One of my favourite movies is How To Train Your Dragon. In it, a rare dragon named Toothless strikes up a friendship with a reluctant Viking called Hiccup and their bond becomes the glue that binds a tale of love, loss and finding one’s place in the world.
Unfortunately, in real life, we have other “dragons” that we encounter — dragons that aren’t so cute but no less life changing.
I’m referring to the negative experiences that breathe fire and ice into our everyday experiences — from dealing with family squabbles, to managing friends’ expectations and overcoming the learning curve at work.
It’s hard to stay afloat in a sea of uncertainty while not getting swallowed by all these “dragons” that fly at us constantly.
Lesson #1: It’s okay to get negative
Those who don’t know me well often comment that I seem like quite a positive person. But my family and closer friends would know how there are times I get consumed by my negative thoughts and fall into a day-long sulk.
Let’s face it, we all have negative thoughts once in a while. Life is not all about having sunshine and rainbows every day!
There will be times when we get overwhelmed by negative vibes and can’t help but be down for days or even weeks. It’s just one of those dark periods in our lives that we need to face by ourselves — nobody can do it for us.
And sometimes my friends or family, out of good intentions no doubt, try to cheer me up, telling me to “Snap out of it!” or “If I can do it, so can you!” or worse, start humming the tune of Don’t Worry Be Happy.
I don’t deny there are times when I feel like retorting “Don’t you have times you feel low too?” but I hold back because they are just trying to help.
I believe that ultimately, I will stand back up soon enough (or rather, be “forced” to get back on track thanks to my responsibilities in life). Ironically, by not forcing myself to be positive all the time, it actually allows me to take a breather from all that false cheer.
Lesson #2: Being independent doesn’t mean being isolated
Behind the cheery mask I wear every day lies a nonchalant face that I expose only at home, which is a safe place for me to be my true self.
My family would ask me at times why I wouldn’t show any form of excitement towards something that happened. “I don’t know” has become my typical reply.
That simple “I don’t know” holds a lot of meaning to it. It could mean “I’m just not feeling well emotionally today” or “I’m okay but I just don’t want to talk about it” or “I need some space, but I’m glad you all are around me”.
Often the only help I need is quiet companionship and it’s enough to tide me over whatever I‘m feeling at that moment.
As an only child, I’ve learnt to be independent since young. The need to rely on myself has been reiterated by my parents numerous times. This has shaped me to handle situations by myself whenever possible.
I never knew how much it would affect who I am, till one day, my closest girlfriend commented, “it seems like you always like to keep things to yourself”.
I’m used to always being the one checking on my friends’ well-being, so that sudden realisation that I have not been sharing the downs in my life to people around me, really struck me.
Since then, I’ve learnt how to share my frustrations with my friends, rather than keeping things inside me. And it has made our friendships stronger for it.
That’s a reminder that even the strongest or the most independent person you know might need a helping hand or a listening ear.
Lesson #3: When life gives you lemons…
Raise your hand if you have received this comment at least once in your life: “You’re not good enough”.
For me, I’ve been hearing this statement since I was young.
I was never a straight A student. Once, in primary school, a tuition teacher told my mum that I was “subpar” and destined to take a longer route for my education.
Hearing those crushing comments at the tender age of 11 sounded like a death sentence to me.
But then, I began to think — who is she to determine that I can’t succeed in life? I told myself, “no, what she said is not going to happen. I will surprise her.”
In the end, I got myself into the Express stream and then into polytechnic. And now, I have a degree in Communications. While there is no one sole route to academic success, I am glad that I used that negativity to push myself to prove the naysayers wrong.
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Another instance was during one of my internships.
I used to be more timid and doubted myself at work. So when my supervisor told me to book taxis for guests to go home after an event (this was pre-Covid days), I tried to follow her instructions, even when it was quite clear that it wasn’t needed — the guests were totally fine finding transport on their own.
Even after I told her about it, my supervisor insisted that I follow her instructions and told me to “stay behind until every guest has left”.
Other colleagues even stood up for me and I finally mustered up the courage to tell my supervisor we had to stop because we were cancelling too many taxi trips, which was unfair to the cabbies too. She refused to budge and in the end, I ignored her instructions and went home — this was the only time I’ve felt that I was right doing the “wrong” thing.
At another job, my supervisor straight up told me that I was a bad writer during an appraisal. He offered to send me for courses but when I asked him if he would give me a chance to write after that, his reply was a straight “No”.
Since then, I lost my confidence in writing, I started to second-guess everything I wrote — from emails to even text messages.
There is always this constant voice in my head telling me people were judging me and laughing or that my lack of skills was creating trouble for others.
I’m sure that may have happened to all of us at some point; for me it was writing, but perhaps for you, it could be something else — how you speak, how you look or what you do.
It took courage, and an encouraging work environment, to help me reframe these negativities in my life. I have realised that just like how the dragons in my favourite cartoon movie trilogy were misunderstood at first, my challenges weren’t there to break me — when properly harnessed, they could take me to the next level.
Learning to live with our “dragons”
I’m still struggling with my “dragons”. In fact even as I was writing this article, they were roaring at me in my subconscious.
Dealing with insecurities can be intimidating and overwhelming at times, especially when these “dragons” come charging at you from all directions.
I have learned to be grateful to these challenges for pushing and shaping me to become a better version of myself. Only by embracing these fears and not running from them, I get to understand myself more.
It’s almost as if my “dragons” are guiding my path out of darkness with their fiery breath.
Just like the Vikings and their dragons, when we learn to tahan (Malay for endure) and co-exist with our “dragons”, we make our lives a much better place. I have definitely found ways to live with my “dragons”, and yes, to tame them and coexist with them, and they have helped me find my way to soar in life.