Celebrate, not Define!

celebrate instead of define.

One phrase stood out this morning during mass:

We tend to waste far too much valuable time defining our roles, relationships, personalities, failures, achievements, goals instead of celebrating them. I stared at the Dominican priest as if he suddenly sprouted three purple dragon heads. Those three words hit me right where it needed to, as I have been in an emotional slump these past few days, battling some unwanted demons of my past. He was absolutely right – I have spent the last five decades listening to roles being defined for me, my life being defined by my roles in life, living under the conditionality of a situation or relationship, and pouring all my efforts into living up to the expectations of those defined parameters that if I fell short of them I felt like a failure.

My parents defined a good daughter as one who excelled academically in school, was at the top of her class, boosted up into accelerated classes, got into honour societies, and so on. On top of that, I also had to live up to the expectations of being a well-rounded student involved in the arts and sports. There was hell to pay if I came home with a B on the report card, and if I didn’t make it to be President of whatever club I joined. Oh, and there were a few other details such as minimal make-up, remain a virgin until marriage, and what the parents said was final.

Later on, as an expat wife fulfilling a role in the community, my role was defined by my husbands position, and there were standards to live up to, or even better, outdo. My whole life has been about living up to other peoples definitions and standards that I never dared to defy them. Even worse, I put myself under tremendous pressure to live up to an invisible scale that tortured me to no end.

Last weekend I was reminded of how tragic our lives turn out to be when we are enslaved by these definitions imposed upon us. Asian daughters, in particular, are especially prone to accepting the rules of parents hook, line and sinker, never daring to talk back or argue. We are the humble women who find their strength in the shadows. Whether we are physically locked inside the house, or unable to leave for whatever reason, it is a crippling experience that looms over us for years. Unless you change your perspective. Believe me when I tell you that divorce doesn’t solve any of these problems nor does it erase years of self-imprisonment. On the contrary, it catapulted me into an even darker world with new conditions and rules that I knew nothing about.

I have been writing about wallowing in the mud for the past two weeks, but at the same time, timely reminders to stop and celebrate personal milestones and achievements are being thrown my way. I am often blinded by stumbling blocks, rules, and standards that I don’t agree with, and when I can’t cope, I feel inadequate. For example, moving to Berlin seemed like a piece of cake at the time the idea was presented. Since I had lived here before, I didn’t blink twice and jumped right in, completely ignoring the fact that this time around I would have to set up life alone, which was a whole different ball game. Things that I never knew about German bureaucracy loomed before me, and I just went by gut instinct, too scared to ask for help, lest I be branded an ignorant coward. I am not ashamed to admit that I have made huge mistakes along the way, but also proud to say that I have also found my way out of most of the holes, though I am not out of the woods yet.

Please take a moment to contemplate the photograph included in this blog. I chose it because it mirrors everything I want to convey today. I am not defined by the direction or the pillars the bridge is built on, nor am I imprisoned by the directions defined – forwards or backwards. I choose to celebrate the fact that there is a bridge at all that connects two sides that would otherwise be isolated. I celebrate the light that emerges from the shadows. Above all, I celebrate the colours of life.

So yes, it is time to stop dwelling on the definitions of how life should be, what my career should be like, what path my photography should take, and how many books I need to sell to consider myself successful. Hell, the fact that I managed to built my life alone in Berlin is cause to celebrate. The fact that I have written AND published a novel is most definitely cause celebrate. So why am I not out partying and popping bottles of champagne? Because my way of celebrating is different, and I will not be defined by quantity, but rather, by quality.

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