There are many words I could use to describe my 2017.
“Easy” wouldn’t be one of them.
I called in the year with dear friends, in an apartment in Jakarta, after a 3 week backpacking trip. We sat in the darkness and watched the tiny little sparks fly up and pop in the sky across the city. The air was solemn, still and sober. It foreshadowed the year to come in more ways than I imagined.
It has been solemn.
The past year has been an incredibly introspective experience. I found myself with ample space and time, with which I grew and looked into myself. I listened and watched my own thoughts and imaginations grow. At times, they grew bigger than I could handle and I lost the ability to tame them. Usually, I would rely on those closest to me to lend me their beautiful patience and hear me out, be there as I tried to unravel the chaos of words in my mind into strings of sentences out through my lips. It made it a lot quieter in my head that way. But this year, many of them moved further away physically – and so I was naturally left to deal with a lot of things on my own. I’ve always enjoyed and needed my own space – but that was when it was a choice. It’s a lot harder when that autonomy is stripped away. I had to learn to let go – to be comfortable without control.
I’ve known for a while now that I am most productive, creative and happy when I work with a team of people around me. I enjoy bouncing around ideas, tapping into potentials and melting people’s strengths together like steel. And I’ve struggled with this realization – because life isn’t always so kind and easy to bless you with such a situation. More often than not, you will find yourself alone. My thoughts are loud, sharp and jarring – high pitched buzzing that you’ll eventually get sick of. I understand that no one can be around that for too long (because even I can’t stand it) but I know too that I can’t turn it off. Compromises have to be made. I have to learn to adapt.
All this space and time to myself meant that I had to get to know myself. I realized that I hadn’t done so in a while – letting myself go on autopilot and seeing where it would take me. I realized that my self-esteem was dwindling, and I had begun to question my own self; purpose, abilities and values. I felt that I had lost all sense of what I was and wasn’t capable of, and much too often focused on what I couldn’t do rather than what I could. I found it very easy to slip into this mindset, and to keep slipping, rather than finding something to grip and get out. Things that I had once associated with as my identity: photography, art, writing, learning – all the things which helped me to love and appreciate myself seemed to slip through my fingers like sand. I was on a bad path. The good (and at times worst) thing is that I was very aware of what I felt. But that didn’t really help me get out.
My ideologies can be very apparent to those close to me, whom I’d gladly open up to like a book reading itself aloud. And they’d know that I’d often say I find intention to be very important. But I hadn’t realized that I often overlook my own intentions. I rarely impose on myself the same amount of interrogation that I might do when trying to understand someone else. Why am I writing all of this right now – what is this reflection for? Why am I sharing this on social media? I need to practice being absolutely honest and objective – and to come to terms with it, to be okay with it. It makes it a whole lot harder to love yourself if you’re constantly lying to yourself.
And I need to practice taking on less responsibility, and keeping it at a healthy level of maybe-just-a-little-bit-more than what is expected. I want to lose weight – off my shoulders.
I want to be fearless again. To be fearless of failure. To keep trying, to keep learning, to be positive. I want to recognize and be fully conscious of what I’m good at, to be proud of them and not constantly view them in comparison, or relative to anything or anyone else. I want to be objective with myself with a healthy zest of kindness sprinkled on top. I want to be kind to myself. I want to be unapologetic about my experiences, my
weaknesses opportunities, and my strengths. I want to be someone I look up to, and I am proud of. I want to define myself.
“I love myself. The quietest, simplest, most powerful revolution ever.”
In the solemn space and time I was blessed with this year, I realize just how important it is to be kind. To be gracious and compassionate. In my teens, I came across a saying which I’ve held deeply as a little internal mantra – “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Recently, I came across another saying, which I thought was a nice addition to emphasize on the “everyone” aforementioned: “we tend to offer our kindness freely to those who are familiar with it and forget to offer it to those who need it most.”
It has been still.
If you asked me what my fears are, “time” would be among the top. I am afraid of not achieving enough (even though till today, I don’t know how I define my enough). I retreat into my head and I think and I dream of endless scenarios. Perhaps because it’s just easier than to actually do and pursue these scenarios. Or perhaps because I don’t have to choose and commit to just one scenario when it’s all alive simultaneously in my head. There’s so much I aspire to be, and to do, that it becomes self-annihilating and cripples me from doing anything that might actually bring me one step closer to realizing said aspirations.
I still hold my dreams dearly and I still believe them to be important. But I want to practice how I deal with the consequences of certain dreams not coming true – especially when I know I didn’t put in anywhere near enough effort to achieving them. This doesn’t mean to self-blame or self-victimize, but to be wise enough to step back, to understand and identify what I could have and should have done differently.
In retrospect, I wouldn’t hold 2017 as a productive year for me. But instead of letting that bring me down in the dumps, I choose to realize the weight and power that the space and time has given me. That I needed this more than I thought. I needed to get through this before I could jump further, and higher. I needed to be alone with my thoughts, my mind and my soul. I need to be kind, be kind, be kind to myself. I am grateful in realizing that having the time and space to think of all this in my head means that all other parts of my life are fulfilled: I have access to food, water, warmth, shelter, safety and security.
In this time of striking stillness, I look around and I see a handful of friends who are willing to sit there with me, looking out as the waves slowly and silently crash; in the stillness. And I am so grateful and appreciative of the kind souls who share their time with me. So grateful.
It has been sobering.
Perhaps this is the most important; 2017 has been sobering in so many ways.
I am not special. I am not as important as I think I am. I have put myself on a high horse for far too long. I have been much too self-absorbed. And this delusion and deception has distorted my reality. Blurred my vision and clouded my thoughts. I forget to take the simplest step.
You have to learn to love yourself, before you can love others, and before others can love you.
And with that, I realize that some of the most obnoxious cliches hold so much deep truth in them. You brush it off because they are cliches, but you forget that they became cliches because they’ve withstood the collective trial imposed by us. It’s only when you come face to face with it, nose to nose, breathing each other’s air, that you realize just how true the cliches are.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Too often I feel that I can empathize and that I can understand others. But I think now more than ever, I have to face the fact that human beings are extremely complex and no one can ever truly understand someone else. We only understand others through the lens of our own experiences. And if I so often feel that no one can understand me, why should I expect that I can understand anyone? What makes me so special to have that ability? Nothing, because I’m not special. The only thing which makes each of us special is our own experiences, because that’s the only individual thing we hold.
It has been sobering because I realize the importance of taking care of your health – physically and mentally.
Physically, we are getting older everyday. I am at the age where friends are getting married, siblings are having babies (started the year as an uncle of 2, and exiting the year an uncle of 4!) and parents are at a time where they should enjoy the rest and relaxation they so rightly deserve. They have worked extremely hard, and I have to buck up – I should actively work towards giving them the rest they deserve, and take away their worries like they did for me and my siblings. It is time for reciprocation. And the time will come and go. Seize it while it’s there.
I’ve realized the importance of keeping my mental health in check, and also just how easy it is for it to slip out of control. It is strangely… addictive and dis-empowering. It sucks you in, and every time you feel like you’ve climbed out it kicks you back down because to be fine is to come to terms with reality, and sometimes the reality is that everything was just fine, that it was self-created, that you were just disillusioned – that it really was just a phase. But it’s incredibly difficult to admit this to yourself. Because admitting it means that you’re admitting you wasted all the time moping around when you could’ve been doing something more productive instead – that is the sickness. Your immune system attacks itself and prevents itself from getting better. I don’t know yet how best to deal with this. It’s still there; sometimes quiet, sometimes loud. But “I am not special” is ironically a good way to deal with it. As bleak and horrible as it sounds, knowing you are not alone in the pain… helps. And this is made harder with the programming and feel-good algorithms of social media. It can get toxic, so I need to remind myself to be conscious of my use of social media.
In sobering up, I want to learn to not take so many things so seriously. Clearly, this post doesn’t seem to help make my case, clearly I’m taking myself way too seriously in thinking and writing all this. But hey, I had to indulge myself.
It’s one thing to realize all these things, but the harder part is to put it into practice. And that is my aim for the years to come. It may feel very counter intuitive and unnatural; like I am unlearning all the experiences which have made me who I am for the past 23 years. I mean, for so long I’ve been told by others and I’ve told myself that I’m destined for greatness, that I’m special – why should I just erase all of that? But I’m reminded of a quote I see often when I go to the library;
“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you”
Nobody – not even yourself. So don’t dismiss your experiences, good or bad. Build on top of it. Layer it like a wholesome lasagna.
Finally, there’s so many reasons to be happy and maybe I ought to spend more time consciously addressing those things. To practice gratitude instead of just preaching it. To be happy I can taste good food, smell the freshness of nature, see a spectrum of colors, that I can speak and I can hear beautiful words and beautiful music, and I’m surrounded by beautiful people.
Perhaps this reflection seems like I’ve been very critical of myself and that I’m going in the wrong direction in trying to love myself. But I feel I needed to be honest. I needed to come to terms with what I’ve been going through, and still going through.
It’s liberation – self-love and emancipation.