Five things I learnt this year



1. Quality time is a privilege 

I had mentioned that this year was a “bad” year for me. It was one marked by stress and a full timetable of running from school to school, from doing my research, to teaching in two schools that I hardly had time for anything else. I missed the privilege of quality time with my friends and family and the people that make “life”. I didn’t have time for any of my interests and hobbies or myself anymore, and I was so drained each day.

2. I am bad at many things 

Things that used to come so naturally to me, or things I used to think I was good at seemed to be overturned by all these people who were so much better, or all these situations where I failed, and failed to produce good work. I was made aware of all my weaknesses and areas where I fell short. However, I take some sort of comfort in knowing that having to struggle and fail is an essential part of knowing that we are growing. This was a profound experience for me.

3. I am good at many things ( I didn’t know I was good at)

Life is also a paradox, because while it felt like I was losing certain things, like “quality time” and the things I “used to be” good at, I was also beginning to gain and fall in love with many things, like education; like the idea that life isn’t about me; like the idea of offering a contribution to the world, not as if I could “save the world” as I once naively thought I could, but just in doing what I can to try. This is by far one of the more freeing ideas of life.

4. It is okay to not be okay 

More importantly, I learned in numerous times and numerous occassions that it is okay to not be okay, and that it is okay to feel completely alone. There is a lot of comfort in knowing you are not the only one, and everyone is almost, just like that. I also learned,  you don’t have to “feel inspired” to work. Heck you don’t have to feel at all sometimes. To be inspired is a privilege. To learn is a privilege not afforded to many. To live is a privilege not afforded to many.

5. Finally being able to be grateful 

It was only during this last month where I finally stopped complaining and griping (goodness it took me twelve months to be grateful), which made me all the more aware that I need to enjoy each and every moment, stop and just breathe. I was finally able to appreciate my year for what it was- colorful,  filled with all the experiences of growing up, and the kind of learning that would not have happened if I had not truly been living. I think sometimes we expect life to bring us greatness, with all the great expectations that comes with hope, that we often bypass all the little, quiet, unremembered days that makes life all the more significant.

Maybe more importantly I learned how I am going to be better next year. I’m so excited! Are you?


p.s.// I also discovered I have something called a Mild Thoracic Scoliosis. I had never known it was there for 23 years of my life. This was definitely something.


What I got in the mail

image via link

I received a Birthday card in the mail the other day from one of my best friends in the world.

She’s currently living in Brisbane, and what touched me was how every year, without fail, she would send me a card during either Christmas or my birthdays. I know I am a blessed person, because I have more than one of these kinds of people in my life that do this.

What was different this time around was what she wrote in the card. It was so timely to the kind of questions that were running around in my head, that one really couldn’t help but believe in a higher power.

On the front of the card was a painted picture of a woman, and underneath it was titled, “Seeker (of all things brave)”

She wrote, ” …  I saw this card and thought of you because you’re a Seeker. You constantly question the world around you and the way things work. You’re curious and you enjoy learning, which is why it’s always awesome to be around you, because you give me a new perspective on things & life. And you’re also incredibly brave and adventurous.”

Who was this person she was talking about? I hardly recognize her. I didn’t feel brave nor adventurous. Was I ever this person? It felt like I had lost something, and was just only remembering what that was.

I was staring at a very different version of myself. I was staring at myself through someone else’s eyes, someone who loves me, and what that felt like, was something I couldn’t ever put a price on.  It was also then when it hit me. All these questions that I had been grappling with this year, why I wasn’t able to write anymore, why I was feeling frustrated everyday, why I was bored and restless? Why I felt stuck? found an answer.

It was because I’ve settled for the person that was less than what I used to be. I had become like that little metaphorical sailboat that was just sitting “there”, waiting for the wind to change and for the tides to carry me to somewhere good. What happened to that girl I knew so many years ago who had adventures? The one who did many, many things, things she was proud of? The person I actually liked?

I entered writing competitions and didn’t win. Started a band. Made new friends, spoke to different people, some of whom remained best of friends. Chased after boys that didn’t return my love. Ran for Vice-President in college, and won it based on popular vote. I was involved in the editorial board, published our semester books, raised money for the CWF, and Soup Kitchen. Made good art, made movies, wrote stories, read widely. I travelled, went to 8 cities in one year. Got heartbroken, fell in love, made new memories, had many “firsts”. I had exhilarating experiences, and I just felt, alive.

My friend had reminded me about the person I seem to have forgotten to be, and that kinda got to me.

I tried thinking of why this happened, and I think it all started when awhile ago, someone else I loved told me that it seemed like I was always chasing after “something”, and that it seemed like I was never content with just “being”. I thought it was true. And because this person was important to me, what she said mattered and I realized I subconsciously stopped chasing. I tried just “being”  and to just “be happy”, and this lead me to a trap where I just stopped “reaching”.

This of course, would lead to another life lesson, which is what I like to call, “what works for one person, would not necessarily work for another”. This mode of living, although important for a season, didn’t work for me. Little did I know, she would also be one in the many of those that would break my heart in the future, but that’s for another story.

I used to blame “time” as being the factor in all of this. The lack of it, seemed to be all I ever say as to why I wasn’t pursuing my dreams, but if I were truly honest, that wasn’t it. If I were being really honest, I felt like I was in a pond, that suddenly got pushed out to sea. I traversed all the edges of that pond, discovering, leaping, then now in this great vast ocean, I was suddenly paralyzed with fear, and was just content to being comfortable in my own little boat.

But you know what?

I was happiest when I was chasing. Never mind if I never got what I’m looking for, be it, being published on the New York Times Best Sellers list, or my dream book cafe, the thrill of the chase is what kept me alive. I was happiest being full of fear, but just doing it anyway. Never mind the countless fights I had with people over what I thought was important, never mind the failures, never mind the heartache. It was then that I really knew I was alive.

So if you’re reading this, thank you for sending me the card, you know it was the thing that reminded me to continue living and chasing down life with a club and a baseball bat.

How I became equal


Overwhelmingly, my life as a girl growing towards womanhood had been one of anger and resentment. Anger, due to all of the things thrown at me just for being born a woman, and resentment to all the men and women who attempted to ‘correct’ my views, and who attempted to tell me what my ‘place’ in society was. More than deeply offended, I fought back, I was vocal, and I hated.

But today, I am no longer fighting with people and I no longer hate. A change happened deep inside of me, and it was strong, pervasive, and a little profound to try to explain, but If you asked, I would say: life happened, and it taught me that I wasn’t a victim.

I was no longer at the ‘losing’ end, because I chose to play an altogether different game. Today, while what’s important to the world revolves around getting a good job, status, recognition and money, I questioned, what if the world’s values shifted? What if what was important suddenly became about the family, the ability to raise children right, or keeping the family together? What if men and women both thought that should come first? Being at home, wouldn’t be demeaning, it would be the highest honor, and men would be clamoring at the chance to be the best in this. Perhaps the world would be drastically different, and women would come out on top.

It started to make sense. How much of our dominant ideologies have pervaded society, and how much we don’t have to give in to those faulted ideals. Why did I have to be defined by what the world’s version of success was? I don’t.

When I imagine a world like this, it seems almost too far fetched, because such a world involves rewriting history and altering human nature. I imagine it being the world God intended, where our relationships- with God and with each other was the only thing that mattered. I’m convinced that at the end of the day, when we’re at our deathbeds, we don’t hear people saying “I wish I spent more time at work…”, more often than not, its “I wish I had spent more time with my family.”

So many men forget, realize it too late, and do not get this privilege. There are so many boys that hate their fathers, and while these issues are more complicated than what I’m about to say next, but much of the world’s social problems comes from the fact that we’re too busy chasing down these ‘successes’.

When I finally realized this, I was finally free. I finally understood that I didn’t have to be a victim or be at the losing end, and if only women everywhere started valuing this instead of being defined by what men thought was important.

Shortly after this, a second change happened in my life- it was when I started to see my weaknesses as not a result of my gender, but because I, myself hadn’t put in the same amount of effort it takes for me to be better. In many instances, if a boy had won, it was most likely because he deserved it. He had put more work in it, and this does not mean I am less, It only means I needed to work harder.

So today, I am equal. I am no longer less, and because I am no longer less, I have the ability to give-To love my boys as I do my girls, and to want the same for my men as I do my women. I worry for my men today, because while changes are happening for women, a change is happening to our men too as a result of this newfound empowerment. Though I understand how the “women are better than men” dialogic came about, meant to offer some sort of balance to counter centuries worth of suppression and misogyny, its also come to a point that our men start to actually believe it, throw in the towel and go, ” okay you really are better… so you do it.” This isn’t a future I want to see for any of my men. The strength of a woman should not and does not mean a lessening of a man’s, just as how it should not and does not mean a lessening of a woman’s. When I think about this, I think about my 14 year old brother, I think about my guy friends, who I love like brothers…

In any change, both men and women need to act, work, and believe collectively for a powerful movement. Strength isn’t strength when its at the expense of one’s weakness.

I feel like I have to clarify many things (because this is the internet and people often take this as a challenge to find fault in everything):

1) Women still experience many inequalities in the workplace and I can’t discount how many women today still suffer as a result of them being born, a woman. Issues of women’s health, and sexuality rights are still being marginalized and falling to second-place in its list of importance in the international community, giving way to other ‘popular’ human rights causes. For example, the lack of proper maternity care is still an epidemic that rages throughout much of the lower-income nations. If a man experienced the same problems just for performing their reproductive function, I doubt the International community would ignore it. Women in much of the world do not have a choice to work or stay at home. They don’t have a choice to live right at all.

2) Also, I am by no means saying that women should all aspire to return to family life and raising children (though if you want to I rejoice with you). Despite saying all this, I still want to climb the career ladder, this is still the way our world works. I’m just saying how what I view as important has changed, and if the world puts this as important too, we wouldn’t be so angry when someone says ” Just go home and raise the kids.”, it would be the equivalent of ” Just go to your big office with the view and be a CEO”. Yes, I will raise the kids. I will indeed.

3) I understand in my last line, that the opposite had been true. How the strength of a man was used to dominate, but we as women have a choice to take the high road and to be better than that, to learn from history and to be … better.

Conversation # 10: Conversations With God

God was dealing with me something great today.
Not great as in something I did great, or something He did great (though He is certainly capable), but something great in my life that needed to be dealt with.

He was humbling me, and dealing with my weaknesses in a way that I’m glad it is by myself, in my solitude with Him, because if it were in a public space, I would be duly humiliated. So I am grateful, I am grateful for a loving Father who speaks to me in the way I know how to receive it, and who never deals with me more than I can handle.

If there was any doubt that I served a God that was less than extraordinary, those doubts were quelled today.
Every day is spent with me walking in His favor, never by anything I deserved or anything I have done, but because He is grace, and He is mercy.

He is beautiful.

I think I finally understand. Finally understand what it means to be “perfected” in love. This time today, I have a choice. I could’ve been following a course of humanness, and it wouldn’t have been any more wrong, but because of who He is how he brought me to my knees, I was “perfected”.

I think the other thing that comes with growing up is discovering how your life changes. Its discovering your parents are human, and that you still love them in their humanness. Though we may be better, stronger, wiser, there are things that I hope for humanity, and for myself that we wouldn’t stop changing.

Sometimes, we just need a little reminder like today.

5 Great Lessons I’ve finally learnt about life

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When I turned seventeen or eighteen, I thought I knew myself.
I had spent a great deal of those years on self-discovery, and then to finally come to terms with this person. I had come to accept and love this at times, incredibly insufferable being, and figured out that this complicated, complicated person could now be finally understood. If not by anyone else, at least by me.
Give a little growing for a few years, and suddenly everything I ever came to know about myself, everything that I ever wanted, had been turned on its head. Like a sudden dawn of a new day, epiphanies would come pounding in my thick skull. It was in conversations with friends, found in words in books, in movies, in what my sister said, or any one and all of these grand accumulations expounded in that single moment when the dim lightbulb finally decides to click.
Which brings us to great life lesson number one:
1) Life is a paradox
…that we don’t have to figure out.
I’m strong to some, yet weak to others. I’m funny and I’m sad. I want something, but when I have it, I wish I didn’t; And when its gone, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake. And I was always left wondering why.
I remembered that one of the many mantras I had back then was that
“life is a mystery, but don’t let that stop you from searching.”
These days, its more like “its okay that life is something I don’t understand. I can look for all the answers, but in the end we never really know for sure.” Because there are always things that come along and completely turns our preconceived notions on its head, and I think I like it that way. 
Great life lesson number two, 2) Don’t think too much
Jowee circa 2005-2007 used to pride herself in being ‘complicated’, a ‘thinker’ and an ‘analyzer’ amongst many things. Now I just chide that person who I used to be, and am glad that I’ve learned to keep it simple. Simple friends, simple food, simple problems, simple pleasures. Its like a children’s coloring book- because it has those simple black outlines that makes the picture, you get to fill in the gaps with whatever color you want, and make the picture whatever you want it to be.
You get to fill friendship with love when it isn’t complicated by ‘benefits’. To fill your simple job with passion when it isn’t under complicated hierarchal structures and pressures. Suddenly your problems aren’t that big because you’ve narrowed it down to a one track solution- pan mee (soup).
I also like stupid movies. Blow things up. Make crude jokes. Have Seth Rogan in it. Be an over-rated, over-budgeted spin-off. I don’t want to have to analyze that unbelievably slow-paced movie in black and white in French that all the critiques say is ‘SO GOOD’ (anymore). 
Great life lesson number three, 3) Don’t take yourself too seriously 
We get too sensitive when people pose a threat to our ‘intelligence’ or whatever we think is good about ourselves. Have a sense of humor about life, and especially about yourself. No one’s really thinking of you as much as you think of yourself anyway. I learned this one the (hard) humiliating way.
Life lesson number four, 4) you are not who people think you are 
Along the course of my life, people have said so many different things about me. All sorts of people, all at near opposite ends of the scale. One said I am scatterbrained, one said I am wise. I ” dress weird” and I “love your fashion sense”.
Don’t listen too hard. There isn’t one comment that means more or less than the other unless we let it be; anything else is just ‘difference‘. And difference is just difference. 
you are also not who you think you are 
I thought I was a writer. I thought I was a ‘creative’ and not a one of the ‘logical’ or the sciences. But I realized only much later on that I am very much inclined to reason as anything else, that I can be an entrepreneur if I wanted to and make good money for it; or if I had gone down a different path, I could’ve done equally well and make a really good psychiatrist.
I’ve placed everything I had on the ‘writing’ thing, and the problem with this is that if it becomes your security, strip that away and you have absolutely nothing. You’re threatened all the time because there will always be better people doing better things with their skills. Don’t ever make anything your everything – either by person or thing.  
Our best bet is to live wider, and find more greatness to invest in. 
Plus you don’t have to be known for any one thing to be interesting. You’re interesting when you’re interested.
5) Make friends like a five year old
“Hello my name is Tee Jowee. What is your name?”
” Do you want to share my cookie?”
The five year old in me shares my sandwich, picks up a friend’s book that drops on the floor, and is virtually fearless when starting conversations. I want to be my five year old self more often, because she doesn’t think so much, laughs more, and walks into the crowd unaware that anyone is watching. 
And these are often more powerful tools than any other thing we use to attract people.
As always,

A level up in life.

via Tania Rahman

I know a friend that didn’t want a career. She had just graduated from a world-renowned institution, very well educated and well-versed in the world of literature and good books. I always imagined that she would be one of those people that would go on to write novels of romanticism from an eccentric’s point of view, to develop a successful career and be, for a lack of a better word, ‘whoever she wants to be’.

But the thing is, being ‘whoever you want to be’, often is whoever people think you should want to be, like- careers. What if what we really wanted other things? To be a mother? A father? To live by the sea and be a fisherman or work at an unglamorous NGO, and spend our days manning a fruit-stall?

Why have we let our careers dictate who we are, and limit how we live our lives. For example, if we were in business, we must be the status-quo, average, and not very interesting. If we were in the sciences or IT we must be shy and awkward, if we were in journalism we must be bitchy, brave and pushy. I’ve met people in business that do some of the most interesting, creative DJ-ing work, science students that are charismatic and in the fore-fronts, and journalists that are laid-back and quiet.

There are people that work at one thing, and live for another. They balance both so well, and they are happy. As my friend shows on the issue of her life, she really had no such dreams of a career for herself. She didn’t want to climb the ladder and be in the rat-race. She was going to do some teaching she said, maybe a series of odd jobs, some free-lance writing perhaps, all for the purpose of funding what she really wants to do in life- to travel the world.

I was inspired really. Living in an atmosphere where everyone around me is thinking about Business models, success schemes, glories of being known and the money they will make, it suddenly made me think of my own life, and how maybe, just maybe “Hey!”, I could not have a career, and I would be alright with that too.

People spend much of their years earning a living, without really living, and I don’t want that kind of life. Not that I don’t still want to fulfill the dreams of a production company and many other things, but the difference from three years ago when I crafted these dreams, was that I realized these things aren’t that important anymore, and I can’t let it be. The glory of successes, of ‘changing the world’, or at least the world’s version of it was all I would think about. My dreams used to be everything, now they’re part of things.

I realized that even if I were a dog-sitter, I can change the world, and that to me was success. Because really, the world is the people around you. I don’t have to be world-renown set on a star-lit backdrop to do that. My life is filled with beautiful people, people in need, people hungry for things more than food can give, and I can do something about it. So I will.