What I have learnt in Vancouver

by wynlim

“You can only connect the dots backwards.”

That is one of my favourite Steve Jobs’ quote and I probably reference it so very often in my writing. I would like to think I am slowly developing the patience to simply wait it out when I experience setbacks, because I know that we can only connect the dots backwards and when I seriously think about it, only good things have happened after my most miserable times. There is not a single event that has happened which I felt that I would prefer for it not to happen. 

Vancouver is the same. It was a choice I willingly made, though back then I would have preferred not to make it, wishing that I could have been in SF instead. I felt like it was a detour out of practical reasons and it wouldn’t have been a period of my life which I would look back fondly upon.

I was wrong.

The first two months were the hardest, I have never been homesick so much. I had always thrived upon travelling and being alone. For the first time in my life, I was very tempted to just take the next plane back. 

It was probably a combination of the cold weather (which I was exposed to for the first time in my life), disappointment that I couldn’t be in SF, stressful periods, missing people, the realization I had nobody I could share my struggles with, guilt of leaving my family behind.

I think this is the first time in my life I have experienced true loneliness. There have many moments when I was really close to giving up.

I am glad I waited it out. 

Three months in I started to form a couple of meaningful connections with some people in Vancouver, the launch for simplehoney happened, my team flew in to see me, things got a lot better for me.

But what truly transformed me was the self-discovery process I had to go through. I was pushed into a corner, I almost couldn’t breathe, I wanted to give up but I remained defiant. Somehow, some way, I hung on. The act of hanging on made me see myself for who I really am. 

Due to a situation I cannot elaborate much on, I was pretty much coerced into pushing myself really, really hard. I don’t think I have ever pushed myself so hard before and I have never ever wanted to push myself so hard before. 

I felt really vulnerable, extremely uncomfortable, but slowly I began to find my own voice. I was proud of myself for making the choice to take the difficult path, I was aware that in truth there was no way I could be alive if I chose the easy way out. Because of the little pride that started forming in me, this is a little embarassing to admit but I began to develop some self-respect for myself.

I have always depended on other people to determine my worth. I was always wanting to prove myself. I was always very afraid to upset other people. I was fearful of ownership. 

I have been sort of blessed. Through some other people I have been very blessed to be acquainted with in my life, they gave me a little bit of foundation of my self that I can build upon. They encouraged me, gave me kindness even though I was not being kind to myself, recognized me for my strengths even though I self-determined that I was weak. 

But that was not enough. No matter what others have said and done for me, it was not enough because all that self-doubt would destroy everything. Through developing that bit of self-respect, through recognizing that I am already leading an extraordinary life, I started to find my own little voice.

The realization that whatever happens externally would not matter if I keep disbelieving in myself. Or if I keep relinquisihing my self-power to other people because I perceive them to be stronger than me. Or if I believe that others have the power to determine my life. Or that fear of losing everything because I do not have myself to depend on.

My fragile existence was built upon what other people can give me, good or bad. 

My loneliness allowed me tons of time to self-introspect. I could no longer hide behind distractions because there was not much to distract me in Vancouver.

I now understand why I had to be here. I needed that time and personal space to shed my old self, I guess. If I were to be in SF instead, I am convinced that till today I would still be hiding behind people. Trying to seek external validation. I am barely done with shedding my old self, but the first layer is always the hardest. To even be out of self-denial that I had to let go of my old self was incredibly hard. I thought being my old self was being authentic, but it was only because I did not want to admit I could be capable of much more.

There were quite a few life-defining moments for me in Vancouver. One of them was the decision to start getting some writing on design published publicly. I was actually (*ahem*) “strongly made” by someone to do so, I put up the greatest resistance but I couldn’t even convince myself if I did not even try. 

I never wanted to write on design because I had felt that there were so many better designers out there who can do so and I rather write what I am really good at – long emo blog posts like this which I demonstrate that I am proud to write about my emotions. Writing that first design article made me realize that as long as you put your heart into something, there will be people who will feel that effort through the writing. 

And I think it is important to be able to share your voice with other people no matter how shitty you think it is. There are very few people who start writing/designing/acting/whatever and instantly become a genius. I don’t think it is fair to compare ourselves to these people. We are all unique individuals capable of our own perspectives, coloured by all our different conditionings and acquired experience. Nobody can truly be a carbon copy of someone else.

Therefore whatever we do is valuable because it is unique only to us. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t do well, even if one other person finds it valuable it is a success, even if nobody finds it valuable but it is still a learning experience for yourself, that is enough.

My life has always been a work in progress but I think the past 5 months have been like some accelerated course I was on. I think this has been the most accelerated growth process I have been on so far. I have had @crazygrape visit me a month ago and he kept telling me how different I am now from the person he knew.

I used to be really nervous when I talk to new people I meet (in fact I only started meeting people 3 years ago), I stutter a lot and most of the time I wish the ground would swallow me up – that no longer happens too. In fact, now I think I talk too much. Lol. I am so excited to share my stories, if you ever meet me in real life and you think I talk to much, please do not hesitate to shut me up.

Time really flies, in a blink of an eye it has been almost half a year since I was here. I will be back in Singapore next week. What is going to happen next? I do not know. I am slowly learning to not expect any outcomes. Because of what has happened in Vancouver, I know whatever happens is really for a reason. Therefore even if good things do not happen, I know I will keep on learning from it. 

I really believe in destiny and the will, previously I was a fatalist, just bobbing along with life because I think things will just happen anyway. Now I am kind of a reformed fatalist, I still believe things will just happen anyway but that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy the process. Or milk everything out of it. When things happen it is truly up to us whether we want to learn from it or live life feeling we are really ill-fated humans. 

I’ll admit it, there are still many times I end up feeling like why things always have to be so difficult for me, and I feel disappointed with myself for feeling this way after all that I have learnt, but slowly I am beginning to recognize, at the very least, my moments of joy have been increasing and I snap back into my optimistic self (at least there is
one now)much much faster than before. 

In fact, one of the things I have learnt while being here is to embrace all those moments when I feel like shit. The point is to stop the vicious cycle when you feel like shit and you feel the guilt and despair for feeling like shit, so it simply carries on. If I accept that life simply has its ups and downs, that I am unrealistic to expect it only has its ups, then I just fully embrace the downs and let it pass. I no longer feel that bad about feeling bad now, allowing myself to simply feel bad is ironically speeding up the recovery process.

What is life going to behold after I leave Vancouver? I cannot say I anticipate my future with excitement or things are only going to get better, but I honestly have this curiousity of how my life will be. If I cannot be fully enthusiastic (yet) about how my life will unfold, then for now I will take the curiousity.