I turn 26 today, here is what I learned this year!

Each year I write some reflections on my birthday. This year was a year of growing courage, deepening friendships, and humbly opening up to receiving grace. My D.Phil. excites and energises me every day, and my podcast is downloaded hundreds and thousands of time month after month. This was a beautiful year of thriving, and here are some lessons I’d like to share with you.

Neediness is an obstacle between you and what you desire

Even 7 years later, I remember this moment vividly. I was attending my first meditation retreat, only 19 years old, listening to a talk on desire. The teacher’s advice was unequivocal and clear: let go of desire. My reaction? STFU. “What do you mean let go of desire? I don’t wanna turn into a scumbag unanimated vegetable. I don’t wanna lose passion from my life!”

Now 7 years later, I feel the opposite: desire, or a precisely neediness, blocks passion. It’s a killjoy. When you need something, you put a psychic distance between you and that thing, This creates a feeling of lack, scarcity, and deprivation — which in turn saps you from the energy needed to pursue that very thing.

Here’s an example: when I see an attractive woman, ideally I would make her smile, give compliments, and create an opportunity for connection. In practice though, the parasite of neediness sabotages the natural process of connection. I’d be hypersensitive to her approval: “does she like what I said”, “is she enjoying my company”, “I need her to like me”. When in this state, I do not have the mental resources to be charming, and neither can I listen to her deeply. I have little space for empathy, because the voice of neediness has consumed me.

It doesn’t have to be a woman or man. You can be needy toward money, fame, looks, food, anything. Any time you notice that it feels like your worth is conditional on getting something, you are dealing with the defilement of neediness, my friend!

Want a more detailed discussion along with tips on how to overcome neediness, check out my podcast episode: UE #38: Deconstructing neediness

Identity precedes outcomes

We think that identity follows from outcomes. For example, you may feel that once you become a millionaire, you will feel rich. Or once you have a six pack, you will feel attractive or fit. Sadly, the world is full of stories where billionaires with a B don’t feel like they have enough, and people with the best looks are compelled to hurt themselves or even take their lives.

I have found the opposite to be true. Identity precedes outcome. If you want to be rich, you need to start adopting the identity of being rich first. Once you put on that hat, you begin to take actions that align with your identity, which in turn reinforces your identity.

Let’s take an example of applying to college. For someone to get into a high end college, let’s say an Ivy League, they first need to think that they deserve to be in that college. If they don’t have that identity in the first place, they will not apply, and of course stand no chance of getting in. Many of my own cousins and friends don’t even consider applying to such colleges — it is just not in their identity.

I encourage you think, in which area of life do I have a sub-optimal identity. And can I claim more and step into a bigger identity in these areas? If this sounds a bit unclear, here is a more detailed discussion in my podcast: UE #36: What is the goal behind your goals?

You’re not alone, it’s You + the Universe

We are all control freaks. We often take responsibility for things that are well outside the realm of human control. We believe we should never hurt others feelings, we beat ourselves up if fail to get a job, and hate ourselves if we can’t succeed at dating. We believe when we achieve something, it is us who deserves all credit, and when we fail, we must deserve blame and punishment. With this attitude, there is a teeth grinding feeling to living life.

For instance, over the last two years one of my focus has been to be completely free from social anxiety. I practice going out to events, clubs, and public places, and starting conversations, often all alone by myself (I don’t consume any alcohol either).

My body tightens up and I feel overwhelming fear before talking to people. It fundamentally comes from a deep fear of rejection. But when I realise, hey, I don’t have to make anyone like me. I don’t need to talk to anyone who is aloof or does not want to connect. I only need to do my part – which is create an opening, an opportunity. The other end needs to be held by someone else, the universe if you will. Reminding myself that it is not me alone, that life is not a struggle, and that it is me+the universe, often drops a significant amount of my anxiety. I breathe deeper and I feel happier — all good things when you want to connect to others. It makes me humble and human, not a control freak that wants it all my way.

An interesting podcast episode relevant to this topic: UE #17: Distinguish between what you can control, and what you cannot control, UE #29: Destroying social anxiety and building confidence

Growth is not possible without grace

I’ve had a thriving year. I’ve grown beyond I can describe and what one can imagine. I’m kinder to people, I often bring joy to friends and everyone around me.

But looking carefully at my trajectory, I can’t take credit. I just had the right mindset to find the right mentor. I just had supportive family who trusted my decision to invest large amounts in coaching. A good friend just popped into my life at the right time out of nowhere and partnered to practice courage. I’m also studying at the best college in the world with a full scholarship, have extraordinary supervisors, and every resource in the world to give my gifts fully to the world. I’ve realised grace comes to you at exactly the right times, and growth is not possible without its presence. My part is to be open to receiving it.

More on this: UE #34: Despair, grace, and the beginners mind

And there you have it! Hope this gives you some food for thought. And, happy birthday to me!

Here are some past birthday posts for you to see what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed:

I turn 25 today, here’s what I learned this year

I turn 24 today! Here’s what I learned this year…