(No, not today. But yes, I was born in April!)
In many ways, my twenties sucked.
I had a rockier start to my career than many of my peers. Then things continued to stay rocky up until my current company. I got depressed. People exploited me. I fell out with some people. Rejection, rejection, rejection.
Sometimes, I hated everyone and everything. I’d retreat into my world of anime, art, and books.
I grew up so much in my twenties. Mainly because I was forced to by circumstances. I was stupid and naïve at the start. Much less so now.
I’d like to think that I am hard-boiled. That I have gone through enough to be able to face anything with boldness and swag.
Then I feel scared and vulnerable again. I realise that there is still a lot about the world that I don’t know, that I will always be a work in progress.
My twenties were tumultuous. But I learned a lot and became a stronger, worldlier, and kinder person. For that, I am thankful.
1) Take ownership of my career
What sort of training do I need? Do I want to go deeper into a field, make a lateral move, or go upwards to become a manager? Are there any skills I can develop outside work, on my own, that will help me in the long run?
It’s up to me to chart the way forward. If it means pivoting in a new direction, or moving on to seize a better opportunity, so be it.
2) Done is better than none
I used to try to perfect my work as much as possible. Only to bust my deadlines, pissing off the people who were waiting for my submission.
Now, I do my best but make sure I submit on time. Even if I feel that the work could be better. A deliverable, no matter how incomplete or shoddy, can always be improved on. But nothing can be done with … nothing.
3) Learn how to “manage up”
I sucked at this at the start of my career. I thought doing as my bosses said would make them happy with me. Turns out things are way more complicated than that.
Managing up means helping the bosses do their jobs well. It includes things like anticipating their needs, being proactive, and providing solutions not problems. Knowing how to manage up has saved my ass on numerous occasions.
4) The working world is brutal (but I’m not powerless)
I’ve experienced bullying. Gaslighting. Nasty politics. Unfair dismissals. A two-faced team mate who was supposed to be my work buddy.
All these are common in the working world, unfortunately. I’ve heard many similar tales from friends.
But I am not powerless. This is why it’s important to take ownership of my growth and skills. So that if shit hits the fan, I have no qualms about moving on to better places.
5) No one is truly “ready”
I didn’t feel ready to take on project management responsibilities. But I had to.
I didn’t feel ready to do public relations for the startup I work for, especially since I failed at PR years ago. But I had to.
Many times, I’ve felt like an imposter or fraud at work.
But I realise that no one is truly “ready”. Circumstances and organisations change, and we just have to step up and take on new challenges. That’s the only way to grow.
6) Have higher expectations of myself, lower expectations of others
Sometimes, I feel so disappointed with others. Why aren’t you happier about this?! Why didn’t you do that?! Etc.
But I can’t control how people think, feel, behave, etc. Sometimes, they have reasons for doing what they did. Reasons that may have nothing to do with me.
What I can control, are my own thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. So, instead of always reacting to other people, I focus on being a better self.
7) NO neediness
“If you can’t walk away from a negotiation then you aren’t negotiating. You’re writing out the terms of your slavery” ~ James Altucher
Neediness is unattractive. More importantly, a needy person is easy to exploit. Sure, there were times when I wanted something so bad. But I would never accept a deal that demanded so much of me, but nothing or too little from the other party.
ALWAYS be prepared to walk away from someone or something.
8) Sincerity (rather than authenticity) is attractive
In recent years, authenticity has become an ideal. “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. “Be a first-class version of yourself and not a second-class version of someone else”. Etc.
Nothing wrong with authenticity per se. But …
… what if your authentic self is a nasty, douchebag-y piece of shit?
I reckon it is better to be sincere. Sincerity is honesty that comes from the heart, not some sense of “this is who I am, take it or leave it.”
9) Everyone is fighting their own battles (part one)
Haunted by trauma from the past. Troubled by their present circumstances. Or scared of a future they have little control over.
But often, it’s hard to tell by looking.
I try to tell myself that most people are not nasty by default. What they do or say to me may not even be personal. They could just be struggling with some hurt, worry, insecurity, anguish, fear, sorrow, etc. that I don’t know about.
So, be kind. Judge less. Have empathy and compassion. Listen.
10) Make human connections (even if I am an extreme introvert)
At times, I have zero desire to interact with people. I’m still healing from the darkness I went through, and I’m scared of getting hurt again.
But shutting myself off from the world is no way to live. At some deep level, despite everything, I still want to make human connections.
So, I talk to them, listen to them, learn about them. Look into their eyes and then … magic.
ON (MENTAL) HEALTH
11) It’s not healthy to feel under siege all the time
Over the years, many people hurt me or let me down. Over the years, I developed a siege mentality against attempts, real or perceived, to take advantage of me.
I became hyper-sensitive. Paranoid. Short-tempered. I told myself that any attempts to “hurt” me should be resisted twice as hard.
These days, I am better at managing this siege mentality. I understand that not everything is about me, all the time. I understand that I am not the only one out there who still feels vulnerable and afraid.
12) This, too, shall pass
I thought no one would hire me after I left the civil service, and that I would drift around aimlessly for the rest of my career.
I thought I was “cursed” when it came to jobs, because I left one job after another on a bad note. Dissatisfied at best, or mentally scarred at worst.
I thought that after he left, I would never get over him. I kept wondering if there was some way we’d meet again.
But, somehow, I got over them all.
13) Everyone is fighting their own battles (part two)
A close mate dealt with her pain by drinking five consecutive vodkas, and then threw it all up.
A couple of folks I know tried to commit suicide.
A friend was so sad that she cut herself. The scars remain visible on her arms today.
Many of the people who I thought were tough and strong turn out to have some kind of hidden hurt.
We need to talk about mental issues like depression and PTSD more openly, and with less judgement.
14) A burden shared is a burden halved
I read this advice in a book many years ago. It saved my life many times since.
I tend to think too much about my problems, until they get blown out of proportion. Talking to someone helps to put things in perspective.
Next month, I am finally going to see a therapist about my mild depression. On the advice of a friend who had depression. She said she wanted me to get better so that I could realise my full potential.
ON PERSONAL GROWTH
15) Creativity is a superpower that can be honed
Lots of folks think that a creative streak is something people are born with.
I say nay.
Creativity is like a muscle; it gets stronger through consistent training and practice.
I want creativity to be one of my superpowers. So, since 2017, I make it a point to do something creative every day. I write, either for work or for this blog. I draw, so that I can be as good as the professional manga artists I admire.
16) Do my best, surrender the rest to the universe
I have a little prayer that I say often, while staring into the depths of the night:
“Thank you for all the good things that happened so far. I’m grateful, and I’ll continue to do my best.”
I do what I can to succeed: learn, practice, seek help, etc. These are the things within my control.
I surrender the results to the universe, and trust that everything will work out all right in the end.
17) Consistency is the key to growth
James Altucher said that for whatever it is I am passionate about, improve at it at least 1% a day. Because,
“1% per day, compounded, equals 3800% per year.”
So, I make it a point to show up every day to write and draw. At least 25 minutes (one Pomodoro) worth of effort. Sometimes, I don’t feel like it and have to force myself to. Sometimes, I dislike the output and I despair.
But, over time, all that effort truly made a difference.
18) “The first hour of the day belongs to you”
This advice came from Ben Settle.
He said that early mornings are when you have the most energy and enthusiasm. So, spend that precious time on your personal projects. Then you can tackle other commitments like your job. By the end of the day, you’ll feel great about making progress towards your goals.
I’ve been doing this for a couple of years. It’s how I find time to be consistent with my goals.
19) Enjoy the process, don’t focus so much on outcomes
Lost in life? Keep going. The mere act of moving forward towards something is powerful, because motion sets off discovery, growth, and change.
I remind myself that the present is all I have. So, enjoy the journey. Watch what happens out of the corners of my eyes. See what blooms along the way forward. Discover (or rediscover) things about myself.
One day, I might find a more worthy or fulfilling purpose than the one I originally sought.
Realise that, in many ways, I am incredibly lucky.
I am lucky to be born in a safe country. To have a family that loves me and supports me. To have friends that care about me and I can count on them. To be in good health. To have come this far in life, despite some serious setbacks, and have reasons to look forward to the future.
In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t done too badly.
All I have to do is keep going forward, with an open mind and heart.
Happy birthday, YY 😊