Picture of the "Shoes on the Danube Bank" Memorial in Budapest, Hungary
(6 min read)
This morning, I unexpectedly started my day in tears.
You see, I have this (unhealthy) habit of checking my mobile phone first thing in the morning when I wake, and the (illogical) habit of scrolling through my Facebook feeds brought me much pain today.
A ton about the bombings in Aleppo, Syria has been appearing in my Facebook feeds recently. And this morning, I causally clicked on a couple of videos as I usually do, unaware of the impact these videos was going to create on me. Although no more than a minute long each, every single one of them caught me totally off-guard, affected me in more ways than I could imagine and left poignant snapshots appearing consistently on repeat mode in my head. A toddler filled with grime and blood, looking confused and disoriented as he sat quietly in the ambulance amidst a sea of chaos. A devastated young boy wailing uncontrollably as he embraced his deceased father, repeatedly asking him not to leave. A helpless, anguished mother desperately searching for his son, unaware that he had been killed by the bombings. The intensity of grief, loss and pain exhibited by such raw emotions is heart-breaking to witness.
If these are just snapshots of the situations happening right now, I can’t even bring myself to fathom all that is going on deep inside each of these victims’ hearts.
It is cruel to see the lives of these people being entangled in such monstrous and barbaric situations, ones that didn’t have any valid, comprehensible reasons to why they were happening to them. Why their fates turned out so brutal, why their futures almost non-existent.
My morning experience was an emotional and deeply introspective one for me. It was akin to having a massive slap on my face – while fractions of people in the world are caught in bleak, senseless situations with no clue if they will be dead or alive tomorrow, many of us are still trapped by our own concerns and preoccupations that prevent us from leading our desired lives.
Maybe we are still waiting for the perfect time. Maybe we are still consumed by our fears. Maybe we still think we aren’t good enough. Maybe we think that courage belongs to someone else. Maybe we secretly enjoy playing victim to our circumstances. Maybe we don’t see how all this procrastination will eventually lead to inaction and an unavoidable build-up of regrets.
A life filled with regrets is surely painful to endure.
When I was still living in Singapore, I used to visit elderly folks regularly in their homes. It was amazing hanging out with them – they have so much wisdom to share and so much love to give.
However, I also noticed that a handful of them were perpetually depressed and sad. Their energies were heavy and they had an air of regret looming over their heads. Their conversations often circled around lost opportunities, lost relationships and unmet expectations, and I could feel their disappointment and pain. They often concluded that if they could turn back time, they would have done something differently. Something more courageous, something they would not live to regret.
2 years ago before I took the plunge to take this road less travelled, I remembered feeling really conflicted. I had a stable career, a respectable job title, a decent pay and a pretty swanky lifestyle. However, I felt that something was missing; I wanted something else. Something that allowed me to be the free spirit I am, something that empowered me to contribute back to humanity, something that resonated with the dreams and ideas I always had of how I wanted my life to be.
However, I had zero courage. I was too scared. And guilty. Scared because it was madness to give up the familiar and secured for some crazy, idealistic dream. Guilty because I felt that I should be contented with what I had then and not be so demanding of my life. My alter ego was constantly chiding the trouble-maker in me for being so idealistic and difficult to please.
I met a good friend of mine for lunch one day. She does social work in Singapore, helping the under-privileged lead better lives every day. An incredibly compassionate, humble, kind and patient woman, I imagined there was no better person to empathise with my situation and shower me with some tender, loving care. So I confided in her. I told her my fears and preoccupations.
Well, she did, but definitely not in the manner I had expected to receive.
Her reply was simple, straightforward and sharp, “Jane, you have no idea how many of my clients will dream of having this opportunity you are handed with now. But here you are, throwing this privilege you have away.”
That statement jolted my senses out of their musky box of fear. Instead of feeling comforted, I felt guiltier than before.
Here I was, feeling bad for wanting more out of life. I was moping around in my self-constructed crisis. But in reality, I was throwing away a distinct privilege that others could only dream of having.
That moment thrust me out of my comfort zone and allowed the courage to come. Instead of feeling that I was asking for too much, I began recognising that the opportunity was mine to grasp. There is nothing noble giving up a dream which others can only wish to have, just because we think we aren’t good enough. Paying it forward and inspiring others to lead equally courageous lives is way more impactful.
Don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you that you are not good enough or deserving of your dreams. And remember, others are dreaming of having the chance you have so you should feel incredibly BAD for throwing it away.
The morning videos, flashbacks of my visits to the senior citizens’ homes and reminder of that landmark conversation with my friend inspired this rather emotional entry today. Once again, I am humbly reminded that it is our duty to live well, right here and now. Throwing away the chances time and again is not just a dis-service to ourselves, but to the people around us.
Remember, everyone is rooting for you.
3 reasons why you need to start living the life you want NOW
1) There are tons of people out there who really want to have your chance
There are people born in different environments and circumstances who will grasp your chance in a heartbeat if it was presented to them. So don’t throw your privilege away. For the one chance fear made you missed, there are tons of other people grieving with you.
2) Be in contribution to yourself and someone else – you don’t know who you are inspiring
When you take the first step to start leading your life courageously in the manner you want, you inevitably inspire the people around you in big and small ways unimaginable. And you end up giving so much hope and inspiration to them – pass it forward, simply by taking the first step.
3) Regrets are the hardest thing to stomach
My visits to the senior citizens’ homes always reminded me that time is ticking every second, and regrets are cumulative. At some point, we can’t turn back time to go back to an event where we would have done something different if we had the courage. So don’t live a life of regrets. Live a life where you are proud to say you have lived despite feeling the fear.
What will you do differently today if you realised time is ticking away but fear is still in the way?
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