“Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.”
Rainer Maria Rilke,
Letters To A Young Poet
I’m turning 23 today, so does that mean I get to take a break from writing?
Well, perhaps not.
For me, the real break is in the writing process — when I’m in the flow, when my mind is totally focused on gathering notes and stringing words together. The real struggle is in not doing anything, or feeling like it.
Anyway, I thought I’d do something a little different this week by reflecting on a few of the things I’ve learned from turning a year older.
You Never Know How You Might Change
This year I’ve picked up several unexpected interests and experiences that I never thought I would have. Most recently, I’ve suddenly been having a craze for hot sauce, probably from watching too many Matty Matheson videos. I might have turned into that typical hot sauce enthusiast who keeps a bottle handy everywhere he goes.
I’ve also turned into a huge Witcher fan, and I’ve even gotten my platinum trophy in the Witcher 3 video game. It’s weird considering it was a video game that I attempted to play twice but ended up bailing on it after a couple of hours, because it just wasn’t my cup of tea. After giving it a third try and pushing through, it turned into my favorite game this year.
The point is, I’ve learned not to make fixed judgments on people, including myself — after all, you never know how you might change. You could never really predict how you might grow, or what you might learn in life — and that’s what makes life exciting.
Never Skimp Out on Self-Rewards
A recurring thought that I have on every birthday is a genuine puzzlement by how I’m still alive — especially when I look back at the challenges I’ve had to overcome.
The people in my life, especially my psychiatrist, lecturers, family and friends made me realize how little credit I often give myself. They would point out how even when getting out of bed is a huge struggle for me, I would still show up in every class and ask questions, I would still be reading books and writing articles, as well as tending to my hobbies. Yet, I would have the tendency to minimize or be cynical about any successes I might have.
This year I’ve decided to take consistent steps in giving myself a pat on the back for even the small things, like submitting an assignment or going through a busy week. I’d often reward myself with a cup of coffee from a café, or lunch at a favorite restaurant, or even just going for a long drive.
Be Guided by Your Own Compass
One of my lecturers, who is more of a mother figure to me by now, recently gave a me a piece of advice for post-graduation. She said that, down the road, you might find yourself regretting the path you’ve chosen. Especially when you compare yourself to other people who might be making more money than you, it’s easy to feel like whatever challenges you have on your plate aren’t even worth going through.
As she advised, be guided by your own compass — your own definition of fulfilment and happiness. She shared about how it had taken her 7 years to get her PhD. For a long while, it seemed like the other people in her life were far more successful, yet she learned to stand by her own values.
Though I personally feel that I’m used to being an oddity and not having a sense of competition, it’s worth bearing in mind that success is up to us to define. Everyone values different things — some might be content working in a corporate 9 to 5 job, and some have a strong thirst for adventure and are willing to risk starting their own business or take an unconventional career path. It’s just about trusting your own values.
Let Life Happen
One of the most comforting thoughts that I could have is that everything comes from Allah. So, even if the most overwhelming events happen with Allah’s permission, there has to be good in them. And I can be more than certain that He is guiding me the entire time.
Especially when it comes to making mistakes, it used to be more common for me to beat myself up over them. But I’ve learned to be more self-compassionate, and even laugh at myself and not take everything too seriously — because ultimately, all of it has made a better person and I believe that it serves me in some way.
It’s kind of like a mantra in my head, where I would tell myself to “leave everything you can’t control to Allah”. While I can’t control people or events, I can do my best to learn from them and improve myself. Better yet, when I remember that all of those worrying uncontrollable events are under Allah’s care, I would immediately feel at rest.
To quote Rainer Maria Rilke in one of his letters, “Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.”
Take Small but Consistent Actions
One of the most well-known advice that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gave is that it’s better to take small but consistent forms of action, than it is to do something at a grand scale but infrequently (Hadith verified by Bukhari and Muslim).
This is a wonderful thing to practice because doing something ridiculously small on a consistent basis (eg. every day) makes the habit much more doable. Plus, while it’s easy to underestimate the value of small habits, the impact that it could have on your life in the long term can be really huge — just imagine in the frame of months or years.
Earlier this year I started meditating at least 10 minutes every morning, and it has helped me a lot in keeping my composure. I’ve since not had a strong tendency to grasp and ruminate on every thought that comes.
Since last month, I’ve also been starting my morning with a page from Robert Greene’s The Daily Laws. It has done a lot in keeping my mind occupied on its daily lessons, related to human nature and dealing with people. Within a relatively short period of time, I noticed that I’m less irritable by petty dramas and conflicts — and that I’m more able to save that energy for more important pursuits.