Welcome to my 30s

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.

Went to a cafe after the event and met with this bundle of joy.

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.

This cafe was a pivotal point in my career development.

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.

How To Effectively Manage Your Greatest Fear By Doing One Simple Thing

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”.

Aligning my purpose for 2018

I was very ambitious as I was setting out to do 2018. I had just taken on a new role at a university full-time, and had the intention of going into my office to consult clients during the weekends. At the same time, I am also growing an online counseling platform, which at the moment has become a rather promising prospect for the coming few years. I also had the goal of learning more about making good investments (stocks, commodities, and cryptocurrencies – I know, the latter being a point of contention) and grow a healthy investment portfolio. To make this a reality, I wanted to make sure that I save as much as possible. I also wanted to have time for a good amount of daily exercise, walks with my dogs, dinners with family… Oh, and a reasonable social life.

Spread too thin

As you may have figured from that rather exhaustive list, I ended up not handling that so well. I was in the period of adjusting to my new role, and despite the rather big difference in lifestyle I had to change to, thought that I could also muster up the drive to acquire an entirely new skill, save as much as possible, have a “life”, while still maintaining 3 responsibilities that I have for my career.

By the end of the day, I am usually too tired to even get started on studying up on the wealth of new resources. As a reaction to this stress, I spent much more money than I would usually do over the weekends. Essentially, I was doing the opposite of what I had set out to do. It felt like I was taking one step forward, and two steps back. That didn’t turn out too well for my emotional well-being, as I started questioning my competence and future direction. It did not feel good.

January 2018 - definitely stretched too thin.
January 2018
(source)
Gaining perspective

Part of the training for the new role involved writing a core value/ personal mission statement. This is a statement that embodies a person’s values and what he/ she intends to make out of his/her life. Although I’m not quite finished, it gave me a peek into my passion, values, and skills. Essentially, it is a statement of who I am as a person. It slowly began to dawn on me that I started out the year spreading myself too thin, with no focused direction to efficiently utilize my limited psychological resources. Doing this exercise, it was also very clear to me that my core value statement will revolve around the area of personal development, and the strong desire to reach out to as many people as possible.

Just the other day, I was having dinner with a couple of friends when the conversation started centering around financial management. One of them brought up a statement from a Tony Robbins book about investing too much (negative) energy and attention on what little money that can be saved. Instead, directing that energy towards activities and thoughts that could instead generate more money (in other words, putting that energy to positive action) would be a much more desirable alternative. Although I wasn’t much of a Tony Robbins fan, that really did hit home for me.

Writing down my personal mission statement turned out to be a really insightful exercise (source)
One inch wide, one mile deep

I was casually browsing through my old folders a few days later, when I stumbled upon the book that I was writing some time in the beginning of last year. At the back of my mind, I knew that I’ve always wanted to complete that book, but had been putting it off because I felt that it wasn’t too good. I was completely surprised by the sheer volume of how much I have already written. The articles also had the genuineness, intention, and thoughtfulness of what I think makes good writing. It was full of useful information that was well-written. I had underestimated my past self!

(source)

These chain of events made me realize that I was not centered in my purpose for 2018. The things that I need to get done and pursue relentlessly has been staring right at my face. Instead, I chose to pursue unrelated skills and activities that would deviate me from more fruitful goals. This insight felt like warm rays of light massaging my skin, as the dark clouds began to disperse.

2018 goals

I felt like I have found myself, and what I needed to do has become very clear. These are goals that are in line with my values and passion, which would then lead to productive outcomes. At the end of February 2018, I’ve found what I need to accomplish for the year, and they are:

1) To complete a personal development book catered to young adults.
2) To successfully receive VC funding for the online counseling app.
3) To consult a minimum of 3 clients every weekend at my practice.
4) To further develop facilitating skills with an audience at my new role in university, which would be a means of personal development in the area of public speaking/ training.
5) To save income generated from consulting private clients, and invest most of it to build a healthy financial portfolio.

2018, here I come!

The Reason Why I Write

I have been fond of writing ever since I was a teenager. Before I had even known that there’s such a thing as a therapist (ironically, I’m one now), writing has always been my instrument to bring into awareness inner thoughts and emotions. It acts as a mirror, staring right back at me. As I write, the words that is on the screen is void of emotion and judgment. It’s matter-of-fact. If I can allow complete honesty with myself, I can see what I am really thinking and feeling. It can feel like I am ironing out the knotted mess that is my mind.

Aside from blogs that I used to have (and have now long forgotten, or have lost access to), I also used to have a notebook with me to pen my thoughts. In it contained entries as short as a few words, poems, grocery and to-do lists, random sketches of lines and circles, and whatever that could possibly be on my mind at the time of writing. That notebook became so emotionally significant to me, that the pages from the book was also cut out and used for love notes and letters that I would send to my girlfriend at the time.

I was the most creative, present, and emotionally aware during the period of time when I was consistent in writing and meditating.

There is a kind of warmth that I feel when writing. Just like how this picture feels.(source)

Unfortunately, I no longer possess that notebook. I have since dropped the habit of regular meditation. Based on the duration between entries on this blog, I have also lost touch with writing. I am guilty of taking writing for granted. It seems to me that I only willingly approach it when I am in pain, and in need of cathartic self-awareness. Like a mistreated lover, I only showered it with attention when I needed something from it.

Why do I abandon writing in good times, when it was the one that had kept me there in the first place? I am a walking paradox. But so is going through the passage of life, which can be rather confusing and out-of-order; despite its sweetness if I’m ever so present to stop and notice. This further validates my point that I should be writing more consistently. I can benefit from taking notice.

To be really frank with myself, I haven’t been feeling my best lately. In the past couple of months or so, I’ve felt like I’ve disappointed myself in various aspects: relational, financial, physical, and emotional. The past 2-3 years have been rather draining, and it feels as if the platform that is supporting me slowly thinning down.

I haven’t been allowing these emotions to come into full awareness and to just let it breathe. Writing was one of the ways to catch these feelings, and so was meditation. I just went on with my days, denying these feelings its right to exist during times when it rightfully should. And so here I am, writing about it, staring into these words that I’ve just written. It’s like a mirror to how I look on the inside, and I can live it in its full flesh. I’m appreciating this, more so in the silence of the night.

Emotions can be rather tricky. Despite how disappointed or down I feel about myself, I know that when viewed rationally, I have accomplished a great deal of things throughout this year and have held myself together considerably well given the circumstances. But then again, these accomplishments has its time and place. And for this moment, I would like to instead allow what I’ve been denying to claim its own space.

There is a kind of relief and warmth that comes from being honest with myself. Being truthful almost feels like being naked (guess that’s why they call it the ‘naked truth’). To just feel my truth, despite the pain, is actually a rather pleasant experience. I’m glad I took the time to do this. This is the reason why I write.

Run the marathon, but do not lose sight of the goal.

Do you find yourself feeling tired and questioning what you’re doing with your life lately?

I’ve met with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship since getting into it about two years or so ago. There were times when motivation was soaring and I believed that I could completely achieve what I’ve set out to do. And there were times when I doubted my abilities in continuing. I’ve come to know from experience that the latter happens far more frequently in the realm of doing business. In recent times, this is what I have been experiencing.

What I’ve learned along the way is that having the purpose to doing something is far more important than any other resource that a person could have. This is true not only in business, but also in all areas of our lives, such as relationships, health, and so on. It’s fairly common to observe how two people could feel the total opposite about the same jobs that they are holding, despite being from the same family and financial background. With similarities in external resources, this could only mean that the difference in how they feel stems from how they think.

Many clients share with me about the struggles that they have in their careers, relationships, or health. Building skills is one way to deal with these struggles. However, one very important aspect of overcoming challenges is finding the purpose in going through with it in the first place. There is no other way to this. Whatever it may be, or wherever the inspiration may come from, nobody else can arrive to the answer of my purpose but me.

Keep the fire burning. Source:https://static.pexels.com/photos/21462/pexels-photo.jpg
Keep the fire burning. Source: https://static.pexels.com/photos/21462/pexels-photo.jpg

It is much harder to hold on to that something when the going gets tough. It is very easy to stumble when taking the hits. I couldn’t have asked for a better team, who have been completely dedicated towards reaching our desired goal. Seeing the fire and determination in them made me question myself. Do I have that fire in me?

The truth is, I’ve been taking the hits for the past two years. Just like a tired fighter in the boxing ring, he has to keep himself from falling, and to focus on delivering one hit at a time. And the only way to keep that focus and for that fire to keep on burning is to purposefully and repeatedly discover why I chose to be in it. Constantly rediscovering my purpose is what will keep my anchor within arm’s reach and to keep me grounded during all the times when the soul is weary.

As a personal reminder: run the marathon, but do not lose sight of the goal.

Where is the humanity?

It was two in the morning, and I had typed hi to an old acquaintance over Facebook. I was asked in return on how I’ve been doing. My response was that I’m not complaining, and that I’m learning to be more appreciative of what I have. As I stopped browsing my phone, finished my meal, and headed out of the place, I reached into my pocket and found a serviette which was given to me earlier. It felt rather warm to put it over my mouth. A certain kind of comfort.

It reminded me of this video that I had watched of an orang utan that was shackled and caged it’s entire life. All that it had was a small piece of cloth that it held on to in it’s palm for that little comfort that it could afford. That is all there is to give any meaning to it’s existence. Completely trapped and all alone as the days go by. One small piece of cloth.

An ethical question that I often ponder and debate about is the extent of how I am serving humanity. What I’ve learned from working, doing business, and generally learning about the aspirations of others is that it is never enough. There is never enough money in the bank, or the luxuries and comfort in life. Ask a person who engages in corrupt practices on why he or she is willing to put others at a disadvantage for personal gains, and listen to him or her legitimize such actions on the basis of survival or needs, even if it’s in excess of millions or billions of ringgit.

As much as I would like to make personal gains for my own comfort, it is very difficult to not feel morally responsible in finding a meaningful and helpful way of making such gains while serving humanity at the same time.

As I reached to the front of my home, I decided to take a walk. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to take a walk just for the sake of walking. Just sitting and just walking was a major component of my personal healing some years back, and it felt so familiar and so soothing. I remember learning through those periods of healing that in order for the world to be a better place, it starts with being a better self.

As I write this, it becomes clear to me that no matter how strongly I believe that I do not have enough, it is a way of thinking that will not go away even if I am living in excess. It is a projection of an instinctual human desire that is unquenchable. And it seems to me that the only way to ever make any progress beyond this self-serving instinct is to always be in touch with my humanity in the present moment.

My thoughts after watching the new movie: Logan.

I appreciate going for a late movie, followed by the calm and stillness that the night could offer me on the way back home. I decided to watch Logan, which to me was rather different than the usual explosions and attempts at witty banter that such a “genre” usually offer. Instead, I was greeted with a rather depressing tone which touched on a variety of human experiences such as love, relationships, isolation, and death.

Prior to the current setting in the movie, Professor X and Logan had lived in isolation for the past year and had gone through some very difficult experiences. This had got both of them in a rather depressed mental state. There was this scene that had struck a chord in me. It was a scene of Professor X resting in bed at a family’s home who had welcomed them for dinner and the night’s stay. Professor X, being old, frail, and at times displaying dementia-like symptoms, went into dialogue that it has been a long time since he had last felt safety, comfort, and togetherness. He strongly suggested to Logan that he too, should take some time to experience this. “This is what life is about”, Professor X said.

Logan (Wolverine) and Professor X in the later part of their lives.

This scene of him lying in bed and communicating his feelings of safety and being loved was rather touching in several ways. I began reflecting on how fortunate I am to be able to fall asleep in a warm bed in my family’s home, knowing that everything will be safe and as is when I wake up the following day. As much as I may be bogged down by daily troubles or worries about the future, it is rather easy to be less mindful of the treasures that are here in the present. I dare say that a majority of the world would, in a heartbeat, be more than happy to switch life positions with me, just to experience simple pleasures that I have every single night: sleeping in a warm bed, being together with family, and knowing that everything will be safe.

Why do we suffer?

It is perhaps a great mystery that I will have no answer to for the rest of my life, on why some people are born or have to experience great difficulty or suffering in life, while some others may not. While I may comparatively feel more helpless in alleviating external suffering such as poverty, I have chanced upon meeting individuals from all walks of life sharing experiences of suffering from within. I have met strangers, acquaintances, friends, and clients, who have shared feelings of being unloved and unsafe, similar to how I have felt at certain times. Despite differing backgrounds, this is the common ground that I can share with others, and to which healing is possible.

There was one particular ex-client that had come to mind as I was reflecting on that scene in the movie. He had come to me presenting with a relationship concern, in which his ex-partner had displayed a variety of erratic behaviors stemming from feelings of deep insecurity. He had suffered in the relationship, and had since let go of it. A sturdy and independent man, he was involved in high profile dealings which may not be necessarily legal (details of which was not disclosed in session). Due to safety concerns, he had to distance himself away from family and have minimal contact with people in general. He was not able to enjoy social relationships due to his work’s demands, and will not be able to assume an identity in society.

It was clear to me as sessions progressed that he has moved on from the past relationship. It was also clear to me that he will be continuing in his life choices and has little motivation to do otherwise. It had come to a point in the consultations with him that I found myself to be of little help towards improving his well-being. Objectives have already been met in terms of his mental health. We came to a conclusion that it was time to part ways, and therapy ended.

As I reflect on my time with that client, I strongly believe that he would continue coming in for sessions had I not brought up the topic of ending therapy. We might not even talk about anything relevant towards addressing his life concerns. My feeling is that we could be just sitting there, not speaking a word, or just having tea, and he would still see the value in coming in for sessions.

We all need a safe space.

Just like the scene of Professor X resting in bed, this client too derived a feeling of belonging and safety during the therapy sessions. Due to his life choices, he could not afford to feel belonged to or safe in his day to day life, and our therapeutic relationship was his way of satisfying such needs.

Love, safety, and belonging is indeed a fundamental human need. While I take the time to appreciate the scene in that movie, I also wonder if I had ended the sessions too soon. On the larger scheme of things, with the world lacking so deeply in fulfilling such needs, in what way could I help better?

My new social media page

I just noticed that I have not been sharing videos that I have posted on my social media page. In this video, I talked about being alone. Much more regular content to come, so please follow my social media page and let’s connect!

Being Happy Alone

ALERT: BOYFRIEND FOR RENT. SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY.There have been viral posts circulating on guys offering themselves to be temporary boyfriends during this Chinese New Year. While it is entertaining to read, I'm also hearing of genuine concerns with being a single adult. Do you want a happy and successful relationship? Never want to feel lonely again? It might be worth your time to listen to this!

Posted by Alvin Tan, Psychologist/ Entrepreneur on Saturday, January 28, 2017

My name is Alvin, and I am lonely.

I was driving back home at 3 in the morning, and I felt alone.

It wasn’t the loneliest of nights that I have felt. But it felt lonely enough to have that bruised, sinking sensation in my chest. It’s the kind of loneliness where I feel drawn into the hollowness of my emotions. It’s like looking into a bottomless pit from above, deciding if jumping in would be a good idea. How deep can it go? Will I be able to reach the bottom?

The video that I had posted about being OK with being alone must have hit some raw emotions. Surprisingly, a few viewers had personally messaged me conveying their thanks regarding the video, in what I believe was an expression of relief that they are not in this on their own.

We were born naked into this world. And once our last breath has left the body, we are also leaving this world on our own. In our most natural way of being, we are both vulnerable and alone. Since when did the opposite become true? Is it really true that being alone or vulnerable is a sign of weakness? How was the narrative reversed?

You and I were born as social beings craving for deep, meaningful relationships. Somewhere through the passage of time, we experienced unfortunate events that bent our trust in the world. We no longer believe that the world is a safe place. We begin to separate ourselves from others, dividing one another through both concrete and psychological walls. What makes this more tragic is that there exists not only a barrier between you and I, but also a barrier between our inner and outer reality.

Over time, you and I no longer behave in ways which are connected to how we actually feel. We fear the consequences of embracing our vulnerability. We feel as if we are naked in a sea of clothed people. Others are social, and others are happy, right? Even if we are not social, and even if we are not happy, we should. Everyone else is. Or at least that was what we were made to believe.

The problem with this scenario is that it breeds a society that is divided and disconnected from one another, despite it being one of the most important human needs. We have settled with “good enough”. It is good enough that others acknowledge me for my accomplishments, but not my disappointments. It is good enough that I know your strengths, but not your weaknesses. It is good enough that you and I both know each other, but not on the finer details.

Is it truly satisfying to be living in this kind of world?

There is a solution for those who would want to be in a world where they are free from these barriers. It begins with knowing what is OK. It is OK to have “negative” feelings. It is OK to be sad, to be angry, to be disappointed, and to be lonely. It is OK to admit to these feelings and to live as authentically as your life demands you to. It is OK for others to have these feelings too.

When you are OK with your own feelings, you can also begin to understand that others share these feelings too, despite how hardened or desirable they are. The popular, the wealthy, the famous, the regulars, the socials, the loners, the downtrodden: deep down, we all share similar feelings. You know this because you too once played the game of being perfect.

Suddenly, you have much more in common with others than what you had previously thought. You do not feel as divided or distant from those around you. Your approach to life could be different. You are more forgiving of your feelings and the feelings of others. You are more intentional and genuine in approaching relationships. There is more room in you for love and kindness. You can live life with more courage.

Support group members oftentimes introduce themselves while also taking ownership of the concern that they are facing. This is a call to action to those of you who want to drop your act, live genuinely, and grow deep, meaningful relationships:

My name is Alvin, and I am lonely. Do you want to be in this together?