The price we pay for the things we love.

We have to work the hardest for the things we love. As living creatures with wants and needs, there is always the option of putting in less effort, of caring less, for the things we want. Like grades, the learning experience, asking after a friend when his interview ended. Of mastering the asana without falling over, of taking detours to buy fish slices noodles from buona vista. Everything has a price tag on it, but this price is not equivalent to money. Money is a concept created by man, but the price that I am referring is the emotional investment that we put into things we value. One thing that going through all the experiences in my life is that I will only remember things if I chose them according to what my heart told me, if I worked really hard at them, and if I survived. Nothing else matters but what I choose to do. “Where this takes me, there I choose to go.”

Sometimes the price can be too high. Knowing that late nights at work means that I can’t talk to a certain friend as much, and knowing his need to be in constant contact because that is his style. Knowing that my response to stress is usually to shut down and to evade. Or knowing that I had health issues and instead of going for TCM immediately, I delayed it for a year because I didn’t want pain. Knowing that doing a part-time internship would mean balancing work and school, and knowing that I don’t fully enjoy HR, but wanting the experience of working for a statutory board- I chose to do it for six months. Knowing that I do really like my freedom but balancing that with understanding God and understanding religion, I gave myself four years to understand the whole concept of church, and from Jan onwards, dedicated six hours a week to formal lessons. Knowing that my solitary habits probably makes other people judge me but it is something that I choose.With all my choices, there is a price to pay. And a price that I have paid.

Even for my current job choice, working in the consulting arm of a big 4 firm means long hours, some travelling (depending on where your client is located), and a miserable pay. But the experience is worth it, or so they tell me. It is a choice that I make. I know that this is the path I am choosing to take, and whatever comes, I will deal with it. Along with some whining to my poor friends.

Given that all my efforts might result in nothing 10 years down the road, would it be worth the price? Sometimes I get a feeling that I am completely alone and that absolutely nobody understands me. Which I would say is normal, because while I would think that I’m a rather good judge of sincerity and character and even as I understand my friends and their insecurities, I still get a feeling that everyone is locked inside themselves. We can show what we are committed to and what we value, but we cannot let people feel as we do. There is just no way to connect.

I would say that over the past four years, my stress levels increased but I got better at handling them. My gratitude meter expanded, I became more patient and I learned to find good things in people to appreciate when in the past I would have completely brushed them off as boring people. Now they are still boring, but I am no longer above talking to ‘boring’ people. I can’t change how I feel about them but I can change how I act.

Understanding that it was necessary for me to live through university and to build up my confidence through repeated projects and presentations, while learning that at the very end, it is all about being kind to oneself. There will never be a perfect assessment centre or a perfect elevator pitch, but one can always celebrate with milo dinosaur prata (!!) at the end. Regardless of how shitty it was. Because I probably worried about it beforehand, hoping that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. And then I did probably say or do things that I didn’t fully intend to. And then there’s just no point ruminating over spilled milk.

I am nowhere as good as where I would like to be, but here I am, still alive. Not knowing is valuable to me because I then take things more seriously. If I knew how it was going to turn out would I still have done it? If I knew exactly what I would have received from people, would I want to continue? It is in the space between absolute certainty and absolute uncertainty that I thrive, because everything is a gift. That blurred, smoky, insubstantial space that no one bothers to define.

Learnings from Daniel 1 and John 5

I was busy gallivanting around town/doing all sort of non-value-adding things such as sleeping in till 1pm, hence this belated post. I’ll recap what I learned in church first, and then talk about how it affects me.

For the Book of Daniel, it has a tonne of historical data that I have not understood yet. My church is rather quiet in the sense that they don’t pray in tongues, there is no yelling or very loud song-worship sessions, it’s rather relaxed and homely. And I don’t feel the need to bring anyone along with me or sit with anyone, I don’t feel the need to blend in. We are each given different talents to use, and we are told that God has a plan to give us each a future and a hope, but the specific future or hope is not prescribed. I still don’t know what my talents are (although my cooking skills have improved in the past few weeks because I can now boil eggs), but understanding that God is sovereign and that I still have another 3 years and 9 months to go in understanding the bible, helps.

God planned to use a pagan nation to punish his people, because they had forsaken him and adopted other worthless idols. Along with making Daniel (and friends) eat the same food, the assimilation also involved the changing of names. Daniel, meaning “God is my judge” was changed to Belteshazzar, which means “Bel protects his life.” Bel is a Babylonian idol. Daniel refused to eat the Babylonian king’s food because eating his meats and wines would mean honouring the king, and believing in the same idols as him. While on the human level he was taken captive, on the spiritual level he was still following God’s laws. So he requested for a selection of vegetables and water. He made the decision to fear God more than the king.

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

-Daniel 1, ESV

Pastor A. said something memorable- you are not what you eat, you are who you fear. Out of our everyday activities, how many of them are done out of reverence, and how many of them are done because we are afraid. We fear growing old, being single, hence we hold on to unholy relationships. We fear missing out on promotions hence we work so hard, skipping church sessions, exploiting other people. We fear that others will laugh at us because we are not doing the things that they do, hence we try very hard to cover up.

An example for me would be social media- I was asked if I wanted to be the roomie of a pretty well-known journalist, a senior from my JC. A quick browse through her Instagram (with her permission, I told her I googled her), reveals someone who is extroverted, bubbly, extremely good at writing and loves food. I am practically the opposite. She finds it hard to take a vow of silence for one day, I enjoy taking vows of silence for long weeks. I am terrible at writing, I don’t read the newspapers, I can’t express myself very well. She keeps her social media accounts public and I don’t touch social media unless I want to stalk someone, and even then, it’s such a superficial touch and go experience. Her memories are all online, I only want to experience the moment. I rarely take photographs. But we are both created by God, although when I first got the news and googled her name, I was wondering if she is more ‘real’ than I am.

Am I less substantial, less attractive if I don’t put myself online, or if I don’t express my views on anything? What if I had nothing apart from my body and the little bits of work that I do every day. Can I still breathe and take up space? It might seem like a silly question but people with an established social media presence, or journalists or writers or basically people who are more googleable, they give the impression that they have a solid existence that will live on after they die. I have very little abilities and a very short linkedin profile, I prefer to stay within the blurry, insubstantial areas, to not be known. I believe that it is the self-assured people who can live there without dissipating. But even so, when I am planning my post-grad experiences, I am still thinking of what other people might ask. I frankly do not want to go to touristy areas, I just want to spend some time swimming and being on the beach and being with no one I know. But to most people that is so unexciting. What is there to do on the beach? Nothing! Although it is exactly nothing that I want to do, I want to be comfortable with my own mind, I want to exist in that blank, black space when you close your eyes and there’s absolutely nothing there. Which is such a conversation killer. But why am I afraid of other people and their judgement, when it is not humans whom I fear?

I used to wonder why are we studying all these things which happened so long ago, and why can’t God just show himself now. And now I think I am accepting the ways in which he communicates. Sometimes through experiences, mostly through the Bible, and also through other people. Am I very sure of what God is telling me- nope, I don’t know if I will ever be sure. Or if I will ever have anything to be sure about. I just hope that I can continue to do the things that I like and not die of anxiety in the near future.

My friend invited me to her church last night for a session by Dr Samuel Rodriguez, a Latino pastor who was part of the signing in ceremony for President Trump recently. It was rather interesting because while I don’t think I learned anything new about John 5, I did hear a number of personal testimonies about how God used him to change the lives of others. Such an inspiring vision to have a million churches by 2033, coupled with a lot of yelling. He is a rather emphatic person.

He spoke about how Jesus bypassed the norms of conformity and did what others would not do on the Sabbath, which is to heal the man. He likened the man’s paralysis to the spiritual paralysis of the world. Although I really do not like it when he says “I prophesy this ______” because he seems to be doing it just to rev up the crowd, and then they respond with ‘amen’ or ‘yes’ and I don’t know how many people will actually remember what he said, or if it is just empty emotions. And while he knows his prophesy, that this generation will stand up and change the world, he didn’t say how. How can we do something that we cannot see?

The man in the Book of John picked up his mat, because he did not want to leave it behind. Leaving it behind means that one day he might return to his invalid posture. Picking it up means that you have been healed, and He who has healed you has given you the right to believe in your newfound health. But whenever he says “you will no longer be paralysed by your past!!!”, I just wonder if we can expect healing to come to everyone, that we can shake off our past. He shouts it with such belief and everyone else is nodding their heads and believing, and I feel like I lack faith if I doubt any of his ‘I believe that ____’. Maybe it is just the style of speaking, I prefer people who are calm.

He also said “this is what makes us different”, because we are Christians. But the thing is, being a Christian isn’t just about what you believe/say you believe. It is also about what you do, or want to do. And until you can prove that you are more spiritually mature through your actions, it is difficult for anyone to believe that you have been ‘saved’. And that church is worth going to. How much of the work of megachurches are based on emotions and singing, and how much of it is spiritual change? I am not doubting the validity of their sermons, I am just wondering if there is a better way to do it.

It was also difficult to stand still during the closing prayer because megachurches always have this segment where they invite people to say the sinner’s prayer and after you do it everyone claps and says that you have been saved, it is a great day because you have acknowledged God. There is an opportunity that the church provided, which you took, and henceforth you are a part of the family. Saved by faith and not by deeds can be misinterpreted as “I don’t need to do anything as long as I know that He exists”. But being a part of the Christian family means that you have to work for it. Salvation is given freely, but it is not easily attained.

Watching: Beauty and the Beast (movie)

I didn’t cry at the part where Belle bent over the Beast to tell him that she loved him, neither did I tear at the part where Belle was struggling to get to the Beast. The girl to my left was sniffling really hard and shifting around in her seat at those scenes lol so I’m assuming that those are the tear jerking scenes.

I teared at the part when the household staff were turning into objects permanently. When the teapot was asking for her son Chippy, and she couldn’t find him before she closed her eyes and went still. And Chippy was also looking for his mom, the saucer plate he was riding on smashed on the ground- he would have smashed too, if not for the coat hanger picking him up and putting him next to the mom.

The scene between the clock and the candle stick (although I think there’s another term for him), that was beautiful too. It was an honour to have served with you. Two old friends who lived and worked together while they were alive, and tried very hard to break the spell while they were living as household objects. At the end, they could see no hope and calmly accepted their fate. I would like to go to my end in a similar way, surrounded by good people and the knowledge that I have tried my best, even if it wasn’t good enough. Sometimes there is really precious little in life to celebrate, but one can appreciate the process and the effort even if they didn’t get to where they wanted to be.

The Beast was stuck in his body for a long time, being all fierce and masculine. But he had a kind heart even while trapped in that horrible hairy body, and he gave Belle what she wanted, which was a library full of books and someone to understand her. And he had the knowledge that he was once beautiful. But for people in real life, those who are ugly and stunted and have a kind heart, can be without partners for life and not have that reassurance that someone will come along to love them. Because your physical appearance changes how other people treat you- some people don’t come out of that experience called ‘the period before being sure of your identity’ whole.

I used to wonder why would some people select other people with low self-esteem to be their partners- intentionally select for those people. I guess after reading a few blogs on that subject, I think I now understand the mentality where you are able to control someone else with a few words or by persuading her that you know better, she should follow your opinions, and generally it is a rather heady way to live. After all she does not value herself as much as she values you, and she doesn’t want to be alone because that would mean going back to her past. Humans are rather good at occupying their time with interesting pursuits. I am not sure if it means happiness for either party, for as long as one stays in a relationship that restraints them, it might only mean mild discontent at best?

Edit:/

(Days in the sun, Beauty and the Beast)

All those days in the sun
What I’d give to relive just one
Undo what’s done
And bring back the light

Oh, I could sing of the pain these dark days bring
The spell we’re under
Still it’s the wonder of us I sing of tonight

How in the midst of all this sorrow
Can so much hope and love endure
I was innocent and certain
Now I’m wiser but unsure

Looking back: March, 2017

My march calendar is almost filled up- I have another week to go but compared with all the things I did earlier this month, the next week is almost deliciously light-hearted. Here is a review of the things I learned and did.

Work

  • Went for career talks, completed my application at two places, two job interviews, nailed a job and withdrew from another. I am glad that I opened that email from the career advisor, because the company I’m accepting usually ends their university recruitment in December. I’m a very lucky off-cycle person. I kept delaying job applications because I didn’t know if I could do anything other than HR, but thankfully it worked out in the end.
  • I am no longer moving in the HR practitioner realm, neither am I going to be a HR consultant. I am glad that I can finally move out of HR but also slightly worried that I will return to being a very practical and non-social hermit? I don’t want to see people as transactions. (That said, my MBTI is INFJ. I used to be a rather (head)strong INTJ. HR did change me significantly.)
  • I am grateful for my past internship experiences which allowed me to experience life- to see life and work through different perspectives, and also to talk about what I learned from the internships during interviews. It was tiring for 2015-2016 but I know that I have to work the hardest for what I love. I love doing new things!

School

  • I’m graduating soon!
  • Presentations, quizzes, assignments due, projects discussed, friends made, things panicked about. My style for presentations is ad-lib, I can’t do scripts because I always forget them when there are no powerpoint slides. SMU is a lot more tiring than NTU ):
  • This month was hard because my sleep was terrible. I woke up feeling totally calm this morning, because I had my first proper 8 hours sleep without breaks in between due to scratchy rashes in weeks. I hope I didn’t offend anyone in school.

Self

  • I really worked hard this month.
  • No regrets, it was the consolidation of February. I might have embarrassed myself with a few things in SMU but I don’t think anyone noticed.
  • Arranged a meditation trip and 1-2 grad trips, depending on how much time I have.
  • Also, I wrote a few posts on slotherious and read a few books! I love Victor Frankl and Andrew Solomon.
  • I made sure to meet 1-2 friends a week (not from my current classes). Watched movies, had more food!
  • I love fish slices noodles from BV!!! I do detours just to dabao from that stall.

Health

  • TCM bruises and rashes and I wrote this three times in my calendar- “anxiety is exhausting”. It really is. It drains you from the inside even though you haven’t done much. But now that everything is over and I am tracking my life in a different way, I don’t think I am burned out anymore.
  • Went for massages!
  • Drank a lot of vitagen and ate a lot of lindt chocolate, I like the honey mustard sauce from subway, the tomato basil wraps from simply wrap, the tori q bento boxes, the pork ribs soup that my mom makes, and black ball desserts and matcha lattes! I’m a beagle and I love food. Can you believe that a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to eat any of these?
  • Anxiety wise- I am starting to run again. Did 2.9km two days ago and then I got wiped out by presentations, I actually managed to sleep by 11pm and then wake up at 4am to continue rehearsing.

Church

  • Signed up for church camp and went every week to DG/service.
  • I think my learning methods for church have stabilized now. I usually take about a month to get used to something new. The book of Daniel is difficult, there’s so much historical data to grapple with. ):
  • Am going for some talks with my friend from a different church next week! I haven’t seen her for a whole semester.
  • Reconnected with an old friend from CU.

Others

  • Learned to track my life according to functions- work, relaxation and others- and not impact. It is a lot more relaxing, and I sleep better now. I am learning to take myself less seriously and just let go. Incremental achievable goals, the first steps to self-improvement.
  • However, I am unable to forget some people.
  • And I am spending >$20 a week on Uber. It is not money I have, but my sense of time has somehow gone awry.

 

the happiness of pursuit/ the pursuit of happiness 

“If you live according to human knowledge, according to precept, values and standards, you live in the past.”

I don’t want to write for companies and newsletters because my writing is not to show things, but to let people feel. It is to unwind the knot in peoples’ hearts when they have forgotten how to live and only know how to do.  Like writing, yoga and meditation and running allows me to relax because I am concentrating on the moment- the breath, the empty dark space, I am attached to nothing. It is a different sort of existence compared to the high of project meetings and department meetings when I am delivering a project or contributing my ideas. There, I am connected to other people. When I write, I am connected to myself.

And it is that strong but unexplainable connection that feels like it encompasses everything existence has to offer- that sure knowledge that I am me, and I am alive. I have emotions, thoughts, a perspective, I have some beliefs which are shaky and some which are unshakeable. My faith is stronger than my skill. However, I am only 23 and I have hopes that I will not die until I am at least 60.

That said, I do write just for recording purposes, I record all that I am learning from church etc. That is writing with just analytical skills and intellect. I also do reviews on the books that I read. I am afraid that I will one day lose my memory, or forget where I came from.

Hold fast to your life, to beauty and happiness and inspiration, and to obedience to inspiration. Do not imitate others or seek advice anywhere except from your own mind. No-one can help you. No-one knows what your life should be. No-one knows what your life or life itself should be because it is in the process of being created.
Life moves according to a growing consciousness of life and is completely unpredictable.
If you live according to human knowledge, according to precept, values and standards, you live in the past.
If you live entirely in the past you will not know beauty or happiness and you will not in fact live.
You must believe in life. Believe that you can know the truth about life.

-Agnes Martin

https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/03/22/agnes-martin-happiness-river-of-live/

I want a dog, please.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/danieldalton/hello-yes-this-is-dog

 

I grew up with golden retrievers, and love their cheery disposition, loyalty, and pleasant aesthetic. They’re everything I’m not.

 

The excitement of the toy was nothing compared to how excited he got when I put on shoes. Shoes! I entertained new possibilities: If Milo could get this excited about shoes, then perhaps other things are worth getting excited about?

 

I checked on him and he checked on me. At various intervals he’d come over and say hi, ducking his head under my arm so I’d pat him, nudging me softly when I stopped. There was never more than 20 minutes when he didn’t come over.

 

I took the train home alone. I’d made a friend, and now he was gone. I listened to sad songs and looked at my shoes, rendered plain and unexciting in his wake. Life seemed little more than a Milo-shaped hole.

Understanding why I am in a state of burnout and how to get out of it.

One of my Strengthsfinder is Achiever, which also means that I am not satisfied with my day until I have at least 2-3 green boxes on my calendar. Green represents the things which impact my life, like group projects and presentations, and yellow represents terribly difficult things that I struggle with, and blue represents the things which give great meaning in my life. The common theme is that all three requires effort and I see them as ‘work’.

Since 2015 I think I have been trying to constantly find at least 3 things that I’m grateful for in the day, and in 2016-current period of 2017 I have come to equate ‘what I am grateful for’ to ‘what I strive to achieve every day’. So as time passed, more and more things felt like something I had to ‘work at’ doing or being. I had to work at making friends, making lunch, going for a walk at night, and that ongoing stress of not being able to achieve everything on my to-do list or doing anything that is different from the past week’s achievements eventually led to these two weeks of burn out. The most obvious indicator is the boxes on the calendar- it is a clear upward progression of blank boxes to filled ones and then an increasing number of green boxes.

So there lies the root of why I have been feeling lethargic and unmotivated for the past two weeks. I have more time than ever in this semester compared to the last semester, but I am not happier or more productive, because the system of making everything in my life an achievable goal places a lot of emphasis on the ‘work’ factor, which can make things dreary and frankly, unenjoyable.

Several factors then contributed to the increasing stress- the uncertainty of grades, the poor sleep during to uncertainty of finding a job and also TCM, and meeting of new people, increased people interaction, and the inability to exercise because of the placement of rashes on my legs. And projects etc.

Burnout, for me, is characterized by both emotional and physical symptoms. The past two weeks have been particularly draining because I can’t sleep properly, and I wasn’t able to think and contribute properly in daily life. That feeling that the life inside you has been drained out, although not sure to where, and I am no longer performing at my best. The general lack of motivation, increased pessimism, eating too much melona ice cream (this could just be my hormones or natural greed) and a lowered ability to pay attention. An obvious increase in detachment from school (or maybe it is just the environment that I dislike), chest palpitations, shortness of breath sometimes and headaches. No, I’m not dying, it’s just the listed symptoms online. Which are also attributable to TCM treatments because I’m very near the final point called a complete recovery.

I am not ill- I know this because after understanding why I’ve been feeling this increasing weight on myself (the seeing-everything-as-work factor), I also realised that a lot of the pressures are indeed self-imposed. And understanding that no one actually cares about where I am in life lifts that pressure. I feel a lot better compared to two hours ago when I was reading about burnout. There was that ‘aha!’ moment when I realised that all my current inefficiencies could be controlled.

So here’s the personal solution that I’ll try for myself. Instead of tracking things in colour according to meaning in life/impacting my life/bad things, I’ll track things according to their function. Relaxation, work, and happy things. Writing, exercise, church, friends, sleep, eating etc are all under relaxation. Because I do those things for myself. While I am committed to them, I will not freak out if I do badly in those. School falls under work. And all the happy things like ‘dad bought me matcha cake!’ falls under being happy.

It is very different from my current method because the only emphasis on ‘work’ is when it is actually work, I don’t have to pressurize myself to sleep exactly 7 hours a day or make myself intentionally relax. I just realised what an oxymoron that is, haha. To forcefully take a walk to clear my head. But that’s just me being a bit of a crazy person.

But hey. If there’s one thing I know, it is that I tried out multiple methods to keep meaning in my life. The three grateful things method worked because I realised that there is still a lot of meaning and happiness to be found in my life, and it made me a much more self-aware and positive person. The perfectionist method also works because I’m getting job interviews without much trouble (sample size of 2 companies), thanks to my GPA. Being a perfectionist means experiencing less overall because I didn’t dare to split my energy too many ways. The green/yellow/blue method works because I have experienced a lot of things in the past 3 months which I did not think I would experience.  Incremental improvements! Which makes me sound like a motivational speaker.

Now that I have tried the methods I know, and have a clearer view of the different portions of my life, what I’m going to try for the next few months is to do the relaxation/work/happy method and see whether or not my body and productivity level responds. There is after all the 80/20 rule which I haven’t tried yet, because I am not too sure how to track that. Basically 80% of my results will come from 20% of my time. I can only concentrate on what I know to be an improved version of measuring my life for now.

I don’t intentionally switch methods. I think it’s just that after a few months, you kind of know whether or not something is working? There is that switch in me which tells me “hey something is going wrong”. It doesn’t change what I am dealing with in life right now, but it changes my attitude about it. Right now, I am feeling a lot happier- it is kind of like reading. Reading gives me a lot of new insights into the lives of other humans, and it affects how I treat other people in my own life. It can be difficult to break out of the 24/7 cycle of lethargy and stress and feeling drained if you do not assess your life properly- how are you working, why are you working, what is a better way of handling things etc.

But of course- to leave a space for ‘terrible days’. Some days you just wake up and realise that okay you have to do the exact same thing that you did yesterday, which is ‘study for accounting exam’. There’s no way out of that. So just grab a caramel macchiato and some French fries, and sit very still for six hours.

And if it is not a single thing that you have to focus on but a larger mission, like ‘work in HR’, then I guess I’d focus on the why of doing something. I see HR as being called to provide for myself (salary) and also to care for other people. That motivates me (assuming my work has any effect beyond administrative functions) to carry on.

If you are committed to too many things in your life, take some of them out. As a wise man once said, “the need is not the call”. Just because there is a need, it doesn’t mean that you are the one who is needed. Look at your own priorities, are you handling them well, and why not? It is a bad idea to pack all commitments on Friday-Sunday, because that effectively leaves no time for personal rest and relaxation. However, as I often quote Sir Terry Pratchett, wisdom comes from experience and experience is often a lack of wisdom. If I am insightful, it is purely because I have done many stupid things in the past.

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All the best.