11 Truths I Learned at 31

Last Aug 2020, I turned 31. Yay!

And again, it took me a year (or more) to distill and reflect the most important truths I’ve learned.

I’m starting to accept that this is actually my process. So maybe I have to stop apologizing why it always take so long?

You can check my previous entries here: 27, 28, 29, 30.

(NOTE: Most of these are my reflections amid the pandemic. No big deal. Just want to put some context in case you’re reading this when things are back to normal.)

OK, let’s begin.

Truths learned at 31

(Palawan, March 2020 | Taken during our company trip)

1. Most people stop learning in their 20s.

Most of our 20s are spent finding a job or earning money to survive — and hopefully use that money to buy what we need or want.

It’s more like years of experimenting, trying to get our feet on the ground, and filling that void caused by identity crisis. If you’re not in your 20s yet, I tell you it’s complicated.

This void has led me to reading lots of non-fiction books. I was having an existential crisis and I wanted answers. I was curious. Desperate. I also felt mediocre in almost everything I pursue. So maybe reading books would lead me to something. At least that’s what I thought.

The more I learned about one thing, the more I sought for more answers. The more I became curious. Little did I know I was becoming a different person.

Then I started to wonder why most people I met couldn’t resonate with what I was learning. I didn’t get it.

Then it hit me: Most of them weren’t learning the things they should be learning. They’re not seeking the same answers I’ve been looking for. For some reason, they stopped educating themselves. They’re distracted by other stuff.

Now I’m 31, it even gets weirder that I still keep educating myself. Why I’m still doing this? Because it’s fun. It makes me excited to discover new things, solve problems, and continue improving my chosen craft.

If you’re reading this, take advantage of the Internet. Use it to keep learning. Who cares if you’re 15 or 50? Education never ends.

2. It’s not just you.

Man, this one hits hard.

I used to think that those who risk pursuing things that seem uncertain or scary are brave. To an extent, yes they are. But if you look closer, you’ll discover it’s not just them.

Whether it’s having more money in the bank, a well-off and supportive family, a team of professionals, a profitable business, or even a stable high-paying job, these things are the “safety nets” in disguise.

If we have at least one of them, then we have the privilege to fail. We know we can bounce back immediately when things gone haywire.

Being an inquisitive person, it really hit me. I used to question people who are content living an ordinary boring life. I can’t imagine it. Why would they settle for that?

But then, I figured, one of the reasons I have the courage to pursue my music and other creative pursuits is because it’s not just me — I have a safety net in disguise.

First reason, I have my people — supportive wife, a few true friends, and bandmates. Second, I have a stable enough-paying job. (Thanks, Damon.)

That second reason slapped me hard. Oh god, I’m a piece of shit. But it’s a good reminder to be grounded and never judge others’ decisions.

3. If you want to know a person’s attitude, live with them for a while (a few months at least).

I often hear this cliché when I was young. I didn’t get it. But as they say, some things need to be experienced to be fully understood. And now, finally, I have a fair share of understanding what it really means.

The most obvious example is our spouses. If you’ve lived with your partner for years, I bet you know what I’m saying. But I’m referring to people who are not our partners. For example, friends or relatives.

You might say your friend or relative or whoever seems nice. You might say they’re kind and fun to be around. And who am I to disagree? That’s awesome they treat you well and you’re having fun with them.

But keep in mind what you’re experiencing or seeing is just one side of them. You haven’t seen everything.

The way we interpret reality (in real time) is flawed. It’s impossible to understand something in a short amount of time — let alone understanding a human being.

It’s always better to avoid conclusions. Always leave a space.

And don’t assume that people will always stay the same.

So better stop judging others. Instead, seek to understand. That way you won’t get disappointed. Nobody’s perfect after all.

(NOTE: This is my insight living with housemates for years. So it’s personal. Others’ experiences might differ.)

4. Self-control (composure) is everything.

I’ve been in situations where it’s easy to burst out, but glad I did not. There were also times that I didn’t control myself, so I freaking raged.

For sure, those times I didn’t control myself, I looked like an idiot.

You know those people who seem so cool despite a heated situation? Anyone wants to be like them. I’m sure I’m not one of those people. But I could say I’m getting good at it as I grow older.

The key is to practice catching ourselves the moment we feel the need to explode. Once we catch ourselves, we can then direct our attention to our breath — breathe in, breathe out. That feels so much better.

Sure, there will be times that anger is too much and there’s nothing we can do but unleash it. If you think you can do it without embarrassing yourself or hurting others, go drop the bomb! Good luck.

But I’ve seen enough. And it’s really, really bad. My experiences have made me realize that every time I (or someone) unleash anger, there’s nothing really good about it.

Of course there are also times that I feel relatively good after the outburst. It’s embarrassing. But that’s being human, right?

Controlling ourselves or remaining calm is a skill to be learned. I think everyone can learn it if they put in the time and effort. I’m still working on it every single day.

5. Most people never update their mindsets.

This one is obviously tied up with #1. But a little bit different. Because even though you’re someone who spent your 20s learning and exploring, that doesn’t mean you’re always right. That doesn’t mean your mindset is always the right mindset in every situation.

It drives me crazy how many people I met carry an outdated mindset. And what makes it even crazier is that I have it sometimes, too!

You can easily tell from talking with someone that they have an outdated mindset. For example, believing that getting a college degree is the only way to win in life. Or believing that saving money is the only path to wealth creation.

Our mindset determines how we approach life. It always starts there.

I know. Almost everyone knows this. Easy to understand. Right?

But the hard part is knowing whether our mindsets are still updated. How do we know it? There’s no single answer. My approach might be different.

Here’s what I do: I’ll just do things according to what I think. If I don’t get the result I wanted, it’s likely I have an outdated mindset. Boom.

It’s hard to accept the truth. But we can’t argue with reality. It is what it is. Why not accept it, acknowledge our stupidity, change our minds, and move on? Come on! Life is short.

6. Most people aren’t willing to understand you.

Throughout my 20s, I always have that desire to be understood. I wanted people to understand why I do what I do.  We all do that. That’s human nature.

The reality is only a handful of people are willing to understand what you do. And even them, they won’t fully understand the entire scope of your decisions and actions. But there’s nothing wrong with that.

The moment I accepted that people will never understand me (or what me and my wife are working on), it was liberating. The key is to always remember that nobody’s perfect. Everyone’s default is to think of themselves. And that’s OK. There’s no reason to be upset with that.

And this also means that it’s normal that you don’t understand what others are doing. It’s normal you’re confused why they do what they do.

What matters more is that you understand what you’re really doing and why you’re doing it. You understand yourself. Keep moving forward.

7. Human emotions are more complicated than we think.

We often assume we understand our emotions or others’ emotions. But no, we don’t. Because if we do, the world will be an incredible place.

Truth is, our emotions are often in flux. We don’t have control over that.

It was quite bizarre for me to inspect my unstable emotions. Even weirder when I try to acknowledge it. What the heck am I doing? But that was refreshing.

Most of us are in denial. We wanted to hide our feelings and act as if nothing really happens. We are experts at fooling ourselves.

And if we do react based on our emotions, we sometimes end up acting stupid, or even worse hurting others.

Can we do something about it? I’m still trying to understand more about the irregularity of our emotions.

But I’m not aiming to become a master of it — someone who can always controls emotions. For me, being aware of it and acknowledging the causes is already a huge advantage.

This realization also reminds me not to take things personally. So when someone gets angry with me, I’ll try my best to understand, and just let it pass. A toxic emotion could ruin almost everything.

8. Achievements are pointless if you don’t have loved ones to share with.

As my 31st birthday drew closer, I got sick. Twice in a week. I know it does happens. But I hated myself for being careless, for being weak. I lost perspective on what really matters to me.

It was also the time I realized that there’s no point running at full speed all the time. This uncontrollable drive we have to compete and never miss out is non sense. It’s detrimental.

Yes everyone knows the danger of it. But are we really doing something about it? I’m not sure. Instead, we sacrifice our health and our relationships in order to achieve something.

So let’s say you finally achieve all of them. Now what? Maybe it’s time to celebrate and have fun?

But where are the people you’d want to celebrate with? Where they go? I’m not referring to some random folks or acquaintances. I’m talking about those people you love — your family and true friends.

Of course I can always push myself to achieve something, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of losing my health and the people I love.

At the end of the day, my achievements won’t fulfill me. They’re lifeless. They don’t have feelings.

My loved ones, on the other hand, are the ones who will stay with me through thick and thin. They won’t fulfill me either. But I have a responsibility to take care of them. And that gives me so much meaning.

Focus. But don’t let the glitters blind you.

9. Making others happy all the time is not your job.

Some people spend a lot of their time to make others happy. I used to do that back then because I’m a people pleaser. But as I grow older, I realize how limited time is.

Sure I can still do that because I find joy in it, but not all the time. Not at the expense of sacrificing my inner peace and my priorities.

Setting a clear boundary is important. It protects your mental health. Because no matter how much you love making others happy, if your mental health suffers, that’s the end of it.

Besides, it’s not your sole mission to make people happy. Happiness is an inside job. Everyone (living a normal condition) is capable of cultivating happiness themselves.

Yes. They can do fine without you.

Here’s what I do almost every night: My Happiness Formula

10. Indecision is a decision.

A lot of my indecisions have made things worse for me. I’m a very slow thinker so I tend to put things aside and just move on to other things. Sometimes I ignore it so I can stay focused on what I’m working on. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work all the time.

There’s a reason why world leaders have to act immediately. Even in certain professions like military or surgery. There will be situations where decisions must be done quickly. It could be a life or death situation.

Sure, my problems aren’t that serious in comparison to those people. But just like any other minor problems, if you don’t do something about it, it will get worse and worse over time. That’s just how it is.

I’ve been learning this the hard way. Still working on it. One thing I’ve learned is to keep asking questions and try to see the future:

Does this issue needs to be addressed immediately? How urgent is it? If I don’t do something about it, will it become a problem in the future?

If you think you still can’t work on it, the best thing you can do is ask for help. Don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Seek professionals. Delegate what needs to be done.

Of course there will be exceptions. And you can never tell until you’re in that situation.

11. Anxiety could lead to many problems.

I’m not sure how it happened. But it did.

It was around March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. I was scared. I wasn’t prepared. What’s going to happen? I’m worried about my loved ones.

Years ago, I wrote a letter to all worried people. I reread it again. Maybe it would help me feel OK. Whatever. To an extent, it did, along with meditation and prayer.

But I couldn’t deny it — I was having panic attacks. I couldn’t sleep. My negative thoughts were spiraling.

And that lack of sleep made me lethargic. I couldn’t perform well at work. I couldn’t continue writing music. I couldn’t do household chores and run errands. And on and on.

Even worse, I felt sick? (In hindsight, I realized I wasn’t sick after all. It’s just me overthinking!)

It’s crazy to think that anxiety leads to many problems. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Almost everyone I know had experienced the same.

Even if you haven’t, you could experience it at some point. It’s the truth. It’s part of the life package.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to our anxiety. So what should we do?

There are different ways. You can try researching them. But here’s what I’m practicing:

  1. First, acknowledge the anxiety. It’s there. That’s fine. That’s normal.
  2. Find those people who understand you (family or friends) and tell them what you feel.
  3. Change your interpretation about that one thing causing your anxiety. For example, instead of seeing the pandemic as a negative situation, try reinterpreting it into a situation where you can have the opportunity to help others and improve yourself.
  4. Cultivate inner peace. For example: meditating, praying, creating art, etc.
  5. If all those things still don’t work, you can always go back to # 2.

It’s not perfect. But you can try it. If it can’t completely eliminate your anxiety, at least lessen its detrimental effect.

(NOTE: I’m not an anxiety expert. If you really can’t handle it, seek advice from professionals.)

BONUS: A lot of the things we deemed as true are not true at all.

Most of what we know or believe as true are the things our parents or leaders or so-called experts claim as the truth.

For example, when it comes to sleep, everyone believes that 8 hours is the ideal. No wonder it has become the sleep template for decades.

You can do your research of course. But you might want to check this interesting interview of sleep experts.

Seeing that video, it made me think that all the things I wrote here or the things I’ve claimed as truth may not be true at all.


PS: It’s January 2022. The virus is still here mutating. Stay safe.