As the big 3-0 approached a faint anxiety had started welling up deep within. A milestone was now within sight but I was unsure if I deserved to claim it. As a friend put it, I was still searching for my 第一桶金 -- the first bucket of gold that would turn life from a grind to a game.
More importantly, I was still searching for my reason for being. I had recently given up my shares in a business I had helped to build up, because while it filled my bucket it also brought me further from ikigai. It looked as if I would celebrate my big 3-0 by being the big zero.
But visiting this blog again and looking at the most recent post, written almost three years ago, felt like a big pat on the back. It gave me a new perspective on my failures: they were every bit as important as my successes. Combined together, I finally felt like I deserved to be three decades old.
Because almost three years ago I sat down in front of my computer, empty and desperate and stuck; stuck firmly to the slow-moving treadmill to mediocrity, glued down by my own fear and insecurity. And all I could summon from myself back then was a copy-and-paste of a cartoon that railed against being average, before I slunk back to bed (or back to work -- it all felt the same) and continued my slow spiral into myself.
Then came Life's wake-up call.
Life does not wake people up with a gentle cajoling; it jumps on your groin and right hooks your jaw as you sit up screaming, then it drags you firmly out of bed onto the ground and gives you a few good kicks in choice places while calling you names for good measure. When Life was done with me, I wondered how I had not gotten out of bed earlier -- it seemed so easy to, looking back at the bed-turned-crime scene, from my new perspective down on the floor in a miserable heap.
So I got up and set off into the outside world,
and all my fears turned out to be totally unfounded and within a few weeks I had been abused, swindled, and taken advantage of. But amidst all this I discovered things within me that I didn't think I had, and it brought a joy that no one could take away.
Armed with new knowledge - the best kind, learnt from painful mistakes and so never forgotten - I dusted myself off and signed up for a second round at the school of hard knocks. This time I found more success, which in hindsight caused me to take longer to realise that I was being abused, swindled, and taken advantage of again (except this time I knew enough to bring the fight to court and win).
It would have been a smooth and elegant transition, as a piece of writing that this post is, to say that it was the third time lucky for me, which only makes it more aggravating that it wasn't. At the third time of asking I had found the right ingredients -- reliable partners, friendly colleagues, a lucrative business model -- only to find that I was cooking the wrong thing. It was a potato chip type of business - makes you fat without nourishing, so that even when you succeeded all you felt was emptiness and sometimes even guilt. It definitely didn't have ikigai in it.
Which is why, at the ripe old age of nearly thirty, I am staring at the drawing board again (literally -- I recently bought a whiteboard off Amazon to do my business planning).
But thanks to this trusty old blog, I can look back at my path of destruction - failed companies and lawsuits and all - and recognise that each of them is an achievement, another piece that didn't work in Edison's lightbulb. I had left my four walls, physical and mental, and entered the arena where I savored intermittent success between bitter defeats. And I stayed true to myself -- no punching below the groin, no giving into the temptation of money over integrity - even if it exposed me to underhand blows. I had nothing to apologise for or be shameful of, and everything to be proud about.
Looking forward to 30, and may the next 30 bring me closer to ikigai (I wouldn't mind a bucket of gold along the way either).