For a long time, I struggled if I should write this year’s birthday reflection in English or Chinese. I usually write my birthday reflection in Chinese, but this year, I would like to be inconclusive to both readers who prefer to read in Chinese and in English. The following reflections have almost the same content. I first wrote it in Chinese, and then reorganized my thoughts in English. Feel free to jump ahead to read the English one for English readers.
現今人們過份著重當下，及時行樂，活在當下，盡興一番。社會文化也不講求持久耐用的，時裝盛行fast fashion，家庭電器呢一部比一部壽命短。但二十一歲卻讓我初有體會時間的價值。放假收拾家裡兒時物品，中學時收藏的唱片專輯，紙皮包裝的都發霉發黃了，傳統膠盒包裝卻歷久常新。原來眨眼嬌的包裝最後敵不過時間的洗禮。又例如買護膚品，買的時候產品總被銷售小姐捧得天上有地下有，用了兩三年了才明白產品持久用的問題，對護膚心得又上一課。然後心想－－為何看那麼多Youtuber 都沒有說？哈，人家有誠意的頂多用了一個月就發心得，又怎會知道長期用是什麼效果？
二十一歲另外學會最大的課題就是的「往前走 (moving on)」。時間不允許我停下來，論文演講結束了，趕緊要兩週內學幾首新歌籌備個人音樂會，個人音樂會結束了又再要為接下幾週十多個不同演出準備。或許面對生活有不如意，也只能繼續往前走。然後我一次又一次站到台上帶著微笑完成一個演出。
成長路途中，人越大越須要向往日的自己學習。人總會時而迷失，但有時候學會的人生課題卻似曾相識。像海底奇兵的Dory 問：「Dory 會點做？」我也經常問自己這問題。事實上學多人生道理我們早就學過了。小時候的境況比較簡單，比較容易參考。有時候我也提醒自己莫忘記那份態度。
明明完成了許多事，但我卻沒有太大的滿足感或成功的喜悅。可能實在太忙碌了，我剛完成一項就要苦惱如何在有限時間完成下一項。很多人都問我如何兼顧如此多任務，我都很坦誠的回道：「我完全不建議你去幹那麼多事情。」多一點是豐富，太多就是負累。我明白到人生不能永遠狂奔，永遠三倍力量奔跑只會儘早玩完。Sheryl Sandberg 書中分享到：「老闆提醒我要對職涯有更多的掌控，因為公司只會不斷要求你更多的時間，你的責任是安排自己休息的時間，自我衡量能肩負多少工作。」空間是要預留的，老是把生活見有空間就填滿，只會成為工作的奴棣，連吸收反省工作的經歷也沒時間。
二）把人們的距離拉近 Bring people together
My 22nd - for the first time, I feel like I am growing “old” instead of growing “up."
As a rather premature girl, I used to be really excited about my birthdays. I wished to turn 18 as soon as possible, so that I didn't have to “act” younger to more truthfully reflect my age. This year, it came to my sudden realization that a year has soon gone by when I flipped my calendar to July.
Even though I am less willing to accept my turning of 22nd, I would like to keep my habit of reflecting upon my last year every summer before my birthday. Somehow, I felt like I have been running in a race with three times my normal speed to complete my journey this past year. Time truly flies without notice. Perhaps because of my complete exhaustion, I passed out on my bed for weeks once I got home in Hong Kong. Guess I felt I haven’t lived my 20th to the fullness, so I worked three times as hard to fill in the blank space. After all, we all want to live our lives to our fullness, right?
Unpacking things I brought from Carleton provided me a great chance to review this year. The autographed CDs I collected from performers around the world after working as the stage manager for their shows, the debut album of Carleton Chinese Music Ensemble and World Music Ensemble which I also painted the album artwork, all the scores I transcribed for my Senior Recital, and my notebook with all my research notes for my Econ comps. This year has really been filled with series of hurdles and struggles, and I overcame them.
“Understand” would be my word to describe my 21st. Through time, I have come to understand many lessons for life.
Still remember in my 20th, I felt that I have learned many lessons about life, but have yet to understand the meanings of them. For numerous times in my 21st, I felt that I have come to understand certain feelings or struggles I had experienced before. I learned that sometimes we just have to pursue with confidence and faith in what we believe. Be confident to allow time passes, and eventually we will discover meanings of our lessons through our experiences.
Many people nowadays indulge in the enjoyment of the moment. Our culture also doesn’t value endurance and durability. Clothes in fast fashion are not made to last. Electronic appliances seem to have shorter and shorter lives than their precedent. Nonetheless, I have to come to appreciate the precious value of “time” in my 21st. During Spring break, I returned home to reorganize my childhood stuff. Sentiments rose when I saw all my once fancy and trendy paperback CD records turned yellow and even grew mould, while those packed with classic plastic cases looked bright and clean as they were. Fancy paperback unfortunately failed the test of “time.”
Skin care products taught me another lesson about “time”. Skin care products always seemed perfect when you first bought them home, especially after listening to all the great preaching by those beauty care saleswomen. Yet, sometimes it takes two or even three years to see the (perhaps negative) effects of long-term usage. Then you wonder, why didn’t I hear any Youtuber mentioning this problem? Well, do you think they will use the product for two years before writing a review? The most sincere one may use it for a month before publishing the review. Time reveals the true value of a product.
Time allows us to experience; to build relationships, and finally to understand. My 21st is a quite sentimental year, because I have finally lived in a new environment for a reasonable period of time. These four years have allowed me to personally experience the fruits of time. Sometimes, it is only in retrospect we see the value of certain events in our lives. Yet, when we pursue each decision, we never fully know what it will lead up to. Moreover, I might have been too naive to even predict what it might bring. Luckily, I am truly grateful that I have been living with my values. Even though sometimes I felt that I might be living a counter-cultural life, but over time I felt that I have gained respect from people around me. More importantly, I am most grateful that I feel respected as who I am, not someone I conformed to be at the first place.
Another biggest lesson I have learned in my 21st is “to move on.” The clock never stops ticking. Once I finished my music comps presentation, I moved on to learn several new songs preparing for my Senior recital. Then, I moved on to prepare for ten different concerts in the following weeks. Perhaps there were things I was not totally satisfied with at the moment, but my only option was to move on. “The show must go on”, so I put on the smile to complete one after another performances.
Sometimes I don’t fully agree with the situation, but reality forces me to let go, or put it aside, move on, and review again when it is the right moment. Experiences have taught me that I have a much longer journey ahead. Keep striving, and time will show. Life has many dimensions. We can’t wait until someone grades us on everything because we are no longer in middle school. We shouldn't work only to fulfill others’ requirements, but to deliver products which we also honor. We should establish the value of ourselves.
“It might be a nice thing to have such experience at your age. You will only witness more of these in the future. In retrospect, you would only be grateful for this experience for it allowed you to understand these things sooner than later.” a professor shared with me, when we were both in teary eyes. Stories repeat in our lives. His words are exactly what I told myself when I graduated from high school. This time I learned that it is too fragile to let recognitions determine the value of ourselves. We discover, establish, and present the value of ourselves. Recognitions are something that are totally external. Experiences are the real deal that could ultimately enrich ourselves.
As we pursue our journey in life, it becomes more important to learn from our “old-self.” We may feel lost at times, but as we reflect more deeply, those seemingly new lessons are not completely foreign. In fact, we have already learned similar lessons before. The situation perhaps gets more complicated, and therefore deluded us. I found myself often asking “What would Agnes in the past do?”, just like Dory in Finding Dory. Situations in our childhood were simpler and purer; hence those lessons are tremendously valuable for our reference. By keep reviewing from my “old-self,” I strive to maintain my attitude in face of challenges in life.
The more we possess in life, the more easily we seem to forget how much we have already had. We feel sour about not tasting that one special grape, yet forgetting we have already own an entire vineyard. What’s left to be sour about?
The imagery of a glass fully filled with water repeatedly surfaced in my head in my twenty-first. Water spilled even if I lightly poked the glass of water with my finger. My life was fully saturated. Yet I could hardly let go of anything at that stage. The last time hosting…, the last time being the stage manager, the last time giving a student recital, the last time writing a paper, the last choir concert, the last chance learning west african drumming. Senior year was made of many “the lasts.” I couldn’t just leave the responsibility to the others. Moreover, I also wanted to do them well as a respect to myself. Yes, my life was saturated and all I could do was to “deal with it.” One day, I asked my professor “How could you manage so many things in your life?” He replied, “I only focus on what has to be done next and finish it. One after the other. Keep working until I fall.” This mechanism is honestly quite unsustainable. Yet, it was pathetically my biggest takeaway from him in that conversation. I decided to adopt it as my emergency measure to this very period.
Although I should have accomplished a lot this year, I didn't seem to feel a great sense of fulfillment or achievement at that time. I was probably always too busy worrying about finishing the next task within the limited time available. Many people have asked me how I could manage so many commitments. Every time, I candidly reply, “I sincerely recommend you not to get your feet wet into so many things just like me.” A good amount brings you a fruitful life; overcommitment is just a burden. I learned that life cannot be a race forever. Always running in three times the speed simply pre-consumed your life. I was particularly inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s sharing in her book,
“Larry (her supervisor at McKinsey) implored us to exert my control over our career. He said McKinsey would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we are willing to do. It was our responsibility to draw the line… Counterintuitively, long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately- to set limits and stick to them.”
Indeed, time doesn’t free up by itself unless we deliberately make room for ourselves to take a break. We can’t always completely fill our lives with work, for that would leave us no different than the slaves of work. We won’t even have time to absorb and reflect upon what we have learned from work.
Learn to feel fulfilled, and contented - a lesson from my 21st. The world is filled with endless materialistic pursuits. There are always something better, someone stronger if we work compete. The most important lesson is to understand where we stand today, and continue to improve from there. In our lives, we probably repeatedly wander between the feelings of “already doing really well” and “still doing very badly,” or other similar dichotomy. Therefore, we have to remind ourselves that our experiences would only accumulate, and we would only do it better. There is nothing to lose.
In my 21st, I have come to understand the Chinese old saying, “every family has a difficult book to master.” I have known some friends long enough to be at their sides during their ups and downs. Just like me, you probably hear stories of your friends’ crushes, dates, romantic encounter, relationship problems, break-ups, and then some new crushes… You hear about their parents’ arguments, their younger siblings’ applying for schools. The social media often only present the best of us, yet in reality, we all face different challenges in our lives. We are all warriors who fight to master our own book. What’s the point of gossiping about others' family and love matters? We all deserve each other’s respect and genuine care.
I have also started to comprehend how we are living in a “troubled times.” Many people in Hong Kong have asked why I did not stay in the States after graduation. Admittedly, the political climate in Hong Kong has frustrated me at times. Yet, looking around the world, every country faces its own challenges in terms of the economy, national security, living conditions etc. No place is perfect, so what matter is how we choose to deal with the situations in front of us. Since I returned to Hong Kong, I have been asking myself everyday what I can do with this society in this troubled times. How I can be a useful piece of salt of the earth? I haven’t found many answers yet. This will be an ongoing search and discovery.
In sum, I have understood many new lessons in my 21st, but I know there are many of which I have yet to comprehend. I am excited to discover their meanings through the passage of time. Every time after overcoming my struggles in my 21st, I felt that I have learned yet another lesson in my life. I recalled looking up at the wide blue sky at Carleton feeling sentimental, “Girl, after all, you are only 21. Many more lessons are awaiting for you. You still have a long way to go.” I took a deep breathe, and continued my journey.
Finally, I hope to have set a living example - as women in the 21st century, we are capable of living a vibrant life to its fullness.
Looking ahead, I walk into my 22nd with three aspirations:
1) (Continuing from my 21st)
Hopefully not to bring any additional troubles to this troubled world.
If ability allows, I hope to solve some problems, to help this troubled world release some pressure.
2) Bring people together.
- honestly my biggest determination to host people for dinners, despite all the troublesome work. 😛
3) Learn to fill fulfilled and contented. Learn to reserve space for myself.
As always, my reflection runs way longer that I expected. Thanks for reading till the end, and being a part in my journey.