Who was I without the hustle? Who was I without the aspirations, the dreams, the ambitions? I had just come back from a Summer exchange program in the United States. I was also feeling pretty crappy about myself, despite doing well in my modules in the States. I had just finished a pretty tough year in University and I wasn’t exactly doing well in University back home.
I landed in Changi airport, Singapore’s international airport, once again. The infrastructure, the cleanliness of it all, hits me immediately. Often not appreciate much by Singaporeans. For some reason, it didn’t feel like home. It’s a much more common sight for me these days, looking back at how much I travelled through out the years.
Everything about life in Singapore felt like it’s changed, yet it’s the same. Singapore reminded me of all my failures, or the so called failures. The lost friendships, the academia that bored me to tears, the failed business partnerships. The trips to other cultures. Was all of that passion or was it a form of escapism? Travel has helped me a lot. Pushing my boundaries in country after country, year after year, has helped me. However, perhaps it was a means of avoiding certain beliefs about myself.
They say where you go, there you are.
Why was I feeling miserable about myself? I needed to take a step back to evaluate how I was pursuing happiness in my life. These strategies took a while to implement while I was back in home, along with a cigarette relapse and a little bit of alcohol, but I’m making some progress.
1) You’re Not a Victim
I wasn’t exactly doing well in University back home. I was disinterested in my subjects. I had to drag myself to classes. I wanted to study psychology, run businesses, write a blog, travel more. There was a huge mismatch in my life.
I wasn’t writing the way I wanted to write. I wasn’t exactly happy with my social life. I wasn’t sure of doing what I wanted to do. School bored the hell out of me. I wasn’t exactly happy with the girls I was dating either. I was also relying on questionable strategies to market my entrepreneurial projects.
Did I choose all of this myself? The victimized student, the victimized lover, the victimized entrepreneur. The victim student who had to do, what he didn’t like to do, because of certain circumstances. Was I victim of society’s standards? Was I victim of my parent’s expectations? Was I a victim of my own expectations to fit in, and be just like everybody else?
For what sake? The chance to feel normal? The chance to ‘belong’?
How many of us in our lives choose the lives our parents or society expects us to take? Was it a product of circumstance? Or was it unknowingly our choice as well?
How many of us choose to stay the way we are amongst our friends? How many of us choose the same relationships or go out with the same shit-y romantic partners, just for some bragging rights amongst our friends, the same beliefs that we hold dear to ourselves year after year: that I don’t deserve it?
It’s easy to think that we’re a victim of life’s circumstances, of our own deeply held beliefs about our identity and our life. Perhaps there’s an anger underneath all of that, an un confronted anger. There was a need for change. There was a need for responsibility.
I asked myself: how can I take responsibility for this tough spot I find myself in my life? How can I not paint myself as a victim?
I took action, I filtered out my posts. I reached out to other sites, requesting for to guest blog for them. I got featured on the ‘Thought Catalog of Asia’. I sent multiple emails, built new business relationships, and stopped relying on questionable marketing strategies. I started reading up on proper marketing strategies. It isn’t about just search engine rankings anymore. I had to understand branding, marketing position, client needs, persuasion and many other entrepreneurial facets. I stopped going out on dates that I wasn’t fulfilling to me. She has to be amazing. That’s my metric.
Life got much better.
2) Stop Trying to Prove Yourself
I read somewhere that the root of all misery is trying to prove yourself.
I questioned my life’s approach towards academics. Was I enjoying what I was studying in University, or was I trying to prove something? I was doing accounting. However, I fucking hated it. I hated putting the right numbers in the right place. It just wasn’t my jam. I wasn’t enjoying the process. I was forcing it. I wanted to prove that I was smart. I wanted to prove that just like everyone else, I could do it. All of this at the expense of my own emotional health.
Just like a bitter smack of my face, I was forced to give up the notion that I could do anything I put myself into. Here’s the thing about skillsets in life: You’re going to end up being good at something that you enjoy doing. It’s as simple as that. You can’t be good at everything. Well, unless you’re Elon Musk.
I questioned my approach towards my dating and social life. I was facing a high quality problem. I was going out with girls that I didn’t really enjoy being around with. I guess invest years into getting good at this, you get arrogant in a certain sense. I was still doing it prove something to myself, and prove something to everyone: I was good with girls.
Something that I tried to prove over years and years, whilst sacrificing true emotional fulfillment.
It was until I realized that, that I alleviated some pressure off myself. I cut my dates short, if she didn’t fit my values, then screw it, I’m leaving. If I wasn’t genuinely interested in dating her, then I’m not going to ask her out. It wasn’t about them anymore, it’s about compatibility. It was about how I feel about her.
3) What if You are Wrong about Everything?
Feeling miserable has something to do about feeling certain about something in life. You’re miserable because you’re certain that, that problem cannot be solved, no matter what. This can be in academics, career, friendships, romantic relationships and etc. It’s one to belief all of those stories, and another to take a step back at question those beliefs.
What if I was wrong about everything? What if I was already smart, and I just didn’t credit myself with it throughout the years. What if I was already good enough for all the girls and I self sabotage and got shit faced when I stood in front of them? What if I spent time and effort writing, promoting this blog the right way, I need not rely on questionable SEO techniques to compete in this niche?
What if I was wrong about my past successes?
Happiness is said to come from struggle. There’s no real happiness without rejection and failure. This is why going out, getting rejected the whole night while approaching girls you genuinely into, will feel much better than spending 5 hours on a date with a girl you’re feeling so-so about. How long are you going to avoid those feelings of inevitable rejection?
When I was in the US, studying psychology, I was freaking out. I was studying at a top University in the States, and hell, I wasn’t prepared for it. However, I will powered my way through. I woke up early every morning, spent the entire 6 weeks in San Francisco, mostly in lecture rooms and libraries. Was it tough? You bet. However, today, I am proud of the fact that I pushed through that.
4) Step Back and Examine Your Beliefs about Yourself
In social psychology, there’s the self verification theory. It asserts people want to be known and understood by others according to their firmly held beliefs and feelings about themselves.
I took a step back from my beliefs. Perhaps I believed that I needed a degree to prove that I was smart or capable. So what if I had not done well in academics during my Junior college years? Did any of that mean that I wasn’t smart, and does a degree define my capabilities or cognitive abilities? Having a degree or not doesn’t determine if I was smart or not. I pushed further. Being smart shouldn’t be an indicator of how you feel about yourself either.
I wasn’t writing high quality material for the blog. I wasn’t writing the way I wanted to write. I believed that no one wanted to read my writing. I asked myself: did you really have to use short term strategies to better your business? Why are you writing content that you aren’t proud of in both this blog, and your other blog. Cause you secretly believe that your writing isn’t good enough.
I also believed that I couldn’t make new connections, after my old relationships blew up in my face. Why can’t I start start a mastermind of my own. I know people in my circles who are entrepreneurially driven, why wasn’t I not picking their brains? Why can’t I make new friends, go out and network? For all the stuff I wrote about soft skills, why wasn’t I taking my own advice? So, I signed up for a couple of entrepreneurial events.
Career wise, I believed that the only way to get a good job in Singapore is through a formal education, a degree. I discounted the fact that I had had digital marketing skillsets and certification built up over the last two years. Was I going to force myself with accounting for the next couple of years, or was I going to do something that’s probably more compatible for me.
I questioned my perspective on self worth. Why did I always feel like I was under valued or I undercharged during my freelance days. Did I market myself correctly? Did I really understand market positioning, differentiation, was I really a good entrepreneur? Did I reach out to other sites for media coverage, guest blogging and etc?
It was only when I took a step back, and re-examined these beliefs and strategies, that I could take practical steps to solve these problems.
5) Ask Yourself, How Do You Want to Change the World?
Lastly, I was also miserable partly because I felt was solving things I felt that would not contribute to society. It might be a millennial problem, say whatever you want, but tons of research show that how we derive meaning is different from the one your father or grandfather had.
Happiness requires contribution in some sort or form. You got to pick a problem you want to solve, that gives you a sense of meaning in your life. It’s picking how you want to change the world. This can come in the form of volunteering, putting your whole life into raising a healthy child, curing cancer, or going to the moon.
It’s how you want to be remembered, and what your legacy looks like. It’s how you want to be remembered.
In modern capitalistic society, it’s easy to get dragged back into the money chase. The bigger condo and the flashier car. Yes, all of that is all good. I am about profit, I wouldn’t be building this blog if not for the potential of profit. However, all of that accumulation of wealth and status can be a natural side effect if you find meaning in your work. The solution is to start digging, start testing and failing, and find what drives meaning in to your life.
That’s the hard part. Then again, I did mention happiness requires struggle right?