Note to Self
In this letter to Hinhin girls (and to herself), The Trove's editor Pierra Calasanz-Labrador talks about regaining balance and reclaiming serenity in 2020.
PHOTOS TOTO LABRADOR
Happy 2020! It's so wonderful to welcome another chapter with you.
We're taking all we've learned from 2019 to kick off the new year—the new decade!—with joy, passion, and an open, grateful heart. What has been the most important life lesson for you so far?
For me, more than ever, it's about aligning my goals with my pace, consciously slowing down instead of trying to keep up with the world. Also, embracing my quiet without shutting people out. And how understanding my limits—or more accurately, setting boundaries—opens me up to better possibilities.
When Tricia invited me to collaborate on The Trove, our tranquil, whimsical sensibilities were totally in sync—dream project! But as 2019 began to feel like one long personal Mercury in retrograde, I started to feel like I was bursting at the seams and emanating all the wrong energy for Hinhin (hello, impostor syndrome!). How could I help create/curate graceful content when my own world was starting to spin off kilter?
As a freelance writer/editor/stylist, I'm constantly juggling assignments, taking on as much as possible, and feeling guilty about work I turn down—so instead, I end up giving up precious family/friends/me time, not to mention, sacrificing time I hoped to spend on personal writing projects. 2019 was especially productive—thank you, universe—but so very draining. I was exhausted. My off-balance Libra self was screaming inside. And I had no one else to blame but myself.
Toward the end of the year, I was complaining to my sister Michelle, a Theta healer, about my chronic stomach cramps. She said: “Your gut is where you hold all your anxieties. I think you seriously need to take a break.” When people tell me I need to take a break, my reflex is: “I have no time!” But what was the point of going freelance, then? Wasn't it precisely to have my own time? And write my own stories?
I finally took a trip in December—my first official vacation of the year—and made sure to leave my laptop behind (“You're so brave,” exclaimed fellow workaholics). For the first time in a long, long while, I wasn't typing up a frenzy into the wee hours of the morning to meet a deadline, or hopelessly stuck in Manila carmageddon, stomach in knots as I tried to get to various appointments and assignments on time (and for extra introvert difficulty level: navigating social situations that involve uncomfortable small talk).
Within the first day of vacation, my constant stomach cramps magically disappeared. Even my usual migraines didn't make an appearance. It was as if my body unclenched its grip on constant worry, and the relief was so real, it was palpable. I always brush off people's admonitions to take a rest, but it wasn't until I witnessed my body literally crying for help that I fully grasped what I was doing to myself.
Of course, back in Manila, I fell back into my old routine, working through weekends, and eating into my Saturday morning reading time (sacrilege!) and missing Sunday lunch with family (that's time I won't get back with my aging parents). Perhaps the closest thing to a break was the occasional J-drama I found refuge in when I collapsed on the couch at the end of the day. My journal is proof of the time I didn't set aside for myself—the answers to my trusty Daykeeper's daily prompt “What made you smile today” are uncharacteristically few and far between, not for the lack of things that brought me joy, but the sheer exhaustion of putting pen to paper.
I was pretty much diving into work, then coming up for air whenever I could. Days were crashing into each other, and I felt as if I were being carried by the current, just trying to get by. Let's not even talk about the all-consuming tsunami that is social media. Come the Christmas season, I felt as if I had hit rock bottom, with barely any energy left to shop for gifts or enjoy favorite hobbies, or (gasp) even attend mass. (In a text exchange with a friend feeling similarly burned out, we promised not to work on Christmas Eve, and to watch out for each other so we didn't turn into robots.) I almost wanted to sleep through the holidays, but at one reunion, my friend's five-year-old son Zach ran to me and said, “I miss you, Tita Pierra!” His hug was a wake up call, the universe wondering where I've been.
Somewhere in that hectic, desperate abyss, I asked myself: is this any way to live? How do I bust out of this overwhelming vicious cycle?
I realized, the answer was not just giving myself a random break once in a while. It was learning to plan more efficiently so that I could practice self-care, every single day. It's been said that change happens from small steps taken consistently, and so I looked at what I could change in the way I plan my day. And there it was, staring at me in the face: plan my day. I know, I know, sounds basic—but I am not friends with the concept of time management, you see. I've been so used to winging it, things always falling into place, that I thought I could always operate this way—until 2019 kicked me in my burned out butt.
To achieve that elusive work-life balance, I need to step back and assess what is actually possible for me. Literally making sure I had enough hours in the day for all the assignments I commit to, plus unglamorous chores like cat poop scooping duty. Though I'm surrounded by inspiring women who can manage so much more on their plate, child-rearing included, I must to come to terms with the fact that we all have different paths, different capabilities, and that I tend to work at a much slower, deliberate pace. That's totally ok; but I need to be ok with that. (We are always hardest on ourselves.)
The (former) teen magazine editor in me is always ready to dish advice (“Don't mind what other people think!” “Do your own thing!”), so it was disconcerting to realize that I needed some, myself. My inner dialogue recently is straight out of Jerry McGuire, and it's Tom Cruise next to me in the mirror saying, “Help me, help you. Help Me. Help You.”
Who else feels like they're being pulled in different directions and spreading themselves waaaay too thin? A quote I came across recently really helped put things in perspective: “Work toward what you love.” It's ok not to do it all; just do it well.
So I'm asking myself: What do you do best? What is important to you? What do you advocate? How do you want to make a difference? And also: What is your process? When I can answer these clearly, I can say no to everything else and focus my energies on work that's meaningful to me, and the stories I want to continue to tell. Especially my own. I know, easier said than done, especially when there are bills to pay. But knowing what is important to me and understanding how I work will help me divvy up my time into achievable chunks (“One by one, it will get done,” my husband always chants encouragingly when I start to freak out), leaving enough time for brain breaks and loading up on inspiration (Daydreaming to music! Reviving the #CaturdayBookClub! Art dates! Field trips to wide open spaces!). Because efficient scheduling is self-care in itself.
Presence, not Presents
During mass to celebrate the Feast of the Three Kings (I made it!), the priest's sermon was totally predictable, but I was unexpectedly moved. “Why are we the ones getting gifts, when it is Christ's birthday,” he asked. “What is our gift for the Lord? How do we make our love concrete?” Something strange and beautiful bloomed in my chest when I heard those words. It made me want to be a better, brighter, kinder human being—my circle may be small, but I want those in it to know they can count on me to be present for them. Love, made manifest. That tops this year's list of priorities.
There's a myth that introverts don't like people, but I think for the most part, it's the strain of uncomfortable, artificial situations that keeps us in our shells. But when we find our tribe, our people, our kindred spirits (or even glorious extrovert friends that like us just the way we are), that's when we shine. It's a story I know well—every Hinhin muse I've interviewed has mentioned that magic moment of finally feeling like they've come into their own when they found a clutch of friends that just “get” them (Hello, Valerie and Veronica!), and being able to touch people with their art (hiii Cynthia and Reese, who made me cry!). Or even just owning your geekery (arigatou, Jin) or recognizing the quiet power of the individual staring back at her in the mirror (high five, Anthea and Charlene). Because even more than being able to rely on friends we trust and who believe in us, it's important to have our own back. “Let yourself have the time to figure some things out in private: like who you are, what you like to do and why you like to do it—so that when you do choose to put yourself or your work out there, it will come from a place that’s genuine,” says Charlene.
My Hinhin assignments were some of my favorites of the year; the opportunity to sit down with these quietly cool women, getting to peek into their world, and being trusted to share their story with others is such a joy. At Hinhin's helm, Tricia has a knack for tapping talent and bringing people together for dream collabs, so it's always so inspiring to witness the creative teams in action. Many of the collaborators were #HinhinGirls, too: shy photographers, stylists, writers, and assistants were given a safe, creative space to make magic, and inhibitions fell away. Literally, a Hinhin world.
Interestingly enough, one of my favorite takeaways was from an onlooker—Miguel, who tagged along to the shoot of his girlfriend Jin, Cosplay idol and Hinhin muse. He carefully kept out of the way while Jin did her thing, but as we moved through the house for different layouts, he chatted with whomever he was next to, genuinely interested in what everyone did.
This might not sound like a big deal for extroverts, but the reason it struck me was because Jin mentioned that Miguel was even more shy than she was, and yet, here he was, making the effort to connect with each member of the team beyond the typical small talk. That made me think of all the times I hung back at situations, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, worried that I might say or do something stupid.
I'd like to think that my quiet nature is out of choice, and not fear, so it bothers me when self-doubt holds me back from striking up a conversation, or voicing that witty retort, or even simply complimenting someone on their cute shoes. I've become so absorbed in my own self-consciousness that I fail to reach out when it's totally possible; and I miss out on the opportunity to have made someone's day better with just a word. (During one particularly crazy, especially off-kilter week, when I messaged Tricia to let her know an article was on its way, she replied, “Looking forward to it! But don't forget to take a break!” That thoughtful reminder was enough to tip me right side up again. Immortalizing it here to remind myself of how even the simplest words can make a difference.)
I've slowly found my voice over the years, but I know my tongue-tied moments still bother me, because at night, when I dream—dreams are when our subconscious reveals itself, after all—I don't dream of the stupid things I did; I dream of things I wish I had said. (Cue Rent: Forget regret/or life is yours to miss...)
So I promise to get over myself this year.
I promise to be kinder to myself, to acknowledge my capabilities but respect my own boundaries; to maintain sanity and serenity.
To stop stretching myself too thin, but also, to stop playing small.
Because when we are kind to ourselves, we have so much more to give everyone else.
We all have the power to make others feel seen.
The new year is a gift, a reset button, a blank page waiting to be filled. What are your words for the year? (If it isn't obvious yet, mine are balance and connection.)
Here's wishing you a magical year brimming with possibilities, and a kindred tribe to join you on your journey.