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.

I cut my finger

Sometimes things happen for no particular reason but to annoy me, it seems. It was raining last Friday, and I was struggling carrying two bags. My umbrella was old and fiddly. I forcefully tried to open it. Somehow, with the unsteadiness of balancing so many different things and the added force, I ended up slicing my finger.

It’s not too bad, I thought. I briefly considered getting a band-aid when I got to the office, and I popped my knuckle in my mouth to clean up the blood. But something felt different, and before long there was blood all over my now-sticky fingers.

So. I’m lucky it happened just outside my building, and I live near the village medical centre. The receptionist took one look at my hand and marched me to the nurse’s area, where the wound was cleaned, looked at by the doctor, glued and dressed. I also got a tetanus shot to be safe (the umbrella had some rusty bits).

I was mentally berating myself — I should’ve just stopped and opened my umbrella “properly.” (Well, now I’ll never underestimate the deadly power of an old umbrella.) I ended up throwing it out. I had much newer umbrellas, but somehow I liked this one: it was a small one that fit in my purse. It also had the memory of a beautiful day a while ago, and I think I was subconsciously hanging onto that, too.

The wound isn’t painful, but it’s a bit annoying since it’s on the knuckle. It’s bandaged so I can’t bend it. I woke up the first night and it was throbbing because the circulation had been cut off — I wrapped it again, looser this time. I can’t wet it, so I’ve been wrapping my finger in cling wrap when I take showers (which doesn’t really work 100%). It’s on my dominant hand — my writing is chicken scratch. Typing is surprisingly okay. Texting gives me a lot of typos. I got out of doing push-ups at dance class, ha!

I’ve also been doing things more with my left hand. People say you should do it because it forces your brain to learn new things. It’s annoying, and feels slow. Maybe I’ll keep doing it so I can eventually be ambidextrous?

One thing I learned though: I am no longer afraid of needles. I would always say I was. But then I realised, after I’d gotten the tetanus shot, that I was okay with it. After convincing myself for decades that I was scared of them, I now have to tell myself: I am no longer afraid of needles.

Random coincidences

A few patterns in my life have emerged since moving to Australia:

I start new jobs on August 20-something.
I started my first job on August 23.
I started my second job on August 26.
I started my new job on August 21.

I live in places with a 25.
I first stayed at unit #25, flat-sharing with my brother.
Then I moved out to another flat-share, at building #25 on the street.
Now I’m in my own place, again at unit #25.

Random, hey!

Anyway, speaking of Australia… I felt really Australian a few weeks ago, when I had vegemite and I liked it. I’d attempted to eat it beforehand, but I always retched. Well, this time I ate several pieces from a coworker’s snack. I commented, “Hey, this isn’t half bad” and may have asked for more.

I’m even considering buying it now…