I learned how to read and write my name in Chinese 张丽安 (zhāng lì ān) even before I learned how to write it in English.
The very first sentence I ever learned in any language is 我是中国人.
This literally translates to I (我 wǒ) + am (是 shì) + China (中国 zhōng guó) + person (人 rén).
I find it somewhat ironic that pretty much as soon as I learned to speak I was using Chinese to reaffirm my identity as Chinese, even though I am technically Filipino (菲利宾人) and these days I mostly read, speak and process thoughts in English.
Chinese is the story of my childhood, it’s as much a part of my history as the scars on my legs (because I used to attract mosquitoes like honey to the bees), the lumps on my fingers (from a lifetime of gripping my pens too hard) and my craving for sweets whenever I’m stressed.
I have a very complicated relationship with Chinese – the language, the culture, and that part of me that is undeniably 中国人. I can’t help but associate it with the feeling of being boxed in, with that constant pressure to conform to certain societal and cultural standards.
As I saw it, to be Chinese (and to be Filipino on top of that) required adherance to long-standing traditions: the subservient role of the woman, the obligation to prioritise managing a home over having a career, and the expectation that certain milestones – like marriage and giving birth – has to occur by a certain age. Anyone who knows me can see why this would chafe.
I went through a period of my life where I was determined to make everyone, including myself, forget that I was Filipino-Chinese. I’m not really sure if this was a conscious decision, if it was a direct result of me wanting to rebel against expectations, or if there were other mental calisthenics involved.
But for the first few years of my life in London I was on a mission to be more British than even the British. More European than the Europeans. The most Westernised non-Westerner you will ever meet. Anything apart from Asian.
I embraced all the opportunities and freedom that my adoptive home had to offer, wide-eyed and dreamy, like Rapunzel stepping out of the tower for the first time. I tried my hardest to make friends with non-Asians, to be invited to Friday nights at the local pub, to learn to love Sunday roasts, and to go to house parties where no one served adobo.
I tried to enrich my mind with the right kind of books and television shows so that I can be conversant in the sort of topics that my non-Asian colleagues talk about, to like art and history, and pretend to know the rules of rugby (I really DON’T) – all whilst revelling, with embarrassing superiority, in my “excellent” grasp of the English language (spoken with an American accent of course, but some things can’t be helped).
But I guess once you reach a certain age, you suddenly realise how exhausting it is to wake up every morning feeling like you always have something to prove, and to constantly have to put on a mask that hurts your face because the dimensions don’t fit. You get to a point where you realise that you have the right to breathe, and to just be, same as everybody else.
So, you take what feels like the first gulp of air after years of drowning, and then you begin the long process of taking a long hard look at and reconciling all the parts that make you uniquely you.
It feels a little awkward and scary at first, like putting a t-shirt on for the first time after a long hard winter of wearing jumpers. It feels like you have to have some kind of jacket, some kind armour, because you don’t know if you can bear to be so exposed. But then you walk out the door and you realise your skin is made of much tougher stuff than you thought it was.
There’s a tiny spring in your step that gets bigger the further you go, when you suddenly realise that you’re going to be okay.
I’m not sure how I got from walking down the busy streets of Oxford Circus watching as they start putting the Christmas lights up in anticipation of the holiday season, to waking up at 2am at some hotel in the Philippines, jet lagged and anxious as shit.
I’m the kind of person who likes to plan things, often to the point of lunacy. I’ve been told time and time again that I need to lighten up and allow life to happen instead of fixating on inconsequential things that, when all is said and done, don’t really count for much.
But I was never built for spontaneity and playing it by ear,
I think the devil is in the details, and that it never hurts to research as much as you can about something you’re planning to do. I like lists; disorganisation makes me incredibly twitchy, and I believe in never ever going to a restaurant or cinema without a reservation or pre-booking. It might not make me the most fun person to be around, but hey, someone has to be responsible.
This week, the universe has just sent one giant middle finger to that girl who thought that planning for everything meant you were prepared for the curveballs life throws your way. There are some things that you just can’t prepare for, some things that no matter what you do you’ll never be ready for.
It’s funny, if you had asked me before this week how I felt about being an adult, I would have had a more positive answer. I would have said that I loved the independence, that I loved being more or less financially secure, that I loved the fact that I can get my own groceries, eat fast food, go out drinking and come home late and I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself.
But this week brought home the fact that being an adult also means being responsible. It means being in a room that may include your parents but having to make the big decisions. because everyone else is too distraught to think about the details. It means not having the luxury to break down crying because you have to make sure things are getting done.
Its realising that whatever plans you made might have to come secondary to taking care of your family’s needs, and having to grapple with the guilt of feeling sorry for yourself because you’re potentially missing out on a rare opportunity to move up the career ladder. Its having to convince yourself that you’re not a bad person for thinking about your own future, because life still has to move on for you even if the worst happens.
Being an adult is realising that nothing is ever black and white, and no one is all good or bad, that sometimes people just do the best they can with the circumstances they’re given, and no one should probably expect anything more of them than that, especially given how difficult the past couple of years have been.
I fucking hate being an adult.
I consider my childhood to be sacred. It’s like this giant marble statue I keep in the garden of my mind, full of memories that I take out every now and then when I need to bask in the warmth and comfort of the days when I had no bigger worries than what snack I might ask Papa to buy for me, or what movie we’d go see during the weekend, or how to spend 8 whole weeks of my summer vacation in the small, sleepy town where I spent all of my summers until I was 16.
But it feels like with every year that passes something happens to chip away at my childhood, until it feels like I’m so far away from the girl I once was, and it gets more difficult to see the world as full of wonder, and it gets harder to maintain the belief I’ve always held that every day is a chance for something extraordinary to happen.
You move to a new country and learn to fend for yourself, and the cracks start to show. The first time you realise the adults around you aren’t perfect, that they’re human and therefore fallible, and the cracks spread from head to toe.
When you realise that not all boys turn out to be Prince Charming, and that sometimes things just don’t work out, and you get your heart broken…a piece falls off.
You lose your job because of a mistake that can’t be undone, and suddenly you find yourself facing the yawning mouth of failure, and the prospect of going home to your family with nothing to show for your time away but the bitter taste of regret, and more of the pieces come crashing down around you.
It has to.
Because you have to grow up real quick if you want to turn your life around and stay in the city you’re only just realising you love so much.
A loved one dies, and another is diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly you start thinking about the big questions and facing the truth about your own mortality. You realise you can’t stay young forever. And suddenly your childhood is reduced to a small piece that you fight tooth and nail to retain.
I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this metaphor, or with this entire blog really. I realise that its morbid and a bit more morose than my usual offerings. But I guess I just feel the need to express my very real fears about the future, and my anxiety about the prospect of having to rearrange my life to make room for the changes coming my way.
I think I’m processing, with varying levels of success I might add, the truth that nothing lasts forever, and that I am at the age where I will start losing people I love, and even if that thought makes me want to curl up in a ball in the corner and weep, because that’s not something you ever want to actively think about, I know I somehow need to. I need to start coming to terms with it.
I don’t know, maybe things will turn out okay and I will not need to post something like this again until many many (please let it be many) years later.
Finally, I read somewhere that the thing about troubles, suffering and problems is that they always end, one way or the other. You just have to ride the wave until they do and pray you make it back to shore relatively intact.
I’m riding that wave, its coming up to a full crest but somehow I’m still hanging on. That’s about all I can do at the moment.
Last month, I was working at a private hospital in London where I sometimes do shifts to earn extra cash. For those new to this blog, my day job (when I’m not pretending to be a writer) is to assist surgeons in the operating room as a scrub nurse. Fifty years from now, I will probably still be drooling over dreamy, dark-haired, scalpel-wielding individuals with serious God complexes, like this woman from the Grey’s Anatomy series:
Anyway, I was working with one of my favourite surgeons in the world. It had been about 3 months since we’d worked together because COVID had made everything apart from cancer operations come to a grinding halt. We were about to do a robotic partial knee replacement on a patient with severe arthritis, a procedure which will take too long to explain on a blog so I’m just going to say that it is the Iron Man of orthopaedic procedures, 100% patient satisfaction guaranteed (I do not get paid to say this by the way, this is just my own opinion lol).
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who is somewhat good at what they do, and I’ve been doing orthopaedics for seven years – some people would probably even go so far as to call me an expert (and they’d be wrong). But it’s not overstating it to say that scrubbing for the robot always scared the ever living hell out of me. I don’t know why, but from the time they started training us on this technology, I’d felt as if there was this microchip in my brain that blocks my ability to learn this procedure. I think maybe its because the robot came at a point in my life when I had so much on my plate that I didn’t have the time to learn something new.
That’s a lie.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the robot technology came at a point in my life when I’ve already reached a certain level of seniority and success, that I was SCARED to learn something new…because I might fail at it.
Enter Carol S. Dweck’s book.
I started reading Mindset a couple of days after that robotic knee procedure. I was feeling a bit down in the dumps because that night I felt like the most clueless novice ever to hold a surgical power tool in an operating theatre. It was so bad that one of the other scrub nurses jokingly asked me if it was my first time to scrub for this procedure. The robot specialist was a good friend of mine, and bless her, she probably didn’t think she’d had to work so hard to support me during the case. I mean, seriously, I help organise training sessions for this shit. It was bloody embarrassing.
So after a period of intense reflection, I finally realised that the reason I never ‘got’ the robot was because I never bothered to learn it properly. Like I said, by the time it was introduced I was already a senior scrub nurse. I was a team leader, I was training other people in orthopaedics, and I’ve probably developed a bit of an ego about it. I am the best, I know everything, how dare this new thing suddenly appear and disturb my mojo? No, I do not need to work hard at it. Study the op tech, are you kidding? Actually ask questions to clarify what I don’t understand? No way, Jose. I don’t want to diminish my status among my peers.
What a pile of rubbish.
Dr. Dweck writes that there are two types of mindset in this world: a Fixed Mindset, where you “believe that your qualities are carved in stone, which then creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over” and a Growth Mindset, which is based on the belief that it is not the qualities you are born with that is important so much as the effort you put in to learn and grow and develop.
It would not take Dr. Dweck more than 10 minutes of conversation with me to figure out that I am of the former category. Overachiever as a kid, check. Perpetually told by family and friends how great and smart they were, check. Spends the majority of their adult years turning themselves inside out to prove their worth, needs constant validation to make them feel good about themselves, hides their insecurities underneath a load of hubris – check, check, ANDcheck.
There is nothing worse than feeling like a fraud. Reading this made me realise that all my life I’ve been trying to live up to this sort of alter-ego that I’ve created for myself. Through sheer dumb luck, and okay, a little bit of intelligence and effort, I’ve achieved things in my life that make other people think, omigod, she’s so great. But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually felt great. Most of the time, I honestly feel like I’m just doing my best to get by. This isn’t false humility. I truly feel that I do not live up to other people’s expectations of me and what I can do. BUT I HAVE TO TRY ANYWAY. Because to lose that, to lose their regard, would be a blow to my self-esteem. I have built my whole life around what other people think of me, what will I do if they suddenly find out I am nothing but extremely average?
So you plod along, and pretend, and you start making choices based on this belief that to be SEEN as good is more important than actually BEING good. You start to deprive yourself of the opportunity to stretch and learn something new because you’re afraid of that natural dip that one experiences when one is on a learning curve…your ego cannot take the risk that you might actually be given honest feedback about what you can do to improve, so you also surround yourself with people who will only tell you good things about your work, and you somehow manage to convince your brain that those who criticise you are simply out to get you.
What a way to live, huh? I read it back again after I’ve written it and I’m exhausted. And I’ve literally just described myself so that means…I EXHAUST MYSELF. I have no idea where or when it started (I’d like to think I wasn’t born like this) but the one thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to live like this anymore. When I finished this book, I made a vow that I was going to try and be better. And to be better means being honest about my weaknesses, to accept the fact that there are things that I lack…and that’s okay, because once I’ve accepted that I need help to learn, I can then go about seeking that help and actually learning.
One of the first things I wrote in my diary after I finished this book is this statement (and I’ve been saying it to anyone who will listen ever since): I AM NOT NATURALLY INTELLIGENT. I am not the kind of person who sees something and instinctively learns it with a snap of a finger. I need explanations and reasons. I need the how’s and the why’s. I need structure, I need processes.
And godammit, I can’t learn under pressure. I have never been a crammer…seriously, when we were in college I started studying for midterms A FULL MONTH before the exams. In the weeks leading up to a big exam I would start to live like a hermit. I once spent 20 hours (10 hours straight on Saturday and another 10 on Sunday) studying for my Anatomy and Physiology finals. I think I ended up vomiting at the end of the day, it got a bit too much.
The takeaway from that little anecdote is that rather than being naturally intelligent, I am someone who puts in the effort to learn. And it used to really annoy me that I spend all that time studying, only to find out that another person in my year, who studies like, five hours before a test (and who actually has the time to go clubbing the weekend before an exam) had gotten a bloody better grades than me. What sorcery is this?? How is this fair?
And people celebrate that. People are more likely to admire people who achieve with very little effort, because by definition, putting in effort apparently means you’re not good enough, that you’re somehow less because you have to try a bit harder.
Dr. Dweck (and now me) says: BOLLOCKS.
She says, “no matter what your ability is, EFFORT is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment”. My classmate was obviously an extremely lucky exception, like some kind of prodigy, but there’s no reason to feel bad for not being gifted…like how many true prodigies do you actually personally know?? That’s right. Not a lot. The rest of us have to get by on effort, and that should be equally celebrated.
A week after my disastrous attempt at scrubbing for the robot, I called up my friend Melanie and asked if we could meet up and go through the procedure from start to finish. I studied even before our meeting; I made notes, and I listed down the things I didn’t understand. When we were going through it, I asked all the questions that I didn’t think to ask the first time I learned this because I thought it would make me look stupid. I asked for tips on how to remember certain stuff. I asked her to make drawings and illustrations if there was something I didn’t get. I prepared. I made the damn effort.
And the next time I scrubbed for the robot, well, I don’t like to brag…but I did it very well. And what’s more, I felt like for the first time I truly understood it rather than just pretending to understand it, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve consistently been able to scrub for it with little trouble since then.
And just to add to this: other people didn’t really see the difference. Apparently, I had blown up the previous incident and I really didn’t do as bad as I thought I did. But I FELT THE DIFFERENCE. I didn’t need other people’s validation because true growth and accomplishment through learning and effort was the only validation I needed.
It was such a great feeling, and trying to carry this newfound mentality meant that, maybe for the first time in my life, I was no longer setting myself on fire trying to “convince others and myself that I have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried you have a pair of tens.”
I may not have a royal flush (yet) but I’ve come to peace with my pair tens, and we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I loved this book and thought it was a total 5 STAR READ.
Lockdown is making people feel all kinds of nostalgic. Its understandable: the present is looking a little bleak at the moment, and no one knows what’s going to happen in the future, so we comfort ourselves with thoughts of the past. My extended family has taken to sending old photographs in our messenger group, including some of myself that has led me to conclude that I was a cute baby but a freakin’ ugly kid who then grew up to be an okay-looking adult.
Anyway, I don’t think it gets anymore nostalgic than The Last Dance, a sports docu-series that’s currently on Netflix which tells the story of the 1997-98 championship winning season of the Chicago Bulls, starring the great Michael Jordan. Its made a lot of people into three-week basketball fans; its had such an impact that its even trending in the UK, a country where – when I first arrived and said I didn’t like football because I’ve grown up watching basketball instead, people looked at me like I had horns sprouting from my head.
Watching this documentary brings home the fact that so many of my childhood memories are centred around those Saturday NBA games on ESPN when we would all gather around the telly watching Michael do a lay-up or a fadeaway or another dunk – basically anything humanly (sometimes inhumanly) possible to win the game. I’ve been watching the episodes with my sister, who’s not a big sports fan but nonetheless could almost reflexively identify all the important players of that era even now, 23 year later.
I remember watching my brother and my male classmates go through a period where they worshipped everything Jordan-related. If a genie had appeared before my brother at age 8 I believe he would have asked for a pair of Air Jordans without so much as batting an eyelash. His face when my aunt finally sent one over from the States is what I imagine mine would be when I finally meet the love of my life (yeah, I just had to get that in there lol).
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care what other people say but nothing compares to watching a really good game of basketball, especially when you’re invested in the team and the players, as a fan or as a person. And I think the magic of MJ is in the way he makes you feel invested; he pulls you in with that attitude and that determination to win at all costs. There’s something to be said about a guy who believes in playing at the highest caliber at all times, because if you don’t, what’s the point in playing at all? Hey Mike, I want a sip of your Gatorade.
Watching this series, and getting to know the person behind the legend, I realise that I don’t really like Michael Jordan and I think a lot of people will agree with me; he’s kind of a dick. But I think people not liking him is a price he’s willing to pay for being GREAT at what he does. They don’t need to hug him on his way to the basket, they just need to get out of the way. I find myself wondering a lot of times while watching this series whether it was better to be liked or to be respected, and whether it was possible to be both.
When I was younger I used to be quite arrogant and a bit full of myself. I was probably masking some deep deep insecurities (which may or may not have been related to my weight issues) but the one thing I always had going for me was my intelligence. I knew I was smart. I was first on the honour roll from kindergarten onwards. I graduated class valedictorian in high school and had so many medals around my neck after the graduation ceremony you could hear them clanking as I walked.
Then I started college and for the first time I was around people who a) have not been my classmates since we were practically in diapers and b) who were just as if not more intelligent than I was. Suddenly I was in a class where we had 14 valedictorians and about half as many salutatorians. It was a whole other playing field. And like MJ (just so we don’t lose the thread here! Haha) I revelled in that. I pushed myself hard and I was determined to be the best of the best.
I’m a really competitive person. I want to win. I don’t want to do something if I can’t be great at it. I don’t believe in mediocrity. That attitude has gotten me to where I am today. But my greatest weakness has always been caring too much about what other people think. I have this pathological need to be universally liked. And in college, I rubbed a lot of people off the wrong way because what I thought was me being determined (and okay, showing off a little) most people saw as me being a complete bitch with a superiority complex. I still cringe at the thought of how much people I now call friends must have hated me in college. Oh well. At least they like me now.
Needless to say, I graduated college with one medal, a lot of friends, a more humble attitude and a greater appreciation of my place in the great circle of life.
Why am I suddenly bringing this up? I suppose its because I wonder where I would be if I had the same attitude as Mike…the whole isolation is the price of winning mentality that seems to be a characteristic of the greats. Is it worth it? Or is the old adage true, that its incredibly lonely up top all by yourself? I’m sure my feelings would have been different if you asked me when I was younger, but with the wisdom of old age I can say (with only a slight hesitation) that I would rather have friends than reluctant admirers. I would rather have people who will be there for me no matter what, even and especially if I fail – and its almost a guarantee that you will fail at some point in your life.
As usual I’ve managed to make this about me but whatever.
Takeaway messages from The Last Dance: Dennis Rodman is a Dude, Steve Kerr is proof that nice guys don’t always finish last and you should never judge a book by its cover, Scottie Pippen deserved better and finally, it takes a village. MJ wasn’t winning championships until he had a winning team. 72-10, baby.
P.S. this blog is in part dedicated to the guy whose job it was to shout “What time is it?” during the Bulls’ pre-game huddle. You, my man, are an icon.
This week I decided to take annual leave from work. I had no plans in mind, and no budget for further travelling, so I mostly stayed home (if I wasn’t doing an extra shift to fatten up the aforementioned budget) and chilled.
Today I suddenly got the urge to clean my room and get rid of the clutter that I’ve managed to accumulate in the five or so years that I’ve been living in my flat. Within an hour I managed to fill up three bags full of papers, boxes, old letters, forms and other useless junk. I reread old cards from old friends, some of whom I barely talk to anymore, and even found a love letter addressed to my brother that somehow made its way to me by mistake (oops!).
I found a closet full of clothes that I don’t wear anymore, as well as designer bags that have been hidden away in obscurity after I’ve paid such a hefty sum for them. I found so much rubbish, and while I’m no Marie Kondo (and never will be) it did make me think about what a metaphor it was for the way I’ve been living my life these past couple of years.
I think that our lives only have a finite number of spaces for a finite number of things, and we should be careful about the things we keep, the things we allow to accumulate, the things we allow to hold us down. Take designer bags, for example. They are nothing but status symbols that people use to indicate to other people that they make a lot of money and can therefore afford luxurious items. It’s the feminine version of a pissing contest, and for a while I allowed myself to buy into the hype.
The truth is, I use a maximum of two bags in a month: my work bag and some kind of purse for the rare occasion that I need to dress up to go out. I don’t need any Pradas and Guccis, nor do I really need a Louis Vuitton. I need a bag that works, and one where I can fit my laptop, my Kindle, a couple of books and a small notebook for writing. And because of this fine weather we’ve been having lately, an umbrella. Those limited edition LVs are undoubtedly lovely, but I can barely fit anything useful in them. Plus, if I use them, I might as well have a neon sign flashing over my head saying: ROB ME, ROB ME.
I have a friend who hasn’t bought any new clothes since we graduated from college. She believes in living a minimalistic life, and she doesn’t see the value in buying new things when the old ones still work. It just takes up room that she doesn’t have. I found that kind of mindset admirable, and I wish I could be evolved enough to adopt it. I wish I could be the kind of person who is able to differentiate the rubbish and the clutter from what really matters in life.
I took a moment to reflect and write this blog after I’ve finished my cleaning frenzy, and I thought about this book I read lately called ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck’ and I realise that I am getting far too old to let every single thing bother me, to let unimportant things distract me from everything that’s good about my life. Just like my closet full of clothes and my drawer full of unused bags , I need to be better at choosing what to value, what to let in, what things to give importance to, and what things I’m better off not giving a fuck about.
Taylor Swift once said that she only wants to be defined by the things she loved. I looked around my room when I finished cleaning and I realise I’ve already subconsciously chosen the things that are most important to me from the things I prominently put on display: my to-do list for work to represent a career that I genuinely enjoy (and which gives me enough financial stability to pursue my other dreams!), my books, which represent my love of discovering new worlds and learning new things; my writing stuff, as a symbol of my lifelong dream to be a published author; my passport, for my love of travelling and exploring new places; and a family picture.
At the end of the day, I don’t need anything more than that. Everything else is just clutter.
It’s not very often that you find the kind of book you need at the exact same moment in which you need it. Call it fate, call it kismet, call it in act of divine intervention, but this book found its way into my loving arms just when I needed it the most.
I was in the operating theatre one day when I got into an argument with a particularly obnoxious Fellow over specimen labels, of all things. She thought she was right and I was wrong, and I was just as convinced of the opposite. I was so enraged that she wouldn’t just do what I told her to do (because I was right, goddamit) that I went storming into the manager’s office, ranting and raving like a lunatic, begging them to please do something about this stubborn incompetent fool.
On my way back to the theatre I felt the faint stirrings of pain on the centre of my chest and (I imagined) somewhere on my left shoulder (or left back, I wasn’t really sure). Bearing in mind that I’ve been having blood pressure problems for a while now, you can see why I would suddenly feel anxious and almost panicky. I became so convinced that I was having a heart attack right then and there that I very nearly excused myself from theatres so I can go to the A and E.
As you can probably tell I did not, in fact, have a heart attack thank goodness. Shortly before this incident, I had two large sausages and a piece of bacon for lunch. And because I was in a hurry to scrub for the next procedure, I had inhaled all this food in a hurry and was finished with my lunch break in five minutes. So what I probably had was a mild case of indigestion (although the hypochondriac in me still believes there’s merit in assuming and being prepared for the worst).
That moment really opened my eyes and made me think about a lot of things. Like the fragility of life. Like how much I let what other people think affect me emotionally and psychologically. Like the number of things I give a fuck about that I will probably forget in five years or less. Like how fucking pissed I would be if I died because of a bloody specimen form and miss out on all the wonderful things I have to look forward to this year, like my parents coming for a visit, and the Tiu Family Reunion we’re planning on Christmas.
And then I picked up The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. This is a book that generated a lot of buzz when it came out last year (I think) and numerous friends and acquaintances have been encouraging me to read it for a while now, but I’ve always been kinda skeptical about it. I’m not into self-help books to be honest, I’ve always found it kinda hokey, and the authors always came across as being self-righteous, not to mention self-congratulatory.
This book felt more like a friend. It was funny, endearingly self-deprecatory and perhaps more importantly, extremely relatable. I identified with a lot of the situations Mark wrote about, and with the experiences he’s shared. I’m not saying it’s perfect, nor do I agree with all of it (I think something in me rebelled at the thought of accepting that I will always be ordinary). But in the three weeks it took me to finish it, I have made some changes that I think will be healthier for me in the long run.
While reading it I’ve been forced to think about my values, and to examine the metrics by which I measure success. I went for a run last week and my calves were hurting the whole time, which reduced my speed from slow to turtle pace. I felt so discouraged by the whole thing and nearly gave up on running altogether. But then I asked myself how I defined a successful run. What were my metrics? Was it finishing a 5k within a certain time frame? Was it being able to run longer distances every day? Was it being able to run pain-free? Because realistically speaking, if I only focused on those three things I’m almost guaranteed to fail at least about half the time.
What about the fact that I managed to wake up at the unholy hour of 5:30 in the morning four times a week and get my lazy arse off my comfy bed so that I can run before work? It’s currently averaging between 1 and 5 degrees in London at the moment, and those are temperatures that make you want to do the opposite of getting up and going outside.
But I do it every. single. time. And you know what, I realised that by doing that, I was already winning.
I made the executive decision that from that point onwards my metric for a successful run would simply be me getting up in the morning and showing up physically as well as mentally. And that’s when things changed. Every day I felt like I was winning a race. Every day felt like a triumph.
I stepped on a weighing scale two weeks after I started running and nearly wept. With abject misery. Because no matter what I did, no matter how much I tried to stick to a healthy diet, counting calories like a miser counts coins, I just can’t seem to get that number on the scale to go down. What was the point of putting myself through all of it if I wasn’t achieving results?
Then I started monitoring my blood pressure twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. For the first time in a long long time, the readings were steady, and if not always normal they were not as astronomically high as they were this time last year. More than that, I’ve started feeling more positive, both at work and life in general. I’ve been able to deal better with difficult conversations, uncompromising colleagues, unfair criticisms and all the other curveballs that your personal and professional lives throw at you on a daily basis.
An anaesthetist saw me yesterday and noted that I seem more chilled and relaxed. Was that not some better measure of success than the number on my weighing scale?
In a way, the book was very liberating. One of its fundamental beliefs is that we would be much happier if we stop placing all these unrealistic expectations of ourselves to be something great, to be extraordinary, to make a lasting impact on the world, to be so amazing that we are immortalised and allowed to live on even when we’re dead. Jesus, that is a lot of pressure to place on our teeny tiny human bodies.
Apparently, the more we accept that we are just a tiny fraction of the world at large, that it is not always about us, and that we are not special and unique, the better off we will be. For someone who’s always been a bit type A, for someone who has always been ambitious, for someone who was groomed from childhood to draw happiness from other people’s approval of my achievements, this is quite a difficult pill to swallow.
But Mark Manson argues that the feeling we get from other people’s approval are only temporary highs, it’s not true happiness. In fact, we’re actually making ourselves unhappy by constantly chasing the feeling we get when people give us praise, whether in real life or in the form of likes on social media. When we seek validation from somewhere outside of ourselves, we’re planting the seeds of our own discontent and eventual unhappiness.
True happiness, he says, is actually borne out of suffering. Pain and struggle are necessary ingredients to happiness because “to be happy, we need something to solve”. And when we find that solution, it then creates a whole host of other problems for us to solve, forever and ever and ever, Amen. And this apparently is what keeps us happy. This is what defines us. We are defined by the pain we’re willing to sustain, the things we’re willing to struggle for.
I don’t know about you, but I kinda want a pain-free life where I don’t need to struggle.
But I see his point. To expect a life free from suffering is to be delusional. Instead, you need to choose what is worth struggling for. For example, is it really worth having daily arguments with a colleague just so you can prove you’re right? Do you take that job that offers a bigger salary but also comes with a whole host of responsibilities that take you further and further away from the thing that you really want to do? Are you willing to struggle through frustration, insecurities, and the fear of failure just so you can finally fulfil your lifelong dream of publishing a book?
I think about the pain I feel when I go for a 7k run: the lactic acid being released from my muscles causing pain in my legs, that feeling of being slightly out of breath – that I’m willing to endure. Because waiting for me on the other side of that pain are the endorphins released after a good run, the sense of achievement from simply being able to finish, knowing that you gave it your best effort, and of course, the prevention of a potential heart attack (sorry this is going to be a recurring theme).
Needless to say, I really really REALLY like this book. I would give it as a present to everyone I know if I could. There’s so much more I want to say about it, and there is so much more to discuss, but this post is seriously starting to reach dissertation lengths. I’d just like to end by saying that the best compliment I could give for it is that it forced me, a notorious speed reader, to slow down and really reflect on the messages that the author wants to impart: that you need to have better values, that sometimes even the littlest things are a measure of success, andthat if you do have to give a fuck, choose what you want to give a fuck about.
Last night I went out for a little celebratory dinner with my team at work. It normally takes me at least an hour to prepare for going out because I believe in always looking your best on any occasion, and probably because I’m really really vain (self-awareness, people, this is what it looks like).
I went to my closet, which I’ve downscaled by about half last year. I threw away anything I haven’t worn in the past 6 months, which includes all those size 8 dresses that I’ve stupidly been hanging on to out of some delusional hope that I’ll ever be able to wear them again.
I picked out and put on one of my favourite jumpsuits, placed my hair in a ponytail and accessorised it with a gold clip on the side for added flair, wore comfortable flats, bit of eyeliner, my signature red lipstick and I was done. 10 minutes flat and I was ready to go.
Now let’s talk about what I would have normally done before I started out on this new positive body image mindset that I’m trying really hard to cultivate within myself.
First I would have agonised for ages over what to wear, and even when I’ve made a decision I would have changed my mind at least three times, because when I look at the mirror all I would see were the bulges, the gut, the protruding tummy, and the thighs that looked like they would be substantial enough to feed an entire third world country.
I would have then gone through my arsenal of tricks, and I do hope I’m not violating some sacred female code of here. But let’s be real. Who among us could deny owning a nice pair (or two) of spanx? Think about all those tummy-control knickers you own, the ones that promise to be so effective you’d feel as if you’ve had liposuction (LIES). Think about the bras that promise to give you so much lift and support that you’d feel like you have porn star boobs (WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?), those corsets that enable you to fit into that overpriced but really sexy LBD (little black dress, hello).
The reality is that you would probably feel confident and sexy for all of 5 seconds. You’d make your grand entrance and people will ooh and aah and tell you how good you look…before they turn their attention back to their gin and tonics (where it rightfully belongs) and move on with their lives.
5 seconds of admiration and applause, in return for a whole evening feeling like a trussed up chicken, squeezed, tied and stuffed, ready to go into the oven. Is it REALLY worth it?
I am not denying the power of a good outfit. But the power lies in how it makes you feel. It should make you feel confident enough to take on the world. I don’t think it will make you feel confident to force yourself (squeeze yourself, I should say) into a size 10 dress when you’re really a size 14. I don’t care how good you think you look. If oxygen can’t get into your lungs and you’re unable to breathe properly because of your vanity, well, cyanosis is not a good look on anyone.
I’d like to end this with a little anecdote of me and the bikini. The Bikini used to be my mortal enemy. It represented every insecurity I’ve ever had about myself. In the Philippines, where being a size 4 is the norm, if you’re plus-sized and you had the audacity to wear a bikini, people would look at you from head to foot, and titter behind your back because, come on, who do you think you are? How dare you show your lack of abs and your legs full of cellulite?
When I moved to the UK I realised that over here people don’t give a shit about what you wore. Live and let live. If you want to wear a bikini then for godsake wear one. Between global warming and modern slavery and all the other important issues the world faces, IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER in the grand scheme of things.
The Bikini is a metaphor for all the unfair expectations we women impose on ourselves. Like, honestly, 80% of the female population will not have Victoria’s Secret Angels bodies. Men will just have to deal with it. Its not like each and every one of them are Henry Cavills or Chris Hemsworths themselves. We are all wonderfully, imperfectly ordinary. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Getting to the point where you’re comfortable with your body is a long and tedious process. One day you feel like you’ve made a giant leap forward, the next day you’re back to castigating yourself in front of the mirror. Its a constant uphill battle to focus and celebrate on the good parts of yourself. For some reason as human beings we seem to be programmed to see the negative first. We really are our own worst enemies, aren’t we?
The only thing I can say based on my experience is to bear in mind that there are things more important than weight and physical appearances. Like enjoying what you do. Like learning. Like finding fulfilment in doing your life’s passion, whatever that may be.
Every day, I try to find at least three things I like about myself, physically and non-physically. I like my skin. I like my teeth. Today I’m having a good hair day. My blood pressure has been normal all week. I make people laugh (even when I don’t intend to). I can write a blog that is as long as an academic essay in 10 minutes, that’s a talent isn’t it?
Be brave. Wear a bikini. Go parading down Oxford Circus naked (or maybe not). Set yourself free from caring about what other people think. They don’t matter. Besides, the only people worth keeping will think you’re awesome regardless of how you look and what you wear, even a bikini.
On the heels of the latest Taylor Swift news, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on my own penchant for perhaps playing the victim and not taking responsibility for my own actions
(Disclaimer: I fully support Taylor in her quest to buy the rights to her music but even a huge fan such as myself can’t help but look askance at the number of feuds she’s had in a relatively short period of time. Love her though!).
I’ve never been a quitter and I can actually tolerate more bullshit than the average person. But I’ve had moments these past few months where I felt like throwing in the towel altogether and saying, that’s it, I’m done. I can’t take this anymore.
You know how they say you can never really run away from your problems? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a version of that advice from people I respect, and it took a while for it to sink in but thankfully, sink in it did.
One of my mentors told me something that I found both profound and sad. He told me that wherever you go in life you will always encounter bullies; the kind that will do anything to hold on to power, who will want to bring you down in order to lift themselves up, who are self-serving, deceitful and just downright malicious.
He told me I had to choose my battles. I found this to be a bit passive-aggressive, probably because I grew up with the notion that I always have to win, I always have to be right. But actually winning and being right are both a relative state and a matter of perception.
Needless to say, its a truth universally acknowledged by all that just because you think you’re right doesn’t mean the other person necessarily agrees with you.
He then told me, in a succinct way that brooked no argument, that I just have to grow a thicker skin, especially if I want to go far in life. You can’t go crying home every time someone was a bit mean to you, or if you don’t get your way. You either decide its worth it and do something about it or you shake it off.
I have a really hard time shaking things off. I’m a dweller, you just have to accept this about me.
But what I have learned this week is that I’m at that age where I just have to put on my big-girl underpants and stand my ground if what I’m fighting for really means that much to me. The ensuing conversation may be singularly unpleasant, but I’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing I’ve finally said my piece.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that you create your own narrative, and you paint the picture of how other people will see you. And I for one would rather be remembered as the one who stayed and fought and gave it a shot rather than someone who got going when the going got tough.
I woke up at 4:30 am on one of these rare and precious days when I actually get to have a lie-in because I can’t stop thinking about how life is too damned short and unpredictable.
A colleague of mine died suddenly this week and I’ve yet to process how much this has really shaken me. I wouldn’t presume to call him a friend, but spending a considerable amount of time with someone in intense and highly-pressurised moments creates some kind of weird and indelible bond.
When someone dies you think about the last conversation you had with them. At the time I was quite upset about something and he helped me to see the humour in the situation, and then we talked shop for a little while as we both finished our tea breaks.
This was two weeks ago. I’ve passed him in the hospital corridors in the days in between and I’m sure I took the time to say hello.
God, I hope I took the time to say hello.
Whenever something like this happens it always makes you think about living your life and doing things that really matter. It gives you perspective; it certainly made me think about the hundred little things I worry about and obsess over that probably won’t matter much to me five years down the line.
It makes you think about the connections you make and how easy it is to take for granted that you’ll always find the time to reconnect with old friends. You put off saying things that matter because you think you can always leave it for tomorrow but what if tomorrow never comes?
And finally, it makes you think about your life choices. We spend our whole lives studying and working in order to live the good life, and I think sometimes we lose sight of why we work so hard in the first place. In our quest for the so-called good life, we’ve stopped living altogether.
Life should never become about the daily grind.
Find the little pleasures in between life’s big moments. They matter more than you think.
Make each moment count.
Call your friends. Call your family. Make sure you tell them every day how much they mean to you.
As cliche as it sounds, and while I’m not telling anyone to go bungee jumping or skydiving (in fact I have an aversion to both those things), I guess what I AM saying is, live your life in your own terms and live it in a way that you will have as little regrets as possible.
I love you, awesome people. Thanks for being a part of my life even if only in such an infinitesimal way.
Its all just lip service until you practice what you preach.
I’m a big believer in putting yourself out there, in letting the universe know what you want and in not being afraid to go for something if you really want it. I’ve always said that you shouldn’t let the fear of failing ever stop you from trying. Grab a spoon in the big banquet of life, and all that jazz.
The truth is, until recently, I’ve done nothing but talk absolute bollocks.
Sure, in every other aspect of my life I’m quite the go-getter. I’m known for having a one-track mind. When it comes to achieving something, I’ve been known to run myself ragged, exhausting all options and myself, until the goal is won.
When it comes to my love life, though, I am the biggest coward in the world. I have never been able to look any guy in the eye and just flat out let him know I’m interested. Ever.
I was in love with someone close to me for almost a decade and I was only able to bare my feelings in the most uncomfortable and awkward Facebook message I have ever had to send in my life, and I did it five years after I got over him. I honestly think I was only able to do that because by then I was safely in London, two oceans and a continent away.
Part of that is the culture I grew up with. Both the Filipino and the Chinese culture frown upon their women being ever so forward. A part of me will always balk at the thought of making the first move.
But I can’t blame my somewhat sheltered upbringing for everything.
The real root of such cowardice is my complete aversion to being emotionally vulnerable in any way or shape. I am so petrified of the risk of rejection that I fail to put myself out there time and time again.
I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve come to the conclusion that, in all likelihood, when you ask someone for something or when you put your heart on the line like that, there’s a huge chance that the answer will be no. Like maybe 9 times out of 10.
But if you continue to bottle everything up, to shy away from anything because you don’t want to risk being hurt, you miss out on that glorious ONE TIME when the answer could be yes.
Or you know, at this point, I’d settle for a maybe.
Today I took my chance. I put on my full battle armour (pretty curls and cat’s eyes), gathered my courage and just asked.
The answer was not what I was hoping for, but it was an answer nonetheless. It placed the situation in the most realistic and undeniable light, and it made me see my way forward, which is really as simple as showing him what he’s missing. Lol
Anyway, the point is today I was emotionally brave for the first time ever in my life…and quite frankly I feel nauseous. Like seriously nauseous. Being brave is not all its cracked up to be.
But I also feel great and empowered and I feel like walking down the street singing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. at the top of my lungs. Because I respect myself so much more for having the guts to look him in the eye and tell him (more or less) that I’m interested.