There was contentment and fulfillment during the weekend that had just passed. I had attended an event to which I was hearing about ideas and experiences by many interesting speakers. I happened to be one of the speakers as well. It was exhilarating to maneuver through the speech that I had prepared. The next day was spent consulting clients, and having a hearty family dinner. I was then enjoying the after-effects of the weekend for the whole of Monday; feeling full, contented, and well-rested.
Being fulfilled and content can indeed be a pleasurable feeling. At the same time, it was a confusing thing for me to experience. It felt like there was nothing else that I could possibly want or look forward to. It was frightening to feel that way. If I do not want anything else, does it mean that I do not have anything to work towards in my life?
Since starting on my entrepreneurial journey, there has always been a kind of hunger within me. A hunger to achieve what I want and to start on projects that I find to be meaningful. This drive of mine was fueled by a feeling of something being “incomplete”, like pieces of a puzzle that that needs to be put together. I explored, took risks, and at times felt like I had to brave through the consequences on my own. I felt that this experience developed perseverance and courage, which fueled this fire within me to soldier on. In a nutshell, what kept me going during the second half of my 20s was a mix of passion and angst towards the world, idealism over possibilities, and an undying need for learning and doing.
Which was why this feeling of fulfillment and contentment that I had was scary.
It took away the security of an identity that I had built over the past 3 years. Accepting my current feelings would mean taking away the idea of who I was and what I stood for. Instead of feeling like things needed building, I am to feel like things are alright; that I am good with where I am instead of having a destination to go to. I find myself clinging on to this idea of this hungry and passionate dreamer with a chip on his shoulder. I resisted the idea that I am possibly this person who is happy with who he is and how his life is. Essentially, I was afraid of youth, passion, and energy leaving my being.
Coincidentally, a colleague had invited me to a men’s support group later that night. I was looking forward to this. I oftentimes felt like there was a lack of support or guidance in going through life and the mysteries that come with each moving step. Surprisingly, I received so much value from listening in on the experiences of others. It was rejuvenating to fell connected with other men from different age groups and different backgrounds. The only commonality we had stems only from being the same gender and experiencing that one life that we all have.
We spoke a lot about psychological shifts that needed to happen in order for a successful life transition to happen. We talked about how surrendering can be empowering. In the words of one of the men, surrendering oneself can feel like a newborn baby being held against the bosoms of the mother: a psychological state of relief, love, and belonging.
Holding on to an identity that no longer serves me was restricting and limiting to my personal growth. As I’ve developed that idea of self for the past few years, there’s some sense of familiarity and security that comes with it. On the other hand, embracing who I currently am can leave a whole lot of room for error. What is “right” behavior, and what is “wrong”? There isn’t a working template to refer to, and that can be anxiety provoking. At the same time, the only way to successfully transition to this developmental phase of my life is to let go and surrender to this experience, trusting that it will all turn out alright. It eases the tenseness, the stuck-ness, and the restrictions to me being my honest and true self.
I felt a deep sense of connection with myself since that group sharing. I’ve sailed past slightly troubled waters, and now feel the calmness of the sea, with the sight of a bright golden coastline. The warm sunlight with the sound of the waves and birds makes my skin reverberate with positivity and fulfillment. There is much joy in embracing who I am. I am now certain that I can enjoy the sweetness that my 30s will bring me.
Here’s to a decade of experiencing the enjoyment of just doing and being.
I vividly remember the first time I ever addressed an audience. It was my first semester in university. Up until then, I’ve only listened to teachers giving their speeches during morning assemblies. The opportunity never came up, and I did not experience any form of public speaking up until I was close to being 20 years old.
I have always been an active participant in sports and social activities. There were little, if at all, difficulties with being around people. I had the impression that I could present to an audience quite similarly to how I interacted with others in day to day life. “Just keep in mind what I have to share and talk about it in front of them”, I told myself.
I have never been so wrong.
As soon as I went up to the classroom, my body began to tremble. I was stuttering a lot. Somehow, the ideas that I wanted to share with the other students did not appear in my mind. There were long uncomfortable moments of silence. I stumbled around mentally, looking for the points that I thought I had prepared. It was a mess.
I learned later on that what I experienced was anxiety. Instead of believing that it is a point of weakness, I took it as a challenge. I began rehearsing more before each presentation and prepared cue cards for points that I’d like to keep in mind. I even went to the extent of challenging social anxiety by approaching strangers at the mall, university, bars and clubs. At first, I would start with asking for the time. I then went up a notch by introducing myself, and asking for the other person’s name. And then, I worked up to initiating conversations instead. I have to be honest: I felt like I was going to faint the first time I approached a stranger!
I do not identify with the term “conquer your fears”. I’ve had my fair share of experience speaking in public since that paralyzing speech in university. What I’ve learned is that the fear never really goes away. Every time I am addressing an audience, I feel the same anxiety that overwhelmed me when I was 20 years old. When I go on stage, I feel my limbs trembling. Each time, there will be a gush of blood to my head. I start feeling flushed and my thoughts get scrambled. This doesn’t change no matter how many times I give a talk to an audience.
What has changed though, is the belief in my abilities to manage the situation. There is no talent in this. It is purely based on experience from repeating the same behavior over and over (and over) again. I have also learned that no matter how bad the talk is, that in the grand scheme of things, it is no big deal! I’m still alive, so it can’t be that bad?
I am writing this because of the anxiety I felt at a recent TEDx talk that I presented regarding a mental health platform in Malaysia. Even if I may look calm and composed, my mind was actually all over the place! You have probably seen someone doing something that you’d always like to do. However, you may at times believe that doing it is beyond your abilities. Remember this: this person once felt exactly the same way as you. The only difference is that he or she started doing it and (currently) has more experience!
There is wisdom from the tagline of a well-known sports apparel company. When facing your fears, one simple advice to follow is: “just do it”.
This is a video of me sharing to an audience of students my experience so far since completing my studies, being employed, and venturing into business.