[When I started writing this post, it will have been] less than two weeks before the third anniversary of my father’s death. It’s been an interesting ride, for those who have been following, especially those who saw posts of that time disappear upon eventual realization that there are some things better unsaid for others to judge and misconstrue. But with or without them, I have had the time to really see my own growth, and that’s the beauty of self-honest and blogging: I see it, and those who follow me do too.
A status I recently posted on Facebook (punctuation added for clarity):
There are three things that I have learned over the years that allow me to endure and keep going strong in the worst of times:
1) Purpose: If you know what you are doing and meant to do, nothing can get you down. Wait on tables, couchsurf for a bit because I don’t have an apartment? All just minor obstacles that do not deter me from me and my end goal in sight, and my duty to make it happen.
2) Self-worth, self-respect, self-love, self-compassion, and self-awareness: All aspects of the same thing. I know what I can do, what I am capable of doing, what I won’t do, what makes me worth fighting for my own happiness, and forgiving myself for my own imperfections. I know what I can offer people, and I know that even if I don’t have what I want, I will live in peace; I know what I will tolerate and what is unacceptable because I am not a tyrant or a doormat.
3) The people I love and who love me back, unconditionally: my friends who see me at my best and my worst and know that no matter what, they always cheer me on for my happiness and my purpose, pray for my well-being, and encourage me every step of the way. I inspire them as much as they inspire me, and knowing that I have people to fight for, I know I’m not alone and I have support.
I have 3 out of 4 things that make me unbreakable. The 4th one? I’ll share it when I have it and can say it’s mine. Working on it. But hey: 3/4 ain’t so bad.
At the end of this week, it will be the third year anniversary of Dad’s death. It’s been an interesting ride since then, which has resulted so far in finally settling into myself. I’m no longer defined by being my father’s son, by my financial status or lack of a career, by a girl I am dating, by my educational certificate level, or any of those arbitrary variables people use to box people into little categories that deviate from the actual person they are trying to know and understand. I’ve learned recently that most of the time, they actually don’t care to know and understand, they want to assume and judge, which is fine, because as I mention in point three in my quoted status, I have actual friends who are beyond that.
I’m recalling someone who anonymously attacked me on my blog under the pseudonym “John Smith” and “IRPSer” whose criticism against me as a person in response to my criticism of higher education, student debt, and my program were laughable at best. For a time, I had the dialogue between me and his pettiness, which can best be described as someone who wasted his time observing my behavior and making conclusions based off him projecting his limited life experiences on me, as well as the parochial mindset of someone who believes life is nothing more than four walls in a classroom, and anyone who doesn’t make that his universe is automatically mediocre.
The significance of that dialogue isn’t that I was right about my decision to watch out for me, and that this person’s obliviousness to the world beyond his research papers and lack of awareness of current events despite being in a so-called program to open people’s minds. What is significant is that it comes down to a recurring theme in life: it is okay to be you and me.
I’m a rebel, no doubt about it. I’m an adventurer. I’m not a desk monkey, I’m not someone who can be defined simply by waving a piece of paper in someone’s face and expect to be treated better for throwing money into a degree so I can get a job title to throw in their faces after that. People can look at the places I’ve traveled to, read my writing, watch my videos, and they still don’t have a concrete idea of me, and I don’t expect them to–it’s just fragments of what I put out there that might give people a hint of it, and that’s assuming they don’t actually talk and engage with me. The closest I’ll get is someone projecting himself on me and making assumptions, and that’s not dialogue, that’s imposition. And right now, I’m sure someone will call my values and thoughts here impositions, but my response is, this is my personal space for reflection and sharing of thoughts, and let the reader beware, I write for me, nobody else.
Apparently, it wins fans and critics alike, both in person and online. Cambodia showed me I have my value because a simple story is, you can have all this education, money, titles, and arbitrary nonsense, but what made me find new friends who are my family now is being me. Little things from chivalry that include walking outside of the sidewalk so the girls wouldn’t be splashed by water, listening to people and engaging them, teaching them new concepts and lessons in life, protecting them from thieves, and introducing them to philanthropic causes like donating blood at a children’s hospital–being me is what people want, and being me is what other people don’t want. Not everyone loves gin in their martinis; I’m a vodka man myself, but there is a market for people who prefer gin, so that’s how I look at it.
The problem is, I was around people who had a certain expectation of me and (lack of) understanding of both me and the world I know. My father, who believed he was a messiah and I couldn’t be trusted with anything, hence his intervention (re: controlling) while being completely inconsistent; my mother and stepfather, who have no idea about what life is like outside of their fortune in six figures, especially in the working world and changed landscape of life where a degree doesn’t automatically mean work (PhD holders have less income than BA holders); my sister, whose outlook was about social climbing and high society; my classmates and the un-traveled people who don’t understand a single thing about growing up in different countries and why it’s different than just working abroad after establishing an identity associated with your nationality or ethnicity; girlfriends who didn’t have a clue about what they wanted–the list goes on.
The solution to all this? Like everything in life, it’s travel. Travel reminds me that they are not the world, no matter how closely tied they all are to me at any given moment in time. I am reminded that I can be miles away and find myself in better company with those who appreciate me, and don’t define me by my relationship to one person or another, my status in a society they have no interest in being part of, or hiring me for work to fill in quotas. Likewise, those who appreciate my writing and my thoughts are those who approached me as strangers, and some have become lifelong friends since then, just as there are those who have left interesting comments and tried to bring me down.
I know what I can do and offer. I have my purpose. I have friends who love me. Everything else just kind of takes care of itself after this. If someone asks me what I do, I tell them I travel, make videos, write, take pictures, and help fight poverty and other big world issues. My purpose is to not just make a difference, but empower people to know they can make a difference themselves, that I am not special, just someone who put his words into actions. I have friends who helped me discover that, and friends who love me even when not being this way, and by offering myself openly and fulfilling my purpose, I bring in more friends. Three things that all feed off of each other. How wonderful is that?
Dad would be proud. Those who consider themselves my critics and enemies would look for more fuel to bring me down. My friends would be happy to know this is what I have become since those days sleeping in NYC subway trains or church doorways. My future self would love to read this and remember what it was like to be curious about the next step, having been unable to foresee what comes next, because I certainly never saw any of this coming. Let’s see what happens next…But first, let’s deal with Friday, Dad’s death anniversary, and thoughts I’ve been meaning to share in an open letter to him coming soon.