Saturday, October 11, 2014

If you can't be happy here...

Some myths you have buried in your core so deep, they surface only in the liminal space between sleep and awakeness, in the moments when you are totally relaxed and mentally defenseless, when you have no plan and allow every thought to pass your mind, unfiltered, unjudged - and therefore looked at properly for the first time as a thought, as a hypothesis, and not just a fact of life.

One of my myths is: I would be happier somewhere else. I would be happier in a developed country. I would be happier, not here. Not where politics rules the day, and there are potholes and traffic jams everywhere, and my standard of living seems to be significantly lower.

But really, is that true? Just because it is widely accepted doesn't make it true.

If I look back at the different places I've lived in my life - Ipoh, Hong Kong, Claremont, London, DC and all the shorter traveling stints in between - I don't think I've been happier anywhere just, or even mainly, due to location. Surely there were pros and cons to each place, and while living there it was always more about the company I had, the specific challenges I was facing, that determined my happiness, more than the location itself.

But to be really honest, embarrassingly honest, while I was in the US I didn't really see Malaysians as having full lives. How could they, with their terrible dress sense and horrible politicians and scandals, and bad Western food, and excitement about new developments that I took for granted? I absorbed this sense of Western superiority, of being more human or worthy of interest simply because I lived in the West. A terrible way to think, but one that isn't uncommon, I'm sure (just look at how Americans view Africans and Ebola, as a 'developing world threat' that needs to be quarantined, and framing it as us vs. them).

Now that I'm back though...yes of course I compare. And in many ways I don't have as comfortable or easy a life as I did in the US. But I can't totally blame that on this country (though the low wages here do make me mad). In an absolute sense, I am outrageously privileged: I have a home, I have rich social networks and assets, I have enough hard currency to last for a while, and most importantly, I have the love and support of loved ones. What more can one ask for, such a soft landing when things don't work out?!

In so many ways, I'm so blessed: to have the time to pursue other hobbies and developmental projects, to think beyond a surface level about my life and my purposes, to give my energy to causes that I value. I only hope that I stay true to this purpose, and remind myself that I still have control over my life, and my decisions.

But really, even if I didn't have so many blessings, one thing is true: if you can't be happy here, you can't be happier anywhere else.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The bearable loneliness of the new and familiar

Maybe this was why everyone sympathized when they heard the news, when they knew I was coming back, with no plans to return to the US. They knew I had to cross a bridge and burn it. I might come back the same way, but no matter what, it and I would be different.

Others may have experienced this before, my trials (cost of living! find a job! a good job, that isn't drudgery, that pays well! find friends to hang out with!) commmonplace...but I still feel so alone.

Alone is bringing your toiletries back into your room after you're done in the toilet.

Alone is smiling and strength on the outside, but yearning for someone, someplace that feels right and not finding it.

I have faced alone before. I have survived, and gone on. I will again.

I only fear a lowering of standards and expectations, a shrinking of worldview, a changing of my whole self in order to feel like I'm doing well. Re-orienting the limits of my world, so I can be a central figure in it again.

I have to remember, in absolute terms, I'm still doing swimmingly. Even in terms relative to those I know (which can be a dangerous comparison), I'm not doing so bad.

But to feel so absolutely friendless, so bereft of a close old soul, I have not felt this for years - not since starting LPC (which was a lot offset by the excitement of a new environment) and starting Scripps (ditto) and going to London (ditto). I think this is just the biggest challenge because it feels like a step down, not up or sideways; this is a terrain trodden and yet difficult to my unaccustomed feet, and for once in my life I don't know where I'm going. I don't know what tomorrow brings.

The tension, between futures great and mediocre, hangs in the balance, and the string is taut in my mind.

I must remember I have a choice - I can keep that string tight, worry it obsessively, never let my eyes off the goal lest it run away from me.

Or I can let it slack - remember that I am more than a job and a paycheck, that I have other dreams and self-development goals - and only ask to manage the trouble each day can bring. And for the strength to answer the call, and the challenges, of each day.

The latter way has its disadvantages (less long-term planning, perhaps?) but I think that's a better way to live.

I'll try to do that from now on.

All good things come from real struggle, and creating a new life here (or anywhere) is no different.