Divers and skaters.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize there are two kinds of people in the world.
Skaters glide through life on the surface without ever breaking ice. Their lives are perfect, they do everything right. Skaters don’t ask questions, and rarely succumb to the need of getting to the root of all that yucky stuff: suffering, pain, trauma. A skater’s life is effortless, they’ve mastered following society’s expectations. Since a skater’s life doesn’t call for deep dives, conversations with them cover what one has rather than how one feels. Whenever I met a skater in my 20s or 30s, I used to envy them. I wished I didn’t ask so many questions. I wished I wasn’t constantly searching for meaning. Skating through this journey of life without ever looking underneath the surface seemed like a breezy way to live. Uncomplicated – a glossy, perpetual satisfaction.
Then, there are divers. Divers tend to stand tall – at times, masochistically – in the face of emotional breakdowns to disentangle every feeling. Each plunge can be messy, chaotic through the storms. Divers can’t help but stick their noses against the frosty ice, hammer through the surface and submerge right into the meaning of life. Divers are curious to a fault, hence they’re quite exhausted just as well as exhausting to themselves. Their happiness doesn’t stem from conducting perfect lives, but rather, the arrival on the other side after the storm. Divers can’t stand façades; they jump right into “how” “why” “what” are we? They won’t stop until there’s a better understanding of the self, life and purpose.
If you can’t tell already, I’m a diver.
As I turn 43 this year, I can’t help but reflect upon how I chose to live my 42nd trip around the sun. Much effort was devoted to maximizing my time on earth from micro and macro perspectives. Macro seemed to be the easy part since it was far more tactical.
Macro: maximizing 24 hours.
Last year, I dissected and strategized how to capitalize on the same 24 hours that we all have in a day. In addition to sleep and work, there were other personal goals I wanted to accomplish, like: working out, learning Spanish, read more French, finish more books, practice Chinese handwriting so I don’t lose the art form. I literally broke down my days, hour by hour, almost like scheduling classes back in school. Then testing to see which task worked better at certain time slots.
For instance, I discovered that I can’t work out with an empty stomach. So unlike Kim Kardashian who hits the gym at 5 a.m. every morning, my body responds better when I exercise in late afternoons. I also learned that if I didn’t get Spanish out of the way earlier in the day, then I’d never touch it. So I reworked my daily schedule to learn Spanish while sipping on morning coffee, somehow my brain retains a new language better this way. With trial and error over the last year, I’ve now created a flow in my schedule which works solely for me. It’s a constant battle, however, since I travel so frequently that schedules are often thrown off, leading my brain and body responding differently amid time zones and jet lags. But that’s when I turn on that mental switch, I enter into a flow. Or simply being flexible to however the tides are changing.
Micro: mental, physical and spiritual work.
Evolving as an individual without a degree in psychology or psychotherapy required shuffling through the construct of my womanhood on a micro level. Without the help of a therapist, I listened to my heart and gut when creating categories that I personally wanted to focus on: Mental, Physical and Spiritual.
The mental arena came down to two big lumps of goodies: triggers and boundaries. Understanding the roots of my triggers have been ultimately the most painful compartment, as it occurs to many of us, most triggers derive from childhood trauma and pain. I, just as many of you, have been conditioned to sweep emotional wounds under the rug. In order to recognize my emotional waves on a daily basis, I took a hard look at where my triggers came from, traced them back to heart-wrenching childhood experiences that have greatly impacted my decision-making process as an adult.
Mental category: trigger-tracing and boundaries.
As painful as it was, I knew that recognizing triggers wasn’t enough. I still needed to make peace with them so that I would never again be sexually harassed in a workplace by my supervisor, or actively choose to be in a relationship with an alcoholic. Making peace with the past required an enormous amount of letting go, and the work is ongoing. Triggers are like a game of Whac-A-Mole, once I understand one and do the work towards making peace, another trigger shows up that I gotta trace, understand, then knock it out.
Sometimes, as far down as I dug through an internal maze of trigger-tracing, the answers still didn’t immediately surface. Sometimes, it required weeks or months to connect the dots. Something would suddenly click in my brain for me to ask, “Remember when you were bullied in high school and how that made you feel? That’s where the rage is coming from.” Whenever the dots did connect though, it’d be a glorious feeling because I was making one more step towards healing and self-amelioration.
At this point, I’m not 100% okay with the past, and I may never be, but I know that I’m far more evolved and at peace now than I was a year ago. Or heck, even 5 years ago. Yay!
Boundaries was another matter I wanted to decipher in order to maintain a healthy mental state. In French, boundaries are les limites, which I love because it describes exactly what we need to do to mark our boundaries: know our limits. In the past year, I applied this to EVERYTHING: work, mannerism, body, time, energy, family…and more. But friendship was a big one. If I was going to maximize every hour in a day, I wasn’t going to waste time on skaters. I intentionally created boundaries for them, or eventually, weeded them out. On the other hand, I invested in beautiful and soulful divers. I made sure to consistently surround myself with them. We travel, we FaceTime, we leave voice messages, we laugh, we cry. Together, we dive real deep. We might be exhausted from diving too far down on our own but most importantly, we never exhaust each other.
Physical category: keep the vessel moving.
For the Physical category, I dove right into my body this year and tried to understand my vessel as much as I could. Before 42, I had a pretty lackluster relationship with working out. Using the word “relationship” is indeed laughable, as it was honestly non-existent. In the last year, however, I decided to not only workout regularly but experiment with different types of exercises to determine which ones my body responded to the best. Elliptical, hikes, weights, swimming, yoga, pilates, wall pilates…etc. As it turned out, my body likes a little bit of everything but consistency is key. Now, I can safely say that two hours a day at the gym is my meditation. Even if getting me through any treadmill requires juicy episodes of Vanderpump Rules or Selling Sunset. Whatever it takes to keep the vessel moving!
Additionally, I embarked on the journey of calories deficiency, not to obsess over numbers but to better comprehend how and what I consume. When traveling takes up half of my life, on top of enjoying every kind of food there is in various cultures, I knew analyzing my eating habits would be extremely knowledgeable. Calories deficiency eventually altered to nutritious and well-balanced meals. Back in my 20s and 30s, I never thought I’d eventually opt for proteins and greens over McDonald’s. For those who really know me, that’s a real shocker!
Understanding genetics and DNA also helped me realize which areas of my body needed an extra push, or required more patience on my part. My parents are huge advocates of wellness and longevity, as they always say, “Good health is the most important investment a person can make in their life.” I’m starting to truly understand this sagacious philosophy.
Spiritual category: solitude is golden.
As to feeding my soul with what I refer to as “spiritual vitamins,” it came down to one word: solitude. This was an astonishing discovery as I noticed how tired I’d be after dinner parties or traveling. The latter is work, so traveling – even when solo – requires activating an immutable chatterbox. I talk to drivers, bartenders and store clerks. I have meetings with hoteliers, restauranteurs and chefs. From walking down the streets to entering hotel rooms, my brain is permanently wired. It’s busily downloading every information through observation, for the sake of our audience and the work I love dearly. But, I’m unfathomably exhausted after every trip.
This is where solitude comes in. I’ve now developed a new habit after each voyage: I self-care! I concocted the best recipe: three days of not speaking to anyone! Unless there are meetings I can’t move; then I work from bed, I put on face masks, I work out, and I rarely go outside. Morphing into a hermit is my most perfect self-care formula, and it’s awesome! This is how I know, because after a few days, I feel brighter, I’m joyful, I’m at peace. I always feel fully recharged, ready to go again.
This year, it dawned on my soul, how much I LOVE alone time. As a natural extrovert, it was surprising to hear solitude come knocking on my door again. It’d happen after dinner parties, weekends with friends or family. For the first time in my life, my inner-self requested silence. Not from others, but from me. My lips needed to stop moving, I needed to be still. I’ve not only come to love being alone, but I view it as a wonderful gift. There is something so absolutely, crazily blissful about having the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want…just for me!
Hence, to celebrate a new year of life, I went to Malaysia solo. Alone. Free. Confident. Joyful. It fed my spiritual category. It nourished my soul.
The magic of being in my forties has been holding myself accountable to be a better version of myself while taking the responsibility seriously by examining every aspect of my character and trait from a 360-degree spectrum. The end goal has always been to obtain peace: mentally, physically and spiritually. At 43, I truly believe that in order to achieve it, there’s no skating upon the surface. You gotta crack through the ice, and dive deep.