Viviane Fathimani, UK
June? Already?! We are half way through 2014, but I do find this a strange time of year to already be reflecting on it. Usually June is busy, not reflective. By June we are all fixed in our routines, and (in Britain at least) dreaming of the promised sunshine. Thinking back on the year gone by usually happens for me all of a sudden somewhere in the middle of November. Now that I think of it, this always happens in November, I don’t really know why. Perhaps because the end of the year is looming and I am thinking about all the things I didn’t quite get round to doing. Looking back through my diaries I can see several ‘November Again’ entries. It is always November that gets me. But perhaps it isn’t a bad idea to look back on the first half of the year, now; then we still have a 6-month shot at carrying out any plans we had in the New Year.
Now that I look back on the first half of 2014, I realise that something important has changed this year. Something important that I might not have been able to place in time had I not looked back until my customary November panic. As I sit at my desk writing, I am aware of a scruffy list I have placed on top of a messy, and surprisingly high, pile of other lists. In the past, my endless lists (which are nothing new) would have been a reason to stop writing and get back to work, as it were – running and completing errands, reassessing goals, making them more realistic (if not crossing them out altogether!). As I sit and reflect on the last six months, I realise that this year has been a bit different to the last few. Although it has raced by, like the last five years or so, faster even, I have felt able to do things in my own time and, for once, not get annoyed at myself for not fulfilling my January, February, April goals on time.
Since my diagnosis with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) in late 2009, my perception of time has been constantly changing. At first, it was all about doing as much as I could in the time I had left – MS kind of reminded me that we are not here forever. I sort of panicked and decided I needed to focus on things I really wanted to do. I started learning German, took up drawing lessons, learned to use a sewing machine, really got into yoga, took up the bass guitar, started singing lessons, decided to write a book – all this on top of a new healthy lifestyle, and all at roughly the same time! Soon I started to work as a teacher full-time, and still had most of these other plans in the back of my mind, picking up one then another on weekends or holidays and after hours of marking homework!
MS has been a wonderful eye-opener. Although initially I rushed in all directions trying to do everything, it has also made me learn to enjoy the moment, and to reject unnecessary stress and distress. And, gradually, as I have learned to maintain my health – both physical and mental, it has also made me realise that if I am going to live well for as long as I can, I need to slow down when I have symptoms or relapses – or rather, before they begin at all.
The year 2014 for me has been about putting this last, important realisation into practice. I have lots of goals and lots of things I was expecting to have started this year, that I have not yet been able to. But there is one thing that has really started to change; I have slowed down and learned to stop when I need to rest, before reaching the point of no return, the point I always reach, where I have overdone things, again. This, for me, has been a tremendous achievement, and I am working each day to remind myself that, although time is whizzing away, there is no point in doing everything, if it eventually means I will reach a point where I can no longer do anything anymore. I am also very pleased to have stopped like this, mid-year, to notice this change – which I have known for some time now was a necessary one.
A close friend of mine turned 30 this year, and as I thought about useful things to tell her in this significant year, the year that I too will turn 30, I came across a very wise piece of advice for 30-somethings: You can’t have everything, so focus on doing a few things really well. This made a lot of sense to me. Instead of spreading yourself thinly, trying a bit of everything; the key is to try to do fewer things well, in depth and whole-heartedly.
I feel like the universe has been trying to tell me this since the death of both of my grandmas in late 2013. My grandmothers, aged 95 and 89, lived 4,456km away from one another their entire lives, never meeting, and died within a month of each other. I felt they were both sending me the same message; that I am not going to live forever, that no one is immortal. In my reading I have come across a similar message. I am currently reading the books of Carlos Castaneda. He relates the teachings of Don Juan, who argues that the only life worth living is that of a warrior; someone who performs every act as if it were their last on earth. The universe is telling me that I will not be here forever and so I’d better get on with my plans, and do them well!
Although I have decided on a few things to focus on, my main personal goal is to stay well, and to do this, I need to continue to take things slowly. So I am not worrying about not accomplishing too much this year. I have already achieved perhaps one of the most important life goals for myself, as part of my management of MS. I hope that you too will have decided on a few important things to focus on; and if you haven’t yet decided or started working on it – you still have six glorious months in which to do so.
If you know anyone with Multiple Sclerosis, please share this blog with them on managing the illness naturally.
About the author: Born in Leeds and raised in East London; Viviane’s challenging time at Oxford University brought her two great loves; Proust and Mexico. Living in Mexico a number of years with her Mexican boyfriend, she worked as an interpreter on a bilingual radio station and taught English, French and Literature. She loves trees, yoga and the pacific coast of Mexico. She is currently living down the road from her old primary school with her Mexican and one of her best school friends.
Becky Clayton, UK/ Hong Kong
I began January 2014 in something of a state of depression. Life, it seemed, was just not shaping up the way I’d intended. (I would say “hoped” but I am far too much of a control freak for that.)
Having left Hong Kong in September to come home to England and start a PhD, by January I’d truly woken up to the misery-inducing realisation that I was living the life of a single student in a single study-bedroom eating single meals for less than one, and all with not even the highly-strung yet adorable cat I’d spent a small fortune relocating home with me to cheer things up. Wherever she was (in my mother’s quaint old country cottage as it happened, lucky thing!), was my home.
I tried telling myself that this was inevitable winter blues but that I was on the right track, pursuing a course of study I not only loved but had spent months, years planning for, looking forward to, working and saving hard for, and now here I was! I was even learning Latin on the side for free! What more could I ask for?
But, sans-money, sans-boyfriend, sans-cat and home and even, ironically, sans-family (so near and yet still so far!), I was perhaps most importantly sans-health, physical or mental.
Something had to change. My New Year’s resolution therefore was this: not to end the year the way it had begun. And so, in very Bridget Jones fashion, I began a new diary to find – and quite literally, write! – my way out of those dark depths and back into the current of life again.
By March I’d finished that 200-odd page notebook and made several more resolutions. First, to take a break from study; second, to go to India and regain my health, my spirit, my balance; and then, finally, I would go to Hong Kong and reclaim my relationship. I was sure that after this I would be able to return to university and finish what I came to do – be of some use to myself and my family.
But if I’d planned my trip to Hong Kong for the purpose of reaffirming my ties with my boyfriend, the reality was that I was coming to explain and confirm my reasons for breaking up. So, while the time in India was everything physically, spiritually, emotionally, creatively, socially, gastronomically, organically – in short, therapeutically – I had hoped (yes, this time, hoped) for, Hong Kong has been less so.
For while India allowed me, as Viv (above) so wisely writes, to slow down and focus on a few small things at a time – my breath, the sunshine on my skin, the taste of fresh coconut milk – Hong Kong has brought everything rushing back in, flooding my senses, overloading my brain and overwhelming my emotional centre.
Break-ups are never easy, and this one has been no exception. Yet the one thing I hold on to amid all the typical feelings of pathos and grief (all those ‘what was’ and ‘what might have beens’) is my conviction – so strong and intuitive three months ago that it gave no space for doubt and little pain – that it is the right decision, it is for the best in the end.
So, coming back here to Hong Kong (for possibly the third and final time in my life, or possibly not) and truly feeling, ‘seeing’, knowing it for sure has been worth all the inevitable attendant heartache and tears. I know I can go forward now not only into the second half of the year but the next phase of my life with a clean slate, a tabla rasa.
So while I do not have any plans beyond the next two months, while I do not know the answer to the question of what will happen next, I do have a strong sense of resolution – a strong will. True Will. I know what I want and what I don’t want, even if I am – finally! – leaving the ‘how’s and ‘wherefore’s up to Tomorrow to answer.
Not beginning June as I did January, I am hopeful, and rather curious, about what the next six months will bring. Whatever it is, I am ready for it. I surrender.
About the author: Brought up in the Staffordshire Moorlands, educated in English at Oxford and Cambridge universities, Becky has spent the past six years moving between Hong Kong and England. Living with her cat on Lamma Island and tutoring English was a particular highlight of her HK life, as was the endless hours spent on her yoga mat in downward-facing dog. A lover of nature and literature, she can be found these days sitting cross-legged, book in hand and dreaming of her upcoming trip to India. Read her blog here.
Hannah Pearson, Malaysia
2014 so far has been a year of uncertainty, an emotional rollercoaster: two job resignations, an attempted mugging (I was on the receiving, not giving, end), starting up this new site. Two of those alone have happened just in the last week!
It’s fairly safe to say that 2013 has paled in comparison to the dramas of 2014. I’ve found myself on a weekly basis spending hours introspecting, trying to figure out what on earth it is that I want to achieve. And rapidly approaching my thirties, I feel an immense pressure to get the next move – whatever it may be – right.
January started with a job interview – and a decision to leave my 2-year-old job, the department that I’d created from scratch and the team whom I had developed, for newer pastures. It saw me handing in my notice to my managing directors on Chinese New Year’s Eve.
February was spent mostly dealing with the choruses of “you’re giving up” from my boss and colleagues from around the company.
To them, I guess, it seemed that way. After all, I had built something from nothing and it was finally starting to get less difficult. When I started that new department, every move seemed like a momentous, Sisyphean struggle to get the ball to the top of the hill – as I quit, it finally felt like I had some momentum to take the department along, whether I was there or not.
It was also the month that we launched the thinking drone, definitely one of the highlights of the year.
With barely a weekend in between, March saw me start at the new company, a startup filled with bright colleagues whom I had been so looking forward to working with. Looking back, the transition was too quick. I was so keen to get started on a new project that I had forgotten to spend some time recovering –mentally, physically – from rolling that ball up the hill.
And along with the job change went the usual worries: what if it was the wrong decision, what if I was no good at it (my old friend, imposterism, rearing its ugly head), what if it wasn’t the right place for me?
It took April and May to realise that it was indeed not the right place for me – and the soul searching and discussions of what I was looking for as a career began all over again. June rolled around and before I knew it, I had turned 29. One week later, I had experienced a frightening attempt of a motorcyclist to mug me, and handed in my notice at work for the second time this year. So here I am, mid-June with a few tentative job prospects and unemployment looming in just under two weeks.
But here’s the thing – I feel less worried about this (foolishly, perhaps) than I ought to be. I am convinced that I have taken the right step for me, and fervently hope that the first few weeks of ‘unemployment’ will help me to unwind from the pressures I’ve been putting myself under.
I’m planning to devote more time to this wonderful site, return to the UK for a few weeks to renew bonds with friends and family, and to above all take my time to make sure that the next step I take is the right one for me.
The uncertainty of starting this site wasn’t worrisome, like starting my new job – it was thrilling. Every woman who agrees to write for us gives me another thrill. Every reader who signs up for our email newsletter, or tweets something kind about our site makes me so happy I want to jump up and down (and frequently do).
This time, the uncertainty of not knowing where the site might end up is even more exciting. I just need to apply that lesson learned to my career.
About the author: Originally hailing from the UK, Hannah has lived in both France and China and now works and plays in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Yafieda Jamil, Cambodia
My previous New Year’s resolutions often started off with a long list of things to do, places to go, what to improve on. But as the months go on, I realise that the only thing I managed to stick to was planning which countries I would travel to. A list is always a good thing to have, as it serves as a reminder of how you can set your standards higher than in previous years. However I found that I could only focus on one goal despite having all these other goals listed.
I had a bunch of New Year’s resolutions last year but ended up focusing on going to the gym and eating right for a few months. This year, the only thing on my list on places to go was “God knows”. I didn’t want to have a plan anymore, and thought I would just wing it and see where the wind takes me. Somehow, that non-planning turned out to be a good thing because the only travelling I did was to Cambodia, where I am currently living for the next year.
As it turns out, this was one of the best resolutions I’ve had, simply because I’d been staying put in Malaysia all my life, and having this opportunity to work abroad was something I had been thinking about for years. It took me two months to decide on this path because I was so used to having a comfortable life back home with my own belongings. Having to up and move to a country without any of these seemed to be a huge challenge. With so many uncertainties I was beginning to doubt the move.
But after a while I realised that the only limitations I had was the one I put on myself. With every not-so-good points came more good points in favour of making the move. When May came, I was ready to go and there was no turning back. No doubt there were different opinions about this plan but if I had listened to all of them, I would not have been here to experience this new adventure. I’m glad I made this decision because it made me learn a lot about myself, and because I made the decision based on my own initiatives, research and reasoning. It was something I never knew I could do until now.
My New Year’s resolution for the next six months now expands to adapting myself to this new place well, making new friends while travelling around the country like a local because it’s the best way to understand the country more. There’s no telling what will happen between now and the end of the year. The idea is to just ‘keep on moving forward’. Plans might change along the way but at least I’ll know that this is the path I will be embarking on for 2014 until the next New Year comes.
About the author: Yafieda Jamil is a travel blogger from Kuala Lumpur but who now makes a living in The Kingdom of Wonder (Cambodia). Her blog, The Travel Chameleon is about the journey of a Malaysian girl who loves a good road trip and blending in with the locals wherever she goes. When she’s not on the road, she would most probably be at the beach with her trusted sunglasses, instagramming the world.
Dian Azura, Malaysia
What does being half way through 2014 mean to me? In the last six months, I learned to let go of control over things related to me. Every minute of every day situations arise, and all I can tell myself is to do my best whatever the circumstances are, and the rest just leave it to God. Had I not had the strength to do so, I would have driven myself nuts trying to hold on to anything and everything that’s within my grasp.
To me, being able to accept that there are things in our lives that we can’t control means giving ourselves permission to just live. By doing so, half our battles are won and we can continue focusing on what’s more important, which is to be aware of who we are when we decide to do what we need to do.
I know it can cause a lot of anxiety, the thought that we don’t have control over our lives, or rather the perception of not having control – when in fact what we are actually doing is controlling our mind and emotions from being affected by negative energy.
It hasn’t been the easiest year for me thus far, not even comparing to all the past years added together, and we’re only six months into 2014! But every time I step back, reminding myself to take a deep breath when I feel like things are getting out of hand, it makes me feel calmer. I don’t know if that makes any sense but it does. And, we are able to eliminate any regrets by doing this simple task.
I’m now able to know my limit before I cross that line with the world and consequently myself. Once you start indulging yourself with the need to know and have power over things, you’re also inviting unnecessary stress and frustrations. When you’re able to let go, you’re able to see what you need and accept the amount of anxiety you can handle without stretching yourself too far.
This is also important because we trained ourselves to be accustomed to too much of everything. Not everything we (should) know is a good thing. Hence why so many of us fall sick or have a jaded view of the world. We’ve taught ourselves to get used to it when no one has asked us to.
Happiness is not a destination or a goal to achieve. It’s a way of life and no matter what we think, we have the power to choose. When we say we don’t have a choice, actually we’re choosing to not have a choice. In the end, it’s really mind over matter. The more we focus on getting to know the way our mind works, being alive becomes an effortless thing to do.
Think about it; when you can let go, you have more time for yourself. You can spend all that extra time doing what you enjoy most and become good at it. And if this doesn’t happen now, it doesn’t mean it will never happen.
Sometimes, good things will happen at the right time and place. If you can give yourself this peace of mind, you can do a lot more than you’ve ever imagined.
About the author: A klutz who finds peace in art and design, yet writes to untangle her emotions. Dian is a Malaysian at heart but finds home wherever she fits. See her on instagram @daniaryezel
What has happened to your 2014 so far? Join in the #halfway2014 project and write what 2014 has meant to you so far.