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A time for reflection

My original intention was to start writing soon after leaving the corporate world in 2012. I was determined to extract the novel that had been in my head for too long. But in the series of events that followed: moving countries, establishing a new home, making new friends, joining a non-profit board, and founding an internet start-up—the book somehow didn't happen.

"We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we see."

Looking back, I now know that I wasn’t ready to write. I needed time to leave behind my impatient, corporate mind-set where words were factual but lifeless; where business articles diminished my love for reading; and where I thrived on external validations regardless of my own beliefs. It’s taken me five years to slow my treadmill from sprint to jog to walk to standing still. Not that there’s anything wrong with movement. But as the Taoist proverb observes, “We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we see.” I needed to stop so I could reflect on how I came to be me, and therefore understand the essence of my writing.

It’s been a painful journey: I lost my sister and mother to cancer. My father had a heart attack so acute it took fifteen medical staff twenty minutes to bring him back to life. Burglars raided my home with machetes and stole sentimental possessions. My internet start-up failed. Each event was devastating, some unequivocally more than others. It hasn't all been tragic­–I married the love of my life, and we moved to a beautiful house nestled between mountains and sea. Looking back on this five year journey, I see that each event forced me to be in the moment, to stop seeking validation from others, and to accept things as they are. And in that acceptance, I dared to open the inner most part of me, and peak inside the box.

I know I have a story to tell. Many, many stories in fact ...

And so–six months ago–I started to write with some presence of being. I wouldn't say learning to write is harder than I expected, but it is hard. Very hard. I am honing my craft, carrying out the research, and reading masterful works. I am still a work in progress, and no doubt will be for the rest of my writing career. What have I learned so far? I know I have a story to tell. Many, many stories in fact, and I’m excited about the number of books ahead of me. I know it's okay to procrastinate, or to miss a deadline, so long as my subconscious is whirring away on an idea. I see light and dark in every character, every setting and experience. I love conflicts, reveals and twists. Time also plays an important role in my writing: it spawns pain and heals wounds; it allows forgiveness and forges bitterness.

These learnings are useful, but they are not my essence. JK Rowling’s­–in her Harry Potter series–is about accepting death. She has said herself: “If [my mother] hadn't died, I don't think it's too strong to say that there wouldn't be Harry Potter. The books are what they are because she died.”

It's liberating to be aware of a fear and stare straight back at it

The innermost fear that drives my essence is that of disappointment. It manifests itself as not wanting to rely on anyone or anything, self-reliance, not beholden to anyone. But this independence brings its own flaws in the form of obstinacy, dispassion and aloofness. The tensions between give and take, between success and failure, control and freedom therefore appear in my writing because of my essence. It sounds gloomy, but it’s not. It’s liberating to be aware of a fear and stare straight back at it, toy with it, explore it, and even allow characters to resolve it for themselves. To be able to achieve this through writing is a gift. The more I write, the more the box opens up, and the more I understand myself. I’m finally in an environment conducive for reaching my innermost feelings and tapping my creativity.

I’m grateful for reaching this point (I didn’t even know it was a point!). As I reflect on the last six months, I realise my self-actualisation has been five years in the making.

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