Category Archives: Life Lessons

Minimal Student is graduating

by Jessica Dang
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I started this blog seven years ago at the beginning of my minimalist journey.

It was 2009. I discovered a lifestyle movement that talked about the joy of having less. I learned about how being obsessed with buying and owning material possessions is a recipe for an unhappy life, and it resonated with me. I began to write about it.

At first, I was mainly concerned with stuff and how to get rid of it. I wrote about decluttering and one bag living. It suited my nomadic lifestyle at the time when I was living, working, and exploring several different cities and countries.

Eventually I returned to the UK. I was approaching my mid-20’s, and everyone around me was settling down. I moved into my own apartment with the single suitcase I had been living out of.

I got a corporate job and it was everything I ever wanted—or at least, I thought I wanted. I was paid well and got promoted, but the environment was so tough I began to change as a person. I struggled to find balance. I started buying more things to make up for the creeping unhappiness I felt doing a job which I realised, deep down, was ultimately meaningless. It took a long time, but in the end I found the courage to quit. I ended up starting my own business which gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. I took back control of my own life.

At every stage of my life, my perspective on things shifted. The more I experienced, the more convinced I was that many of the conventional ideas we’re supposed to follow—such as working in a soul sucking job in order to pay your bills and buy stuff until you’re either 65 or dead—didn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

In turn, the direction of Minimal Student has followed me on my quest, moving on from ‘how to declutter’ articles to ones about the tougher questions—what is important in life? What does success really mean? How can I be happy?

I still have more I want to share with the world that isn’t just limited to young people or students. By trying to keep things relevant to the blog name, some of the articles I’ve written have been held back from being able to reach a wider audience. As my readers have grown, the blog has to as well. The Minimal Student community is made of readers of all ages, and from all walks of life. I want to reach out to them too.

So I have decided to start afresh. Don’t worry, Minimal Student isn’t finished. I will always be a student of life and will continue to study what it means to live. However, I will be doing so under a new blog, Minimalist Meditations (www.minimalistmeditations.com) which I am working on expanding the ideas for my book that I’m hoping to finish and publish this year.

To make the transition easier, Minimal Student with continue to exist for a little while, before all of the links will redirect to the new blog URL. All of Minimal Student’s social media will also be renamed.

The good news is that I will be writing a lot more often, and you can keep up with new posts I write and publish by subscribing via RSS or email, or following me on Twitter or Facebook.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, and in no way have I reached ‘the end’, but I can reflect on what I’ve learned in the past several years and what I, no doubt, will learn in the future. Feel free to join me at Minimalist Meditations on this path towards finding a life of happiness.

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What I learned from 7 years of minimalism

by Jessica Dang
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When I started this blog back in 2009, I was on my way to college and living away for the first time. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I only had a vague idea that I wanted to enjoy it, whatever that might mean.

Eventually I came to understand that the key to making the most of life is to be sure that there isn’t anything holding me back—to make sure that I am free.

When I look back at my earlier posts, I see that in some ways I’m still the same person, and in others I have grown a lot. Minimalism for me started out as just decluttering a few things so that it was easier for me to travel. Over the years, it has taken on a deeper meaning beyond getting rid of stuff. It’s a tool I used to get the most of what I want from life.

Like every practice, the beginning was easy—how to pare down, how to fit everything I owned into a suitcase, etc. The harder stuff came slowly over the years—like how to be grateful for what I have, and how to let go.

Here are some of the easier lessons I learned quickly, and the more advanced versions that took a few more years for me to put into practice.

Lesson 1: Essentials
Easy: Having only what I need—identifying the useful from the useless. Easy.
Advanced: Learning that what I need changes, and adapting to it—growing an awareness to what I wanted from life at different times was harder. When I travelled a lot, being able to move with just one bag was essential, now I’ve settled down and running a business, things are different. Without material distractions, I am constantly reviewing my goals and making sure I make steps towards achieving them. I can’t hang onto ideals like having  less than 100 things like I used to (there is such a thing as being too attached to minimalism) but I also have to be aware that the things I own don’t end up owning me.

Lesson 2: Life
Easy: Decluttering my home—throwing things in charity bags was easy, and so was not buying new things that I didn’t want just because it was fashionable or because other people had it.
Advanced: Decluttering my life—my distracted mind, unnecessary commitments, toxic relationships, are all things that were harder to get rid of. I took up meditation to focus my mind, I refused to do more work than I had to, and I phased out people who were emotionally taxing on me. It might sound a little selfish, but because of it I was able to concentrate living a better life, and helping other people who needed it more.

Lesson 3: Time
Easy: Minimalism helped me make time for what matters—not caring what other people thought, and learning to say no lead to fewer commitments, which gave me more time to do what I wanted, and what I felt was important to me.
Advanced: Once I had time, I needed to actually make the most of it—I had goals and dreams, and after minimalising distractions I had no excuses. It was time for the harder stuff. I studied hard and graduated. I worked and travelled. I trained and ran (a lot). I quit my job and started my own business. People who misunderstand minimalism are missing the harder lesson—it’s not about getting rid of stuff, it’s about making room for what’s important. And then actually doing it.

Lesson 4: Relationships
Easy: People can’t be ‘converted’ to minimalism—I learned very quickly that talking about minimalism in daily life to people who haven’t heard of it before made me sound like a new-age hippie.
Advanced: I can show them the benefits, or just not care—instead of just talking about it, I learned that a better approach would be to live my life how I want, and if people take notice or ask questions, then they are ready to listen. Otherwise, I’ve learned to not really care too much about what people do and how they live their lives.

Lesson 5: Charity
Easy: Practicing minimalism to make a better life for myself—I’ve lived abroad, moved several times, and now I live in a beautiful apartment. I don’t work 9-5, I wake up at whatever time I want, and take holidays whenever I want. Save a small student loan, I have no debt, and I don’t live paycheck to paycheck.
Advanced: Practicing minimalism to make a better life for others—instead of wasting my money on car payments or branded perfumes, I can donate to people in need. Instead of wasting my time on pretending to be busy at work, I run my own business which gives me more time to give to people I can help. There is still so much more I can give, and instead of just talking about it, minimalism has helped me find the path to do it. You wouldn’t believe how much time/money/effort/anguish you save when you don’t care about impressing anyone.

Lesson 6: Sentimentality
Easy: Digitizing—books, CDs etc. I buy digitally if I can help it. I scan important papers and take photos of things to make it easier to throw them away.
Advanced: Learning to let go altogetherI’ve come a long way but still have a lot to learn. I just can’t bring myself to throw away some things from my childhood, or keepsakes that mean a lot to me. So I keep them. There are no minimalist ‘rules’ to dictate me, or anyone. I’m not as strong as some people who really aren’t attached to anything. Maybe I’ll never be like that, but for now I don’t care. For me, learning to let go is an ongoing practice.

Lesson 7: Gratefulness
Easy: Learning about mindfulness and gratefulness—I’ve read dozens of books about the subject, including almost anything published my the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh (I even went to his retreat in Plum Village, France).
Advanced: Actually practicing it—remembering to be mindful, or grateful is hard. Whenever I realise, ‘I should be really grateful right now’, I find myself staring into blank space trying to do it, whatever that means. It’s hard. But I’m slowly getting better at appreciating small things, seeing the beauty in the ordinary, and recognising moments of happiness. I expect to be practicing this lesson for the rest of my life too.

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Minimal Student has graduated! You can subscribe to weekly updates on the new blog Minimalist Meditations via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.

Life begins when…

by Jessica Dang
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dawn mountains

Life begins when…

you wake up

the sun is shining

you smell coffee

 

Life begins when…

you create

you help

you discover

 

Life begins when…

you feel grateful for the little things

you do something you enjoy

you learn to love

 

Life begins when…

you see the bigger picture

you learn to let go

you make it to the other side

 

Life begins when…

you go somewhere you’ve never been before

you do something you’ve never done before

you want to be better than you were yesterday

 

BONUS Giveaway: Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions – Dan Millman

I’m starting off 2016 by celebrating hitting 20k+ subscribers via emailRSS, TwitterFacebook and Tumblr. Thank you wonderful readers for all of your support! I will be doing FREE book giveaways during 2016 (minimalising my bookshelf) the first one being one of my favourites: Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions by Dan Millman, author of the bestseller Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

To enter, I want to hear your story! Please comment on this blog post or on the Minimal Student Facebook page your name, where you’re from, and tell me your minimalist story. That’s it!

You could also share some comments about the blog, and any suggestions you might have for future posts. I will select the best answer one month from today on February 28th, and post you the book, wherever you are, for free! No strings attached, I just want to share the love and wisdom. Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

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Minimal Student has graduated! You can subscribe to weekly updates on the new blog Minimalist Meditations via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.

Why Showing Up Is Not Enough

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

I often read advice about how to be successful. Up until now, I must have accumulated hundreds of books, biographies, articles, and essays about success – what it means, and how to ‘achieve’ it, all the while hoping to find a common theme that would tell me the universal truth about the one thing that apparently makes life worth living.

I admit, it’s probably not a good habit to read about it too much. Spending a lot of time reading about it means that I’m spending less time doing the kinds of things that would actually make me successful. Besides, after all these years, I’m still looking for an answer.

I have learned a few important things, however, so it hasn’t all gone to waste. There are certainly common pieces of advice that have come up more than a few times in my readings. One of these is the importance of showing up.

the myth of showing up

Almost everyone talking about success talks about showing up. They say that if there’s one thing in common between all the men and women who have been ‘successful’ in the past – those that have discovered, or invented, or achieved something great – it is that they showed up. They got out of bed every day, even if they had to drag themselves up, and went to the laboratory, or office, or racetrack, and climbed whatever mountain they had to, physical or metaphorical, to reach their goal. They were there when it happened (whatever it maybe be).

But it makes me wonder – is that enough? Does saying that they were simply there miss another crucial element to their success? After all, when they arrived at the door, or the foot of that mountain, they didn’t just stand there.

They took the first steps, they moved forward, and they carried on. They didn’t give up.

They weren’t just there when it happened, they made it happen.

That’s why showing up is not enough. You can’t just get out of bed in the morning and sit your ass down on a chair and expect miracles to happen. Yes, it can be hard to do that, but almost anyone can just show up. It’s what you do after you arrive that matters.

If you’re going to work every day, or to the studio, or lab, or playing field, or wherever it is that you’re hoping to achieve greatness, and your heart is not fully in it, you’ll never get to where you want to be. You have to be present and aware, which means you can’t just be there, you have to be there. Do you get it? You have to put your heart in it, get in the flow, look forward, see the bigger picture, strategise, be one step ahead, push hard, then push harder, and most importantly, do the goddamn work itself. There’s no getting around it.

It’s a medicine that easy to prescribe but hard to swallow. If you have been chipping away at something for a while, and you’re not getting anywhere, it might be because you thought showing up was enough to get you to the top, but it’s not.

It’s like expecting to be lifted up a mountain by the force of nature just because you arrived at the foot. It won’t happen. The only way to the top is to climb up, one step at a time. Yes, there are ways to do it more quickly, and efficiently, there are tools you can use, and maybe there’s a shortcut, like a bus that would drive you halfway up, but unless you find it, you’re going to have to do it the hard way.

So yes, showing up is important. But there’s more to it than that. If you want to condense the hours and hours I’ve spent educating myself about success into just a couple of words, it would go something like this:

Show up. Put your heart in it. Do the work. Don’t give up.

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On the Shortness of Life – Part V – Death

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This is the final part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.

Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the presentPart III – Desire and life goals, Part IV – Learning.

5. Learning how to live takes a whole life

A typical person living in the Western world is expected to live until about 70-80 years old. There are other factors that come into play, such as income, lifestyle, and access to healthcare, but all that aside, the average life span of a healthy adult is about 70 or so years if you’re lucky.

Do you know how many days that is? Answer: it’s about 25,000.

That’s about 25,000 sunrises, and 25,000 sunsets for you to enjoy during your one and only time on Earth.

Sounds like a lot, right? But there’s a small catch. If you’re like me, in your mid-20’s, you’ve actually already used up about 9,000 of them.

Okay… so that leaves about 16,000  still, not bad right? But that’s supposing you really are going to live until your mid-70’s… which, of course, isn’t a guarantee.

What if you only lived until you were 60, or 50, or even 40? (If you’re roughly my age and you only live until 40, that’s less than 6,000 days left). Sh*t.

Now consider how quickly, say, the last 7 days went by. Hm, pretty quick right? It seems like it was just a day or two ago that I was in spin class, but I only go once a week, so that was a whole week ago… Now that I think about it, the last month went by quickly as well… I can’t believe we’re halfway through the year already… and it seemed like it was just a few weeks ago I was living in Japan, but that was an entire year ago now… wow, where did those 365 days even go? 365 is a sizeable chunk out of 6,000! Sh*t. Sh*t.

… and so on. So far, I’ve realised two things:

  1. That we all have a set number of days left, and,
  2. They’re going by stupidly fast.

If this is a depressing subject to you, then you might be thinking about it in the wrong way. It’s only when you realise that your time is finite that you can start to do something about it.

Knowing this, what are you going to do in the next 7, 30, or 100 days? Would you live your life differently?

Well, if you are already making the most out of your life, then the answer would be, ‘Nope! Everything is perfect!’ and that’s fantastic. But if you’re unhappy because you’re putting up with a life/job/relationship you hate, then Seneca has something to say to that:

“How late it is to begin to really live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!”

 

How do we know we’re going to live until we grow old? We don’t! Nobody does. So I can’t help but think why do so many people waste their precious time being unhappy? Why do people put up with jobs they hate for 40 years, just to save up holiday time for when (or if) they reach 65?

I’m no exception to this kind of thinking. We can’t always do the things we want to, and we’ve got to make a living somehow, but if we’ve really only got a few thousand days to live, why spend them doing things that our heart isn’t into?

I’m not advocating a hedonistic lifestyle in a ‘let’s-spend-every-penny-and-destroy-everything-because-tomorrow-might-never-come’ way, but even Seneca realised it thousands of years ago, when he said that,

“[Only when life] is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

The saddest thing is that most people don’t realise how much of their lives they had wasted until they reach the end of it. Usually, these are the same people who don’t like thinking about death at all, because they’re living in a deluded world where if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen to them. But by then, it’s too late to do anything about it.

all their labours were but for the sake of an epitaph

At the end of your life, if everything you did could be summarised into an epitaph, what would it say? What would you want it to say?

You might not get an actual epitaph, but no matter what, you will have a legacy.

Your legacy could be celebrated by millions, or remembered by no one. At the end of your life, it wouldn’t matter to you which one of those it is. You won’t be bringing it with you anyway, wherever you’re going.

All that will matter is how you feel about it. After all, how you feel about your legacy is how you feel about the life you lived. Seneca also wrote,

“Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”

Which is true. But it doesn’t have to take your whole life you could wait until you’re on your deathbed to lament on the time you could have spent on the people and things that mattered. Or you can start now, while you can.

Choose to spend today wisely, as if it was a single precious gold coin that you could never get back.

While we’re at it, we can do the same for tomorrow as well. And the day after, and the day after, until we reach the end, whenever that may be.

You could be happy from right now. Start today. Who needs a lifetime to learn how to live?

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On the Shortness of Life – Part II – Protecting time and living in the present

-by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This Part II of a five part series about the stoic philosopher Seneca’s work, On the Shortness of Life, read Part I – Finiteness.

2. the whole future lies in uncertainty live immediately

Of all the things we have, time is arguably the most precious.

There is nothing else in which we are only given a set amount of it. However much we have, we  would never know until the end, and no matter what we do or who we are, we can never earn, gain or buy a single second more of it.

And yet, within this mysterious amount of time that we given, we’re supposed to achieve so much. Or, at least, so we want to. Which is understandable – what kind of life would we have if we didn’t aspire to travel the world, write a novel, fall in love, raise a family, do fulfilling work, learn a language, run, dance, sing, paint, or do any one of the amazing opportunities life has to offer us?

But how much of your time is really yours? How much of it is spent doing the things that you want, that mean a lot to you, as opposed to what other people want you to do, or worse still, what you think others expect of you?

In other words, are you spending enough time pleasing yourself, instead of others? For me, I know I have a lot to work on here. Seneca points out what we all ought to know:

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which is right to be stingy.”

Of all the things we are possessive about – money, land, partners, status, possessions… the one thing we hardly think twice about – time – is what we should be most protective of.

We let others encroach on our schedules, making us do things that we don’t want to do, or making us feel ‘obliged’ to do it, as if we don’t have a choice.

“Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days have passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore a natural expression; when your mind was undisturbed.”

I admit I haven’t had many days like this, but they sound ideal to me. There are a lot of tough questions being asked here, and it’s easy to consider them and then not do anything about it. Most people might think it’s fine to spend time winding down watching three hours of TV after a long day of work, but if that means that we don’t have time to do the things we really care about, then maybe it’s the amount of time we spend at work we need to fix.

I’m certainly not perfect, so I don’t have all of the answers. I still can’t believe it’s my birthday in just two weeks – where did the time go? It feels like I’ve let an entire year slip by me. How many do I have left? No idea. How much time in the last year did I spend doing the kind of things I wanted to do? Not enough.

If there’s one resolution I want to make for the rest of this year, or for the rest of my life for that matter, it would be to better protect my time.

the whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately

So let’s say we learn to guard our time better – now what? This isn’t just about other people. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Yes, we should spend time on ourselves, but how much of the time we’re lucky to have for ourselves (or for the people and things we love) is wasted?

How much of it was spent procrastinating, putting off things that would have otherwise been fulfilling, for the sake of ‘relaxing’ or just out of pure laziness? Seneca said,

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future”

Procrastination isn’t just de-prioritising the task you have in mind, it’s de-prioritising your whole life.

On top of that, we humans tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. It’s natural for us to go over our regrets, or worry about things to come. But each minute wasted thinking about the things you have or haven’t done, or things that may or may not happen yet, is a minute squandered.

“Life is divided into three periods, past present and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. [..] In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time.”

Life is too short to mourn over things that cannot be changed. As long as you did your best at the time, then you can’t have any regrets about it. And every minute spent worrying about the future, which by nature is unpredictable, is just using up what precious time and energy you have left to actually do something about it.

Whenever I’m in danger of worrying too much, I repeat to myself, Time is the most valuable thing I have – live in the present moment and savour every moment of it.” In good times or bad, it’s a reminder of how lucky I am to be alive.

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Zen in a lotus flower

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1. A beautiful lotus flower blooms from a muddy pond. 

2. A gardener who wants to grow flowers must also tend to weeds.

Lotus in Mud | Jessica Dang

 

These are lessons we can learn about cycles of suffering and happiness in our lives.

1. We usually think of mud and weeds as something to be discarded, dirty, a waste. But looks can be deceiving.

Yes, mud can be ugly. But from it something as beautiful as a lotus flower can grow.

In the same way, suffering gives birth to happiness.

Without suffering, we can’t realise how happy we are, or can be.

If we’re lucky to go through our whole lives without an ounce pain, we would never know how blessed we are.

Far from being a waste, just like how mud is a source of life, suffering is a source of happiness.

2. You are the gardener of your mind and body.

To take care of yourself, you need to pay as much attention to the weeds as you do the flowers. It isn’t enough to indulge yourself in what you know and like, you must work hard to get rid of the poisons and bad habits that creep into your life.

The things that make you unhappy, you need to tend to those weeds too.

Somehow you’ll find a way to put them back into the dirt, and let them become the mud from which your happiness blooms.

 
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Zen in a toothache

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Kenchō-ji Gardens | Jessica Dang | Minimal Student

What good can come from a mere toothache?

As I have recently experienced, there are a few life lessons to be learned from a small (yet extremely painful) toothache.

 

A few summers back, when I stayed in Plum Village, the monastary of the famous monk Thich Nhat Hanh, there was one day when he made us imagine that we had woken up in the middle of the night with a very painful toothache.
 

Since the dentist wouldn’t be open until the morning, most people would be counting down the hours until it could be treated, all the while hoping that the pain would go down, or go away.

 

We live most of our lives without physical pain like this. Even right now, unless you have a broken arm or leg, or any other major chronic aches or pains, you spend most of your life in relatively good physical health.

 

At the time, I listened carefully to the lesson, but never did I dream that this scenario would actually happen to me.

 

About two weeks ago, I woke up one night from a sharp pain in my head. It wasn’t a migrane, as I had thought, but instead the premolar on the left side of my top jaw was throbbing pretty hard. I tried to sleep it off, but the pain didn’t go away. I tried to ignore it, but the pain was so sharp, and constant, that it couldn’t stop thinking about it.

 

During the last few weeks, I walked, worked, and slept with a winced expression on my face as I tried to put up with this horrible and constant physical pain. I booked an appointment to see a dentist, but the nearest available appointment isn’t for a few weeks yet. In the meantime, I just have to take some painkillers and deal with it.

 

The good news is that there is a bright side to all of this. Well, at least I searched long and hard for one because I absolutely forbid myself to go through something like this without gaining anything good from it. One day, I remembered Thay’s lesson on learning from my pain.

 

An important lesson about pain

The experience of having a pain that is strong enough to take over your life, and distract you from doing anything else is not something that can be easily understood until you go through it yourself.

 

I learned this lesson the hard way, but since doing so, I could imagine that the hard way is one of the only ways to learn it.

 

I genuninely hope that most people do not experience a pain like that, but the bright side for those who do is that, in the end, you will know how to be so damn grateful for not having any pain.

 

Kenchō-ji Gardens | Jessica Dang | Minimal Student

 

Thich Nhat Hanh taught me that sometimes we need some pain in our lives to give us a basis to compare against, so that we may be grateful for what we have right now.

 

People who never go through any pain don’t know any different, and so may not appreciate what they have as much as somebody who lost their health. If you are lucky enough to gain it back, then you feel like you’re given a second chance to appreciate what you have.

 

When we are mindful of the good things we have in life, we are aware of how lucky we are, and we feel good about ourselves. In this case, happiness is born from pain. So pain isn’t always a bad thing.

 

Now, I’m not saying that a toothache really compares to some of the really bad things that can happen to your health. But now that I’ve experienced something as painful as this, I’m reminded that even if there are some difficult things going on in life, at least when I am not in pain, I can be grateful for that.

Balancing Work Life With A Minimalist Life

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One of the biggest life questions that I’ve been battling with lately is how to balance work life – and everything that it comes with – with a minimalist lifestyle.

Can you have it all?

Since I was a kid, I have been extremely ambitious. I daydreamed about having a successful career. I would climb the corporate ladder, and the only glass I would encounter wouldn’t be a metaphorical celiing, but the full length windows to my corner office overlooking the city.

I imagined myself making ridiculous amounts of cash, buying a big house and getting VIP access to the coolest places.

The ambitious person inside of me still wants that.

The minimalist in me sees how fruitless it all is in the end.

The world of work feeds our desires, always making us want more. More money, more stuff, more status.

Since starting my corporate career a few months ago, I’ve found myself falling into this trap. It’s contagious, and I’m only human. Now that I have my own apartment and more stuff than I need, am I really happy?

A big part of me misses the time when I used to travel the world with my trusty suitcase which held all of my life possessions. Every day was an adventure. Now, every day is the same as yesterday.

Over the last few months, I’ve been so damn close to packing it all in and getting back onto the road, forgetting all of the reasons why I got off it in the first place.

There were so many times on the road that I would go back to my old daydreams. I decided that it was time to put my aimless wanderings on hold and finally settle down with a challenging job that would pay for my own apartment. For the longest time, I wanted a place that I could call home.

Is there a way to balance our ambitions, to have a ‘successful’ career, without losing our contentment with what we already have and getting sucked into a materialist lifestyle?

Part of the answer is finding a job that you love, that you’re good at, and that pays well. Unfortunately, this is a bit too idealistic for most people.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who have well paying jobs that they love, and don’t squander their money on useless stuff. The main problem is that when work is such a drag, saving up to buy something nice is all that you have to look forward to. A treat for all your hard work…

…and we’re going in circles, back to square one.

I don’t have the answers to this one. Yet.

This is something I’m going to have to learn the hard way. Any suggestions?

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The most important thing you need to know about completing your bucket list

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by Jessica Dang

Last year, I made a bucket list of some of the things I wanted to do in my life before I die. Usually, when I have an important goal to achieve, I would break down the goal – what do I have to accomplish by when? What do I have to do first in order to do second? Complex goals usually require complex planning.

However, I intentionally left my bucket list vague. Indeed, some of them are just one word long. Why? Because contrary to what it sounds like, the things on my bucket list are not goals. 

what a bucket list really is

My bucket list tells the story of an adventure – my adventure. A good story isn’t about the destination, but the journey there. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s what you learn, and how you grow on the way that matters.

Travel is about discovering yourself. The phrase ‘finding yourself’ usually conjures up the image of a mountaintop or some other glamorous destination. However, you won’t find out who you are by wading through the Amazon or meditating in a Zen temple. Everything you need to discover about yourself is already within you.

Knowing this is liberating. It means that you can find meaning in your own backyard. You don’t have to get on a plane – just going for a walk around the block, or taking a train to the next town, can be an adventure in itself. You can learn a lot just by being more mindful of the surroundings you’re in right now, and taking a moment to be grateful for what you already have.

However, if it’s possible for you, visiting other countries can also be worth your while. Going outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s in the same country, or within another culture, can open mind, and widen your perspective on the different ways of thinking by different people. It can challenge your beliefs – which is a good thing – and make you stronger as a person.

Wherever you choose to go, remember that there is a difference between travelling for the sake of travelling and going somewhere to enjoy the journey itself. In other words, are you just trying to get to ‘X’, or do you care about the road there? When people create bucket lists, are they really only thinking about reaching a destination? Or are they thinking about the journey too?

The real question is, which one are you thinking about?

real travel is about the journey, not the destination

by Jessica Dang

The Buddha’s story isn’t about reaching the goal of enlightenment itself, but about his pursuit of the rightful path

The concept is easier to understand when you look at the other things I have on my list. For example, ‘learn Japanese’ is so vague – how can one possibly know when they’ve ‘learned’ a language? The answer is that you can’t. I’m now living and working in Japan, and I could say that I’m fluent in Japanese, but I still haven’t crossed it off the list. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a place where I can say I’ve ‘completed’ this item, but that was never my intention. It was the process of learning that has given me so much. Because I’ve taken the time to learn a new language, a whole new world had opened up for me. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t made the effort.

In the same way, I didn’t run a marathon for the medal. After all, it’s just a piece of metal. A medal and a free T-shirt is merely a representation of my hard work. It was all of those hours I spent running that mattered. By training for it, my body became healthier, I learned to eat better, and I built my mental and physical endurance. The actual marathon itself didn’t matter nearly as much as the sweat and tears I had shed in all the runs I did before it. The strength I gained didn’t just happen to me suddenly when I crossed the finish line, I collected it slowly, step by step, along the journey that I had already made.

So yes, you and I may never complete our bucket lists, but that’s okay. This is not an excuse. It’s not supposed to merely be a list of stuff to be ticked off one by one – it can be so much more than that.

Your bucket list should tell your story. How it goes is up to you.