It's yet another pandemic birthday!
This time around, I thought I'd share some of the things that I have now learned in my 30s, that I didn't know and wish had known in my 20s. Are some of these things part of you revelation in your 30s too?
It’s my birthday today, and it’s a working day for me in a world of a new normal. I wake up, and then I go for a run, down the empty roads in my neighbourhood lined with tall trees covered in green mosses. Sometimes I’ll see a dog or two being walked, their tails wagging and their noses sniffing the after-rain scent on the paved roads. This always makes me smile. By the time I get home again it’s usually around 8am, and I’ll make breakfast, usually some toast. Work commences, which comprises of hours and hours staring at a laptop screen and talking to someone I can’t see in a teleconference. There is an ongoing danger of just racking up the weight since all most of us would do is sit at home these days, and I can’t help but wonder if one of them has now turned into a cabbage.
My usual lunch at the office which doubles as a socialising session with friends have now turned into a solo activity of eating something simple I’ve cooked on the couch in front of the TV. For a mental break, I’ll watch a funny short sitcom, and laugh by myself. Then it’s back to work, until it’s time for my virtual yoga class which involves my laptop and me on my mat following live instructions from my yoga teacher. After that I’ll cook dinner again, read and get ready for bed. I like the fact that I eat healthier at home, and that there seem to be more time for me to execute a 10-step skin care regimen at night that doesn’t seem to improve my skin anyway.
But it’s the little things that I used to have that I miss. Like talking about current news with my colleagues at coffee breaks, impromptu dinner plans with friends right after work, the exhilaration of planning yet another hike somewhere, or smiling faces at yoga classes. Not to mention the adrenaline punch of travel, which was a huge part of my life, but for now it has to be put on a shelf. For me, these were the things that gave me the sense of connection. I rely on these connections to not make me feel unfulfilled. When you’re confined in your home alone and interactions are no longer easily accessible, sometimes you feel like you’re in a crowded world that is empty.
No matter how much of an introvert you are (which I am, and I certainly enjoy being on my own for the most part), what is happening today has certainly highlighted the importance of being part of a community. We’re not designed to be completely alone all the time. Confinement has forced me to look at myself and my life in a harsher light - what am I about, now that I have to strip away my packed schedules of travel, hobbies, and constant access to emotional dependencies of family and friends? On my own, somehow, suddenly, sounds like a threat rather than a liberation.
But I have turned yet another year older today, and if nothing else, the world in COVID has certainly taught me that I am one lucky human being. I can’t even oversell my quarantine misery even if I wanted to, compared to people losing their jobs, people having to work at home while juggling babies screaming and pooping, people literally thrown out of the streets for not being able to pay rent, or people not even being able to afford to put food on the table. The worst that has happened to me, in all honestly, was talking to the wall after not meeting a single human being for 2 weeks straight, and the constant paranoia that someone I love might catch the virus, especially those who are high-risk. Some days when it’s bad I get this anxiety of feeling confined and alone and “does that stray cat want to be my friend?” moments, but other than that, I have been spared indeed.
This alone gives me enough gratitude to be a year older with healthy lungs, a job, and people in my life that are constantly checking on me to make sure I wasn’t crying by the window. I can never be where I am today without people constantly lifting me up and pushing me forward. I never forget that, and in return I hope to become that person for other people, too. With each growing year, it has become apparent that my life is not just about me - it’s about my service to others, and I think about that as I’m being a friend, a sister, a daughter, a writer. Without that service, our lives will begin to feel very empty very quickly, no matter who we are in this world.
Thank you for your birthday wishes, and I hope you’re doing okay.
When in fact, in can be the very foundation of a massive improvement and shift in our lives. So the first rule is; make resolutions that are measurable. Enough of the generic ‘I want to be more positive’ or ‘I want to be healthier’ or ‘I want to cut out toxic people’ – no, no, no. What will you actually do? Quit Twitter? Stop drinking sugared drinks? Enroll in a night class? Block someone on social media? You have a higher chance of pulling through your resolutions if they are quantifiable, because that means you can always do a periodic review by measuring these goals.
Here is my list for last year, and how they have worked out. I wrote about these intentions in early 2019, which you can read here.
This year, my resolutions revolve around enrichment. I think we all have a habit of slowing down learning as we get older, so to avoid that, I would like to read at least 30 minutes a day, enroll in a workshop or two (I’ve already enrolled in Masterclass!), take my next French exams and complete my ‘Cooking The Entire Cookbook’ challenge.
I have, and always will love to play! So hopefully 2020 will continue seeing me do them – a few new places to travel to, horseback riding on weekends, a major long-distance hike (although I haven’t decided where), and a fun solo trip somewhere exciting (location? Ideas, anyone?). My focus is to just enjoy it all. Enjoy everything while they last. For the past few years I’ve learned that when you leave a lot of space for of a lot of possibilities, life tends to pleasantly surprise you.
What are your intentions for 2020? I hope we all have an exciting, healthy, fulfilling, joyful year ahead!
I had a cousin who died at the age of 20.
She was born with an auto-immune disease, and the doctors told my aunt (her mother) that she was not going to live past her early twenties. When we were kids we used to play a lot whenever there was a family get-together, and we had so much fun riding bikes, playing with my grandparents’ animals and running around the house. My aunt never told her about what the doctors said, and eventually she died in my aunt’s arms at the hospital.
Truth be told I don’t think about her a lot anymore, but once in a while I do, and when I do, I often ponder about the idea of knowing when you will die. How did my aunt feel over the years as my cousin grew up and she was inching closer to her death? It must be terrible, living with that secret and not letting her child know, if only to allow her to enjoy whatever little time she still had.
Well that’s a rather morbid introduction to this post.
It’s actually weird how everyone dies but no one of talks about it very much. When I was in Istanbul I went to a museum where there was a depiction on how the scholars during ancient Turk used to wear a large white turban on their heads. The turban, as it turns out, was also the exact same white garment that will be used to wrap their own bodies for burial when they die. How morbid, I thought to myself as I saw it, to be walking around everyday with the reminder of death over your head.
But I did wonder, does thinking about death make us live better?
I guess the realisation that you will eventually close shop whatever your circumstance may be does put certain things in perspective. What’s the point of being sad for too long? Whether you spend most of your life feeling sad or happy, you’ll die anyway, so you might as well be happy. There. That was pretty straightforward, wasn’t it?
This year had been a busy year for me. In early 2018 I hit a turn in my life and it had somehow kicked off a streak of travel adventures, and it had not slowed down until now. So 2019 has been mostly going around the globe doing what makes me feel content because again, we’ll die anyway. So why aren’t we doing the things that make us happy? I saw a lava flow during sunset in Hawaii, I was naked with a grandma at an onsen in Japan, and I finally saw John Mayer at a concert after a decade of listening to his music almost every week. In Bangkok, I found out that I quite enjoy friend fish heads. I went for a solo trip in Bali where all I did was sit at vegan cafes to write. I went for a yoga retreat in Cambodia. I climbed the Rakaposhi Base Camp in Pakistan and stood on a glacier. I had terrible food poisoning in India (which was a shitty experience, but now it’s an experience I treasure because it taught me to not eat strange clams). I took my parents for their dream trip in Turkey and got to watch them enjoy it so much. I don’t have everything in life, but for all these opportunities to see the world and write about it, I am so extremely grateful to accept and enjoy.
Now that we’ve gone through the insta-glorious moments of 2019, let’s talk about the not-so-great moments. Of course there were those. Sometimes these are the price you pay when you love others, when you try to reach for a dream and it doesn’t quite turn out the way you wished it would, when you wear your heart on your sleeve, when your parents get older, and when circumstances disappoint you. I want to be specific, but in respect to others in these stories, I can’t. But suffice to say that what I’ve learned is that by the end of the day, you’ll regret not doing the things you wished you did. Again, we’ll die anyway. So what’s there to lose? Live and love in your own terms. There will probably be lots of tears and struggles, but if you’re sincere with your intentions it will all be well and good, one way or another. At the very least, you’ll be glad you tried.
Every year I make a point to learn or try 5 new things, and this year is not an exception. I continued with my french classes every week, I took a horseback riding course at a nearby stable, I started a bookclub which died halfway due to time constraints on my side, I began the ‘Chrissy Teigen Cookbook’ challenge where I tried to cook the entire cookbook for 1 year, and I started writing a third book which is a lot different than my previous books. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by my own restlessness, but I’m a lot happier when I feel my time is full. For me, idleness can sometimes be the door of doom that triggers the feeling of dullness and emptiness. Not to mention, the clock is ticking (to when you get old and die)! If you want to do something, do it now. For the most part, there is never a better time to start. (note: I say this like I’m an expert, but the truth is there is a number of things I hope to do but haven’t gotten enough balls to just yet. But I’m trying!)
This year has been a pleasure to also watch my family and friend go down their own paths in life. Some had a terrible year in 2018 with separations, deaths and illnesses, so 2019 has been like spring to them - new chapters, new beginnings - it’s always great to watch people you care about awaken this way. I admired my friends who are busy mothers but have found 2019 to be a liberating journey towards a healthier lifestyle, great friends who found great loves, and my family has had a wonderful year together.
What are your intentions for 2020? Thank you to those who wrote to me and told me about your lives. I found them inspiring.
Here's a picture of me, 1 week before my birthday at the stable after a
riding lesson, sweaty, stinky, dressed very meh, and having a good time.
Every year I’m excited to celebrate my birthday. No, not so much about the superficial aspects of it (gifts, parties, vacations), although I must say that I love the get-togethers and birthday cards and face product gifts I never knew I needed, as well as the annual birthday trips I always have as an excuse for more travel. Also not too excited that the eye-bags are becoming more resilient than ever. But more than that, I’m excited because hey! Another year has come to dawn, and I get another chance at time. Not everyone is privileged to have lived another year.
But as glad as I am for another self-anniversary, I must say that this time around, I experienced some anxiety. I woke up earlier this week with a slight pang in my chest. I wasn’t sure why, and I carried on with the day trying to ignore it, but by evening it just wouldn’t go away and a friend of mine advised that I should probably want to look into it.
So I did.
And here’s the thing.
Sometimes, as you grow older, you experience some episodes of self-doubt. You start having doubts about;
1. Your life choices
2.Your reaction to things that have led your circumstance to become what it is today
3.The people you let in and let go
4.The decisions that you have made that changed your life in a big way
This happens regardless of who you are, whether you’re a successful force with a million achievements under your belt, whether you’re married or single or divorced, or just a regular Joe/Jane who has lived through everything according to plan. Actually, even your plan becomes a source of doubt. Was it the right plan? Is it still the right plan?
And this becomes especially true if you have chosen to go down a more ‘unconventional’ path, i.e. making choices that is not exactly normal within your familiar society. Living down this path can sometimes be a pretty lonely journey.
For the bigger part of my life I have always accepted the idea that I am, and always have been, a little strange. I don’t mean this in a good or bad way. It is what it is, and so far I am happy just the way I am and have accepted the shortcomings that come with it. However, it does not mean that I don’t have moments of self-doubt. These moments are best visualized as a small, tiny voice in my brain that would squeak against my own self-esteem.
I am aware that unlike 99% of my girlfriends of my age, I have no children. It’s a conscious choice that I have made, which I feel is best for me at this point in time, right now. But by the time you feel like having offsprings, maybe your eggs would’ve gone extinct, and it will be too late and you’ll miss out on the joy of raising a family, says that self-doubting squeaky voice. I enjoy traveling and I don’t mind the money spent for these experiences as I think they are crucial to my fulfillment. You should’ve spent your money on real estate and investments like a responsible adult, it says again. I try my best to give back to the society in whichever way I can. It’s not enough, and you know you can do more. I am a hermit writer who would rather spend my weekends finishing manuscripts than going out to meet people. In the end you’ll die alone in your apartment while choking on a dumpling. A relationship I have failed to make work. You’ll never love again. Not like that. I don’t believe in settling for less, or rushing into things just because I am scared of being lonely. Please refer to the dumpling-choking loneliness stated above.
I suppose in many ways, an upcoming birthday becomes a physical reminder of these decisions and choices. It is true that we should live life with minimal regrets and that we should not dwell so much about the past, but here is when realistic Amal would like to stop you; that’s a great notion, guys, and an amazing ideal, but let’s face it. What kind of a person doesn’t have these moments of reflection and occasional self-doubt? It is completely normal to experience these, and it is completely okay too. Don’t let any generic motivational Instagram account convince you otherwise.
However, I do believe that there is good that can come from these ‘episodes’. Sometimes, it provides you an opportunity to really re-evaluate yourself and your life. What can the past teach you for you to be better moving forward? I doubted some of my past behavior that may have caused others pain. Then maybe looking forward, I could try to change and improve these aspects of myself. There were some decisions I could have done differently. And guess what? I can. As long as there is life then there is always a chance to try and fix things or start over or change plans.
The best thing about birthdays is that it’s a wake-up call to tell you that despite everything that you’ve done or has happened, you’re still privileged with time to do something about them. And if you like who you are right now, you’ve got your past to thank for that too. The you now is the result of every damn thing that has happened to you, either formed by your own decisions or carved by circumstances that have befallen you.
In the words of How I Met Your Mother, “it’s never too late, Barney”. That's what birthdays are for - to remind you that there is still time, and it's not too late.
2019 picked up as quickly as it came. It seemed like a pretty busy start for pretty much everyone – lots of my friends have begun to have school runs (only a reminder of how fast time flies and how quick children grow!), and for me I had my second book launch to sort out, and yet another travel plan to kick start my new year. Amidst the chaos, I seemed to have less time to do my favourite thing come each new year – making New Year Resolutions.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved making New Year Resolutions. There is just something about the turn of every 365 days, that allows me to physically calculate my milestones; for some reason this makes me feel assured that I have done something with my life. It’s the control freak in me that loves to know how far I’ve come and plan what else I’d do in the future.
This year, instead of making a list of things I plan on doing, I am making a list of things I need to improve on with myself. I’ll consciously make efforts to try and work on them this year, but won’t put up a measurable expectation.
First of all, I definitely, definitely need to learn to become more financially savvy. Last year’s travel-mindlessly-without-a-care-in-the-world actually did put a dent in my wallet. I have no intentions of slowing down this year, but I certainly know that I can work out better ways to make that lifestyle more sustainable. Being a responsible adult (blergh! I’m an adult boo-hoo) also means that I now have to be more mindful about where the $$$ goes, and although investments, trust funds, savings and stuff had been and always will be a bore to me (as do most adulating things), I know that I need to think about them eventually if I have hopes of financial freedom (as we all do, no matter who we are).
Secondly, I wish to improve my relationships with others. I am fully aware that I have an amazing support system any girl can ask for. I have supportive parents and siblings, friends who genuinely care about me, and colleagues who are constantly helpful (believe it or not, I’ve never had a terrible boss!). Unfortunately, I do notice that as I grew busier, I sometimes forget to nurture these relationships. I firmly believe that my quality of life is determined by the quality of my relationships, and so looking forward I want to make conscious efforts to stay connected to people I value the most. For example, a friend noted that I tend to ‘fall off the grid’ sometimes and not reply to text messages, and/or fail to show up to gatherings (admittedly, this happens a lot when I’m in my ‘writing cave’). I would like to show up more for my family and friends.
Thirdly, I want to challenge myself to stop gossiping altogether. Frankly I don’t do much of it anymore these days, but there was a time last year when I was conscious of the fact that I was indulging in some bad talk over others’ and their choice of lifestyles. Oprah says that gossiping is just an exhibition of your own low self-esteem, and Oprah is my gal so let’s try to have none of those this year.
The fourth thing I want to work on is of course, my third book. I’m pretty sure I can guarantee that we won’t be seeing a new book from me this year. Although I’ve begun to work on it, I foresee that it will take a long time to finish, as I am quite happy to really indulge in it for as long as I can this time around. It’s a new territory I’m excited to work on!
Lastly, I would like to put myself in more unfamiliar situations. The thing about growing older is you tend to want to become a social hermit; you’d want to stick around with only things and people you’re familiar with. Which is great, but over the years I’ve realised that being more adventurous and delving into unfamiliar territories are what kept my life more exciting and inspired. So more conscious efforts to try new and unfamiliar things in the future.
How about you? What are the things you’d like to work on come this new year?
Please note that this is the ghetto, uncensored version of my article in NST this month. You’ll notice the similarities.
I’m not sure if it was immediate or gradual. Though when I think about it, the natural course of episodes in life are usually what leads to a change or shift within us, most of the time. So perhaps this was one of those things.
Towards the end of 2017 a few episodes happened. There was something sad, which for some reason fuelled my incessant restlessness. But then DUMPED was published with wonderful reviews, which catapulted my bravery to keep on experimenting with writing and my writing process. I turned 30, which was a hard reminder that really, time flies extremely fast, so if I want to do something, this is about the perfect time to start and no longer stall.
And so the combination of these things was the start-up of 2018, or what I would call “They Year When I Said Screw This And I Will Do Whatever My Heart Wishes”. This isn’t to say that I haven’t done this in the past. Of course I have. But to be honest, I have always done them will a little hesitation and a lot of reservations. This time around, I really did just throw caution to the wind and went for it.
For some reason, this year I began to have a lot of change in mindset on the way I have been conducting my own life. I don’t want to sound like a grandma, but truly, with the years that have passed I have come to be a lot more accepting of myself and my circumstances. I felt a lot less desire to ‘fit in’, or, in a more extensive elaboration of that phrase, a lot less urge to try to become someone I am not. It is enough to know who you are even when others don't get you, and truth be told, people who truly love you will be just be accepting and loving of you even if you're slightly wired differently. I am also a big believer that everything happens the way it is supposed to – and for now, everything has conspired for me to be in this position of financial advantage, minimal commitment, creative freedom and a lot of access to do what I would like to venture into.
And so I decided to grab this window of opportunity by the balls (excuse my French), and I’ll tell you what this means. It meant that I packed my bags and took a long, long leave from work to travel and write. Then I came back, and off I went again. Then back, then off again. I was always going going going. I went to eat pizza in Naples, I took long walks around Paris, I climbed the Annapurna Base Camp, I got lost in Meteora, Greece, I had the best sushi of my life in Tokyo, I explored Barcelona, I went diving for my birthday, and I was on a stranger's motorbike zooming across the paddy fields in West Sumatera. I spent a lot of quality time with my family and friends, a further catalyst to a stable emotional well-being.
Then I began taking kickboxing classes, because why the hell not?
I bought a pair of roller blades and learned how to do that (and failed), because why the hell not?
I learned how to make the perfect roast chicken, because why the hell not?
I took up French classes (with exams, mind you), because why the hell not?
Doing these things, traveling everywhere, meeting many new people, learning new things, exploring new territories… it has been so beautiful and exciting and inspiring. It inspired me to keep writing my column, and of course it inspired me to finish my second book. But most importantly, it is that elevated feeling that I am the woman living the life I had always dreamed of when I was a little girl. It is the freeing feeling of succumbing to the life that has been given to me, instead of always contemplating why I am cut short of other things that other people are having. These, for me, are what make my happiness.
I won’t whitewash this and say that I am always 100% happy and grateful. That’s impossible and frankly, the kind of impression that I despise giving other people. Having a good year doesn't mean I don't have days where I wish for more or have heartaches. Some feelings stay the same, some days feel a little bit lonely, and some of us fell sick, lost something, with plans falling through or families in great ordeal. In this day and age that we live in, it is inevitable to ‘stumble’ upon pictures of an ex being happy without you, or some other girl who seems to be living a life of great outfits and great fun without needing to have an actual job like the rest of us. But I would confidently say that in 2018, I have been complaining a lot less and living life a lot more than I did before relatively. 2018 feels full (the same can’t be said about my savings account unfortunately. Travel and hobbies really drain your pockets man. But the way I see it, money can always be replenished. Time, however, cannot.). My time feels full and unwasted. My heart feels full.
And in the end, isn’t that the most important thing? And also, why haven't I approached life like this sooner??
Happy New Year everyone.
Good Lordy Lord it’s another birthday again. My thirtieth year had been such a whirlwind! I kicked it off last year with an unforgettable diving trip in Sipadan with my best friend, M. And after that, it was just a fast-paced blur. There was a book launch, I think… I remember reading pages from my book in a bookstore, and there were family, friends, press and readers. We laughed a lot. It was a beautiful event. And then something sad happened. That wasn’t great. Let’s keep that for another day. And then M got married, and I was so happy for her. And after that was a series of hardcore traveling, almost back-to-back, something I never thought I’d ever do, but I did. I took a month off and went to Lyon to hang out with some friends, then to Amalfi, Pompeii, Barcelona, and finally Paris on my own. After that I went to Japan, and later on for a seriously amazing, indulgent trip all around Greece in a rented car.
All the while, I wrote my second manuscript for a second book (hopefully), and I continued contributing to New Straits Times on my column. Dumped continued to be one of the bestselling books for a few months, and it gained amazing reviews by press and readers. I also started learning the ukulele, took a French language course and tried to master the art of roller skating (still trying). And then I began to train for something physically major happening in September, which you’ll know about soon enough.
And before I knew it, it’s July again, in a whole other year. Another birthday has arrived.
When talking to friends or people my age, we find that one of the challenges is how to keep things interesting throughout the whole year. For the most of us, it’s a lot of work and too little play, because it seems like ‘play’ takes too much money, effort and time – things that we don’t always have at our expense.
This time around, I thought that it might be fun to share a few tips and tricks on how to consistently keep a whole year interesting. Some are big things, some are just small actions, but I think all of them have the capabilities of boosting my mood and getting me out of a rut of work days and office hours and life chores. Maybe these are the things that you do, too!
1. Do something completely random
And I’m not even talking about big random things like buying a sports car or getting a Fitbit you’ll never use (I’ve seen too many examples of this). Honestly, sometimes all we need is a little re-invention to feel invigorated. Even as little as going to the ice cream parlour and buying an ice cream flavor you normally wouldn’t go for. Or trying a new restaurant during lunch time. Or wearing a completely different style than your usual, even just for a day. These things sound small, but they really do wonders in getting you out of your mundane routine, especially if you’re pressed for time.
2. Get creative
No matter how NOT creative you claim yourself to be, venturing into something that requires your right brain’s full focus is an easy way to de-stress. That’s actually one of the reason why I began learning to play the ukulele. You get home after a long day at work, and you have 30 minutes before you need to sort out chores etc etc. What do you do? Pick up an instrument, play while enjoying a drink, and after a while you’re completely in a whole other mood. I find that this works even better than just getting home, slumping on your couch and watching TV. If music is not your thing, then perhaps painting, sketching, journaling or even a jigsaw puzzle would float your boat.
3. Try something that makes you a little uncomfortable
In simplified terms, try something that is not your usual perspective. If you're a city person, how about a weekend at a very remote kampung with none of the usual comfort items you're usually attached to? (air-cond, WiFi, fancy restaurants). You'll be surprised how a small change in views can give such an interesting boost in life. Or attend a class of a sport you've never even thought of trying. Last month I tried Muay Thai Kickboxing, something I never thought I'd attempt because it always seemed so violent. But I did, and it turned out to be such a good, different experience (also I got to punch people, which was a great anger-management method). If you've never tried travelling solo, then how about that? Or joining an organised charity, or checking out a religious ceremony that is not your faith, or attending a live band performance...
4. Find fun friends
This is important, You are who you hang out with, and if you're spending time with dull people who are exactly the same as you are, then expect to never get out of the rut in or learn anything new. Negative people (who always have an excuse to not do anything interesting, who always have something bad to say about everything) is a complete no-no too. Instead, get the ones who different from your cultural background so you can always learn something new. Forge relationships with people who are excited about life, and would encourage/accompany you to try new things, like training for a half-marathon, doing a group cleanse or even plan an all-girls weekend getaway.
5. Learn a new life skill
I once worked next to an 50-something Australian guy at work, who told me that "you are never too old to learn a new skill". Sadly, a lot of us feel the opposite. Come the 30s and beyond, we begin to have less interest in learning anything new. And this is such a shame because self-enrichment is such a gratifying feeling, especially when you're older and life begins to feel a little bit too plateau. And life skills doesn't always have to generate money. It's not always about the money, you know.
I recently signed up for a French Language course, all motivated by the thought that someday, I'd be able to watch a french film without subtitles! And maybe somewhere along the way it can help amp up my resume, too. I also have a friend, a mother of two, who attended watercolour painting classes, and another one who's learning to be a yoga instructor,,, there are just endless lists of new skills you can learn out there!
Contrary to last year’s New Year’s Eve of friends, a rooftop balcony, KL fireworks and a throng of partygoers trashing the city centre streets, this year I spent my New Year’s Eve with my family, had hamburgers for dinner, and clocked out at 10 pm. I didn’t even get to harass people on Twitter about their New Year’s Resolutions before I passed out.
But no, last night wasn’t at all a summation of what 2017 had been. I would admit, 2017 started kind of shitty for me, but it began to climb uphill from there to become one of the most prominent years of my life (so far). In short, I really did underestimate 2017 before it began, and it ended up as the most wonderful blessing. But not without its own supply of challengers, heartaches and new things to learn, here are some highlights that I acquired throughout the whole year.
Maybe you can relate to some of them too!
1. When I got my book publishing contract
Hey remember that time when you won the lottery? This was so much better! On the day I received an email from MPH saying that they would like to offer a publishing contract for my manuscript, it all felt surreal to me that I took days to process this information. I was happy, nervous and frankly, scared. I didn’t know anyone else who was a writer, and I did not even intend to publish the manuscript when I first wrote it (I write a lot, but mostly for my own indulgence). It was very hard to keep this exciting news under wraps for months, and I told only one other person about this. I kept it a secret because of my own insecurities – what if it didn’t turn out as I expected it? What if it all turns into a massive disaster?
2. When I became a NST columnist
I know we all envision Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City when we think about the phrase ‘newspaper columnist writing about relationships’, but I’ll have you know that I don’t own a single pair of Manolo Blahniks. Nor have I dated 50 guys like she has. On the first day my first column came out, I went to buy my first newspaper in I don’t know, ten years? Writing for New Straits Times was a huge career milestone for me, as I knew it was my first big writing profile. Before this I had only published in my blog, but writing for a paper requires a certain finesse on content, opinion projection and message. My first column came out in February, and we are still going bi-weekly strong today!
3. When I saw Coldplay in concert
Yes, I know for some people this is probably nothing. But my goodness, Coldplay! There’s a backstory to this. When I was in college I used to listen to them almost everyday (and I still do). I memorize almost 100% of all lyrics of all of their songs. On my final year in college, Coldplay was having a concert in Perth near where I lived at the time, and I badly wanted to go. Unfortunately I was a broke student (even with 2 part-time jobs, mind you), and I couldn’t afford the tickets. Finally seeing Chris Martin playing a Martin D28 guitar live actually was part of my bucket list, and any year where I get to tick off something from the list is a good year for me!
4. When I realised that dreams have a price
People tell you this all the time, but it isn’t until you actually experience it that you’ll know what it really means. Along the year I found myself multitasking most of the time – I had a busy full time office job, and at the same time I was editing my book, writing for my NST column, making sure the blog isn’t first-wifed, and I was also writing the second manuscript. As a consequence there was a period where I did not have a single vacant weekend for 2 months straight, and I did not manage to see my family or socialise as much as I would like to. But despite the craziness, there was the strange self-indulgence in spending time doing something you really love, so there wasn’t any complaining either. I suppose the lesson here is everything has a price, including and especially, dreams.
5. When I got a new nephew
Nope, I still feel the same way about kids in general, if you’re thinking that having nephews have turned me into a motherly Mama Bear. But I can proudly say that I can now hold a baby in a safe, HSE-adherent way without having panic attacks.
As long as they don’t pee, poo, barf, snot, salivate, or make any general screaming noise.
6. When I turned the big 3-0
Newsflash: When they told you that turning 30 is dreadful, they are LYING. Turning 30 is the best thing ever!
To be honest, when 2017 began and I realised my 30th birthday was approaching, all those social context of fearing ageing really got to me. I didn’t feel like I was ready to be a full adult yet! Okay, I still don’t think I’m ready, but the good news is this time of life is a great place to be. Personally, I have never felt better in my own skin or happier with my own body than today. I think this self-assurance projects itself in how I perceive my worth, my relationships and how I carry myself compared to when I was, say, 22. You tend to care less about what others think and more about your own happiness and creating the life you want to live, and it is the best feeling ever, truly.
Everyone ages, but not everyone ages well. Be conscious of how you experience your years and how you use it to benefit you.
7. When I went underwater at my own backyard
As a birthday gift to myself, my bestie and I went for an almost a week diving at Sipadan, Malaysia. Hailed as one of the most beautiful diving sites in the world, I shamefully admit that I had never visited it once even when it’s in my own country. It was everything I hoped it would be, and I came back darker and happier.
It was also my last hurrah with M before she got married. And to note, M getting married was also a highlight of my year. I was so absolutely happy for her. It was also one of those rare occasions when I didn’t hate weddings.
8. When my book launched, and all the reactions that followed it
You’d think it was all excitement and a big hurrah, but prior to the launch of the book I experienced one of my most intense bout of anxiety. Fully aware that people can be mean, the public can be judgemental and that dreams can crash in failure, I was so afraid that something that means this much to me can or will backfire. After all, literature is a form of art, and like other art, I know for a fact that it will not please everybody. There was always that fear that something you love might not be good enough, and this haunted me for months.
But so far, the reception for the book has really exceeded any of my wildest dreams for it. Last month it became the National Bestseller, and to this day I still feel that it was surreal and mind boggling – what?? (slaps own face)
Furthermore, looking at all the feedback and pictures of people enjoying the book on social media has made me feel so overwhelmed with joy. There was a girl who wrote to me and said that the book helped her healing process through some of her own hard times, and I thought that was just pure magical. It has somehow, unintentionally or otherwise, allowed a stranger help another stranger. That truly meant more to me than any best-selling list.
I guess what I learned throughout this entire process is that if you have a dream, however small or extravagant, go after it for yourself, not for anything or anyone else. That way, however it turns out, the satisfaction will always be in the journey rather than the material targets of it.
9. When I took charge of my own health
It’s not easy at first, folks. Not when a lot of people around you are eating and drinking junk nobody really needs. But I’ve learned a few tricks this year that might be helpful; 1. Eat meals with people who also eat healthily, so you’re not tempted 2. Chill with the change. Don’t drastically try becoming a vegan or starving yourself, because dude that will never work ever 3. For God’s sake, EXERCISE. Find something you enjoy and find friends who enjoy it too! Your body is built to move, not slouched on a couch watching Stranger Things. You’re not 20 anymore and you won’t get away with that for very long.
10. When I learned what it takes to have a gratified heart
Oh, 2017. You broke my heart and then you built it up again, bigger than I ever thought possible. I have struggled to find the fine line between not giving up and learning to let go. Because I had always been somewhat attached to the philosophy that you just don’t quit on something that means immensely to you, this sometimes makes me too stubborn and too hopeful.
This year is a big year for my heart too. I learned that when it comes to matters of the heart, you should always do everything wholeheartedly, and love to the best of your ability. Don’t be too obliged by your ego and especially fear. Be fearless when it comes to the matters of the heart. So that whichever way it turns out, you’ll always find it easier to find peace and acceptance, and you’ll never have any regrets. Regret is one of the most painful things you’ll have to endure, if you’re not careful.
To be honest, after all that racket, I’m all set and ready to venture into 2018! What does your 2018 plan look like? I’m looking at a year of a lot of traveling, fitness, working hard and even more laughs. Lots and lots of laughs.
Happy New Year and I hope we all find what we’re looking for. And more.
How about a makeup-free, ootd-free picture at a local village? That kid though haha
The minute I ended my final year in high school, I started putting on makeup.
I had this vague idea of what beauty was at the time. It’s the gorgeous glossy hair, perfect glowing skin, slim body, upright posture, big doll eyes, put-together clothes, perky boobs and perfect teeth. I aspired to these things. They were all so beautiful to look at. That was more than 10 years ago.
Today I still aspire to these things. I won’t lie. Of course. I’m a woman living in an era where appearance speaks volumes, and physical beauty is and always will be an eternal obsession for us. As much as I say that I do all these things for health – the exercises, the healthy food, the rigorous skincare routines – there is still a level of vanity attached to them. But as much as these things are still prioritized, to a certain extent it no longer means as much as it did for me once upon a time ago.
Life, as it turns out, has subtly shaped my mind to alter my perception of beauty over the years of joyful, painful and liberating experiences. And so this is what beauty means to me today, at the age of 30.
Beauty is your eyes that never fails to light up against life’s dim realities. Beauty is the freckles you collected over all your many beautiful adventures in the sun. It is the smile you have on your face when a man tells you he adores you, and it’s the tears you shed when someone you love walks away. Beauty depicts itself through your pursed lips as you get up again when life brings you down. It is your crazy hair after a swim in the ocean, the runny eyeliner after a crazy sweaty day in the city.
Beauty is when you love someone/something sincerely, and even the eye bags when the same thing keeps you from sleeping. It shines the most when you have happy thoughts, when you choose to not resort to always have something bad to say about others. It’s that beam you have when you finally achieve your dreams, and the wrinkles that follow to mark the passage of time you’ve been through.
And then, beauty occurs in those moments – when you are laughing hysterically at life’s funny predicaments, when you cry in the car because sometimes you feel lost, the wide-eyed gaze you have when you witness something magnificent, and even the scars and bruises you have on your body of all that you have physically experienced. Beauty is having patience. Beauty is having faith.
Beauty, is kindness.
And so as I begin my next decade, I hope these realizations would arm me in defining my own beauty in the years to come. Yes, I still do Google ‘Megan Fox’ for some inspiration because come on, we're all human, but hopefully I would keep focusing as much energy to appreciate all those other things that make a person beautiful.
Me at 12 years old. Why don't I have eyebrows?