On Turning 30

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It is not true that people stop pursing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I turned 30 last week.

Wow, I remember when I was a teenager, I would read the newspapers and they would say this person in their late 20s did such and such, and I would think they are “adults” who figured everything out and are doing “adult” things. I also distinctly remember that they seemed “old”.

And now I’m 30.

From first-hand experience, somehow I don’t think you ever naturally “grow up” and “figure it out”. We look at others going on about their lives and think they must have figured something out that we didn’t, but truth be told, I think we’re all equally clueless.

More so at 30 than at 20 actually, I’ll explain why a little later.

Growing old is a function of time, growing up might not be.

I’ve resisted the urge to read back on my old entries in this blog to continue to build on the narrative that I had. Rather I thought I would give an honest reflection of how I view my 20s now that it is well and truly over.

The first reflection that I had was that my 20s didn’t feel like it was a short time.

No, it felt like a long time. I don’t have the feeling that “it went by in a flash”, and I suppose that comes from the vastly different phases I had during my 20s.

I finished up my National Service with the army, went on to get into the LED business, left for my studies in the UK, pursued my dreams of becoming a decathlete. Came back and mount a campaign to qualify for the 2015 SEA games in Singapore, made the team, finished the SEA games and started to focus more on starting and running businesses.

Thinking back, I am thankful of how lucky I am to have did what I did, and to have all those people help me along the way. Without my family, friends, coaches, mentors, teammates, business partners, none of all these would have been possible.

But it’s not like my 20s are without mistakes and regrets.

I’ve made plenty of decisions that I regret, people that I’ve wronged due to my idiocy, mistakes that I made but can’t unwind and redo. The time that I cost people that I can’t pay back, those mistakes still haunt me constantly.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niebuhr, Serenity Prayer

I think the main difference I feel on my perspective of life at 30 compared to when I was at 20, is that at 20, you feel that anything is possible, that you’re invincible, that you know better. If you dream big and you make the big moves, you and you alone can change the universe.

Now at 30, after a decade of experiencing the ups and downs of what it’s like pursuing a dream. Reality kicks in some really hard lessons.

You start to understand the cost and consequence of your choices. That there are opportunity cost in this world, and choosing one path often means shutting another.

You also start to understand that luck is involved in the outcome of choices. This is not to say that skill and hard work is not required, far from it. The best in the world have committed much more hard work into the improvement of their skills sets than you can imagine, but that only aims to improve the odds in their favor.

These skills may also not be just the directly related and straight forward skills, but the secondary skills that are no less important, e.g. leadership, task management, salesmanship, political maneuvering etc. All that is part and parcel of functioning in a world with finite resources and working with other people in a society to get to where you want to go.

Blindly hoping and believing is not enough.

Belief and hope is absolutely necessary as a start, but it must be backed up by the pursuit of hard and soft skills to bring about the set of actions necessary.

And that’s where the hard part is, that as you get older, you start to be a little less hopeful, you start to accept certain realities.

Your world of possibility narrows, and you have to fight very hard to keep it from closing.

The danger is that as we get older, we become complacent, and we start to accept things as it is.

We get into a rhythm that is comfortable, that is mundane, and then that is when the years start to fly by.

It’s scary because it’s so easy to just fall into that rhythm and have the next 10 years pass us by.

After the 2015 SEA games, it did feel like a major weight have been lifted off my back. I’ve “completed” the journey in a sense, the one thing I spent my youth chasing. And then you come out of that wondering what’s next.

With a little bit of business success, I could feel that creep of yearning for comfort and routine.

And also with my constant struggle with procrastination, compounded by my flexible schedule that depends on my own drive to get things done, sometimes it rears it’s ugly head and I end up wasting days in a row pretending to look busy to everyone else.

The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. – Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

And so I’ve come to view that turning 30 is a good thing.

I feel that I’m old enough and have gained certain experience, skillsets and clarity. Yet still young enough to be excited about the possibilities of the future.

But now more so than ever, I realized the importance of working on myself, at the end of the day, it’s still about discipline and focus. That is the key to fight against the mundane and complacency.

You want to change the world? Change yourself.

I’m thankful to have found Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a practice and Jocko’s book Extreme Ownership (along with the Jocko Podcast) over the last year. They really helped me put certain things into perspective and come up with actionable steps to take to improve my own self practice.

BJJ has constantly put me into uncomfortable positions mentally and physically, keeping my ego in check and putting my mind back into the state of a beginner. The most recent episode being the fear of the advance classes after I was promoted to a 3 stripe white belt. The fear was real, the jump in standard of sparring with high belts compared to the beginner classes was big and it took me quite a while to overcome my own ego and procrastination in my head. It’s good to let it all go and just keep an open mind and learn.

Do things that you are actually afraid and things that you don’t feel like doing but know you should. It helps build up those willpower “muscles” in your head and heart.

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Me on my 3rd stripe promotion. OSS!

I’m super thankful for the lessons I’ve learnt on the mat, from my rolling partners and my professors.

So what’s next?

I don’t exactly have a big dream like I used to when I was 20, back when I thought I wanted to go to the Olympics as a decathlete.

But I do have little dreams, dreams to do the small things right, to wake up early, work out well to solve the mobility issues that I had, to develop my physicality in ways that was missing in the last 10 years, to have a neat and tidy room, to go on motorcycle adventure touring, to someday get my purple belt in BJJ, to go to a race driving school, to run my businesses well and to build my team up with good systems and processes, to be more me and less “going on Facebook and end up pointlessly surfing”, i.e. procrastinating me.

And I do think these little dreams are worth chasing, and that the little things are worth doing right.

So here’s to the next 10 years, chasing all the little dreams and getting the little things right.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I’ll end with the cool video from Nat Geo that I saw the other day that captured the spirit of what I’m trying to say (though I would add a lot more opinions to be self-sustainable and financially prepared to live such a lifestyle by being a productive member of society).

I wish you well and that you would live your big and little dreams in the days to come. Thank you for being a part of my journey in my 20s, now go out and go write your own story.

Comments

  1. ‎Well done bro, forgot all about your 23 June. Hope I still got it right, age isn’t helping with memory =D That’s the day right?Cheers, to the next 30 years! Tak From: A Singaporean DecathleteSent: Tuesday, 27 June 2017 17:25To: chuyiutak@gmail.comReply To: A Singaporean DecathleteSubject: [New post] On Turning 30

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    Yong Sheng posted: ” It is not true that people stop pursing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez I turned 30 last week.

    Wow, I remember when I was a teenager, I would read the newspapers and they would say “

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