My earliest memories of involve lots of books strewn around the house. I suspect that it was my parents’ way of getting me to read. If it was, it definitely worked, and it’s probably the reason why I write for a living today.
Of course, after graduating from Enid Blyton and R.L. Stine, I found myself flipping through the Zig Ziglars, Dale Carnegies, and Napoleon Hills. As a sixteen-year-old, I never could relate to the lessons in those books, so for me, self-improvement was only something I’d read for fun.
But when I found myself alone and crying in Thailand more than a decade later, a snippet from How To Stop Worrying And Start Living popped right up from the recesses of my mind, like a piece of turd that refuses to be flushed down the toilet. It was a father’s letter to his son, and it went something like this:
Son, now that you’re a thousand miles away, I just want to ask you, do you feel any happier? Because the truth is, if you weren’t happy at home, you won’t be happy anywhere else.
I thought I was escaping life when I bought my plane tickets to Thailand.
Having just come out of a bad relationship, a failed career change (for the second time), and the passing of my mother, I felt like I had a lot to get over, so clearing out my bank account to go on this trip seemed like a practical thing to do.
But as it turned out, you can’t simply change locales and think that you’d be free of your problems. I had it all planned out. I’d live in a Muay Thai gym for a month, embrace the spartan life, and try to forget all of my problems.
The problem? There was something I just couldn’t leave behind, and that was my self.
Dealing with it
There I was, having just cleared the last USD 1,000 out of my bank account for this trip, then realising that I had grossly underestimated the amount of money I’d need for a month-long training trip.
Then there was the travelling light. I’d travelled too light, with just one carry-on backpack, so that meant not bringing a laptop along with me. Not that it would’ve mattered, as the Wi-Fi in the gym was sketchy at best. Oh, and I couldn’t afford data.
That meant that by the time eight o’clock rolled by, the gym would be a ghost town, leaving me alone with my thoughts, accompanied only by the tune of crickets and the occasional baying of a stray dog.
That was when I’d learned that I had lots of demons to get over, and it didn’t matter where I went—they’d be there for as long as I didn’t address them.
Party of one
I made some friends, though, and after one night of pretty hard drinking (the nak muays there have somewhat of a celebrity status, which explains me being able to party on a tight budget), I returned to my gym dorm with no one to talk to, having just waved my new friends goodbye as they whizzed off to their snazzier hotels around the area.
It was then that I broke down, after realising that not only had I failed in running away from my problems, I also had nothing to return to once this was all over. I trudged to my room, eyes blurry from tears, when the stray dog that’s been whining every night decided to walk alongside me.
So I talked to it.
Yes, I really did. I invited it in, gave it food and water, wrapped it in a warm blankie, then talked its ears out. I figured it was the least the dog could do, after the countless nights of me listening to it before I went to bed.
As crazy as it sounded, it actually helped me identify my common problems. Well, I mean, it could’ve also been the alcohol, but I’d like to think that having a non-judgemental living being around did encourage me to verbally identify my issues.
And you know what? I actually did feel better after that. I felt that I was taking the first step in dealing with life, and it opened up my mind to new opportunities that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
Preparation meets opportunity
I had sent out a ton of job applications before I left for Thailand. I had logged on to Jobstreet and sent in my CV to every post remotely interested me. Teaching, marketing, accounting, you name it.
Also included in this run were the three writing applications I’d sent out on a whim. Two of them came back with job offers. In contrast, I must’ve sent out some fifty applications to other companies and none even replied.
Had I been in my old mindset, I would’ve just let the opportunity pass me by. Why even bother, with the sketchy Wi-Fi and all? I didn’t even have the experience, either. And starting over? Was that something I really wanted to do?
But I was feeling better after my little chat with the doggo (I never saw her again). For the first time in my life, I felt a brief spell of optimism, and I rode it out until I landed my new career.
I won’t say that that trip to Thailand changed my life, but it certainly taught me how to live in the moment. It also taught me a new appreciation for this quote: “If a man is right, his world will be right.”
It showed me that despite being broke, and despite staring down an unforeseeable future, it was still possible to choose to be happy, to be content with myself, to love myself. Because if there’s one person that I’ll never get away from, it’s myself. So why not learn to enjoy my company?
My future ‘getaways’ might not come in the form of a training camp in Thailand. It could be that next job offer, that new house, or finally writing that bestseller. And while looking forward to those things can be nice, it shouldn’t be the conditions that I should base my happiness on.
What’s more important is that I learn to be happy wherever I am, whenever I am. Because if I can’t do that now, then I probably won’t be happy anywhere else.