WHEN life knocks you down and off balance, often a visit to the abyss of despair is necessary, while waving your fist towards the sky and asking “why me?”. You mope about for a bit, and eventually, the right thing to do is to choose to spring back up.
Perhaps sometimes, it is easier to stay just a little longer in the abyss, licking your wounds and getting the disappointment out of your system. And the younger and more idealistic you are, the more setbacks can seem bigger than they are.
Maybe I have reached a ripe age of existence or some may say cynicism, because I almost certainly expect injustice in my life.
The world is made up of all kinds of people and among those are people who cannot fathom the needs of others. So, we won’t always get what we want and feel short-changed as a result.
Early on in my life, an incident occurred which showed me that the world can be unkind. I must have been about nine or 10 years old when I went on a shopping trip with my mum, my younger brother and sister.
My siblings were being, as children are, curious about stationery in the shop, while I walked side by side with my mum, who at the time was a stay-at-home mum who rarely had the time to do her hair and coordinate her outfit of the day.
All three of us children were holding on to my mum’s flared skirt – it was her way of letting us know that we were safe as long as we held on to a piece of her clothing.
From the corner of my eye, I could see a woman who appeared to be the shop assistant eyeing us with suspicion – perhaps because we looked like a pack of feral cats, wild eyed and spirited.
As the woman inched closer towards us, somehow I knew what she was going to say even though I could not actually hear her.
She quietly urged my mum to step into the manager’s office and in there, she searched our bags. Of course, they could not find anything but that led mum to launch a tirade of grievances at the lady, vowing to come back and lodge a formal complaint against the shop assistant.
Early on, the world revealed its ugly side to me. I knew from that day that we are often judged by our appearance and clothes and it seemed we were perceived as paupers in the mall that day.
This, I find to be more of a problem in Malaysia than in the UK – the absurdity that you will be judged based on what you wear instead of who you are deep in your skin.
This experience, along with many others, shaped the feistiness of my character as I grew into a young lady, who believed you needed to fight for your rights to be heard and given what you deserve.
And so I fought for every right that I was owed, from a right to study abroad, a right to not be made to feel inferior in spite of how others perceived me, a right to get a good price for the things I purchased, a right to get a raise, down to the right to have extra French fries in McDonald’s.
As I grew more streetwise, I realised I could even use my charm to get them for free.
And when situations were unfair, I would sometimes get into rows to seek justice by being bold and loud.
But after a period of being assertive, insisting things go my way and noticing that sometimes, not every battle was worth fighting, things took a turn for the better.
These days, armed with compassion and perhaps some renewed understanding of the world – that we reap what we sow and that not everyone is always out to be unkind to us, I realised that the way you react to injustice makes all the difference.
And nowadays, when faced with disappointment or failure, I choose to seek a solution, in a far more mild-mannered way than before.
At a recent junction at my career where I had to make a big decision that would impact my life forever, I did not get what I wanted.
My boss could not agree to my request, and as a result, my life would not be as easy as I had hoped, but I did not fight for it this time. I weighed the importance of the consequences of this decision with the ones had he given me what I wanted. As a result, the route ahead requires me to stretch outside of my comfort zone, and perhaps, fight my battle in a different way.
It may not always be possible to deal with disappointment with resilience, but we are made of stronger stuff than we are led to believe.
As for me, I am a sum of my mum and dad – possessing the eternally optimistic foresight of my dad, and the worry-wart tendency of my mum on a day-to-day basis.
The result of which is that I have often found myself at the cusp of being optimistic that things will work out, yet worried that I cannot quite see it happening yet.
The next time life knocks you down with worldly troubles, banish your worries, stay true to your heart, choose your battles carefully, and just because you have to speak softly to get your points across, it does not mean that you are weak.
As they say, “Speak quietly and carry a big stick”.
As published in September’s paper and online edition of The Star Metro.