The Australian PR is not your golden ticket to life. Seriously.

Photos of liliesAnother day, another difficulty. That’s what I thought after yet another hard day.

I must confess, I’m a professional worrier. If companies can hire professional worriers, I’ll probably be the President of that department. Hell, I’ll probably become CEO.

But these days, I don’t worry as badly as I used to – only because I have some sense of perspective now and have learned the art of being grateful no matter what. Although I’m not a professional in this area yet (more like a junior on the way to becoming an executive, perhaps!), I’m in a better place than I used to be.

Why?

Well, I’m going to share something really personal with you. And because quite a number of folks in Adelaide know my identity (to my chagrin), this is not information that I share very lightly. But I’m sharing it with you so you can take it with you, fellow migrant or would-be migrant, and that it will give you some real perspective about the migration journey.

The worst year of my life

Two years ago, I lost my health.

My hair fell out in clumps. I wagered that I must’ve lost about 30% to 40% of my then-lustrous  wavy, black hair. I couldn’t sleep more than 3-5 hours, I had rashes, weird bodily aches (which included sharp, painful-to-touch areas on my scalp). And here’s the “too much information” area (look away if you can’t tolerate it): My poo turned GREY.

Suddenly, I found myself depending on drugs that I was told that I may have to depend on for the rest of my life. Drugs that had severe side effects such as chills, chronic insomnia, diarrhoea, weight gain and, Lord help me, suicidal ideation.

I was really, really sick. I thought I’d have to live like this for the rest of my life. And that sent me into a tailspin of depression and despair.

I clawed my way back to health through sheer determination and much leaning on God. I was determined get off the drugs despite what the doctors said. During this time I worked hard on my recovery by educating myself a lot and by implementing holistic therapies on myself such as exercise, diet modifcation and by totally changing my social life. I reconnected with God and my spirituality. Dealing with my illness, trying to recover through self-therapy and working at my high-stress job was no joke. Worse, my parents fell ill at the same time!!!

It was, seriously, the worst freaking year of my life.

At times I thought I could break apart, but fortunately I have such amazing friends. But most of all, I have an amazing God.

Yet, this is also the best thing that has happened to me.

A blessing in disguise

Before I was sick, my life was about work, work, work (and work x10). Eventually my circle of friends shrank so much that I didn’t know who to call to hang out with. Friends who know me now would be absolutely shocked to know the person I was – I had absolutely no confidence in making friends because, well, my life was work!

When I became sick, I realised how foolhardy I was to ignore my health, my God, my friends and my personal growth – all in the pursuit of money and career advancement.

I told myself that my life had to change after that.

Well, anyway, after 1 year of struggle, I did recover and I did stop taking the drugs. It was a long battle, but my hair grew back, my poo is now a boring brown (TMI? LOL), I slept 8 hours (for 1 year, I considered an amazing triumph to sleep more than 5 hours!) and I smiled again.

But the biggest gain for me is this: Because I’ve gone through the worst thing in my life, I began to see my world in a very different light. I realised that I was so very, very blessed. And because I’ve gone through such an ordeal, all those fears that held me back no longer seem so catastrophic.

I began taking more risks and to venture out of my comfort zone. I stopped worrying about whether people would like me if I approach them. In the process, I realised that I was actually very gifted in making friends! So much so that I can make friends with strangers across the world whom I’m not met before!

Because I realised that I didn’t have time to waste on being held back by my fears I refused to listen to that critical and fearful voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough to do thsi or that. I approached a publisher to publish a book and to ask an editor for a column. (Both successful!) And I discovered that if you don’t take risks, you simply don’t gain anything.

And then I decided to move to Australia without a job.

Now you know the root of my move here 😛

Your real golden ticket

ticketSo, every time I fret about my job situation here or other troubles (and I do, because old habits die hard), I remind myself: “You know that time when you lost half your hair, your poo turned grey and you had to pop pills to sleep, to stop your heart from racing and to, I don’t know, walk in a straight line? Well, seriously, does this compare?”

And I think: Holy Batman’s underpants, it doesn’t by a long shot.

I also remember why I’m doing this, and why it’s really, really, really okay not to achieve my PR dreams because, one, your health is your real wealth (so goes the saying that my friend posted on her Facebook wall today).

If you have good health, be very grateful for that every day because you’re not sure how long you’re going to have it, so why waste time on worries and worse, don’t worry yourself to ill health!

And if you have a loving family, be grateful for that every day too, because that’s where  real treasure is. Don’t fret on things that may seem so priceless when the real reason why you’re pursuing that PR is for your family.

Some people think that getting an Australian permanent residence is the gold ticket to happiness.

I don’t believe it. To me, real happiness is not so fickle. Or so demanding.

The bible has a very wise saying:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

PS: Sometimes I forget and slide back about worrying about small things. That’s why I’m printing this story and keeping it in my wallet. I invite you to do the same – write what REALLY matters to you and keep it in your wallet. Take it out to read when life gets you down. 🙂

Photo by CTR.

Surviving with a positive mindset

support

Yesterday, a friend of mine came over for dinner at my place and she immediately noticed that I was down. I proceeded to tell her about my fears and how tired I felt about the job hunt.

She immediately cheered me up with her presence and told me to hang on and just have hope. Another friend had a chat with me a message on FB later to keep my spirits up.

I don’t know what I’ll do without the friends I’ve made here in Adelaide. Because we have the same struggles, we speak the same language. They’ve been where I was (sometimes their situations were worse than mine) and could empathise.

So, yeah, friends are so darn important!

Times like these I feed myself with positive reading and listening materials as well. I listen to sermons about God’s provision, read books that encourage and uplift me and only watch things that will cheer me up.

Being a very social creature, I make sure that I spend time with positive people (and stay the [beep] away from people that drain me) and try to do the same for others. I have also made a very conscious decision to stay away from the FB forum Malaysians in Adelaide for now … although the majority of its members are wonderful people, lately the group has been taken over by a very vocal minority who seem intent to use the forum as their own personal soap box to highlight their awesomeness (or lack thereof) by coming down hard on some posters. The latest kerfufle involved a ridiculously analytical argument about … salt. Being involved in such petty nonsense is an energy drainer, so I have decided to bid MIA adieau for now.

I spend a lot of time on my knees as well, praying to God and then connecting with a church. And I’m not shy to ask for prayer as well. And I make sure I go to church every Sunday to keep my spirits up.

I learned from past experience that it’s really important to be as positive as you can during challenging times. And you don’t just do it via mental gymnastics but by consciously engaging in activities that will enhance your spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. It’s not easy – especially if you’re a natural worrier like me – but the more you practise at it, the better you are.

Photo by Mattox

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That could best describe a new migrant’s first few months in Adelaide (or anywhere else, for that matter).

It’s the best of times because you’ve finally made the leap. After months of wondering “What if?” or “Should I?” you’re finally in the land of your dreams. You’re taking in the four-season weather, the efficient public transport, the amazing public libraries, the lovely big Aussie homes, the beautiful birds chirping in the trees and even the gorgeous parks surrounding the city …. everything is new and wonderful and full of opportunities.

And then it’s the worst of times when you find out that reality does not match your rose-tinted vision of Australia.

I consider myself a well-travelled person. Over the course of 12 years I’ve been to more than a dozen cities around the world because of work: Dublin, Hokkaido, Edinburgh, New York, Tokyo, Osaka, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Taipei, San Diego … I thought I didn’t have a rose-tinted view of Australia. But still, I’m surprised at the disappointment I felt when certain things didn’t meet my expectations.

My friend Yin (who rescued me from Boss Lady) said that every migrant would go through a terrible experience of some sorts that will shake them. And every migrant I’ve spoken to seems to have proven her point right.

Yesterday, I had dinner with N and his lovely wife and baby, and he described to me how his first few months in Adelaide was filled with fear, sadness and confusion.

One day, after going to the city to personally pass his resume to yet another recruiting agency, he sat down on a bench at Victoria Square to have lunch. It was a cheap takeaway, and as he was eating his lunch, it suddenly rained heavily. (That’s Australia for you, there’s no warning when it rains.) He hastily packed away his lunch, but overcome, he actually stood there, looking at the weeping skies and wondered out loud, “What in the world am I doing here?”

N is doing fine now, by the way – he has a stable job and has applied for his PR.

I, too, had this epiphany. Only a few days after landing in Adelaide, while I was in my cushy studio apartment at Boss Lady’s abode. I had begun to suspect that my arrangements with Boss Lady is not going to be great, and I wondered what I was getting into. As a migrant who came to Australia alone without her family, the vulnerability I felt at that moment was overwhelming. And I wondered why I left my cushy life in Malaysia, where I had my own apartment, could eat out at Alexis any time I wanted (though, seriously, the food is so overpriced), could ring up or meet my friends for dim sum and had a very supportive church.

I had this “worst of times” once more when my many attempts to connect with the local church was fruitless leaving me wondering if they really do mean it when they say that they’re there to help me, and then another when I received a crazy/rude text from a guy whom I contacted because he had a room to rent. (FYI, “Have you had sex before?” isn’t an appropriate question to ask any lady, especially when you don’t even know her!)

I thought my life was already falling into some measure of order when I found a sweet little room in Kensington last week. I loved the place to bits, and I liked the lady who lived there and I thought we hit off wonderfully. And then she called me yesterday to tell me that the whole arrangement is off because she doesn’t know if we’ll be a good fit. (Actually she said, “I think I’m a bit of a racist. I prefer to live with Australians.”) I was supposed to move there in three days!

At this point, I would say that almost all my encounters with the local, Aussie-born bipedal population has been negative. In fact, I’m seriously wondering if half the population of Adelaide is on something.

But, anyway. The point of this long, rambling post is that as a new migrant, you will have moments like these where you’ll wonder why you gave it all up to be here. Resist the temptation that you are somehow being singled out by the universe for some unfair experience. You’re not that unique or special. Seriously.

Sure, you’ve heard of stories of how some migrants get a cushy job the moment they land, but they too had their share of horror stories.

The crucial point is how you react to moments like these. If you’re gonna dwell on how unfair Australia is treating you, you’re going to have a tough time. If you laugh it off and chalk it up to yet another colourful moment in you life, you’ll have a better time at it.

As a writer, moments like these are food for my writers’ soul. As Neil Gaiman said in his wonderful inspirational address to the graduating students of an American college: “When things get tough this is what you should do: Make good art. Husband runs off with the politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and eaten by a boa constrictor? Make good art.”

You know, I’ve only been here for 20 days. My, that’s a short time, really. But I’ve gone through so much already. But despite all my ‘drama’ moments, I don’t regret the move at all. Because between all these negative experiences are wonderfully positive ones – witnessing my first hail storm, having dinner with two lovely families who just made me feel welcomed, browsing through the public library, walking down North Terrace, just amazed that I’m living in this state.

Anyway, just translate that negative experience into something positive. And for God’s sakes, when a new migrant calls you to ask you questions about life in Oz, please don’t pour out all your sob stories at once and scare the bejesus out of that poor soul. I frankly dislike that immensely. I know some people are trying to “help” by giving the person a reality check, but you know, you’re not helping.

We all know that life here is tough, but for the person about to make the leap, they need encouragement, not a horror story. Because despite the “worst of times” there are also “Best of times”. So balance out your tale of woe with tales of good things, okay?

Photo by jfreak.

Be sure to know WHY you want to emigrate

Before you emigrate, it is really, really, really (10x) very important to know why you want to make that major move.

I know because when I signed up with a migration agent all those years ago, I have absolutely no blinking idea why. I had vague notions of “I dislike Malaysian politics” and “Wouldn’t it be nice to experience the four seasons?” As a result, my journey out of Malaysia has been a great source of stress and worry for me over the last few years.

I like what SP (a lady I met on the Malaysians in Adelaide Facebook group) told me when I met her in Adelaide last year. Ask yourself: “Can you do what you want to do elsewhere? Why only in Australia?”

Sit down and think very, very hard because your answer could determine your life’s path. It will also be your source of strength as you face difficulties in Australia or whatever country you’ve chosen to go to.

For me, what I really wanted was a career break and a chance to travel the world. However, I didn’t know how to do it, so I thought emigration was the only way. I have since found out that there are many options out there (which I will explore in a future post). Also, I had a very vague idea what I wanted – back then, I was too afraid of taking a career break and was in denial so deep that I didn’t even realise all I wanted was a break from the grind. It took many years of thinking about my decision and listening to wise counsellors to realise what I really wanted, to formulate a plan to achieve it, access the risk and then through much faith and prayer, jump off the proverbial cliff.

Here is what I want:

I’m tired of the rat race. I’m tired of climbing the corporate ladder, trying to find meaning in my paycheck and title, and filling the void in my heart by buying endless amount of crap. I’m tired of suffering now so that I could live the life I want someday.

I want to life the life I want now because life is so short and life can swipe you sideways when you don’t realise it.

I want to travel and experience new cultures. I want to meet people. I want to carve a life that is centred around my passion to write. I want to create new worlds, and bless people. I want to live a life that is kind to the Earth. I want to live a more physically active life. I don’t want to sit all day in the office. I want to walk and work the Earth. I want to be physically present to people who are suffering and in need of help.

The truth is, I don’t have to emigrate to achieve all this. But since I did things backwards, and I now have this precious temporary residence visa, I would have to try fit my dreams into the visa. Now, I would not advice you to ever do things the way I did because it causes unnecessary headaches.

However, fortunately, I have discovered a way to achieve the dreams I have, and now my heart is light and bouncy because I will now fulfill my heart’s desire. (Topic of next post!)

So, here’s what you should do:

1. Sit down with your significant other (or yourself) and ask yourself this question: What doI really want? Give yourself a few days to think it through. Write your mission statement (like the one I wrote above). This will be your guiding light.

2. Next: To achieve what I want, can I do this in Malaysia? If no, why not? Write it down.

3. So, you have decided that Malaysia isn’t the place to achieve your goals. Now, choose a few countries that you think will help you achieve your objective.

4. Research the countries thoroughly. What is the job situation like? What are the risks? Is there any way to make things less risky?

5. Then, ask yourself. Really, really ask yourself: Are you and your family able to tolerate the risk? Is there a way to make the stress of the move and adapting to a new culture less strenuous? For example, to avoid landing in the new country without knowing anyone, why not join groups online to get to know more people? Or, when you’re in the new country, aim to volunteer so that you’ll get to know more locals.

For me, research was the backbone of my decision-making process. I talked to a lot of people – migrants, wise counsellors, people who have done what I wanted to do (take a career break) and read blogs. Through this I discovered options. Because I have options, I could make decisions with a clearer head.

So, guys, be wise with your decision to emigrate. Sometimes your desire for a new country is an expression of a deep desire inside of you that you just need to dig deeper to discover.

Good luck!

Photo by Roxaria.

Pushing through fear

 Fear has been my constant companion for the past few years. Chances are, if you are on the same journey, it’s probably your new not-so-best friend too.

I will confess that fear gets the best of me a lot of times. So much so that it plunged me into a depression in 2011. Yet, my depression taught me so much about myself that I now call it a blessing. (But that’s a story for another day.)

Now, you don’t have to be cowed by fear. You don’t have to. Sure, it can make your life really uncomfortable. The bags under my eyes are proof. However, you cam take steps to overcome your fear bit by tiny bit.

I don’t claim to be a sifu though. But I’d like to share some ideas with you so that it’ll help ease your journey through the migration process better.

Always hang out with the right people
I cannot emphasise how important this is. Some people will discourage you. Some will sow fear and despair in your heart. Some, however, will build you up and encourage you. Choose those who will make you feel that life is full of hope.

Write your fear out
One of the best things that came out of my depression time was learning about cognitive behavioural therapy. The “ABC” method is one such example.

My friend Simone thought me her version of it that I found really helpful. Take out a piece of paper and divide it into three columns: In the first column, write out the thoughts running in your head as you experience the fear. In the second column, write out your reasoning against that fear. In the third column write solutions to the problems and encouraging quotes/spiritual verses.

For example:

Column 1: If I fail and have to leave Australia, my life is over.

Column 2: Why do you say that? If you leave Australia does that mean you’ll die? At least you’ve gotten years of lovely adventures and experiences, and at least you’ve gained exposure overseas. No, you won’t die, and you won’t starve.

Column 3:  Solutions: Have a backup plan. Don’t burn bridges at work. Try to maintain contact with companies back home, and try to look for other career options. Also, don’t leave Australia when you’re penniless. Make sure that you have some money waiting for you back home. Stay with mum and dad when you get back.

Encouraging quote: ” I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” — Michael Jordan

Get the idea? 🙂 It’s okay that you feel fear and anxiety when you start writing out your fears, but you will find it dissipating as you progress.

What we think can make us afraid and depressed. Correcting your thinking goes a long way to helping you dealing with a matter better.

Learn about Cognitive Distortions
You’re probably thinking – Hey, enough with the psycho babble! But hear me out. This is something that took me by surprise last year. I didn’t realise that we could think in a wrong manner. These are called  cognitive distortions, when our thoughts distort reality. However, realising that certain beliefs you hold are not accurate representations of reality can help snap you out of it quick.  Here are 15 Common Cognitive Distortions.

Talk out your fears
Make sure you choose the right confidants – not those who tear you down. Sometimes, talking it out helps ease the stress.

Take care of yourself
I know. When you’re stressed, the last thing you want to do is exercise and eat well. But it’s really important that you do that. Exercise helps reduce the stress too and promote better sleep.

Stop doing things that will make you depressed!
I had a bad habit while I was on this migration journey. I’d look at forums like Poms in Oz and read forum threads about people having a hard time finding work or people who have decided to leave Australia because of one reason or another. I’m not sure what I was trying to achieve doing this — perhaps I was trying to find a nugget of hope in the ocean of despair — but one thing for sure: I felt lousy each time I did this.

Just stop. Stop it. You may or may not fail, but worrying about it now is not going to help.

Instead, read encouraging stuff. Read blogs about people on sabbaticals — I always find them so uplifting. Read happy novels. Watch comedies and do happy things with your friends and family. You’re going to need all these during this stressful period in your life. Why sap your energy with negative, painful stories? You need to conserve your emotional energy, folks.

Encourage people
“Wait, what? I need encouragement! Where do I have strength to do this for others?” But really, lifting people’s spirits is one of the best antidotes to fear. Because you are now focusing outward instead of inward. Sometimes, people are going through worse things than you are, and you will feel so fortunate. Also, it’s really a good  deed 🙂

Well, these are just some of my suggestions. If you have any more, do pitch in below. 🙂

Photo by DiskoFaery.