chapter of my life, wearing a different set of lenses.

I no longer feel the same desperation to stay in San Francisco because I was afraid to lose that sense of belonging. Well, to be fair, for someone who has never felt like she belonged anywhere, this is a precious feeling which is somewhat justifiable to feel defensive over.

Being on this roadtrip emphasized and renewed my love for being a simple observer of life. This is why I travel, to remember and experience this world for being so vast, rich, beautiful and alive. There is so much heritage, so much evolution to be appreciated.

In the isolated corners of the highway I see life in the loud crashing sounds of the ocean, in those parts filled with both visitors and locals I see life in the interactions of people.

I await for the next moment to indulge me in an unique expression of life, while learning to immerse myself fully in the current one.

One year since I moved to San Francisco

Today is December 14. One year ago today, I took a much-anticipated 20hr flight across oceans and crossed SFO’s immigration as an alien legally permitted to work in the US.

I am obsessive about anniversaries. They are my way of being grateful and honoring turning points in my life. I honor the day I first stepped into San Francisco, the day I have gotten my visa approved, the day I first worked at Medium, etc. We can go over entire weeks, months, years and not remembering the work our former selves have done to get us here so far. It is not about being prideful about achievements, it is reminding myself that things I have now did not come easy and I should never take them for granted.

It is extremely easy to get used to precious things and forget what made them precious in the first place, to stop wanting to savor these moments. I could walk up and down the streets of the Mission blindly, going from point A to point B, without observing the tremendous life that once captured my heart so deeply. It is so much part of my daily routine to walk through the doors of the Medium office everyday that it could very simply become another generic door, but there are still plenty of moments when I walk through those doors and sigh deeply.

Each sigh represents a rapid virtual zipline of the dots in my life which have to be connected in order for me to walk through those doors. The people I had to meet, the favors I had to beg for, the grace of people I had to depend on, the serendipity that had to take place, the blind faith I needed to have, the reconditioning my mind had to undergo, the hearts I had to break.

There were so many factors that had to take place at the right time, right location, right sequence, in order for me to have my seemingly mundane routine today.

But the reason I keep wanting to honor and remember these events is not to repeatedly relive my best moments, it is to keenly remind myself that I have to pay it forward because I am carrying the debt of all those people who had it in their grace to make this possible for me, and also to be a living example – life can go on extremely unexpected trajectories.

And this makes me recall a story Amir Khella wrote about Buckminister Fuller’s epiphany:

If one attends to the problems of humanity and commits oneself to solving them, the universe will care for that person the same way it cares for a flower or a bird.

It doesn’t matter if you call me a hippie or whatsoever, this is a deep-rooted belief I have been carrying around for a good number of years. There was a certain point in my mid-twenties when I became so frustrated that I decided to consciously stop trying to do what society expects me to. I stopped consciously trying to pursue material security, I stopped trying to do things for recognition. I use the word, ‘try’ because I have been through periods where I swing back into survival mode and forget the essence of how I really want to live. But the key is, I swing out of it and try really hard again.

I decided that I wanted to be the change I want and if I committed myself to doing so, things would take care of itself, that events would unfold the way it should in order to enable me to do my work.

And what is my work? To me, my work is essentially not just design and I have no interest to be a better designer per se. To me, design is a means to the end. The end for me is a sustainable livable world. The means for me is not only design, but it encompasses storytelling, authentic connections, sharing, exchanging ideas, writing, broadcasting, being the best I can be and want to be, not only professionally, but simply as a human being.

This is what I have to say after living more than half a decade of this experiment – I am grateful to my former self for taking this leap of faith. This is the single best long-term investment I have ever made, not by worrying about my retirement, not by taking strategic career moves, not by trying to meet expectations of people who love me – but by being the most authentic, empathetic self I can be, with the single-minded intention to do whatever I can in my capacity to make this a more livable world.

This has made me learn that the best investments made in my life is the ones I take a long-term view of, I am not afraid to end up at the wrong destination because if I consistently do everything I can in my journey to do the work I aspire to, does the destination even matter? I have long reconciled within myself, even if one day I end up hungry, cold and penniless, but throughout my life I have been doing my best to contribute to a better world, I would gladly be hungry, cold and penniless.

Where I am today did not come by because I planned. To a large extent I am where I am because I put my belief that this world can be better, and that my contribution will matter, above everything else. The best choices I have made was made with my gut and love, not with my brain and logic.

I take one step forward and two steps backwards. Rinse and repeat. Something happens and I seem to make a quantum leap. But in the core of my heart I know, these quantum leaps are a consequence of the small baby steps I take, sometimes forward, plenty of times backwards, but what truly matters is – I try to take these steps regardless.

I can say I have had the best year of my life since December 14 2012 – I reunited with my team at simplehoney after one year of being apart, I came back to the city I loved after not being able to return in that same year, I had my tiny heart broken when simplehoney had to end, had the same tiny heart carefully mended when I started work at Medium, and I am now doing the most fulfilling work of my life so far because now I can help make people tell their incredible stories, I am having the most consistent sleep and energy levels of my entire life, I have made and fostered amazing connections with people, I have learned and grown so much both personally and professional, I am surrounded by brilliance everyday at work.

These days I can have a terrible day by typical standards, someone will come by and ask  me, “how’s it going?” I answer, “great!” –  not because I am a hypocrite, but because having had the life I have had in the past year, there is honestly nothing more I can ask for.

That being said, I know this is the tip of the iceberg, not because I think I am capable of so much more, but because I desire to experience and contribute to this world, so much more.


The door that opened a year ago

Around this time last year I was standing at the American Embassy in Singapore stunned, not knowing how to react to the officer in front of me. Just a split second ago she had approved my work visa, the final piece of paperwork I had been waiting a year for.

For a lot of people moving to San Francisco is simply moving to a new city or a new job, for me it was moving to an entirely new life. A life I had loved, a life I had fallen in love with, at first sight in July 2011.

It was here where I had found my self, a theme I would consistently bring up in my conversations and my writing. I don’t think people really understand me when I tell them I had only begun to find myself two years ago. I don’t think they comprehend the magnitude of what it means to me.

I do have the blessing of people who had known the previous me, so they can lay testament to the transformation they had witnessed in me – my face looks a ton brighter, even my own father would tell me later. Innate joy is so invisibly visible. I was actually afraid that my transformation would be so complete that I would forget my old self and in turn, my innermost gratitude for what I have received in order to make this possible.

In many ways on a superficial level I am still very much the same person to the untrained eye, still as self-deprecating as ever, still tentative in a lot of things I do, still secretly ridiculously idealistic about what the world should be.

The key difference is, to people who had known me enough before, is that now I carry a sense of peace and joy with me, driven by love; whereas previously I was carrying a sense of chaos and fatigue, driven by fear and radiating a sense of pain.

But don’t get me wrong, it is not as if I am all zen and ready to achieve enlightenment, I was just telling one of my dear friends the other day, it is really difficult to understand the meaning of self-directed power, when my whole entire previous existence was so disempowered. I have to struggle really hard to recondition my mind for all my old disempowering beliefs; it is one thing to understand intellectually what is possible and another thing to apply it on a day-to-day basis.

I very much want to honor this day on the calendar, possibly for the rest of my life, because it is the day the door really opened for me. I remember just weeks before my visa approval I was standing in the rain of one of the streets in Singapore, looking upwards at the skies, demanding to the heavens that everything would go smoothly for me so that I could actually be free to carry out my new-found purpose.

Life is really not that simple, I am afraid to say. It doesn’t mean that a door had finally opened, that it must be leading to a smooth, silky road. Even if the path was truly made to be as rich as possible, you have no idea how one self can be the true obstacle. I am no longer naive enough to believe that the road ahead would be easier, it is only going to get harder as I hopefully grow from strength to strength. Harder, because I am now willing to carry a lot more weight, because I do want to carry a lot more weight, on behalf of those who can’t.

I go into periods when I get too caught up in the daily complexities of life, forgetting the story of my origins. We either hold on to the past too much and thus unable to move forward, or we forget about it too quickly, without understanding that it is truly the past that has made the present possible. I want to keep my story with me, because it allows me to remember why I even wanted to be here.

And when I remember why I am here, I also remember how I got here. I didn’t get here by being scared and afraid to lose my sense of security. I got here because I took many leaps of faith and waited for the net to appear. Precisely because I am leading a life too good to be true, sometimes it makes me want to hold on to it using all means possible, forgetting that trying to preserve the status quo is not in alignment with my actual goals.

I didn’t come here to melt into San Francisco. I came here because I truly believed I could bring a bit of what I have received so graciously from the city and her people, to the rest of the world. Love, experience, knowledge, values, hope, faith and more. How can I pay it forward as effectively as possible, is a question I have on my mind every day. I still have not found the answer.

But this I know. That in order to be strong enough to carry the weight I so desperately want to carry, to be resilient enough so I can pursue the discomfort that is necessary, I need to work really hard on myself first. Will is a muscle to be exercised and I cannot keep on making unhealthy decisions for myself.

That door that first opened a year ago, I had mistakenly thought the hardest part was over. I was wrong. The hardest part is not to let myself be an obstacle to my own dreams.

I don’t know how am I going to prove myself worthy of walking through that open door a year ago. I only know if I keep on desiring to question myself, perhaps one day I might find the answer.

Giving thanks

My recent life has unfolded in such a way that there is never a day that goes by without feeling an incredible sense of wonderment and gratitude. In the spirit of the American Thanksgiving, I will take this opportunity to give thanks.

First of all, I could argue that gratitude begets more events that inspire gratitude. This may sound slightly perverse, but I am most grateful that I had a difficult time while growing up, because all that sadness I experienced before has only served to make me learn to look at things from different perspectives and to appreciate the simple things in life.

Through that sadness I had developed an empathy, an aversion to hurting people because I had been so hurt – with a resolution that I will try my best never to consciously make someone else feel the way I had been made to feel.

This grounding principle is the basis of everything I do today.

Similarly, it is also because I grew up in a society where empathy is scarce, it made me appreciate anybody who would show me a little grace, a little understanding, a little appreciation. Some of these people were my beloved clients when I was an independent designer from 2007 – 2011, without them I would never had made it this far.

When I first started freelancing I needed a lot of external encouragement from my clients and peers, because I was conditioned in my youth to undervalue myself. Choosing design as a career in those days was frowned upon, choosing to freelance was considered as career suicide. I felt like I was swimming against the tide all the time, yet I had the privilege to serve some of the best people I have ever known. People who somehow saw something in me despite my constant attempt to undermine myself.

I had this special client from the US who would consistently cajole me to raise my rates despite my own disbelief that I was worth getting paid more. Can you imagine that? What he was doing for me was the opposite of everything I was taught to believe.

I had a stream of such people coming into my life as my own attitude towards the world evolved. It was as though serendipity took pity on me and decided she would bring in some people to teach me hope, faith and the meaning of life.

I had another client who decided on his own that he would start paying me a ridiculous rate, and he was also the one who told me that my true strength was in interaction design, not visual design. I didn’t really believe him (sensing a theme here?) but later on I would discover on my own that he was right.

One of the biggest turning points in the last 3 decades of my life was to meet my ex-bosses whom I worked with at simplehoney. There were many reasons why I am so terribly grateful for them, but if not for them I wouldn’t even be here living in the city I love. They have waited an entire year while I was in my visa limbo, and it is something that I will never take for granted.

Throughout these years of ups and downs, I have had the blessing to have the most amazing friends who were there not only in support, but also to understand my dreams. They have made me understand the true meaning of strength in numbers.

And of course, I wouldn’t forget to be grateful for my co-workers at Medium. It would be almost boring to repeat that I am consistently having my mouth open in amazement at the things that they do on a daily basis, but even that is secondary to the fact that they are all amazing, mindful and generous people.

I thank my family for their understanding – that there are things I want and need to do, even if it is really hard for them that I am at such a distance away.

Now that I am done with my thank-you speech for people, this is where I get emotional with intangible things. I am most grateful for my new-found ability to sleep. This has such an exponential effect on everything else that writing 10,000 words will not do it justice. I am also thankful for the opportunity to live in the city I love so very much and how her people has taught me what it means to be alive. Ultimately, I am grateful for the awareness that all of me and my life would not be possible for all the dots which are intricately connected. Some of these dots are obscure and hidden from a conventional view, but I know that they exist.

The joyous moments are easy to be thankful for, the upsetting ones, however, will always have a special place in my heart. I know with absolute certainty, that those are the ones which contribute the most to my sense of gratitude today.

If we always had everything, how would we know what is it like to receive something we never had?

Privilege, a reflection from my trip

I landed in SFO yesterday noon with a uncontainable smile on my face, despite the 17-hour flight. In all honesty, with all the logical reasons I can name for my love for SF, I don’t actually understand why this place makes me smile so much. If we have past lives, I must have had one in SF.

SF feels like home. It feels like where I belong. And it isn’t really so much because I am a designer and this is the mecca of tech, there is just this inexplicable sense of desire here. The desire to truly live. This sense of being alive stems from the ordinary folks I observe, from the tram operators to servers to the Mexican grocery store owner who smiles at me every morning when I walk by. The people who live here are mostly self-selecting, and that explains a lot.

I used to carry a sense of sadness when I think about my love for this place, knowing that it will come a day when I will probably have to leave and it wouldn’t be out of my own choice. Or perhaps it will be, because never say never. I had never felt a sense of belonging to anything and it feels tragic to think that one day I will lose the only place in the world capable of making me feel this way.

But I have learned that love transcends everything else. Instead of moping around, I will learn to carry this love everywhere I go, infusing it in everything I will do.

The key word is, “learn”. I am not able to do so yet, the trip back home to Singapore exacerbated my sense of having two split personalities. Singapore and San Francisco felt like two different dimensions to me. One represents weight and scars; the other, only light and love. I couldn’t help but feel the weight of being back in Singapore, it seemed like an automatic psychosomatic response – that feeling of drowning each time you step into the water if you had a drowning incident before.

There is a deep rooted undeniable resentment, which in my ideal world I don’t wish for it to exist, but I am only human and I am hoping that being honest about it is better than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. I feel like I will never truly be liberated as long as I carry that resentment. That same resentment was the same driver of everything else I did for her.

But this time back, I no longer wish for myself to be driven by that resentment. Through my meetings with my amazing friends, I now wish for myself to be driven by an idealistic hope that things will be better. If I couldn’t have the same opportunities for myself, if I couldn’t prevent myself from having these scars I would have to bear for the rest of my life, then perhaps I will be able to at least be part of something that will allow the future generations to have experiences I never had.

In life there is a concept of happiness, that we humans live so we can strive to be happy. In my own life, meaning triumphs over happiness. If I have to make a choice one day, I will consciously choose meaning. I could only pursue happiness for so much and so long, before obligation and debt to the world takes over. I very much understand that my life now is only made possible by people who pursued meaning and not happiness, and I don’t think I will be able to deny that sense of obligation to do the same for the ones after me.

It is not something out of pure choice, in case if I had given that misrepresentation. I wish I could say I consciously choose it to be this way, but there is something that intrinsically bugs the hell out of me if I remain oblivious to the rest of the world. It is not as if I don’t want to live purely for myself, I just can’t. In a perverse way, I have tried living only for myself and all I have gotten back in return is an inexplicable sense of depression.

I am now giving myself time to build up that strength and love for what I want to do, from my privileged stay in San Francisco. The privilege I feel here doesn’t necessary come from the ability to be part of the tech industry, I mean I will be a hypocrite if I say it doesn’t play a part. It certainly does, it enables me to have that mind space to think – thinking is a luxury, by the way – but the actual privilege I keenly feel comes from the spirit I feel from the people living here (which may or may not be part of tech). Being surrounded by people who knows what it means to be alive is one of the best gifts I had ever had. The people here understands (and I am generalizing based on my inevitable bias stemming from my own experiences) what it means to be part of a community, what it means to understand your role in that community. That very clear understanding that we can only flourish if others are given the space to, as well.

To me, SF is a prototype of my version of my ideal world, if there is one. It is not perfect, it is very broken, but the key difference is that, people here are trying to make it better all the time, even if those ways are arguably suspect sometimes. But there is a sense that if you are an individual and you have an idea of making things better, you could have a possibility of trying, even if that sounds like the dumbest idea on earth.

That sense of empowerment is not felt by everyone, but it is definitely here. My sense of privilege comes from the understanding that this sense of empowerment is not entitled to a lot of people, if not most people for their entire lives.

I feel incredibly grateful that I am at a stage of my life to understand and feel this, that I don’t take my stay here for granted, that what I had been through prior has only served to set me up for this opportunity to comprehend this privilege. It is a privilege in itself to understand this privilege.

I can only hope that I have it in me to not self-sabotage this gift, to fully receive so I can give, one day in the future.

Reconciling paradoxes

I could get used to this. Sitting at some remote location (alright, Phuket is not that remote) typing some words, having woken up at the break of dawn.

This was the life I used to envision. Perpetually in motion, armed with just a backpack and my laptop, creating on the go.

But yesterday while looking at the beautiful empty horizon of Naiyang beach, I had an epiphany. I was never meant to have one distinct persona, one single vision of a life.

I was meant to alternate in cycles. Some people could work on one single thing as their entire focus of their lives, Jiro the sushi master comes to my mind. I need to leave in order to stay, to be rooted in order to travel, to be alone in order to participate, to work in order to play, to be selfish in order to be generous, to give in order to take, to self-destroy in order to come alive.

My source of troubles comes from having the wrong expectation of thinking I will find that one thing, the one person, the one place, that one way of living. I mistook comfort for happiness, prestige for validation, dissatisfaction with myself for misery. I sought to define myself a certain way, not understanding that I am not one distinct persona but a multitude of them. My personas evolve, yet my mind doesn’t catch up, constantly feeling the disconnect as I assumed I was a certain type of person, only to realize I have grown out of my own assumptions a long time ago.

I have let go of things subconsciously, without realizing as my conscious self tried to hang on to them. My priorities had been reordered internally, yet my external self was still executing them in the wrong order. I wanted to do so many seemingly important things, only to understand that if they were truly important I would have done them already. My subconscious has a way of making snap decisions, waiting for my conscious self to catch up. And I am left feeling confused all the time.

This is when I need all that quiet in the world to sync up with myself. I write, in order to wait for these epiphanies to magically appear, as though I knew of them before making the decision to write. In truth, they appear on the screen and in my consciousness as I type , through some magical osmosis as though my thoughts are really consciously constructed.

I stared at the quiet of Naiyang beach yesterday with the knowing that I would not have truly appreciated this sight had I not arrived from a place of chaos and disorder. Yet I understand too, with a tinge of possible regret, that every image of peace will eventually mutate. This is the natural order of life, every bit of life has to go through decay in order to be part of the next phase of life.

I am hoping for myself that I will learn to appreciate decay when it is taking place, not as an afterthought. I find it very difficult to recondition myself into disassociating pain with loss, or even pain with sadness, or even pain as bad per se.

If I could learn to appreciate decay in its full splendor, I could perhaps truly live in the beauty of the now – that even as I go through the massively uncomfortable decay of my old self, I will be able to lie in anticipation of the new that will inevitably arrive.

Time. Such a paradox. Some things require its own patient timing yet we need some form of urgency to make the most out of our lives. Yet when we try too much and too hard, we cease to let nature flow.

I think I may understand what it means to be truly alive, when I am capable of being in tune with the obvious paradoxes of life, that perhaps two opposing views are not mutually exclusive, but very much integral in sustaining the innate existence of the other.

Sometimes I can’t help but question (yes, I question myself a lot, so much that my mind goes in circles all the time, it is pretty much a miracle I remain relatively sane) my own motives for publishing a public journal. If I truly write for myself, then it wouldn’t make a difference if it is private, isn’t it? What do I seek to achieve by publishing these repetitive seemingly inane thoughts? Am I secretly egoistic (alright, not so secret) by wishing that people can relate to my words?

Today while eating breakfast and checking my twitter timeline, I had another epiphany (yup, full of those lately, this is why we cannot be workaholics, we need to be lazy in order to be effective at work). I was smiling genuinely from my heart when I read about other people’s public sharing of their journeys. It was then I realized, I am still writing for myself, because when I share what I write, I am lighting the way for other people to be themselves – when they share what they write, they light up the way for me to have the courage to be myself.

When more of us have the courage to be ourselves, to forge our own paths, perhaps we could collectively light up this world.

Still selfish, yet still intricately connected to the collective consciousness, still not mutually exclusive.

Distance and darkness

It has been almost a year since I was last back in Singapore, or any part of Asia. If left to my own devices, I might have never consciously chosen to leave San Francisco. As much as I love San Francisco, I have to honestly admit, any type of comfort is poisonous.

The more we love something, the tighter we hold on to it, the easier it becomes to lose it. Ironically, being in love with San Francisco has made me gradually lose touch with the adventurous risk-taker spirit which has brought me there in the first place.

How do I learn to love something only in the now, understanding in order for love to truly flourish I will need to love it as an independent entity myself, that if I start to lose myself in anything, I will lose my capacity to love? The best love I can give to any place or anyone, is to love fully as my true self, that I will seek to add to it rather than to merge into it.

They say a whole is greater than a sum of its parts, I am slowly learning to see this statement holds true when the parts are unique pieces with their own strengths and weaknesses, not when they are all made to be the same. When we never leave places or people we lose the ability to look in from the outside. To gain other perspectives from another viewpoint, another vantage.

Being away from things that I love allows me to understand the true quality of my love for these things. Do I love something out of habit, out of some subconscious need, or out of some psychological blackhole? Do I want to be part of something because I need to feel a sense of belonging, or do I believe I have something to contribute?

Am I your friend because I am lonely and need company, or because I truly value our connection for the combined dynamic it brings to both of us?

The world is full of blurred lines and it is exceedingly easy to live in auto-pilot mode, never to question our own true motives or agenda for pursuing certain things. I find myself in a true state of joy when I deeply understand why I do what I do, why I love what I love, and why I am who I am.

These moments are rare. Most of the time I get confused with the person I think people expect me to be and the person I really want to be. Then it gets more confusing when I really want to be my own person and yet be malleable enough to evolve.

These are times when I need to remember to quieten down, tap into my inner-reserves and ask myself, is whatever I am doing, in line with my inner purpose and values?

Being back brings out a shadow side of me that makes me extremely uncomfortable. For too much of a long while I had been used to living in a space only full of unbridled positivity and light. Over here, it is difficult for me to retain such a state of mind when I can’t be blinded to what I observe and feel.

The natural instinct is to disown that shadow side, to be in denial of everything that represents the dark, to be overwhelmingly positive despite my true feelings. I have grown to a point where I find it extremely hypocritical to display a positive attitude when I simply do not feel that way. As I age I am slowly understanding that there has to be a natural balance between the yin and the yang, the dark and the light.

This trip home has given me the time and space to reflect. To truly miss what I have had, to understand what is important to me, to have an even higher sense of urgency than before. Yet I do not wish to mistake urgency with relentless, mindless acts of doing, that sometimes there needs to be nothing in order to have something, that we forget our minds need time to do background processing.

I am slowly learning, I take one step forward and three steps backwards, but I hope what will make a difference is my willingness to introspect and to be painfully aware of my own mortality, that true beauty exists in the transience of everything.

Trying to prolong a moment that only wants to pass, trying to outlive an expiry date, not embracing the natural evolution of life, will only bring unneccessary pain and disappointment; but if we can embrace the transient quality of life, perhaps one day we can finally experience the pure, undiluted joy of what it means to be alive.

The courage to let go of something precious, to truly live

I have a one post per weekend writing habit going on, and for the past 3 weeks I’ve written on Medium. For a long while I thought I was never going to be back here writing again, till I somewhat realized that there is just some attraction to writing in an environment where I really do not have to care how I write, if I had anything specific to say, if anybody cared to read. This space still acts like a public journal and it should always be, a place where I can simply write organically about my thoughts without stopping for form and structure.

It seems pretty evident to me that I wrote on Medium basically still unfiltered and mostly unedited, but I usually had something really specific I wanted to write about. A topic that had probably brewed long enough in my head for it to be more or less a semi-permanent (semi, because I will always want my thoughts to evolve) thought, whereas over here, I seem to be documenting transient, ephemeral thoughts and memories.

There is something comforting about chronology that I love, from time to time I visit my old blogs and rediscover my journey all over again, truly reliving how much I have grown, how far I have travelled.

On the other hand, there is also tremendous value in recording ideas which have no obvious time-stamp attached to it – I think they should both co-exist and they are not mutually exclusive. There is some long-form writing that I write on Medium which I know will never get mass-appreciation, those are mostly stories, not ideas, and I really like them having a place to live.

Essays, stories, ideas on Medium; journal-like time-specific entries over here.

The main purpose of writing here is to capture a slice of my psyche in time, I suppose.

I am learning to question my own assumptions about myself a lot. Or some pre-conceived notions based on my old self which are no longer serving me, but I forget to let go of them. I have begun to question my own perception of something which I have perceived to be “the best”. I am slowly learning that there is no such thing as “the best”, only perhaps “the best in any given time perceived by the observer”. I question if I am too attached to certain parts of my own identity, potentially neglecting the possibilities I may grow into someone else. Or it could be having a old dream realized, only to discover I may not want that dream anymore.

When we have come so far to attain something we think we have always wanted, there is this danger of holding on too much to it, over-protecting it, putting it on a undeserved pedestal. Sometimes that particular thing, idea or situation may no longer serve us, but because it was so hard to get there, it seems absurd to contemplate letting go.

I have found myself in these situations a few times in the past, because I am truly sentimental and I form attachments to things which I worked really hard for. To be fair, that’s a normal human behavior. The issue here is, I am not afraid of change at all, in fact, I really like change. Each time there is a drastic change in my life, I have only grown from strength to strength. If I could persuade or even remind myself to review my own life situation once in a while, I would probably be a lot more inclined to shake things up a lot more.

I do have a side of me that really likes comfort. I am really wary of this side of me. I try to be aware of it as much as I can, but comfort is well….comfortable and addicting. When we get used to something, we seem to lose our capacity to stretch ourselves. Have you seen shoes that doesn’t get worn anymore? They self disintegrate.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between my lizard-brain and my aspirational self. I feel upset when I feel uncomfortable, because there is a primal desire to be in comfort. But do not mistake being primal for being natural. I would say (for now) that it is a primal state to seek survival, but it is human nature to reach for potential. Some say because of the Maslow hierarchy of needs, we need to survive before we can reach our potential. I am not entirely sure of that, even though I have been through times when I have been so caught up with trying to survive, that I have absolutely no energy to think about aspirations.

But does that mean it is true? I will question it, because I do think there are some extraordinary human beings who can put aside their primal desires to survive and instead focus on their aspirations no matter how dire their circumstances are. I truly believe some of us skip the entire Maslow hierarchy and go straight to the top of self-actualization.

I try to ask myself on a consistent basis if where I am, who I am, what I do, whom I am with, is in line with my purpose. If it no longer the case, then I need to find the courage to let go. If I am still in a scenario whereby I think I am still in line with my purpose, am I maximizing it?

Sometimes I hold on too much to something precious to me, forgetting that it is like trying to grab hold of sand. I need to learn to enjoy the ebb and flow of the natural order of things, and remember that if I artificially try to constrain a space and time, I am not truly living the experience.

I have done so much to be here in San Francisco, and I am loving it so much, that the mere thought of returning to Singapore for 2 weeks is scaring me. Thinking of losing that 2 weeks when I am on a 3-year time limit doesn’t seem very appealing to me. I love this city so much that each time I think of traveling to other parts of the US, I really hesitate. I have never felt like this before, that I actually feel reluctant to travel.

I used to love traveling so much, that the above paragraph sounds entirely ridiculous.

This morning, for some unknown reason (which happens all the time), I was inspired to fill up my sayhi moments. Going through my iPhoto library was a nostalgic trip back in time. I slowly started to remember my thoughts and feelings during those moments, how much I’ve seen, how much I’ve experienced, which is reminding me of how much I have not seen, how much I have not experienced.

I had this idea that I could do all my traveling after my love affair with San Francisco.

But what if there is no “after”? Or what if, one day it is no longer in line with my purpose to be in San Francisco? Will I have the courage to leave her?