2019 — the Lessons Learned
The lessons I’ve learned this year. And how they changed my life.
For more than 25 years, I’d always been looking for something. A way of life. Peace of mind. Happiness. I’m not sure.
No, I didn’t find that something in 2019, but I did embrace myself almost the fullest, or at least I’m trying. I stopped being scared of being, feeling, looking different from most people; of not fitting into any arbitrary box that society tends to categorise people into. I’m just me. I’m happy, genuinely, for the first time in a long time, that I’m me and no one else.
Quitting social media.
If I’d been a fast-learner before, I’m learning at 10 times the rates compared to 2 years ago. Earlier this year, I decided to quit social media. I deleted all of my posts and tweets, and I cleaned up my Instagram. I still have the channels, but only because of my work. I stopped scrolling feeds in my free time. I stopped looking at how many likes I get for my artworks, sometimes it’s hard not to. I don’t even scroll Reddit anymore. I substitute my news feeds with an actual news app, and only when I choose to read the news. I stopped caring about what others are doing with their lives and focus on my own.
This radical act has free up my time to read, to learn, to grow and to produce. I read more than ever before, consuming more podcasts, reading at least 3–5 Medium articles a day and going through more books than the last 3 years combined.
As I implement what I’ve learned and created better bodies of work, I’ve grown into a more confident version of myself, with better skills as a bonus.
I tried mediation 2 years ago with a popular guided meditation app. But after my free trial ran out, I stopped. I picked up meditation again this year. I’ve been doing it for the last 6 months, and I’ve answered more questions about myself than the rest of my young adult life. Long-term mediation has proven to increase self-awareness, concentration and reduce stress and anxiety.
There is much information online about meditation and mindfulness, it’s a $1.2 billion industry in the US. But the easiest way to start is merely picking a time and try to observe your mind and thoughts. Another technique you can do at any time is to try to focus on one thing at a time. Watch your favourite shows wholeheartedly and without thinking or talking to anyone. Or you can try eating mindfully, pay attention to what you eat and how you eat it.
I was never a patient child. I’m still not very patient. I always want to create things and see how people react to it. It’s true the audience and their feedback influence me to be better. But rushing to publish a piece of work prevented me from working more on something and make it better. In truth, I was also rushing to collect validation.
I used to take pride in producing very quickly and improving the work by doing due to the fear of looking like I’m not working. The truth is it takes a significant amount of time for ideas to grow and evolve. I started allowing myself to spend more time on an individual piece of writing (like this one), a design, a piece of artwork.
I now understand and believe in incubating your ideas. I learned to be comfortable to sit in the ambiguity of the creative process, as well as well as in people’s discomfort and my own. Sometimes, keeping something to yourself is liberating.
I learned how my brain and body work. I take care of them so they can take care of me. I give them so much more trust instead of trying to keep them under control. And I trust that my brain will solve that problem I’m stuck on today, tomorrow.
Still, this is not easy work, it’s not in my nature. And yet I’ll continue on this journey.
I stopped asking for permission.
For the longest time, I knew I had a wide range of knowledge in many areas, especially in my job, but I never implemented them. I thought I didn’t know better, I’m not experienced enough. I kept learning, but there was no doing.
It turned out, I was waiting for people to give me permission to take action. Deep down, I thought “I’m not senior/good/strong/[insert more adjectives here] enough, I can’t possibly do that.” or “I haven’t done it before, how could I do it now?” But in reality, when I finally created something I thought I couldn’t, I executed with ease. In fact, I just needed to express and practice with what I already knew.
This is not to say that I know everything. When I stumble into something I don’t know, it’s an opportunity to learn and to grow. And then I DO them. I thought I wasn’t being seen for what I know or who I really am, I was simply never brave enough to take action.
I’m a risk-averse person. And being a queer, neurodiverse person of colour, it was instilled in me by the media I can’t stand with the big dogs, almost always unconsciously. Jameela Jamil said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If you don’t see it, you won’t do it.”And it was up to me, up to us as marginalised people, to be brave to be who we really are, to show the world what we’re capable of, to demand for more.
Even though I still have a feeling deep inside of me that society as a whole actively prevents me from achieving things, from having a voice, from acting like the person I really am. I don’t care anymore.
I realised no one is gonna give me permission to do better, to be great.
It’s on me, on us, to be so.
Embrace the multi hyphens.
“You’re doing too many things. Concentrate on one career.”
“You won’t succeed being distracted with so many things like that.”
I frequently hear these notions said by people that care about me, whom I care about. But consistently through my life, I want to do more, and more, and more, and then some. I live my life by letting curiosity lead me, not because I want to make a career out of any of it. (Although, my career as a generalist seems to be just fine.)
F*ck that. I will be all of what I want to be, even if that means I will have 3 side projects going on outside of my day job.
There are a lot of articles on Medium and the internet as a whole talking about the advantages of being a polymath, so I won’t go into details here. Personally, being interested in different fields and their sub-fields has significantly shortened my learning curves for everything I venture in. For example, writing UX copy (e.g. what it says on a button) for websites is a part of my job as as designer. It taught me how to write concisely and clearly, which in turns makes me a better writer.
I’ve always taken pride in being a quick learner because I can use the knowledge I gain from one domain to apply to another. I read somewhere Da Vinci supposedly saw all things connected, and he was probably the most famous polymath. There are some speculations he was on the autistic spectrum (or having Asperger’s, depending on who you ask) and ADHD, as am I.
Comparing oneself to Da Vinci seems outrageous. Still, it is validating to see someone, probably very misunderstood in his time, celebrated for having Asperger’s and ADHD traits.
Being born and growing up in a country that never embraced self-love (in fact, most societies don’t). Self-love was never an option for me. I was told that loving yourself was selfish, that you always have to continue to keep on giving.
Now, I wholeheartedly believe self-love is the foundation of everything. It’s not true that you can’t love anyone else before you love yourself, but that once you love yourself, you can give your whole self and continue giving to the world around you.
A couple of months ago, my therapist taught me about this concept of the emotional bucket. As a human, we don’t have an infinite well of energy and love to keep giving. You need to keep re-filling your bucket; by meditating, drinking water, eating well, sleeping on time, being with nature. You have to create your own pockets of joy. Taking care of this bucket is your first and foremost responsibility as a human being.
Another concept that is similar to this bucket is the spoon theory. The spoon theory was initially created to quantify the energy of a person with a physical disability, but can also be used for mental health issues. With this theory, I was able to distribute my energy better.
Self-love also means that I needed to stop moving the bar of success and finally learned how to celebrate my small wins in life. I needed to stop trying to live up to the high standards that my family and teachers put into my head. Now, I celebrate progress instead.
All of this work has changed my life for the better. I’m much more relaxed, which makes my thinking clearer and my body. The anxiety is still there, and I’m still sometimes terrified of what may come next. But at least I now know how to sit with my emotions and my thoughts. As a result, my relationship with my family, especially with my mum, improved significantly.
After more than 25 years, I’m finally getting comfortable being in my skin and stop “living behind my eyes”.
I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I’m proud of myself. And I can’t tell you how much this means to me as a person.
I’ve laughed hard. I’ve cried harder.
I feel like a fuller human.
Bring on 2020, I’m looking forward to what you have in store for me.