(Warning: Long post ahead.)
Today, I turn 28. It’s not that big of a deal, I know. Afterall, it’s not the big 30. But now that I am at the point of no-return into my late 20s, I’d noticed that my lessons and priorities are much different of those from my younger carefree days, and worth penning down for reflection.
27 was a year of rediscovering myself. Of taking a long hard look in the mirror the past self, after 27 years of just floating through the noise.
As a middle child, I had always been a follower. I never gave much thought to who I was, or what my purpose is in this world. Because I didn’t need to. I only had to walk straight on the path already paved ahead for me and 99% of the time, life turned out pretty much fine.
I spent the entirety of my life absorbing the prescribed Singaporean ideals, beliefs and mindset on what it means to be wife, daughter, sister, employee. And then all of a sudden, I found myself thrown into a different world, where at every possible social event, they ask, without fail: “So, who are you?”. “Why are you here?”, “Tell me more about yourself”. “What do you do in life?”
What makes me, me? I didn’t have an answer to that. Because all this while, I’d only knew what I ought to be in this world, not who to be.
In a way, our move to Switzerland was a necessary part of my growth. Because by removing ourselves away from our past social circle of influence and living life independently, it allowed me the space I needed to re-examine every single part of myself—the good, the ugly, the hidden and the unconscious. It was frustrating having to undo all the past black and white lessons taught in my life. But I needed to come to the realisation on my own, that all that I once used to hold as absolute without questioning, were only illusions of another person’s subjective ideas and beliefs.
27 was the year I started listening to myself and learn to form my own judgement. Based on my opinion, not others.
So, this is my list of the 27 important lessons I’ve learned at 27. I’m openly sharing these lessons, with the hopes that they would bring you comfort and remind you of the light. I know too that I will be reading this list over and over again when life feels heavy and I need the reminder myself.
Life-Lesson #1. Learning to Wait
I have never been a patient person. Be it waiting in line, waiting for the water to boil, waiting for the screen to load…If I want something, I want it. NOW!
But WAITING was the theme song of life at 27.
There were so many instances that Vince and I were forced to surrender our plans and wait upon the Lord. But the biggest wait we experienced this year was with trying to conceive.
(This is something very personal that I am writing about publicly for the first time, so I ask for your understanding and sensitivity as you continue reading).
After 3 years of marriage, Vince and I thought that we were finally ready to start a family.
Initially, I walked by faith, but soon the days, weeks and months dragged. With unanswered prayers, hope deferred and no baby in sight.
It was made even more stressful with pregnancy announcements flooding all over social media. During the same period, I also had my sister and many close friends who were pregnant and shared with me their good news.
I’d be extremely honest, that it was a tough balancing act. In my better moments, I truly rejoiced for all of my girlfriends. Of course I was happy and authentically celebrated with them! But alone, there were other moments. Hard moments. On the inside, I just kept thinking, “God, Why am I not the one instead?”
The raw essence of honest hurting rarely produces pretty thoughts. I’m not proud of this. I’m still challenged by it.
The thing about waiting is that it’s not the ability to wait – it’s having a positive attitude WHILE waiting.
I’m still in this season of waiting. But I know that God is sharpening me in this area in a BIG way with this necessary pause in time.
For those of you that are waiting too for something in life as well right now, I know exactly what you are going through. And I hope you will be encouraged that at the other side of your wait…is a promise fulfilled.
Life-Lesson #2. My plan is not the same as God’s
Piggybacking on #1: I was treating my prayers to God like my online Taobao deliveries. I wanted to know that I’ll get what I ordered. That they will be shipped and delivered according to MY expectations and MY timing. Then I will say Hallulujah and praise the Lord, because because He did EXACTLY what I wanted!
I had all these cleverly constructed 2-year plans, these blueprints of this perfect life that I had planned for myself. Marry at 24, Move abroad at 26. Have a kid at 28. Be successful by 30. I stare at my plans and wish for something other than what I have. Something grander, something more ornate.
But the truth is, sometimes not having my plan all worked out is precisely God’s plan and His biggest blessing,
Had everything gone my way, I know I would have become alot more arrogant with my nose up in the air by now. I wouldn’t have learned all that I was supposed to before being able to claim His promises to the fullest.
Life-Lesson #3. There’s never going to be the “right” time
I learnt this through my adoption process with my puppy, Kaya,
Prior to taking the plunge to become dog-parents, Vince and I had plenty of excuses on why we weren’t ready. We were all by ourselves in a foreign country. We had never owned a pet, and we have busy schedules. And we were extremely nervous about taking on another additional responsibility in a form of helpless, anxious 6 month old puppy!
But here’s the thing. There’s NEVER ever going to be right time to make that move and change everything in your life. It’s the same with bungee-jumping. You’d never be ready to jump until someone pushes you off.
For us, that fateful 5-hour train ride back from Lugano was the push we needed, when both of us talked it out and decided that “OKAY. SCREW ALL THESE DOUBT. We will adopt this dog and make everything else work!”
And so far, it’s got to be the best decision we had made for the whole of 2020.
Life-Lesson #4. Dogs are really Man’s best friend
I never knew that I could feel so much love for an animal. Sometimes when I watch Kaya sleep I feel like my heart could burst right out, and I just want to squeeze and hug him and let him know just how much I love him! There were even nights when I ended up emotionally tearing at the thought that come one day, perhaps 15 years later, he will eventually leave me and this world.
Becoming Kaya’s owner has changed me so much in ways I’d never imagined. One thing’s for sure, that is Vince and I have certainly learnt to be more patient. We learn to find humour and to laugh when we find him ears up and tail wagging next to my shoe laces, all chewed into shreds. We also learnt to things in stride and with grace, because while we might have our own expectations of how Kaya should behave, the fact is that he is just shy and timid by nature, and that’s just how his progress is gonna to be: On his terms, not ours.
And even when I don’t feel like it, I know that I still have to get out and walk him two times a day, come rain, fog, hail or snow. That I am the one responsible for wiping off that smelly vomit when he pukes in the car, for calming him down when he freaks out at the park, for wiping his ass and cleaning his shit.
Because I now have another life depending on me, and the world does’t just revolve around my own selfish wants and needs anymore.
There are still days when I feel like I’m still stumbling along and very inadequate as a dog owner, but the amazing thing is that Kaya doesn’t care. He doesn’t even need me to be perfect. He just wants me to hang out with him and feed him delicious bones everyday!
I was once that person that turned my nose up and pooh-poohed the idea of getting a dog (Can’t even take care of myself…still want to take care of an animal!?) But the love and devotion and forgiveness from a dog is truly bottomless. And once you’d experienced that, you will be so humbled that you’d never regret the decision of becoming a dog parent.
Life-Lesson #5. Seeing the positive in things
This year has been hard on everyone, and for me, it was no exception.
I can choose to dwell on the negative, and grimace about what the pandemic has stolen away from me: The lost opportunities, time away from family, the cancelled plans. Or I can choose to practice positive gratitude and focus on other beautiful things that I already have.
Because life is like a bed of roses. To focus on its beauty isn’t to deny the pain. It’s choosing to be aware of the thorns, but to rest your mind instead on the lush crop of flowers.
And that is a beautiful truth I can let flourish in my heart.
Life-Lesson #6. Don’t ever quit your day-dream
More importantly, find a way to live it.
I knew all along that my time in Switzerland would be finite. Thus the little daydream I had was to travel and see as much of this country and this beautiful world while I have the time, money, and health, and to capture this entire journey in writing.
Things evolved organically and this year, I started out taking on small assignments by partnering with some tourism boards and to promote domestic travel within Switzerland.
As of now, do I have a “K” next to my Instagram follower count? Nope. Am I earning big bucks out of this blog? Not even close. But that’s not even the first reason why I started out writing in the first place.
I’m still here showing up here, day by day. It might be daydream, a side project, or whatever you may call it, but I couldn’t be more proud of what I’ve achieved with this blog, what it has become for me and for others who found meaning and related to it.
It’s small, but it’s mine.
Life-Lesson #7. Spend more time alone
I used to be so afraid of being alone, or being seen alone. Because I associated it with feelings of rejection and being disliked (see point 3). The Olivia back in high school would rather skip lunch than be caught dead eating by myself in the school canteen.
But as I moved to Switzerland, the more I spent time alone, or rather forced to do things on my own, the more I learned that being alone and being lonely are different. That I am okay with solitude. That there is secret present tucked in its unwanted folds, if I’m willing to unwrap it.
Because it was those me-times, when I was walking alone in the park listening to a sermon podcast, or sitting in a café by myself that I experienced God delivering a “right-now” Word” that I desperately needed.
At 27, I am slowly learning to appreciate my own company. Because the gift of solitude is that it allows me to hear more purposefully from the One who knows my aches.
Life-Lesson #8. Learning is the best self-investment
My work centres around e-learning, so naturally I try to walk the talk when it comes to learning. This year, there were different opportunities for me to learn and pick up new skills. For one, I passed my French B1 DELF exams, and that’s probably my proudest achievement of 2020! Along the way, I also picked up vlogging and video-editing, and applying SEO on my blog.
For now, I’m just following my different interests and seeing where they take me, it just keeps life more happening and interesting. I’m still supremely bad at gardening, we shall see how it goes come next spring!
Life-Lesson #9. Other’s opinion don’t matter
This lesson was hard, especially for someone like me who had always been a people pleaser.
I am that goody-two-shoes sort of person who actually make it a personal goal to be liked by everyone: Co-workers, acquaintances I’d just met at the party, the Vietnamese family running the local asian grocery store, online commentators. And then I would get so bothered, so stupidly affected for days when I find out that someone had just said something nasty about me.
I often had thoughts in my head that goes like this:
“Is it too much with this dress and makeup?”
“Why do I even try to be a blogger? Nobody really cares about what I write!“
“Honestly, I don’t feel like joining. But they’re gonna think I’m horrid if I just back out at the last minute!
Then I realised I simply had to stop obsessing over what the world-at-large thinks about how I choose to lead my life, for my own sanity.
Because there will FOREVER be that someone out there who will dislike you or disagree with your actions, no matter what. And that’s fine too, because people are entitled to their own judgement and feelings. That I’ve no control over. What I DO have in control is my own perception and value of myself.
So that hairdresser guy downstairs can ignore my “bonjour”s and shut the door whenever I walk pass him.
Family and strangers alike can urge us to return back to Singapore when actually we both felt safer remaining in Switzerland (at least that was the situation back in March).
Another commented that I’m so impractical wanting to wear a sleeveless maxi dress in the middle of autumn underneath my coat.
Guess what I did.
Life-Lesson #10. Have a mind of your own
When I first arrived in Switzerland, I was told that the hairdressers here aren’t good, they don’t know how to handle our “Asian” hair and getting a haircut here would be a horrible waste of money. And I believed that. That was why for my entire 1.5 years, I’d never dared to step foot into a hair salon.
Until one day, I decided that heck it. I’d just go for that haircut. Even if it ended badly, so be it. It can’t possibly be worse than the lopsided fringe I’d cut myself a few weeks back.
Maybe because my bars were set low…But in the end, the haircut turned out pretty great. Actually, more than great.
Lesson learnt? Don’t parrot others. Go experience things on your own first. Read up and ascertain your facts. Then decide for yourself and make your own judgment call, whether you like it or not.
Not just because others say so.
Life-Lesson #11. Don’t be selfish
Confession: I am a selfish person.
I always have been, and will be till the day I die. Either that or it would take me hard, long years to shed this ugly skin of myself. In church, we were taught the “Cat-Dog” theology”, and I am that self-centred cat through and through. By default, I tend to only think of what’s best for me, my wants and my feelings rather than others.
This year, I’d seen selfishness eating away at my relationship with Vince. I’ve officially become one of those wives that keeps scores and wag my finger when he does something wrong. I get upset. I lash out. Then I give the silent treatment. And it’s been causing a lot of tension between myself and Vince, leaving us feeling distant and emotionally drained.
Here are some of the thoughts that come into my head when I relate to Vince:
“Don’t expect me to deal with your needs now because I’ve got to wrestle with my own inner-demons.”
“Why must I always be the one walking Kaya? He’s YOUR DOG too you know?”
“You ought to be more understanding because I moved all the way to this country because of you.
“Seriously? You can’t even help to clean up the table after eating? Am I the maid that’s supposed to serve you?”
I always thought that it was Vince who was the unreasonable “bad husband”, and me the poor victim.
It’s ironic. But this has probably got to be one of the most selfish perspectives one can have…Seeing yourself as the victim. You expect others to pander to you, to understand and accept you. Yet you retaliate and fight back if they don’t.
Fortunately, I have a husband who has NEVER given up on me. Though I know many times he feels like burying his head into the ground dealing with me!
I know selfishness will show up again and again in our marriage. As for now, I’m working on taking actions that is more about “us”, and less about “me”.
Life-Lesson #12. Talk less, listen more
It’s amazing the amount of things we can learn if just shut up, LISTEN and follow through.
I’m a natural motormouth, so this was something HUGE that I struggled with. But in the last months, I’d heeded Vince’s advice and started working on becoming a better listener and observer. And my goodness, it is a challenge!
I’m taking baby steps at a time, like putting my phone away during meal times, to be fully present during our conversations, not interrupting what Vince is saying, and follow suggestions without bending it to my own interpretation.
And it’s true. When I zip up my mouth shut and take time to process what Vince had just said to me, it helps strip away my emotionally-charged reactions, and I can appreciate the well-meaning intent behind what seemed previously like another snide criticism.
I am still tempted to be combative at times, but the Holy Spirit reminds me things like don’t say something that you’d regret, change your tone, or just walk away and pray about it.
It is a difficult habit to change, but I know that learning to listen is necessary to help me become a better spouse and a more trustworthy emotional support for Vince in our marriage.
Life-Lesson #13. You don’t need to add more clothes to your wardrobe
I used to be that OL camping on blogshops for new arrivals, splurging on new clothes almost every other month…and I’d thought nothing of it.
“Oh well xxx is getting married, of course I need a dress for the wedding dinner!”
Everyone dresses up to the nines in the CB, so I should look presentable and have nicer workwear” “
“BUT I BOUGHT THIS ON SALE!“
Yet for the very first time, I bought zero new clothing for the last 11 months. With a quarter of 2020 already spent in lockdown, and us staying at home most of the time, there just were’t that many reasons to buy that new pair of shoes, or yet another similar sweater in a different shade of colour.
I also unfollowed every single online clothing store on Instagram and unsubscribed to all their mailing lists. That definitely reduced the temptation to shop.
So yes, I might find thrill and pleasure in shopping, but at least now I know for a fact that I don’t need it. The feeling won’t last anyway, I usually end up forgetting I had that item.
Life-Lesson #14. Let It Go
I was given the cold shoulder by a close friend, for reason I still cannot not comprehend up till today.
After a long, distressing period of radio silence and unticked messages…One day I finally decided to snap out of it.
I still could give him or her the benefit of the doubt, but for now there’s no reason for myself to lose sleep over someone that doesn’t reciprocate, nor value the friendship as an equal party.
Because the truth is, I didn’t matter enough to be worth the trouble of replying.
There are friends for a reason, for a season, and for a lifetime. And then that are those that can suddenly disappear without a trace. It sucks, but it happens. And 27 had taught me that sometimes, you just need to learn to close that chapter of life and let it go.
Life-Lesson #15. The art of tidying
I’m not the best at organising and cleaning up. In fact, a lot of my disagreements with Vince has always got to do with household chores.
Yet a huge part of adulting is about bearing responsibility for mundane things like keeping your living space in order, without having to rely on mom, dad, or maid. It is not unreasonable to expect a decent, independent 27 year-old to know how to deal with the dishes piled up at the sink, sort and recycle the trash, wash linens and bathroom curtains, deep clean the fridge and disinfect the bathroom every so often. Bonus points if you remember to water the plants (And not overwater and kill them all in 2 weeks).
I still don’t LOVE tidying, but at least I now have weekly cleaning routine that I stick to. Perhaps Marie Kondo would probably give me 7/10 stars for my effort?
Life-Lesson #16. Life is 100 times easier with a dishwasher
It saves precious time. It saves stress and cuts down on arguments. You also save your hand from getting cut while rinsing wine-glasses…and breaking them.
I am already dreading the day I have to return back to my dishwasher-less kitchen in Singapore and manually washing up after hosting a dinner *cries*
Life-Lesson #17. Say kinder words to yourself
I used to be a really fat kid. With ugly bugs-bunny teeth. Any adult who told my mom that I was a pretty child…they were just being kind.
I remembered this song “Fat fatty bom bom! Sweet sugar don’t take!”. Whoever that had sung that to me probably thought it was funny but really, it wasn’t.
It’s been decades already. I’d since lost the weight, had my braces done, so I can just shrug and laugh it off now. But I think I never fully realised how much that silly childhood sing-song had on me and my self-esteem until now.
We would never say to a friend “You’re so ugly and fat. You have no self-control. You’re useless. You don’t deserve any of it. You won’t make it. ”
So why do we even allow such horrible, garbage thoughts to fill our minds?
We become the words we say to ourselves. So the next time you catch myself in the mirror, say kinder things to the reflection looking back at you.
“I am beautiful, I am strong. I can do it. “
“I am enough.”
Life-Lesson #18. Always end the day with a book
This year, I cultivated the habit of keeping a book by my bedside table and reading a chapter or two every night before bedtime.
I’d read 43 books so far, and I also wrote about my 5 favourite books of all time. Hopefully I can reach my goal of finishing a grand total of 50 books by the end of 2020!
Life-Lesson #19. Don’t compare
We live in a time where we wake up, scroll through our phones, and are constantly bombarded by social media feeds of other peoples’ fabulous lives, homes, relationships, vacations.
It’s all fine…until you start to question your own. And sometimes I do that.
The grass will always looks greener on the other side. Maybe because they come from a family of gardeners. Or that they’d been tending to it more dilligently. Or that the grass is fake. Doesn’t matter.
Tend to your own grass, because life is not a competition. You just need to be better than who you were yesterday.
Life-Lesson #20. Because things are never what it seems
Dee Kosh acted so high and mighty and criticised Eden Ang so much online previously…but look who turned out being a paedophile himself? Then there’s the K-pop idol Sulli who looked like she’s had the best life, but still she committed suicide after suffering from cyber-bullying.
Too often we place other people (friends, bosses, pastors, political figures, celebrities) up on a pedestal and forget that they are all just humans like you and I. Everyone is fighting their own battles, with their fair share of pain. Dark thoughts. Sins. Self-doubt. Aimlessness.
What others portray of themselves online is NEVER the full story. I know this for the fact that I myself am guilty of posting a bright and chirpy Insta-story on the day I was moping around on the sofa in 3-day old clothes feeling like shit. And nobody would know, unless I choose to tell them.
We are all not that different from one another after all.
Once I realize that and (see #19), I don’t get too distracted by another highlight reel.
Life-Lesson #21. Treasure your parents
As I get older, I can now better appreciate my parents, and the choices and sacrifices they made at different points in their lives to raise us. They really did all they could to give us the best. Even till today.
Our parents love us with their actions, not words. Despite the 7 hour timezone difference and all the physical distance, Mom is still the one who Whatsapp-call every other day, nagging at me to drink barley water in the summer (天气很热), making sure that I remember to blowdry my hair every night after showering (等你老了你就知道!) or to correct my fried bee-hoon recipe (哎呀你加太多水了！)
Both sets of parents didn’t even bat an eyelid on spending hundreds of dollars on postage fees…just to mail ONE PACKET OF MILO over (along with other random stuffs). Because they know we are running low on it, and that we drink it for breakfast everyday.
Vince and I might be 28 and 31 already, but in their eyes, we will always still be the kids that they still can’t stop fussing over.
I’m also acutely aware that me residing overseas means that I have far less time with my parents. The first time we went back to Singapore this year, I made the mistake of jam-packing my schedule to meet everyone, and I ended up with little time with mom and dad. On my next return, I’d decided to be more intentional and set more time aside for them and my family.
Life-Lesson #22. Own up to your mistakes
It’s easier to call it bad luck for losing another personal belonging for the umpteenth time, than to admit that my chronic carelessness has been seriously costing me a huge and unnecessary waste of time and money.
If you make a mistake, be brave enough to own up and take responsibility for it. Learn, DON’T REPEAT, and move on.
Life-Lesson #23. Ask and you will receive
So many of the good things that happened this year occurred because I learnt to be thick-skinned, pitch myself and ASK.
Let’s face it. people aren’t mind-readers. Only those who ask plainly get what they want. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?
Only a 2 letter word.
Life-Lesson #24. Don’t box up others based on stereotypes
There was an Asian mother with her son walking into our Sunday school. I thought it would be nice to say hi to the little boy and get him to play with the other kids. So I asked his mother, in Mandarin: “他会说华语吗？“
She hesitated, and replied me that actually…they aren’t Chinese. They are from Mongolia, and in fact the boy is half-Swiss.
Immediately, I felt embarrassed of myself. I’m always annoyed when the Swiss locals brush me off without asking and assume that I’m Chinese/Korean/Japanese, but here I am, doing exactly the same thing to another minority woman?
Our world is increasingly diverse. Rather than jumping into conclusion about others based on their gender, looks, accents or the colour of their skin, give others the freedom to introduce their origins, and their story.
Life-Lesson #25. I have different facades of myself
There is a duality in life that I’m only now learning to embrace. I am not the same person as I am with different groups of people. I can be super outgoing for one moment but quiet and withdrawn the next, I can be focused and driven at work but be a total klutz at home.
You could be two different kinds of people, because opposite things can be simultaneously true.
Life-Lesson #26. Sometimes, good enough is good enough
There was no need to kill myself to strive for perfection, which had only given me more stress and self-doubt than motivation.
Life-Lesson #27. Love difficult people
Because You’re one of them.
Happy Birthday, me.
I don’t have my life all sorted out as of now. But at 28, I feel loved and grateful for all that I have, and all that I am today.
Thank you for being with me on my imperfect journey!