As 2021 comes to an end, I’d like to talk about this passage written by Kierkegaard.
“The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. The unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself. But one can be absent, obviously, either in the past or in the future. This adequately circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness.”
Here in almost-2022, reflecting on these words written almost two centuries ago, it is abundantly clear that he was on to something.
Living in the present is not easy. Most of us tend to make plans, create schedules, keep busy, think about the future. Some of us are still thinking about things that happened in the past, living in our memories. For myself, the danger is busy-ness.
I’ve lived with dysthymic disorder for well over twenty years now. I can’t remember what it was like to not be depressed, although I’m certain that this didn’t start until I was in my teens. For most of my life, the only way I wasn’t dwelling on my depression, and by extension, my lack of self, was to make sure I was busy with something.
In my younger years, this meant always surrounding myself with people, never a moment’s rest. When I started working, this became an unhealthy obsession with trying to do everything. My work, my colleagues’ work, my supervisors’ work. I carried this obsession for many years. Old colleagues will remember me taking on multiple roles, and burning the candle at both ends. At jobs with lower workloads, I moonlighted on side gigs or business ideas, never allowing myself to sit still. This led to a burnout of massive proportions in 2017, that I am still recovering from today.
It wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic started and lockdowns began, that I was forced to stop. During the first lockdown, I continued to be busy. I joined accelerators, and never stopped talking about MercuryPay* (see explanation below). I had a schedule that was packed, jumping from video call to video call for a good three months. But then the number of meetings I was having started to thin out. The number of people I was speaking to started to lessen, as everyone else started feeling the fatigue of online meetings. I was stuck at home, with nothing to do, and with myself for company.
Faced with the prospect of impending double depression, I decided to do something I had never done before, and decided to get in touch with myself. This was considerably harder than anything I’d done before. I had spent decades piling things on top of my “self”, and while I was sure I was in there somewhere, I didn’t remember what I looked like, or where in the Raiders of The Lost Ark warehouse of my psyche I would have put it. Retreating into myself, I eventually found my “self”, shrivelled up, smelling a little funny and a little worse for wear.
Dusting it off, I started the long process of getting rid of the creases, feeding it a little, and generally just trying to familiarise myself with it. The hardest part was getting over how my self-image looked nothing like my actual self. Not sure I’ve come to terms with that, even now.
However, I am proud to be able to say, almost two years later, that I’m finally on good terms with myself. I lose the plot every now and again, doing things that I don’t even realise are not conducive to self-growth, but I stop as soon as I realise, and apologise to myself for doing them.
Coming back to Kierkegaard, I often find myself getting lost in thinking about the future. I make plans, I think about a future in which something has improved for me. I have more money, I live in a nicer place, I have a silly dog who the Internet loves; you know, normal things that people dream about. But all this planning, all this moon-eyed gazing into what might be, really takes time away from actually living your life.
I also spend an inordinate amount of time reminiscing on the past. Those of you who know me, know that I have an excellent long-term memory. This has resulted in me not only being able to remember all the nice things that have happened to me, but all the terrible, embarrassing, stupid things that I’ve done as well. And I remember all of this in vivid, Technicolour detail.
What Kierkegaard is saying though, that has started to make sense to me ever since I began this journey, is that both bad and good things can entrap you in memory. Remembering the good times is fine, just don’t live there. And obviously the same for the bad times. Memory is a bit of a drug, and reliving something over and over again is not helping you grow in the present.
As we close out the year, looking over what I’ve accomplished personally, and how far we’ve come at Tide, it is as tempting to look forward as it is to look back. Where will I be in 2022? Where will Tide be? Will I have more money? Will I live in a nicer place? Will I finally have that silly dog?
I could spend hours planning out which way my life will go, hoping for a better tomorrow. I could, as I’ve done every New Year’s Eve, pour myself a glass of my grandfather’s whisky, and spend the night dreaming about how the year, and all the past years have gone, looking over the decisions I’ve made for the umpteenth time, and wondering what my life would have been like if I had done things differently.
I could do these things. But instead, this year, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to give myself 10 minutes to remember 2021. Then 10 minutes to think about what 2022 might be like. And then I’m going to stop doing that, and sit down and play with the cats, or watch the fireworks, or just really focus on the great taste of that 70 year old whisky, and start living in the present.
Happy New Year to everyone! – New Malaysia Herald
*Tide – The Open Financial Platform started life as MercuryPay in 2018. As the vision and design behind MercuryPay grew, the founders recognised a need to rebrand, to properly illustrate the new business model and so Tide was born.
About the writer: Joel Wijesuria is the Founder & CEO of Tide – The Open Financial Platform. A serial entrepreneur, Joel has won awards for leadership and has also been nominated as Founder of the Year 2021 at the ASEAN Startup Awards. You can reach Joel on LinkedIn or Twitter.