Lately, I came across an article from Singapore Business Review that 8 in 10 young Singaporeans suffered from quarter life crisis.
I can definitely relate to this from my personal experience when I was in my 20s, plus from my own personal interactions with young adults.
While it may seem like the triggers to this phenomenon come from the peer pressures and societal expectations in this highly competitive culture, I realised there is a deeper layer underneath.
It is this notion of living in quiet desperation.
Originally from Henry David Thoreau in his famous observation that "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” the essence of it probably sums up what’s happening in our society today.
In essence, quiet desperation is what happens when you’re doing what’s expected of you, without ever exploring what it is you truly want out of life. You know something isn’t right or missing, yet, you continue to resign to fate and to reside in the certainty, comforts and stability of your daily grind.
As I was reconnecting with one of my friends, Lim Lishan recently, who is an actress, model and yoga teacher, I started to explore and learn from her on what it means to live life fully and to express oneself wholeheartedly.
Growing from your struggles.
"I’m not done yet. I’m still a work-in-progress."
When you first meet Lishan, probably your first impression of her is that she is bubbly, energetic and positive. That was what I found her to be when I got to know her initially. She still is. As I got to know her deeper, I discovered that it was all those years of her personal development that made her who she is today.
Not known to many, she used to suffer from bulimia in her younger days. Having to live in a downward spiral of her self-destructive behaviours not only take a toll on her physical health, but also negatively affected her mentally, emotionally and socially. Despite driving herself to look and feel good on the front, everyday, she is living in hell. Unless you are in her position, feeling and suffering from what she has gone through, it would be hard to imagine how difficult it was to snap out of this vicious cycle of being addicted to her pain. Basically, she was out of self-control. Eventually, she had to seek help from professional psychotherapist.
Though these treatments helped her, it didn’t last for her. Synchronistically, she encountered yoga about 4 years ago that transformed her. She revealed, “Through yoga, I was able to reconnect and reconcile the different aspects about myself that I was having conflicts with. It was the level of healing that not only my mind needed, but also for my body, heart and soul at that phase of my life. Not only that, it taught me to stay grounded in reality while being optimistic with my life and pursuing my passions.”
Even at where she is right now, she still has her ups and downs. With honesty, she said, “Although I have grown over the years through my own inner work and getting support from others, I’m not done yet. I’m still a work-in-progress.”
She reminded herself not to take her life for granted. She is grateful for where she is currently yet she isn’t complacent and will continue to improve herself everyday.
I like the idea of expressing myself wholeheartedly, but I am afraid how others will look at me.
"Living an examined life taught me to be humble..."
Coming out of her past and redefining herself in moving forward wasn’t easy. Nevertheless, Lishan continues to believe in herself. She draws her strength from years of experience in the performance arts.
“I have been acting since I was in kindergarten. In primary school, I was selected to be in dance and choir and was in the Chinese painting club. I attended speech and drama classes after school and went for poetry recitations. In secondary school and junior college, I was in English Drama and participated in SYFs. I also studied Theatre Studies and Drama for my A Levels. My love for the performing arts has led me to attend various dance classes, watch many performances and be a part of Universal Studios at Halloween and Christmas. With my degree in Communications, I acted in many videos and stage pieces and starred in short films by the Art, Design and Media students in my university. Naturally, I have been connected to many people from the arts scene and now continue to act in independent films, commercial projects, Mediacorp shows and live productions,” she described.
One of the things that constantly showed up especially in her creative line of work is people’s judgments. “I don’t really fit in. I would say I am a non-conformist. Perhaps that’s why people can misunderstand me sometimes,” she mentioned light-heartedly.
So how did she deal with all these different opinions about herself from others?
“I don’t really remember what other people say about me unless they are constructive feedback. Moreover, my mental attention is focused on doing what I love that I have no time to be affected by negative remarks. Especially in this social media age, it is easy for people to comment and judge based on what they see in my postings or on media. People can say whatever they want. It is usually their projections onto me. Those interpretations do not necessarily represent who I am. What matters is I am clear how I choose to express myself,” Lishan clarifies.
The ability to show your best self comes from owning who you are. It starts by being comfortable in your own skin. By facing yourself honestly, you can master something about yourself everyday, including your failures and weaknesses. Without challenges in life, we wouldn’t know who we truly are. “Living an examined life taught me to be humble about my development, while knowing when to speak my truth. This is where beauty and confidence no longer become a goal or an outcome, but a way of life without trying too hard to achieve them,” she summarized.
Daring to live fully.
"The more I participate and show up in life, the more life nourishes me."
Besides her passion in acting, modelling and yoga, Lishan is also an avid traveller.
One of her most memorable experiences was her recent trip climbing the Altai Mountains with Beyond Expeditions. What mesmerised her during the climb was the process more than reaching the peak. She marveled, “I am astonished by the pure and raw elements of nature. Because it was desolate, it was also magnificent, beautiful and healing.”
Using her trip as an analogy, that’s what living life fully is all about for her; embracing life in its totality. However, sometimes, as we get excited about our aspirations, we can become obsessed in a few areas while ignoring the rest. She advised, “Respect balance in your life. Neither are you neglecting nor compromising one aspect of your life over the other out of fear, shame, guilt or attachment.”
I also learned from Lishan that this is not so much about risking it all. On the contrary, it is about being compassionate, embracing the truth that everything is interconnected. It comes with wisdom.
First, let go of whatever perception you have on what it should be. Lishan explained, “Too often, we are influenced by ideas sold by our society or the masses. You are unique. Define your own version of what that means to you, not based on someone else’s. Honour what’s true for you.”
She added, “I’ve also been asked many times by others on how they can find their purpose as they step out of their comfort zone. I realise this concept of life purpose has been misunderstood by many such that it becomes an obstacle rather than a stepping stone. We tend to think that we need to uncover that ONE ULTIMATE purpose before we ever begin on anything serious. That’s why I like to approach it differently. I focus on creating new experiences and deepening existing ones. No path is too small or unworthy to venture into. The more I participate and show up in life, the more life nourishes me. And who said you need to have a purpose at all in the first place?”
She also believes in keeping your senses open by exploring different opportunities. “The more you expose yourself to various options, you’ll realise the more you don’t know. Your role is to be a lifelong student of life’s possibilities and potential. You don’t need to gain the approval of others. What stops us from growing is our ego of being arrogant, critical or cynical because we kill the opportunity before we even embark on it,” she concluded.
Developing self-love - a source of powerful self-expression.
"No matter what happens, you are always worthy of yourself."
Life as a talented performer and teacher is not all roses. It can be pretty tough and harsh at times especially dealing with different standards and expectations of people.
Fortunately, Lishan has her holistic practices to heal and align herself back to well-being when life gets rough. Working on self-love is one of her most useful and powerful routine of personal mastery.
Integrating yoga with meditation and other vibrational or energetic modalities, she realized that all the circumstances and conditions in life are transient. As a metaphor, she illustrated, “I enjoy surfing. And just like surfing, you are constantly riding the waves, not identifying yourself with the crests or troughs because they are impermanent. Instead, you are one with the essence of water, which is about flow. Nevertheless, we need these polarities and contrasts in life to see the bigger picture as well as the connection with the details so that we can flow with life. Applying this wisdom empowers me to forgive and love myself even when I am at my worst and not to take my best for granted. No matter what happens, you are always worthy of yourself.”
Though she has many holistic modalities at her disposal, yoga is the one she frequently comes back to as her core practice.
“A lot of people see yoga as a form of fitness. For me, yoga is more than just stretching or flexibility and balance. It is a practice of self realisation and union of mind, body and spirit. Physically, I teach a couple of classes a week and practise about twice on my own. I would have been practising for 5 years this August and have already been teaching for 3.5 years. However, the true practice extends beyond the mat into our daily lives. I would believe that I am always practising at every moment - through being more mindful, conscious and aware, both internally and externally of how we carry ourselves, our thoughts and emotions. I believe this builds a more compassionate and loving community,” she elaborated.
For those of you who are concerned if self-care is selfish, it isn’t. Without taking care of ourselves, we can become a liability for others rather than someone of value. More importantly, we can then form healthy boundaries, knowing what and when to say yes and no to. As such, self-care is not an indulgence, but a form of fundamental self-respect and ownership as a human being.
One of the exercises she shared to kickstart the journey of loving yourself is to begin your own gratitude list. Each day, review and acknowledge yourself for at least three aspects of your life you are grateful for. If you do it consistently, it shifts your frame of mind from blaming at what’s lacking to loving the abundance around and within you.
Till this point, I also related my observations that the practice of self-love is less adopted and discussed among men and asked for her perspective and advice.
I agreed with her that men find it hard to share their feelings and emotions. A useful tip is to lead by example. Start by listening sensitively without judgment. Articulate how something makes you feel and not just talk about what you do. It is essential to affirm the other party that it is safe to communicate their feelings with you.
On encouraging men to love and reveal the softer side of themselves, Lishan declares that she find men more attractive when they allow themselves to be vulnerable. “You don’t have to put on a tough front or to look smart all the times. It can be pretty tiring and often, can be a sign of insecurity than strength.”
Lishan stresses that knowledge does not equal to transformation. Although the above mentioned might sound amazing, they mean nothing unless you experience it for yourself.
Showing who you are, own it and live it!
"Define your own version of success in life."
As we were about to conclude our conversation, I asked Lishan who she is beyond her roles as an actor, model and yoga teacher and she says, “I am a brilliant soul, walking this temporary path as a human being.” From this perspective, we are fundamentally similar and unique at the same time.
Lastly, she would like to encourage all of us to listen and tune into ourselves, not just trying to live up to our parents’ expectations. “Define your own version of success in life. Find time to explore different things and connect with different people. Allow yourself to spend time engaging in the work that brings you energy, joy and inspiration. This way, you will continue to discover who you are. You might get tired physically sometimes, but you won’t be tired of it as long as it is coming from your heart and soul. And the rest is about owning and living what you truly love,” she summed up wonderfully.
A holistic communicator and purpose coach who cares about the bigger picture that connects the dots towards sustainable growth, healing and transformation. His purpose and intention behind whatever he does is to translate life’s wisdom into practical applications which can be adopted by others.