Tag Archives: life

What is happiness, anyway?

A is for Angst

“Are you happy?”

For someone who professed to be terrible at giving advice, he was a ninja of tact. When in doubt, and pressed for an answer, simply rebut with a question in turn – it’s a fail safe tactic. Particularly when you’ve been put on the spot by someone you don’t know all that well. Oops.

The problem with the ‘are you happy?’ benchmark  is that happiness isn’t static. If we all did what made us happy in the short term, well, the world might be a very different place. It’s called adulting.

“Happiness is fleeting and at times elusive. We won’t always grasp it, and we’ll forgive ourselves if we don’t. Our lives might not always be happy, but they will be full with experience and with one another.”    (via A Practical Wedding)

The struggle

I’ve been finding happiness in the little moments. But I don’t know if those are enough. I don’t know if that makes up for the overall instability of our current existence – because this is my LIFE, and I’m the only one who has to live it and the only one who can take full responsibility for it.

I can’t tell if I’m cold or codependent (that probably changes from moment to moment). I can’t tell if I’m expecting too much and need to learn to roll with the punches or if I’m an idiot for sticking it out so long. I feel like I could paint at least two very different pictures, two very different interpretations, of the past few years, and I honestly don’t know which would be the more accurate. I don’t know where to draw the line, because there is no clear demarcation for these kinds of things.

From a wholly pragmatic perspective, I should have walked months ago. I tried, sort of. But I’m very good at that womanly thing of Putting Others First. Too good.

The question I’ve been asking myself a lot is: How do you know? There are things we’ve been taught are dealbreakers in relationships. But for most of us, it’s not that clear cut. So many times I’ve just wished for someone to tell me what to do, and be done with it.

What is expecting too much? What is expecting too little? Am I settling? Am I being unrealistic?

I ain’t saying she a gold digger, but I do require an equal partner.

Truths to live by

It’s insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Do not expect other people to change.

I am the only person responsible for my own happiness.

(Oh, and the sunk cost fallacy – throw that in there too.)

Words of wisdom

I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in a lovely comment left here some months ago:

“I used to go to sleep some nights thinking I was going to wake up the next morning, pack a suitcase and head to my mom’s and start the separation process. … I also would give myself ultimatums like ‘if it’s not better by this date I’m leaving’”

I remember reading somewhere – I suspect in a post about unconventional relationship advice – that you must be willing to walk away. Now, I know it’s commonly thrown around that people just aren’t committed enough today and that they give up too easily or expect perfection. But to be frank, I’ve yet to see a single example of this in the lives of anyone I know. We’ve all got the opposite problem – we don’t know when to walk away. We hang on for all we’ve got.

I thought I was willing to walk. But it took months to actually muster myself to that tipping point and look over the edge.

And I can’t lie, the terror I felt was almost paralysing.

Being there, though – that was a turning point. I was making plans. I was saving listings on TradeMe. I went and looked at another place to live. It wasn’t just an option; I was committed to leaving. (Not necessarily the relationship, but definitely the living situation, for many pragmatic reasons.)

What changed my mind? So many little things, barely on the spectrum at all, really – a toothbrush, an unexpected encounter – but enough in aggregate to drive me into even deeper contemplation. Ultimately, a third path started to crystallise. I ran scenarios, crunched numbers. I thought I found a way to get what I wanted, without having to shake up my entire life right now. A win-win, as they call it. There’s nothing quite like feeling backed into a corner, and finally seeing a sliver of light in a new option as it reveals itself.

Moving forward

The most important thing is not my marriage. It’s ME.

I certainly haven’t been acting like it. But once I finally cemented this in my mind, things became a lot clearer.

Again, this is my life. I only get one, and I’m the only one living it. There are things I cannot control in it, things that have made life quite miserable. But there are other things I can control, and can change, to mitigate that. Sour as that lemonade is to swallow, it’s not as bitter as the lemons.

So, I’m making plans to achieve the things I want. My number one priority is myself. The status quo is unsustainable; a 2016 without progress is unacceptable.

Hopefully the future still involves us growing old together – but if it doesn’t, I have made peace with that. That might sound depressing, but I find this freeing.

Happiness is having a plan.

TL;DR: Money is the most important thing in the world. Don’t believe anyone who says it isn’t.

(Sorrynotsorry if that offends your romantic heart.)

On guilt (and a litany of confessions)

The last few months have brought a lot of tears.

I left a job I loved for a job that I also love, in different ways. I cried a lot about that. I carried a fair bit of guilt about it. But when it comes to career moves, I’ve never regretted saying yes, even though at the time I never felt quite ready to move on just yet. I feel so stupidly lucky to have had not 1, not 2, not 3 but 4 dream jobs in a row, and to tick off working in two areas I really wanted to try.

I’ve realised I’m perhaps not the best at judging others based on first impressions. (Ironic, since I give off a terrible first impression myself.) I feel a little guilty for pigeonholing a few people so quickly, whom I now have lots of affection for.

I couldn’t stop comparing myself (and coming up short) against a couple of peers who I can’t help but feel a bit of rivalry with. I would always feel guilty for feeling a bit smug when they stumbled or came up against hurdles.

I’ve spent so much time pondering what I want and need from a partner. I felt a lot of guilt around balancing my own needs with our needs.

I developed the most inconvenient crush. I felt crippling guilt about this one. I’ve had them before – a guy at uni, a former boss – but in this instance things were different for many reasons. Not to the point I would ever have acted, obviously, but this one just kept growing for some time.

I realised I should have opened up more to friends. I can’t help but feel some guilt for being so selfish, and realising now that we were all separately, quietly, struggling. Maybe we would all have benefited from sharing.

I’m now in the phase of life where people around me are starting to divorce. I feel a little guilty for still being married and also, conversely, for the envy I feel – how much simpler in some ways a single life would be.

I feel guilty for the small, buried part of me that for the longest time conflated divorce with failing. As firmly as I am against staying married when things aren’t right – and hell, so many times I wasn’t sure I was going to make it myself – deep down I would have considered it a personal failure. But I’m glad to be able to say that this is one judgemental quirk I’ve now managed to put to rest, even if the catalyst for this is a sad one.

Bit by by, I’ve let go of all this guilt. It is exhausting to carry around. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Just say it.

No woman is an island

Last week I came out and said something that had been bubbling away in my mind for weeks.

It was the kind of thing I didn’t really think should be said, not just yet, but maybe in some ways, it did.

I’ve been doing this a lot more lately – coming right out with stuff. Uncomfortable stuff. And amazingly, the world isn’t ending.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that nobody else can understand and nobody else is going through the same thing.

It’s so easy to retreat and hide. I spent most of 2014 avoiding people.
When my life was falling apart and there was no light at the end of the tunnel I couldn’t handle it – when everyone else’s lives were going much better I couldn’t swallow the jealousy. Pain is isolating. And it’s difficult to think that when I was wrapped up in my own struggles, friends were quietly going through their own heartbreaks. We’re all coming out the other side  and bringing it all into the light.

(It’s really nice to not feel that way anymore. I know I can’t just hold it all inside again, because I will implode. It didn’t work then and it most certainly won’t work now.)

None of us can say our lives are what we thought they would be at this age. And as young women from Asian backgrounds, I think that’s in many ways extra hard to cope with and to admit.

But it feels good to let stuff out. It’s the only way.

Finally, a movie that’s realistic!

Sometimes in life you have to make tough choices
By: Rocky Raybell

‘Passion trumps all’ is a pretty typical movie trope.

So while watching Teacher of the Year, a 2014 indie film, I was pretty confident I knew how it would end. T agreed, and he is a MASTER of film and TV (he called the twist in The Prestige about 10 minutes in, which really bummed me out.)


Mitch Carter is the titular character, a well loved English teacher at a wacky charter school (his fellow faculty are disturbingly hilarious and provide pretty much all the humour). Then he gets a stupidly lucrative job offer to become a lobbyist for an educational organisation. Tough choice, right? He loves teaching and loves his students … but  on the other hand, $$$! As in, more than double!

Why can’t I keep doing this and make that kind of money? he wonders to a another teacher in the staffroom. You can’t. Take the job is her response. Otherwise, he’ll be in the exact same position in 10 years, not making much more, and with all the same frustrations.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague at a previous job shortly before I left. Knowing we probably made fairly similar salaries, she asked, “How do you manage?” I told her I didn’t have a student loan to repay, and was pretty frugal, and she seemed to accept that. And you know what, it WAS fine at the time. It’s one thing to be a journalist in your early 20s. But the older you get, well, the older the whole shebang gets. If you want a family, a home, to sleep on nice sheets, splurge on good food sometimes, take occasional holidays, or have even hobbies (especially sporting ones) … journalism is probably not going to support that.

Everything in the film, IMO, seems to be pointing towards Mitch staking his ground on the passion/mission side and remaining an educator. Everyone at the school, teachers and students alike, love him. His wife fears that the required travel will take a toll on their family, especially their young daughter. But they have another baby on the way, her job sucks, and he doesn’t want to see her ‘killing herself’. Maybe this way, she won’t even have to work at all. This all really resonated with me – how much more squeezed-middle-class can you get?

“This could change my life,” he says. “I’m just trying to decide whether or not my life needs changing.”

It does. In the end, he decides to try for it all. The high paying job AND the perfect family. Maybe he won’t get to see the difference he makes to those high school kids every single day … but eventually you need to put your own family and their needs first.

God, I sympathise. Is a perfect balance possible? No, I don’t think so. But I want to try anyway. Earn more. Love my work. Cultivate my marriage. Have a family.

What was the last movie you saw that surprised you?

Is it time to start planning for kids?

Is it time to start planning for kids?

It’s really hit me that one of my best friends will most likely be off overseas post PhD – quite probably for good. ALL THE SADS.

I’ll miss him dearly, and he would be such a rad uncle, it’s painful to think he’ll miss out on that.

Aside from a few months back there when I was still on a post-travel high, for most of my 20s I’ve been sure I wanted kids. That’s really ramped up in the past few months. I can only assume it’s largely driven by the ever growing number of people around me getting pregnant and having babies – we’re entering that phase in life, I suppose.

I ain’t got baby fever yet … but to be quite honest, if our circumstances were different, I think I’d be just about ready to try. (Cannot believe I just admitted that.) It is so weird – like a switch flipped almost overnight.

But it’ll have to wait till we get many practicalities ironed out, which is still a while away, since I like being free of money stress a shitload more than I like, well,  just about anything else in life. (Yes, I know, there will never be a good time to have kids, but right now is definitely down the bottom of the charts. Regular readers know.)

I wholly believe reproducing is a privilege, not a right. That said, I was pretty horrified to realise that New Zealand does pretty poorly on the paid parental leave front – some other countries put us to shame.

Here, to the best of my research, are the parental allowances for NZ, Australia, UK and Canada compared. It’s all super confusing, so any corrections/clarifications gratefully accepted. (And yes, of course there are employers here and around the world that offer additional benefits privately – this is only the minimum allowances as per legislation.)

Parental leave - NZ, Australia, UK and Canada compared

** I don’t know any women here who haven’t taken at least a full year off

Sources: NZ / Australia / UK / Canada

The older I get the more I realise NZ doesn’t actually do very well on this whole welfare state thing. But I’ve known that ever since 2009, when T’s employer went out of business. I was a student making maybe $15-20k a year between student allowance and work, absolutely nothing in a city like Auckland, yet he couldn’t get unemployment. There was no way I could support a partner too on that kind of money, but basically if one person is working at all, the other is SOL. (Thankfully he got a sympathetic case manager and something was worked out.)

Anyway, circling back to my original point… The prospect of kids is still terrifying in oh so many ways.  But I’m starting to feel ready to tackle it. If nothing else, this was oddly reassuring.

Choose both. Choose the career AND choose the baby. Don’t put off one for the other. Choose both now and later and accept that you’ll be juggling for years no matter what you do. Even if you never have a career, you’re going to feel like you’re juggling. Parents juggle. Why not juggle things you love? Sure, you’ll have to work hard and make some sacrifices. Accept it and move forward.


The hysteria around these choices is off the charts. People will say, “Oh lots of parents regret having kids, they just don’t tell you about it.” Or “Working women are miserable” or “Kids with working mothers are anxious and unhappy” or “Kids will destroy your career” or “If you can’t give your children every ounce of your energy you shouldn’t have kids at all” or “You can’t be a real artist and have kids” and all kinds of other completely black-and-white, fearful, conflicted nonsense. I’m not inside other people’s heads, but the close friends I have who are in good marriages (like yours) and have kids AND engaging careers are some of the happiest people I know.

Feelings, why you be so confusing?

i've been losing sleep dreaming about the things that we could be

Have you ever had to rethink something quite fundamental in your relationship? Had emotions/opinions you didn’t know you had start to reveal themselves?

Let me try and put some of these thoughts into a vaguely coherent order.

We’ve had joint finances to one degree or another for years. I’m not gonna lie; when I was benefiting from that arrangement – me studying and T working full time – it was great. He clocked a lot of hours and earned a good wage. I didn’t give it a second thought, though I was aware in the back of my mind that I’d be in a slightly tight spot if we broke up.

NOT that I would want to return to that state of affairs by any means, but right now the situation is reversed and it has been for a long time. While I’ve progressed steadily, he’s basically been treading water – particularly accounting for inflation. Highlights: A job that was meant to lead to apprenticeship and qualification, and even better money, evaporated in the GFC. Another job promised advancement and promotion but failed to deliver, so he quit outright when we went travelling. Upon our return, two jobs turned toxic and fizzed out suddenly. (The first of those could have seen him pulling in six figures…)

For the first time in awhile, there is no longer the shimmer of a high(er) income around the corner. The current state of affairs is not totally settled, so I won’t go into any detail, but it is not lucrative, nor is it likely to be. I’m cool with that – right now I just want consistency over everything else.

While I do consider all money ‘ours’, that hasn’t sat all that well with me lately, as I’ve had to support us both through months and months of unemployment – for the better part of a year, in fact. Over time I became quietly, seethingly resentful, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling to have.

We are a team. We’re married. I am well aware of this. As a work buddy wisely pointed out, the pendulum swings back and forwards at different times. Her relationship balance is about to swing as she stares down the barrel of maternity leave, and leaning on her fiance for financial support.

I’d always expected T to eventually return to outearning me, but the way things have panned out, it looks like I’m going to continue to be the main earner forever. Which is fine, since I’m also the more career-driven one. But I can’t honestly say this sits completely well with me either, and that’s a feeling I’m struggling to come to grips with.

One astute commenter on this fantastic post at A Practical Wedding, On Marrying Down, really nails this dilemma. I can’t put it any more succinctly than this:

I’m also the more career-oriented partner and I’ve struggled with the idea of “marrying down” in some ways. It’s hard for me not to judge my husband according to those social standards of how men are “supposed” to think about work. But the truth is that if he was as ambitious as I am it would probably produce a lot of strain navigating it. I just don’t know how to let go of my preconceptions about what I should want as a woman and make space for both of us to just be who we are.

It’s not like I grew up in a household that fell strictly along gender lines; as far as I know,  my mum has been the main earner for years, at least recently. Also, while I (consciously and unconsciously) chose a partner who is the opposite of my dad in every way, another weird way I’ve wound up emulating my parents is that our financial roles seem to be the same – the wife being the go-to money person. (The one difference is my dad spends nothing while T definitely like stuff.)

On the other hand, out in the working world I seem to be surrounded by women with higher earning partners – and in the spirit of full disclosure, the bitter half of me silently snarks ‘that must be nice’.

I guess I have a strongly ingrained sense of fairness geared towards total equality that runs deeper than I thought.

Here’s a silly yet telling anecdote. Our house always had a well stocked biscuit tin. When I was about 9 years old, it came to my attention that my little brother had been eating more biscuits than me. I started keeping count, my eagle eye trained on him and that cupboard. Let me tell you, he absolutely ripped through them. He got up into the  double digits within a few days. At that point, I complained to my mother, who told me to drop it and get over it. Sulkily, I complied – but that always stuck in my craw.

Well, in the words of Coldplay… Nobody said it was easy. Heck, even Farnoosh Torabi (author of When She Makes More) has said she’d love for her husband to be the breadwinner. It’s something I’ll have to work through and process this year, as the trauma of the past year hopefully fades.

More reading on this topic:

I make six figures, my boyfriend is a poet (Reddit)

How income disparity affects our relationship  (LearnVest)

The weaker sex (The Atlantic)

When love crosses class lines (The Billfold)

Will our class differences tear us apart? (The Awl)

Will you be better off than your parents?

There’s been lots of talk about how our generation may be the first to be worse off than that of our parents. I’m fairly certain it’s going to be true in my case, and Christmas really cemented for me how huge that gap is.

I swear, I am going to lose it if I hear one more thing along the lines of how we should just buy a house. For the love of god. Anyone who keeps up with the news knows what’s going on, and the latest round of updated council valuations backs that up. My parents’ property is now worth more than 3x what they paid for it – and that’s just the council valuation, which around here is always less than actual market reality. Have incomes also tripled/quadrupled/etc? No, no they have not. I’m not saying it was easy back then, but it is a hell of a lot harder now. There is no way I will have a paid-off house by my 40s in Auckland.

It was a hard year for me and T, and while our family are experts in Not Talking About Things, it doesn’t take a genius or a mind reader to figure out that we’re still nowhere near a down payment, particularly when I VERY OBVIOUSLY shut down the idea of affording a house every time the topic comes up (which has been constantly since we got back to NZ).

Look, there are some things my parents went through that I will never understand. Leaving home and going to university in a strange new country. Being denied promotion outright because of my skin colour, in the country of my birth. Reaching the point of frustration in my marriage where I’m making inappropriate disclosures to my teenage daughter (that’s what professional therapists are for, guys).

Likewise, they won’t understand the lack of job security today, or what it’s like to enter the workforce during a global financial meltdown. And to be fair, I’m not immune either. A growing part of me sometimes just wants to scream ‘how have you gone on that many interviews yet still don’t have a job? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?’

Really, I only feel comfortable discussing successes with them, and there haven’t been any of those to report on in a long time. Maybe it’s a terrible reason to avoid my family, but it’s a sanity-saving defence mechanism.

Rethinking how I see myself

‘Traveller, writer, dreamer.’

That’s the sum of my Instagram account bio.

But I’m starting to wonder if I can rightfully claim that last word.

I was definitely a kid who had her head in the clouds. A bookworm, a day dreamer, with one foot in fantasy land.

One year I came home with my report card, and one of my teachers’ comments was that I was ‘very practical’. We laughed about it, because how far off base was that?!

While we often laugh at dreamers for being off in their own world, on the flipside, I think we also frequently put them on a pedestal. Especially among creative types, we think practical = staid and boring.

But the older I get the more ruthlessly practical I become. I struck out on my own early and I’ve been fending for myself since.

The most surprising thing I learned about myself while travelling was how adaptable I can be. When I don’t have strict plans, I’m more than happy to go with the flow and not freak out no matter what happens.

That said, in my day to day life I am nowhere near as flexible. Normal life dictates planning, and when my plans are derailed I cannot pivot – I find it extremely hard to cope.

Where is this introspection going? I’m not too sure. I guess all I’m trying to say is I’m adjusting to a new perception of who I am (years late?) and how that makes me feel. My inner dreamer still lives, but she’s firmly encased in a thick armoured shell of pragmatism.

You know you’re getting old when…

You know you're getting old when...Your partner points out that you’re now closer to 30 than 20

You’re no longer the ‘baby’ at work – that title goes to someone who is all of 23 years old

You want to run out and throw rocks at loud cars passing by (and at people letting off fireworks nearby)

You seek out greenery to relax in, away from city life

You crave vegetables because your body will revolt if you don’t eat healthily enough

My tag line is ‘on the quest for health, wealth and happiness’. To be fair, it does qualify that with ‘not necessarily in that order’. But health has never been first on my list, in reality. And I think maybe that needs to change a little bit. I consider myself pretty in tune with my body. It’s thankfully always been pretty low maintenance, but is definitely demanding to be heard more and more lately. Some of that is no doubt stress related, but I suspect some is simply an age thing.

On accepting ambiguity: Black, white and all the yawning grey space in between

Crying in the bathroom then walking out like nothing happenedI made it through more than half a year of shouldering the entire burden of supporting our household, alone, without breaking down at work.

During wedding planning, it was flowers that tipped me over the edge. This time, it was waiting on some much needed money because T sent it to the wrong account number – not once but TWICE. The first money he’s earned in months, and it’s stuck in banking no man’s land. *insert every curse word that exists*

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I feel like I lost most of last year to depression and stress. I feel stuck.

There are always choices, even if they’re unpalatable. I have thought about how to get unstuck – separating at least temporarily, or even running away overseas. I’ve considered the options and decided continuing the status quo is the best one.

But I just want to be able to plan. I want to be able to make progress. I cannot set goals or progress towards them the way things currently stand.

I dislike ambiguity at work, too, but in many ways it’s baked into the nature of the job. I can handle it, I’ve learned to cope – but I hate dealing with ambiguity in my personal life.

So, no goals for me this year. Just stay sane and, to quote Dory, keep on swimming.