the meaning of life

We are never truly present in the current moment. When we’re not mulling over the past, we’re dreaming of the future. We map a course for our imminent future, but sometimes those around us swerve our plans. We think we dictate our lives, but the truth of the matter is that we have limited say in what happens to us, what we do, who we are. From the moment we are born, our environment and the people we meet subconsciously push us towards one direction. Given this one life, we have no choice but to believe that this is the life we’re meant to take, that our deepest truth goes so far as we can reach.

I finished reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life a while ago, and the plot disrespects the common traits that define a book. On the surface, the story follows the lives of four characters in their 20s living in New York, slowly but surely making their way to the top of their fields. The book focuses specifically on Jude, a brilliant lawyer who’s also a mathematician, cook, musician, among other things. His very twisted and traumatic past is revealed to us in a series of flashbacks intertwined into the chapters. There’s no clear plot, not exactly a clear climax, and an ending that leaves you wishing you never opened the book in the first place.

If there’s something that this novel wants to convey, it’s that our relationships define us. The relationships that we have with our families (or lack thereof), our friends and enemies, our colleagues and acquaintances. They are the core of our existence. Yanagihara claims that our closest friendships are the only ones that subvert any rules and expectations imposed by society, and thus are the most powerful kind of relationship because they are limited only by the participants. It can be beautiful, messy, disastrous.

When you are a spouse, a parent, an employee, a citizen, you live by certain rules, some of them dictated by law, others by social expectations. But friendship is the one relationship available to us in which the laws and limits are defined only by the participants.

Something that Yanagihara asks the characters, albeit discreetly, over and over again is, What is your life purpose? Why are you here? Why do you exist? Who are you existing for?

There are snippets and themes of this novel that remind me of the sitcom Friends. A group of friends in their 20s, figuring out their lives in New York City. Most of them remain childless, at least for the earlier portion of their adult lives, which means that their social circle is essentially their second family. Some then go on to form their own circles or families, while some find their partner within this circle. Friends conveyed the idea of an alternative lifestyle, one in which your friends were all you needed. A Little Life seems to convey a similar message, but also shows the omnipresence of societal pressure and the eventual acceptance of this lifestyle.

This novel followed the characters from their early adulthoods to their last stages in life, and though my own life is distinct and free from so many of the challenges these characters had to face, I couldn’t help but see myself facing those challenges too. Fiction books have the power of transforming you into a character you didn’t know you could be – that’s why I love reading so much. Yanagihara allowed me to see what’s in it for me in the next few years to come, but most importantly, she allowed me to think beyond what I have already imagined for myself. While she was telling Jude’s story, she was also asking me those pressing existential questions. 

What kind of life do I want to have? This is the question I ask myself most often nowadays. Not What’s my life purpose? nor Why am I here? I think they essentially guide us down the same path, but the way we ask ourselves that question can help us manifest our goals better. I don’t think about what my purpose in life is, because I think it’s constantly evolving. I don’t think about why I’m here, because I’d rather appreciate the gift of being here. I think about the kind of life I want to lead, because it makes me focus on the values that I have and the messages I carry into the world. It makes me ponder about my insecurities and how my actions are a direct reflection of the past I have. It shows me that I may still be uncertain about my own decisions (and very insecure about my actions), but so long as I know that it’s the life I want to lead, I will do it.


the natural cycle of friendships

People come and go in your life, and that’s the way it’s meant to be.

I used to be scared of letting people in my life, of getting too close to them, knowing that one day they would leave my side. It always felt like I was the one being left behind, left to mend the loss that only I seemed to experience.

In high school, I saw this happen to me almost every year. My best friend since sixth grade left freshman year. I then got close to another friend, whom left the following year. I got close to yet another friend, but she too left. I got close to a friend outside school, but when she left for college I knew that we weren’t going to stay connected. It seemed like each time I found someone I could talk to, they would leave. At this point in time at my school, I pretty much knew everyone and understood that I wasn’t bound to get closer to a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong – I liked most people at my school, but I wasn’t close to most of them. It felt like the older I got, the harder it was to connect with the same people I had known since primary school. Maybe it was a fact of being in the same environment with the same people you have grown up with, or maybe it was just me.

Every time someone I considered a close friend would leave my side, I would ask myself if it was even worth it. Getting close to someone, to then lose them. My friendship with my best friend from sixth grade lasted for years after she left, though we never saw each other again. We had Facebook and social media to keep us connected, messaging each other almost every day to talk about our lives, boys, and the silliest of things. But this friendship too came to its natural end as the years went by and we both settled in college – yet another new phase of our lives, for both of us this time.

When I talk about the loss of these friendships, I don’t mean in the strict sense that we never have or will never talk to each other again. I mean it in the sense that we both know that our friendship will never return to its original state, to the closeness that we once had. Physical distance may have been the cause of our separation, but it was ultimately our choice to leave the friendship behind. Aside from my best friend, I knew that the other friendships were going to fade away as soon as they left. It’s hard to stay in touch with someone that you’re not incredibly close with to begin with.

Then there are friendships that are in a sort of paused state. When I moved away for college, I said goodbye to a lot of friends, mostly from my school. Most of them I have never seen again, but some of them I do. With these friends, though I don’t talk to them when I’m in college, it feels natural to see them when I’m back home. The fact that we have this bond from having attended the same school for most of our lives means that we are bound to see each other again whenever distance permits. Not having been close friends with them means that there’s not much of it that can fade away. It’s hard for friendships to fade if they are not so strong to begin with.


how to procrastinate less

We are all masters at procrastination, this resistant force that prevents us from finishing our most impending tasks.

It’s frustrating, oftentimes uncontrollable and evil, but it’s not an invincible force. This is your 101 guide to battling procrastination:

start your mornings right. (productive morning routine video)

A key to reducing procrastination during the day is by starting the day right. Small things, like waking up feeling refreshed (given that you have had enough sleep), drinking water, making your bed after getting up, and changing into comfy clothes will create the productive momentum that you need to propel yourself towards a productive and successful day.

Make sure that your first morning tasks aren’t too mentally exhausting, and are rather mere healthy habits that you have cultivated over time. You want to save that mental energy for the big, important tasks later in the day!

set monthly goals, and review them whenever you feel demotivated (april goals video)

I already have a list of goals that I want to accomplish for this year, but I review them every month depending on what tasks I want to focus on. I normally keep my goals on a Word document so I can modify them whenever I want to, and for April I decided to fancy things up and made a spread on my bullet journal (which you can see on my April goals video!). It’s very helpful to have this list, as whenever I’m making my daily to-do lists, I can remind myself of what I’m working towards, and not lose sight of the big picture.

amp up your work environment

It’s your space: change it or clean it however you want to. Your work environment is usually your desk or the place(s) where you spend most time working. I love keeping my space clean and aesthetically pleasing as it allows me to get straight to work, instead of fussing over a mess that I should’ve cleaned up before.

This is such an obvious fact, but when you have a clean desk and space, your mind will most likely be clear and set to work too.

or find aesthetic inspiration elsewhere

Who doesn’t love going to a beautiful library, bookstore or coffee shop? In my video, I feature El Ateneo Grand Splendid, which I got to visit on my recent trip to Argentina. It. Was. Amazing. Of course, there are probably no breathtaking places like such everywhere, but a cozy coffee shop or bookstore is always a nice place to step into and get your head in the game.

Personally, I love visiting bookstores and libraries because it allows me to go on an adventure in a place filled with knowledge. Whatever I get distracted with, it’ll be with books. No technology, no phones – just me and the books.

make a to-do list, and break it down into mini tasks

I always write down my to-do list every morning in my planner, and note my tasks down on the Reminders app of my phone. That way, I never lose sight of my important tasks of the day.

When it comes to complicated tasks that require more planning and dissecting, I break the steps down on my planner so I have an idea of what I’ll have to do later on. This also ensures that I don’t forget some sub-tasks or details. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a fancy planner or fixed place to jot down your tasks, especially if you’re not a heavy planner. But it’s important that you plan somewhere to get your ideas and tasks down.

schedule (and limit) your playtime

Without a proper schedule to follow during the day, you’re more prone to getting distracted with your guilty pleasures. What I do to combat this is to schedule my playtime. For instance, I give myself 30-60 minutes of watching YouTube videos after I’ve accomplished my morning routine and tasks and eaten lunch. This motivates me to get on with my morning tasks, and it has become such a great part of my schedule that I rarely fall prey of YouTube videos or distracting stuff in the mornings.

The key of scheduling your playtime is so that you schedule enough of it during the day, and don’t try to squeeze in extra playtimes when you’re supposed to be working. And, gradually, your body will understand that playtime only happens at certain times of the day.

tell others about your impending task

There are many ways you can use your friends to help you get your work done. For instance, you can put yourself in the debt of a friend (by owing them a Starbucks coffee, or boba) until you finish your most important task of the day. It’s fun, and I bet your friend will be thrilled to help you. Or, you can simply ask a friend for a study session or help with a homework. Having someone else account for your progress is always helpful – as long as you don’t rely on them to do your work. Only you can be responsible for your work and yourself.

or make a public declaration

If you’re like me, and would rather not get your friends involved, I suggest going on Twitter or some other form of social media, and make a public declaration about what you’re supposed to do during the day. Personally, I pretty much use Twitter to promote my stuff and rant about whatever I’m feeling that day. I’m not a fan of Twitter and I rarely post ‘good stuff’ on there, so it’s the perfect platform for me to just post anything.

By making a public declaration on Twitter, I get a false sense that I’m being accounted for, which in turn makes me more prone to completing my task. You should give it a try 😉

remove distractions from your field of vision

Put. It. All. Away. I guess it’s safe to assume that our biggest source of distraction for many, if not most, of us is our phones. What I do is pretty simple: put it on Airplane mode, throw it on my bed with the screen facing down, and forget about it. I usually don’t need my phone to work, except for checking off my tasks.

If you find it hard to get away from your phone, put in on Airplane mode and hide it somewhere hard to reach. Just do it, and forget about it. Check it during your playtime, or the few minutes that you switch into your next task, but not when you’re working. The more you practice this, the easier it will become to remove yourself from your distraction.

do productive procrastination

Is all procrastination bad? Not really. I particularly remember watching a TED talk by Adam Grant, who talks about procrastination as a source of creativity. I agree. When we procrastinate, we physically put off a task, but we subconsciously work on it. And when we do eventually get down to work on the task, we are most likely gonna have more and better ideas and solutions that task.

But it’s crucial to not spend too much time procrastinating, as time is fleeting and precious. What I recommend doing (if you’re feeling like procrastinating) is to procrastinate on creative things: painting mandalas, organizing your desk, practicing calligraphy, or doing any hobby of your choice. Get creative, and get excited! By gradually getting yourself more productive, you’ll eventually find it easier to get ahead with your actual task.

forgive yourself if the day doesn’t go as planned

You’re human, and you make mistakes. The sooner you embrace this idea, the easier it will be to relieve yourself of any mistake  you make along the way. I think it’s important to reflect upon what you could have done better, but not to dwell on the actual decision.

Acknowledge, let go, and move on.


stop studying & start learning

Learning should be our main focus, and studying should be a complement of it.

I think a lot of us who are still in school or have just finished school naturally use these two words interchangeably. I know I do, for the most part. Our education system is shaped in a way that we, as students, are obliged to comply with the system in order to succeed academically. And that means that whatever we ‘learn’ in class – oftentimes irregardless of whether we enjoy or find deeper meaning in that course – we have to study it at home prior to exams.

I was a good student throughout most of my school journey. I usually enjoyed most of the classes I had and, as I grew older, I also learned to see the benefits of learning classes that didn’t appeal to me as much. For instance, taking Maths Higher Level in the International Baccalaureate program allowed me to think so freaking critically about mathematical and logical problems, the type of thinking that I would never apply anywhere else. Though I have forgotten most of the formulas and math applications that I learned back then, I learned something even more important: the ability to deal with abstract, logical and mathematical problems. A skill that, when re-polished, will allow me to think broader in whatever I invest my mind into.

That is what I call learning. And though my Maths HL journey oftentimes got me on the verge of tears, I realized that I couldn’t just study for the sake of the grand final exam. I had to endure 2 years of this class, and the only way that I could get myself to not give up was if I saw Maths class for more than what it was. And so that’s what I did. I became fascinated with how my mind worked through these excruciating math problems. The way I thought, delivered and executed through these problems fascinated me, because it challenged me in a way that no other class did.

If I had just gone through Maths class solely by studying ‘maths’… that would not have been learning. That would have been plain surface studying, and I would not have survived. We cannot just ‘study’ a course for the sake of studying and hope to get out of it as much as we truly can.

During my gap year, my thirst for knowledge allowed me to learn without looking at it as ‘studying’. I read beginner books in Italian and Chinese to improve my linguistic skills through a medium that I thoroughly enjoy. I purchased a few piano books to polish my understanding of music theory, and to get me going on the most popular and easy piano songs. I finally got my first camera, and learned how to use it by reading the manual and using trial & error interchangeably. I read books of all types and genres every day, because I know that there is always something that I can learn more each day. I use reading – my main channel of self-education – to continuously challenge myself in the art of education, which is another skill that I have come to treasure greatly.

I learned to learn without limiting myself to classroom learning. I took charge of my own education. I made connections between them and with my own life, which has made me realize that nothing we are ever taught at school is useless. It connects to a part of our lives, whether directly or indirectly, and opens us up to a deeper understanding of what this world is made of. Studying shouldn’t be our center of focus; learning should be. If we have that drive and clear understanding as to why we are learning that specific topic, then everything else will become more bearable.