At age eighteen, I moved to Canada to go to college. That fall of 2018 marked the first time I felt free to do whatever I wanted, to be the man I wanted to be. To my old world, I was pretty much dead. Friends went their separate ways, even the ones I still talked to knew a different person, and I never got past the weather when my family called.
The first time I didn’t want anything, anymore.
That morning, I woke up at 6.45. I had to get on a video call with my sister at 7AM, which is 9 PM in Malaysia. I made…
I stayed like this for about a year. No one really knew who I was or what I was doing, not the people I once knew nor the people I just met. I felt like a true ghost everywhere I went. In fact, nothing has changed. In many respects, I’m still gone. Even when I’m not by myself, the people I spend time with don’t know me at all.
This is what I learned from disappearing for 14 months and counting.
1. Stability isn’t for everyone.
Lots of people ask me, “Why do you live this way?”
And the answer is I can’t live any other way. Part of it stems from what I’ve seen from consistency so far: Bad things. For instance, I lived with my biological family for eighteen years, and never once has it felt like a family. Having the epoch of stability turn sour for you has a way of distorting things, I suppose.
As a result, the worst thing I could ever be is stable. I’d lose my marbles. No two weeks are the same for me, and even individual days are sometimes wildly different. My reality is always changing, not just in the daily life aspect, but also in terms of the values I hold and the things I believe in.
This is rather incompatible with many societal norms, like keeping a normal job, being in a relationship, or starting a family. Stability isn’t for everyone. Some people thrive, and in fact can only survive with, instability.
2. Silence isn’t coldness.
Silence can be the most genuine form of connection.
Seeing so many different parts of the world you thought you knew has a way of making you addicted. You get hooked on the idea of discovering something so new that it instills that sense of wonder you crave so much.
Hence I relish the thought of just changing everything because I can. I relish the thought of posting a note on Instagram one day explaining that I’ll be traveling to random remote places and I’d rather not talk to anyone until further notice. I’d then buy a one-way ticket to Norway and get a job as a lumberjack, living a completely different life for a while. And when I would finally revisit people from my old life, it’d be like I had never left.
Except people don’t work that way, because I think I see silence quite differently. If you’re my friend and I choose to be silent, I trust you to know that I still care about you although I don’t have to say things to reaffirm it. Silence is a mark of trust to me. And yet we often mistake it for disinterest, coldness, or busy-ness, especially in the context of an existing relationship.
Ironically enough, I myself used to be obsessed with reaffirming connection through contact and communication, so I see where people are coming from when they take silence the wrong way. But now, even though I’ve grown to be an incredibly extroverted person who enjoys talking to anyone and everyone, I can see how silence can be a really genuine and intimate form of connection.
3. Beware what you fear.
I used to feel really threatened by people who were like the current me. There was an eerie sense of calm around them. Their past was full of red flags, and the uncertainty of their future always sounded too picturesque to be real. I really didn’t understand why this specific kind of person unsettled me so much, until that discomfort turned out to be manic curiosity.
I finally understand why these people always set me into a defensive state: I wanted to understand them so bad that I was driven into a state of panic. It’s sort of like finding a pool of icy-cool, fresh water in the middle of the desert while you’re dying of thirst. When you see it, you could literally break a leg sprinting towards it because you want it so bad. I think that’s what my mind was doing with this specific character I feared.
One of my favorite questions to ask people is what they’re afraid of. After we get past the casual things like “spiders”, “college debt”, and “marrying a man like my dad” (oops, was that one too real?), confusion starts to set in. They start trying to figure out why I’m asking them about those fears, the ones they’re actually dead scared of. In reality, I ask about fears because it speaks volumes about who we really are.
You can learn a lot about someone by studying what they want and what they’re afraid of. In fact, I would argue that knowing these two things is enough to understand 90% of what they’re doing. Hell, most of us don’t even know this about the people we’re closest to.
In my case, one of my most visceral fears turned out to be the unlock for tremendous happiness. I used to be terrified of people who would uproot themselves at a moment’s notice, but that’s exactly who I am now and who I want to continue being. Beware what you fear, because fears tell you things about yourself that you probably aren’t ready to face, yet desperately need to hear.
Shedding the things I care about by starting a fresh new life has taught me a lot. I would argue that it’s a good practice to revisit every so often because it shows us what really matters. Just peel back the layers until you can’t anymore. You’d be surprised how far you can go.
You might like more stories on what my journey taught me:
3 Things I Learned Growing Up Rich
People love to hate me because I always had it all, but take a look at what I learned from this experience.
If you like hearing unpopular opinions and provocative insights, you’ll love my daily podcast. It’s about ambition, mindset, and happiness (AKA being human). I also write about tech and fashion. And the best trick hidden up my sleeve? Fashion design.