Reflections

Happiness Is Believing Not Being Sad Is Good Enough

Here’s the gist: Millennials aren’t lazy; they’re just insecure.

Though I enjoyed most of my career life in publishing and marketing, I never wanted to write professionally in Singapore. It wasn’t because I didn’t love writing; I simply loved it too much to risk hating it by turning leisure into work and reducing my margin for error in exchange for mass appeal.

For four years, I did marketing and PR for a Michelin-starred restaurant group that served (mostly) Crazy Rich Asians. I hosted journalists from Japan to Russia, proofread menus in French, edited company material in English, and made small talks in calculated intervals to SOS out of awkward silences through 7-course media tastings. Life was a carousel of press releases, media interviews and photoshoots.

Two years later, at 24, I kickstarted a publishing company with a leading media group for Gen Ys. Backstory: I applied for their creative role instead.

As an editor, I spent hours weeding words from mental vomit and rehoming ideas in blank pages. Write-edit-pitch-write-edit-reject-approve-interview-hire-train, and repeat. Life was one advertisement after another; analytics on a spreadsheet; a social numbers game. I think I did a decent job, pushing a new team to go from 0 to 1 million views on Youtube and Facebook.

Most 25-year-olds with no degree would have probably said, “Hey that’s something to be proud of.” But the more goals I met, the higher I raised the bar. My articles were republished by news sites including The Independent, and my journey was featured on TheAsianEntrepreneur.

But the more I learnt the rules for others, the less I could break them for myself. At the height of its expansion, I quit my job in December 2018 after spending a year to hand over the company.

Although I’m still a work-in-progress, I’ve never been happier with my mediocrity because I am closer to knowing and becoming who I want to be.

Aim for progress, not perfection

To perfectionists, imperfection can feel like an allergic reaction to what others call an itch. Sometimes, it makes you help others to be perfect while making you procrastinate your own work to avoid failure. It can make you work extra hard, fixate on your flaws, afraid of failure, or overcompensate for your brokenness. In essence, it’s only a vitamin society encourages you to take until you consume it like a drug.

As a boss, I noticed two kinds of perfectionists among fresh grads: those who couldn’t bend, and those who were willing to break. Those who couldn’t bend often had anxiety and self-blamed for giving up quickly when presented with failure. Those who were willing to break excelled beyond the bell curve, but were often self-destructive and/or depressed. Almost all felt they were influenced by our academic system that either sheltered them, or pushed them too hard.

None of us can deny our meritocratic mantra was the driving force behind our quick success. But, how do we be happy with constantly wanting? How do we encourage others without promoting self-consciousness? How can we produce great work like a perfectionist, but not stare too long at our goals like a slacker? Where is the pivot point, where we could loosen ourselves without losing our sanity?

I’ve worked long enough in advertising to never see ads the same way again; I read the T&Cs on every poster because my job was to write them. But, it doesn’t take a marketer to know every girl is told she’s never enough, with or without beauty ads. That’s why it’s important to know where to draw the line between progress and perfection.

Figure your problems, then prioritise them

I echo the quote, “Learn the rules before you break them.” Unless you’re a monk, it’s hard to be happy without Maslow’s Hierarchy of (Basic) Needs, especially in Singapore. There’s no ‘pray love’ if you ‘eat’ grass.

Inexperienced and poor? Grit your teeth and find a job.
Experienced, overworked, and underpaid? Negotiate with your boss tomorrow or find a new job.
Experienced, well-paid, but hate work? Explore options during break time (don’t tell your boss).

Write down what you’re afraid of, who you are, and who you want to be. List your strengths, weaknesses, goals to improve, and what you need help in. Then, write the steps to get there. A bullet journal could also include a checklist of things like this.

Before I quit my job, I worked harder to afford a break. Steph and I got engaged last year with a house on the way, so I didn’t want money to be the root of my premature wrinkles. So I wrote down my finances, life goals (weekly, monthly, quarterly), job opportunities, hobbies, freelance jobs I could take on, and organisation habits. By having a long-term plan, I could have more freedom to make short-term choices without panicking over the FOMO. It also helped me valuate my investment (time) in myself.

Choose the company you keep by first becoming your own

Vibe well and you will notice an instant change in your life. This doesn’t mean leeching onto high-net-worth individuals or severing ties with old friends who only want to meet you for coffee to sell insurance plans. It means being kind to all while distancing yourself from those who make you morally bankrupt. It’s stopping with your BS people-pleasing and Instagram ‘likes’ obsession.

You can meet inspiring people through volunteer trips, training workshops, Instagram DMs, or Zumba class, if you care enough to take action. And if you can’t find gratitude for people because you’re antisocial, love a dog or start with appreciating objects you already like.

Decide that not being sad is good enough

In the midst of the mindless motion, breathe and acknowledge every emotion you feel without the need to act on every one of them. Make decisive, daily reminders not to strive for perfection, but progress. You don’t have to wait for the day you lose the little things in life to learn you had taken them for granted.

Turn your “sorry I’m late” into “thank you for waiting for me” and your mistakes into learning opportunities. Respond kindly to failure, keep your humility when you find success and accept what you cannot control. Because it’s better to be happy from knowing that not being sad is good enough, than to be sad for always thinking you’re not happy enough.

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