Second chances

Everyone harps on about how important first impressions are, but I’ve recently realised that they’re quite wrong. At least, mine are. I mean, read anything about different modes of thinking (such as Daniel Kahneman’s “System 1” and “System 2,” described in his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow“) and it’s clear that a lot of times, the brain’s just being lazy when it makes snap judgments.

Having to meet a lot of new people the past decade has driven home that fact, methinks. It was easy for me to gravitate towards the people who were chatty, vivacious, lively. It was easy for me to mistake a good conversationalist for a good friend. I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive, but I mistook charisma for chemistry, attention for devotion.

It sounds counterintuitive, but I learned not to listen so much to my gut. Sometimes the people I’ve felt I clicked with instantaneously, were just people were naturally friendly and used to speaking to strangers and small talk — they were rarely the ones who I eventually forged deep friendships with, or have meaningful conversations with.

When I look at the people that surround me now, I’d have to admit I was wrong about a lot of them at the beginning. Too noisy, too clingy, too whiny, too quiet! I’m ashamed now about having complained about some of them to my other friends… but here we are now. I’d like to think I’m a better judge of people I’d like to keep — people who are kind-hearted and loyal, but not necessarily those who sparked a mutual interest at our first meeting.

I hope I’m afforded the same by the people I encounter — I’m a little bit shy, a little bit fidgety, a little bit uptight. A funny thing I’ve realised — everyone wants to make friends, and be liked. And we’re all rather nervous to admit it.

Girl Asleep

So for someone who doesn’t usually watch movies in cinemas (maybe once or twice a year), I’ve been watching quite a few lately! I watched three movies this past month. Two were Aussie films, which I don’t think I’ve ever watched before. (Not sure if Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner” counts. It seems to be a bit more Hollywood-y.)

One of the movies I watched was “Girl Asleep.” I went with zero expectations. Unlike before, where I would watch trailers, read reviews, etc. before going into a movie, I now go in not knowing anything at all. It’s worked better for me, for the most part, haha.

It’s described as a coming-of-age story… I was initially worried it would be a bit too teeny-boppy, but it was smart and beautiful and the kind of movie I’d watch over and over again to learn something new.

I went with a girl friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while. After the movie, she shared how the movie touched her because it reinforced a message she’d been getting the past few months. I won’t share it here because it’s quite personal and it’s her story. It struck me though because I had taken something totally different!

There’s a scene in the movie… where Greta’s mother is shown as the ice queen, standing atop musical boxes, smashing them in a frenzy. When Greta protests at why she’s destroying them, she answers: Because it’s not the music I remember. (Not the actual words, which I can no longer recall.) It spoke to me of an older woman’s regret, cold and bitter, holding on to the past, refusing to accept the beauty of things as they were because it wasn’t what she had remembered or imagined.

The movie was set in the 1970s, and the colours and shots were absolutely stunning. Each scene looked like a picture-perfect photograph, with vibrant colours and great composition.

I know most of my friends reading this blog are not in Australia, but I hugely recommend watching it if you get the chance! Also — would you have any thought-provoking films you would recommend? After watching this movie, I realised that most of the movies I watch are mindless (shout out to Netflix. Haha). I mean, those kinds of movies are fun to watch, but I think I’d like to watch more movies that make me think…

Never too late

Someone once told me that it takes seven years for someone to master a skill. That’s the reason, I suppose, why I love trying out new things. I think I’m lucky because I no longer have as much a fear of looking stupid as other people I know. HAHA!

This year, for the first time in my life, I:

  • Tried Forro (a Brazilian dance)
  • Tried swing dancing
  • Went to painting and drawing classes
  • Learned how to bake bread
  • Started contact juggling

I like how my mindset has changed. I used to think that unless someone started when they were young, there was no way someone could get really good at anything. “She started dancing when she was three.” “He picked up the piano when he was five.” Blah blah blah… but with the more people I meet (and the older the crowd I’m exposed to) I’ve learned:

1) People can be really amazing at things, no matter what age they start. A few weeks ago, I went to a friend’s solo art exhibit. Apparently he only picked up a paintbrush around seven years ago, and now he paints for a living.

The people teaching the swing class talked about how they started fairly recently with no dance background. (A sneaky Google search showed that they picked it up around eight years ago, in their late 20s/early 30s. They started dancing professionally three years afterwards.)

So yeah… never too late to start! I don’t want to look back at myself seven years from now and wish I’d started today.

2) It doesn’t matter how good I get. I’ve always felt this way about juggling… now I feel it with some of the other things I’ve picked up. I don’t think I’ve found a hobby yet that I want to turn into a full-time career, so at this point, it doesn’t matter if I suck or not. Haha.

When people hear that I’ve been juggling for two decades now, they imagine I’m a juggling wunderkind. While I’m pretty decent, I’m nowhere near what some people at the club can do… and that’s all right. I’m going at my own pace, and doing it for my reasons, and that makes me happy.

3) It’s okay to explore and revive things. I’m definitely not going to keep doing everything I tried to do this year — no time for that! But now I know what’s out there. And I have a better understanding of what I like doing.

As for reviving things… I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. I used to beat myself up over the fact that “Oh, if I hadn’t stopped dancing when I was a kid, I would’ve been super amazing now.” I was talking to a new filmmaker friend of mine who spoke about how she didn’t stop writing from when she was a kid. I voiced my regret that when I was younger, I used to write all the time too… I wrote stories and plays and fake newspapers which I proudly printed out and kept in a binder. Somehow, I stopped. But it’s all right. I know there were reasons that I stopped — I prioritised things like studies, extracurriculars, friends, and that is okay. Besides, there’s no reason I couldn’t start writing again, could I?

Anyway, as I was writing this, I realised how lucky I am to have time and money for hobbies, be in a place where I can try so many new things, and be physically able to do things I want to do. Very, very lucky, and I’d be dumb if I didn’t make the most out of this time in my life.

Personal philosophies

This sounds absolutely geeky but I recently realised how important it is to have a personal philosophy. I never really cared, before. I just barged through life, making decisions based on “gut feel” and being buffeted by my emotions. It was relatively smooth sailing when I was younger — I went through the usual steps of school, university, job. I had problems (which seemed like catastrophes back then) but I was able to deal with them for the most part.

Things blew up when I first moved overseas and I started getting more real world problems. I was angry when life didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. All the well-meaning cliches people told me (and which I had believed in) just didn’t ring true anymore. After several years of struggling, I got into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It helped me change the way I made sense of my experiences.

I devoured a ton of books and subscribed to philosophy websites. I attended talks and went to workshops. Slowly, I was building my own personal philosophy. I became clearer about what things were important to me, and why. I no longer agonised over decisions as much as I did. I’ve since discovered that I relate most to stoicism. It makes a nice circle because apparently, CBT draws heavily upon stoicism.

I was reading an article on Introspection a few weeks ago and was reminded of why this self-discovery is so important to me. It talks about the fable of Androcles and the lion:

The fable can usefully be read as an allegory about self-knowledge. The lion is in terrible pain, but has no capacity to understand what is hurting him exactly and how he might put it right. In his blind distress, he acts in horrifically aggressive and threatening ways, he makes blood-curdling noises and frightens everyone. The lion is all of us when we lack insight into our own distress. The thorn is a troubling, maddening element of our inner lives – a fear, a biting worry, a regret, a sense of guilt, a feeling of humiliation, a strained hope or agonised disappointment that rumbles away powerfully but just out of range of our standard view of ourselves. It’s there, but we can’t give it the care and understanding it needs.

But there’s potentially another Androcles-like side of us able calmly to see past the fury to what the problem really is, and then calm our untargeted fury and help us find constructive solutions.

I’ve seen myself in that lion. Back when I first moved overseas and dealing with graduating during the US recession, I was angry at a lot of well-meaning friends who offered me cliches that were clearly inadequate to deal with the situation. “Just be positive.” “If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.” “The best is yet to come.” I know they meant well, but some of them had never even set foot in the US or moved out of home, much less experienced jobhunting in a recession. Their insistence that things could be better by just “being positive” really rankled. And I lashed out at them and their well-meaning advice.

Since then, I’ve learned to cultivate my own philosophies so I can deal with hardships better. The thing is, when I was younger I did believe in those cliches, but my belief in them crumbled when they didn’t hold up to my real world experiences. But now I don’t — and I know why — and it helps me navigate through life better.

I’ve also learned not to impose my own philosophies on other people. Knowing how frustrating it was back then, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut (most of the time). We all make sense of the world in our own ways — if that makes sense for them, then great. But I have my own way of facing the world now.