When I first started writing online, I was terrified people would think I was full of shit. I cared about what they’d say about me.
“What does he know about life? What qualifications does he have to give advice?”
And I would fight it with self-defense talk: “So I’m not an expert, but this is what research says — research that matches my experience.”
But of late, I’ve realized that most of the time — I don’t even know what exactly I’m doing with my life. I can’t predict what’s going to happen. I just do whatever research I can, talk to people I know, then do what I think is best.
I still care about the message I’m sending out, but I’m trying not to care if people hate my opinions.
Because care is a limited resource. As author Mark Manson says, “You only get a limited number of f*cks to give.”
Today, I’ll write about the only things I really care about. After 32 years of life, I’ve decided these are the special things I wanna invest in.
I can’t say that you should care about the same things I do.
Though I must say — research suggests the below things are meaningful for most people. And I think you need to focus your life on just a few things too. I’m sharing here because I hope it’ll help you in your journey. How meaningful your life becomes depends on the things you choose to care about.
Anyway, these are the things that work for me. These are the things that make me happy.
1. My Family and Friends
Most people instinctively know that relationships are the most important thing in life.
But just in case you need evidence, the famous Harvard Study of Adult Development (which tracked a group of men for 75 years!) found conclusive evidence that good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Or as Harvard professor George Vaillant puts it:
“Happiness is love. Full stop.”
So we all know and agree that love is the key to a happy life. But why don’t most of us spend more time and energy in strengthening our relationships then?
I don’t know; maybe it’s bad time management. Or maybe it’s because the media is so good at brainwashing us to chase material things instead. I get brainwashed too — sometimes I get caught up doing meaningless work to make myself proud, instead of spending time with people I care about.
But when I’m thinking straight, I know investing in the right relationships is the best thing I can do with my time.
Nothing beats love.
(Sorry I haven’t been home in a while Mom. I’ll do better.)
2. My “Life Work” at mr-stingy.com
Some people are “called” to be great athletes (congratulations to the Malaysian Paralympics and Olympics teams BTW!), while some are “called” to be great leaders of nations (not you, Trump).
Me — I have the growing suspicion that my “calling” is to be a lonely writer.
Of course, “calling” is really a romanticized way of calling the intersection between what you’re good at and what the world needs. Sometimes people ask me how I found my “passion” or “calling,” and I struggle to answer. I understand why though. Most people think calling is a magical moment that happens just like in the movies. It’s that moment when Rocky Balboa finds the will to stand up and deliver a knockout punch — becoming champion of the world:
THAT moment: only in the movies…
It’s been much more boring and practical for me.
When I was growing up, I never imagined that someday I would call myself a writer. I dreamed of becoming a great scientist, actor or businessman. Of course being young and naive, I didn’t see the obvious challenges: I’m too much of a dreamer to be scientifically objective; I’m too stiff to act or dance; and I’m not a very convincing salesman. I would never have been great at any of the above.
But writing — I just tried it one day, and somehow six years later — I’m still doing it. It stuck. And the more I do it, the more I realize it’s something that jives with my natural tendencies: I like to stay home alone all day, lose myself reading, and try to recreate the experience by writing my own stuff. Maybe 90% of people find it weird, but that’s my “gift.”
The other great thing is finding out my writing has somehow managed to help people. I care about this. And as long as you still find value in what I’m doing — mr-stingy will exist.
At risk of being called lame, I don’t look at this as just being a blog. I look at it as my life work.
What is your gift to the world?
3. My Day Job — Helping People Become Better
The other work-related thing I care about is my day job.
In my almost-one-decade career, I’ve been privileged enough to have multiple roles in a few great organizations. All helped me grow, and all helped to pay the bills, but my current job is different in one way: it has nothing to do with my engineering degree, and it’s a totally new industry for me.
In other words, I didn’t know what would happen — but took the risk and dived into a new career anyway. I love my job of helping young people grow now, but it’s not a bed of roses either.
Everyone jokes about cleaning up shit at work, but a couple of months ago, I really had to clean up a few pieces of dog shit — while helping to run a youth camp. Guess there’s something shitty about every job.
Yet, I also realize how lucky I am, as most people don’t have jobs that they care about. It’s usually for money and security. Some people eventually quit to start their own dream companies. But if you’re not the super-entrepreneurial type (and I’m not either), would it make sense to find a job that really suits your passion and abilities?
I don’t have a “dream job” as how many people would consider a dream job. I don’t get paid a lot to travel the world (ironically what I used to do) or have free meals and massages as part of my contract. When people ask me which prestigious company I work for now and I reply, their first response is usually: “What? Can you repeat that again?”
But I care about what my job stands for. So it’s my dream job.
4. My Health — Making the Most of Each Day
I left it for last, but health is the prerequisite for making all the above much better.
Sure, I could still have friends, a job and a blog even if I’m sick all the time — but my quality of life would be way worse, and I wouldn’t enjoy the above things as much.
What does health mean to me?
Not falling sick is the obvious one, but I also mean eating well, sleeping well, and playing sports with my friends. Avoiding bad thoughts and bad people. Having time for my introvert self to recharge emotionally. Reading good books and articles to expand my mind. And making time to reflect and pray.
When I can fit all this into a day, and the other important things above, I go to bed with a smile. I know it’s been a fantastic day. Even if I can do most, though not all — I know it’s been a great day.
What are our lives, if not a series of days that ends someday? I can’t predict the future, but if my days are healthy and meaningful — that’s good enough for me.
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But what about all the other small, irritating things that come with life? What about traffic jams, home plumbing repairs, and “friends” who say they want to catch up but actually want to sell me an MLM package?
Yes — I have to deal with them, but I try not to care about them. Because if I do, they take away my mental energy, and some of the other important things are bound to suffer. It’s difficult enough trying to balance the four things above (and some say it’s impossible to properly balance all of them), that I can’t afford to waste any energy.
Do I sometimes forget my principles, get distracted, and care about other stuff?
Yeah, all the time.
Sometimes I get stupid and think about how old I was when I got my first promotion, the brand of my watch, and whether I’m the most handsome person in the room.
And that’s when I become unhappy.
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Pic from Pexels.