Category Archives: Life Lessons

Making Miracles

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When life gives you lemons, make grape juice, and let the world marvel at how you did it.

What a great twist to an old saying. Sometimes, you don’t get everything that you want, or even everything that you need. If only you had a bit more time, more money, more resources.

Life can be full of challenges, mistakes and failures. It would be great if life worked out the way we wanted it to, but things aren’t always going to go according to plan. Sometimes, you’re going to be dealt a bad hand, and it’s up to you how you want to play it.

That’s the great thing about life. Even though it can be hard, it’s also full of opportunities and any number of wonderful things. As long as you learn from your past, keep your chin up, and face whatever life throws at you head on, you’ll be okay in the end.

Sometimes, life only gives you lemons. You may have wanted oranges, or apples, or anything else but lemons, but you didn’t get what you wanted. Well, now’s your chance. Go on, make some magic happen, and let them marvel.

The True Meaning of ‘Success’

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What do the most successful men and women in history all have in common?

Not all of them were smart, or good looking, or had either poor or wealthy backgrounds. They weren’t all gifted from birth, or went to college, or happened to be in the right time and place. They were from all walks of life, and were completely different except for one thing.

They changed the world.

Isn’t that the true meaning of ‘success’? To be remembered for doing something remarkable. It’s not about making money, being famous or inventing something. It’s about changing the world, even if just a little bit. Even if it’s just for a few people. And preferably for the better.

It all begins with a vision of the future, of a better place. And then with a little bit of persistence, fearlessness, and yes, even a dash vulnerability, they made it. Of course, it takes a lot of courage. It’s not an easy road to take, being a world-changer.

Children have an amazing ability to see things through rose-tinted glasses. This isn’t a bad thing. They think they can change the world, and they probably could have, except as they grow up, they slowly become sceptical about their chances. Most people call this ‘coming to terms with reality’ but the truth is, as adults we make lot of excuses for not even trying.

If only we could all leave the world a better place than before we entered it. If only we were all brave enough to keep on our rose-tinted glasses for just a little longer.

 

5 lessons learned from a year living in a foreign country

Today was my final day in Japan. By the time you read this, I would have probably already landed in Hong Kong, ready for my next adventure. It’s been almost a year of culture shock, ups and downs, exploring, learning, having fun and so much more. I’m grateful for how much I’ve discovered about myself, other people and about hard work, kindness and life itself. It’s hard to whittle down an entire life experience into a few lessons, but I’ll try my best. However, almost everything I learned doesn’t only apply to living in another country – but can also apply to anything you want to do.

1. Enjoy the honeymoon.

When you first arrive in a foreign country, everything is like a dream. You’re whisked here and there, taken to admire the cultural diversity, eat great food and talk to people who are always nice to you because they want to make a good impression. At the same time as being in a daze, your senses are on high alert and you notice every little thing that’s different from your country around you. It’s easy to get out of bed early in the morning even though you can hardly sleep all night from the anticipation of what the next day would bring.

But’s it’s not until you stay for at least a couple of weeks that you get a feel for what it’s really like. The transition from regular ‘tourist’ to ‘resident’ is like turning the heat of the bathwater up (yes, you can do this in Japanese baths) – you don’t notice it until it burns you. It’s not always necessarily bad, but eventually you start to accept that there are things that are different that are good, and then there are things that are different and not so good, but that’s okay, because that’s the way things are – like a best friend who have their own flaws but will always be there to comfort you in your time of need. Whenever you start something new, you’re likely to experience a these kinds of emotions. It’s easy to do things when you feel like doing them, but the real test of character comes when you challenge yourself to work on the marriage even when the honeymoon period is over.

2. Nothing compares to real life.

In the vain hope of reducing the chances of making cultural blunders, I read prolifically before I came to Japan – phrasebooks, history books, guidebooks, culture books, even cookbooks. Heck, I spent a year learning so much about Japan that I was basically eating, breathing and dreaming it. But when I got here, most of the things I’d learned either a) flew right out of my head (especially the language), b) were incorrect or c) never came up. I still haven’t had the chance to demonstrate that I memorised the names and locations of all 47 prefectures in Japan.

I’ve learned that you can read/watch/study all you want about something, but still not get a taste of how it really is until you get there. The same applies for anything from sushi-rolling to mountain-climbing to clearing out your closet. Sometimes it’s because people manage to make excuses to not do it, and sometimes it’s because people think they can substitute reading books and blog posts for the real thing, but nothing compares to really throwing yourself out there.

3. Jumping in the deep end is the quickest way to learn to swim.

On that note, I learned more Japanese and about Japanese people in a month than I did in an entire year of studying. There’s always going to be people who hide from actually doing amazing stuff because they’re too busy staying in their comfort zone. There’s really no method to learn quite like knowing that your life depends on it. After doing this year abroad, I’ve even realized that it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that you can gain daily-life fluency of almost any language (ie. making friends, working, ordering, going out etc) within a year or two of living in that country… which can add up to a whopping 2-3 languages in about a 5 year span! (Of course, one has to keep in mind the diminishing returns of trying to gain that last 5-10% of fluency). It all depends on how willing you are to swallow your pride, stick your neck out and make mistakes. I’ll be making my way to Hong Kong next. I haven’t decided how long I’ll stay there, but I’ll be interested to see how much Cantonese I can learn in that time…

4. You won’t get a good view just looking through the keyhole.

When I went to visit Tokyo, I felt kind of sorry for all the tourists that went there. Tokyo is a great city, and I had a fun time, but if it was all the exposure people got of Japan, and the only thing they could have based their impression on, I felt kind of bad for them. No offence if you’ve visited Tokyo, but Japan has so much more to offer than shopping and nightlife (living there is a different matter however!) In most other things, only doing it for a short while doesn’t mean you know what it’s like. You can’t just blitz through 5 countries in 10 days and expect to have gotten to know the people and culture. In the same way, only going for a run about once a month and deciding you hate it or having only read and analysed classical literature in school and deciding you don’t like reading in general is illogical. I’ve seen people start and quit things quicker than I can forget how to conjugate verbs, and it’s such a shame because people are definitely missing out on some amazing things that they might have been really good at too. Yes, you have to start somewhere, but you should also give it a fighting chance. Stick to it, persist, and you’ll never know, you might find someone, something or somewhere you’ll come to love.

5. Nobody lives in the same world as each other.

When you move to another country, your entire world changes. Things you thought ‘just are’ no longer apply. Not everybody thinks like you do, or does things the way you’ve always done it. Even rules or social practices you thought were blatantly obvious can be turned upside down. Yes, Japan isn’t a land of angels and rainbows, but I’ll miss living in a country where you don’t have to worry about leaving your bag on a park bench, or walking at home at night or even locking up your bike. I’ll miss living in a country that doesn’t tip because good service should be part of the experience and buses and trains actually run to the minute promised on the time table. I’ll even miss having to take my shoes off every time I enter the house, even if it’s annoying when I’ve forgotten my keys and I’m running late. Every thing that happens, good or bad, is part of the experience of living in a foreign country – that’s what makes it ‘foreign’. But as each of these little things occur you feel your mind begin to open up a little more and as you get used to it, you think of it less as as a foreign country, and more like a country… and eventually it becomes a home. rss twitter

5 life Lessons learned from the earthquake in Japan

Many of you have probably heard about the earthquake that hit northern Japan last Friday March 11th, and the tsunami it caused and the current nuclear ‘situation’. Fortunately, the region of Kansai where I live is mostly unaffected, but much of the damage and devastation it caused is still ongoing.

A random accumulation of circumstances has lead me to be where I am now. You could call me unlucky that I happen to be in Japan, or you could call be lucky to have survived unscathed, but either way, assigning things that simply happen as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is futile, what matters is what’s happening right now, not the labels that we’ve attached to it.

lessons from the quake

On foundations

When the very ground you stand on – something stable you think will always be there to hold you up – starts to shake and break  apart, you have no choice but to realize that nothing is permanent. If you can’t even rely on the ground you’ve always stood on to always be there, what can you rely on?

The fact that things are changing all the time is something to celebrate. Human beings have a superpower called adaptability. We can learn how to deal with changing situations, learn new things and have fun from new experiences. Our lives are short and the places we go and things we see and people we meet won’t be there forever, but that’s what makes life interesting.

On the media

If there’s one other thing I’ve discovered it’s the power of the media and what ramifications it can have if news reporters exaggerate and blow things out of proportion. I’ve suffered more stress from trying to reassure family members that I am quite alright than being worried about the earthquake or the radiation itself.

People are freaking and leaving areas of Japan where there is little or no danger of radiation because of how the news is being reported. Panic is being created which is making situations worse. Radiation is happening all the time, from our kitchen microwaves and food treatment, to our wireless routers and cell phones, to to medical scans and most ironically, airport security scans. Unfortunately, in the framework of a crisis things get completely blown out of proportion.

It’s impossible to police all news outlets, and even harder to ask people to look at evidence more objectively, which has lead to a worldwide misunderstanding of the issue. I’m not going to go into criticizing the media or human ignorance right now, but I just wanted to make clear that I have weighed up all of the facts and real evidence and have made an informed decision that it is completely unnecessary for me to quit university, abandon my travel plans and leave my host family just because of a few choice adjectives used for headlines.

On fear

I came to Japan fully aware that it is an earthquake prone country. If I was not okay with the fact that an earthquake can happen at any time, I would not have flown across the world to get here. Since I was largely unaffected by the earthquake in Sendai, my stance on this has not changed. In the world, huge earthquakes like this are relatively rare. In any case, an earthquake is always going to ‘might happen’ in Japan, but I shouldn’t let it control my life.

If I let this way of thinking take over, in that case, I would never go to the States in case I ‘got shot’ (thank you media) or to even leave my house in case I catch bird flu or mad cow disease or something. Everyday that we’re alive there’s a danger that something ‘might happen’ but we take that risk because not doing anything in fear that you could get hurt isn’t living, which is basically a slow death anyway.

On love

As much as people are panicking and making things worse, there’ s a lot to be said about the help people all over the world have given Japan in these hard times, whether it’s in the form of money or food/water/blankets or even their own time as volunteers.

There’s something about disasters such as this that makes people come together when they otherwise wouldn’t have. Even if they can’t give anything, they’re giving their thoughts, sympathies and well wishes, which is valuable too.

I’ve also been touched by readers who immediately contacted me to ask if I was okay as soon as they heard. I’m truly grateful to have such a caring bunch of readers like you guys, it means a lot to me.

On beauty

Over the past few months, this country has almost become my home. That’s why it’s quite upsetting to see the devastation that the tsunami has left behind. Not only is an entire part of Japan’s beautiful Tohoku area been wiped out, but so has potentially thousands of innocent people who didn’t stand a chance.

Japan is a country full of the kindest people I’ve ever known and some of the most beautiful places on Earth. I’m sure this country’s strength of unity will see it through this disaster.

I realize I talk about Japan a lot, so I’m just going to leave it here with a few postcards from my travels.

You can find more on my Japan blog.

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How to create a good minimalist social life

It’s quite a common misconception that minimalists live unsocial lives. Sure, there are some that prefer to be on their own every now and again, but that doesn’t mean that they want to be alone. The aim of most minimalists is to cut out distractions from their lives so that they can achieve the things they’ve always wanted to do.

Being ‘social’ can mean a lot of different things to different people, but because I’ve been asked a few times about it, I will talk about the ‘going out to clubs/bars/parties at night’ kind of social. I know that for some people, ‘being social’ doesn’t involve alcohol!

Anyway, it requires a huge amount of self-awareness that a lot of people need to develop in order to see what they are doing – whether it is going out too much or too little, is the right amount for them. Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the past few years constantly trying to balance this area of my life with others.

1. ‘Minimalist’ doesn’t mean none or less, it means just enough. Rarely does minimalism ever mean having nothing of something. Nor does it mean having less of something than you need. If you get carried away with reducing everything down, you’ll have nothing left. The key is to reduce excess amounts of parties, late nights and drinking binges to an amount which you will have time to get the most important things in your life done first. Most people achieve this by refusing to go out until they’ve done all of their assignments, that way, whatever time they have left is free for them to do whatever they want with it.

2. It’s different for everyone. Everyone has their own social wants and preferences about how much they want to go out and how much they want to spend time with their friends or family. It depends on a ton of things whether or not you go out twice a month or twice a week – including your personality, schedule, circle of friends, town, financial situation etc etc. If a minimalist feels that going out too much, then they would just reduce it to the right amount for them. There’s no official standard of sociability that fits everyone.

3. Don’t give into pressure. Don’t let people force you into something you don’t want to do. Of course, inevitably, you may be a little influenced by the closest people around you, but if you hear a voice inside telling you that something isn’t right, or you really don’t want to do something, that’s your internal compass trying to guide you. It gets weaker every time you ignore it so listen to it every once in a while. For some people, they’ve squished it down enough times that they’ll just do whatever and ‘go with the flow’. What they don’t realize is that they have no control where ‘the flow’ is going.

4. Pressure yourself sometimes. However, sometimes, we don’t feel like going out, but when we get there, we think “Actually, this isn’t so bad, I’m glad I came now“. A lot of the time, I used to dread getting ready for a night out but once I was out there, I realized I was having way more fun than I would if I had taken the lazy option of staying at home. Sometimes, you should try to get out there even if you don’t feel like it, you never know who you’ll meet or what might happen. Adventure and surprise is the spice of life.

5. Remember to have fun. On that note, as much as you should aim to get all of the important stuff done in you life, if you have an awesome time with your friends, by all means spend lot’s of time with them. If it’s not your thing, then do something else that’s fun – whether that’s relaxing with a good book or going for a run on your own. You don’t have to follow other people’s prescriptions and ideas about what is ‘fun’. Find your own version, and do that. A good principle to follow is to just go wherever you will laugh, smile and create great memories.

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5 lessons learned from repeated failure

Back I school, I was never a failure. In fact, I worked so hard, I don’t ever remember failing a single pop quiz, test or examination. For almost the first two decades of my life, I had never tasted failure.

You know the saying “the bigger they are the harder they fall“? It is so true.

my driving story

My winning streak collapsed around me when I started driving. I sailed through the theory test and began driving almost two years ago. At first it went really well, I learned quickly and although I had little intention to actually drive a car in the near future, I quite enjoyed it. But the summer was ending and university was approaching. My instructor and I decided that I should try to pass the practical driving test before I left for university.

As the day of my first test drew nearer, I started to get more and more nervous. On the day, I was a bag of nerves, and I inevitably failed. Not miserably, but still a fail. I was so disappointed when the examiner told me I hadn’t passed. It took me a few minutes to even process his words because nobody had ever said them to me before.

But I booked another test as soon as I could. Knowing that most people pass the second time, I felt a little more confident. But a for a few nights before my test, I found myself unable to sleep too well. During the test, my mind was flying everywhere, trying to remember all of the things I’d been taught. I was distracted by the littlest things and could barely focus on the road when I was trying to look out for a thousand other things – traffic, signs, pedestrians, speed, space, gear… In the end, I failed again.

Because of uni, I waited a whole year before I did it again. I changed to a more experienced instructor and thought this time everything would be different. I was driving a nicer car and had spent a lot more money on more hours of tuition. I booked my test. My mum was so encouraging, I felt confident I would pass this time. During the drive, I made one mistake, and the whole thing fell apart. The worst thing was having to tell my mum I hadn’t managed to pass…again.

For a few weeks, I gave up. I didn’t want to drive anyway. I was questioning myself over and over again. “Why can’t I just do it?“. What was worse, my younger sister passed first time. Yeah, ouch. My self confidence was in pieces.

forgiving myself

But in the end, I had enough self-awareness to realize that people make mistakes. I picked myself up and became more determined than ever. If I fell again, I knew that I would probably give it up for life, but at least if I passed, it would be out of the way for the next 60 years. It was all or nothing.

I worked hard in my lessons, ironing out every mistake. I was a bit harsh on myself, but I needed it. I wrote down all of the things I’d failed on in the previous tests and made sure I would never repeat them. I soaked up every single word my instructor gave me. I made sure I got plenty of sleep the night before. And when the morning came a few weeks ago, I made myself a shot of coffee, gave myself a pep talk and walked out the door hoping I’d come back with a pass.

And I did.

I felt so relieved that I gave my instructor a massive hug and I was squealing on the way home. I texted my friends and spent the day smiling. Not because I wanted to drive (believe me, I’m not touching a steering wheel for the next 5 years!) but because I had gotten over a giant hurdle that had been a burden on my back for two years. I had gotten over my fear or failure and was rewarded for it.

5 lessons learned from repeated failure

1. It’s all you. You can spend days revising for an exam with your course-mates, but when it comes down to the day, you’re on your own. I hadn’t told my parents that I was taking the last test because I didn’t want to be distracted by their false encouragement (the kind that parents always give their kids – “just try your best honey!“) or even worse, I didn’t want to be motivated by not wanting to let them down. On the day, it’s all down to you – how much you’ve prepared and how you will react to the things that come your way.

I learned that most of the time shifting the blame onto others is avoiding who the real issue is with.

2. Forgiveness is magical. Letting yourself be human is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. A lot of the time, as people, we are too harsh on ourselves and expect robotic performance. ‘If we can’t accomplish something important, we’ve failed at life’ – it’s not like that at all. Accepting that we are good at some things and bad at others takes us a big step closer to changing it.

I’ve learned that hating myself accomplishes nothing. I should forgive, forget and move forwards.

3. Focus is key. If your mind is distracted by the one hundred and one things, you are not focussing on the task at hand. Yes, there are times you have to think about more than one thing at once, but they should all be related to what you’re doing right now. In the previous tests, I would be thinking about what I would do that day after I passed, where I would go etc. I wasn’t concentrating as well as I could have, which was definitely a factor in my failures.

I learned that focus and confidence at the right time and place can distinguish a pass or a fail.

4. Mistakes are lessons in disguise. When we make a mistake, we can either beat ourselves up about it, or take it as an opportunity to learn from them. In my tests, I never committed the same mistake twice. I made absolutely sure that I would never do any of them again. In the end, those who make more mistakes learn more lessons than those who were just lucky.

I learned that the biggest mistake is to not learn from your mistakes.

5. Persistence makes a difference. Finally, I’ve learned to never give up. If you keep trying and trying, one day it will happen. Don’t miss out out on stuff because it didn’t work out the way you wanted the first time you tried it. Sure, there will be ups and downs, but you should just just enjoy the ride. It’s much better to be on the roller-coaster, than just watching it.

I learned that the only real failure is simply giving up.

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5 Lessons learned from a year of vegetarianism

For the last year, I’ve been on a vegetarian diet. I didn’t eat any meat (except for fish very occasionally) and based my diet on vegetables, rice and many other kinds of plant based foods. I made the switch by gradually reducing my meat intake during summer last year so that by the time I moved to uni, I didn’t have any problems cutting it out. Since I cooked for myself, it was very easy to buy ingredients and make whatever I wanted to eat (or not to eat).

However, unfortunately, once I fly for my year abroad, I will have to give it up. The reason why I can’t continue to be a vegetarian (as much as I would love to) is because it would impose a lot of difficulty on my host family. I think it would be too hard for my them to prepare a separate meal for me every single day in a country that pretty much bases its food pyramid on rice, fish and beef. I will try my best to eat as little meat as I can, but I also don’t want to ‘miss out’ on some cultural experiences.

Just a quick note, I’m not trying to convert anyone and I’m not saying eating meat is evil or any of that stuff. I’m simply just reflecting on the few things that I learned during my year of being a veggie.

lessons from the humble veg

1. Everyone has their reasons. I didn’t really tell anyone I was a vegetarian unless it was necessary, such as when they were making me dinner, or we if were going out for one. This was because if there’s one thing I can guarantee it’s that as soon as I tell somebody, the first thing they’ll say is “why!?“, after which I have to give my much rehearsed spiel of “it’s a combination of mostly health for me, but I also care a lot about the animals and the environment…” and so on. I’ve said it so many times that I wish people would just say something like “okay, cool” as if I had said “I don’t like the color pink” and be done with it.

I’ve learned that although I should be grateful that people are interested, many people simply just like to question your reasons instead of accepting what is.

2. Not everybody will understand. I used to like to eat meat, but I didn’t love it so much that I would defend it to my death. In the beginning, I didn’t know what to expect when people found out, but now I know that there are some who find it very hard to just be respectful about it. Some people were fine, they would ask me if it was okay for them to eat meat in front of me (to which I replied ‘I don’t care about other people, just that I didn’t eat it’). But some acted like I was trying to convert them or something and would immediately go on the defensive about it. “But those animals wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for us!“. “It’s not our fault we’re on the top of the food chain!“. “But don’t you need meat for protein!?“. At first I would argue that all of these reasons were pretty much invalid but in the end I just gave up having debates everyday before my dinner and just let it go.

I’ve learned that some people, rather than be understanding, respectful or even tolerable about it, would rather argue their own point to justify their meat eating.

3. It’s not just leaves. Now onto the good stuff. Since becoming vegetarian, I’ve learned to cook about four or five times as many different dishes than if I had stuck with meat. I learned to use different types of rice, all kinds of beans, nuts and lentils, mushrooms, vegetables I’d never tried before and lot’s of seasonal fruit. I would have probably missed out on easy and quick ways to put together salads, soups, pastas and entire courses if I’d just stuffed myself with a burger and chips. As a bit of a foodie, all of these lessons were absolutely enlightening. (Also, yes, I did lose a lot of weight ;))

I’ve learned a lot about my body, what constitutes a healthy diet and about preparing food in general.

4. Willpower can be amazingly strong. Personally, I have always found it difficult to resist really fattening things like chocolate, cakes and desserts. So I don’t buy them. But when they’re in the fridge for the rest of my family whilst I’m at home, it takes an absolutely enormous amount of willpower for me to resist it. When I first started to give up meat, it was a little difficult and I would almost forget sometimes. However, I’ve noticed that over time, it became easier and easier for me to resist until I got to a point where I just didn’t feel like I wanted to eat any at all. It’s very rare now that I want to eat meat, and I never have cravings for it.

I’ve learned that the way to treat cravings is to not feed them and eventually they will die. Now if only I could apply this to chocolate.

5. Fresh and simple food is the stuff of life. Finally, I’ve learned that food isn’t something we should feel bad or guilty about. It’s fuel for the body, and fuel for the soul. It should make us feel happy and healthy. It should give us energy, not drag us down. Preparing food should be a joy, not some stressful routine we have to endure. We should eat foods as close as we can to how they’re given to us by Mother Nature, not canned, baked, boiled and fried until it’s barely recognizable.

I’ve learned to be more grateful for my food and what it really means to be closer with nature.

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Image: Chez Us

5 lessons learned from 10 years of living by the beach

The beach where I grew up.

For me, the start of a new academic year has always been more significant than the start of a new calendar year. It will probably change in the future but having been a schoolkid/student all my life, September brings a much bigger change for me than January does. That’s why I’ve decided to start the 5 Life Lessons category to put them all together.

As the end of summer approaches, I always begin to look forward to the next big step in my life. Last year, the ‘big step’ was moving away from home. This year, it will be moving away from my home country. I know I won’t be returning for a full year, so lately I’ve been reflecting on how much I’ve learned from growing up by the beach.

I mention the beach in a lot of my posts, and I like to use beach pictures for the illustrations because it has played such a massive role in my growing up. Just like any environment would affect anybody’s upbringing, here are some things I’ve learned from spending every spring and summer by the sea.

lessons from the sea

1. Perspective changes. When I first moved here, I was just a kid. The beach was so magical back then, all I wanted to do was make sandcastles and splash about in the water. As I grew into a teen, it became ‘uncool’ to do such things, instead, it was more acceptable to sunbathe because our looks were all we cared about during those years. It was in those times when I felt most self-conscious wearing a bikini, and even though I was not totally comfortable, it was worse not to wear one when everyone else was. Eventually, we grew up, built some self confidence and sunbathing/bikini days became barbecues, bonfires and drinks on the beach with friends.

I’ve learned that as we grow up, our outlook on even the same things change over time. Everything is in constant flux, nothing stays the same forever, especially ourselves.

2. Nature is beauty. From the first time I saw it until now, and every time in between, I’ve never grown tired of looking at the great blue sea melt into the horizon in the distance. I’ve never grown tired of watching the sunset or sunrise change the colour of the sky, painting it all shades of pinks, purples and oranges. I’ve never not felt soothed by the feeling of sand between my toes or the sound of the waves washing into the shore. Part of the reason why I love mediation so much is because I have such a great place to do it.

I’ve learned that Mother Nature is so, so beautiful.

3. Pollution is a crime. On that note, there’s nothing worse than spoiling all that because of pollution. In my eyes, pollution is laziness. Normally, I am a very liberal person and I wouldn’t think twice about letting people do what they want (as long as they’re not hurting anyone) but I’ve realized I am quite intolerant of this kind of behaviour. If you can’t be bothered to throw away your rubbish in bins just a few meters away, then don’t ‘bother’ coming to the beach at all. Also, although there aren’t any visible factories in the area, on some days, the sea looks more green/grey than on other days because of junk being thrown into it downstream. And although I still think it looks beautiful, it is never the clear blue kind of sea you see in brochures.

I’ve learned that if people weren’t so selfish, we would all be living in a much better world that would benefit everyone.

4. Fresh air is vital for health and growth. Another thing the beach has helped me do is get fit by running and cycling. When there is such a great and natural place to run everyday, I wonder why anyone would go to the gym (yes, people around here do!) to breathe in that recycled air-con air. I know not everybody lives by the beach, but I think that getting outside is very important when growing up. I was actually born in the city, but I still learned to ride a bike outdoors in the street. We spend too much of our days trapped in our houses/cars/offices/schools/work places that I think it would be good for everyone should try to go outdoors as much as they can. Also, I find the sea air quite healing, and perhaps that’s part of the reason why I almost never get sick (touch wood).

I’ve learned that fresh air is a gift that we should always be grateful for.

5. The world carries on. Everyday, the sun never fails to rise and set. The tide never fails to come in and go out.  The birds never fail to call every morning. There are some things that will never change (for a few million years at least) which shouldn’t be surprising except that I didn’t realize how much life will go on without me. Of course nothing would stop just for me, but I remember coming back to the the beach for the first time in a long while and thinking “It’s all still the same”. Although it was a little upsetting at first, I came to think of it as a reassuring thing that I can rely on at least some parts of my life to stay just like it was when I was a kid.

I learned that the familiar sound, smell and feel of the beach means it will always be my home.

Have you learned any lessons from where you grew up? I would love to know if I’ve missed out on anything. Please let me know in the comments!

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5 high school myths you should debunk today


^ The entrance hall of my actual high school

Ahh, high school. Thinking back to those years brings both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Even though it hasn’t exactly been years since I left, it certainly feels like it. I learnt a lot of things in high school that I thought were ‘the law’ at the time, and I don’t mean physics laws in the classroom. Little did I know, I would be debunking those laws myths pretty soon.

1. Popularity is vital. At school, popularity was like currency, there were the rich, and there were the poor. For some reason, the rich deserved more respect (or fear) than the poor. As a kid, I didn’t even realise that popularity wasn’t even real! It was just a self perpetuating thing that people made up in their minds, projected onto others, who lived up to expectations. It blew up people’s egos and made others feel inadequate. Luckily, I wasn’t on either end of the scale and I lived those years manoeuvring myself around the middle of it. If only I could go back now and tell everyone to stop being so silly and just be themselves.

2. You will only have ‘made it’ when you have a house/car/pool etc. The process goes like this. Go to school, get a degree, get a good job, earn good money, buy a big house, buy a big car, then buy as much as you can = live a good life. Well, that’s what we’re taught. I don’t want to criticise the school system (too much) here, but that’s exactly what it is, a system. Like a factory, we go through one end and come out the other. They tell us all the same thing and hope we get on with it. Then they measure their success by how much we can buy fifteen years later. I guess that’s how there are many more (over-)consumers in the world than there are minimalists. Luckily, we’re here to change all that.

3. Grades are everything. Yes, grades do matter, but they’re not the be all end all of everything. You need good grades if you’re planning to go to university and get a degree, which, even in this internet centered, entrepreneurial world, I still think is relevant. However, you don’t need to burn yourself out and sacrifice everything to get top grades (I was guilty of this) and you don’t need to bring your self confidence down if you don’t get what you want either. Just doing your best and keeping a balance is enough.

4. The lone star shines bright. We used to be told that it was important to stand out whenever we can. That’s when you see head cheerleaders, class reps, student body leaders, sports captains and the lot. A lot of this is a good thing, we learn to be independent and we build up our individuality.

However, in western society (compared to societal perceptions in eastern cultures I’ve studied) the idea of individual merit is pushed so hard that teamwork, humility and fairness is often forgotten. Even when we have to work in teams, a lot of us still strive to either take over, lead the team, or take as much credit as possible. When we’re older, we toot our own horns as loud as we can to show others what we’ve accomplished. It’s not our fault completely, but sometimes we care more about ourselves than the project at hand or the bigger picture. I think there’s something we can learn from eastern cultures here in that sometimes, the product of a team is much more than the sum of all the individuals, no matter how great they think they are.

5. This is how life is going to be. I remember coming out of several boring years of high school thinking, “oh my goodness, my life is going to suck”. But, I quickly realised that high school has basically nothing to do with real life. Yes you learn a couple of things, but most of the academic stuff you learnt you’ll never use again. Plus, high school doesn’t foreshadow how you’ll perform for the rest of your life. Once you leave for university, you’ll have a chance to start again, to be whoever you want to be. You can debunk all these myths and change the way you live and think.

Okay okay, high school wasn’t all that bad. Yes, it seemed to drag on but most importantly, I made some great friends, some of whom I have a feeling I will still be having occasional catch-up chats with twenty years from now.

High school, and university for that matter, is what you make of it, and after debunking these negative myths from high school, I wish you have the best university years to come.

Do you have myths to debunk? Or anything you wish you told your high school self? Please share in the comments!

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Life as chopsticks

Chopsticks. Right now, millions of people are digging into their food with two sticks that have stood the test of time as a utensil for humans, even when countless thousands of other tools, gadgets and products haven’t. But what’s so special about them?

What can we learn from mere chopsticks?

Personally, I have used them all my life, but it was only recently I realised the depth of influence they had in many people’s way of life. They teach us the importance of:

1. Simplicity. They can come in all kinds of colours and sizes but essentially they are just two long sticks. There’s hardly anything more simple than two bits of wood being pushed together. With new technology being released everyday and adverts bombarding us with the need to be able to do more with less, multi-tasking and multiple-use devices, it is sort of refreshing to still have something which has just one use – simply to eat. Chopsticks are a living example that simplicity simply works, and we don’t need to keep developing, improving and fixing things all the time.

2. Versatility. Chopsticks can be used for picking up all kinds of food; meat, veg, rice, even the bones from fish, because by nature, their simplicity means that they are adaptable. Instead of aiming for a niche in an attempt to find a ‘gap in the market’, or to fill a hole that probably doesn’t need filling, they cater to a wide range purposes. Imagine being like chopsticks in this way, able to appeal to many people because you are useful, without worrying about being ‘more innovative’ or ‘better’ in anyway. They just do what they are made to do, they just are.

3. Aim. If you’ve ever tried using them, you know that you can’t get what you want by just haphazardly stabbing at the plate. To be able to get what you want, you have to aim for it. There’s no way you can pick up everything in one go. Know what you want, and just do it. Sometimes, a little bit of focus makes the difference between failure and success.

4. Practice. Using chopsticks doesn’t come naturally. You have to learn to use them and practice it. But how will you learn? Should you just read about it? Most would agree that there’s no better way to practice than to look at the delicious food in front of you and tell yourself  that you can’t have any until you can use the chopstick to get it. In real life, you can read as much as you like about all the things you want to do, but it will just amount to dreams and theory if you don’t try actually doing it. Don’t just watch others eating, put yourself out there and give the chopsticks a go.

5. Slowing Down. A common health tip is to try to eat with chopsticks when you can. Why? Because it slows you down and allows your stomach to tell your brain your’re full before you overeat. Eating with chopsticks is a slower process, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need to slow down and take things one step at a time, break it down at each stage so that we have time to think, to realise that we’re actually full and that we don’t have to keep charging full speed through life.

Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy each morsel of life as it comes.

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