I used to want to save the world and why I’m thinking twice

One of the things that has surprised me and continues to surprise me the most about growing up is how normal, how like-everyone-else I am. Growing up, I naively believed that I was immune to the demands and pressures of this world, that I was not as shallow and frivolous as peers around me who were so caught up chasing money, possessions and achievement. I was different – I wasn’t going to settle for status quo and “be like everyone else”. No sir, not me. I was going to change the world and make the world a better place.

I have grown to realise that none of us, no matter how noble our intentions, are immune from pride. Ambition doesn’t just come in the form of ruthless, driven, climb-the-ladder types, but in the subtlest of disguises. These days, being environmentally, socially or politically conscious has become a badge of honour that often earns much respect. Social activist and marine biologist are the cool, coveted jobs these days. Nobody grows up saying they want to be an engineer or accountant anymore. My whole generation has been told we’re all special and gifted in our own unique ways. Nonconformity, discerning taste, and the rejection of mainstream values are celebrated and revered. 

All of this tree-hugging, Moleskine-toting, positivity-mantra-chanting, impoverished-third-world-country-visiting makes me wonder if behind all our good intentions to “be real”, “save the world” and “make a difference” lies the same pride and greed for achievement that drove Wall Street into the Lehman crisis. Sure, the latter was all about achieving personal gains in the form of dollars and cents, but isn’t the former about achieving things as well – achieving a different sort of status, credibility, respect, and the title of being seen as a “good person”?

I mean, travelling to Africa and spending a week among the less fortunate may teach me to be more thankful – but do I really need to travel to another continent to recognise undeserved love in my mother’s hands, wrinkled and rough from years of washing dishes and doing house work, and be grateful for it? Quitting my job and living on a shoestring budget to travel the world might teach me to manage a budget – but so can deciding to propose to the girl you’ve been dating for the past two years. Joining a protest may give you the thrill of feeling like a rebel – but you are just as much a rebel when you choose to stay committed at your job when all your friends are quitting theirs for better offers and a quick boost up the ladder. 

Come on, admit it. It would work either way. Just that saying you learnt to be grateful after traveling to Africa sounds a lot cooler than saying you woke up one day and realised how much your parents had sacrificed for you. It’s more impressive to say you learnt to manage a budget after you quit your job to travel, than to describe the raw, nerve-wracking emotion of making a once-in-a-lifetime decision that too many claim is not really important. It’s easier to type out a Facebook post about all the things that are wrong with the country than to explain to your friends why you don’t want to move on to more promising job offers. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling, Moleskine notebooks, and artisan coffee as much as the next young urban adult – and I think these things definitely have their time and place and make our lives richer and fuller – but my question is do these seemingly “good” things define us? If I am defined by how much I donate to charity and how many young people I have mentored or how many backpacking trips I’ve made or how many days I spent volunteering my time for community projects, then how different am I, really, from someone who defines himself by how much is in his bank account, how many times he’s flown Business Class, how many people call him “Boss”, and how many days of paid vacation he can get? 

Because is the value of our life really defined by how people perceive us? Or is it defined not by how we look and appear to others, but by who we really are, deep down inside, when no one’s looking? Is it success when I receive an interview request from Forbes? Or is it success when World Vision wants to recruit me as a spokesperson? Is one better than the other? 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately. Can someone work in the “soul-less” corporate world and yet still maintain integrity, vision, heart and depth? And can someone be serving a great cause and yet still get sidelined and distracted by numbers, recognition and accolades? I think the answer to both questions is yes

I used to ask myself big questions. Like, “What need is there in the world that I can meet?” “What can I offer the world with my talents and skills?”

These days, I’m wondering if I should be asking myself smaller questions instead. Like, “How can I do what is in front of me, right this very day and hour, with great love?” “What kind of friend, daughter, sister, and partner would those closest to me say I am?” “Did I do my very best with the last thing I was given the opportunity to do?” “Have I stopped to be thankful today?” “Do I say ‘Thank you’ enough?”  

Maybe when we focus less on looking good to others, and we work harder at actually being good, the answers to the big questions will come, naturally. Maybe they will come when we’re not looking for them. Maybe we will find that the really important things in life are not the big things, but the small things. And when we get those things right, when we tend to the things that matter, maybe we will find that the big questions don’t seem so important anymore. Maybe instead of trying to change the world we will change ourselves, and in doing so, find that the world around us can’t help but be changed too.  


you have something to offer

if you’re like me, you do this thing all the time.

you know, this thing where once you’ve achieved a new goal or climbed a new mountain, you immediately look ahead to the next one, and from where you are standing, the next goal or mountain always looks a whole lot huger than the one you just conquered.

there’s nothing wrong with being forward-looking. this endless, passionate pursuit to improve, expand, grow, and multiply is what drives fresh ideas and new inventions. but let’s stop doing that thing – that thing where we start belittling our past accomplishments and making them seem really tiny in comparison to all we have yet to achieve.

why do we do this? because acknowledging how far we’ve come means acknowledging that we have something to offer – something to teach, somebody to mentor, some capacity to contribute. and sometimes we genuinely doubt we are capable of teaching, mentoring, or contributing.

yet that’s the best way to get even better at what we’re already good at. it’s easy enough to just be great at stuff, but having to pass our knowledge, experience, and skills on to someone else requires more competency than it would take to just do something on your own.

sometimes i feel like i have nothing to offer. i still feel like a novice runner when i compare myself to others who have been running for years. i still feel like an amateur writer when i read Jeff Goins and Danielle LaPorte.

but then i tell myself: “hey, one year ago, before you believed you could run even 10k, you were intimidated by anyone who’d finished a half marathon. a couple years ago, you were still deciding whether to major in communications and media.”

to my 21-year old self, a marathon veteran wouldn’t be very much more intimidating than who i am today. to my teenage self, someone who was actually getting paid to write would be almost an idol.

so although i might be far from my ideal half marathon time, i’m still further than i was a year ago. although i might be even further from publishing a book, i’m still further than i was a year ago.

which means i can wholeheartedly, genuinely, convincingly say, to someone who shudders at the thought of 5k: “i used to be the same, one year ago, and guess what? it IS possible to get better. and this is how you do it…”

just this morning a friend wrote to me, asking for help on a writing assignment, which he felt needed a stronger angle. he was worrying that there wouldn’t be enough time to write the piece if he decided to change his topic to a stronger one. i said: “don’t sweat the writing. the writing is not the hard work. get your topic right, then the rest will come easily. people never see how much effort is put into strategy – but that’s the most important thing. here are my suggestions…”

and it hit me – i actually have valuable insights to share. the excuse that “because i’m not Jeff Goins, i have nothing to give” was just that – an excuse.

wherever you are, you’re further than you were yesterday. whatever your skill level, there’s someone who could use your knowledge and experience.

don’t fall for the excuse that you have nothing to offer. you may not have everything, but you have SOMETHING. give it, and you will get even better.

i’ve been given the Liebster Award!

i’ve been following a new blog, Tracks by Linds, for some time now. though i don’t know Linds personally, every new post that pops up in my inbox from her feels like reading an update from a friend. i love her conversational style and her thoughtful musings on this beautiful, funny journey we call life.

so it was an incredible honour when she named me among her top 5 blogs that deserved the Liebster Award (thanks for the love!).

i don’t know the history behind the award but it seems to be one of these “blog awards” that somehow makes its way across the vast blogosphere, helping people to stumble upon obscure, but good blogs that deserve more recognition.

anyway, this particular award recognises blogs who have preferably under 200 followers but are deserving of more. i’m not sure of the follower count for my top 5 (and not all of them are on WordPress) but here are a few blogs i think deserve a lot more love!

1. for the love of motion

i stumbled across this blog at a time in my life when i was very lost and searching desperately for answers. this blog may not have given me all of them, but it helped point me in the right directions. the blog’s tagline ‘live free. touch everything. never be tamed.’ sums up its essence – a haunting, absolutely captivating journal of a man in love with the sheer pleasure of being alive. the words and images posted on this blog draw me into another a world, a world shimmering with hope, love, possibility, frailty, beauty.

2. resolved2worship

alyssa is the kind of mother i’ve dreamed of becoming since i discovered her blog four years ago. people tell me i’m too young to be thinking about marriage and children, but the courage, honesty, and life brimming from this blog inspires me to continue to walk towards the road less chosen. i was homeschooled, and my childhood days were some of the simplest, best days of my life. and i would give anything to relive them all over again and make them happen for kids of my own.

3. little reminders of love

i discovered this blog more recently but have kept stopping by for a fresh dose of inspiring, thought-provoking, heartwarming quotes and reflections, especially about love, relationships, growing up, and just learning about life in general.

4. God’s fingerprints

i wish i could print out these soulful, creative photographs + beautiful typography and stick them all over the walls of my room.

5. bliss: towards a delicious life

before you think this is a food blog, it’s not, but it does serve up a very delicious dishing of soul food. i come here for writing that inspires me, nourishes me, comforts me. and because the author can make even scrawled graffiti on a bathroom wall sound poetic.

so there you go, my top 5 picks. copy + pasting the rules for how to participate:

If you receive the award, you should:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Hope that the people you’ve sent the award to forward it to their five favourite bloggers and keep it going!

p/s – i’ve taken the liberty to design my own liebster blog logos – feel free to share them and use them when nominating your own liebster blogs. 

life is short. fail and fail fast.

life is short.

too short to wait for that one perfect relationship that will bring you eternal happiness.
to craft that one perfect campaign that will win you international fame and awards.
to hold out for that one perfect job that will rocket-launch you into the career of your dreams.
to produce that one perfect video that will go viral.
to compose that one perfect song that will land you a record deal.

life is too short to wait for one. perfect. shot. at something. at anything.

life is short, and the ones who win at it
are those who don’t wait for perfect.

those who admit they don’t know it all.
who are willing to explore.
who try as many things as they can.

who are forever adapting, modifying, tweaking, building, revising, adding, subtracting,
working with whatever they’ve got.

because they know the fastest way to succeed is to fail, and fail fast.

the faster you fail, the faster you discover what doesn’t work
and the faster you get one step closer to discovering what will.

these are the ones who discover, as they push themselves out of their comfort zones, that there is no one right answer to life. there is no one fixed path to success.

that sometimes, you end up wanting something you never thought you wanted. and the things you thought you wanted are not really what you want at all.

these are the ones who live each moment and season to the fullest. who drink in the depths of every small victory, but also every defeat, every question, every crossroads, every dry spell.

these are the ones who realise that the real success is not in what you achieve,
but in how much you enjoy the ride along the way.

so even though they dream big, it doesn’t matter so much if they achieve their dreams they way they hope to. they find new dreams in every new dawn, every turn of the page, every bend in the road.

and sometimes, sometimes, along the way, without trying too hard for that one perfect shot, they achieve it.

What your spending says about you

This weekend, I paid RM80 to do something I could do on my own – something I used to make a daily practice, in fact – and spent two hours drawing + doodling with a group of urban sketchers. For me, the value was not in the activity itself, but in the people I met and the inspiration to start drawing again.

Ever since I started work, “I have no time!” has been a constant excuse for not nurturing my creative, expressive, artistic spirit. I knew that by parting with my hard-earned cash I was committing myself to doing what I’ve always been wanting to do: say “heck it”, and just start drawing. I desperately needed fresh inspiration, and if I couldn’t discipline myself to sit down and draw on my own, I would commit my time and money to others to make it happen.

We invest in the things we believe in. How we spend our time and money shows where our priorities lie. If something is important enough to you, you will do whatever it takes to make it work.

Often, we have a list of ‘ideal’ priorities in our head. Exercise, family, spiritual practices, personal growth, and so on. But if those things aren’t what our money and our time are being spent on, then they’re not real priorities.

The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Or, the desire / passion to do anything grows with doing it.

The kinds of people that impress me

The kinds of people that impress me are the ones who pick up the piece of toilet paper they dropped on the floor even when a toilet attendant is right beside them…

because they believe that if they mess something up, it is their responsibility to clean it up.

The kinds of people that impress me are the ones who stay behind after everyone has left the office, library, or meeting room to go over everything “one last time” in case they might have overlooked something….

because they believe not just in delivering to deadlines but delivering excellence.

The kinds of people who impress me are the ones who make their own beds and clean their own room even when someone else will do it for them…

because they believe in taking ownership of and responsibility for their own things.

The kinds of people who impress me are the customers who point out tactfully to a barista that the coffee is not up to par, and the baristas who key in a wrong beverage as their own employee drink to replace an order that did not meet the standard…

because they believe that businesses (and the people who run them) should deliver what they promise.

The kinds of people who impress me are the ones who say “I’ll fork out the money for this first if it will take too long to get budget clearance so we can finish this project on time”…

because they are willing to make small sacrifices to accomplish a bigger goal.

The kind of people who impress me are the ones who go outside their scope of work or responsibility just to make someone else’s a little easier or more meaningful…

because they believe that when they benefit those around them, they benefit themselves.

The kinds of people who impress me are the ones who just get on with what needs to be done even if they don’t get the credit for it…

because their satisfaction comes from personal and internal, rather than external recognition.

The kinds of people who impress me are the ones whom I look up to for inspiration, respect tremendously, and aspire to emulate.

What sort of people impress you?

One dumb thing I used to believe in

I used to believe that when adults said, “You can do anything,” they didn’t really mean it. I used to believe you had a certain person to achieve things, to go places, to be someone.

I thought the sweet spots of life – those lush, sunny places where your personality, gifting, experience, and vision intersect – were for those born into the right family, social class, moment in time, race… or a combination of predetermined factors that some almighty hand of fate picked to succeed by random chance.

I used to look at the less fortunate and tell myself they would never amount to anything because they were never given the opportunity to. I used to tell myself I would never make it beyond a certain limit because of all these factors.

Making history and going where others have not gone before? That’s for the future generation or those blessed with access to all the latest technology and facilities. Or so I believed.

What I now know to be true, more than ever:

Life is what you make it. Success is what you make it. I can be anything… but why would I want to? Success only feels good if it is success to me – not as the world sees it. I have the power to take responsibility for my life. Culture, race, income, or status quo are only limiting if I let them be. I have the power to define my own limits.

This post is inspired by Danielle LaPorte’s The Burning Question series.