Too short at Twenty-two

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Today was just another day for many; the birthday for someone I know; and the 5 year anniversary of the day that someone I used to know, lost his life.

At 22 years old, Andy was gone before life gave him the chance – or rather unfortunately, there is reason to believe it was the other way around. Who knows what was behind  those passing clouds… if he just waited in the rain.

Instead of brighter days, he’s getting flowers laid.
Instead of creating new memories, he’s fading in ours.
To someone I could have saved, I apologise with a visit to his grave.
We already know this: nothing is promised.
So don’t just live life as if it’s a gift..
be one, so you’ll be missed.  

 

Somethings To Say, Before the Sun Sets

Last sunset

So, I’m home. My one year work assignment in Tonga has come to an end. I made several monthly posts during my experience, but feel I should do one last post to properly see this chapter of my life closed. (You can read all the posts I wrote while away here)

If you haven’t been following my story, here is the gist of it: I moved into a new place, started a new job, hated it, but I went through the motions of working and saving. I booked a 1 month holiday to the USA, but eventually got fired first. I tried finding a job I’d actually enjoy, came very close in a few interviews, discovered an international development / capacity building program, thought why not, applied, got accepted, refunded my planned holiday, moved out, and then spent 2014 overseas.

I was as shocked as everyone else. Having spent my whole life in the one city, it’s something I never considered or saw coming… which was why I believed it was so important to ‘just go with it’ before it got away.

Since leaving childhood, I’ve learned that card tricks, control, and certainty are all illusions.

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It turned out that what appeared to be a sunny tropical island was actually the furtherest from my comfort zone that I’ve ever been.

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I’ve heard it before; you’ve heard it before: sometimes, you’ve got to get uncomfortable. I get it now, I really do. Once we’re past puberty, the only growth we get is voluntary (with the exception of toenails and unwanted hairs.) It’s also excluding physical workouts. I’ve done a lot of those. Lifting twice your bodyweight is uncomfortable, but there is still an element of control: we know we’ll either be successful in the lift or we won’t – and we’re familiar with both outcomes either way.

Real growth is more than just physical; it’s a deeper change than that. And really being uncomfortable means giving up all perceived control and certainty over the situation. Simply put, it means not knowing.

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There was a lot I didn’t know: Where I’d live, what work would be like, who my friends would be, what I’d eat, and what I’d spend my spare time doing. These are all common questions to which I now know the answers; but what really makes going away such an experience is the things that you learn … that you didn’t expect or know you needed to learn.

There was a lot that happened over the year; there is a lot to write about, and there is a lot I already did write about.  Looking back, here are the main things I want you to know… and that I want myself to remember.


1) HAPPINESS IS AN OUTLOOK

I arrived in Tonga feeling sorry for people, but I returned home feeling sorry for myself. I realised I had been sold a dream. I had been told by a combination of my peers, upbringing, and culture – that there were set requirements for being happy. There aren’t. Despite being classed as a ‘developing country,’ people in Tonga smiled, laughed and seemed openly happier. How? Isn’t that the point of all the luxuries and privileges of the the western world? Well, I learned that it’s all about perception.

You can’t enjoy the taste of what you’ve got when you’re sniffing the fumes of what you don’t have.

I coined the above term, but I’m just as guilty of the offence as anyone else. With less disparity between wealth and status, and hardly any mass advertising, people in Tonga can devote their full attention to what they do have – and tend to be happier as the result.

I’d be lying to claim I’ve dropped all my desires since coming back to the western world. Desire and ambition definitely has its place. But given what I’ve learned, I’m definitely trying to remember that

there’s satisfaction in simplicity, and a blessing behind every breath.


2) THE SLOWER YOU GO, THE MORE YOU SEE

Tonga has Tonga Time, Fiji has Fiji Time, and so on. It’s a fact; time moves slower in the South Pacific. As a ‘city rat,’ getting used to a slower pace of life definitely required some adjusting. There were also withdrawals from what I call ‘stimulation addiction,’ to which mobile phones and modern technology are the most common perpetrating paraphernalia. With less internet access, less happening in my environment, and overall, less urgency – I eventually found myself slowing down. And that’s when it happened.

I started to notice more things – rather peculiar things: the positions of the stars, the sound of the sea, the weight of the breeze, the variations of trees and flowers, the way animals behaved, and many other minute details. Of course, in the west, this approach would result in a lot of missed busses, pissed of people, and possibly accusations of staring in public. It’s also not humanly possible or healthy to consciously process everything; but it is worth paying a little bit more attention every now and then. You never know what you may notice.


3) FAITH HAS ITS PLACE

I’ve never been religious. Sure, kinda Buddhist and strangely spiritual; but not religious.  I’ve always respected peoples’ rights to make their own decisions; but it wasn’t until going to Tonga that I actually began to understand why some people choose to believe.

I met people who lived in tin sheds and without access to basic necessities – yet they clutched their bibles as if it was their most vital resource. I met youths who were surround by bad influences and dangerous temptations – yet God was an authority figure they wouldn’t dare to disobey. I met people who made massive sacrifices in their own lives in order to help others – yet they were modest in their contributions and efforts, acknowledging Jesus as their inspiration and mentor.

Across these different circumstances, there was the one how – and the one why: God.

I’ve read The God Delusion, find Sam Harris fascinating, and am aware of the ways religion is exploited as a tool of manipulation – but I can’t disregard the way that religion and faith has proved to be a solid foundation in lives that are otherwise crumbling; the way way it provides clarity to those conflicted between choices; and they way it widely opens the hearts of those in the position to help others.

Religion doesn’t have a place in my life, and it may not have one in yours; but there’s no doubting it has its place in the world. 


4) TALENT CAN FLOURISH ANYWHERE

I had the privilege of meeting some amazingly talented individuals. At 17yrs of age, Paul is a perfect example. This video showcases his talent as a self-taught dancer and choreographer. And he certainly isn’t the only example. It seemed that Tongans had the natural ability to dance, sing, draw, and play sport. This is without the many learning opportunities and resources available in the west. I mean, despite having access to dance schools, video tutorials, and large body-sized mirrors, I definitely got put in my place by the dancers I met in Tonga. Here is a recent video of all of them in action.

Another example is a young woman who went from driving around in a car without windows to modelling in Europe, living a life she didn’t even dream about before. I’m sure there are similar stories emerging from other parts of the world. I’ve also seen similar things on Youtube, but there was something different about encountering this phenomenon in person.

Needless to say, as a person who tends to be quick to place limitations on himself, I left feeling inspired, now knowing what can be achieved with not much more than just passion and dedication.


5) WE’RE ALL UNDER THE SAME STARS

As this was my first extended period of time spent in another culture, I noticed a lot of differences. After enough time, I noticed many underlying similarities: Children cry when they fall over, people smile when they see each other, women like dressing up, and guys give each other crap because they care.

On a deeper level, I realised how we all just want to feel safe, to belong, to care for those close to us, and to feel loved ourselves.  We go about it in different ways, but our motives are the same, as with the emotions we feel. Different continents, countries and cultures don’t change the fact that we’re all people, trying to get by on the sample planet, under the same stars.

This is a great video on the topic.


6) TIME FLIES

I was packing my suitcase to leave, and then unpacking it – what felt like – shortly after. In reality, a whole year had passed. Just like that. I regret the time I initially wasted on deliberating on wether my decision to come to Tonga was the right thing to do because…

time doesn’t cease or slow for our uncertainty; it goes on, taking with it, another opportunity.

We all worry and wonder at times, but it’s important to remember that we won’t be where we are for long, and that we won’t be around for long either.  This fact will motive us all in different ways, but..

we all stand to miss something by standing around.

I was on a tiny island where I felt time moved so slowly, but eventually, it was up. I’ve come home to find people getting married and having children, and myself, once again, at a crossroads. I don’t know what’s next, but I know it will be over before I know it.


I’ve got one years worth of daily journal entries, so I’m sure there is more I could add, but I’m happy to close it off here. The experience taught me a lot, I saw another country but also another side to myself. It stretched my imagination and also made me that much more sturdy, mentally. It’s given me a lot to think about, write about, and share.

To you, the reader: I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my adventure. Maybe you’ll look at your own life differently… or like I did, have the courage to change yours drasictally.

To Tonga:  malo (thank you) and hopefully toki sio (see you later).

Heart Shaped Rocks

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I’m surrounded, but the one I want seems so hard to find.

Yet I keep looking, amongst the wrong, the close, and the not quite.

Because I’m after perfect, the one worth my time.

Not that I’m picky or a perfectionist…

I just seek to thank you for the moments you were gone…

It was these moments that kept me alive.

It’s going to be all ripe

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The post that started this blog had something to do with a banana.

I was sitting on a park bench during my lunch break, sunny as it’s ever been, yet as grey as I’ve ever felt. Tears rolled off my cheeks as I stared into emptiness, weighed down by a sense of hopelessness. Dramatic or truthful, the feeling was real – real enough for me to seek professional help for the first time.

I did a few sessions with a psychologist which consisted of breathing and visualisation exercises. What scared me the most was the future and the uncertainty surrounding it – but for some reason I clearly saw myself overseas working with a group of youths. Somehow, I was right. I was offered a one-year position at an educational institute in Tonga a few months later. While it was a wonderful and unexpected opportunity and experience, it eventually passed.

1.5 years later, I’m again in the same boat, on the same bench.. scared, doubting myself, comparing myself to others or how ‘it should be’: all the same shit.

But this time I have a sense of optimism that I didn’t have before. I know such sharp variations in feelings and experiences are as commonly experienced as the heat of summer and the chills of winter. Like a loose leaf, this realisation that “I’m not the only one” fell upon me while sitting in the waiting room before my first psychologist appointment in 2013. The fact was always there, I just hadn’t noticed.

This time, I also have a sense of confidence in myself and in the world that I didn’t have before. I’ve made it through many tough times and I will do so again. My recent travels have allowed me to see more of the world and understand how vast life and its possibilities can be.

Looking back, I understand how tunnel vision can be exceptionally dangerous – especially when we think of any light at the end as an oncoming train. A correction of our own train of thought can allow us to rather see it as an opportunity – and to notice all the wonderful things we’re passing on a second-to-second basis. These things are unfortunately often hidden behind walls that we’ve built or had built around us – but thankfully, they’re also walls that can break, and there are a range of tools to help us do the job.

I guess the whole point of this post is just share one simple thing that I’ve learned since I first accepted something wasn’t right:

We’re all in our own cages, tunnels, cells. Regardless what the circumstance that makes us feel like a prisoner is, getting out all starts with the same thing… thinking knowing that it’s going to be all ripe right.

What my ‘Chris-tea-mas’ Tree Means…

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The inside jokes we have with our friends are like seeds.

They start of small, but with enough attention, they can can grow into much more.

Almost 1 year ago now, when I was living with a few friends, a seed was planted. I had been throwing tea bags into our backyard under the assumption they would decompose. While mowing the lawn, my housemate would come across them — confused and under the assumption it was our neighbours’ doing. Then one day when he vented his frustration about our neighbours’ alleged littering, the truth came out — and an inside joke sprouted.

As you can see by the screenshots below, other friends also used their wit to water what we had growing. While overseas, it inspired me with an idea of how to give life to an otherwise barren tree. Not only that. I was keeping a joke, a special bond, alive.

Each morning as I would sit outside in the sun sipping my green, I would think about the people who bring a similar kind of warmth to my life. I’d hang up my used teabags and string them together the same way my relationship with them is strung together by a series of individual events and encounters. Despite the strange looks my new neighbours were giving me, I’d smile to myself.

The jokes we have might seem simple and frivolous; but with enough care, all together, they can make something really beautiful… at least in our own eyes.

 

Month 10 in Tonga

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Rather than tasting the batter, let me first describe how I beat this post out.

  1. I flip open my journal (not to be confused with a diary).
  2. I find the start of the month just past, and read my way to the current day.
  3. I make all sorts of facial expressions and sounds (not to be confused with my coming toilet break).
  4. I experience an array of thoughts flavoured from, “I’ll always remember that” to “f*** that sucked.”
  5. I close the lock on my journal with its matching glittering plastic pink key, snort four crushed up valium tablets and fall asleep to Jamie Oliver’s audio cookbook (not to be confused with a serious statement).

But on a serious note, the process can either be hectic, easy, or a well-suited challenge. But I still do it, regardless. I do it because, to understand the world, you have to first understand the filter which you perceive it through: yourself. I do it because, when all I see is pieces, writing helps me put the puzzle together – to form and gain clarity on the bigger picture – which is my life.

As Hemingway said, “Writing is a lonely existence.” So as much as I would like company, it’s not expected. But when I come back to this page in a few months, finding another set of fingerprints in the digital dust, and maybe a kindly left comment, certainly wouldn’t deter me from the habit.

So, let’s get into the month, starting with the little things.

I rode close to 50km on a trip (a lot for me). I volunteered at Tonga’s only international school, answering the many questions eight-year-olds have. I organised a fashion show for my institute’s students at a popular local bar. And I also joined another fashion committee which is hosting an upcoming show. I’m not particularly a ‘fashion’ person, but I’ve enjoyed the insight into their challenge of introducing contemporary clothes into traditionally conservative culture. To illustrate, one of the girls had her family say that they felt ashamed after seeing a photo of her posing in a bikini on a beach.

I had an experience of freakish serendipity. I went to the local flea market and just happened to find the exact book I was looking to download a few days ago; a book of famous poems, which I also wanted; and a jumper of a favourite band, where I only needed something to keep me warm in my upcoming trip to New Zealand.

I got a few postcards from home and had a great Skype call with someone I hadn’t seen in over 1 year. Someone who I only met in person once before I left for Tonga. Someone who I only met because of this blog. It was great to hear about his travels to Asia and tell him about my journey so far. Both experiences reminding me of the value and importance of longstanding relationships as well as like-minded company.

Now, the bigger things.

I had an early farewell at the technical institute where I volunteer, crying more than they did. I’m not sure why. Possibly from a volatile mixture of emotions, from missing people back home, the anxiety of returning, to my own doubt in my effectiveness of being here. So when a particular teacher said that I’ve made a “dream come true” for them by organising their cruise ship tours, it was enough to catch my manly mannerisms off guard, and to tip the ‘tea’rs that I knew were filling, but I was trying not to spill.

The farewell also helped me accept that I won’t have the same kind of impact as some of the other volunteers, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve had an impact.

Now, the biggest thing.

I finally completed by first video project! After standing at the cliff for a while, eyes shut, using my imagination to visualise the possibility of what I could create – I dove… well, I was pushed. Attending a recent community film festival where new video makers were showing   their creations, was the push I needed. It’s true what they say about inspiration: it’s contagious.

There’s also a truth about the creative process: its possessive. In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield explores the Ancient Greek myth of The Muses. In summary, there were nine daughters of Zeus who each governed a specific creative art form. And when a mortal set out to create something in one of these forms, he would be guided and inspired by its Muse. Truth aside,  I think it’s beautiful. It also reflects my experience of writing my ebook so I was glad to be under a kind of ‘creative spell’ once again.

“The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” – Steven Pressfield

Once I just started my video project – even without a set plan – everything just fell into place. Editing and filming over 3 days, I couldn’t slow down nor stop until I had finished it. And finished it I did.

Like the short films I had watched at the festival I attended, my goal was to capture and share a certain unseen side of Tonga. I also chose a subject that really resonated with me personally – and I did it in a way that reflected my personality. The feedback has been great: many current volunteers have used it to show their friends and families back home what Tonga is like; the soon to arrive volunteers have been thankful for a chance to see what their new home is going to be like; and other people around the world now know about this tiny island they never knew exited. My favourite remark however, was, “I can’t help but smiling the whole way through it.” As such was my goal..

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.” – Steven Pressfield

Then came the worst thing: man down.

Out of nowhere, my enthusiasm’s gone – like someone tripped on the cord, pulling it out and taking all my energy with it. Everything’s a drag, I even consider deleting this blog. I won’t elaborate like I did in this post – but this particular time, it was bad enough for me to seriously consider how these seasonal states effect the quality of my life, what triggers them, and most importantly, what I’m going to do about them when I return home.

“You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is a place where you’ll get any work done.” – Cheryl Strayed

I guess, there is a lot on my mind. There are a lot of forks in the road, and the uncertainty is as threatening as a knife.  But to quote Strayed again, “Self-pity is a dead-end road.” So here is something more optimistic out of my own mouth..

“Life may not be a piece of cake, but you’ve still got to bare your teeth and take a bite.”

So I’m going to spend my last 2 months here chewing: doing what I have to do. There are also still many experiences to taste: people to meet, things to learn, sights to snorkel, coconuts to drink.

– Boy out.

PS – Neat song

Up High & Down Low: Bridge Life

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I almost killed a child.

Sorry, I’lll elaborate. I almost killed off my online persona, ‘Boy’, and deleted my blog.

I foolishly thought that closing this outlet would rid myself of the strange impulses, feelings, and thoughts I have. Wrong. It would just keep them trapped in the last place I want them to be: inside me.

It was in this latest ‘episode’ of mine, that the realisation finally hit me. This isn’t normal. I’m not normal.

A few days ago, I was loving the sight of the moon on a sunny day, I was feeling accomplished and fulfilled following the completion of the latest project, and things were good.

Today, I spent the last 6hrs looking at my bedroom wall – worrying about things already done, and thinking about the things I should be doing – but desperately scraping every thought to find the actual energy or motivation to act. Considering I had spent the last few days happily working non-stop while even forgoing eating, I know this melancholy feeling is arising from a place more primal than that of my stomach… perhaps my soul?

I also know that next week, I’ll be grinning and going again.

This is how life is at the Bridge.

It’s not just a physical place I visit, it’s a metaphor for how I seem to live my life, from two drastically changing perspectives: on top of things, or under them; up high or down low.

A doctor might say the Bridge is just a bridge, but I on the other hand, am possibly bipolar.

Recently watching Stephen Fry’s documentary, The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive, I learned more about bipolar and other various conditions as well as their varying degrees of impact. I’ve never put my put my foot through a window or been a risk to anyone, but I know what it’s like to often feel drained and immobile, with a sense of tunnel vision best described by Van Gogh:

“One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless”

 

Like the others featured in Fry’s documentary, I also know what it’s like to have sudden surges of energy, creativity, spontaneity, and optimism. I realised this is the reason I’ve resisted seeking help or medication; I don’t want to lose this part of my personality.

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. Don’t lose it.” -Robin Williams

 

Since his passing, the above quote by Robin Williams now sadly makes another point: there is more to lose that just one’s spark, there’s more important things at stake. For me, it’s not my life, but it’s the experiences of living: the things outside of one’s room; the things above the rut you’re in; the things behind the clouds that are following you; the conversations I’m too anxious to have with people.

So what am I going to do?

Fry puts this hypothetical question forward to a few of his interview subjects: if there was a button that they could press to instantly remove the lows, taking all the highs with it – would they press it? Fry’s own answer can be summed up in his Memoir, Moab is My Washpot: 

“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”

I know this still doesn’t clarify what I’m going to do. Because I honestly don’t know. But it starts with getting out of bed, making a cup of tea, and sitting in the sunshine.

 

The Store

“Looking for something?”

“Umm.. love I guess.”

“It sold out.”

“Oh..”

“But there’s plenty of self-loathing, envy, and regret to go around. They’re free.”

“No thanks.”

“Well you’re wishing you didn’t come here today. You hate yourself for standing outside awkwardly like this, and you’re jealous about the way she smiled at that last customer… so you’re already sold.”

“Wow.. you’re good.”

“No. We’re good. Now go in there and just talk to her.”

I had

Aside

I had a poem that was forgotten.

Was it..
lost like an echo turn soft
or tossed like fruit turned rotten?

Change happens.

And unanswered is the question
Does it..
bring hope like the last drop of snow
or sorrow for the hours i’ll have to plough?

It matters not of then or tomorrow.
Because here’s a poem
that at least I know.

Writing My First Book – My Experience

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“I don’t know what the soul is, but I’m pouring it into this book”

Something I had written in my journal six months ago. In contrast to now, it was back when I was losing sleep out of excitement. Back when I was springing out of bed with energy. I was in the process of writing my first book.

I’m not sure what I exactly wanted or expected. It was like I was consciously in the backseat and a mysterious creative impulse of mine was driving. Despite all warnings about getting into cars with strangers – I never questioned it or asked ‘if we’re there yet’ because I was too busy enjoying the ride. I was bettering my writing ability, and becoming an author. Regardless of the context, these are two truly worthwhile human experiences.

Becoming viral or even obtaining a single sale definitely wasn’t on my mind. But success was. That’s because success is subjective. Beyond the sole personal achievement of writing a book, the other metrics I wanted to measure were based around “meaning”… and maybes.

Maybe the people I know will take the time to read it and understand who I really am. Maybe someone I don’t know will read it and want to get to know me. Maybe they’re going through a difficult time, and my book will tell them the kinds of things that I once so desperately needed to hear.

When you give with less expectations to get, sometimes life surprises you. And this is what my ‘may’ came to ‘be’.

My book not only brought current friends closer to me, it brought new people into my life.. founding new friendships. From both sources, I’ve received plenty of kind comments which i’ve treasured. True to Jim Carrey’s 2014 MUM Graduation Speech where he states

 

“The effect you have on people is the most valuable currency there is.”

 

Just like Jim also describes his discovery of comedy as ‘something worth his time’, I’ve realised that writing is worth mine. I never would have considered myself the type to give advice since I’ve got so far to go personally and professionally. But the way I see it now, is that writing and sharing gives new meaning and value to every experience I go through. Particularly my f*** ups. People also say that I have a ‘gift’. If I do, then it’s only good manners to unwrap it.

Here I am still going on that. Surrounded by crumpled paper like a kid on Christmas – months after Christmas morning. I’ve learned that gifts also don’t always come easily.

Since releasing my book online, I’ve found grammatical errors, fixed them… and despite reading over the same pages many times – I’ve found more.  I’ve set up an automatic email system, then realised that 50% of my subscribers never got the book because the campaign paused itself. I sent out an e-mail apologising .. but so hastily that even it had some embarrassing typos. Uggnnhhhhhhh! That’s not another one – it’s the actual sound I remember making. Much much louder than it was just in your thoughts.

Banging my head against the wall would only break the instrument I need to keep this thing going. The fact that I’m posting this means that I didn’t throw my laptop out of the window either. Perfection is a process. We f*** up – then we get up. But sometimes it’s with our faces in the dirt that we find our lucky nickel, or we ourselves, are picked up as a diamond in the rough.

If I never got fired from my previous job, then I wouldn’t have ended up overseas with the spare time and motivation to write my book in the first place. That was my nickel. As a diamond, I’ve been picked up and polished by the generous friends I’ve recently made.

One is an experienced writer and editor, she’s given me assurance in the worth of my work and assistance in making the required final touches. Another friend, who I actually made through my book, is even willing to help me cover the costs of getting it onto the Amazon Kindle store.

Going from a self setup soap box to a shared stage is a scary thought.

But then I remember that how I was once worried about just uploading my book on my private Facebook profile. The photos of myself half naked and covered in ice cream weren’t my worry. It was how vulnerable and exposed my writing made me. But my experience since has given me faith that fortune does favour the brave. So I’ll definitely be making the strides to share what I’ve created with more people. Maybe it will help more people, or maybe, create the opportunity for more people to help me.

I’m so thankful for the support from everyone who has read my book. And even to those who haven’t, but provide inspiration through their own pursuits. Such as the author Kamal Ravikant, who honestly shares this about his book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It

“[I] published it on Amazon, expecting to sell ten copies, max. It took off and became a success. Word of mouth, blog posts, tweets. The book has a life of its own, spreading around the world.

 

If anything, the book was a gift to me. It made me cross a threshold, showed me that my voice mattered. Sharing my truth mattered. My life mattered.”

My plan is to have it on Amazon’s Kindle store by my birthday (October 27). Maybe I’ll hit ten copies. Maybe more. But it doesn’t matter. Because – I already know I matter.