Albert Camus once said, "life is the sum of all your choices." The second part of my list includes more abstract lessons I've learned about life and making deliberate choices to make sure I live it with a clear conscience and a grateful heart.
14. Travel solo at least once.
By the time this post goes live, I will be on my way to Taipei on my third solo traveling adventure. I'm a bit scared because I don't speak a word of Mandarin, but that's part of the thrill. And when I say "travel," I mean really travel. Not just take pretty photos, not just visit postcard destinations, not just line up for the popular attractions. Engage with the locals and live in normalcy among them. The thing I like best about going at it alone is you get to go home with a greater grasp of you who are: what types of activities you like, how you deal with getting lost, what you spend the most money on, and other things. It's a scary experience, but once you get past that initial fear, you will find it liberating.
15. Read, read, read.
When I filled out my college applications, it wasn't clear to me yet which major I wanted to pursue and ended up selecting English literature. I wasn't planning on becoming a teacher or a lawyer or a writer, so why did I choose to immerse myself in books? Because I hated reading! It was so ironic, but since I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, I knew with conviction that if I learned the discipline of reading I'd be able to learn anything I want in the future. For the most part that assumption was true; I was able to get jobs in marketing without taking a single marketing class in school, and I learned the lettering craft all by myself. Now I love reading different genres: classics, art and design, business, children's lit, self-help (my current favorite).
16. You don't have to like the same things as other people.
Last year I watched in fear as people moved away from their inks and pens to watercolor and brushes. I felt terrified because I didn't know my art style would still be relevant when people were already shifting their focus to a new medium. Would they still like my work? Would they still attend my workshops? I spent a lot of time thinking about what my next step would be, and I decided to keep doing what I was doing no matter what the trends are. It's okay to be different. Just because everyone is doing something doesn't mean you have to do it as well. Peer pressure comes into play sometimes, but you just have to be confident in yourself and your preferences and you'll be alright.
17. Be willing to try new things.
My friends know me as someone who doesn't like a lot of things (Ben Affleck, the smell of fried isaw, attending formal events, to name a few), and sometimes I feel like this trait makes me dismiss things or people or experiences that would otherwise help me grow as a person. I am bold when it comes to mundane things, like trying out weird food combinations (puto bumbong with gravy, anyone?) or doing things alone (I love watching movies in the mall on weekday afternoons), but maybe from now on I can extend this adventurous spirit to other aspects of my life. There are days when I feel like I am holding myself back, so it helps to ask "what's the worst that could happen?" If the answer is anything but "I'm going to die," it may be worth a try.
18. Let go of the old to make room for the new.
I was eating baked rice for lunch one day when I noticed myself scraping off the side of my bowl for melted cheese, when in fact my dish was still half full. While I was doing this I realized something: I always get caught up with remnants of the past when I could be relishing the possibilities of the present. (Wow, so deep!) I was falling out with one of my closest friends during this time, and I was so focused on getting us back to our "golden days" that I failed to recognize that things have changed and years have passed and we're just different people altogether. Instead of attempting to fix the unfixable, I thought it may be more constructive to shift my focus on enjoying and developing my relationships with other people. It turned out to be a good decision; I feel like I've found my tribe. It just goes to show that letting go is not necessarily a bad thing if you think of it as welcoming something new.
19. Be thankful for everything you have (and don't have) in your life.
I keep a gratitude journal where I list down all the things that I am thankful for each day. The items on my journal range from the most banal like being able to set aside time to read, to the most amazing like getting my photo taken with my idols. I especially like rereading my journals when I am having a bad day because they remind me that things will turn around if I focus on the positive. It cheers me up almost all the time. Of course, there are days when I feel so emo, and that's a reason to be grateful, too. (Thank you, universe, that I feel I wide range of emotions like any other human being.)
20. Comparing yourself to others will not get you anywhere.
When I see other people's work online, I tend to feel jealous because I wish that I was at the same skill level or that I was showered with the same opportunities. Combine this penchant for comparison with being my own harshest critic, and I've got a confidence killer duo in my hands. What starts as wishful thinking snowballs into negative self-talk: I am not good enough, I am not talented at all, I am too lazy, and the list goes on. Whenever I catch myself in this train of thought, I remind myself that comparing myself to others is a good way to gauge how much I need to improve but should never dictate my self-worth. Sometimes taking a step back to look at things objectively helps to get me back on track and honor my own journey instead of wishing for it to be like someone else's.
21. The more you share, the more you have.
One of my biggest concerns about teaching workshops is my students getting better at lettering than me. Do I teach them e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g I know, or should I include only the most basic things and let them learn the hard lessons themselves? I crafted my syllabus and included a list of all the people whose lettering styles I like, a directory of websites I visit for inspiration, a list of my favorite lettering reference books, and a couple of my own works that my students can copy for practice. I never imagined giving away all these resources will impact me the way it did. It motivated me to improve at my craft, try out various styles and materials, and be more in tune with my own process so I can share new knowledge in class. Sometimes I feel like I am learning more in the process than my students, which is proof that being generous with time and information reaps more benefits than keeping everything to yourself.
22. Don't get caught up in the busyness of life.
Around two years ago I experienced the busiest phase of my life yet: I was juggling a full-time job, a side gig, volunteer work, and art events. Everything was moving so fast; most of the time I am awake I need to be at a certain place, doing a certain thing, catering to certain people. It was tiring but exhilarating, which is why I kept it up. One day I realized that I was spending all of my time preparing for the future that I wasn't enjoying the present. I wasn't making time for my family and friends, for rest and recreation, for breathing and taking it all in. I was more concerned about ticking off all the boxes in my to-do lists and getting on with the next set of tasks. When I went freelance last year, I was able to slow down and reevaluate how I've been spending my time and I couldn't be happier with the results. I have time to create art from morning until nighttime, to hang out with friends without needing to rush off to another meeting, to go to the mall and drink my favorite cup of milk tea, to feel the sun's rays on my face while doing the warrior pose. It's not as exciting as it used to be, but I can say that I am living more mindfully.
23. There's life outside of social media.
A lot of people now can't imagine life without their phones and other gadgets within reach. Every meal must be documented on Instagram. Every destination requires a check-in notice on Facebook. Every activity, no matter how unexceptional, is recorded on Twitter. It seems like many of us live to (over)share what is going on with us on social media. Every post should be properly composed, but we don't realize that it prevents us from savoring the moment. Strive to live a full life, both online and offline. You don't want to wake up one day to realize that no matter how many followers you have or how pretty your feed is, you feel empty inside. Memories are meant to be created, not curated.
24. Have your own definition of success...
Using other people's accomplishments and status as the basis of your success is inviting frustration into your life. Everyone is on their own journey; you cannot measure your progress against a person who's running a different race. Set your own benchmarks, and try to go beyond the overrated markers of success--fame, influence, and wealth. At the end of the day, success is what you want it to be. Whether it's holding a headstand for more than five seconds in yoga class or achieving your lifelong dream of traveling to all the nations on earth, be sure you're doing it for you.
25. ...And happiness.
With the volume of people chasing after happiness, you'd think it's a limited resource. I've learned that you are only as happy as you want to be. Eating a triple chocolate cookie can give you as much joy as getting promoted at work. That's okay. Just because society values certain things over others doesn't mean you should.
26. Above all, be kind and stay humble.
I believe that before someone can be considered good at something, s/he must have a good attitude, and by "good" I mean gracious, kind, and most of all, humble. Why? Because truly talented people know how to handle attention, influence, and all the trappings of success. No one likes to be around people who think they are the center of the universe. I feel grateful when I meet people who have already made their marks in their respective industries but remain down-to-earth. Remember: we are just flavors of the month; once our turn in the spotlight is over, let's make sure we don't leave a bad taste in people's mouths.
Bonus lesson #27: always leave room for dessert, whether it's actual cake or some other thing you think you don't need but could be good for you. Welcome life's surprises with open arms. :)