I Made a New Me, and I Like Her

I ‘thrived’ during the pandemic – but not for the reasons you think.

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The year that stopped us all on our tracks seems to be, quite inexplicably, my personal best.

Trust me. I know how that sounds.

“It was difficult for me to pin down how it’s possible that [the quarantine] can be one of the best things that can happen to anyone, but that’s what it was for me”, I responded to Kiana Keyspiece — which also inspired my headline. The admission reeks of privilege. And as I write this, I still feel guilty knowing I got through the year largely unscathed.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the lucky ones, too.

But here’s what I realized: There’s no use in being ashamed of what you have or what you’ve done for yourself. But do you know what’s shameful? If you don’t use what you’ve learned to give back.

So, I’d like to share with you my journey of reinvention, in the best way I know how — through writing.

You’ll meet a little bit of the old me, then more about the person who came out of this year of chaos. In the end, I hope you walk away with a little more faith in yourself, clarity of what you deserve, and the courage to thrive in your own way.

The Upside to Rock Bottom

“Why did you leave your job?”

Here’s the cold, hard truth: My resignation had been a long time coming, but what finally triggered it was being put in a performance improvement plan by a boss who I didn’t trust or feel had any genuine care for me.

But, of course, I didn’t say that in my job interviews. I listened to my trusted career adviser Google when he said that that would raise all the red flags. Thankfully, he also offered the perfect scapegoat: Just say that you had “personal matters” to take care of. So, to make myself seem even more impressive, I answered, “There’s a personal project that needed more of my time and attention.”

I wasn’t lying — There was a very, very personal project I’ve been meaning to take care of.

And that project… was me.

“Headroom for growth” is a line in the workplace that refers to a big opportunity. But if the baseline is low to begin with, the slightest increase will naturally be significant. Just think of the math: If you go from one to two, that’s a 100% growth. But when it’s from nine to ten, that’s only 11%.

Such is the logic behind my “flourishing” over the quarantine. The past three years at my previous job had chipped away my sense of self. 2019 was just the final nail in the coffin.

I guess that’s what happens when you’re used to being this frenetic, aimless busy bee with a needless need for achievement, who championed the grind, and mistakenly believed that what got you through high school can get you through real life.

I was also that person who, one pre-pandemic night, suddenly broke down whilst driving home from work for reasons I could not and did not bother to comprehend. I woke up the next morning, plastered a big smile on my face, and soldiered on.

It may have crossed my mind that I was fucking spent. Maybe.

I was working at a multinational company that paid handsomely, in a managerial role that aligned with my long-term goals. And I felt that I was pretty much on the same radar as my peers, so there was little incentive to think about what was wrong, much less change it.

I mean, why would I? I could enjoy my daily Starbucks fix. I could have my mid-day work breaks. Grab a colleague, talk about office gossip, and pretend these things relieved stress. I could say yes to spontaneous weekend beach trips, splurge on flash sales, and drink insanely-priced cocktails in the most extravagant bars in the metro — To me, this looked a lot like “self-care”.

Though I had a slight idea that these things cost a lot, my monthly paycheck simply whispered, “Don’t worry about it! I got you!”

So, that was pre-pandemic me. I ticked off boxes here and there, yet the only concrete difference I saw was on the weighing scale — This tiny, tiny Asian girl crossed the 100-lb mark for the first time. Yup, way to go, self.

I came into 2020 with an extra ten pounds, a cluttered headspace, damaged self-esteem, and an aching sense of self-deprivation. Hate to break it to you, Covid-19, but my life was already out of my hands before you came into the picture.

Thankfully, the world kept nudging me to get my shit together. But I couldn’t do that by staying in a place where I reached the lowest of lows.

So, I resigned. Then came the lockdown. I knew immediately there was little I could do about it. But there were certainly things (that were way overdue) I could do for myself. Here was space to realize that, as Adrian Drew frankly put it, “It’s not about where we are, it’s about where we are mentally.”

The upside to coming from a very low point in your life?

There’s no way to go but up.

My Personal Project

When your life is all over the place, where do you even start?

I figured I’d begin where everyone began their day — the morning. I’m a natural morning person. I also happened to be a natural at reaching for my phone first thing to watch TikTok for god knows how long.

So, my first step was to establish a morning ritual. I understood the science behind habits, stopped force-fitting that 5 am run just because it worked for others, and built a routine that was perfect for me.

Along the way, I realized that the morning, as mundane as it may seem, was too beautiful to waste. I’d wake up, lay in bed, and enjoy the quiet. I’d catch the first rays of sunshine through my window. I felt the morning breeze, reveled at the slow pace of my routine, and felt excited to hear my nutribullet whip up the perfect breakfast smoothie in a matter of seconds.

I noticed all these little things, along with the small wins. I learned to cook things that were not a variation of eggs. (Though I definitely take pride in my french omelet a la Gordon Ramsay.) I checked my finances (or lack thereof), organized my email, and decluttered my room.

I thought, “What do you know? I might actually make it out in the real world as an adult.”

Next on my list was to get back in shape — Break that impostor syndrome and be that advocate of healthy living I’ve always prided myself on. I enrolled in a fitness program that was tied with a diet that was the equivalent of a death sentence for any rice-loving Asian — the keto diet. But I wanted a serious transformation, so I said goodbye to carbs temporarily.

I was just hoping to shed a couple of pounds. Little did I know that the changes that matter the most are the ones you couldn’t see on the scale.

I learned to enjoy exercising (on my own! at home! without spending thousands of pesos!), appreciated how movement exactly benefitted me and developed a better understanding of food. I made it my goal to create a sustainable lifestyle (hence, I quit keto). To train myself to identify with healthy choices.

My routines woke up all the right hormones to last me throughout the day. It was now time to pull up and dust off my mental file of “Things I Would Do if I Had More Time”.

Of course, a Netflix binge was right up there. To this day I’m not sure why I opted to watch Drive to Survive especially since I didn’t know shit about motorsport. F1 isn’t exactly huge in the Philippines. But when I watched the documentary, I was hooked.

Maybe it was the glamor of Monaco. Or the dramatic storytelling. Or my shameless infatuation for these sexy F1 drivers. Whatever it is, I am fascinated by it all so much that it’s the only thing I check on social media now. And I looked forward to every race weekend the way I’d get excited to get drunk AF in some rooftop bar for my friend’s birthday.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I found happiness in the most unexpected places.

As if the pandemic and the unemployment weren’t enough to shake up my life, we moved out of our house. If anything, this was a real master class on minimalism – Marie Kondo was calling.

Downsizing forced me to ruthlessly audit my personal belongings. Covid forced the world to make a clear distinction between essentials and non-essentials. And with my dwindling rainy day fund, I had to be prudent with my purchases. With every possession, I had to ask, “Does this truly spark joy?” With every purchase, “Do I need this? Does this align with my priorities?” I learned to turn a blind eye on that bold, resounding four-letter word: SALE!

The difference between wants and needs became crystal clear. Apart from a decent home, food on the table, and clothes on your back, no one ever really needs anything else. What was it that Seneca said? “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”

It wasn’t just about living with less anymore but wanting less all together.

I had learned to manage material things more wisely. Now, there was this other, more valuable resource I had to protect — my time. And what else drained it than that thing on the palm of my hands? I hammered to myself that spending hours scrolling through my feed had minimal life-return. The twitch, the doom-scrolling, the needless apps — they all had to go. And on one fine Saturday morning, I stripped my phone to the bare minimum.

The stars seemed to align when Netflix released The Social Dilemma. It revealed a deeper, more vulnerable truth about myself. I’d always thought that the urge to post and put my life on display was borne from the need to express myself. But what it really was, was an irresistible source of self-validation.

I didn’t want that anymore. Yes, I woke up. But it didn’t make it easier to get out of bed. I’ve been working on it, though. For starters, I share whatever it is I feel like sharing directly with friends and family instead of a thousand followers on Instagram. And my overall screen time has dropped drastically.

But where did all that extra time go?

It’s been said that breaking a bad habit requires a replacement. And I had a convincing alternative — something that, as hard as it was to start, deeply rewarded me and lit me up in places I didn’t even know I had inside me.

That was writing. I channeled all that extra time, energy, and creative expression towards writing.

My motivations were shallow at first (Another source of income! I can grow a following!). But it didn’t take long for me to see it for what it was — A process that fucks with your mind and ultimately gives birth to more sensible thoughts, an insatiable curiosity, a ridiculous level of self-awareness, and sometimes – if I’m lucky – a few awesome ideas.

As I changed over the quarantine, I wrote. I saw myself more clearly through words.

Writing is a gradual, thoughtful, yet spontaneous process — much like my own quarantine transformation.

What It Means to Thrive

I didn’t expect to change as much as I did. Sometimes, I can barely recognize myself. But honestly? Never have I felt more in sync with who I am.

I got over the fast life. The allure of “more”. I’m more attuned with my body, my mind, and my surroundings. And it’s helped me become a better listener and friend. I’ve become immensely appreciative of the little, everyday things. I’ve replaced Netflix with books, Instagram stories with one-on-one phone calls, social media feeds with real newsletters. I’ve become an avid thinker instead of a mere overthinker. I did things just for the sake of and remembered that I was a competent, creative, and highly-passionate person. I describe this year as my personal best because I pit it against the only benchmark that matters — The Ria of yesteryear.

I guess thriving is really just knowing yourself a little better. Because only then can you clarify your priorities (and not forget that you should be part of it). You can be more confident that you’re spending your time, energy, and money to create the life you want every day. You realize that true happiness is fueled by intrinsic things — a solid sense of self, gratitude, mindfulness, creativity, and strong relationships. Best of all, you find the courage to evolve. To adapt. To shed off the parts of yourself and your environment that no longer serve you.

When the world opens up again and I’m reminded of my old life, I won’t turn back and go back to my old ways. I made a new me, and I like her.

I live at the intersection of writing, marketing, and life. Explore this cool place with me!

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