A Sense of Independence
Life wasn’t handed to me on a platter. I was 23 when I first got on an airplane — I had wanted to see P!nk at her Funhouse tour. I paid for the flight myself — I was still a struggling writer back then — and I went on a solo trip. Hitherto, the only other time I had been across the border was when I was nine, and my mother took me with her to consult a high priest in Malaysia for divine intervention to salvage her marriage.
Growing up, I didn’t have the best toys. I didn’t have a lot of toys. I led a cloistered life. Still do. But the message that no one, not even my parents, owes me a living internalised. And so today I don’t pin my failures on others. I don’t begrudge a boss for not caring about my career advancement. I don’t blame the government for not pushing out enough jobs. My failures are on me. If I’m caught in the doldrums of life, that’s on me. I go out and buy my own toys. I know what I want in life and I know how to get it.
Taking Things in Stride
I learnt to deal with pain at a young age. Or more aptly, I learnt to suppress pain at a young age. One time my mother so desperately yanked me out of the house: she was sputtering about how my dad was gonna come after her. We then sought refuge at a paternal relative’s house. The details are nebulous at best, but I will always have that memory of feeling very afraid.
When I was 19, I interned at an advertising agency and was screamed at every single day by my supervisor: the creative director. I’m not being vindictive here, but he was the office tyrant whom everyone sidestepped. It wasn’t because I was sleeping on the job, or was late, or was skiving. My ideas, which came from an untrained mind, simply fell short of his expectations. The thing is: I think I took his expletive-filled rampages really well. There was a big one where he yelled at full throttle — I left unscathed, I wasn’t even emotionally scarred, but horror swept the faces of my then-colleagues who were many years my senior.
I was only stressed about the fact that I wasn’t going to get an ‘A’ for my internship, and my entire career would hinge on that less-than-stellar grade — hey, at the time it was the only thing that mattered. (I eventually got a ‘B’ and my lecturer and I jumped for joy!)
My not-so-happy childhood experiences steeled me for a lifetime of taunting, awkward moments. And those moments were aplenty. My life wasn’t a bed of roses, so I didn’t have lofty expectations of the world. Failures are only ephemeral. I’m not invincible; I’m not impervious to criticism. People are going to say whatever they’re going to say. I just don’t beat myself up for things that are not within my control.
If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours — that’s my motto. I know how volatile relationships can be — I discern that every single day of my life — and so I treasure the ones that really matter. I’m very loyal to people who treat me well. And I give back.
Just as I value my relationships, I also have no qualms about weeding out toxic ones. In recent years, I’ve had really amazing personal and professional relationships that soured for no rhyme or reason — not least a good one. And I let these relationships go easily and without regret. If someone doesn’t want you in his/her life, there’s really no point trying to claw your way back. If someone is no good to you, there’s no need to keep him or her around.
Happiness is a Choice
I remember this email which my high-school friend once sent me. It was one of those emails you circulated amongst your friends, and it was replete with personal trivia. This transpired during the noughties, a time before the intrusive permeation of Facebook. I was tagged under “Friend Whose Family I Envy”; and my family was described as “happy“. I snickered. It couldn’t have been any further from the truth.
I don’t know what gave her the impression, seeing how she had never met my family. But that was and still is my personality: cheerful and optimistic. It isn’t a facade. I didn’t choose to wallow in rancor. I didn’t let my circumstances dictate who I was and who I was going to be. I choose every day to be happy, to laugh. I’m a humourist. And I’m a better person for it.