And no, I’m not talking about my physical house.
A fit body, a calm mind, a house full of love. These things cannot be bought - they must be earned. - Naval Ravikant
I thoroughly enjoyed this holiday season - travelling to India, celebrating Christmas, New Years, then Chinese New Year. Its been 3 years since we got the ‘full package’ for these events, and honestly I think the 3 years gap has been great for me. Let me explain.
I used to dislike these traditions, these holidays. I always found them a chore, a relic of the past - meeting people we literally only see once per year, people we aren’t close to. “why can’t we be hanging out with other groups? why can’t we just stay home?”
Growing up in Singapore for 20+ years, these were the thoughts in my head. I would show up with a sulk on my face, feeling restless, impatient for the day to be over.
And this year, admittedly, I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to these. I quite enjoyed the more ‘chill’ versions of these holidays during covid times, and the negative sentiments from the past weighed on me.
But the experience far exceeded my expectations. I had such a good time - not like super high-energy kind of good, but a deeper sense of gratitude. It was moment after moment of me realizing what we have here - a home. a family. families. Shared history, shared love for each other, even though we may not see each other all the time, or be super close. For me, it was a realization, a remembering of what is important in this life: the quality of one’s relationships, and a place to call home.
Welcome to my House
For basically my whole life, I’d been focused on building a big, beautiful house - filled with plenty of colorful rooms, each decorated with the achievements and accolades from all the facets of my life.
I chased academic grades, chased military course rankings, chased success and titles and fame (albeit not successful in most endeavors). The result isn’t what's important here. What I want to emphasize is the intention. The chasing. The idea in my head that life is about accumulating, about winning. About learning lots of things. No, actually more like: collecting proofs, evidence, certifications to display that I have learnt stuff, that I am ‘learned’.
Why chase grades? because it would open more doors. Why open doors? because it would lead to a better job. Why a better job? because you will earn more money and be more powerful. Why money and power? because you can buy more stuff, stay in a big bungalow, send your kids to top branded schools, even overseas ones. And why do that? So that they can start the cycle all over again.
I focused on side hustles, main hustles, turning my hobbies into a ‘personal brand’. In a meta way, by continuing to write entries for this blog, I’m perpetuating this idea, but at least now I’m more conscious of it. Also, through writing this blog over the past 1 year plus - by having this dialogue with myself, and with you - I’ve come to uncover some of the ‘darker’ sides of all this hustling.
I focused on building my house. Adding more rooms, adding more stuff in those rooms, etc.
But without a strong foundation, it all started crumbling down.
Finding my Foundation
Again, this is just an analogy, a way for me to make sense of my life.
To build a good, strong, solid house, you need a strong foundation. A stable, secure base.
What is this foundation?
being a good friend to myself, self-love, self-awareness, self-validation, self-sufficiency.
being truly okay with solitude, with silence.
not feeling compelled to grab my phone to watch something or scroll social media.
a base level of discipline, focus, motivation, happiness, peace, resources.
it also means living a life I am proud of, living the best version(iteration) of myself in this moment.
Without any of the above, without this internal foundation, any house you build on top will never be sustainable. It will only be okay up to a certain size, before the foundation can’t take it anymore and things collapse.
I spent the better half of last year diving deeper into this area of my life, and rebuilding my foundation. It took multiple overseas trips, lots of conversations with different people, and just plain failing enough times, to snap me out and wake me up.
The key mental shift for me has to do with self-sufficiency. Its a good thing to be able to take care of oneself - to put yourself out into the world, earn a decent living, be comfortable with your own company. But I used to confuse self-reliance with non-reliance.
“I don’t need anyone to take care of me.” became “I don’t want anyone to take care of me.”
And in fact, even saying that I don’t need anyone to take care of me is not entirely true. It depends on what your goal is: if the goal is survival, then sure, you may not need anyone else. Though it may really help to have more people with you if you want to survive.
If the goal is to thrive in life, then you absolutely need people in your corner. The bigger your goal is, the more you will need people - good people - in your life.
So let’s check in - as of now, we have a strong foundation. All that self- stuff, the internal work. We have a beautiful house - filled with colorful rooms that represent you - the music you like, the games you play, the travel experiences, the achievements, the hustles and hobbies.
But now what?
Turning my House into a Home
I could have the biggest mansion, but if I am standing alone in it, that sounds like a pretty miserable existence, no?
Again it comes back to the goal: surviving or thriving.
Most of us, especially if you are able to read a blog like this, would be way beyond the ‘surviving’ stage, so that image of being alone in the mansion hits harder. Because we can all imagine what that would feel like. We are fortunate enough to even have a house just for one person.
Life is meant to be shared, to be experienced, and a big chunk of those experiences are amplified, made better with people - lesson I learnt so clearly and painfully in Kota Kinabalu. The same milestone, the same experience, the same location, done alone vs done with other people, done with strangers vs done with close connections, makes a world of a difference.
So what I want is to turn my house into a home.
That's where other people come in. we build rooms, decorate the place, and it becomes a space of memories, of emotion, of life.
In a world where our individualism is celebrated, where singlehood is encouraged, we forget how life takes on a new color when we bring others in.
At least I forgot that. Hopefully you haven’t.
Perhaps it was the fear of being hurt, being rejected, or abandoned, that got me to close off from others. Couple that insecurity with the modern zeitgeist of being infinitely connected virtually but terribly disconnected in actuality, and you get a vicious cycle of me using these mental models as justifications for my past actions.
I segment the people who turn my house into a home into two categories: I see friends as Guests, and family as Co-owners.
Why guests? The image in my mind is friends who come over, I host them, we catch up, have fun, have a meal, play board games, etc.
Co-owners - if the friends come over to enjoy the highlight reel of the house, then the co-owners are there to share in the non-highlight reel bits too: setting up the living room before the guests arrive, cleaning up after they leave, discussions on how to organize the house, pay the bills, repair the broken parts, what to stock in the fridge and who to take out the trash.
My family (for this I’m more thinking of like future family, as in the family I would like to start. But it does include my parents and siblings too). They see many more facets of my life, they see the good, bad and ugly. They are there for the mundane, for the lows that we go through in order to experience the highs later on.
The energy level when I’m with friends is great, usually even higher than the usual interactions I would have with my family. And its easy to get caught up in that, to think that because of the difference in energy levels, that my connection to my friends is stronger.
But that is a misconception.
I’ve come to see the beauty, the depth, the strength in Choice. In saying that, these people are my family. They live in my house with me. Of the billions of people out there who could be in this home, I commit to them. And they commit to me. We rely on each other. We need each other. And we thrive together.
Again it comes back to the 4 ‘C’s concept from the last blog entry - seeing the people in my life for the gifts they bring, not for the gifts they do not have. In a world of infinite scrolling and swiping, its easy to adopt a ‘Maximizer’ attitude and think about all the ‘better’ people out there you could be with.
Instead, its time to switch to a ‘Satisficer’ attitude, to know when is good enough, and to accept it wholeheartedly. To stop thinking ‘what if’ and simply live.
Life isn’t an exam. People don’t carry ‘scores’.
We forget that life isn’t to be ‘maximized’ in this way.
Life is for living.
If we spend so much time searching for the best people, we won’t have time leftover to spend it living with them. And in the process, we neglect the people who are already here.
In trying to build the perfect house, we forget to turn it into a home.
And home is never perfect. That’s the whole point.
If it were perfect, it wouldn’t be a safe space, a secure base for you to come back to.
It’s precisely because its broken, because of its imperfections, that it becomes a home.
And that’s where I want to be.
“Forget your perfect offering; there's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” - Leonard Cohen