Main Image from: festivalsupermall.com

Author’s Note: There have been, and there will be a lot of times when I will think of giving up on writing, blogging, and the life that I want. Last night was one such time. Whenever I feel that way, I read this. 

This time last year, I was thinking of how I would be going to Festival Mall Alabang. I live in Quezon City, the opposite side of southbound Alabang, and, growing up sheltered, I had absolutely no idea how to take the bus all the way there. I’m terrible with directions, and nope, I have never, ever, rode a bus all by myself till November 21 last year.

So, what business do I have in a mall at the opposite end of the metro? I wanted to get myself a crown ring, which I’m not  even sure was still available at that time. It was a big gamble for me; a hundred or so queries on Google Maps to find my way to and from there. An alibi about my whereabouts. A couple of texts to a friend in Muntinlupa to teach me how to get there. All for a ring. A tiny piece of fancy jewelry. Why all the trouble?

Call it an impulse buy or whatever you please, but at that time, I needed it. It wasn’t for a costume party or an addition to my truckload of accessories. At that time, it was my last gift to myself.

No, it’s not like I was going to end my life. It’s actually a reaffirmation gift that some good things are still meant for me to have, that I’m not bound to just accept that I can’t have what I want. See, I rarely have what I really want. I grew up compromising a whole lot more than asserting and claiming what I want. My parents are very practical people; what you don’t need, you don’t buy; what isn’t productive, you don’t get into.

Raised in a home of six traditional Chinese family members, five of whom are highly opinionated and have strong personalities, emotional me had always been under a lot of pressure to measure up. Sure, I was the overachiever, but I was also the odd one. The one who couldn’t drive. The one who didn’t have a lot of common sense. The one who cries and is frequently bullied. I know I’m strong, but I just fade into the background at home, with my loud siblings often taking the spotlight.

A middle kid, I had to learn to fend for myself. My sister, loud as she is, is of fragile health, meaning, yes. Almost all my milestones are overshadowed by how she wasn’t alright. When I had my first heartbreak, she had a surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. And so it went on that everytime I wasn’t ok, she’d also be just sick, and everyone would dote on her. I couldn’t talk to people about my feelings and problems. Besides, they’d just advise me to stay strong, anyway. I try to understand, but it is hard to deal with being second all the time. And yes, people expect you to always understand.

Understand how she can’t fulfil her plans of migrating to Canada because of her health. Understand how she has plans to get married, and so, it’s already set: as the second one, I’m expected to carry that plan out…to work my ass off here and then petition my parents to Canada, so they can have a good retirement. While they don’t say it to my face, the hints are more than enough. Almost every conversation I had with my mom and grandma was about going to Canada. My sister, who knew I didn’t want to go, would even joke about me petitioning her to get here, and I was just so overwhelmed.

On November 20 last year, I had just left my job…I had no idea where I was heading. I knew I wanted to write, but after getting rejections or no response from the magazines, companies, and publication houses I applied for, I was getting discouraged. I really wanted to do something I was passionate about, but I didn’t seem cut out for it. At that time, blogging was not an option because bloggers are all pretty, or at least, skilled in the beauty department. I was neither, at least I thought that.

And it had only been a few months since an almost-relationship ended. The feelings of inadequacy, combined with the pressure, made me want to disappear. I was tired of asking where I’m lacking and what I’m doing wrong. Are my skills not enough? Am I not good enough?

I regularly went to our university church to pray, because I was just emotionally and mentally spent. I wasn’t even sure I still believed in God. For all the promises He made, about His plans being the best for me, it seemed as if I just had to force myself to settle for what everyone expects of me: to take over what my sister couldn’t do, to just be financially stable in a country I don’t even like, to accept that, yes, by default, as the single, able-bodied, responsible child, I had to do it…for the sake of the family.

I didn’t know if it was just me pressuring me, but yes, everyone just expects me to make it abroad. To find a job and be very good at it. I know I could do that, but I don’t want that. But if duty calls, then I guess there wasn’t any choice.

The decision to buy a crown ring for myself came when I thought, “This is it. I haven’t even begun my life yet, and people have already imposed their expectations on me. Because I don’t have anything planned yet, I may as well try this out though I really don’t want to. It’s not going to hurt them. Like always, I would just have to compromise and live the rest of my life doing so.” And if I was going to do exactly that, I have to give myself a consolation prize, at least, for doing all I could: applying for writing jobs, saving my freelance money, trying to understand and reason out that Canada is the best for all of us (and maybe it is)…getting ready to accept that I will really have to put my life on hold, be reasonable, and just forego what doesn’t work in my life, though that may be what I want.

I deserve some credit for all of that, I really do. But wait. I don’t want it to be a sign of giving up. I want it to be a promise to myself, that whatever I may end up doing or becoming, I will fight for what I love. And no matter how hard it is, I won’t settle for anything less. I began looking for it: online stores, Instagram, and then eventually, N.Cat in Festival Mall Alabang. While they didn’t offer the prettiest one, I figured I’d get it from the store, so that I can get out of my house and clear my head, even for a bit. I knew it would be a long ride, and I might even get lost. But if I were to get a gift for myself, I would want the process to be an adventure, so I jumped at the chance.

I was told they had three styles available two weeks before I finally decided to get the ring from there. In those two weeks, I was simultaneously thinking of dropping the ring plan, as I’m not lucky with rings (I always end up losing them after a few months), and Googling how to commute from my home to that mall. Because I wanted to keep the adventure under wraps, I researched everything from route to bus fare to loading and unloading points, down to the traveling time.

When the day came, I prayed and said, “Give me a sign that my dreams coming true is part of Your plan for me.” After around an hour of travel, I finally made it to Festival Mall. As soon as I walked in from the nearest entrance, I immediately headed right and saw the store. I walked into rows and rows of earrings and rings, and didn’t see any crown ring. I was about to get disheartened, but decided to show the pictures to the saleslady just to check if they still had it. And they did. Just one piece of each style.

The lady, Jenny, said, “Last piece na yan lahat Ma’am, pinatago lang po sa amin kasi may customer daw na nagtanong.”

And I said, “Hinintay lang ako niyan.”

Because, again, I don’t have luck with rings, I didn’t expect any of them to fit. But one did, the smallest one. The one I had my mind set on. On my pinky, as if to say, “Get me. I’m the promise ring.” Imagine how awestruck I was. What do you know? There’s still something out there, somewhere…maybe just waiting for me to claim it.

And, I was slowly getting ready to try again. Little by little, I began sending resumes for writing jobs and social media assistant posts again. One month later, I got a call from a digital marketing company, asking to meet me for an interview the following day. Right there and then, I got the job. It’s one that requires a daily bus ride. How thrilled I was to have experienced it a month before I got the job, and yes, I could take the same one I took to Alabang to get to work.

Fast forward 10 months, I fulfilled my dream of becoming a writer. I was able to write for  magazine site, and, of course, I remembered to feature the store which was my fairy godmother of sorts. I was assigned to write for different clients in various industries, and now, my words are on a Korean restaurant’s website, a price comparison site, a software site, and an online industrial supplies shop, among others.

I finally grew the backbone to start my own blog (in part, thanks to the fact that the magazine client went on a four-month hiatus), and though it’s far from viral, it’s doing so much better than I ever thought it would. Having a creative outlet did wonders to my writing. Around the same time I launched it, I received recognitions for my performance at work. And, a month later, I got promoted.

Yes, all that within a year of getting a tiny ring from a Korean accessories shop in Alabang.

There’s a certain sense of empowerment that followed those hours-long trips to and from the south. I wasn’t encouraged to take public transport on my own, because people thought I was too gullible and anxious to not be in trouble. And I can get lost easily. But I made it. Until I got the ring, I was ready to give up on many things: my writing, my life direction; as a famous song said, “I’m all out of faith”. Call it cheesy, but it was my sign. Look at how much of a breakthrough it is to me.

I know it’s not a magic item, and my life still isn’t without struggle. Responsibilities and pressure still haunt me. But what that trip was, what that ring is–more than anything–is a product of choosing to do something. I stepped out of the house, of the bus, of my apprehensions. N.Cat, well they could have put that ring on display and sell it sooner than two weeks, but they didn’t. And those two choices, deliberate or not, worked perfectly together.

November 21 last year marked a huge turning point in my life and taught me more than a few lessons. To you reading this, let me share some of them.

First, you have a choice. And, mind you, it’s not a one-time thing. You have to make it and work towards realizing it everyday. You have to remind yourself that this is what you commit yourself to, because you’re not always going to be on a career high. You will lose your drive somewhere along the road, and you’ll be tempted to settle for less because it’s convenient that way. I could have just taken another home based spinning job instead of traveling all the way to Makati everyday, but I didn’t. I get burned out, but I made this choice, and as I deliberately make it everyday, I see the results. I grow. I get back to choosing this again and again.

Second, practice empathy. Be kind to everyone who walks towards you, because you don’t know what they’re going through. One decision to make things a little easier for someone can make a huge difference to their mood and outlook. No act of kindness is too small to go unappreciated, and intentional or not, it’s bound to lift something up in a person. In my case, it’s my morale.

Third, regardless of the situation, it doesn’t have to be the end. Last year was a difficult time, and I was so close to losing heart, and maybe I did. I thought that the situation I was in was already a death sentence, and I thought I was reaching the end of my road. Looking back, even when I thought it was the end, I managed to sneak in something new, like commuting to unknown territory all by myself. It got me ready for other new experiences, like my commute to work, and, later on, to other places for my blog. Regardless of it being a good or bad situation, it doesn’t have to be the end. While you’re living through it, you can always make room for something new.

Lastly, whatever the future holds, there will be a place and time for you. For me, on November 21, 2015, it was N.Cat Festival Mall Alabang. I’m still constantly fretting about what the next few years will hold for me. My sister is getting married and relocating, and migrating to Canada remains to be a possibility. I still live the home-office routine, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to change. Remembering where I was this time last year, however, I am just extremely happy and grateful to see that I’m not where I used to be.

In the next few years, wherever I may be, I put my hope in having a place just for me, and a promise I can make to and claim for myself. I’m now assured that I will find my way, wherever that is. And, if there appears to be no way, I will make one, to get to what I truly love and become who I most genuinely am.

Maybe I’ll continue Paisley Purpose in Canada. Maybe I’ll even open N.Cat there, if I can. Surely, in the future, I will make something new and stay true to my promise to fight for and claim what I love, when I find it.

I found writing. I’ll find all the other things, and, certainly, I’ll still hold on to the tarnished ring on my pinky finger while I’m at it.

The months that followed November 21, 2015 have been full of highs and lows. The trip and the ring proved, however, that I’m still queen when it comes to finding out and becoming who I am.

In the words of Beyonce, if you like it then you should’ve put a ring on it. This time last year, I did.

In the following years, I will, again. In Alabang or Canada or wherever life takes me. I will find a passion, love it with all my heart, fight for it, commit to it…and become, for it.

Oh yeah…after a year, the ring’s still on my pinky finger. I guess my luck with rings has changed. With that, I trust my luck with what I truly love will, too. In time.

This time this year, I’m looking forward to the rest of my life, thanks to what happened this time last year. 😀

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